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Monday, August 20, 2012

5 Alternatives to Aviary for Creating Audio Online

Credit: YngveNilsen
Last month Aviary announced that they will be shuttering their online audio and image editing tools on September 15. Since that announcement I have had quite a few people ask me for some alternatives for creating audio recordings online. Here are five online tools that you and your students can use to create audio files online.

Soundation is a free service that allows anyone to create and remix sound tracks online. If you have used Apple's Garage Band or Aviary's Myna, Soundation will look familiar to you. Soundation provides five tracks on which you can place music clips and sound effects to mix together. To create your original work you can select from Soundation's gallery of 400 free sounds, upload your own sounds, or record new sounds using the instruments and keyboard built into Soundation. When you've created a product you like, you can download it or share it in Soundation's gallery.

UJAM is a service that aims to make everyone a singing sensation. Okay, so it might not make you a singing sensation, but it could help you create music tracks that you can share with friends and use in multimedia productions. Here's how UJAM works; you sing or play an instrument while recording to UJAM. When you're done recording, use UJAM to alter the sound quality of your voice, turn your voice into other sounds, adjust the tempo of your song, and or remix a song to include your recording. UJAM is essentially an online, light weight version, of Garage Band.

Incredibox is a neat website that allows you to create unique rhythms and sounds from drag-and-drop menu. The sounds in the menus are recordings of a Bobby McFerrin-like artist making "human beat box" sounds. You can experiment with different sound loops, choruses, and instrumental sounds to create your own unique sound loops.

Beat Lab is a free service through which you can experiment with thousands of sound and rhythm combinations. Using Beat Lab is easy. Beat Lab provides a grid on which you select the sounds you want to have played. You can specify how often you want each sound played and how quickly you want the sounds played. There are twelve default sounds provided in the Beat Lab grid. You can add more sounds by selecting "add more sounds" and choosing from the huge catalog of sounds. If the sound you want isn't available in the Beat Lab catalog you can upload your own sounds.

SoundCloud is an online service for recording, hosting, and sharing audio tracks. You can use SoundCloud to upload and share audio recordings that you have stored on your computer. SoundCloud can also be used for directly recording a spoken track. One of the really neat features of SoundCloud is the option to comment on tracks as they are playing. To make a comment just play the track, click on it, then type your comment in the comment box. Your comment(s) will be attached to the spot in the track that you clicked on while listening. SoundCloud has apps for Android and iOS devices.

Best of the Summer - Video Projects

For the next few days my schedule is packed with travel and two conferences. At the same time, historically this week is when many readers return to the blog after taking a break during the summer. Therefore, for the next couple of days I'll be re-running the most popular posts since June 1st, 2012.

Credit: Chelsea Davis
Video creation projects are some of my favorite things to do with students. I like video projects for a number of reasons not the least of which is that students generally enjoy them too. I like video projects because when they're organized properly students have to write, research, produce, and revise just as they would if they were writing a story or research paper. The difference is that shared finished video projects have the potential to reach many more people than a well-written essay does. Another bonus is that I can invite my administrators into my classroom to watch a few short videos and they can quickly see what my students have been doing.

Here are five ideas and tools for video projects that you can try with your students this year.

1. Biographical and Autobiographical videos: The first week of school is when we get to know our students, they get to know us, and they get to know each other. To help everyone introduce themselves, try using short videos created on Animoto. Have students select ten or so images from that are important to them or represent things that they are passionate about. Then let them select the music that matches the message they want to send to the class about themselves. Don't forget to create a video about yourself. When all of the videos are ready, have a little viewing party in your classroom.

2. Common Craft -style videos: Common Craft produces fantastic educational videos using nothing more than drawings, paper cut-outs, and voice over. I used that model last fall to have students tell the story of Lewis and Clark. My students worked in pairs to create images then narrate their videos. They took turns narrating and moving the images in and out of the scenes. We used Flip Cameras, but just about any digital video recorder will work.

