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.

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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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Audacity vs. Ocenaudio – Comparing Free Audio Editor Programs

Image courtesy of Kris S.

Image courtesy of Kris S.

If you have been involved in language teaching for any length of time, you have probably had some experience in using the free, open-source audio program, Audacity. In fact, for some schools, this is installed on all of the lab computers and is the primary audio recorder for both students and teachers. It comes in various versions, such as a portable version you can take with you on your USB drive, and for multiple platforms, such as Mac and Windows.

Recently, I have come across the free, but not open-source, audio editor Ocenaudio that is also cross-platform, but for myself is a much more user-friendly offering for those wishing to record and edit audio on their computer. Because of this, I have decided to do my first head-to-head software comparison by looking at the installation, features, and usability of these two apps.

Audacity

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Cost: Completely free. Audacity is open source which means that it can be adapted by anyone who wants to tweak or change the source code. In other words, it has been created over time by a whole lot of people working apart, yet together on the same project. The advantage to this is that if anything goes wrong, anyone can fix it. Also, since there is no company involved, there is no fear that the support will dry up.

Installation:

  • Windows (Option 1): Download the main installer (23MB) and run the installer. You will need administration rights to do this.
  • Windows (Option 2): Download the ZIP file of the installer (9MB) and uncompress the file and then run the installer. You will need administration rights to run the installer.
  • Windows (Option 3): Download the portable version from PortableApps (21MB) and run the installer to uncompress and copy to a portable drive such as a USB thumb drive. You can get around the administration rights problem doing it this way, but it takes longer to boot up each time (minimal) and you can’t associate file types with it (ie. you can’t make Windows always open certain file types with it simply by double-clicking on the file. You will need to start Audacity and then open the file that way).
  • Mac (Option 1): Download the DMG file (33MB) and open the DMG file (click or double-click depending on where you do this) and copy (ie. drag-and-drop) the Audacity folder to the Applications folder (actually, you can copy this anywhere you would like on your computer, but the Applications folder makes the most sense).
  • Mac (Option 2): Download the ZIP file (15MB) and open the file (click or double-click depending on where you do this) and then move the folder to the Applications folder (actually, you can copy this anywhere you would like on your computer, but the Applications folder makes the most sense). Note that this option does not have the help files with it.
  • Additional installation: For either the Mac or Windows version, you will need to install the LAME plug in if you want to export (ie. save) your work as an MP3 file. Since most devices (computers, portable audio players, phones, and so on) can play MP3 files, this is highly recommended. In order to do that, you will need to download the LAME plugin and run the installer (Mac or Windows). Once that is done, you will be able to export any file as an MP3 file.
Basic Features:
  • Recording: Once you open Audacity, you will be presented with the main window with buttons, drop-down menus, and the main audio channels. It can be very overwhelming for someone who isn’t used to audio editing or the options that you are presented with. To do a simple audio recording, you need to choose the audio host, the output and input devices, and the input channels. Once that is okay, you can simply press the Record button to start and the Stop button to stop.
  • Cutting: If you have just recorded something, you will see the waveform of the file in the central window. To edit, simply click-and-drag over the area you would like to delete and press play to hear if that is okay. If you need to adjust, simply move either end of the selection and play to check again. Once you are satisfied that you would like to remove that section, simply hit the delete key and that section will be discarded and the remaining two sections will merge. If you are editing an imported file (ex. MP3) file, Audacity has to encode it as a lossless file before editing and then re-encodes the file, losing quality along the way.
  • Adding: Select the area you would like to copy from by clicking-and-dragging over the area. Copy or cut that section (I use hotkeys, but you can also use the Edit menu or right-click on the mouse and select copy or cut) and then click in the area you would like to insert the new section and paste your selection.
  • Adjusting the audio for a section: Select the area you would like to adjust the volume by clicking-and-dragging over the area. Along the top menu, choose Effect and then Amplify. Adjust the slider up or down and click on OK to apply the changes. If the OK button greys out (ie. you can’t click on it), either adjust your slider since you have put it up too much and part of the audio wave will be cut off (ie. clipped), or select the ‘Allow Clipping’ option and then OK.
  • Saving: You can save an recording or editing project as an Audacity file, allowing you to continue working on it at a later time. Once you are finished, you can export the product in various formats including MP3 if you have the LAME plugin installed (see above).

