Colin's Sandbox

Digital Storytelling

Developing the “Using the MinecraftEdu Build Tools” video

by on Apr.29, 2013, under #diffimooc, Digital Storytelling

The second and final digital story production for my Spring 2013 University of Alaska Southeast Digital Storytelling class was to be a media piece pertaining to my professional practice.  With a topic as broad as that I could go in any number of directions; my job is one of technology specialist at an educational non-profit, so there’s occasionally a need to develop documentation and instructional videos for our coworkers and/or our customers.  On the other hand, as part of  my coursework for the Spring 2013 #diffimooc class I am  involved with mentoring other group members in the use of the game Minecraft, and it’s close relative, MinecraftEdu, in the classroom.  I went with that because I thought the need was greater for instructional material with that audience, allowed more latitude for creativity, and hence, was both more authentic and engaging.  I think the end result turned out pretty well.

My story changed around a few different times; at first I wanted to do the piece solely on a very specific aspects of the MinecraftEdu module, but as I was researching the topic I became aware of a module that ships together with MinecraftEdu known as WorldEdit.  I had already built a few structures by hand, and with the MinecraftEdu build tools, and finally once I touched the WorldEdit tools I knew that I couldn’t do a video production of just the MinecraftEdu tools without diving into the capabilities of WorldEdit to show off the differences.

I used ScreenFlow for this media production as I still had a bad taste in my mouth from my last experience with iMovie.  My background: I’ve done a little poking around in my younger days with Adobe Premiere and much older versions of iMovie.  I know enough move clips around, perform basic editing functions on them, add transitions, perform simple audio edits.  I was comfortable enough in the multiple track non-linear editing frame of mind and the newest version of iMovie didn’t sit well with that.  I started using ScreenFlow recently to make up some quick videos in support of a short presentation I gave at ASTE 2013.  Here’s an example:

I can’t say enough about ScreenFlow – it’s now my favorite tool for media productions of this type.  The familiar multiple track interface makes me feel right at home:

ScreenFlow FTW

With my previous level of experience, the things I needed to do in order to make this video were easy to accomplish: moving clips around, recording screen captures, and performing simple audio work.  For more complicated audio I again used Audacity, set in record mode while I viewed the current working video in ScreenFlow.

As far as the workflow went for this video production I started out dutifully with writing and revising the initial script and story map.  I then opened up MinecraftEdu and worked on various pieces of my example world to try to hit on all the things that I mentioned in the script.  There was a lot of video editing required as I had to remove lots of dead space from the various screen captures – during some of the building tasks I was a relative novice, and had to spend a lot of time looking up the syntax of various commands, undo many commands, redo some work.. I used simple text boxes for transition text.  After I had working video in place I then had to go back and do my narration over top of the video that I spliced together. On the home stretch I added some background audio to balance out the sound across the whole piece and to help hide some of the voice discontinuities (the odd “ugh” sound here and there that may be difficult to trim out, etc.).  A fun thing at the end of the video was to do a time-lapse 3rd person view of the world building process.  This was accomplished by having two different MinecraftEdu clients running at the same time logged into the same world.  The first user was just perched on top of a pedestal and recording a screen capture of the second user running around and building the actual world.  At the end I put a big layer of dynamite underneath it all and set it off (saving the world beforehand, of course).

After I uploaded the video to I went back and watched the video again, and decided to spend a little time adding annotations to better show some of the individual commands that were used.  I found the annotation editor to be sufficient and not too annoying for this task.  The reason for doing this in as opposed to going back to the original video was three-fold: first I wanted to see how well the annotation feature worked, secondly I wanted to give folks the ability to turn off some level of the captioning, and lastly because I had already given out the link to several people and I didn’t want to break that link.

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The Promise of the Suzuki Manji

by on Apr.05, 2013, under Digital Storytelling

When it’s sunny outside I have a tendency to see a story in small hurdles, and enjoy them when they come out right.

