Tools to Promote Learning (#6 Adobe Spark)

If you haven’t come across Adobe Spark yet (or have, but haven’t had the time to really play around with it) it’s a great tool for creating short videos or infographics to get across an idea in an engaging way.

The mobile app is straightforward to use and there’s a lot you can do with it in a fairly short space of time. Like with any story,  it’s only as good as the effort you put into the telling of the story beforehand, so it’s worth thinking about what you want to say, creating quality images and video clips to include, your audience, and so on before you even start with the app. However, for the purposes of a simple demonstration, I’ve created a short Spark of one of my favourite past times – fell walking.

Fell walking in the Lake District

And in the time-honoured fashion of “here’s one I made earlier” here’s the Spark I (quickly!) put together to tell the story of my trek up Helvellyn:

It’s a first attempt and isn’t about to take Hollywood by storm any time soon, granted, but it does give you a flavour of some of the key things you can do with Adobe Spark.

I love the way it allows you to build a narrative around a particular idea or story. There’s also a range of templates you can make use of that provides your story with a structure and gives you some tips on the kinds of images and video clips you might like to include in order to make the overall project more engaging. That’s not to say you have to follow a set template – you can tailor the project to include any combination of images, video, text, music and voice narration you please.

As well as using your own images (which is what I did above) you can also make use of a preset bank of images through Spark that searches Flickr for Creative Commons images and Pixabay for images tagged as public domain.

Here are my initial reflections on the pros and cons:-


1) The applications are limitless.
2) Ideal for creative storytelling.
3) The app is free to download.
4) Templates provide a clear structure to your idea.
5) The music library has plenty of variety.
6) Sharing options and the HTML embed code is included.
7) Images included in Spark are Creative Commons or public domain.


1) Lacks the functionality of something like the iMovie app (see my earlier post here).
2) The text editing is practically non-existent in the video option.
3) Spark video slides containing video or voice narration can be no longer than 30 seconds (slides containing just images can be no longer than 10 seconds).
4) All videos published with Spark are public – anyone with the URL can access them (so consider carefully what you include).

Further support on using Adobe Spark is available here.

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Tools to Promote Learning (#5 Socrative)

I’ve often heard the phrase “We don’t have time!” during staff development sessions where staff are encouraged to embed technology into their practice. Without wanting to get into the argument of whether this is a perfectly justified response or whether it hides a range of other issues that are not technology related per se (like anything else, it will depend on context), I wanted to flag one tool in particular that can save time.

Finding time Continue reading Tools to Promote Learning (#5 Socrative)

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Tools to Promote Learning (#4 the iMovie app)

“I do enjoy making videos, even though they are long days and very hard work.

Tanya Tucker, American country and music artist.

Without doubt, making quality video is a painstaking process, and I can’t deny – to do it right takes time. Having said that though, there’s something very enjoyable about crafting a short video; editing the scenes, adding the music and so on, that makes it very satisfying. I don’t know whether that’s the creative, geeky part of me talking or it’s something else, but making short videos for others to enjoy can be immensely rewarding.

That’s why I want to talk about the iMovie app for iPhone/iPad – it allows you to indulge those creative impulses and takes much of the pain out of the process.

I first took an interest in the iMovie app for reasons that weren’t anything to do with education. I was on holiday with my nephew and he was monopolising my iPad for his own personal amusement (as usual) whilst I enjoyed a bit of welcome peace and quiet.

Without any encouragement from me he started dabbling with many of the apps and before I knew it he was making short videos all by himself, adding transitions, special effects, music, and so on. Of course, he wasn’t about to get any phone calls from Steven Spielberg, but they were pretty impressive efforts nevertheless – for an eleven year old!

Since then I’ve been exploring some of the features of the iMovie app in more detail and have been creating my own short videos for a variety of different audiences.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of indulging my inner-geek by attending a Steampunk event at the Papplewick Pumping Station (arguably Britain’s finest Victorian Water Works). As you can imagine, these Steampunk affairs are a frivolous (and very enjoyable) exercise in sartorial flamboyance and excess – the perfect opportunity for a bit of videoing!