Usability / Design: Audacity is an older program (started in 1999) and the design has basically remained unchanged over that time. It was designed to be a full-featured audio editor for those who were familiar with all of the terms and features of a full blown audio editor. As a result, the design is a bit overwhelming for the average user and also a bit clunky to operate. To be perfectly honest, it is ugly. I don’t expect it to be super stylish, but the design often works against the usage and makes it more difficult to use than necessary. After saying that, at least it is consistent. Once a person learns how to use it, future updates should remain familiar if the past is any indication. There is something to be said about not having to re-learn everything with a new update (I’m looking at you Microsoft!).

Ocenaudio

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Cost: Completely free. Ocenaudio is not open source, but did start off with a research group in a Brazilian university needed an app for a specific project. Therefore, it can not be adapted or changed by anyone outside of that group. If the group wants to kill the project or start charging for it or any part of it, they can. The likelihood of this is remote, but something to consider.

Installation:

  • Windows: Download the installer (16-18MB) and run it. You will need administration rights to run the installer.
  • Mac: Download the DMG file (22MB) and copy the app to your Applications folder (actually, you can copy this anywhere you would like on your computer, but the Applications folder makes the most sense).
Basic Features:
  • Recording: Upon opening Ocenaudio, you are presented with a very clean, minimalistic main window with a few buttons, a file window on the left, and a audio window in the centre. It looks very easy to use, even for those who are not accustomed to audio editing. To do a simple audio recording, simply press the Record button to start and a menu for the sample rate, channels, and resolution options drops down. Click on ‘OK’ to start recording, and then click on the Record button to stop recording.
  • Cutting: If you have just recorded something, you will see the waveform of the file in the central window. To edit, simply click-and-drag over the area you would like to delete and press play to hear if that is okay. If you need to adjust, simply move either end of the selection and play to check again. Once you are satisfied that you would like to remove that section, simply hit the delete key and that section will be discarded and the remaining two sections will merge. If you are editing an imported file (ex. MP3) file, Ocenaudio doesn’t require re-encoding, making it faster and simpler as well as cleaner since the audio is compressed multiple times.
  • Adding: Select the area you would like to copy from by clicking-and-dragging over the area. Copy or cut that section (I use hotkeys, but you can also use the Edit menu or right-click on the mouse and select copy or cut) and then click in the area you would like to insert the new section and paste your selection.
  • Adjusting the audio for a section: Select the area you would like to adjust the volume by clicking-and-dragging over the area. Along the top menu, choose Effects and then Amplitude and Gain. Adjust the slider left or right and click on OK to apply the changes.
  • Saving: You can save an recording or editing project in various formats including MP3 (no plug in required).

Usability / Design: Ocenaudio is a new program and the design certainly shows that. The interface is welcoming, clean, and easy to use. It feels familiar for those who are used to using similar programs. Instead of opening multiple windows, each file is listed along the left-hand side, making it easier to toggle between them. Also, the lack of buttons makes it simpler for those who just want to record, edit, and save.

Conclusion

After using Audacity for many years, I am aware of the quirks and benefits of this fairly well known program. Ocenaudio is a newcomer to this market, but a welcome one. From what I can see, Ocenaudio is more than capable of handling what language learners and instructors need in an audio recorder / editor, making it more user friendly to install and use. Where Audacity still has an edge is in the area of portability. If you have to switch computers all of the time and don’t have the recorder installed on all of those machines, the portable version of Audacity is a handy friend to have in your bag. After saying that, it isn’t very often that I have this problem and I suspect that is the same for most instructors. If that is the case, I would lean towards Ocenaudio as my main audio editor.

