VLC for the Language Classroom

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Last week, I did a technology workshop for a group of language teachers and one of the things we covered was the free open source software, VLC. For those who are not familiar with this program, it is a multimedia player for most computers that recognizes almost every type of audio and video file you throw at it. It has saved me a number of times in the language classroom and has become my go-to application for media files. Here are some of the things it can do:

Installing:


Question: I have my computer and speakers set at the loudest setting, but it is still too quiet. How can I make it louder?

Answer: Open the file in VLC and then adjust the volume in the bottom-right corner of the window. You can only increase the volume by an additional 25% this way, but you can increase it even more by using the hotkeys.

  • Windows and Linux: Ctrl key and the up or down arrow keys
  • Mac: Command key and the up or down arrow keys

VLC Increase Audio

Question: The speaking in the video/audio file I am using is a little too fast for my lower level students. How do I slow down the audio without changing pitch?

Answer: VLC has this feature built into the player. The speed adjustment only affects the playback and will not change the original file.

  • Windows or Linux: Open the file in VLC and turn on the Status Bar (click on View -> Status Bar). Click on the ‘1.00x’ at the bottom of the screen and then move the slider back and forth to increase or decrease the speed.

VLC Status Bar

VLC Slow Down Audio

  • Mac: Open the file in VLC and click on Playback in the menu bar and then use the slider under Playback Speed.

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Question: The video is too long and I only want a section of it. How can I create a small clip from a section of my video?

Answer: This is only available for the Windows and Linux versions of VLC. There is a work around for Mac, but it isn’t very easy.

  • Windows and Linux: Open VLC and then make sure the Advanced Controls are on (click on View -> Advanced Controls). Start the video and when you get to the section you want to record, simply click on the record button once to start and again to stop recording. The new video file will appear in the Videos Library folder.

VLC Advanced Menu

VLC Recorder

Question: I want to keep repeating a section of my audio/video file so my students can hear/watch it over and over again. How can I do that?

Answer: This is only available for the Windows and Linux versions of VLC.

  • Windows and Linux: Open VLC and then make sure the Advanced Controls are on (click on View -> Advanced Controls). Start the video and when you get to the section you want to repeat, simply click on the A-B Loop button once to set the start point and when you get to the end, simply press it again. This will keep repeating this section until you press the A-B Loop button one more time. You can set this up ahead of time and simply pause the video or audio file until you are ready to play it.

VLC Loop Button

Question: I want to skip to different sections of my media file. How can I set this up?

Answer: VLC makes use of bookmarks which can be saved for later use.

  • Windows and Linux: Open VLC then make sure the Edit Bookmark window is open (click on Playback -> Custom Bookmarks -> Manage). Start your video or audio file and then click on the Create button in the Edit Bookmark window whenever you want to mark a spot to remember. You can continue to do this with your file until you are done bookmarking everything you would like. You can then double-click on any of the bookmarks in the Edit Bookmark window to skip to that section. You can then save the bookmark for later by clicking on Media -> Save Playlist to File

VLC Using bookmarks

  • Mac: Open VLC then make sure the Edit Bookmark window is open (click on Windows -> Bookmarks). Start your video or audio file and then click on the Add button in the Edit Bookmark window whenever you want to mark a spot to remember. You can continue to do this with your file until you are done bookmarking everything you would like. You can then double-click on any of the bookmarks in the Edit Bookmark window to skip to that section. You can then save the bookmark for later by clicking on File -> Save Playlist

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Let me know if there are any other tips you would like to add to this list.

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Appear.in – A Registration-Free Video Conferencing Webtool

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Appear.in is a no registration needed video conferencing tool that doesn’t need Adobe Flash and has apps for Android and iOS devices. It also allows for screensharing and text chat. Users can lock out unwelcome guests while still allowing access to others without needing a password. It is a fantastic tool for the classroom. Here is how it works:

Go to https://appear.in/ and click on Start. [Note: appear.in will automatically create a unique URL, but you can also choose your own. Simply type in a name in the box before clicking on Start]

At this point, you can just share the link with up to 7 other people to have a video conference. There are also a number of options, some which are important for the classroom.

Appear in lock button

Lock – This is an icon you find at the top of the page that looks like a padlock. Anyone in the room can lock the room. Those who want to enter have to “knock” when they arrive and people can choose to let them in or not. This is great for the classroom in that strangers can’t just wander into the room.

Appear in Claim button

Appear in register to claim

Claim – While Appear.in does not need registration to use, if you want to keep a room from being used by anyone else after you leave, you can register for free. Simply click on the Claim button at the top of the page and follow the instructions. It also allows you to kick out people.

