Sunday, 30 December 2012

Free! with this blog post II

Official logo for the
Definition of Free Cultural Works
Some time ago I posted an article entitled Free! with this blog post. The title was intended to be ironic and the post was about the advantages of using free software. But not for nothing is 'free' a key word in the advertiser's vocabulary for this, otherwise perfectly straightforward, post has had more hits than any other on this blog.   Let's see if this one runs it a close second...
There is a huge outpouring of information about free software and apps available online but the best source I know is Scoop-it. In common with the (briefly) wildly popular Pinterest, Scoop-it is a curation website . But rather than displaying just images, it creates a magazine-style page of favourite posts captured via a bookmarklet on your bookmark bar. You can also follow and re-scoop from people who share your interests. Some curators are fairly indiscriminate and scoop anything that looks useful. I tend to test out the apps I find on myself and, where possible, students. You'l find my Scoop-it Media Education site here...

Five criteria help me choose apps I use most. Three are obvious: is it useful, easy and free? Less obvious perhaps are: is registration required and can the product be embedded in a Google site?

Registration raises issues of Child Protection. In common, I suspect, with many other UK High Schools, we have a high level of locking and blocking. It is an issue that needs confronting head on but I don't yet  feel in a position to do that. Furthermore when the app is used only occasionally the inevitable cry will go up "I've forgotten my password". This is fine if the usual "forgot your password?" link is in place but only if a) your email accounts are open (our Gmail isn't) or b) your school fffilters don't block "suspicious" emails (ours do).  As I've noted before, Google Apps is at the core of our work. We are using a Google sites as e-portfolios. So apps which produce only links are OK, and Sites has the facility to attach files to pages. but some kind of embedded player is definitely preferable where accessibility and presentation matter.

Screenshots are a useful way of capturing images but a bit of a fiddle to use online and using Photoshop to crop and save images is a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut. So I was delighted to come across snaggy  As Terence Lee the creator says:
Sharing screenshots has always been a big hassle: you have to press print-screen, then paste it into an 
image editor, then save the image to your local hard drive, then browse for it and upload it.  This was always an annoyance for me, so I made snaggy to simplify the process into a single step.  Since then it has saved me a lot of time, so I've made it public so that everyone can benefit from it. 

Google apps can produce fearsomely long URLs - especially unwieldy when you are encouraging students to share links in public spaces. I have found our fffiltering renders the two most common URL-shortening  sites and TinyURL decidedly unreliable - possibly because of their social networking features. So I was pleased to find that Google has its own URL shortening app which, unsurprisingly, works perfectly with GApps.

Sound Cloud and Audioboo both allow the recording and embedding of sound files, but both require registration. A nice simple site for recording and sharing sound files without registering is Record MP3 . Whilst it hosts and provides a link it does not embed a player. I encourage students to make a hyperlinked image button or use the Google apps MP3 gadget which simply requires the pasting of the URL provided by Record MP3 to create an embedded player.