Telling the story of ME recovery

I’m trying something new here. I recently found out, having been feeling ill for the best part of a year, that I have ME. It’s not something I’ve come to terms with yet and I’m looking for ways to take back a bit of the control of my life and body that I feel I’ve lost.

This week I tried out doing a video diary. That’s nothing new. YouTube is full off people talking about their illnesses so I’m adding to already crowded field. The point is not that I think I’ve got anything useful or new to say or that I’m uniquely ill; I’m doing this mostly for me. In workshops I often refer to a quote about storytellers ruling the world which can be interpreted a gazillion different ways. In this case I’m trying to assert a sense of agency over my symptoms rather than feeling I’m at the mercy of them. The world I’m trying to rule over is me.

There’s an ulterior motive as I talk about in the first video, about making people I know and work with aware that I’m not at my best. That takes a bit of the pressure off me and lessens the feelings of guilt that I might be letting people down from time to time. It’s easier to do it like this than go round explaining to people individually – something which would feel like a demand for sympathy which is not what I’m trying to do. I’m happy to talk about it face to face with people if they want to but I won’t be shoving it down anyone’s throats.

Unlike some of the other storytelling stuff I do, I’m not bothered too much about technical or content quality. I’m trying stuff out. It’s unscripted, unpolished and for the moment, unedited. Much of what I plan to say gets forgotten. I’ve never been great at speaking off the cuff so maybe this is good practice for me.

I’m not fussed how many people follow this. I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up – there are a few things I think it’ll be interesting to talk about but whether the ongoing treatment stuff is just too tedious, I suppose I’ll find out.

But I think there will be benefits for me by being open, and who knows? Maybe it’ll be useful for people who are going through something similar.

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OK Go – creativity and pushing the limits of one-shot promos

OK Go have released a new video this week. It seems OK GO aren’t really a rock band now instead becoming a video collective who write their own musical accompaniments. I mean that in a good way. They seem to pour as much creative effort into their promos as they do their music.

This, in the very best sense, is truly exuberant, joyful chaos!

Update: Video removed from YouTube. Try here.

It’s a neat example of creativity meaning working within a set of constraints. What sort of video could you produce if all you had was a band, a plane, 2 acrobats, some plastic balls?

Handily, they’ve given a fascinating breakdown of what went into producing it.

If you like that…

You can see more of OK Go’s videos here. They seem to have a thing for elaborate one-shot masterpieces.

Image: By OK Go – RGM18, CC BY-SA 2.0,

 

 

Video editing on the go with Splice #BlappSnapp

I’m writing this as a contribution to BlappSnapp, a series of posts on mobile apps in the classroom for Julian Wood (@ideas_factory). You can see the previous post in the chain here.

If you’ve done any work with digital video you’ll know that the results that learners achieve can be amazing. You’ll also know what a pain in the back side managing a video editing project can be! It’s a potential mess of incompatible devices, cables that don’t fit, unintuitive software that won’t recognise the file types you’ve recorded and so on ad infinitum.

Which is why I think Splice is such a fantastic app for getting students straight into producing their own digital video without many of the usual barriers. Mobile video editing software has come on in leaps and bounds in the last 2 years and the gold standard is probably the iOS version of iMovie. iMovie comes with a (small) price tag but Splice is a free alternative you should investigate.

Screenshot of Splice
Screenshot of Splice

Splice allows you to take videos and photos you’ve taken on an iPad or iPod Touch, edit together, add basic effects, record narration and overlay music. The results can be published as a single MP4 that goes back into the device’s camera roll.

Because of its stripped down interface, experienced video editors might find it lacking in more advanced features. For the rest of us it means that the app is simple and fairly intuitive to use. It would certainly pose few problems to learners at KS2 and above. My then 5 year old was getting the hang of it for editing together the stop motion Lego animations he’d created.

Screenshot of Splice
Screenshot of Splice

Potential uses

Digital storytelling – mobile devices are ideal for capturing personal reflection either through video or audio. With Splice these can edited together into rich digital narratives
Fieldwork and placements – I’ve been talking to a lot of people in HE about the use of apps like Splice as part of fieldwork. The key benefit is that images and video can be captured and edited in the field without the complication of having to download the footage onto a desktop. You don’t even need to be near a wi-fi signal.
Capturing labwork
Working with stop motion animation – there are a few really good apps for capturing stop motion and time-lapse sequences on iOS devices. Splice is a great tool for turning these into something more coherent.
Previsualisation – I used to do a lot of work with GCSE media students on their production project work. Splice would have been a fantastic tool to help in the planning stages as a sort of video storyboard before the expensive cameras came out.
Creating learning materials – Why should students get all the fun? If you’re into flipping your classroom why not think about using Splice as a way of creating videos that can sit on the learning platform and prepare your students for classroom activities?

