Find music for video projects with Vimeo – #digitalstorytelling

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One of the hardest parts of creating decent digital stories has been picking music that’s OK to use for most situations. There’s a lot of Creative Commons music out there but it’s difficult to find and/or poor quality.

Step forward the Vimeo Music Store

It’s an easily searchable music library intended for use with video projects with pretty high quality tracks and available under a range of licenses (including CC and payed for personal or commercial use).

Some tracks lack a little polish in production but unless you’re really pushing the production values boat out they are perfectly listenable.

Here’s a couple of examples – quirky classical and minimalist electronica.

Go see.

Also, see the Video School for another reason to love Vimeo.

Some other options

Aside from making your own music (from scratch or using Garageband or Aviary’s Roc, for instance), you’re likely to be looking Creative Commons licensed material.

There’s plenty of sites. Jamendo and Soundcloud have loads of CC licensed tracks but I’ve had problems using both sites which would make me hesitate recommending them to people just starting out with digital storytelling. 

With Jamendo, you have to look hard for music that’s of a decent quality in their CC section. There’s nothing like shoddy music for ruining the look of your movie!

Soundcloud has some reallly interesting stuff on there but the styles tend to revolve around electronica, not great if you;re looking for something with a world-music vibe or a wee bit classical. Also, searching is a pain. Some users choose some wilfully obscure tags for their tracks (granular cameltronica’s a fave).

I do feel a little cheap dishing out those criticisms as they’re both great ways for musicicans to get community exposure for their work.

Alternatively, dispense with music altogether. Freesound has gazillions of CC licensed sound FX. try layering these together with a voiceover track to add some classy ambience.

More stuff on digital storytelling

You can find some more information and ideas about digital storytelling on my other blog, Electric Chalk.

Image – Wakalani – BY-SA

The net treats censorship as damage…

“..and routes around it” – John Gilmore

O OUTRO LADO DO MEDO É A LIBERDADE (The Other Side of the Fear is the Freedom)

This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education article is a case in point. (was tweeted by @acalderon52  via @fredgarnett):


Fear of Repression Spurs Scholars and Activists to Build Alternate Internets

It’s a fascinating piece about building technologies to circumvent attempts by repressive governments to block internet activity.

It put me in mind of the John Gilmore quote above.

But if governments and corporations treat the unfettered flow of information as a leak and block it, and the internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it – what happens next?

What does happen when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?

image – jonycunha – BY-SA

Scott Adams: The best way to kill creativity

Day 26/365- Gotta get me some

Scott Adams, creator of the awesome Dilbert strip, has blogged about why the best way to kill creativity is to encourage it. The creative impulse will out, usually as a response to discomfort or insecurity. Creating an environment which is “condusive” to creative ideas is counter productive.

It reminded me of the wrath of Jeremy Clarkson at the fact the Top Gear offices were painted purple by the BBC in an effort to stimulate creative thought! It did make him quite cross.

Then it made me realise that I’m not sure Adams’ point reflects my personal experience.

I’m not a massively creative person, in that I don’t write poems, sculpt or paint, I don’t dream up massively revolutionary schemes for changing the world around me. But I enjoy being creative. I get a buzz from coming up with innovative ideas, trying different approaches to things and just having the freedom to play.

But all that stops when I’m under stress, or if I’m in an environment where I feel I have to fight to keep my head above water.

The jobs where I feel I’ve been at my most creative are the ones where I’ve felt most secure and encouraged. In the job that I hated the most, I could almost feel the creativity and joy in new ideas leaking out of me like a slow puncture.

I think Scott Adams is right in that some creative people will be productive no matter what, and an office with brightly coloured walls, extra money to indulge in ideas or whatever is not how you guarantee creativity.

But I think there’s a large population of people that will be more creative if the social environment is right; if they feel that new ideas will be welcomed and built on, challenged in a way that refines them rather than killing them.

I once took a course in improvisational acting (I wasn’t great at it) and one of the things we were encouraged to think was to take a “yes and…” attitude during a scene. 

The “yes but” attitude was a block to the development of ideas on stage, it stifled instinctive creativity. Thinking “yes and” in response to someone else’s idea meant that all sorts of possibilities arose, some of which were rubbish, but occassionally something great came out of it. It enabled collaborative creativity.

Hat tip to @dajbelshaw for tweeting the Scott Adams post.

Image: thekellyscope – by-nc-sa

Event report: Enhancing Fieldwork Learning

The Digested Digest

Get out more!

The Digest

Fieldwork is an essential part of the learning experience for the geo, geosocial and life sciences that needs protecting given current squeezes on finances. We saw how mobile learning is enabling a blurring of the boundaries between field, lab, library etc. People are more interested in QR codes than I expected. We got wet.

