Author Archive


First Time Teaching Animated GIFs

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

I just blogged about the animated GIF I made while showing the Breakfast Club edition of ds106 how to make animated GIFs. What struck me after writing that post was that it’s the first since teaching this class that I actually taught any group of people how to make an animated GIF. There are a few reasons for that: 1) we have a few tutorials for this kind of thing, 2) I’ve never before taught ds106 in a classroom full of computers with Photoshop, and 3) I’m usually much lazier.

All that said, I had my chance today and I didn’t want to squander it. So I spent some time this morning consulting video guru Andy Rush so I could be sure I had a workflow that would make creating animated GIFs seamless even on lab computers that can be locked down and hostile to new programs. I think we came up with a pretty good formula, and I’ll sketch that out below for good measure.

We didn’t want the overhead of DVD ripping or any of that, so we decided to make them get the clips they want to work on from YouTube using, in particular the File2HD option, and be sure to select the mp4 version of the YouTube clip (click the get files button, the big, honking Download buttons above and below are bad ads).

Once they had the clips with the scene they want to use I had them open MPEG Streamclip (which I installed on the lab computers beforehand, and it didn’t seem to need any special admin permissions in this lab). MPEG Streamclip allows them to select the precise in and out points of the short scene they want to animate and trim away the rest. Once they have done this they need to export it as an mp4 file (this is where these directions for PhotoShop diverge for GIMP which would require them to export the video as individual image files).

Finally, they import the video to Photoshop (we are using CS 5.5 on the PC) and it is Import–>Video to layers. After that they simply go to Window–>Animation and animate the GIF and save for the web.

It was amazing, I showed them how to do this process in about 15 minutes, and they spent the next hour and 15 minutes making GIFs, and I have to say I was very impressed. Their files were a bit bloated, and we talked about that, but over all there work so far has been amazing. I am blown away. Here are a few samples!

I love that this student figured out adding text to animated GIFs. #4life!

This one is a bit long and bloated for its own good, but I love it.

Game on college students, you need to bring your A-game to catch up with these Breakfast Club all-star ds106ers who are 4life in only 2 weeks!

400 Blows

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

I did the above GIF on the fly while showing the Breakfast Club edition of ds106 how to make animated GIFs using MPEG Streamclip and Photoshop. Today was a thoroughly enjoyable class—and the students seemed to have a blast and did some fun stuff themselves. Many of them are already done with there 10 visual stars, a couple did closer to 20! What’s more, we are on our way to the design assignments, and after spending the last hour of today’s class talking about the design assignments, I know it’s gonna be a ball. I love ds106 design!

ds106: The Breakfast Club Edition

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

On Monday I started teaching five students as part of the Summer Enhancement Program for high school age students. I proposed a Digital Storytelling class—surprise, surprise—that spans two weeks and what I figured I would do is have them do an abbreviated, two-week session of ds106 that lasts for 2 and a half hours a day for 4 days over a two week span (“Two weeks Bender, I gotch you!”). The nice part is there are no grades to worry about and the class infrastructure is all set up and ready to go thanks to*

I haven’t taught high schoolers since 2003-2004 when I taught English at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, NY. That was a trip, and to be honest I couldn’t get out of Dodge soon enough. The kids were awesome but the actual institution had more in common with a jail than a school, and I was starting to think more like a warden than a teacher (it was the early years of the Bloomberg/Klein anti-Union trail of terror). I’m no martyr, and the one thing I learned from that experience is monolithic institutions like the NYC Public School System will crush your spirit quickly and mercilessly—especially when run by robber baron financiers.

Anyway, I was already excited to get back in the saddle for this two week session with a whole different breed of students and having wrapped up day two a little while ago I am thrilled at the progress so far. Yesterday I gave them a brief introduction to Digital Storytelling, had them all tell me their own stories, and then headed up to the computer lab and had the lot of them get a WordPress blog site (one of them already had a Blogger blog!). I then showed them the basics of posting, talked about incorporating media around the web (YouTube, Flickr, links, etc.), discussed the importance of their controlling their privacy while working on the web, and that’s all we had time for.