Restrictions

OK, Splice isn’t perfect. There are a few considerations to bear in mind:

  • Simple interface so lacks advanced features you’d find on the desktop
  • It needs a particular workflow which might be different from the order of things that you’ve used on other software
  • Mobile devices not the best for getting great footage – you’d still need to work with your classes on what makes a good quality image, the importance of framing and using a tripod.
  • The sound capture on mobile devices can still be problematic, especially outdoors, although there are peripheral mics that can help with this.
  • It’s only available on iOS. Android and Windows devices aren’t well served for reliable video editing apps. Andromedia was the best that I could find in the Play Store and I think Samsung Galaxy tablets come with their own serviceable video software.

To put the quibbles into perspective, a friend of mine once compared picking holes in apps like Splice to criticising a talking dog for its accent. You’re basically shooting, editing and producing a movie on something that is basically a glorified telephone. Would you have imagined that 6 years ago?

My advice would be to just try it out and get learn it’s features and its quirks yourself. Having said that, there’s a lot be said for giving learners the tools and see where their creativity takes them. In my experience they quickly learn to deal with the constraints and produce some surprising results.

Story Wars: The dark side of the force?

I love just about anything to do with stories and storytelling but this video by Jonah Sachs left me more than a little depressed. What does it do for you?

  

It comes from the Future of Storytelling site (def worth a look!). It’s beautifully done and has some great explanations of why stories are important and powerful. And I’m aware it’s meant for an audience of which I’m not really a part. But…

It’s the points he makes about brands using stories to move away from narratives of fear to sell stuff to ones of empowerment that give me pause; as if this was some sort of transcendental change and that somehow the human race is better off if brands tell us to “Just Do It” rather than “Eurgh! You smell! You’ll never have sex like that.Spray this on”.

The story is different, more affirming, but the end point is exactly the same, just more underhand. We consume in the belief that we are making the world a better place somehow, rather than doing it to fix a problem that was manufactured for us by advertisers.

We’re still consuming. Nothing has changed.

I hope I’m advocating something different when it comes to storytelling, and it’s to do with individuals developing a stronger sense of their own identity and worth.

I presented a little while ago at an event where I was putting the case for stories in education. One of my final points was that if learners are better at experessing themsleves through story they become more aware of stories around them and what might lie behond those stories. How trustworthy they are. What their underlying motive is.

I’m all for a world with more stories in it. But I aso think we need to help develop people’s awareness and discernment.

What would fieldwork be like if you had one of THESE?

I wondered how people taking students out on fieldwork might make use of something like the AR Drone

For doing remote HD filming/imaging of locations…

…and flips! (rad!)

It’s not cheap, mind. And the range and battery life are limited (although it’s tricky to find out exact numbers from the product’s homepage).

Plus, we should probably have a think about the safety and privacy issues of drones in private hands with cameras in built-up areas!

But if you used it as an additional tool for surveying a location from elevated angles there could be all sorts of useful applications. In a limited sense it could be used to improve accessibility to some difficult-to-reach landscape features.

Definitely need to get one to test in the office! 😉

Digital storytelling for projects – background and examples

At Netskills we’re developing our approach to helping project teams to use digital storytelling as a way of demonstrating their impacts. Part of this includes developing our own skills but we’re also putting together guidance for project teams working in JISC funded programmes.

The first stages of developing this guidance is setting out the stall for what this sort of digital storytelling might look like but also what the benefits of it could be.

This is a snippet of audio I recorded as a basic introduction prior to a workshop that is happening in October for one of the JISC programmes.

The big problem has been finding examples of digital stories about the impacts of change and innovation on stakeholders. Most storytelling out there tends to be education-related or personal reflection which is great for demonstrating the form but not so much how it might relate to the projects context. It seems that most project storytelling is kept within institutions which is a shame as this misses out on the opportunity for getting attention from wider audiences.

We’ve been using a story I did for another Netskills project that partners Northumberland National Park but although it’s about project work it’s still mostly personal reflection.

Thankfully Cherly Diermyer, one of the DS Working Group on Facebook sent me 2 very interesting links which I think we’ll be using to get the earlier workshops started. (Hopefully, we’ll have some JISCy examples to use for later ones).

They’re from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and you can check them out at these links:

  • WiSCO Story – the strongest example – showing a narrative description of an unsatisfactory status quo, an intervention with support from outside and the qualitative evidence of change.
  • Brad Postle’s story – Think of this more as describing Brad’s personal journey. There’s not as much here about the students’ stories but it still follows a basic narrative arc.

In fact, there’s a whole bunch of other examples on their gallery site.

The music is a little intrusive but they’re good examples. The use of video talking heads and text animation means that a lot of specialist production work has gone into them. Equally compelling stories could be told using a simpler approach of recorded voiceover, still images and so on, like the embedded story above.

There’s obviously a lot more detail behind these stories but we’re trying to encourage projects to see storytelling as providing a route in to this more objective, quantitative data. It also helps to add the engaging human perspective on what might be formal reporting that is difficult to relate to outside of the project team.

Storytelling is about helping project teams keep an outward focus when it comes to communicating their impacts.

I hope to have lots more to say about this sort of storytelling over the coming months. If it’s something that interests you I’d love to here from you.