The Detail

We had 2 days based at the Margam Discovery Centre, near Port Talbot where a wide range of people presented what they had been doing in relation to technology enhanced fieldwork. It was an entirely appropriate venue with fantastic facilities and a feel that you were in the field even when you were in the building. It was run by a project team  funded by the Higher Education Academy.

I was there mainly out of my interest in digital mapping and geolocative stuff and also because I’m a geography graduate so it feels like home turf. I was also presenting a short presentation on how QR codes can be used to enhance fieldwork by creating easy access to extra layers of information.

I Audioboo’d my reactions to the main activities here…

Enhancing Fieldwork day 1 (mp3)

…and made a short video of some of the stuff we did here…

Enhancing Fieldwork Learning from Chris Thomson on Vimeo.

Incidentally, both Audioboo and the Vimeo app are great ways of easily creating digital media content in the field. The video was filmed and edited on my iPhone without any need for connectivity.

This was the session I delivered (without the running around in the fresh air bit). 

For the practical activity I placed 10 laminated sheets with 2 QR codes each on around the site. One QR code linked to a Google Map of a significant UK location where the participants had to guess the connection. The other QR code was a one of the Top Tips from slides 11 and 12. I figured it was more fun to make them hunt for the advice than just spoon feed it to them!

I was a bit worried I’d picked a topic that people would already be familiar with but in the end it was new ground for a good number of attendees and a few people were fomenting their own fieldwork plans involving QR codes by the end of the weekend.

Main learning points from the weekend:

  • Everyone there was a passionate advocate for fieldwork as an effective learning experience and there was plenty of discussion about the uncertainty facing departments with squeezed budgets. How assured is the future of fieldwork in institutions? 
  • There was a determination that technology should be there to enhance the field experience and make it accessible to all students. It shouldn’t be there to replace it.
  • Fieldwork should be fully embedded in curriculum planning with a clear sense of progression of skills development from one year to the next, gradually building students up into independent field researchers.
  • Technology allows us to do the current things better (thinking about the collaborative spreadsheets mentioned in the Audioboo) as well as creating new opportunities.
  • Access to devices is complicated and relying on students to use their own isn’t the easy answer. What if they object to effectively subsidising someone else’s fieldwork because they have a device and the other doesn’t? Poorer students who can’t afford a device are at a disadvantage.
  • Best tech experiences
    • Seeing ipads used in conjunction with Twitter and Flipboard for students to co-create field guides for New Zealand prior to visiting. Carina Fearnley (Aberystwyth).
    • Using iPads to layer GIS, satellite and maps imagery while in the field, then using GPS to help students contextualise that information with their current location. Apparently it’s difficult for many students to do this. Peter Bunting (Aberystwyth)
    • Wifi. In a field! Trevor Collins and John Lea demonstrated their portable wifi network that can extend over kilometres thanks to a series of relays 
    • Gigapan, which you can see demonstrated by Ian Stimpson (Keele) in the last few clips of the video, takes multiple images of a location, zoomed in and in hi resolution that can be stitched together to create interactive panoramas with gigapixel levels of detail. Here’s an example. Great for pre-field trip familiarisation, giving students with mobility issues a chance to see inaccessible locations or simply having an “if wet” option.
    • Students in Singapore conducting surveys of a mangrove swamp, entering their data onto a shared spreadsheet on a tablet over wifi, enabling the group to analyse their data and discuss it all within the context of the site (Julian Cremona, Field Studies Council)


Thinking back to the fieldwork I undertook as a student, they were transformative experiences not just because of what I learnt but also because they were important milestones on the way to becoming a geographer; it helped dismantle the boundaries between staff and students. It was an essential part of my student experience and I think it would be a shame if fieldwork was squeezed out for some courses.

Also, fieldwork is a multi sensory experience. I’m keen to discover more about using things like AR, QR codes, and mobile digital media but if it means less being part of the landscape and more staring into an LCD screen we’ll have lost something.

Lastly, I’m sorely tempted to investigate whether I could make the Netskills geolocation workshop a residential event and run it at a field centre like Margam Park. It would certainly be more challenging but a much more fulfilling experience to mix computer lab activity with field work [ponders].


Making QR Code Treasure Hunts

Been thinking about how you could set up a QR code-based tresure hunt activity – scanning a QR code in a location brings up a Google Maps link showing where the next clue is, and so on. It might be a way of structuring field trip activities – at each location there might be a task to complete, data to collect etc.

I was having problems getting this to work mainly because of a quirk of Google Maps that is way annoying!

Some QR code creators have an option for a link to Google Maps – you just enter the lat/long coordinates and the QR code generator does the rest.

The problem is that Google Maps only likes lat/long if it points to an actual address. If you enter coordinates for somewhere off-road it will default to the nearest highway. It seems bizarre that Google should purposefully do this. If I’m providing exact coordinates for a location isn’t it safe to assume that’s what I want to see on the map, not a road that might actually be a few miles away!

The coordinates for this code should be on a tree in the field to the north (51.558791N,-3.72299W) but the pin drops on the road 400m away.


So, after a bit of hunting on the forums here’s the solution.


Ignore the QR code generator’s automatic feature ike QR Stuff has. Go straight to Google Maps and turn on the satellite view (so you can see the location more accurately). Right click on the exact location and chose What’s Here from the list.

The coordinates will show in decimal form in the search bar above the map.

Before you get the URL link for sharing write “loc:” (in lower case) before the coordinates and hit “Enter”. This will refresh the map centred on your location.

Go to the “Link” button on the right and grab the URL from the pop-up box. (HINT: Ticking the short link function will result in a less complex QR code that is more scannable.)

Go to your QR code generator and paste in the link. Print the code out and away you go.

This QR code is set up to work properly.





Making location-based activities with ARIS


I’d stumbled upon ARIS about a year ago but never had a chance to try it out until recently. Given that I’m now doing workshops on geolocation stuff and I’m presenting at an Enhancing Fieldwork showcase, it seemed the right moment to try. 

ARIS is a free tool for creating location based “games” that can be accessed and played via an iPhone app. It’s similar in many ways to HP’s Mediascapes that I did some stuff with back in Sheffield a few years ago. It’s been designed by a team based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Using a Flash based editor on your desktop you add “objects” to a Google Map and then set the behaviours for each of them. Objects can be:

  • Items – virtual objects that can be picked up and stored in the iphone app’s inventory, or carried and dropped by players
  • Plaques – information and media (audio and video) pop-ups, perhaps telling you about a location or giving you new instructions
  • Characters – essentially virtual people that you can programme with branching converstaions for a player to interact with.

Each of these items can include “requirements” so that they behave in a particular way. For example a character won’t appear on the map for a player to talk to until then have picked up a certain item.

Objects and the tasks and behaviours surrounding them can then be grouped into “quests”. So, to complete a quest a player has to find a certain number of items, talk to various characters or visit locations etc; there then might be a follow-up quest to complete, and so on.

When the player is out in the field using the GPS-enabled app, they access the game on the server (you need internet connectivity) and away they go. As they get within a defined proximity of an object, the phone will vibrate and give off a (pretty loud) tone. They then view the plaque, pickup the item or interact with the character. The player can see a map of their location and the game can be played blind or the designer can choose to reveal the location of some or all objects.

Another neat touch is that the app allows the player to take pictures or record audio within the game. In the mock-up I did I had a “Will Allen” avatar pop up while I was outside Haymarket Metro instructing me to take a picture of a particular statue. Once I’d done that, the avatar popped up again to confirm I’d done what he asked. Neat.

You can find much more detailed info on their site and get started here.

Some random initial thoughts:

  • There’s obvious applications for enhancing fieldwork, either from the point of view of giving students added information about the locations they are visiting or going to the other extreme of highly interactive stotytelling activities like the Dow Day “participative documentary” example on the ARIS website.
  • The ability to easily create dynamic objects is a step forward from the clunky (but pioneering) Mediascape.
  • I designed my game to have a mix of objects that were viewable on my iPhone’s map all the time along with others that were hidden or appeared after completing a task. Having a completely invisible game is likely to lead to confusion. At least consider having a starting location marked.
  • It’s just about simple enough for more able school students (and I guess most FE and HE students) to be able to create their own content. You don’t need any web development skills.
  • I think I prefer this sort of approach to other AR apps like Layar or Junaio. They’re difficult to create stuff for and cost to publish.
  • The iPhone is a much more reliable and enjoyable device for this than those nasty EDA things we used to use for Mediascape!
  • Having said that, the GPS isn’t pinpoint accurate so I had to include a fairly large margin of error (30-40m) on the placing of the objects. Having the game in a built-up environment also created problems for the GPS accuracy. Not insurmountable, but I think these games are likely to work better wheer they range over a wide area.
  • Having the iPhone as the only device that can run it is a real barrier. They suggest a possible solution for mifi and GPS-enabling iPod Touches but I’ve no idea how well these things work. An Android option would also be good but a web app would be even better.
  • I encountered a few server errors and app crashes when testing mine. I was still able to complete my “quest” but it was enough to make me feel jumpy about running this sort of activity with large numbers of students.
  • Planning and testing are really important to ensure functionality but also comprehensibility. Do game players understand what they have to achiveve and how to go about doing it? It could easily get frustrating for players without clear directions.