Video in ELT: Moving from Passive to Active Part 2 – Creation (Social Asynchronous Webinar)

Welcome to part two of the first Social Asynchronous Webinar (SAW). In this section, we look over some of the comments that were given after part one and also recording and sharing videos. Some of the comments were not shared in this section as they are applicable to other upcoming portions of this webinar. For those that commented, thank you so much for your input. I look forward to hearing from all of you on how you have students record and share their videos.

Once again, I am using videoANT for commenting, so feel free to watch and comment. I make a small challenge towards the end of the video and I look forward to seeing (and hearing!) how you do with that. At the bottom of this page, I have included links to all of the things that were mentioned in the video including copies of the comments I referred to.

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Laura Adele Soracco: “Excited to give a try to some of the tools you’ve mentioned. I can imagine students in an online course using VideoANT to give presentations and get feedback/questions from other classmates. This side bar here is great because it connects to a specific part of the talk.”

“As speaking practice homework, I’ve used YouTube for Ss to record a 2 minute response after watching a video (I’ve given a list of options). Ss then share the link with me. The downside is that it’s a T-S activity as I did it in the past, but I think in the future if I did this, I’d ask students to upload the link to a shared place, like a Wiki or something similar.”

Note: Laura also interviewed me in regards to SAWs. You can read it here.

David Harbinson: “First off, I like the idea of SAW and it looks like you’re off to a good start. I very rarely have my Ss create videos in class, this is mainly because we don’t have access to computers for them to do so (and it’s not possible to set for homework because of the context that I teach in). However, a few times in the past, I have had students use their smartphones to create a video. The one problem I have encountered is that they take many short clips but then don’t know how to stitch them together. I wonder if anyone knows of a good app, preferably free, that Ss can download in class and quickly use to stitch video clips together?”

Janet McQueen: “Thanks for sharing and trialing this new medium for learning. I don’t currently teach so I haven’t used these tools with students but I am interested in the topic. I do write about second language teaching and incorporating the use of technology for school teachers in New Zealand. I think the key to any tool is that we know why we are using it. Is it the best tool to meet our teaching objectives? Also to embed it in our planning to ensure that our teaching is authentic, has academic rigor, uses applied learning, allows for student active exploration and for them to have connections with adults. Of course to do that we first need to know the technological possibilities and be a learner ourselves so we can use the technology as well.”

Mentioned in the video:

Vid.me

VideoShow: Video Editor and Maker (Android)

iMovie (paid) and YouTube Capture (free) (iOS)

YouTube webcam recorder

Edmodo

Blogger

WordPress

Google Drive 

Thank you all for participating. I look forward to hearing what you all have to say!

No document camera? No problem! Use your smartphone, Dropbox, and PicMonkey to do even more!

Image courtesy of Cushing Library Holy Names University

Image courtesy of Cushing Library Holy Names University

One of the tools I use quite a bit in my English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classroom is a document camera. While I tend to use a lot of computer based tools, it is still easier (and in some ways better) to have students work in pairs and groups on writing projects with pens and paper. This allows the entire group to be active during the writing time instead of staring at their screens or letting one person do all of the typing. Also, I find it helps me see what problems they have with their writing since they aren’t relying on autocorrect or spell checking. Lastly, it also allows for a level of creativity that you don’t normally see when they are using the computer. I know, I know. It is possible with tablets and apps, but I am dealing with a situation where things are not equal with the students in regards to technology, so this allows for a level playing field.

When talking with teachers who are limited in their technology resources, such as not having a document camera, I try to find alternatives that do basically the same thing without the expenditure of another tool to buy. In the case of the document camera, I have used my smartphone plus Dropbox and PicMonkey to do something that even adds to the experience. Here is how it works:

  • Students work on their projects with coloured pens and white paper. I tend to use markers instead of pens and pencils for many reasons, mainly it is easy for others to read.

