Friday, February 6, 2015

New websites to try

              In this post I will be exploring three new Web 2.0 sites that can be used for educational purposes.  None of these sites were truly designed with education in mind, but a number of fun assignments can be developed off of them and applied to a wide variety of classrooms.  Instead of reviewing three sites that are fairly similar, I purposefully have chosen three sites that allow for dynamic presentation in three unique ways.  Each site I will also review using the five criteria for evaluating website for educational purposes as discussed by Steve Dembo and Adam Bellow in their book, Untangling the Web.  Throughout this post I will provide some ideas for classroom application and I would love to hear about how you have adapted these or other sites for use inside your own classroom.  Please post a comment below to share your ideas.

The first site I am going to review is, which is a website that allows you to create comics online.  There is the option of having a teacher account that is private and safe from inappropriate comics that other users have created.  However, this option costs you $8.99 a month and allows up to 200 students to sign up.  As I am just reviewing this website I choose the free option which provides you some of the features available on the site.  The biggest downfall to the free option is the fact that you cannot upload your own photos to the site.  One of the reasons that I choose this site over other similar sites was because of the ability to upload your own photos and then put animation bubbles over those images to tell the story.   A few other problems that I ran into, was with the free account there are only a limited number of characters that you can choose from.  While you can pose and change the faces of these characters, the ability to change their clothes is not possible.  So while I choose to make a comic set during WW2, I could not find any characters that were in uniform to use.  On the positive side, the site is very easy to use and create comics that look professional with little effort.    As for the educational possibilities there are a number of ways in which this type of resource could be used in the classroom.  You could have the students be a person involved in a historical situation and tell a story from a first person perspective.  (See my example)  Another option could be to have the students create a situation and then address the problem in their comic, for example immigration or Westward expansion.  As for the evaluation of this website, by paying to use the teacher service all the criteria are met.  However, the free option does expose students to randomly chosen creations for students to view.  While the site does employ language filters, that is no guarantee.  Overall the website could offer some valuable activities and learning for the students, especially if you are willing to pay for the added security.
Created using Pixton
                  The second website that I will be reviewing is which is a web based platform that allows you to create online visuals, posters, that can then be shared or embedded across all digital platforms.  As with pixton, this site has a free option and pro option that provides the user with more graphic choices from which to create your visual from.  The site provides a number of premade examples that you can edit and change to fit your specific needs.  These are even categorized, so you can search for ones that only deal with history or technology, to just name a few.  This was all very easy to navigate and intuitive.  However, when you get to the actual creating of your visual things are much more difficult as any keyboard shortcuts you might want to use no longer work.  The biggest issue I had was trying to delete items off of the example I choose.  You must use their icons on their tool bars to do any adding or subtracting to your creation.  I also found it very difficult to move items around on the page once I had created them.  Often times I would grab the object to move it, only to discover that I was just resizing the object and I would then have to go back and fix everything.  Eventually, I got the hang of things but there is definitely a learning curve associated with the site.  As for educational benefits, the site does allow you to create very visually pleasing posters that are easy to use on digital platforms, but I believe there are better programs out there for this.  Even using Microsoft publisher will give to the same capabilities, minus the ability to embed the object that this program does.  If the site improved the creation process by allowing keyboard shortcuts like deleting and copy pasting, this site would be a real treasure for most teachers.  I emailed the creators of the site my suggestions and I will update this post if I hear back from them.  My evaluation of the website does raise a few flags to be aware of, the examples are randomly generated, while I did not see anything objectionable, that does not mean there is something out there.  There was also no way to set up a class to have everything grouped together, in order to see the students work they would have to send it or post it for you to view.  Overall this site has promise to be a real benefit to educators, but it is just missing a few finer touches that would make it perfectly suited for schools.

Created using
               The final site I reviewed is ujam, an online music creator that allows you to mix, record and arrange music without having to have an entire recording studio.  This site allows the user to sing their own music and arrange it how they would like or remix other songs.   Just so you know, the prospect of singing for other people to hear is absolutely terrifying to me, so with that in mind I recruited my son to read a poem and then I put it together with his help.  The result that you can hear took us less than an hour to complete and I think sounds surprisingly well done, considering neither of us really knew what we were doing as we started this process.   Example Song  The difficulties that we faced was really with the fact that it was difficult to edit the song and align the different parts, chorus and versus with what was actually done by my son.   As for adding background music and changing his voice that was done really easily by simply dragging the effect you want down onto the active bar.   If you are a music teacher this site could be invaluable to you to have the students record themselves singing or playing and then creating songs to accompany their performances.  As a history teacher, you could have the students create their own songs about a historical topic or theme that is being discussed in class.  For English teachers, maybe creating a playlist of music that a character in the book would be listening to as they progress throughout the novel would allow you to assess the students understanding of the complexity of the character.  You could create any type of assignment using this site and easily tailor it to fit a wide variety of different levels and subjects.  As for the evaluation of the website, this site is free to use but does not offer an educational space.  Those examples that are present on the main page have been reviewed by the curators of the site and were appropriate for anyone to listen to.  As for publishing your work, you have the option of downloading an MP3 version of your song or linking from their site to a third party site like a blog or website.  Overall this site could be very valuable to educators in a wide variety of different disciplines.

Throughout this process I found a number of valuable resources that could supplement the amazing teaching that goes on throughout America every day.  By using these and other sites, hopefully you will be able to truly assess the learning that is occurring inside your classrooms.   In today’s digital world you are really only limited by the creativeness of your own mind, and hopefully after reading these website reviews you are able to be inspired and change the future of your students.

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