Using comic strips

This is the 8th entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

Although some people may not take the medium of the comic strip seriously, comics are a very powerful medium of communication, and are used by people of all ages for political, satirical and explanatory reasons, as well as for simple humor.

We as educators can use comic strips, to explain or highlight an issue, or better still, we can get the learners to create their own. I have seen examples in Modern Foreign Languages where the learners get to grips with different grammatical elements by creating comic strips. In history we can recreate significant events through creating comics, or even create higher order thinking activities by asking the students to imagine a meeting between people from different eras e.g. what if Napoleon and Hitler had met? – how may a conversation have followed?

There are many free comic creating options available. 2 free examples are:-

ToonDoo, which has a really good clipart gallery and is really easy to manipulate the images. You can then export the result, or embed the output into a VLE, blog or similar e.g.

Plagiarism

Another option is Stripcreator has less options than ToonDoo so is simpler to learn and use, but has less output options. An example (not created by me) can be viewed at http://www.stripcreator.com/comics/wirthling/37299

Or we can simply use the basic features of something like PowerPoint (with its array of clipart and the ability to easily import other images) to create comic strips, the advantage of this is that the students can then use some simple animations to get the speech bubbles to appear in sequence, or for characters to move around, get bigger, blow up etc. To make live easier you could create a Comic template within PowerPoint – which is something that Champagne Design have done on their blog, including a template that you can download and use.

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Creating a quick fire PowerPoint (Pecha Kucha)

This is idea 2, in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning‘.

One activity that you can ask learners to do in any subject or topic, is to ask them to create a PowerPoint presentation that explains a topic or subject, which they then present back to the rest of the class. The problem with this, though is that the learners often produce very bad presentations (based on having seen many bad ones delivered to them) which they then proceed to bore the rest of the class with, which if you have lots of learners in the group, then takes about 3 weeks to sit through each presentation.

One idea to help reduce these problems would be to introduce the idea of Pecha Kucha. Pecha Kucha was an idea from 2003, where the presentation is limited to 20 slides, each of which is on the screen for 20 seconds exactly, limiting the presentation to 6 minutes and 40 seconds, and with presenters rolling on one after another during a Pecha Kucha event. More information can be found at http://www.pecha-kucha.org/

The presentations become very punchy, to the point, and non-waffley. At first some learners will probably find it challenging, but all the learners will be in the same boat, and as long as it is managed in a light hearted way (and don’t assess them, or at least not at first attempt) it should be more engaging than sitting bored through each others 10 minute presentations of lots of text that no-one can read.

An example Pecha Kucha on Pecha Kucha can be seen at

The easiest way to manage this, would be to give them the starting PowerPoint template which has the automatic slide transitions created, so all they have to do is to add the content. I have created a Pecha Kucha template that can be used by others. This has the timings already built in, as well as a black horiztonal bar at the bottom which acts as a 20 second timer on each slide. All someone has to do is add the content (e.g. images) to the slides.

We then need to encourage learners to use graphics more than words – so I would point them to image searching techniques such as Xpert, and Compfight which I have blogged about before. Show them how to do screen capturing, and then cropping images, resizing etc. This can be simply done using the PrtScn button on keyboard and then pasting into PowerPoint, then using the formatting options to crop, resize, rotate if desired. You can even blur parts of the image by placing a semi transparent shape on top of the image, to blur parts, leaving the important bit clear etc, but basically you can let the learners artistic ideas to flourish, and if using this technique a few times, it would develop higher order thinking skills, as the learners have to think about what the key pieces of information are, and how best to represent them visually and to communicate them succinctly etc.

Finding images without breaking copyright

For me, one of the best benefits of the Internet over the last few years has been the abundance and quailty of images out there, and how easy it is to use them educationally.

Most of these images can be found on image sharing sites such as Flickr, or Picasa and some of them are released under creative commons – which means the person uploading the images has given certain permissions for these to be used.

So a very useful skill for an educator to learn is the ability to search for images that are released under creative commons licence – and luckily for us various tools have appeared to help us.


Xpert

The first place that I go to find images to use in my educational materials is Xpert – http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xpert/attribution/ a recently developed tool from the very clever people at the University of Nottingham (of Xerte fame).


The beauty of Xpert is that it attaches the relevant reference information and licence to the image as part of the image. This is very clever – as it shows where the image has come from, that it doesn’t break copyright law, it shows learners how to reference an image (and sets a good example to them) and because all this information has become part of the image it cannot be accidentally be seperated from the image.


Compfight

If I don’t find what I want then I go to Compfight – http://compfight.com/ which searches Flickr and displays the results as a series of small images (thumbnails) if you click on an image it takes you to the relavent image page on Flickr. This doesn’t attach the reference to the image the way that Xpert does, but it searches in a different way so will find different images. I then need to reference the image seperately.


Creative Commons Search

And then the third place that I go if I haven’t found what I want is the creative-commons search tool http://search.creativecommons.org/ which searches a variety of sources and returns images, videos and other forms of information from different sites.


All of these sites are very good, a lot will come down to personal preference as to which to use, but the main thing is that we can hopefully start to see the back of  low quality, low resolution images that have been taken illegally from the Web, and replace these with high quality, striking, stimulating images correctly referenced to show the learners the importance of referencing sources of information.

Why do some people only think of plagiarism in June?

Something that I have noticed over the last few weeks, is how plagiarism seems to become a hot topic at this time of year, with lots of activity about it on Twitter, mailing lists, and other people’s blogs, and then it will drop off the radar until a similar time next year.

Obviously this is a time of the year where for many courses, they are coming to an end, and work is being submitted and assessed and there will be a connection here, but it does highlight to me, how many people seem to deal with plagiarism retrospectively (e.g. deal with it once they have detected it) rather than my preferred method which is to tackle it throughout the year in a preventative manner, and hopefully find your self in a situation where you don’t detect any plagiarised work, when you come to this mad few weeks at the end of the academic year.

Surely, the issue of plagiarism deterrence should be started as early as enrolment on courses and as part of the induction process, so the social media activity around plagiarism should peak in the late summer and early autumn, rather than now.

People often ask me when the best time is to educate learners about plagiarism, to which I respond as early as possible. I would bring it up at the start of the course when students are enrolling, to make sure they know that they are signing up for a course where plagiarism won’t be tolerated. I would then provide them with a brief element of introduction to this area of work during induction, but I wouldn’t cover it fully, as during induction they have so much information thrown at them, it isn’t the best time to deal with this, instead I would wait until the first piece of assessed work is issued, and educate the learners then, this way I can use real examples based on that piece of work, and there is less chance of them forgetting. Another question is about whose responsibility is it to educate the learners, and many organisations will have a dedicated person or team that will go round providing the training, but to me it should be everyones responsibility and the subject tutor is the most obvious person to deliver that element of the support.

The University of Bergen, have as part of their plagiarism deterrence practice, produced this video, which captures some of the ideas quite nicely.

I wish I could bring in a swat team, to deal with a suspected cheat – they wouldn’t do that again.

Thanks to David Hopkins blog post, that alerted me to this video