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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Creating Digital Stories using Foxit Reader Portable

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Image courtesy of Phil Gradwell

The other day during #LINCchat, the topic of digital storytelling came up and a few options were shared amongst the chat participants. I thought it would be good to share another option that works really well with students who have limited access to the internet. This option makes use of a free, offline portable application that can be installed on a USB drive that the student can take home with them and use on any Windows computer.

This idea uses Foxit Reader Portable, a free PDF reader that allows users to create blank PDF documents on which you can then add photos, text, audio, and video files. In the end, users can create a multimedia document that can be played by almost all PDF readers.

Students can take their own photos or locate photos online, put them together on a page, and audio record themselves telling the story. They can then save and share that story with others who can see the photos and listen to the story being read by the student. You can even have students record replies and add them to the story. Here are some of the steps:

Installing Foxit Reader Portable on a USB Drive:

  • Insert a USB drive into your computer.
  • Go to Portable Apps and click on ‘Apps’ along the top.

portable apps main menu

  • Under the ‘Office’ category heading, click on ‘Foxit Reader Portable’

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  • Click on the big green ‘Download’ button.

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  • Once it has finished downloading, double-click on the installer, and follow the instructions in the installer. Make sure your choose the USB Drive as the place you would like to install it.

Create a new document: 

  • You can create a new blank page by clicking on the ‘Create a Blank PDF’ button in the top-left corner of the page, or you can click on File -> Create -> Blank -> Create a PDF from a blank page.

Create a blank document button

Create a blank document menu

Adding a picture: 

  • Under the ‘Home’ tab, click on the ‘Image Annotation’ button on the far right.

Image Annotation button

  • Click and drag a box on the blank page where you would like the photo to be. The larger you make the box, the bigger the picture will be on the page.

Insert an image box

  • A box will appear. Click on the ‘Browse’ button, find your file using the file manager, and click on ‘Open’ and then ‘OK’.

Add an image

  • If you would like to resize the photo, click on the ‘Select Annotation’ button located under the ‘Home’ tab, then click on the photo. Move the red dots surrounding the photo to resize the photo. Click and drag the photo to move it around the page.

Select Annotation Button

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Adding an audio file: 

  • Under the ‘Home’ tab, click on the ‘Audio & Video’ button on the far right.

Add an audio file

  • Click and drag a box on the blank page where you would like the audio file to be.
  • A box will appear. Click on the ‘Browse’ button, find your file using the file manager, and click on ‘Open’ and then ‘OK’.

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Playing the audio file: 

  • Under the ‘Home’ tab, click on the ‘Hand’ button on the far left and then click in the box where the audio file is.

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  • A box will appear asking for your permission to play the file. Check the box ‘Remember choice until I close the document’ and then click on ‘Play’.

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  • The audio will continue to play until it the file is completed. If you would like to stop it earlier, simply click on the ‘Select Annotation’ button under the ‘Home’ tab.

Finding free photos: 

  • A great place to find free public domain images is Pixabay. All of these photos are free to download and use without having to give attribution. You also do not need to have an account.

Creating photos: 

  • There are so many ways that students can create images that can be added to the document. Here are some ideas:
    • Phones: Use the camera on your phone to take photos and then transfer to your computer using a USB cable.
    • Online: Use Pixlr Express to take photos using your webcam and then add effects, borders, text, and more before downloading to your computer.
    • Windows 8 and above: Use the Camera app to take photos using your webcam.
    • Mac: Use Photo Booth to take photos using your webcam.
    • Screenshots: Using Snipping Tool on Windows or keyboard shortcuts on a Mac.

Recording audio: 

  • There are a number of options for recording audio files. Here are some online and offline options:
    • Online: Use SpeakPipe Voice Recorder.
    • Portable App: You can download and use Audacity Portable or WaveShop Portable.
    • Windows (built-in): Locate Sound Recorder or Voice Recorder on your computer.
    • Phone: Use the voice recorder function on your phone and then download to your computer.
    • Voice recorder: There are a number of cheap music players that you can buy that record audio and then download to the computer through USB.
    • Mac: Use QuickTime Player on your computer.

Some ideas for using it in the classroom: 

  • Students create a personal story with narration such as about where they are from, their daily life, or an event in their life.
  • One student puts together a series of images and another student narrates a fictional story using the images.
  • Students can create a dialog using one image. Each students posts audio comments on the shared document and listens to what others had to say.
  • Pictures and photos are put on a document in the wrong order and students need to match the proper image and text combinations.
  • Students in groups have a discussion on a topic and audio record that discussion. All of the groups then post their audio file on one class page which gets shared with everyone.
  • For students who can’t make it to a class due to other obligations, teachers add audio files to PDF handouts so students can work on their own before the next class.
  • Students create dual-language stories with their first language. Students write and record  the story in English and their first language.

