An Educator’s Guide to Web Media

HTML5, MPEG4, WEBM; it’s an alphabet soup of initialisms. As an educator there is a need to put compelling media in front of your kids; but how do you make heads or tales of all these media formats? How can you easily create your own media? And where can you find media that can be used without fear of running afoul of copyright?  Fret not my intrepid friends of the classroom have a look below; hopefully the following guide will help.

Finding media

It’s ok to just go to the Internet and download a bunch of graphics and use them in your classroom; right? Actually not really. Copyright is a tricky business and the rules may seem arbitrary and complicated. University of Maryland has a great write up on the perils and pitfalls of copyright for educators and I highly suggest a read. So what’s an educator to do?

Believe it or not, use Google.

Let’s say you want to find a picture of the Eiffel Tower to be part of your lesson plan.

  1. Go to Google and search for: “Eiffel Tower”
  2. Now click “Images for Eiffel Tower ” and note all of the different images you see.
  3. Now, click “Search Tools” to the right of “Images”. You’ll see “Usage rights” appear.
  4. Finally, choose “labeled for non-commercial reuse” and notice how the images have changed.

What you’re looking at now are images where the author has flagged them such that they can be reused for non-commercial works. In this case, you’re cool with using any of these images but not the ones in the previous search.

Cool eh? Why use copyrighted works at all if you don’t have to? Just make sure you understand the distinction here. The license type you chose means you can use the work; but you can’t sell the work. If you wanted that you can choose the “even for commercial purposes” license option; but I’ll warn you now that’s very limiting. As long as you’re keeping this in your classroom you’re good with just using the labeled for reuse option.

Google is but one type of search, there are many other search engines out there that help you find works that you can use and share. Thankfully the CreativeCommons organization provides a search engine that aggregates various search engines from around the web specifically for open works. Let’s take it for a spin? Go here:

  1. Just as before, type “Eiffel Tower” into the search box.
  2. Then uncheck the commercial checkmark and the modify/adapt checkmark since we’re just looking for material we could use as-is in our classroom.
  3. Finally, click “Flickr”.
  4. Once you’re taken to Flickr you may need to click into the search box and hit enter.

You’ll be looking at tons of royalty-free images that are all safe to use in your classroom. What’s better is that the Creative Commons search engine even lets you search YouTube as well as other media and even music libraries. What a great tool for finding media you can use in your classroom without having to worry about copyright. And you thought the Internet was just for cat videos.

Creating media

You can’t always get what you want; but you can try sometimes – wait isn’t that a song from The Rolling Stones? Regardless, search engines can’t get you everything you need and so sometimes you just need to sit down and make something for your classroom. Fortunately there are a lot of tools at your disposal to help you no matter if you’re on a desktop, laptop, or mobile device.

First, check out Pixlr:

Pixlr puts powerful photo editing tools right into your web browser and offers a wide array of quick fix features that let you spruce up that not-so-wonderful picture you took of a dragonfly in your backyard.

Speaking of taking pictures, have a look at this’s list of 10 rules for composition. In it they give you some really simple tips to taking a good picture. Many of these same rules apply to making good video but here are 8 tips from Lifehacker for shooting good video.

Finally, to convert that awesome camcorder video you took of that dragonfly, check out where you can convert from from many formats into another. Oh and speaking of media formats …

Media formats

Ugh, what is the difference between a JPEG and an MPEG, other than a J and M? Well media formats have a huge role to play because it isn’t enough to create media, you have to put it somewhere. Unfortunately you typically can’t just take the memory card out of your camcorder and dump the files on the Web. Sure you can upload the videos to a video sharing site like YouTube or Vimeo; but what if you need the media on your school’s learning system? Not to worry, here is a primer to help you figure out the difference between a JPEG and a Giraffe.

  • JPEG (or just JPG), GIF, and PNG are all web compatible image formats. If the filename of the picture you want to upload doesn’t end in one of those three you need to head to your nearest image editor. Check out Pixlr from above, it can help you convert images too. No need to worry about the nuances between those different formats but do know that GIF is the lowest quality of the bunch so avoid them unless you have a reason for using them like animation, but that’s a different post.
  • MPEG-4 (or just MP4), OGG (also called Theora) , WebM, are all web compatible audio and video formats. Of the three, MPEG-4 is supported by the most browsers and devices. See this Wikipedia article to show you a matrix of video support by device/browser:
  • HTML5, oh this is my favorite. Technically this isn’t a media format at all; but what it does do is facilitate video. HTML is the fundamental computer language in which all web pages are displayed – ALL OF THEM. The 5 on the end of HTML just stands for the version of the HTML code. Version 5 just so happens to be the first version of HTML that natively supports the ability to play audio and video hence the reason why it warrants inclusion as a format here. All you really need to know is that any of the above three video formats are HTML5 compatible and therefore are the three formats you should stick with as you go on your journey of creating video for your classroom.

I hope this article finds some use for you. Please feel free to leave a comment and tell me what media tools you find useful in your classroom.


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