If you’ve taken digital images, or scanned images onto your computer, it’s likely that they’ll be high resolution images, ready for printing. We don’t need high resolution images on our computer screens for two good reasons: screen resolutions can’t show so much detail and they take up a lot of storage space.
There’s a process called optimization which you can use to make your images more usable for your language learning activities. You can either use a program like Photoshop Elements (commercial), or Google’s Picasa, which is free from http://picasa.google.com. These will enable you to edit your pictures and get the best quality with the smallest storage size.
Let’s look at a few things you can do to enhance your images using Picasa.
Imagine we’ve taken this picture, but we’re only interested in using the picture of the mug for a vocabulary exercise.
- Open up Picasa. Click on the photo we want to edit.
- Click on Basic Fixes and then on Crop.
- Click on Manual in the drop-down menu, then select the bit of the image we want to crop (cut out).
- Then click on Apply.
The result will be:
As it stands, the picture is too dark. There is too little contrast. Picasa will also allow us to create a stronger contrast, just by clicking on Tuning and Fill light and then moving the button across to brighten up the picture.
The final picture looks like this:
It’s smaller and brighter than the original and more appropriate for our Moodle page.
Optimization and image size
The picture above is 340 kb in storage size, which is pretty big. The reason it’s so big in storage size is that its real size is 837 px in width and 960 px in height. In case you’re new to image measurement, px stands for pixels, which are the dots on your screen. So we have an unnecessarily large image. We can reduce the image size when we insert an image, but it’s a much better idea to reduce the dimensions to what we actually need before we import the image into Moodle. That will reduce the storage size at the same time.
Another reason for resizing images is that if you’re using several photos on the same page, you’ll achieve a much greater sense of balance and therefore effectiveness if all your images are the same size. If we reduce the mug to 100 px in width, the final version is only 92 kb in size.
We can resize images in Picasa by exporting, emailing, or uploading our photos to Picasa Web Albums. When we select File | Export, we can select what size we want.
One exciting way of enhancing your web pages in Moodle is to use video. You can either upload videos to your own Moodle site or upload them to a site like YouTube, or TeacherTube. Mashable at http://mashable.com/category/video is an excellent source of ideas and resources for editing, uploading, and sharing your videos.
If you decide to upload your videos onto your Moodle site, you’ll need to check their size and the upload limits on your Moodle site. The default limits are usually quite low, but you can get your administrator to change them. You can also get round this problem by uploading your videos direct to the server using an FTP program. You will need to ask your Moodle administrator for help with that.
Embedding videos will save your server’s storage space and traffic.
Adding subtitles to your videos
One way of making video content more accessible for language learners is to add same-language subtitles. This would work well as an extension to the read and listen activity. Alternatively, you could get students to produce the subtitles, a rather glamorous type of dictation. If you want to add subtitles to your own videos, this is quite straightforward in free programs like Movie Maker (for Windows) or iMovie (for Macs). Look up “subtitles” in the help files. If you want to add subtitles to a YouTube video, http://www.overstream.net/ allows you to do just that. You can then embed the final product in your website. Here’s what a video with added subtitles could look like:
If you’re not happy with the quality of sound, there are various things you can do to improve it. The six examples below are created with the audio program called Audacity, but most audio editing programs will offer the same tools.
The first four edits are in the Effect menu.
Effect | Noise removal
If there is an unwelcome background noise on your recording, Audacity has a tool for reducing it. Open Audacity. Open your recording. Select the whole sound track or part of the track that has too much noise by highlighting it with your mouse cursor. Select click on Effect | Noise removal to get to the noise removal tool. On-screen instructions will guide you through the rest of the process. Be careful not to reduce the noise too much, as this sometimes creates distortion.
Fade in and fade out
Effect | Fade in/out
If you want the sound to fade in and out, use your mouse to select the part of the sound track where you want the effect. Then select Effect | Fade in/out to create the effect. This could be useful for a presentation to avoid having a burst of sound at the beginning of the recording.
Change tempo without changing pitch
Effect | Change tempo
This can be very useful, particularly for lower-level learners. It’s useful to create two versions of your recordings: one fast and one slow. You can upload both and give students the choice of which one they listen to. The great thing about this tool is that the pitch doesn’t change.
Change pitch without changing tempo
Effect | Change pitch
Sometimes you might want to lower or raise the pitch of a voice to make it more audible. This tool lets you do that without the speed changing. It can even be used to simulate a dialog, with you speaking both parts, keeping one at your normal pitch and the other one at a higher or lower pitch.
You’ll find the next two settings in the Preferences menu.
This helps determine the quality of your recording. You can think of it as the number of times per second you capture a snapshot of sound while you’re recording. Higher sample rates give you more detail. In other words, it’s a fuller sound. 8 KHz is the lowest sampling rate you should select for voice recordings. 16 KHz is more likely to produce an acceptable sound. If you have music as well, you’ll need a higher sample rate, like 44 KHz.
This is the number of bits (digital 1s and 0s) that are used each second to represent the sound signal. The bit-rate for digital audio is represented in thousands of bits per second (kbps). The higher the bit-rate is, the larger the file size and the better the sound quality. Lower bit rates result in smaller files but poorer sound quality. A good bit rate for recording in Audacity is 32.
Audacity offers many more possibilities, and it’s well worth exploring it in detail. Go to http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/ for more help.
Most of the navigation work—that is, menus and links—is done for you in Moodle. However, there are things you can do to improve it. Here’s a list of tips:
Font size and color
Make consistent use of font size and color with headings so that users recognize the relative importance of different sections. For example, make topics big and bold so that they stand out. Remember that the default font and color is the same as for all other text. You have to make the difference yourself. For example:
Allow users to move ahead if necessary, so that they feel in control. You can do this by providing explicit headings in your course topics. Don’t call an activity “activity”. Give it a more specific name, like “Second prepositions grammar exercise”. Here are some options for navigation maps:
- Use the Topics view on your course pages
- Use Book to organize a syllabus. There’s an example of this in the introduction to this article.
- Use a flowchart program to create a plan. Then import it into your Moodle web page. For example:
Many flowchart programs allow you to include hyperlinks to the actual activities. To do that, first copy and paste the target web page address from the address bar.
Then paste that address into the hyperlink in your flowchart program. Here’s an example using gliffy:
The final page would look like this. Students will see all the other navigation blocks in the left and right-hand columns.