Monday, November 05, 2012

Mostly Free Diagramming Tools Online

I've been exploring several drawing tools, particularly those for making graphs and diagrams. I'm trying to stick to free and online in this discussion, though a few for-pay tools have some nice advantages, mainly storage space and collaboration.

Among other advantages, drawing tools can help students mind-map and brainstorm; collect and display numerical data in charts and graphs; demonstrate reflective learning in storyboards or networked images; and so on. Graphing skills become increasingly important as an academic tool as students progress through school, but charts and graphs can be a fun motivation even for younger students.

Gliffy is one of my old favorites, but it limits you to just 5 drawings, unless you go for the somewhat pricey paid account (5 users for up to 200 drawings, for about $10, as of this writing). It does very nice Venn diagrams from templates, has loads of pre-formed objects, such as arrows and rectangles, and supports HTML5.

Cacoo is entirely free and looks like a very friendly interface, and one appropriate for middle school kids. You can create:
wire frames, mind maps, network charts, and site maps . . . simply pick and "drag and drop" elements from a large library of stencils.
Cacoo is one of the free programs with a free-hand drawing option, too.

Creately is another free program with great features, and like Gliffy, allows up to 5 drawings with limited collaborative possibilities.  It gives you only diagrams, but offers nice Venn templates, and a large selection of templates for K-12, including:

...Storyboards, Fishbone Diagrams, T Charts, Y Charts, Venn Diagrams, and much more..

Google Drawings has only a very basic toolkit, so don't expect a great deal, but it is quick and easy and the interface will be familiar from Google docs.

If you want a very professional look, but have only a limited project, try Microsoft's Visio or SmartDraw. Both of these have a free trial period and many features.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Free File Converter for Mac and Other Things You Might Want to Know about YouTube

Recently I tried to organize and curate my YouTube channel to better effect. My first problem was that as an inveterate Mac user, most of the videos on my desktop were in .MOV format, and even though this was purportedly a YouTube-supported format, I could not seem to upload some of my videos.

Some of the most popular video formats supported by YouTube (directly from their Help site:
• WebM files--Vp8 video codec and Vorbis Audio codecs
• .MPEG4, 3GPP and MOV files--Typically supporting h264, mpeg4 video codecs, and AAC audio codec
• .AVI--Many cameras output this format--typically the video codec is MJPEG and audio is PCM
• .MPEGPS--Typically supporting MPEG2 video codec and MP2 audio
• .WMV
• .FLV--Adobe-FLV1 video codec, MP3 audio
The only error message on the YouTube upload page was something to the effect that "There is a problem with your file."  After much trial and error, here are some things I learned about video file formats and YouTube.

 Believing the .MOV file format might be the problem, I tried about half a dozen free video converter software apps on my long video. None of them would convert a video of any length for free, despite plastering the word "free" all over their download sites. 100 MB is about the limit without paying extra, including online converters. I finally came across at the Mac Update site. Despite the dopey name, this little software is very powerful and converts to many different video formats quite easily, including those usable by PCs and mobile devices. And it is an absolutely free download. Use ("Export" to make the conversion.)

This was a fortunate find, as I want my videos to eventually be playable on mobile devices as well as on desktops.

I still had a problem, in that YouTube kept saying something was wrong with one particular file, even though it was quite small when converted to mpeg4. It turns out that YouTube goes by time, not file size, and allows only 15-minutes maximum play time. However, when you verify your account using a mobile phone number, Google will send you a text code that gives you up to 2-hour lengths. YouTube is very non-informative about this fact, and it probably relates to an improvement resulting from Google taking over YT. Maybe the help pages and links will be improved in the coming months.

I found the information about how to get the extra size files (the link didn't just jump out at me) by searching videos in YouTube (of course). I found several, the best and simplest of which, I think, is How to Increase Your Upload Limit on YouTube.

With an officially "verified" account and armed with the increased upload limit, I got my video up. See The Effects of Technology on SLA, a talk I gave at TESOL New York, 2008, in either .avi format (a little clearer, below) or .mpeg4 at my YouTube channel. Just FYI, this was originally a Powerpoint slideshow saved as a Powerpoint movie.  I may yet get around to putting the .mov version up, but you can play it with most video players on most platforms anyway.