A few years back, Flip Digital, the company that created the iconic Flip cam, was purchased by electronic giant Cisco. Cisco, more commonly known as specializing in networking equipment, was hoping that that the simple-to-use Flip cam could be adapted and allow users to teleconference and post video straight to their blogs.
So about a month ago, Cisco pulled the plug on the Flip camera. Why? The answer had to do with the big picture. You see, the Flip does one thing: video. Its ease of use was the main idea behind its design and software. Smartphones and tablets, on the other hand, do video as well, but they also do a million other things. Smartphones and tablets are more popular and more profitable than the uni-tasker Flip cam. Lo and behold, the powers at Cisco killed my beloved little camera.
Most of the teachers who have used them loved the Flip camera. The fact that they only did one thing was part of their appeal. You could hand them off to students on a field trip, give them to a parent, record a student reading, or any number of other activities. A smartphone does all of those things but most smartphones are ill-suited for casual school use. Alas, what we do?
Thankfully, with the loss of the largest player in the entry-level camcorder market, plenty of other options are stepping up to fill the void, such as the Kodak Playsport. This camera not only films video as well as the Flip, but is also waterproof (and therefore field-trip proof). I hope to get one soon and put it through the paces.
This is an example where a simple idea can truly change the world. In 2004, a man from Louisiana named Salaman Khan took the math lessons he had been giving to his cousin and began hosting them on YouTube. The lessons are simple. Most are 10 minutes long and consist of a person drawing or writing the lesson while conversing with the listener. The overall effect is like looking over someone’s shoulder while they do a math problem. This expanded into a massive collection of online lessons in science and technology and has grown into the Khan Academy, a website where thousands of lessons are available for viewing. There are also self-directed assessments. Funded by such notables as Google and Bill Gates, the website contains lessons in everything from adding to advanced calculus, all of it available for free. Teachers are even able to set up online “classrooms” where they can assign these virtual lessons to students and monitor progress.
Currently there are 2,100 mini-lectures and over 100 exercises that have been viewed by over 46 million people, providing educational lessons from first grade through college. As part of the effort to make it available to everyone, the lessons have been downloaded onto disks and distributed to impoverished nations without internet access.
I see using this for my advanced math students who need something extra. This site, along with a loose framework of assessment should give them plenty to do. Go ahead and give it a look, its great stuff.
More: Salman Khan on TED: Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education
One of the things that I get asked a lot is how to download video from websites like YouTube. Because we are behind a proxy filter at my school, this is often the only way to get video from this great online source into the classroom. The other reason that this is useful is because YouTube tends to try to suggest other videos to you that might not be safe for school and sometimes a stand-alone video file is safer.
There are countless ways to take video from a website. After all, it has been loaded onto your computer already; all you need to do is tell your computer to “grab” it. I am going to share my method of downloading and displaying a flash video. By no means will it work every time, but it’s another option in meeting your needs.
There are three programs I use for this: two to get the video and one to display it without a lot of fuss.
- First, install Firefox, mostly because it is awesome. Argue it if you want, but this is a rule in my classroom, kind of like the rule about never bringing ranch dressing into my room. It’s a great browser with lots a features and more importantly the ability to install extensions that expand what it can do, Just go to tools>add-ons.
- Second, about those extensions: the one you want to install either through Firefox or their extension library is called downloadhelper. It’s a nice little program that creates a neat three-color icon in your browser whenever it finds something it can download.
Download Helper, helping
- Go to your favorite source of online video. When it starts to spin, click it and select whatever file looks like it might be the one you want. This can be tricky since they will often be named in some strange code, but look for one that ends in .flv. click it to start the download.
- The .FLV file is the most common type of online video these days; a flash video file that can probably be played on your browser, but not by itself and not in many media players such as Windows Media Player or QuickTime. It can, however, be played using the second greatest program ever: Video LAN Client, or VLC. This is a simple, streamlined media player that is very powerful. It does one thing—plays files. And it leaves out all the bloatware you find in QuickTime or Windows Media Player.
There are other methods, of course, like converting the file into something easier for your computer to handle, but VLC does such a great job I tend to save myself the trouble. Save the file to a flash drive, or save yourself a lot of trouble and save it to your Dropbox.
Setting up the next shot.
To keep my kids busy in this crazy time, I gave a few of them a project. Using a common digital camera and a tripod my kids were able to make a stop motion film starring the snowmen they made last week and the alligator head I keep on my desk. Anything can work as a model for this activity: old action figures, army men, Legos or clay figurines. Making sure not to move the camera, you move your model a fraction of an inch, then take a photo. Repeat several hundred times.
The next step is to import them into Windows Movie Maker after you have set the default image time to .25 seconds. This gives everything a nice, smooth movement.
Add titles, effects, and even a soundtrack and you’re good to go.
And now, please enjoy Chompy vs. the Snow-Women: