Category Archives: Technology

Mastodon

Why You Should Try Mastodon

MastodonFriends, teachers, life long learners, I come to bury Twitter, not to praise it.

OK, with apologies to Shakespeare, I don’t mean to imply that I’ve found a “Twitter killer” service. I’ve thought that before, and I’ve been wrong. Instead, I think I’ve found a service that can fill some niches that currently are occupied by Twitter (albeit poorly) and some other social networks.  It’s called Mastodon, and I like it a lot.

On to my reasoning, in convenient list form:

  1. Getting started is easy.
    You don’t need to be an expert, know how to manage server databases, or understand the first thing about PHP scripts. There are enough Mastodon instances (I suggest mastodon.cloud, see #2 below) out there for you to find one, start an account, and jump in with the same level of effort it takes to get started on Twitter. At first  glance, it looks a lot like the so-called “bird site.” The vocabulary is different, but the imagery is similar to that used in both Twitter and its better and lesser-known subsidiary, TweetDeck. Tweets are called “Toots,” and retweets are called “boosts,” but if I blurred all the words you’d know those functionalities based on the icons alone.
  2. Communities can be compartmentalized.
    Puzzle piecesMastodon is what’s known as a federated social network. It runs on a collection of independent servers known as “instances.” This is good for a couple of reasons. First, there are some instances that   are dedicated to specific communities. I have an account on elekk.xyz, for example, where members mostly talk about  video games. (An elekk is a fictional animal found in the game World of Warcraft.) Don’t want to be in a small box? There are several larger instances as well. My non-gaming  account is on a different instance called mastodon.cloud. I’m in good company, as  Wesley Fryer also calls that instance home. He even wrote his own post about it. Regardless of which instance you pick, you can still talk to Mastodon users on other servers. The main exceptions to this are when server administrators choose to suspend federation with other instances. This might be because they want the conversation to be more heavily sandboxed, or in some cases its done because they feel another instance is not adequately dealing with members that chose to harass others.And if enough teachers are interested in the creation of a teacher-centric Mastodon instance… I might know a guy who can set one up.
  3. Content Warnings
    Warning: ConversationMastodon’s Content Warnings are like subject lines.  By pressing the button that says “CW,” you get an additional text field. When you post your tweet – I mean,  your toot, the only thing your followers will see will be the text you wrote for your content warning. If they decide they’re OK with reading said content, they can click to see the rest of it. If they decide that subject isn’t for them, they can scroll past and go about their day. Currently the most common content warning notice I see is for politics, for which I’m actively grateful. Those who know me on Twitter and elsewhere know that I am VERY opinionated on subjects that some would call political, but I do not  always have the mental energy to read, let alone talk   about those things. On Twitter I can set up filters to mute certain key words, but  it’s a bit clunky and I have to remember to turn off the mutes manually. on Mastodon, there’s more of a social taboo about tooting high-stress subjects without a warning. In short, it’s a safer space for your mental health.
  4. I would write 500 characters, and I would write 500 more…
    That’s right, where Twitter gives just 140 characters, Mastodon gives you 500. Threaded conversations on Twitter are a workaround to broadcast thoughts too long for a single tweet while at the same time too short for a blog post, but  500 characters is enough for me, personally, to combine all but my longest diatribes into a single posting. Mastodon  isn’t about to replace this blog, but it might actually replace my Tumblr account.
  5. It’s new.
    Mastodon, for all its similarities to Twitter, is something new and interesting.  Even if you decide you don’t like it, this is a chance to try out something you haven’t done before.(Oh, and if you happen to work in one of those districts where they tend to block everything, there’s a half-decent chance they haven’t blocked one or more Mastodon instances – meaning you might actually be able to build a PLN that you can contact while you’re at school.)
  6. It’s not TOO new.
    New stuff has bugs. New stuff breaks. Mastodon has been around long enough (It’s based on previous services that have been hammered on by developers for a while…) for most of the glaring deficits to have been worked out. Currently the main stickler is that private messages might not be 100% private to server administrators. This doesn’t bother me so much since I don’t send DMs on Twitter, but it might bother you, so just be aware that they’re still working on that.
  7. Yes, there are mobile apps.
    I can’t speak for the iOS side of things since I don’t use many Apple products these days, but the Google Play store has several Android apps.  I’ve tried and liked    Tusky, though since I’m on two different instances   I’ve since switched to  one with an odder name called Subway Tooter. Most apps I’ve tried only handle one Mastodon instance at a time, but Subway Tooter allows you to be logged into more than one simultaneously.
  8. Two-Factor Authentication
    This might be more geeky than some enjoy, but it’s getting increasingly   more important for people to secure their accounts with more than just a password. I’m not just talking about Mastodon here, but about accounts in general. If you have a Gmail account and you HAVEN’T activated two-factor authentication, you’re at risk for all kinds of ways for someone to get into your account and take everything. Securing it with SMS can work, but it isn’t as secure as having an authentication app on a mobile device.As it turns out, Mastodon instances are compatible with the Google Authenticator. To enable it, all you have to do is point the app at a bar code that Mastodon will generate for you in the settings menu. Once it’s activated, your account is much less likely to be compromised by someone trying to guess your password.

That’s about it for now, so how about you try Mastodon out for yourself? When you make an account, be sure to follow me so I know there’s another teacher on the network. I’m actively looking for new people to follow.

10 Commandments of Media Arts

layer1-8Teachers all have their pet peeves, rules that are not to be broken at any cost. At this point I think I’ve taught enough Media Arts curriculum to list mine. I plan to print these out and put them on my wall for next year.

  1. Respect the intellectual property of others. (Cite sources, don’t use anything without written permission.)
  2. Black borders are to be avoided. (Video, with very specific exceptions, is a HORIZONTAL format.)
  3. Talking heads are to be avoided. (People can be on camera, but add variety.)
  4. Proofread EVERYTHING. (A typo in a report? Embarrassing. A typo on the big screen? Devastating.)
  5. Plan ahead. (One minute of planning is worth 5 minutes of post processing. Use your time wisely.)
  6. Hide your mistakes. (If it can go in a blooper reel, it shouldn’t be in your final product. If you flub a line, do it over.)
  7. Don’t zoom in if you can walk closer. (You will have a steadier shot and better audio.)
  8. NEVER use a digital zoom. (No, really. Only do this if you want your video to look bad.)
  9. Turn off your built-in flash, and leave it off. (Over 30 ft away, the only thing a flash does is annoy people. Under 30 ft, it annoys people and gives you bad photos.)
  10. Make each project something you would be proud to show to others. (Media is meant to be shared.)

What are your classroom commandments?

OpenShot: Open Source Video Editing

2016-05-23 10_37_08-TL;DR: OpenShot is a free video editor that supports multiple tracks and chroma key. Try it out.

 

I’ve been an off-and-on-again fan of Linux for years (decades?), but one of the things that always had me come crawling back was the lack of decent video editing software. (And video games, but that’s another blog post.) (Yes I know about WINE, but it doesn’t work for everything and it adds extra steps that complicate things for younger students.) When I taught Visual Arts it wasn’t that big a deal, but now that I teach Media Arts, well, it’s kind of mandatory that I be able to edit video.

Now the word “decent” is rather important here. I’d tried some open source and web based video editors in the past, but of those that worked, none provided the features that I considered mandatory for a Media Arts classroom.

Then lo and behold, one day I had a Twitter conversation with Phil Shapiro. If you’re not following Mr. Shapiro, you might want to correct that mistake. He’s a librarian who frequently arms himself with metaphors and wordplay, making anyone’s Twitter timeline much better for the effort.

He is also the biggest proponent of open source software I’ve seen in a VERY long time, bragging about $20 laptops that he makes serviceable by removing Windows XP and replacing it with Linux Mint. (Although maybe a different flavor of Linux is in order now? I like PuppyLinux for very ancient machines, myself…)

In any case, Phil’s wit and love of all things maker/open source and my own laments about video editing led to this:

2016-05-23 09_07_40-Phil Shapiro on Twitter_ _@theartguy OpenShot 2.0 is in beta. I've been testing

Wait, what’s this? A free video editor that doesn’t suck? I mean, HitFilm Express is free and quite good, but you still need to register an account to use it (ruling out most of my students as they are under 13), you get one install per person (ruling out my ability to install it on every computer in my lab), and it only runs on 64 bit machines (ALSO ruling out my ability to install it on all the things).

OpenShot has the same price tag as HitFilm and maybe not as many bells and whistles, but what it lacks in 3D composite shots it makes up for in its low-powered goodness. OpenShot easily handles multiple tracks of video and even does chroma key, which is something not frequently seen in a free editor.

2016-05-23 10_52_01-Untitled Project [HDV 720 24p] - OpenShot Video EditorLike all software there is something of a learning curve, but for OpenShot the main hurdle is understanding that you right-click on a clip to split it at the play head. Most of the rest of it is quite intuitive.

While OpenShot truly shines when run under Ubuntu Linux (32 bit Linux seems to make better use of system resources than 32 bit Windows, so programs like OpenShot have more room to stretch their legs), it also works reasonably well on Mac and Windows and, as it’s a free, open source program, there’s nothing preventing me from installing it on every computer in my lab.

Many of my students are still addicted to Camtasia in spite of its crashes (TechSmith tech support tells me it would edit HD video better if only I replaced my lab with 64 bit computers… Thanks, TechSmith.), but I hope to slowly wean them away from paid software and towards free and legal alternatives for the same reason that we’ve NEVER used an Adobe branded editor … ever.

I want students to be able to take what they learn in my class and be able to use it at home. Some of them have parents willing to spend $100 or more on software (or in the case of Adobe products, MUCH more than that as a subscription service so when you stop paying the software stops working), but most of them don’t. Those that do, I’d rather they invested that in nice hardware: computers, microphones, and cameras.

I’ll admit that when it comes to the Open Source movement I am far from a purist. My main draw (even now) is the idea that I can get something useful without having to pay an arm and a leg for it. Blame it on my salary as an educator, or perhaps my Visual Arts background (art teachers can make a lesson out of almost ANY material, particularly if it’s salvaged or donated), but if I can get it for free without breaking any laws, then I’m all for it.

OpenShot fits the bill for me. If you do anything that involves students editing video, you should try it out as well.

… now if only there was a decent way to edit video with a ChromeBook…

#PUWT15 Thoughts: Session 5: #Twitter4Educators

PUWT_logo_08Session 5: #Twitter4Educators, by Evylyn Quiñones

  • Going around the room introducing ourselves and saying how comfortable we are with Twitter.
  • I joined Twitter in March of 2007. I think I’m the old fogey here.
  • Norms
    • Take risks
    • Share ideas
    • Ask questions
    • Have fun learning
  • Addressing two things simultaneously: Teacher tweets and student tweets.
  • Remember, there is a BIG audience out there.
    • Students
    • Family
    • Strangers
    • More
  • Link sharing – URL shorteners make them manageable.
  • Differentiating between @ and # … this is basic information, but perfect for this audience.
  • You can invent your own hashtags for student/class use.
  • My favorite tags right now are #PGTech and #BYOTchat.
  • Talking about edchats! Fantastic! No mention of #BYOTchat, but she’s hitting her favorites.
    • #edchat
    • #flipclass
    • #digcit
  • Leading us through the steps of edchat participation. This is a good primer.
  • Sharing Twitter user names with each other to build our personal communities.
  • Twitter could be used for exit tickets, class discussion, idea sharing, collaboration, and so on.
  • Extends learning. Don’t need to be done with a lesson because class time is over.
  • Showcasing cool things in your class/with your students is great! (Do you have media release forms…?)

#PUWT15 Thoughts: Session 2, Fusing Media Technology and Content in the Classroom

PUWT_logo_08Session 2: Fusing Media Technology and Content in the Classroom, by Margaret Olson