This summer I've been playing with PowToon which allows me to create a Common Craft style video by dragging and dropping pre-drawn elements into each scene. PowToon is still in beta, but I encourage you to sign up for an invite. You can see one of my PowToon videos here.

3. Stop-motion videos: One of my favorite tools for creating stop-motion videos is Jelly Cam. Jelly Cam allows me to create a stop-motion video by upload images or capturing images with my webcam then playing them back at any frames-per-second rate that I choose. The latest version of Jelly Cam allows me to add an audio track to my project. Think about the possibilities for creating claymation movies with Jelly Cam, the next Gumby could be born in your classroom.

4. Documentary videos: Perhaps the next Ken Burns is sitting in your classroom right now! With We Video your students can collaboratively create documentary videos.

5. Flipped classroom videos: If you have been considering trying out the flipped classroom model by making your own short instructional videos there are plenty of tools available to you. Show Me for the iPad is one free tool that I like. I also like Screenr and Screencast-o-Matic for creating videos on your desktop. You might consider flipping the flipped classroom by having your students create short instructional videos to share with each other. Take a look at Next Vista for some good examples of students creating short instructional videos for each other. And if you are going to try the flipped classroom idea this year, please consider these three points first.

Best of the Summer - Tools for Gathering Feedback

For the next few days my schedule is packed with travel and two conferences. At the same time, historically this week is when many readers return to the blog after taking a break during the summer. Therefore, for the next couple of days I'll be re-running the most popular posts since June 1st, 2012.

Urtak is a free and simple polling service that can be used on any blog or website. The polls you create can have multiple questions, but they must be "yes or no" questions. But Urtak isn't that limited because visitors to your poll also have the option of writing in their own questions. You can get started using Urtak in seconds by registering with your Twitter or Facebook account. You can also use your email address to create an account with UrtakUrtak polls can be embedded into your blog or you can direct people to your poll by sharing the unique url Urtak assigns to your poll.

Kwiqpoll is a simple tool for quickly creating and posting polls. To create a poll with Kwiqpoll just visit the site, type a question, type your answer choices, and go. Your poll can stay online for three or seven days. Kwiqpoll assigns a unique url to each of your polls. Give that url to the audience that you want to participate in your poll.

Hall.com is a service for quickly creating and hosting online collaboration spaces. On Hall.com you can create your own space, quiet appropriately called Halls, in which you and your teammates chat, take notes, and manage to-do lists together. In your Hall you can also post polls and surveys to gather feedback from your group.

Understoodit is a new web app for quickly gauging your students' understanding of information that you have shared with them. I saw it in action for the first time last week when my Ed Tech Teacher colleague Greg Kulowiec used it during a workshop we taught. Understoodit is quite simple. Just open your account (it's still in beta by invitation only) and open the simple poll of "understand" or "confused." Students can vote using any internet-connected device. Students can vote whenever you have the poll open. They can vote multiple times too. So if they are confused at the beginning of class, but understand ten minutes later they can change their votes.


Simple Meet Me is a free service for quickly creating an online chat room with anyone you like. To use the service just go to SimpleMeet.Me and click on the link below the chat code. That code appearing when you visit SimpleMeet.me is the code you can give to anyone you want to join your chat. Anyone joining your chat just needs to enter that code to join you. Registration on SimpleMeet.me is not required.

Socrative is a system that uses cell phones and or laptops (user's choice) for gathering feedback from students. You can post as many questions as you like in a variety of formats. One of the more "fun" question formats is the "race" format in which students can work individually or in teams to answer questions as quickly as possible.

Poll Everywhere is a service that allows you to collect responses from an audience via text messaging or web input from a computer. The free plan for K-12 educators provides selection of features and quantity of responses that is adequate for almost any classroom. One of the neat ways to display feedback gathered through Poll Everywhere is in word clouds. The word cloud feature integrates with WordleTagxedo, and Tagul.

