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embedding : Are We There Yet?

A Tantalizing Tabblo

May 6, 2008 · Posted in graphics, Teaching 2.0, Tools, Web 2.0 · Comment 

Over the past three semesters, my education undergraduate students have been working with Panraven, a compelling and interesting web site that allows users to create, publish, and even print online storybooks. We have used Panraven to create sense-of-place projects with an eye toward using Panraven as a K-12 classroom tool. My students’ reactions to using Panraven–expressed personally and through their blogs–have been remarkably similar. While they love the final product–a nicely-formatted online storybook–they consistently struggle with Panraven’s many frustrating limitations and apparent beta bugs. Among those:

  • Upload of images is frustratingly slow and often hangs in progress, requiring a browser restart and loss of work;
  • Dragging images from the media folder to a project sometimes simply doesn’t work at all, again requiring a restart;
  • Text boxes cannot be resized to accommodate more (or less) text than will fit in a given box;
  • Images are fixed and cannot be moved around on a page to facilitate creative layouts;
  • Viewing storybooks online seems inordinately slow, even on a fast campus-wide network.

For these reasons, most of my students reluctantly conclude that Panraven is not a reliable classroom tool, particularly for younger elementary students. The final product, while very compelling, is not worth the potential frustration of using the tool in a K-12 setting.

That’s why I was thrilled to be directed by a colleague to Tabblo (pronounce it “tableau”). Like Panraven, Tabblo creates online storybooks. (It also creates comic books and posters up to 24″ x 36″, but that’s another blog entry.) Unlike Panraven, however, uploading images is very fast. In fact, in my side by side tests on the same computer using the same network, Tabblo uploaded images many times faster than Panraven. Tabblo never hesitated to upload properly, and dragging photos into a story within Tabblo worked perfectly each time I tried it.

Viewing storybooks online is also much faster than with Panraven. Turning a page in Tabblo produces a pleasing”page curl” effect (which works forwards or backwards at both the top and bottom corners of a page) and there is no noticeable delay in loading the next page as there is with Panraven. On the other hand, Tabblo stories appear much smaller on a web page than do Panraven stories (which give you the option of enlarging the display if you want), making captions or small text difficult to read. If there is a way to enlarge Tabblo books, I have not found it yet.

Creating layouts in Tabblo is a breeze, and, while you can choose from a variety of preset layouts, the author is afforded complete control over the placement of images and text boxes on any page. Pictures can be moved from one place to another on a page or dragged off the page and stored in a virtual lightbox for use later. Text boxes can be any size and can be resized easily. It’s simple to insert new pages or delete unwanted pages. And–these actions happen quickly, with no discernible delay in execution.

Tabblo doesn’t win in every category, however. Panraven allows you to embed your stories into a blog, wiki, or other web page. I like this feature very much. Tabblo generates code that “simulates” embedding (that is, it places an image of the storybook cover in your blog), but that image is in reality just a link to the Tabblo web site. It would be wonderful if Tabblo allowed true embedding of projects into web pages.

Below is a test story that I created with Tabblo. Notice that the captions are difficult to read. I cannot find a way to increase the text size in the captions.

Tabblo: Canwell Glacier Tour April, 2006

See my Tabblo>

Even so, it looks like I am going to have to change my fall semester syllabus. We’re moving to Tabblo as an alternative to Panraven.

The Power of Embedding

March 27, 2008 · Posted in Blogging, social networking, Tools, Web 2.0 · 2 Comments 

As an educator, I find myself posting content on a variety of online sources. In addition to semi-regular blogging, I manage several wikis, maintain a faculty home page, store and publish presentations on Google Docs, and I (somewhat reluctantly) use Blackboard for my ed tech classes. Many of those sources employ the same content. For example. a “How to Use Flickr Slidr” presentation might appear on my professional development blog for faculty, on Blackboard as a resource for my students, and as a URL on Google Docs. Reposting that document in numerous locations every time the original document needed to be modified would be time consuming and prone to mistakes. Besides, it violates my basic principle of doing work only once.

That’s why I find the idea of embedding media so powerful. Most online content services provide ways to embed media into a web page of just about any variety. All you need is a bit of site-generated code and authoring access to a web page. Blogs and wikis are great places to publish embedded media. Even stodgy old Blackboard will allow embedding and display of most media types. Imagine–you no longer have to upload a PowerPoint slide show to Blackboard and have your students download it for viewing. You can upload it Google Docs and embed it on Blackboard as a content item. Any changes you make to your slide show through Google Docs are immediately available to your students (it may require refreshing the Blackboard page) and it doesn’t take up any of your limited Blackboard storage space.

Embedding media is simply a matter of copy a few lines of code from a content service and pasting it into your blog, wiki, web page, Blackboard course site, or any other web page to which you have authoring privileges. The code is automatically generated by the content service site.

Here are a few of the content services that provide automatically generated code that can be copied and pasted into your sites:

  • Flickr (photos)
  • VoiceThread (voice and video annotated stories)
  • Panraven (online storybooks)
  • Google Docs (MS Office compatible word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet files; requires a Google account)
  • Flickr Slidr (generates code for embedding Flick slide shows
  • YouTube, and virtually every other video sharing site (videos)

There are some potential tradeoffs when using embedded media. For example, PowerPoint slide shows uploaded to Google Docs cannot have sound or animation. Careful authoring with these limitations in mind, however, usually results in useful and effective documents.

Below is an example of an embedded VoiceThread project, which I’ve chosen to present in a small size for faster access. Because I have allowed public comment on this project, video or voice annotations added to my original presentation on VoiceThread will automatically be reflected here, and vice versa.

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