  • Starts off asking who uses social media already.
  • One teacher is using Snapchat? Wow.
  • David Warlick quote about technology on the 2nd slide. Oh, that takes me back.
  • Recommends having a social media account for the class. Ratio of student/teacher content creation can vary based on the class and trust level.
  • A great way to teach writing and language use. Students are already familiar with the technology.
  • Video creation
    • I love how we’re still saying “film” after all these years.
    • iMovie recommended. I do like it, but will not require purchasing of Macs. Assertions of “Most students have Macs already” is more a reflection of the presenter’s classes than our own.
    • She has her students hire actors, but then she also teaches college level. My own students either act themselves or borrow a Drama major.
    • “Something that can go up on YouTube at the end…” YES, but get those MEDIA RELEASE FORMS SIGNED! This doesn’t seem like a big deal until it’s too late and a really big deal.
    • Storyboarding! Her template has many more panels than the one I use with my own students, but it still has exactly what it needs.
    • We are spending a lot of time on video creation. Video isn’t normally seen as a social media, but YouTube certainly is making it more social.
  • Presenter offered to email her presentation to us. Odd how that feels low tech now that there are tools like GAFE.
  • Study of social media campaigns. #HeforShe is being used as an example.
    • (She taught this to Saudi men. Well done.) I’d like to spend some time on this.
    • Students made photos to contribute. Project got news coverage.
    • Students get validation for their activities outside of grades. Motivation comes from sources other than report cards.
  • If you’re interested in it then they’re more likely to be interested in it. YES!
  • Focus on what students already like. (In my class, that would be Minecraft & other video games.)
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Blogging
    • (Upper) Intermediate and older can usually handle this.
    • “Kind of like an interactive website.” … Yeah, it kind of is. :)
    • “You’d be surprised [at which students have their own blogs or follow blogs].” I’ve been on Tumblr. I wouldn’t be too surprised. I’m likely in the minority here.
    • Presenter sets her blogs up through Blogger. Good choice. You can have students add accounts to the site you set up while you manage what gets posted. WordPress has similar features I’ve used in the past.
    • For teachers concerned about more moderation, classblogmeister.com is a good choice. (Thank you again, Mr. Warlick.)
    • This could be managed in Google Sites as well, but It’s somewhat of a kludge so I wouldn’t pick that option.
    • “There’s no one size fits all model. What I do may be different from what you do.”
    • Please don’t suggest Google Images as a source for free pictures. Copyright is serious business.

#PUWT15 Thoughts: Keynote, A.J. Juliani

PUWT_logo_08Keynote: A.J. Juliani

  • Technology “With a purpose.”
  • “I was at a very good school district that was focused a lot on test scores” is a contradiction.
  • “My students aren’t motivated about anything except grades!” They were motivated by a lot of things, but learning his lessons wasn’t one of those things.
  • Started following the Google model: Students had to spend 20% of their time working on something that interested them.
  • “How much is this worth?”
    “Nothing.”
  • Everything was still standards based. Students were researching, documenting, and presenting in a RE/LA classroom.
  • Teacher became a “guide on the side.” His words. Well done.
  • TRUTH #1: Every child deserves to own their learning.
  • “Brain friendly learning spaces.” Feels redundant.
  • Every keynoter needs an excuse to show off their family.
  • Learning is a social, human act.
  • “I was really bored, I read your article.”
  • TRUTH#2: Every child in your class is someone else’s whole world.
  • SAMR Model.
  • TRUTH #3: Stories will always shape us. They will always help us learn.
  • “It’s OK to use Wikipedia now that the Supreme Court has used it 9 times.”
  • “Our job is not to prepare our students for something; our job is to prepare our students for anything.”
  • “Finding success isn’t going to be a first time thing … Find me one hero of a story who doesn’t take risk.”
  • Learn, unlearn, and relearn.
  • TRUTH #4: Our job is not to prepare our students for the real world. Our job is to help students prepare themselves.
  • TRUTH #5: Literacy is about learning. And learning is about learning and unlearning. And relearning.
  • Do you allow for failure in your classroom?
  • What do you make time for? What do you support? What do you praise?
  • Another showing of the Key & Peele video making teachers look like sports stars. So much focus on test scores makes me sad.
  • TRUTH #6: As teachers we have a huge impact on our students’ lives.

#PUWT15 Thoughts: Make Discussions Matter!

PUWT_logo_08Session 1: Make Discussions Matter! by Jason Flanagan

  • Presentation is online.
  • Better yet, so is his assessment template.
  • Started out weak. I come to sessions to be wowed. This started with “Here, read this.”
  • Underlying concept is great. He uses a custom Google Sheet to objectively assess student led conversation and show the results in chart and pressure gauge form.
  • I could do something similar with Class Dojo, but the data would not be presented in the same way. Which you pick would depend on how you want to use the data. Given the choice between the two, I’d probably pick this form.
  • “Greatest motivator for students is grades.” A teacher walked out after the presenter said this. The presenter has not seen my classroom.
  • Apparently he teaches an Honors class. I suppose in his environment grades are a powerful motivator, but I still assert that it is a hollow motivation, at best.