Anyway, here’s my short video from the day which captures a popular favourite at Steampunk events – the tea duel.  I’ll discuss some of the key features I employed using the iMovie app after the video below:-

Before you start your project, most people are likely to have all their video clips on their iPhone rather than an iPad, if you do have both and the video is all on your phone you might want to transfer your video files to your iPad first using Airdrop (it’s a little easier to edit the video on a bigger screen).

Now, to some of the video editing features and techniques available through the app which I found particularly useful:-

  • There are lots of special effects you can apply to the look of your video, depending on your subject matter. You may not want to change this at all, but for my video I’ve gone for the ‘Silent Era’ effect, which is perfect for creating a sense of time and age.
  • About twenty five seconds into the video I’ve superimposed one bit of video over another in order to show the inner workings of the pumping station. In this article Jeff Carlson, author of iPad and iPhone Video: Film, Edit and Share the Apple Way, explains exactly how you can do this in the app.
  • The Ken Burns effect (a type of panning and zooming effect) is really handy to apply to still images to create a sense of atmosphere. I’ve used this at the start of the duel to zoom into the faces of the two duellists.
  • iMovie comes with a range of sound effects that you can embed into your movies easily – perhaps too easily… However, a word of caution, although it’s simple enough to include songs from your iTunes library you might not want to if you are sharing your videos widely and don’t want to fall foul of copyright. One work-around I employ is to use the mic icon whilst editing a project in iMovie to record audio through your device whilst playing music from another source, such as tracks on SoundCloud, which have been labelled under a Creative Commons licence. You can search for creative commons music on SoundCloud here.
  • You’ll notice in my video there’re some close up shots of the combatants eyes as the duel reaches its climax (this is a bit of a homage to my love of spaghetti westerns – there’s a very similar scene at the end of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). This is achieved by a really nifty feature in the iMovie app where you select the video clip and click on the magnifying glass icon and can then zoom in on the clip by pinching it with two fingers. This is very handy to know if you have a video clip, but you want to focus on one specific section of it or cut out anything that’s superfluous in the shot.


  • Add closed captions to your video to make it more accessible to those with hearing impairments or speakers of other languages. Although this isn’t a feature of the iMovie app itself, it is nevertheless something you can do very easily after uploading your finished iMovie project into YouTube (read here for details).

One final footnote on kit, it’s worth investing in a tripod, it really does make a difference. You don’t have to pay the earth – I have a GorrilaPod which cost me twenty pounds on Amazon and is a must if you are doing video interviews one on one.

Whether you create the videos yourself for your learners or, better still, have the learners create their own videos on a subject that interests them, video production involves a whole range of creative skills that can motivate and inspire learners.

Continue reading Tools to Promote Learning (#4 the iMovie app)

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Tools to Promote Learning (#3 Screencast-O-Matic)

As free screencasting tools go, Screencast-O-Matic is my favourite. It features as number 27 in the Top 100 Tools for Learning poll of 2015 and is an easy way to create fairly short screencasts (15 minutes or less) to help reinforce key topics with learners. Continue reading Tools to Promote Learning (#3 Screencast-O-Matic)

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Bringing Digital Narratives to Life

I’ve been dipping in and out of the Teaching with Tablets online course on Google Plus recently, delivered by Helen Caldwell and her colleagues at the University of Northampton, and I can strongly recommend it if you’re interested in mobile learning and apps generally. The course is freely available to everyone and has regular tweet chats too (pick up the conversation using #TWT16). Continue reading Bringing Digital Narratives to Life

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Looking to revamp your image?

Right, now I’ve hooked your attention with an ambiguous title, allow me to clarify: in this post I want to explore how you can revamp your image (or indeed images) to create dynamic learning objects. How? By taking a closer look at ThingLink and, more importantly, how you could use it creatively to embed meaningful activities into lessons. Continue reading Looking to revamp your image?

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Starting out with Google Cardboard

Today I had my first proper play with Google Cardboard and I must say it was a lot of fun!

What is it? You may well ask! I only came across it relatively recently myself via a friend at work – thanks Esther! It’s essentially Google’s answer to creating immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences that are “simple, fun and affordable.” Continue reading Starting out with Google Cardboard

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