For all it’s problems, it’s still really good.There’s lost more stuff I’d like to try with ARIS but for reasons of time I’ll have leave it there for now.

Leave a comment if you’ve had any experience with it.

Hmsg Spiral maps

John Johnston has recently blogged about a mapping project called Hmsg maps that’s worth a look.

It’s an elegant bit of digital storytelling from Charles Veasey and J. Craig Thompson where they traced a spiral shaped path from a key location in New York State, collecting audio and video and then mashing it together into a custom-made web app (using ActionScript and the Google Maps API).

Here’s the blog post and the actual project.

It’s wonderfully immersive in the way it gives multiple perspectives on a contrasting variety of locations (first person and and birds’ eye point of view, audio).

John has done his own using Javascript with a detailed explanation of how he did it.

Theres something about these videos of stillness that give a real flavour of the locations, making them great storytelling tools.

It may not be as immersive but it would be possible to do something similar straight out of Google Maps using the My Places function or Google Earth. Use the drawing tools to draw your path (spiral like they’ve done here, or perhaps a transect, zig zag, whatever). Once you’ve captured the media in the field, upload them to YouTube and embed them in placemark description boxes.

It would be a much cruder solution but more accessible to people without the web dev skills.

Facebook Killer, qu’est que c’est? Fa fa fa fah, fa fa, fa fa fah fah.


Google+ has been causing a bit of a stir over the last week as people with invites have been putting it through its paces.

I don’t have an invite. 🙁

But then, neither do the other people in my core network.

Watching the tweets come in about how people are finding it is fascinating. While nobody that I’m following has gone hugely ape over it, the responses seem to range from “meh” to “interesting”. No one has been outright hostile as far as I can see.

I was interested in this post from Read/Write Web about the possibilities (and limitations) for using Google+ in school. It seems like it’s not offering anything revolutionary in itself but the collection of tools in one place with eventual support for Google Docs etc puts it in a powerful position.

Also, check out Tom Barrett’s post on the subject.

Doug Belshaw highlighted the influence on our collective online lives that Google could wield if Plus takes off.

The other theme of note is the inevitable “is this an Facebook killer?”.

Why is it that for some new technologies to have been judged as successful they need to have obliterated the competition? Do we apply that reasoning to newspapers? Chocolate bars? If we’re worried about concentration of our online data in the hands of a couple of corporations then having a broad spectrum of platforms is surely more healthy. 

Of course, networks work best where people flock together and Facebook’s 600m users make quite a flock. Also, quite a lot of my personal experience over the last few years is catalogued in Facebook and I’d be loathe to abandon that record.

A few years ago, the mobile operators were forced to introduce number portability. It was apparent that mobile telephony was as essential tool for people and to facilitate competition the networks were told to allow users to carry their number onto other networks. Arguably, some people’s social network activities are now as important as their mobile phone.

Would this be possible on social networks? Not easily. Platforms operate in such a variety of ways that simple transferability isn’t possible. Transferring data between eportfolios or VLE’s is hard enough. Also, the comparison doens’t quite work as we might be consumers of social networking but we’re not necessarily customers so social network providers are under a different set of obligations.

What I would like to see is a SoMe ecosystem that evolves to facilitate easy movement between platforms and a greater measure of compatability between them. It’s not really in the best interest of the likes of Facebook but I can dream, can’t I?

In the meantime, I’m off to set up a support group for learning technology people that didn’t get their early invites for Google+.

I think I’ll do it in LinkedIn.

Image credit: Ripples by Cappuccino_iv – By-NC-ND

With social media, “We are the product…”

Hat tip to @sboneham for tweeting this one.

Douglas Rushkoff talks about the lack of public understanding about what technologies like Facebook are for; allowing companies to monetise the data that we willingly surrender to them.

I’ve heard Miles Metcalfe say something similar; along the lines of “if you’re using a technology, and that technology is free, then you’re not the customer. You’re the product.”

Rushkoff’s argument is neatly summarised in this promo for his book.

It’s an interesting, critical view on what web 2.0 has actually given us. We’re using it to create connections and prduce our own content but in ways that also created a valuable resource for other organisations that can be bought and sold.

It’s a trade off between having access to these tools and resources and handing our data over to the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. If we’re happy with that trade off then fine, but we should at least be aware there’s a trade off.

Or, as Rushkoff suggests, develop the skills to shape the tools ourselves.