Appear in Quality button

Quality – This is an icon at the top of the page that looks like a gradient box. The default quality is Good, but if you have low bandwidth or if the video is skipping a lot, choose Low.

Appear in Leave button

Leave – You can leave the room at any time by clicking on the Leave button at the top of the page that looks like a door. You can always re-enter by going back to the link.

Appear in chat button

Chat – There is a text chat function available by clicking on the chat icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen. It looks like a chat bubble. Keep in mind that the chat text can’t be deleted in that room.

Appear in microphone button

Muting video or audio or both – You can turn off your webcam and microphone by clicking on the microphone or camera icons found in your video box. They only appear once you start moving your microphone over your video image. Click on them again to activate them.

Appear in screen share button

Screensharing – You can share your entire screen with others or simply one of the windows that is currently open on your computer. This replaces your webcam video, so you can’t have your picture and the screen on at the same time. Simply click on the laptop icon in your video area, choose what you would like to share, and then click on Share. Click the laptop icon once again to go back to the webcam.

Appear in stickers

Stickers – You can also use a “sticker” on your video image. This is like Facebook stickers, only there are very few available. They only appear for a few seconds on your video image before going away. To access them, click on the smiley face icon in your video area and click on the icon you’d like to share.

Language classroom use:

Any time you have an online tool that students can use without having to give away private information is a win. I work with teachers who have students who are refugees and have limited access to their own computers. This gives those students access to a video conferencing tool without having to install anything on their computer such as with Skype.

There is the obvious group work usage, especially if students are working on a project from home. Students can share their screens such as with a presentation and can give it to a limited group of students instead of to the whole class. The teacher can meet with students online, especially when going over assignments.

I’m sure there are other uses which you are welcome to share in the comment section below.

TogetherTube: Watch videos or listen to audio together with others online

togethertube1One of the amazing things that webtools can do is to bring students together no matter where they are. TogetherTube is another great free tool that doesn’t require registration. It allows groups of people to watch videos or listen to audio files together in realtime, even if they are in other parts of the world. The files are synchronized so they all see it as if they were in the same room together.

This could be a really great tool for the language classroom where students could be assigned a video or audio file to watch or listen to with their classmates or in a group. Instead of doing it as a class, they could use their own devices or even be in different places and watch or listen to together and comment in the chat box.

Here how to use it:

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  • You now will be taken to the viewing room.

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  • Now to add your audio or video files. You can either search for a YouTube, Vimeo, or Dailymotion video or SoundCloud audio file, or you can paste in a web address (URL) from any of those sites. Click on ‘Search Videos’, type in your search description, and choose the site you would like to search.

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  • You will now see the video or audio files found using your search criteria, or the file using the URL.

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  • Once you have located the audio or video file you would like to watch or listen to with others, click on the green ‘thumbs-up’ button. The video will now appear in the player window area.

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  • The video will start playing immediately. You can pause it if you are planning on watching or listening with others. You can also adjust the video quality by clicking on the arrow in the bottom-right corner.

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  • To invite others to watch or listen with you, click on the ‘Invite Friends’ button along the top bar.

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  • A dialogue box will appear with a link you can copy and share with others. Be careful, this is a room anyone can enter without a password, so don’t share it on a public site such as Twitter or Facebook.

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  • To avoid others from finding your room on TogetherTube, click on the ‘Room Settings’ button along the top and a new page will open.

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  •  Uncheck the ‘Public Room’ option and click on ‘Save’. You can also change the room name if you would like and even add a description. There are a number of other options on the left side menu, but most of those are for registered users. Close this window to return to your room.
  • In you room, you also have a text chat option on the right-hand side. Just type your message and hit enter to send it to all users in the room.

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  • Any user that enters the room will see the video or hear the audio being played at the same time as all other participants in the room. Anyone can pause the file and even add other videos or audio files to the playlist  by searching or pasting in a URL and clicking on the ‘thumbs up’ button. Files with the most votes get bumped up the playlist.

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 Here is a printable guide for teachers and students

Create an online resource library with students using Send Ape

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One of the workshop sessions I have given over the past few years in on the creation of a resource library with students, a place for them to find reading or listening material that they can use outside of the classroom. Getting students engaged in extensive reading and listening is critical in their language learning process. The more they are exposed to the language in use, the more they are able to comprehend and make important connections.