Last night at a band practice I found out that a certain song (but sorry young grasshopper, not this one) we’re playing for Folk Fest would be in Bb – the original key of the song.  But originally other members of the group had decided to that in order to make it easier on the stringed instruments, we’d play it in A.  Which I could play, since I have the right harp for it – a D.  I didn’t have Eb, which I’d need to play in Bb.  Welp I miss a couple practices while I had some relatives in for a week makes a big difference.  A measly semitone of difference but a world of hurt when you hear someone playing in the wrong key.  We’re back in Bb.

I called the local shop.  Not in stock.  “Big shipment” promised for the middle of this week.  Hmmm.  Not going to help, I would love to have it in my hands right now, and who knows if it would just be the Hohner Blues Harp?  Those things are leaky lip killers that I have never been able to drive right.  If I didn’t have it soon (upcoming full band practice on Sunday) I wouldn’t need it until Friday, a week from now.  I’d order it with super-uber priority mail or something from Amazon and it’d be here before that.  Plenty of them there.

I know the argument about supporting the local guy, and usually I call there first, as long as he has the thing in stock and it’s a harp.  They don’t go bad.  There’s a lot of different varieties though, and not enough harmonica players in town to justify it, so I understand.  They’re essentially commodity items; it’s not like the shop opens them up and customizes them.

I called up Mammoth Music in Anchorage and it turns out that they have this Hohner Blues Harp in Eb – and this shock and terror filled me when I realized I would have to overpay for a harp I’d always hate and have to replace, or not, because funds are tight and I only use it for these couple songs, etc… Hard to justify, so I’d likely just dislike the dumb thing for years to come.  “You got anything else?  Something with a plastic comb?  Like a Lee Oskar, or a Suzuki, etc?”, I ask the man whom I found out later was named Lance.  “Hold on”, he says, and after a minute’s pause, “yep I got one right here, a Suzuki, uh, hard to pronounce this, Man G?  One left.”.  He spells it out for me.  M-A-N-J-I.  I’m online.  I look it up.  I don’t even look at the reviews at first.  I ask him how much he’s charging for the thing that will save me from the Hohner Blues Harp.  “$54.99”.  The first thing I do is to compare the price.  The same.  My jaw drops.  This might be the one.  I read further on the reviews – composite comb, doesn’t bite like wood.

I have to make this happen.  More Internet searches.  Checking people’s travel calendars.  Thinking back – I remember … then in a flash I sent out an email to a guy I just played hockey this morning who said he heading up to Anchorage for a couple days.  He responds – he think he can pick it for me and bring it back by Sunday.

I call up Lance again.  Numerous attempts to communicate through what must be a full symphony going on over there, and my own mush mouth to contend with.  Also, the fax machine is hooked up to the same phone line that they use to process credit cards.  They just now are receiving a 30 page fax, and it’s going really slow.  Lance offers to call me back.

I need this harp so bad.   I am on pins and needles, I’ve read more reviews by now and I’m convinced that this harmonica is the only thing standing in the way between me and completely obliterating that 8-bar solo.  Yes that’s it, 8 bars.

The transaction goes through.  We stumble in our good-byes, perhaps both confident that something of great value was achieved.

I send out the notification to the Anchorage-bound acquaintance.  If he comes through it’s free beer for sure: I’ll actually sound OK on the damned song at Folk Fest.  The people I’m closest to in life probably won’t know the difference but I will, and that’s all the difference to me.



[Edit: He came through, and it’s here.]

The result:

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Trip to Grandma’s

by on Mar.25, 2013, under Digital Storytelling

Well – it’s finally over, my first story for my Digital Storytelling class.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve procrastinated a bit on this project; while I have been tweaking my script now for the past few weeks I haven’t been putting the time in to get all the media ducks in a row until the past week.  Finally this past weekend I was able to get it (and by “it” I mean my mojo) into gear and plant myself in the seat for actual focused production time on the piece.

Here’s some thoughts on what I’ve learned in doing this project.

First: don’t procrastinate.  As a lifelong procrastinator (err. sorry, “idea man”), I can tell you that the pitfall propensity goes way up when you wait for the last minute.  Fortunately I have enough experience in the tools that I used that I could fight my way through the hurdles.

