Category Archives: Apple

Getting Creative With Video in the Classroom

walmart receipt.png

While watching the Oscars tonight, I was intrigued to see a promotion that Walmart was running to celebrate the craft of film making. I don’t normally pay a lot of attention to  commercials, but these ads managed to catch my attention, and I think that they have some interesting potential for teachers who are looking to add some creativity to video projects in their classroom.

Walmart contacted four award-winning directors, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Neighbors), Antoine Fuqua (Southpaw, The Magnificent Seven), and Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, The Kite Runner). They sent each of them a receipt with the same six items and challenged them to make a one minute movie that was centered around the six items on the receipt. You can learn more here, but take a look at the videos below to see what these talented directors came up with…

The three stories are very different, but they would be, wouldn’t they? I mean, if you challenged your students to do something like this, the results you got would likely be very different too. Wouldn’t they?  Because although the parameters are the same for every student, this is still a very open-ended activity that just screams for a creative outcome.

It’s a simple concept, but at the same time, a very powerful one, and isn’t this what we want our students to do more of? We want them to be unique, innovative, and think critically to solve problems. We want them to collaborate and to communicate their story in a way that entertains, evokes emotion, and connects them with a wider audience. Digital storytelling gives you that ability. Whether you are writing short stories or creating live action videos, it just goes to show that some of the most uncomplicated concepts truly can produce some of the most creative end products.

The Walmart videos reminded me of another great video project for the classroom from Don Goble. Again, the premise is simple, but the results are still endlessly creative. Students write a simple six-word story and turn it into a video with six unique camera shots. You can see an example of a six-word story from one of Don’s students below, but make sure you visit his website or read his free iBooks ebook to learn more about this idea.

So, the next time you are looking for a  digital storytelling idea for your students, consider one of these great examples, then be prepared to be blown away by the creativity of your students!

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How (and Why) to Compress Video on iPads & iPhones

compress video ipad

Do your videos take a long time to upload to YouTube? Does the iOS Mail app refuse to send your large videos? If so, you should consider a video compression app for your iPad or iPhone. The job of a video compressor is to make your file sizes smaller so that they are easier to work with or share with other people.  Today I am going to show you one that I use and give you some tips on how to get the most out of it.

Why Use a Video Compression App?

Today there are lots of reasons why you might want to compress a video that you have on your iPhone or iPad. Smaller videos are easier to share with others whether that is via YouTube or simply to upload as a student assignment via Showbie or an LMS. Storage space is another good example of why you might want to compress videos. If you have a 16GB iPad (or iPhone) then free space is increasingly a problem. Compressing a video lets you keep a more friendly file-sized version on your device so that you can backup or remove the original. In schools, this can be a common problem.

If students are working on a shared video project, or filming with multiple devices, smaller video files are easier to transfer from one device to another via AirDrop or cloud services. They are also more email friendly because you can usually reduce them below the maximum file size limits found in most email services.

Video Compression Apps for the iPad & iPhone

The app I have been using for compressing video on an iPad or iPhone is called Video Compressor – Just Set the Target Size! It’s a free app and a useful one to keep on your iOS device for those times when you really need it. Best of all, the app is really easy to use. Simply select the video you want to compress, and move the slider to select the file size you would like to achieve, (also shown as a percentage reduction). Compressed videos are saved to the Camera Roll alongside the original video. This means you effectively have two copies of the same video, but the file size of one will be significantly smaller than the other.

Compress Video - Just Set the Target Size

The Downsides of Using a Video Compression App

Of course, everything has a downside. When you compress a video you are making a compromise between quality and file size. The more you compress a video, the more artifacts you will see on the final product. This means a video that has been compressed a lot could appear fuzzy or grainy when viewed full screen or on high resolution screens. So, it is a bit like limbo dancing. You have to think about how low can you go before things start to get out of control! 🙂

Often this comes down to trial and error as you work between what file size you need versus how much resolution you need. However, it could also come down to what your end goal is. For instance, is your goal to share an HD video at the highest quality, or are you just looking to share a first cut with an instructor or peer in order to get their feedback on your early edit? This is an important distinction to make, but the results you get from compressing a video may be better than you think if you are judicious with your use of the Target Size slider.

Should You Compress Videos?

At the end of the day, it comes down to what your needs are and how important it is to have the full resolution in your final videos. If you use services like Google Photos to back up your media, you are already compressing your photos and videos to a smaller file size if you opted for unlimited online storage, (like most people do). Google says that if your video is 1080p or less, it will look “close to the original” when uploaded to Google Photos. Ultimately that is what I aim for if I ever have to compress an iPad or iPhone video, but 720p is very usable too, especially if YouTube is the final destination.