I am also an advocate of students taking control of their own learning. They are only with me for a short time each week in comparison to time outside of the classroom. They need to learn how to learn on their own, a skill that many students have not yet been exposed to in a more traditional learning environment. Allowing students to choose their own reading and listening material is important since they will become more engaged in the process and also will learn the vocabulary necessary within the environment they plan on using English (ex. their major in university, their work environment, travel).

A large part of them taking control of their learning is in finding and creating content that appeals to them and then sharing that with others who may also find it helpful. This is simplified through the use of social sharing online, a cloud-based approach to the traditional library. This allows students to create audio or video content for listening, and also the creation of text-based material for reading. Even photos can used to share signs, newspaper articles, and anything else students find throughout their day that can be useful in learning language in context.

There are a number of ways of doing this, but there are certain obstacles that need to be overcome. One such hurdle is the use of online sites that require registration. If it at all possible, I try to use online tools that don’t require that students give up their personal information. Also, the site needs to be accessible from multiple devices, not just laptops or desktops.

One such site that works very well for this purpose is Send Ape. Send Ape is a file sharing site that allows for video and audio playback, document and image viewing, and multiple users without having to sign up or deal with advertisements. Here is how it works and how it may be used as a resource library:

  • Go to Send Ape and click on ‘Create new page’.

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  • Send Ape will give you a page with a unique name. From what I can see, there is no way to change this. In the middle of the page, you will see a dotted box that says, “Drop your files here”. You can either drag and drop your files into the box, or you can click on the box and you will be prompted with a file manager where you can choose your file.

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  • Once your file is loaded, depending on the file type, you will see it appear in a box on the righthand side.
  • Video files can be played in a window or fullscreen by clicking on the ‘Preview’ button. You can also click on the ‘Share’ button to get a direct link to the video in a new window. This is a great way for students to upload video they have taken on their mobile devices without having to sign up for YouTube. Lastly, students can also archive the video by clicking on the ‘Download’ button and adding it to their own device for offline viewing.

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Video pop-up window

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Direct link shared video file window

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  • You can listen to the audio files by clicking on the ‘Play’ button. You can also click on the ‘Share’ button to get a direct link to the audio file in a new window. This is a great way for students to upload audio they have recorded on their mobile devices without having to sign up for any site. Lastly, students can also archive the audio file by clicking on the ‘Download’ button and adding it to their own device for offline listening.

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  • Most documents, including PDFs and Microsoft Office documents, can be viewed directly in File Ape. Click on the ‘Preview’ button and a pop-up window will appear with the document.
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Document pop-up viewer

  • Click on the box icon with an arrow in it in the pop-up window and File Ape will open the document in a Google Document viewer that you can share with others.
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Google document viewer

  • All items are shared in a “page” that can be shared with others. You can create as many pages as you would like, although there is a 4GB limit if you use the unregistered option. Sign up and you will be given 10GB of storage and a login ID. Unfortunately, you will need to use a Google or Facebook account to register. There is not email option available.
  • To create a new page, click on the ‘+Add page’ button on the left side of the screen.

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  • There are a number of options available for each page.

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  • The far left button pops out the share options. The best choice is the link available at the bottom of the box. You can share this page with anyone using this link. It is also useful for when users switch computers without an account. More on that in a minute.

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  • The second button changes the view from ‘Blog’ view to ‘Thumb’ or ‘List’.
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Thumb view

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List view

  • The third button along the top is the sort button. Click to change it from most recent to alphabetical.

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  • The fourth button is the security button. Students can choose to add a password to the page before sharing.

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  • The fifth button along the top is the availability option. Users can set a date when to make it available and when to stop making it available.

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  • The last button is an important one. You can choose if visitors can add files to the page (great for students to have others give their input), can allow others to view their page (ie. make it private), or if visitors can delete items from the page (probably best kept off). Students can also delete pages here.

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So how would this work as a resource library with students? Have students create their own pages and then share them with the rest of the class with the option available for others to add content. Maybe one student is interested in computers. That student could make a list of reading and listening material that they have found or created and then share it with their classmates. Other students can then add files they find related to that topic to the page. This can be collected on a class website or a shared document. This becomes the reading and listening resource library for the class.

There are a lot of other great uses for Send Ape such as sharing videos with students, having students share their presentations on a page so the teacher can get them all lined up and ready when students are ready to present to the class. Teachers can share listening files with the class for those who missed class. Teachers and students could give feedback on writing assignments.

Here is a printable guide to creating a page as a resource library.

Here is a sample page you can add to. Please keep it clean! 🙂

Let me know what you think about Send Ape!