Today we got right into the thick of Visual assignments and I used Alan Levine’s in class exercise for Photography for the first 30 minutes to get them out and about around campus to explore and get in the habit of looking and seeing anew. They were asked to do the following:

  • Make an ordinary object look more interesting, almost supernatural.
  • Take a portrait of a person; have them display an emotion.
  • Take a photo that makes use of converging lines.

And I was pretty impressed with what they came up with, take a look at this one for an interesting object by Emma Rose:

Or this one for converging lines:

I’m pretty blown away by the results thus far, and after this experiment I turned them onto the Daily Create which they will be doing for the next two weeks. Easy as pie—open course architecture that provides a communal infrastructure that works and anyone can tap into? That’s far more interesting to me than MOOCs.

After we shared our photos and discussed the shots, we headed up to the computer lab and I introduced them to the wonderful world of the ds106 assignment bank, which has 372 assignments and over 4000 examples! They seemed to love this whole idea, and I let them know they had ten stars of visual assignments due by Thursday, with another 10 design stars due by Sunday (you must work them hard!). We spent the last hour and a half  discussing Flickr, picking an assignment, and learning the basics of layers in Photoshop (but the concept can be easily abstracted to any photo editing software). We did the Creep on a Movie Scene assignment because it’s fun and it provides a relatively simple introduction to layers in Photoshop. I spent a half hour trying to explain layers using two different images, but I am so out of the habit of teaching a program that it failed miserably. I scrapped it and  just went around from student-to-student and helped them  use the move tools, the magic wand, the magnetic lasso, some layering transformations and opacity settings and we were golden. What’s more, they started helping each other and I was once agin in the comfortable position of not trying to lecture about an application I am only moderately comfortable in :) The crazy thing is their work was good and fun! Only one had ever used Photoshop before—another knew GIMP!—but they all picked it up rather quickly and the fact they were photoshopping a creeper into a scene from their favorite film made them that much more invested. Here’s a couple of examples from their work today:

The Road to WeeGee

Obama creeps on Land of the Lost

Yeah I was there


Anyway, I loved the character weegee (based on Luigi from the Mario franchise) creeping on The Road to El Dorado. A couple of them had Obama as the creeper, which I am fascinated by—Obama love in the younger generations is pretty interesting to me. I don’t think anyone in ds106 at UMW has done any Obama meme art for the class until now. And creeping your way into the Breakfast Club is nothing short of genius!

In less than an hour 5 high school students knocked out some impressive first runs at ds106 assignments using Photoshop and had fun along the way (two stars down!). I think the marker of ds106′s greatness is the way it can adapt across different registers so seamlessly to highlight skills of K12 or college age students alike. I can’t believe more elementary, middle school, and high school teachers aren’t experimenting wildly with models like this (or maybe they are and I just don’t know it). I could care less if it’s ds106, but the idea of an open framework where they can program the assignments, share their work, have fun, and fine tune media creation skills seems like a pretty solid approach to all kinds of web literacies—or whatever we want to call them. I’ll stop preaching now, but jesus stop talking about it and start playing with it—it freaking works!

I’ll stop there because tomorrow we do animated GIFs and I have to do a little prep on the creative GIF I will be bestowing on them ;)


* One thing that struck me while running with this two-week course is that when I showed off the assignment bank to these 5 students they were immediately excited about creating stuff—and there is so much great stuff there. With all the talk about MOOCs I think we missed the boat with open, shareable frameworks that anyone can tap into—the key is personal ownership, syndication, and collaboratively created and shareable spaces (green spaces!). Funny how none of these ideas really come up in the larger, popularized discussions of MOOCs—it’s as if the idea of architecture and sharing has all just been re-canned as large broadcast experiences. That seems completely antithetical to the original framework of open, portable experiences, but more and more it’s what the MOOC conversation is evolving into: the focus on consumable product rather than a process of individual ownership and communal exploration with the web as platform.