WeVideo – online video editing tool

The summary

WeVideo is an online video editor that allows cloud storage of assets and finished videos. It’s got a good feature set and nice links to social media tools. But it won’t do everything.

Pros

  • Free
  • Sign in with Google, Facebook or Yahoo
  • Good links to YouTube, Vimeo
  • Very broad music and sounds library
  • Multi track video and audio
  • Cloud-based storage means potential for collaborative projects and cableless mobile uploads (Android).

Cons

  • Limited media storage
  • Free accounts limited to exporting at 360p with watermark. Max 480p for $2.99 a pop.
  • Only 15 export minutes/month 
  • Some effects are limited (e.g. Ken Burns zooming on images)

The detail

I’ve been struggling to come up with a decent video editing tool to use on the Netskills storytelling workshop recently. Photostory 3 is showing it’s age, MovieMaker has had it’s feature list decimated and using iMovie would mean both a massive outlay on shiny Mac kit and learning a whole new, unintuitive workflow for editing. 

Part of the solution will probably be to turn it into a BYOD event so people can use the software they are most familiar with (and it opens up the option of using iOS for storytelling too) but there needs to be a fallback for those that either have no device or software.

Online tools seem to be the best way forward in theory. We do training in numerous venues so there’s always a chance that when I turn up some aspect of installed software won’t work or I don’t have enough priveleges to sort problems. This happened with Photo Story 3 at the last venue where the mics I’d brought along didn’t work with the sound cards so attendees needed to yell their narration into the built-in webcam mics – not great.

Web tools are always going to be a compromise. In the past Jaycut would probably have sufficed but that was bought out by RIM a while back.

WeVideo appeared last year and looks very promising.

It comes in a 2 flavours, a stripped down editor as part of YouTube’s Create range of services, or a stand alone webpage. I’m not recommending WeVideo for day to day editing. It doesn’t have the flexibility. But as a tool for workshops and to get people started on the path of using non-linear editing tools it works very well.

You can see from the summary above that there are some limitations for the free version of the site but that’s fair enough. These sites have to make money somehow.

For our digital storyteling projects we need to ability to import images,video, audio over a number of tracks, add text and simple effects such as pan & zoom on still images. WeVideo allows all that.

The Ken Burns effect is quite important for image-based digital storytelling. Although this has it and give the ability to centre a zoom on a focal point it only allows a zoom out which over a few minutes becomes very repetitive. I’ve raised this with them but it doesn’t look like it’ll change any time soon.

The final output is low quality on the free account and it has a permanent but discrete watermark, but as I said. Fair enough, it’s a free tool. The ease of exporting directly to YouTube or Vimeo is a real bonus.

This is what I put together from some HD footage and images this morning. Music is “Pipeline” by Rho )

Despite the compromises on quality, it does the job nicely.

A word on using online tools

Using online tools isn’t always the best option. The availability and feature set of these sort of tools are subject to change with little notice. For indiviual uses it’s possible to weather those storms. When you’re putting together resources and planning workshop activities a sudden change can really screw things up. There have been a number of times when tools I’ve relied on have suddenly vanished (see sadly departed Fliggo).

The only way round this is to keep an eye on developments through following the official twitter account, talk to the developers and always have a fall back plan.

 

Immersive video on the iP*d – more than just interesting?

Just saw this on the Neiman Journalism Lab blog…

A collaboration between Condition One and The Guardian it’s a slightly more interactive approach to video where you have an element of control over where the camera is looking.

Is it more than just interesting? It would make some intriguing digital stories where the viewer is more actively selecting what elements of the story to view.  

Is it a flavour of AR where the “reality” can be displayed independent of location (picture it with points of interest embedded into the video)? 

Could this be what Google Streetview looks like in a few years’ time? 

#Infographics and the art of political persuasion

We’ve been talking about infographics a bit at Netskills towers recently and one of the discussion points was the difference between clarifying data by presenting it in particular ways and spinning data to get across a message.

This came up on the Information Aesthetics blog today.

Read the post for a bit of background. 

Good aspects to reflect on might be:

  • What is the impact on the viewer of pairing the video clips with the data? What happens when you see them in isolation?
  • Why were these types of graphics chosen? Also, consider the type face, colour scheme etc of the graphics framing the data.
  • What’s the provenance of the data? (Sources are shown on the accompanying Flickr image)
  • What alternative data might be included?
  • What are other ways of presenting the same data in different ways that communicate a different message?
  • What range of factors are at play that might contribute to the changes shown here? 
  • To what extent is any US president responsible for these types of data?
  • How persuasive do you find this?

Also, who is presenting this information? Following the embed back to YouTube you find it’s a group called the Minnesota Majority, “a non-profit grassroots advocacy group working to promote traditional values in public policy” (from their YouTube channel About Me section). What else might we want to discover about this group?

I’m not interested in the political debate here. It’s just a great starting point for a discussion about stories, data, politics and persuasion.

What other open questions would you want to ask students about this video?

Find music for video projects with Vimeo – #digitalstorytelling

≈≈≈ ???

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