Tag Archives: online

PicMonkey – simple, user-friendly online image editing

PicMonkey menuWhen I deliver professional development activities with teachers, I often need to point them to easy and effective online tools for working with media. Typically, they need to learn how to optimise images for the web (eg cropping and sizing), do some simple tweaks to correct exposure problems, or add some simple labels to images. Most don’t have the budget or inclination to commit to ‘proper’ image editing software such as Photoshop or Gimp.

Picnik has been a favourite since even those with limited skills and confidence find it an easy way to get started on working with images for the web. And since it is an online tool accessed with a browser, no installation is necessary. It was well-deserved recognition when Picnik was acquired and incorporated into Google+. Unfortunately Picnik has now announced it is closing its stand-alone site on 19 April 2012, so those without a Google+ account will be out of luck.

The good news is that in the last day or so, PicMonkey has become available. PicMonkey has a very similar interface and feature set to Picnik (see the screenshot) so those familiar with Picnik will find it easy to use. Like Picnik, PicMonkey has a set of free features and some which require registration for a premium account.

The really good news is that PicMonkey seems at first glance to be better than Picnik – it’s significantly faster to load and apply edits. From now on, I’ll be pointing teachers to PicMonkey as a fast and simple tool for editing and optimising images for the web.

Zapd: fast and easy websites

Zapd Screenshot
Teachers and students often need a fast and easy way to create a simple website to share text and photos. A full-featured blog can seem too complex or unwieldy for some situations. Zapd is an app for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad which has a limited set of features but which makes it really easy and fast to create a good looking site.

Once you’ve download the app and set up your profile, you can quickly create a new site using one of the supplied themes. The themes are generally clean and clear and can be changed at any time. Then it’s just a matter of adding content – note from the screen shot that there are only 3 content types available: text, photo or link. Content items are normally added to the bottom or top of the page, but you can drag the items to re-order them.

Each site created in Zapd has a unique and short URL – my test site is located at http://59x.zapd.co. It took me about 10 minutes to make my simple online portfolio of photographs – that is, about 1 minute to add the photos and text, and the rest of the time playing with the themes :-) Fun.

The bottom line

Why use Zapd? I do like the flexibility and much greater feature set of Tumblr, but I would recommend Zapd to any teachers who want an entry-level tool for creating simple sites. It lowers the barriers to creating online content for both teachers and students.

Challenges for an online community for teaching and learning

imageUnitec’s Diana Ayling (pictured) spoke at an Elearning Community workshop about an online community she’s involved with which focuses on teaching and learning. These are my brief reflections on her presentation.

Diana and audience members identified some challenges for members of a teaching and learning community:

  • Teachers take time to develop a voice online because creating and managing content is a complex skill set. There is a growing need for teachers to develop ‘real-world’ technology skills such as working with social network technology. We need to ‘go to where the learners are’ so need to move beyond the institutional  Learning Management System.
  • Teachers have varying levels of resilience – when something goes wrong such as a technical problem, some are inclined to give up straight away while others see it as only a temporary setback.
  • There is a tendency to form splinter groups, as some are more comfortable with interacting a small group. This may have the effect of decreasing overall activity and interaction.
  • Data protection and copyright are ongoing issues as teachers move to more open technologies such as social network tools.
  • Online safety and privacy is an issue for both teachers and learners. Separating the personal and professional online presence is complicated but necessary.
  • When working with teachers as community members, we should not make assumptions about their level of technical skills – patronising them is a real turn-off.
  • Finding time to contribute actively to multiple communities and online spaces is difficult for busy teachers. RSS is a great tool for managing all the sources you read, but it doesn’t really help with contributing through writing.


Online Learning Communities: resources and references

A bibliography of useful books, articles and online resources

Australian Flexible Learning Framework. Effective Online Facilitation. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://pre2005.flexiblelearning.net.au/guides/facilitation.html

Australian Flexible Learning Framework. What are the conditions for and characteristics of effective online learning communities? Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://pre2005.flexiblelearning.net.au/guides/community.pdf

Brook, C Oliver, R (2003). Online learning communities: Investigating a design framework. Downloaded 4 April 2010 from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet19/brook.html

Cann, A et al (2010). Google Wave in Education. Downloaded 2 march 2010 from http://newsletter.alt.ac.uk/1civo6vnixg

Carr T, Jaffer S, Smuts J. Facilitating Online: A course leader’s guide. Downloaded from 6 February 2010 http://www.cet.uct.ac.za/files/file/Facilitating_online.pdf

Chatti M A. LaaN vs. Situated Learning. Downloaded 18 February 2010 from http://mohamedaminechatti.blogspot.com/2010/02/laan-vs-situated-learning.html

Chromatic. Building Online Communities. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2002/10/21/community.html

Clark, RC, Mayer RE (2003). E-learning and the Science of Instruction. Wiley & Sons.

