Friday, 21 November 2008

Things You Can Do With Your WebCam 1

I'm beginning to think that besides the actual computer itself, a WebCam is one of the most fundamentally useful tools we can possibly have to help us teach and learn a language and of course what's great about WebCams is that they are getting very cheap and many laptop computer come with one ready installed for free!

Beware of bad hair days!!!!

So I've decide to start a mini series of postings on 'Things you can do with a WebCam' - Even if you don't have an Internet connection.

Create fictional characters for narrative and photo stories
Most WebCams can be used to create and record both still and moving images and come with their own software which can be used to add backgrounds or to change and distort the images. You can get your students to dress up, disguise themselves and then create images that they can build into a picture story.

  • Here are some images of characters that I created with my daughter as the basis for a story.
  • I then embedded these into a document and added some speech and captions. This is a great tool for getting your students to create their own picture stories and practice dialogue and narrative.
  • I used Photo Booth to create these images and then imported them into Comic Life on my MAC, but you can do the same thing on a PC by using free software such as ManyCam to create the images and then just inserting them into a Word document and adding 'Call outs' for the captions and speech bubbles. (See a review of the ManyCam software here: Great WebCam Software)

Record your own stories
Story telling is a great way to develop students listening and speaking, but why loose all those wonderful story telling moments. You can use a WebCam to record stories for your students to watch and get your students to record their own stories to share.
  • Telling a story to a WebCam on a computer can be much less intimidating than facing a live audience, so this can reduce your students' anxiety levels. It also gives them the opportunity to watch and listen to themselves telling the story so that they can evaluate their own performance and record and re-record and improve their performance if they feel it's necessary.
  • Your students can also store these recordings as part of an E-Portfolio which they can look back on later and, if you have younger learners, you can share these with their parents.
  • You can also create the stories collaboratively, by recording your own beginning and getting your students to add a sentence each so that they develop the story in their own way.
Here's an example beginning that I created using an online tool called 12 Seconds TV, but you can do the same thing with your WebCam and just store it on your hard drive.

  • The stories that you record don't have to be created by the students or even improvised. You could get your students to record readings from books and work on making them entertaining. I remember as a child watching a TV show called Jackanory which featured popular celebrities reading stories and have often enjoyed reading stories to my daughter.
  • The ability to make your reading entertaining and dramatic with different voice to do the parts of the dialogue is quite a skill and requires a good understanding of the text. Asking students to use a text to develop these skills can be a really good way of focusing them, not only on their understanding of the text, but can also help the students to 'explore' the tonal ranges of their voice in English and to work on their pronunciation. If you try this though be sure to leave plenty of time for rehearsal.
Here's an example from Jackanory of Rik Mayall reading Georgie's Marvellous Medicine

Editing your videos
Once you have a number of stories recorded you might want pull these together into a short 'show' and start editing them together, adding effects and inserting images into the narrative - You could even use the still images of the characters that you created.

  • Again, if you have a MAC you can use i-Movie to do this, but don't worry if you have PC, there are also some great free tools that you can use with your students to do this. These include VideoSpin by Pinnacle (See my review: Free Video Editing Software ) or Virtual Dub which is a simple free program (You can see a review and tutorial here Merge Multiple Video Files With Virtual Dub )
  • Once again, remember that it doesn't have to be you who does thee editing. You can get students to edit their own videos and add effects too. having a polished finished product from their learning can help to motivate the students and give them pride in their accomplishment, which will ultimately encourage them to enjoy and improve the level of their English.

Well that's the theory. Hope it works out for you and if it does then look out for part 2 of things you can do with your WebCam.

Related links:


Nik Peachey


Karen said...

Nic, I havae been playing around with the webcam and accidently found the usefulness of it as well! I created a story the other day for a child using the avatars the cam software provided. My limitation is that I can't set it up for 2 avatars. Have you found a way to do this? Also, we started using this when creating tutorials for faculty. We have added to a powerpoint slide and it is one of the avatars as an instructor explaining their problem. Then the rest of the presentation is about how the problem can be resolved for the instructor.

Tony Forster said...

Another example of using a webcam, a year 9 history assignment

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Tony

Love the video. What software did you use for the time lapse?



Nik Peachey said...

Hi Karen

I think th only way you could get two people using avatars is if you can find someone who has designed something specifically for that, or you could try getting two people communicating on skype (or similar) and have window in window - or side by side and record the screen.

The other option would be to record the two avatars seperately and then edit the film together.

Sorry not to be more help.



bindyuu said...

Hi Nik
I really liked the idea of saving the videos from youtube and tried to save it according to the instructions given in the pdf file. I was able to download the template.But it doesn't work beyond that. Is there a step missing after pasting the embedded code in the instructions pdf?

Els+Marilina said...

Hi Nic, the Bubble video message looks like a great idea, maybe to send between classes of students of the same level in the school. Do you think it could be done on their mobiles? Is there any way it could be recorded to keep track of what students are saying to each other? Thanks, Els and Marilina

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Els+Marilina,

The bubble video messages on both Bubble Comment and Bubble Joy tend to expire after they have been watched 50 times, but you could 'copy' the concept and get your students to use their mobiles to create and upload video to a blog or store the videos locally.

Great idea to get them using their mobiles.



Nik Peachey said...