Update on VideoANT: A free video annotation tool

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One of my favourite video tools to use with my students is VideoANT, a free video annotation tool. I have written about it before, but just the other day they updated the interface and made a few other changes. I thought it would be good to do a new review of VideoANT and how it could be used in the classroom.

Registration

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While VideoANT does require registration using either your Facebook or Google account, you can also use the Guest Account option by simply providing an email address. The difference between a full and guest account is the ‘Ant Farm’, a single page that keeps track of all of your projects. A full account gives you access to your Ant Farm, but a guest account only sends an email of a link to your project. To be honest, this isn’t a big deal since I usually keep track of my projects on my own. I encourage my students to use a fake email address, as long as it has an @ symbol and a domain extension (ex. .com). This becomes their ‘username’ for annotations as well.

Another change to registration is the removal of the Twitter account option. Supposedly this has to do with email access by VideoANT.

Adding a Video

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This has been simplified and has removed the option to add your own name to the video. It simply uses the name provided by YouTube or the filename of your hosted video. I have used videos hosted on my own server before, but for most people, the YouTube option is what will be used. Simply add the URL of the video and click on ‘Load’.

The Video Player

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Once you have added a video, the player window will open. You will find the title at the top of the page and the controller at the bottom of the page. This is a noticeable change from the previous player which had the player along the top of the screen. There is also a change in the button to add annotations. Once the video is playing, simply click on the button just to the right of the time display that looks like a chat symbol with a video in the middle. This will automatically pause the video and you will be able to add an annotation.

You also have the option of turning on the closed captioning of the video, something that wasn’t there before. Simply click on the CC button to toggle the captions on or off.

The Annotation and Comment Tools

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Once you click on the annotation button, a box appears beside the video where you can add some text. Simply put a title in the Subject box and your longer comment in the Content box before clicking on ‘Save’. This really hasn’t changed much from the previous version.

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Once you have added your annotation, the video will start up again and the annotation will appear with the content to right of the video. If you would like to skip to the section of the video where the annotation was added, simply click on the grey time button on the right side (ex. the 0:03 button on the image above). If you would like to add a comment to that annotation, your can click on the ‘Respond’ button on the bottom of the box.

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Once you have clicked on the ‘Respond’ button, a comment box will appear. Simple add your comment and click on ‘Save Response’. Your message will now appear below the original annotation.

Usage

I have used VideoANT for a number of things. Here are some ideas to get your started:

  • Bookmarking sections of the video: I mark the start of the section I would like my students to watch and add the questions in the ‘Content’ section of the annotation. Students then click on the time marker and watch that part of the video. They can then add their responses/answers by clicking on the ‘Respond’ button.
  • Video slideshows: Students make a screencast of their slide presentation and then share it with other students who can then comment on things. I encourage students to add ‘audience participation’ questions to their presentation so students can add comments using the annotation tool.
  • Mini lessons: I make a short video lesson and then post it for students to watch and add questions and even writing practice in the annotation.
  • Group projects: Students in groups watch the video separately, adding their comments so they can then come together in class to discuss their findings.
  • Transcripts: Some videos on YouTube have transcripts, but many don’t. You can add your own transcripts this way by adding your annotation before the text in the video.

I am sure you could find some other uses based on these ideas, so feel free to share them below.

Divii: A searchable video dictionary

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A really useful tool for students to see vocabulary in context is the corpus. One of the difficulties of corpus results as well as dictionaries is explaining something that is very visual in nature such as movement. Also, since it is text based, you are unable to hear the pronunciation as well as any nuances to the language such as stress. An interesting online tool that searches transcripts from videos in a semi-corpus way is Divii. It is free and doesn’t require registration to use. One caveat is that it uses a number of video sources, so it may not always be appropriate for younger students. It should be fine for older students who probably will appreciate the various contexts instead of everything being so academic. Here is how it is works:

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  • Go to divii.org and type a search term in the ‘Search words here for video examples’ box. You can type in a single word or a phrase. Click on the search button or hit the ‘Enter’ key.

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  • You will be taken to your search results with a thumbnail of the video on the left and the text from a section of that video with the word or phrase in it. Click on the video you would like to watch and it will start to play, showing the transcript with the counter time.

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  • It will continue to move through the transcript in sections as it plays. Click on a section of the transcript to play that section or click on the video to pause it. Click anywhere outside of the video to get back to the search results.

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As you can see, it is fairly easy to use. Once again, it is something I would only use with adult learners based on some of the content I encountered along the way. There isn’t anything there that would persuade me away from using it altogether, but it is something to consider before using in class.

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!

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!