Of course,  a good way to avoid compressing videos is editing. When you edit video on the iPad you have the chance to cut down the length of your videos, which will in turn cut down the file size of your videos. Shoot short, and edit tight. Nobody really wants to watch a ten minute video so if you can, try to aim for two to three minutes at the most on your finished, edited project. Otherwise, compression is a valid option. I don’t compress videos often, but when I do, this is the app I use.

How (and Why) to Zoom In On PC, Mac, iPad & Chromebook

zoom screen title

Have you ever wanted to zoom in on your Mac, PC, Chromebook or iPad screen? As an educator, and facilitator of professional development, I do this a lot and people often ask me how I do it. So, here is a quick rundown of how (and why) to use a screen zoom on Macs, PCs, iPads and Chromebooks.

Why I Use Screen Zooming

For the most part, I zoom in on my screen to draw people’s attention to a specific area or feature that I want to highlight. It helps eliminate distracting elements, and is ideal for large rooms of people where the projector screen may not be as large as you might want it to be.

The other reason I show educators screen zooming is in the context of assistive technology. For students with visual impairments, the ability to zoom in on your screen is a very useful accessibility feature. It helps make text more readable and can give those students a much better way to access electronic materials.

How to Zoom In On A PC Screen

If you are using Windows 7 or later, you can take advantage of the screen magnifier tool. This is built-in to the operating system so no additional software is required. So, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Hold down the Windows key and tap the plus sign repeatedly to zoom in.
  2. Use the Windows key and the minus sign to zoom out.
  3. To exit the screen magnifier, hold down the Windows key and press Escape.

When working with the Magnifier tool, there are three viewing modes to choose from – Full Screen, Lens or Docked. Each have their own uses so feel free to experiment to see which one will work best for you. You can also customize the amount that you zoom in when you first activate the tool. For more information on the Windows Magnifier tool, read this support document from Microsoft.

How To Zoom In On A Mac Screen

Mac users have a couple of options for zooming in and out of their screen, depending on whether they want to zoom with keyboard shortcuts, or with the trackpad on your Macbook.

To zoom with the keyboard:

  1. Navigate to System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom.
  2. Check the box that says Use keyboard shortcuts to zoom
  3. Hold down the Command and Option keys, then tap the plus sign to zoom in
  4. Hold down the Command and Option keys and tap the minus sign to zoom out

To zoom with the trackpad:

  1. Navigate to System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom.
  2. Check the box that says Use scroll gesture with modifier keys to zoom
  3. Hold down the Control key and scroll with two fingers on your trackpad to zoom in and out.

Both options work well, but the latter is the one that I prefer because it is much smoother. Some versions of Mac OS X will let you choose the zoom style. This is also found in System Preferences > Accessibility > Zoom. It lets you choose to zoom in on the whole screen, or just a framed area, (similar to the Lens view on Windows). Learn more about zooming your screen on Mac in this Apple support document.

mac ipad

How To Zoom In On An iPad Screen

Can you zoom your screen on an iPad? Indeed you can. In fact, it is one of the many reasons why special education teachers like the iPad as an accessibility device. However, it is great for demonstrating new apps too. Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Zoom and flip the Zoom switch on.
  2. Then, double tap on the screen with three fingers to zoom in or out.
  3. When zoomed in, drag three fingers to pan around the screen to pan and move.
  4. You can change the zoom percentage by double tapping with three fingers and dragging up and down on the screen (it takes practice, but it does work!)

On the same settings screen you will find additional options like the maximum zoom level and the ability to do a full screen zoom or a window zoom. There is even a neat on screen controller that you can use to zoom and pan without the three finger taps.

How To Zoom In On A Chromebook Screen

Chromebook users need not feel left out because Google has a built-in screen magnifier for Chrome OS. As you may have guessed by now, the option lies in the accessibility settings. Here’s how to find it.

  1. Go to Settings > Show Advanced Settings > Accessibility
  2. Check the box next to Enable Screen Magnifier
  3. Hold down Ctrl and Alt, then use the brightness up and down keys to zoom in and out.
  4. Alternatively, you can hold down the Ctrl & Alt keys and then scroll with two fingers on your trackpad to zoom in and out.

BONUS: How To Zoom In On A Desktop Browser

This is a well-known trick, but if you only need to zoom in on a web page, you can do so without using any of the options above. This works with all major browsers. Simply use Ctrl and the plus sign (Cmd + on a Mac) to zoom in, and Ctrl and the minus sign (Cmd – on a Mac) to zoom out. To reset your screen to the original size use Ctrl and the zero key (Cmd 0 on a Mac).