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  • Once they are done, I take a photo with my smartphone of the project. On my phone, I have installed the Dropbox app and have the settings set to automatically upload images to my Dropbox account. For those not familiar with Dropbox, this is a ‘cloud-based’ storage site that synchronizes whatever you put in there with all of your devices. Example: I have Dropbox installed on my Macbook, by Android phone, my Windows 8 laptop, and my iPad. When I put a file in my Dropbox folder on any of those devices, it automatically copies that file to Dropbox’s online storage site which then sends a copy to my other devices. Therefore, I don’t have to use a USB drive to copy my files between my devices and, in this case, I can use it to store photos from my smartphone and have those photos automatically appear on my computers as well.

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  • After taking photos of all of the paper-based projects my students have been working on, I go the computer hooked up to the projector at the front of the class and I go to the PicMonkey editor which does not require an account to use. From there, I open my Dropbox folder (after giving PicMonkey permission. This only has to be done once) and open the photos I just took with my smartphone. With PicMonkey, I can edit the photos (brighten, crop, zoom in, etc.) and I can also annotate them (type in titles, add arrows, etc.) on the projected screen while the students give me their feedback as a class.

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  • Once I am done with each photo, I can then download it to my computer or I can save the edited version back on Dropbox. I normally choose Dropbox since I can then get a link to the photo to post for our class on Edmodo. If I don’t, I will save it to the computer and then upload it to Edmodo. Either way, the students have access to the edited/annotated image for later.
  • If this sounds really complicated, it isn’t. Do it once and you will find it is very quick and streamlined. Students like to be able to access all of the projects, not just their own and it allows from a lot more discussion in class. The only thing you have to sign up for is a Dropbox account. You can do that here for 2.5GBs of free storage.

If you use this idea, post a comment below and let me and others know how it worked (or didn’t work) for you and what you used it for. Share your ideas! Thanks.

CLEAR Conversations: Create video-based questions for students to answer online

Conversations

One of the advantages to using online tools in the language classroom is the ability to have students make audio and video recordings that can be used for practice and assessment. An absolutely fantastic tool from The Center of Language Education and Research (CLEAR) at Michigan State University is called Conversations. Conversations allows teachers to create an online video recording that students can respond to by using a simple webcam and microphone. These recordings are kept private in the teacher’s online folder for review and can also be downloaded. Here is how it works:

Recording the questions:

  1. Go to the main CLEAR website to register. The teacher is the only person who needs to register. The students can use their own names or any designation that you have agreed upon. They do not have to give any personal information such as an email address.
  2. Once you have completed the registration process, go to the Conversations website and login.
  3. In the ‘Start a new conversations’ box, put in a name that will help you know which ‘conversation’ you are referencing. This could be the class name, a subject name, or anything else. This can be changed at any time.
  4. Once you have created a conversation, click on the pencil symbol to the far left of the name. A box will appear and you will be asked to give access to the webcam and microphone. Click on ‘Allow’.
  5. A live video feed will appear in the box. To the left of the video, click on the little green ‘+’ symbol and a number will appear in the box just to the left of the video.
  6. Click on the number and, when you are ready, click on the red record button below the video box to start recording. Record a question, comment, or anything else you would like the student to respond to. Click on the stop button to stop recording. You can play back the video by clicking on the play button.
  7. Once you are done adding questions, select a time limit for the student’s video (0 is the default which means no time limit).
  8. If you would like to allow students to practice before making their final recording, click on the ‘Check to allow students to practice’ checkbox.
  9. Click on the ‘Save All’ button to save your changes.
  10. Click on the ‘Copy’ button to get the embed code that you can paste into a webpage. If you have a blog, this could be on a page or post. If you don’t have a website or blog, you can always use a registration-free page such as Axess.im to paste your embed code.
  11. Give the students the webpage site where they can go to record their answers.