Mentimeter allows you to pose a question to your audience and get instant feedback on that question through cell phones, tablets, and any other Internet-connected device. Mentimeter doesn't have has many features as Socrative or Poll Everywhere, but it is free and very easy to use. In the video below I provide a two minute demonstration of Mentimeter. 


TodaysMeet is a free chat service that can be used for holding a back-channel discussion with students and colleagues. If you're not sure what a back-channel chat with students would look like, I encourage you to read Silvia Tolisano's post about using back-channels with elementary school students. Silvia's blog is where I first learned about TodaysMeet three years ago. TodaysMeet is completely free to use. Setting up a chat area in TodaysMeet is very simple. To set up your chat area just select a name for your room (that name becomes the url for your chat area), how long you want your room to exist, and select an optional Twitter hashtag for your chat area. To invite people to your chat area send them the url.

Chatzy is a neat little website that provides a free platform for hosting your private chat area. To use it, simply name your chat area, select your privacy settings (you can password protect it), then send out invitations. Instead of sending out invitations you could just post the link to your chat area.

Pollmo is a free service offering an easy way to create and post simple polls online. Getting started with Pollmo is easy. Just head to their site, type your question, type your response choices, and select a color theme for your poll. Then just copy the embed code provided to place your poll on your blog or website. Don't have a blog or website? Then just direct people to the url assigned to your Pollmo poll.

Backchan.nl is an open-source backchannel tool developed at the MIT Media Lab. Using Backchan.nl you can create an online forum through which users can exchange messages in response to a presentation they're watching. There are a lot of free services that do the same thing, but there are a couple of things that make Backchan.nl different. Backchan.nl allows you to select a start and end time for your backchannel. As the administrator of a Backchan.nl account you can create and manage multiple backchannels and schedule them to go live at different times. Backchan.nl also includes voting tools that participants can use to vote messages up or down.

Best of the Summer - 5 Ways to Use Google Sites

For the next few days my schedule is packed with travel and two conferences. At the same time, historically this week is when many readers return to the blog after taking a break during the summer. Therefore, for the next couple of days I'll be re-running the most popular posts since June 1st, 2012. 

Over the last two weeks I've had five occasions to work with teachers to either develop new websites or improve existing websites in Google Sites. Over the course of these workshops I've found that there are five ways that Google Sites are commonly being used in schools.

Before you jump to the list, the shameless promotion department at Free Technology for Teachers would like to mention that you should see Google Sites for Teachers if you need help getting started using Google Sites.

5 Ways to Use Google Sites in Schools
1. As a wiki: Google Sites can be used as a wiki if you share your site with others and invite them to be editors. As a teacher you could start a site then add your students as owners or editors on the site. If you add them as owners they will be able to start new pages. If you add them as editors they will only be allowed to edit existing pages. You can also use the new page-level permissions option to allow students to only edit the pages that you grant them access to.

2. As a digital portfolio: Google Sites can be used by students to create digital portfolios featuring their best works and accomplishments. I would encourage high school students to develop a digital portfolio that they can share with university admissions officers. Teachers should also consider developing a digital portfolio of their best lesson plans, credentials, and references to include when they apply for teaching positions.

3. As a digital file cabinet: If you have PDFs, Word files, or other documents that you want your students to be able to easily download, consider using the File Cabinet option in Google Sites. By creating a File Cabinet page you provide a place for those files to be easily accessed. You might also consider putting up a File Cabinet page for forms like permission slips that parents need to access.

4. As a blog: Use the Announcements template to create a blog page within your Google Sites. You can update the blog or make the blog page collaborative and let your students contribute to a class blog.

5. As a website: I left the most obvious option for last. If you need to create a place where parents and students can come to find important information about your course(s) or your school, Google Sites provides all of the tools for that. Incorporate a blog element (see #4 above) for posting updates and use the rest of the pages to house information that doesn't change that often. You can also incorporate a file cabinet (see #3 above) to post forms for parents to download. And if you're using Google Calendar, you can easily add a calendar of events to any page in your Google Site.

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