Mark Up PDFs With Apple’s Mail App for iPad & iPhone

pdf mail markup

There are undoubtedly many great PDF annotation apps for the iPad and iPhone. I own many of them. Apps like PDF Expert, Notability, iAnnotate and Foxit PDF are great options, but you don’t always need such a full featured app. Sometimes you just want to do some quick markups to a document and send it back to the person who emailed it to you. For occasions like this, you can use the Apple Mail app in iOS 9 or later.

How to Annotate PDFs With the iOS Mail App

1. Open your Mail app and tap the PDF icon in your message to open a full screen preview.

2. Tap the screen again to reveal the toolbar at the top of the screen, then tap the toolbox.

toolbox mail icon

If the PDF appears as a live preview in your email, press and hold on the image view of the PDF and select Markup and Reply.

markup and reply

3. Use the annotation tools at the bottom of the screen to markup your PDF.

pdf markup tools mail ios

4. There are a variety of tools available for marking up your PDF. They include a pen tool, a text tool, and the option to add your handwritten signature. You can adjust the font, font size and font alignment as well as the pen color and thickness. There is even a magnifier tool that can be resized and used to call out areas of the document by making them larger.

5. When you are finished, click Done in the top right-hand corner of the screen and the annotated PDF will be added to an email that is pre-populated with the original sender’s email address. You can now add a quick message and send it straight back to the sender for their attention.

Possible Uses for the iOS Mail App Annotation Tools

Perhaps the most obvious use for these tools is to electronically sign documents. This is an increasingly common need and although there are 3rd-party apps to help you do this, nothing would be faster than doing it in the Mail app and sending it right back to the sender.

Teachers could use this tool to markup and give feedback to students on the 1st draft of an essay or another type of assignment that was emailed to them on their iPad. However, students could also use it to email ideas and drafts of group projects back and forward to each other, or as part of a peer review process.

Bonus Tip: iTunesU

Many of the markup tools also appear when you view a PDF inside an iTunesU course. This means teachers could add a PDF for students to annotate and turn in as an assignment. The PDF could be blank and students could use it as a whiteboard for working out Math or Science problems. It could be a map, a graphic organizer, a handwriting guide, graph paper, or any number of other things. The built-in tools can then be used to mark-up the PDF so it can be turned in to the teacher for grading or review.

How to Use Text to Speech on the iPad

text to speech ipad

The iPad is a great device for assistive technology and text to speech is one of the most often used accessibility feature by teachers in special education and general education classrooms. Many teachers are not aware that it exists, but it does, and it has evolved to become a very usable solution with lots of valuable options to customize it to meet your needs. Here’s what you need to know to get started with text to speech functionality on your iPad.

How to Enable Text to Speech on the iPad

  1. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech and turn on Speak Selection and Speak Screen by sliding the toggle switch to the right.
  2. Next, adjust the speed of the speech by sliding the speaking rate slider to the right (or the left) until the voice reads at an acceptable pace for your needs.
  3. Turn on Highlight Content. This option highlights words on the screen as they are read aloud by the iPad. It is a great feature that is a real boon for students and is proven to help improve reading skills.

Note: As much as I like the option to highlight words as they are spoken, I do not always have the best of luck getting this to work reliably. Your mileage may vary, especially on certain apps/websites, but it is still worth turning on.

iPad Text to Speech Settings

How to Use Speak Selection on the iPad

  1. Speak selection will read selected text aloud. To try it out, open a website and press and hold on a word and then release to select some text.
  2. Next, move the blue bars on either side of the word to make a larger selection.
  3. Tap Speak to start the text to speech and stop it at any time by tapping Pause.

Speak Selection iPad

How to Use Speak Screen on the iPad

  1. Speak screen reads everything on your screen without the need to select any text. To try it out, open a website and swipe down from the top bezel on the iPad with two fingers.
  2. The iPad will begin reading all the text it finds on the screen, but you can control the narration with the on-screen media controls.
  3. The media controls will auto-hide after a few seconds, but you can bring them back or hide them yourself by tapping the left arrow on the side of the controls.

Speak Screen on the iPad

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How to Make Professional Looking iPad Screenshots

iPad Screenshots Title

When creating materials for professional development with teachers, I always try to ensure that my visuals are clear, well-designed, and easy on the eye. So, when I do iPad training, I often turn to a variety of screenshot apps in order to achieve these goals. The apps below are some of my go-to apps and are ideal for creating tutorials or eye-catching graphics for iOS devices.

One of my favorite apps is Screenshot – Frame Maker. It is a simple app, but a clever one. It automatically detects your device type and orientation and provides an appropriate frame. You can adjust the margins and choose whether you want a reflection on the screen or not. Framed screenshots can be saved to Dropbox or the camera roll, and shared by email, Twitter, or Facebook. You can also copy the image to paste into other apps.