Hi Bindyuu,

The step that most people miss is that they forget to rename the file and add .htm at the end. When you open the file using WordPad, it is converted, so you need to convert it back to an html file when you save it.



Helen and Andy said...

Hi Nik,
We really like the idea of using the 12 second video for word of the day, or questions and answers. If you wanted to do this regularly and keep all of the students contributions in one place so they can access them and build a virtual class dictionary, would a wiki be the best place?
Also, when using the webcam with YLs or teens, is it enough to use a closed password protected site to collate and keep all their videos or do you still need to get permission from parents? How do you go about it?
Many thanks
Helen and Andy

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Helen and Andy,

You could embed the 12 Second videos into a wiki to keep them altogether. You could also use a webcam and record your students' videos and then have a channel on something like to store them. That way you wouldn't be restricted to 12 Seconds.

As for the videos of teens or YLs, to be on the safe side I would get parents permission and if possible show them what you are doing. Some schools have a standard form for getting permission. If your school doesn't have one you might find one online. This is a good place to start looking for support regarding E-Safety etc:

Hope that helps.


Anonymous said...

We think your blog is a great contribution to the profession and especially for self development and for raising an awareness of what we can do. My partner on this task of looking at using webcams for our lessons and I think that you are very enthusiastic about your site and this comes across on your blog! Thank you!

Robert & Amanda

Nik Peachey said...

Thanks to you both for the kind words. I hope that one day my enthusiasm will extend to finishing and publishing part two of this article!



Laubeco said...

Hi Nik,
Thank you for sharing your blog with all of us. There are so many interesting things in it that I would spend hours tinkering about. I especially liked the idea of using Dotsub and Xtranormal. I'm creating my own video and I'll try to use those tools. Hope my students will like it.

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Laura

Many thanks. I hope you share your xtranormal video with us once you've made it.



Mohammed said...

Hello Nik,

Thanks for producing such a wonderful website. We found it very helpful for exploiting the use of the video, and in particular webcams, in the classroom.

After reviewing the “20 Webcam activities” section, we had a few questions/comments we wanted to pose:

1) What are your thoughts for incorporating group work into any of the activities posted? We feel having a “show & tell” element in them would give students an added pride in their video productions as they would have something to show others (almost would become like a secret what each group is working on).

2) One activity, we were looking at in particular was the “collaborative story” activity. We liked the idea, but didn’t quite see how everything would come together in the end. We thought that if there was some way to combine each person’s (or group’s) individual video clip into one big movie that would be cool. Afterward, we could watch it as a class in order to provide feedback, as well show it to other groups and/or classes. Also, is there a way of linking all the separate clips together in the Tokbox application itself (as opposed to using some video editing software)?

3) One concern we had deals with the time involved for completing such activities. In particular, we were thinking that if we set up groups and used school equipment in order to do the activities in different stages, some students could be taking part in the “recording/editing” bits, while others could be getting on with other things. However, the problem arises in monolingual classes with the amount of L1 that would occur while doing this. Even assuming there’s a great product at the end, and it’s a motivating tool, how beneficial will it be to their language development vs. time spent?

Any and all feedback you could provide would be greatly appreciated.


Jen and Mohammed

Kristian said...


Great post! We found it really informative and we're eager to try out Have you seen that there's an iPhone version? The mobile version really opens up options for student interaction. But we can't help but wonder if it would be a problem monitoring them for content?

Kristian and Burcu

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Mohammed and Jen

Glad you like the site and thanks for some interesting comments and suggestions.

My replies;
1) Absolutely, sts should be sharing whatever they create and looking at each other's work. This is a tool for language and communication and TokBox is great for that because you can just foward messages on as you would an email or create your own thread (like a video Twitter profile) or you can embed the videos you create into a blog for others to comment on. Lots of options.

2) When I thought of the collaborative story telling I was thinking that each person who added their sentence would need to repeat the previous one or at least include it in the text part (in TokBox when you email a video you can also include text below the message) of the previous message before passing it on, so the last person would be telling the whole story. Yes it would be nice to get the whole story with each person contributing their part, but you could do this in class to follow up and use a normal video camera to record it.

3) Ah! I didn't really think of these as ideas to be done in school during class time. I think they would be more effective as communicative homework tasks. Video conferencing or sending video messages to someone you are actually in class with at the time seems a bit unnatural to me and I wouldn't go that way. If I were to do the ideas in class I'd do them with a simple hand held camera such as a Flip and that would cut down on the editing. If you had a few Flip cameras you could have students passing them round watching the pervious contribution and then adding theirs and passing it to someone else. Simple and lots of communication then just play it back , no need for editing.

Hope that's answered your questions and that you give some of these a try.



Nik Peachey said...

Hi Kristian and Burcu

I haven't tried the I-Phone version of 12seconds TV , but it sounds like a great idea. As for monitoring students use of it, well everything they publish is there to be seen on their 'channel' so if they are misusing it, it's very easy for you to catch them.

A bigger problem might be that some other people's channels can be a bit 'sad' and what passes for humour with some can be offensive for others, but depending on the age of your students it might well be worth them getting used to this as one of the not so attractive sides of the target language culture.



p m said...

I just followed up some ideas generated from Nik Peachey's site and through it discovered TOKBOX. Looks good for my kind of needs, because I teach and train very busy and stressed in-work adults who have particular English communication needs. I believe this could be of real benefit in working with them. Thanks a lot Nik. Peter

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