Second: I’m not a big fan of the current iMovie interface.  Since the last time I used it (several years ago), it seems like they’ve significantly dumbed down the interface, eschewing the traditional timeline view for what seems like a more object based view.  For stills I suppose this is fine but for me it’s very counter-intuitive as I feel at home with the timeline concept.  My coworker Richard tells me that Final Cut Pro has also gone this way, making me feel like a dinosaur.  I also was having issues whereby importing large numbers of pictures into the library would crash iMovie.  Not too hard to work around, but again, annoying.

Important: do a quick test project first (less than a couple minutes, and very little glitz) to identify where you’re likely to spend too much time in production.  The big time sinks for me was primarily recording my own voice narration.  I have some big hangup or other such that I can’t seem to record myself at all – I’m constantly goofing up, or deleting what is likely good enough audio, or revising the script.  I’m not going to lie to you – it took over 8 hours to record 5 minutes (!) of narration along with the music track and a couple of sound effects (great find:  Absolutely ridiculous on my part.  Guess what?  I still don’t like how it sounds (I speak 100% too fast), but I had to draw a line somewhere and call it good.  Next time I do a project like this at all I will have someone else record and direct the audio so I don’t have to agonize over the editorialization.  It’s possible too that I likely could have shaved off a little bit of time had I been more familiar with Audacity, but once I learned a few keyboard shortcuts life was quite a bit better.   I couldn’t nail down the sound I wanted; I couldn’t get a good reverb sound from any of the plugins that came bundled with the program, and in general I think I’m a little bit spoiled from my limited experience using Cakewalk more than a few years ago.

Another thing that took a while to do was synchronizing slides with the narration, which took a lot of tweaking, didn’t come out perfect, and was likely not a great use of time in the long run.  I’d say keep the sync’ing to a minimum, and put in longer breaks during the narration to assist in that.

One of my favorite things about the movie was using my iPad to create a stop motion segment in the middle of the video using post-it notes as the medium.  I also did a quick sketch-cast also using ShowMe but I didn’t quite like how it looked in the end, although I ended up using it twice.

Before doing the production, I had created a story map to follow along. The big thing I found is that doing the production is an iterative process for me.  As I was recording the audio (see the time sink section below) I ended up changing the script in subtle ways as well as the imagery to support it depending on what was easily available or easily crafted.

All in all it was fun and I’m looking forward to the next project. IN the meantime, call your loved ones when you can.

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Differentiating the Process at ASTE 2013

by on Feb.27, 2013, under #diffimooc, Digital Storytelling

ASTE 2013
I _just_ finished up with the ASTE conference and although I gained a lot from this, I’m a bit fried. I focused mainly on tools, products, and methodologies that deal with Augmented Reality, gamification of education, Minecraft (and it’s custom offshoot, MinecraftEdu), and sharing stories with all stripes of educators. It was the latter that I think had the most lasting impact: conversations lend value to those feebly formed ideas running around upstairs and suggest future project ideas.

Although throughout my experiences at ASTE the concept of “differentiation of process” could be demonstrated I’ll limit myself mainly to a few items that really hit home with me. Although I’m very excited about using potentially using MinecraftEdu as a portion of our group’s simulation project, I won’t get into MinecraftEdu too much in this post because I know that I’ll need more space and time to do it justice. I will say though that the two Minecraft sessions I attended were packed. If you were a presenter and you needed to fill some seats you could have just slapped “Minecraft” in your presentation’s title and you’d be fighting for air.
(continue reading…)

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A confession

by on Feb.08, 2013, under Digital Storytelling, reads

I have been recently watching “Downton Abbey”, making it through the first series.  I justify it because of my class in Digital Storytelling, and because it provides me with some QT with my spouse, something that is in short supply whenever you’ve got two little ones, a job, a stint in grad school, etc.  I’ve put down “V.” for the time being, I think the next time I will actually have a block of time to pick it back up is on a family camping trip.  The little 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there that I was doing made it too difficult to follow along; it’s too dense for that.

I always poked fun at the bodice-rippers (even though I have read one just to find out what it was all about), and at first I just thought DA would be another better put together of that old meme.  But as many have already said, it really gets into the early 20th century class dynamic in England and I just like how the stories are laid out.  I feel a connection with the characters even though I would like to think I’m smack dab in between both of these depicted extremes.

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