TerrorVision Animated

Monday, June 25th, 2012

One of the craziest and most memorable films of the 80s is the ultra-camp, TV alien invasion film TerrorVision (1986). I kind of think of it as the b-film alter ego of Videodrome. I wrote about TerrorVision back in 2008 when I had dreams of doing a series of posts about b-movies in the 80s and the rise of VCR culture—I never got around to it, surprise, surprise, and the post still stands as a monument to my blogging whimsy.

Anyway, I’ve been reading more and more Tumblr blogs because it seems like most of the interesting animated GIFs and assorted design work is happening in that space, for whatever reason.One of the sites I ran across that I really enjoy is the “read comics till your eyes bleed” blog that is a constant stream of images, animated gifs, etc. Given tumblr’s design it’s hard to know what’s original to the blog and what’s not (one of the immediate visual limitations of tumblr as an admitted newbie) but whether original or not it is a pretty interesting collection of media artifacts, it comes recommended. What pushed me to write this post, however, was the fact that there was actually an animated GIF from TerrorVision, which throughout the 90s and 200s has gained a pretty loyal cult fanbase with good reason—so bad it’s so good.

Aftershocks: MOOCs Arrive at UMW 18 Months Late(r)

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Image credit: Alan Levine’s “The MOOC Shop”

I think you know MOOCs have arrived when the aftershocks of the University of Virginia fiasco (an excellent article summing it up thus far in the New Republic by Kevin Carey here) reverberate on your home campus so quickly. UMW’s President Rick Hurley, who has brought stability and focus to a UMW community that has seen its own Presidential woes over the last 4 or 5 years, has called together a meeting of folks to be debriefed on what’s going on in this realm, and how we are positioning UMW in terms of online learning. As luck would have it, it just so happens that we have a few people on campus who’ve been thinking long and hard on this stuff.

Turns out we have been doing a number of great things in terms of teaching and learning technologies for a number of years. We’ve imagined and implemented a open source web-based publishing platform that features a variety of work happening around the UMW learning community with UMW Blogs. What’s more, we’ve made this work openly available to anyone on the web to interact with. We’ve built a community of people at UMW that grok the web as an integral part of understanding the relationship between teaching, learning, and a campus-based liberal arts experience moving forward. What’s more, online learning isn’t supplanting anything at UMW, it is part of an ongoing academic culture that is exploring the online space as a platform to build community, share our work freely, and grant access to the world through the simple act of defaulting to open. What we are doing here is experimenting with how web-based networks inform the relationships amongst teaching, research, and scholarship that have yet to be fully imagined.

Sometimes it’s a luxury to be flying under the radar as a small, public university because you aren’t so caught up with the purity of your brand, political jockeying for power (though that still happens, just not on the same scale), or pissing off major donors. With such freedom you can actually create the conditions wherein experimentation and innovation can take root, and that’s how UMW came to many of its discoveries in educational technology, most recently the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) known as ds106. Unlike the overwrought reaction of UVA’s Board of Visitors to the future of web-mediated learning, the shape of things at UMW was born of curiosity, openness, and an iterative approach to development. Not unlike how it came to just about everything its done voer the last 7 or 8 years. From the beginning we were encouraged to do our work openly online, research the state of the field, read widely and voraciously, and share the process in turn. And we did.

So in 2008 when Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier created the first MOOC—we were paying attention, we were discussing the implications, and eventually we started designing our own. In terms of MOOCs, I always thought the massive was overstated until Stanford’s AI course hit last Fall,  I had to do a double take when I learned over 100,000 thousand people had signed up. Whether or not we understand it as good or bad, the ability to even imagine orchestrating an online learning experience for more than 100,000 people in a semi-organized fashion is mind blowing. Even if a small fraction of them, say 10%, finish the course and learn something about Artificial Intelligence (and I think much more than that did) that’s roughly 5,000 more people than go to UMW all told. That’s a different layer of scale for classrooms and global networks, and it’s a game right now that can only be played on that scale by the most prominent celebrity professors.

