Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Planning Journey: Virtual Library Tour.

Choosing a project.

My first contact with students is in grade 8, during their library orientation. I enjoy showing them around the facility, but I’ve noticed that students who arrive late to the school never seem to know where everything is. Since the orientation is delivered orally by the teacher-librarian (me), students who are absent have no other way of getting this information. I decided that the best “curriculum tool” would be a virtual tour of the School Library Resource Centre that students could go back to at any time. Because we have been focusing on multiple affordances, I wanted to inform the students visually, textually and with sound.

How I created “the tour”.

My plan was to create a graphic map of the library facility and place a number of “hot spots” on the map. Each clickable spot would open an image, text or audio file that would “speak” to the students. I also wanted to create a QTVR movie that would let students get a 380° view of the library.

I arrived early in the morning with my digital camera. I took pictures from every conceivable angle, and some close-ups of student artwork as well. Thinking about my QTVR, I stood in the middle of the room and took a number of pictures as I turned in a circle. (I learned later that it is important to use a tripod – I didn’t – and take 12 equally spaced pictures – which I did by fluke – otherwise, the final product won’t look right.)

Once I had all my pictures, I downloaded them to my laptop and began creating. Stitching together the 12 pictures for the 360° view was a bit of a challenge initially. I downloaded a number of free and demo packages designed to create the panorama I needed to make the QTVR. No luck. After a couple of hours of fiddling, I found a reference on a photographer’s forum to software that comes with the Canon digital camera I own. I checked the CD, and “lo and behold”, the program did the trick. I did have to redo it a couple of times because the final product was too big and took too long to load and view. Three exports later, I had my finished VR movie.

Next, I had to work on my map. I had initially hand-drawn a sketch, with some labels and numbers to indicate hotspots. My first thought was that this might lend a fun, funky feel to the map. Wrong. It looked very amateurish. So I asked my library technician if she could find an architect’s drawing of the library from our renovations a few years ago. She scanned it in and emailed it to me. Perfect. Using Photoshop, I cleaned up the image, and then added a few details. Some study carrel graphics, computer pics, and circled “i” icons were added to liven up the final product.

The next step was to set the hotspots on the graphic map. I remember presenting this a few years ago when I taught Electronic Communications 11, in an HTML unit I had developed. I ended up checking out the Maricopa html tutorial which reminded me of the principles. Once I knew what the tags looked like, I had to hunt and peck to line up the coordinates for the clickable areas with the icons on the graphic map. (Think “Battleship”.)

I linked the QTVR tour to the center “i” icon. The other points, I linked to a close up picture of each spot in the library. In order to provide some variety, I also inserted audio files on a couple of the pages.

A challenge

I did run into a challenge that I was not able to overcome. I wanted to use “green screen” technology to place a video of myself in an exotic locale. I bought some fluorescent green posterboard to create a “green screen” backdrop. I videotaped myself speaking, and selected an appropriate backdrop jpeg to insert. All I needed was to merge the two sources. This required downloading a third party plugin for iMovie. (I could have used Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere CS3, but they were both prohibitively expensive.) I tried a number of plugins and was able to get the effect to work with a still picture, but merging a video with a remote background pic stumped me: the clip was visible, but would not play over the background. I saved it as a still picture and added some audio for interest and linked it to my graphic map. (I still plan to tackle this problem at a later date.)

The final step was to hide some “Easter eggs” (hidden links) on the library map. I wanted students to stumble across some concealed hotspots and feel a little thrill of discovery. I had planned to add a number of them, but the current version only has four, just to show what could be done.

Final words

I think the overall concept is a good one. Students who miss the library orientation can get a sense of what is there, students who arrive late to the school can have a virtual tour, and Grade 7 teachers can even use the site to reduce some of the “pre-high school” anxiety. I plan to add some additional talking head links, and if I can get it to work, use the “green screen” technique to liven up the show!

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