Making digital objects–webpages, gifs, music, you name it–is one of my favorite kinds of making, because as long as I’ve got my computer and a functioning internet connection, I don’t have to worry about other supplies (or mess!). Better yet, a lot of the tools to make these things are free to anyone who can access them online. I love free things.
Quite often, after I make something on the computer, someone will ask me how I did that. And, when I show them the tool(s) I used, they ask, “How do you find out about all these things?” So that’s what we’re going to talk about today: a few of my all-time favorite tools for creating digital objects, and a few places I go to find out about new tools. After all, there are new tools cropping up all the time!
So, without further ado, here are a few of my all-time favorite free tools:
Need to be able to edit images, but don’t want to spring for a copy of Photoshop? Pixlr doesn’t have all the features Photoshop does, but 1) it’s free, and 2) it does have layers, which is the one feature of Photoshop that I have trouble giving up. You can use Pixlr right in your browser, and download your images when you’re done.
If you need to record and edit sound, Audacity is a great tool. It’s a free download that will give you more capabilities than I, at least, know what to do with. I’ve used Audacity for everything from recording narration to add to videos, to creating MP3s to use as ringtones on my phone. (If you want to make MP3s, make sure you also download the LAME Encoder.)
Ever wonder how people create those cool video mashups that pop up relevant links and maps, or just remix existing content? You can do that with Popcorn Maker. Better still, Mozilla Webmaker (who’s behind Popcorn Maker) offers suggestions for ways to get involved in the web-making community.
Do you or your students want to make a website without having to learn HTML? Weebly is a great tool for making nice-looking sites without having to spend hours making them look good. Even as someone who enjoys writing HTML, I have to say that Weebly was a great, quick answer when I needed to create a project site quickly a few years back.
Firefox (yes, the web browser) is more in the way of a learning tool than a creation tool, but I love it too much not to include it in this list. If you’re ready to move on from Weebly but you want help understanding how the professionals have put a webpage together, open that page in Firefox. Right click on whatever you’re specifically interested in–some cool formatting? an amazing font?–and choose Inspect Element. Firefox will show you the page’s HTML on the left and the relevant CSS on the right. You can even do some limited editing to the HTML and CSS, and see how your changes would affect the page. (Editor’s note: Don’t forget about the Web Developer tools plugin for Firefox!)
But where did I learn about all of these? Here are some places to start–but you should definitely hunt down a few sources of your own!
Free Technology for Teachers
Not every post on this blog is about a tool for creating your own digital masterpieces, but a good many of them are. I’ve come across a lot of useful tools here, as well as interesting tricks for making better/different use of tools I already know about.
Hunting down experts
Do you know someone who’s plugged into this kind of thing? Talk to her about your interest, and make sure she knows you’d like to hear about her latest discoveries!
If you don’t know anyone in real life, there are all kinds of other places to look. For example, my library has a Learning Technologies Librarian, and she has created a guide to recommended tools.
Alternatively, you can look for interesting accounts on Twitter (regardless of whether you have a Twitter account). A good place to start is by checking out MakerBridge on Twitter: @makerbridge. From there, you can see who we’re retweeting that interests you–and check them out, too!