Student recordings:

  1. Students go to the webpage and click on ‘Allow’ to let allow the computer to access the webcam and microphone.
  2. Students type in their name and click on ‘Log in’.
  3. If you have allowed students to practice, they can click on the question numbers and then the little speaker button below the video to watch the questions. They can even practice recording themselves by click on the record, stop, and play buttons. These videos will not be submitted to the teacher.
  4. Once students are ready, or if you have turned off the practice option, students click on the ‘Real Time’ button to watch the questions you have recorded. At the end of each video, the webcam will immediately start recording their responses. If it is timed, it will stop recording at the end of the time limit. If they have unlimited time or they finish before the time is up, they click on ‘Stop Recording’ below the video to go to the next question. If they would like to do it again, they can always click on the ‘Real Time’ button again to start again.
  5. Once all the questions are answered, the ‘Submit’ will appear. Click on this button and they videos are automatically put in the teacher’s review box.

Teacher Review:

  1. Back at the Conversations website, click on the eye button to the left of the conversation name. A ‘Conversations Viewer’ box will appear with a list of names on the left.
  2. Click on a name and click on ‘Play Back’ to see both the question and the student’s answer, or click on ‘Play Responses Only’ to just see their answers.
  3. There is a ‘Request Download’ button that you can use to download the videos. You will get a download link within 24 hours.

This is an amazing tool for having asynchronous conversations with students. You could create listening and speaking practice activities or tests using this tool and then save the videos for the student’s e-portfolio. The fact it is only accessible by the teacher makes this a tool that can be used with all age groups and also for situations where privacy is imperative.

Here is a video tutorial on how to use CLEAR Conversations:

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How could you see this being used? Share your ideas in the comment field below, send me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or email me using the contact page on this website. Thank you.

fotofriend Video Booth: Create and post videos to YouTube for free without an account

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Using videos in class can be an effective way of engaging students to use the language skills they are learning in class. Students can share ideas, watch short lessons, or give mini-presentations with the ability of being able to redo it at any time. The fotofriend Video Booth online application doesn’t require any registration or installation and can be uploaded to YouTube as well. Here is how it works:

Steps:

  1. Go to fotofriend Video Booth and click on ‘Allow’ on the Adobe Flash Player Settings box. This allows the program to access your webcam and microphone.
  2. You will be given a selection of 4 different effects. There are a total of 56 that you can use. If you want to create a normal video, click on ‘1. Normal’.
  3. On the right side of the video you are provided a few choices. Click on either ’10 seconds’, ’30 seconds’, or ‘3 minutes’. You can always stop it sooner if you would like. You can turn the sound off (it is on by default), and you can also choose standard or high quality (this also changes how long it will take to upload to YouTube, but won’t affect the time it takes to download to your computer).
  4. You can click on ‘Fullscreen’ to see it easier on small screens and you can also toggle through the effects by clicking on the left and right arrows.
  5. At the bottom of the pages are two buttons: a red button for instant record and a ‘3,2,1’ button to give a short countdown before recording. Click on either one to record your video. Click the green button to stop recording.
  6. After it has finished recording, you can click on ‘New Video’ to erase your current video and start again or you can click on the little green play button to watch it. You can download the video to your computer (saves as a .FLV file) or you can click on ‘Upload to My Library’ to send as an ‘Unlisted’ video no YouTube (this is the fotofriend account, not your YouTube account). If you click on the ‘YouTube’ button in the bottom-right corner of the video, you will be taken to the video on YouTube and you can then share it, embed it, or comment on it as per usual in YouTube.

This is a great way of posting a video to YouTube without needing an account. Students can then share their videos on their blogs, websites, or through Facebook or Twitter without having to register or use their personal accounts. Since the video can be as long as 3 minutes, it can be used for presentations, mini-lectures, or discussions outside of class.

Have you used fotofriend Video Booth before? How did it work for you? Please share your ideas or comments below, send me a tweet at @nathanghall, or email me using the contact form on this website. Thanks!