But what about the rest of us? What might UMW bring to the MOOC if not an idea of celebrity professors and brand recognition? I would argue we can and should create an experience that taps into what’s unique about UMW: a small, rather affordable by US standards,  4-year public liberal arts campus. The idea comes from a conversation with the great Michael Wesch who was talking about the implications of a campus-wide version of ds106 for all K-State students. A kind of game/class embedded in the campus experience but open and accessible to anyone on the web. This is exactly right and the the vision of Ed Parkour, spaces where the web becomes part of the built environment of the campus and the experimentation for teaching and learning happens there as a result of the community. This is where UMW could shine—we can’t play the same game as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc., and we shouldn’t even try. We’re a small teaching college and we’re  pretty good at it, highlight the best teaching happening around campus though an interactive experience the campus community can join in. How fun would it be to imagine such experiences as not a way to gut the campus experience, but as a way to re-imagine it entirely. ds106 has not done this campus-wide approach at UMW just yet, but what it has done is prove that a classroom experience can evolve into a community that transcends the idea of any one course.

What would truly enable other schools like UMW to escape the potentially vicious circle of celebrity faculty is to battle it with a connected and engaged community. That will be its own kind of gold, a vision of a student who understands and shapes the nature of these online connections with their own domain and web hosting while still remaining grounded in the campus life is a more realistic vision of the future. Why would UMW react to either or when it is so well suited for both? Why has this discussion become so linear? Why has the idea of online learning become divorced from the experience on the ground, why has it come to be understood as an almost unrelated entity almost entirely divorced from the campus community all together? These are just a few of my ideas on the matter as we prepare to meet with UMW’s president over the next couple of weeks. It is unfortunate that it took the incompetence of UVA’s Board of Visitors to become the reason for this meeting, but at the same time I am really glad we are finally having it—even if it is 18 months after ds106 broke the MOOC sound barrier :) UMW (and its wide ranging network of associates) has a ton to offer to this conversation, and using these various technologies and approaches to promote engagement, build community, and conceptualize these new means of communication are shaping our culture is essential to the 21st century citizen—-but like everything else at the university, it needs to be approached with an open mind, freedom, and some sense of possibility rather than crisis.

John Cage’s 10 Rules for Students and Teachers

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Martha Burtis tweeted this bag of gold a day or two again from the great John Cage. I am posting it here for posterity, it very much describes the way in which we have tried to approach ds106, and I think I will be writing this into any and all future syllabi I create  from here on out.

Name that 80s Movie #3

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Bear with us, we will be moving to the next level of difficulty shortly. Hopefully you are feeling appropriately confident, but keep in mind the next three will separate the parachute pants wearers from the stonewashed jeans junkies.

Icon Credits (all from the Noun Project): Links for downhill skiing,  hamburger, BMX, and deer.

Name that 80s movie #2

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Here is #2 of the Name that 80s movie, and don’t get cocky people, we are just warming up.  Take the lay-ups while you have the chance :)

Update (forgot the attribution): The keys are from here, the guitar from here, the protestor from here, and the airplane from here.

GQ’s Newest Man of the Year Abides

Friday, June 15th, 2012

It’s bad form, I know, but I can’t stop doing my own awesome assignment for Animating Magazine Covers. Although I blame this one on Paul Bond, whose animated cover of Parenting featuring a heart-to-heart between Jack and Danny Torrance inspired me to go back to this animated GIF by IWDRM and but The Dude on the cover of GQ. I mean let’s face it, he deserves it, man.

What I love about this take on that assignment is it starts to use pre-exisiting GIFs to culture jam some of the pre-conceived ideas and expectations of a particular magazine’s agenda. And given how many magazines there are, there could potentially be an endless supply of inspiration. I guess the tabloids are next ;)

The Social Downes

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

I started remaking this poster as bava art, but then I realized that nobody fits this poster better than the great Stephen Downes. Nobody more prolific, nobody more willing to speak his mind, and nobody less afraid to piss other people off! NOBODY!

All that said, nobody could be further away from the Facebook idea of corporate control and lock-in, which I guess is the joke.  I’m gonna file this under the “If movie posters told the truth” design assignment, but that isn’t exactly what this is. Anyway, this was too much fun to make.