Screenshot – Frame Maker is free, but if you want to create more than five images, you need to spend 99c on an in-app purchase to unlock unlimited exports. However, only real screenshot images can be used in this app. You can’t just add any picture from your camera roll. The only small issue I have with this app is that there is no option for an iPad Air frame, even if you use an iPad Air screenshot. You can choose between the older iPad 2 style frame or the iPad Mini. Given that the iPad Air design is a lot like an iPad Mini, this is the frame I choose most often. An example is included below.

Screenshot frame maker ios

A similar app that is also well worthy of consideration is Screenshot Maker Pro. It includes several options that Screenshot – Frame Maker doesn’t offer. For instance, you can add any image to your device frame, not just screenshots. You also have a choice of devices that you want to use. As well as iPads, you can also choose from every version of the iPhone, the Apple Watch, the Macbook Pro or an iMac. Screenshot Maker Pro includes several angles for these devices, lets you add a drop shadow, and even a ground reflection.

This app is free for up to two framed screenshots. After that, you need to pay the $2.99 in-app purchase to unlock unlimited exports and remove the ads. Images can be saved to your camera roll and then shared to other apps on your device. I enjoy using this app, but again, there is no frame for an iPad Air, so I am thinking that there must be a reason for this. An example with the iPad Mini frame is below.

Screenshot Maker Pro

Of course, once your screenshot is saved to the iPad, you can continue to add to it by adding annotations in a free app like Skitch. It lets you add shapes, arrows, text and more to your framed iPad screenshots. It even has a handy blur tool that lets you obscure sensitive information like email addresses or passwords. Skitch is an extremely versatile app, so it is no wonder that it is so popular with educators using iPads in the classroom. Take a look at the example below to see some of the things you can do with Skitch.

screenshot annotated with Skitch

Unfortunately, a byproduct of creating all these awesome framed iPad images is that your camera roll is now chock full of redundant screenshots that are doing nothing more than taking up precious space on your device. Thankfully, there is an app for that: Screenshots – Find, Share, Hide, and Delete Screenshot. This useful app will find all the screenshots in your camera roll and let you delete the ones you don’t want in just a couple of taps. Screenshots is a universal app that works on iPhones and iPads.

So, whether you are putting together some training materials, or looking for some graphics for a flyer or a website, these iPad screenshot apps should definitely be on your shortlist.

Related article: How to Take a Screenshot on an iPad and Annotate it!

Nuzzel: The Social News Feed for Connected Educators

Nuzzel for education

I first learned about Nuzzel from Tony Vincent, and today I use it more than ever. What is it? Nuzzel is a way to see the most popular links and stories that are being shared by your PLN. It basically filters out the noise and lets you see what the people you follow are most interested in right now. Nuzzel is updated frequently, and is a very efficient way to aggregate the best of the web so you can stay current with the latest conversations. Nuzzel is available for free on iOS, Android, and the web. Here’s how it works:

1. Connect to the app with your Twitter and/or Facebook accounts. With your permission, Nuzzel will analyze your respective feeds and compile the most shared and talked about stories from the people you follow.

2. Along the top of your screen you see four tabs. The first is the default feed, “News from Your Friends“, which as mentioned above, is a list of stories that your friends on social media are sharing right now. The list is sorted by the number of shares, with the most popular stories at the top of the feed, and newer (or less popular) stories towards the bottom. You can click or tap on any of these stories to read them, and also share them to your favorite social network.

Nuzzel for iOS screenshot

3. Another interesting option is the “News from Friends of Friends” feed. As the title suggests, these are popular stories that are being shared not by people you follow, but by friends of the people you follow. This can give a very different feed, with different stories, but is often still very relevant to the kinds of things you are interested in. It can also be a great way to find new people to follow based on the kinds of stories that they are sharing.

Nuzzel friends of friends

4. The remaining tabs at the top point to News You May Have Missed and your Recently Read Stories. Both are useful features that help you get more out of this useful app, but personally, I don’t use these features nearly as often as I use the first two.

5. The last thing I am going to highlight is the column on the right-hand side of the screen – Your Friend’s Feeds. This lets you view the news feed of your social media friends who are also using Nuzzel. This is akin to browsing through their Twitter or Facebook feed, but it picks up the stories that were curated for them by Nuzzel based on who they follow. I find this a great way to find specific content based on the special interests of some of the people I follow. The screenshot below is a snapshot of Tony Vincent’s news feed!

Tony Vincent's Nuzzel feed

Nuzzel is great for lots of reasons. It helps you stay connected with the best of social media without the need to be “connected” all the time. It also filters out a lot of the noise that some people complain about when they are using social media networks. Lastly, Nuzzel is a great discovery tool that gives you lots of content that you can share with your own followers. So, if you haven’t tried Nuzzel before, I would definitely recommend checking it out.