Record and host audio online with SpeakPipe Voice Recorder

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 7.09.30 PMOne tool I use quote often in my English language classroom is a voice recorder. For years, I used Vocaroo as my online recorder, but I have stopped that completely due to the awful ads that are shared with the listener of the shared audio file. Instead, I am using SpeakPipe Voice Recorder. It is a simple, online voice recorder that doesn’t need registration. Files are downloaded or shared online using a unique URL. Listeners can also download the file or listen online. Best of all, there are no ads anywhere on the site. It evens works with mobile devices. Here is how it works:

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  • For laptop and desktop users, you will be asked to give permission to Adobe Flash to have access to the microphone. Click on ‘Allow’.

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  • SpeakPipe will immediately start recording. If you would like to restart, simply click on ‘Reset’. When you are done, click on ‘Stop’.

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  • If you audio is quiet, you may get this message. You can click on ‘Replay’ to listen to the audio. If you are then happy with it, click on ‘Save on server’, otherwise click on ‘Reset’ to start again.

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  • You may give your recording a title or simply leave it blank. Click on ‘Save’ to upload to the server. Notice, the file will be saved there for three months from the last playback.

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  • You will then be given a playback window with an embed code shown along the bottom. You can embed this file in your website using the code. Click on ‘Link to this recording’ to get the unique URL that you can share with others.

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  • This is the final step. Simply copy the URL from the top of the page and share it with the person or people you would like. You can also click on the ‘download’ text to download the file to your computer.

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A guide to Dreamreader: A free online English reading site

dreamreader1Finding good reading material for English language learners, especially for mid to lower level adult learners, can be quite difficult. The other day, Michael Griffin introduced us to Neil Millington, the co-creator of Dreamreader. I took a look over the website and I am impressed with what I have seen so far. It is still in the early stages of creation, but there is plenty of content and more still to come.

I thought I would take some time here to give you all an overview of the site and what it has to offer you as a teacher and also your students on their own.

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At the top of the page, you have five options to choose from, including easy and academic English. Each lesson has a large image, an audio playback of the written questions, and interactive, multiple-choice questions. There are also a number of downloadable items such as printable versions of the page with answers and a separate audio file.

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After doing the quiz, a button appears below the quiz that takes you to the score and answers.

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Your answers and score then appear in a new window.

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The printable handouts look a great deal like the page, but with the answers found along the bottom of the page.

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Some lessons also incorporate a reading section and/or a video to watch.

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For the academic English section, you will also find a vocabulary handout included with the lesson.

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Overall, I think this is a good site for English language learners to practice their reading skills. In time, the site may evolve and add more components, but for now, I am already pretty impressed.

 

The Incredible Shrinking Video!: Resize Videos Using Miro VideoConverter

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Whenever I have students create a video either through screencasting or on their mobile device, I end up with the problem of someone trying to send or upload a massive file that gets rejected by the server, not to mention the amount of time and bandwidth taken up in the process. Thankfully, there is a simple, free solution that works on almost any computer: Miro VideoConverter. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to shrink the size of the videos while still maintaining decent quality and also making it accessible my as many devices and possible.

Downloading and installing Miro Video Converter:

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  • Go to the Miro VideoConverter website and click on the ‘Download Miro VideoConverter’ button and allow the file to be downloaded to your computer.
  • Run the installer. This will be different for the various versions of Windows or Mac. For Mac, it comes as a disc image (.dmg). Just open the image and copy the application to the Applications folder. For Windows, run the executable file (.exe) to install.

Converting videos:

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  • Run the Miro Video Converter program and you will see a grey box like the one above.

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  • Drag a video file into the box or click on ‘Choose Files…’ and select a file to convert.  Your video should appear in the box like the image above. You can add more than one video.

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  • Select the video output you would like by clicking on a button at the bottom. I choose Apple and then iPod Touch 4+ since this is the most compatible with smartphones, tablets, and computers. I want my students to be able to view the video on whatever device they would like.

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  • Click on the ‘Convert Now’ button to start the process. You will see an indicator showing how much has been done.

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  • Once it has finished, you can click on ‘Show File’ to see the video on your computer. You can watch it to make sure it plays properly before posting it for your students.

Notes:

  • You will lose some quality and your video may be cropped slightly. If this happens, choose a different format and do it again.
  • You can extract the audio as an MP3 if you click on ‘Format’ and then ‘Audio’.

I hope that helps! Feel free to post a comment below or send me a message through the contact page on this site or tweet me at @nathanghall. Thank you!