Downes, S (2007). Learning networks in practice. Downloaded 25 February 2011 from http://www.downes.ca/files/Learning_Networks_In_Practice.pdf

Garrison, D., & Anderson, T. (2002). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice. Routledge Falmer.

Green, P (2010). How to create a live online learning event. Downloaded 2 March 2010 from http://newsletter.alt.ac.uk/ovsn7pmtanz

Left, P (2010). 8 tips for online learning community activities. Downloaded 20 June 2010 from http://www.verso.co.nz/learning-communities/832/8tips-for-online-learning-community-activities/

Left, P (2010). Evaluating online community activities. Downloaded 20 June 2010 from http://www.verso.co.nz/learning-communities/780/evaluating-online-community-activities/

Left, P (2010). Planning online learning activities: problems with technology. Downloaded 20 June 2010 from http://www.verso.co.nz/learning-communities/735/planning-online-learning-activities-problems-with-technology/

McKeachie, W. J. (2002). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Houghton Mifflin Co.

McPherson, M., & Nunes, M. B. (2004). Developing Innovation in Online Learning: An Action Research Framework (Open & Flexible Learning S.). Routledge Falmer.

Nussbaum-Beach, S. The Art of Building Virtual Communities. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://21stcenturylearning.typepad.com/blog/2007/08/the-art-of-buil.html

Palloff, R. M. (2003). The Virtual Student: A Guide to Understanding and Working with Online Learners. Jossey Bass Wiley.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2004). Collaborating Online: Learning Together in Community. Jossey Bass Wiley.

Palloff, R M & Pratt, K. Beyond Facilitation. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://xroadservices.com/home/download/webenhancedmoda.ppt

Siemens G. Learning Ecology, Communities, and Networks: Extending the classroom. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/learning_communities.htm

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E. Communities of practice: a brief introduction. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm

Wenger, E. Communities of Practice: Learning as a social system. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml

Wenger, E. and Trayner, B. Frequently Asked Questions. Downloaded 5 February 2012 from http://wenger-trayner.com/map-of-resources/

White N. How Some Folks Have Tried to Describe Community. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://www.fullcirc.com/community/definingcommunity.htm

White N. Communities, networks and what sits in between. Downloaded 5 January 2010 from http://www.fullcirc.com/wp/2009/08/06/communities-networks-and-what-sits-in-between/

Android for teachers: simple, tasty photos for the web

One thing I really like about my Android phone (LG P500) is the camera feature. It’ll never replace my real camera but it’s always with me, so I can take a quick snap even when I’m teaching. Plus there are imaging apps which make it a great tool for fast and easy creation of images.

For example, Vignette is a camera app for Android which has a free demo version as well as a paid version. The free version is limited to .3M pixel images, but these are fine for small illustrative images on a web page. The software has a wide range of effects which are fast and easy to use. And they provide some useful tweaks for web display.

For example, some of these effects produce a small square image (about 500 x 500) with a white border. So it’s really easy to produce a web-optimised image that is small and fast to download and has a built in margin for text wrapping. The image shown here is just 49KB and uses the Velvia filter which increases colour saturation. It’s not a great photo, but I love how fast and easy it is to capture an image like this, all ready for sharing on the web.

And because Android is a very ‘open’ OS, once you’ve captured the image there are many options for sharing it. Vignette will send the photo to Twitter, Facebook, email or other apps you use. I use the WordPress app which allows me to edit posts and pages on my phone, and Android makes it easy to send the photo directly from Vignette to a new WordPress post. Again, fast and easy – and a lot more flexible than just having a ‘Send via email’ option which I got used to on an iPhone.

Where there is a need for high resolution and high quality images a phone camera is not going to be appropriate. But where all that’s needed is a quick informal snap, a phone camera can be a great tool. Many of the teachers I work with don’t find it easy to get to grips with optimising images for the web. An Android phone* with Vignette is an easy way to get images into a blog or an LMS like Moodle, and it also integrates well with many of the social software platforms they use. I’d recommend it as a useful tool for teachers wanting a simple and convenient way to enhance their online presence with images.

* Note: not all phone cameras are equal. I chose one with 3 MP resolution and macro capability, but no flash as I prefer to use natural light anyway. Others will have very different needs.