Photo Story 3 Software Review
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Photo Story 3 for Windows
DESCRIPTION: Photo Story is a Microsoft software program that enables users to create video stories using picture effects, pre-recorded narration, text titles and labels, and background music. It is an engaging way to present content to an audience that targets both visual and auditory learners.
Upon beginning the program, there are three options available on the start menu: Begin a new story, edit a project, or play a story. If you select "Begin a new story", here are the various steps you encounter:
- Import pictures saved on your computer, choose the pictures desired for your story, and arrange them in the desired order on the film strip. At this point, there are also quite a few editing options available, such as adjusting color levels and contrast, correcting red eye, rotating, cropping, removing borders, and other special effects such as changing from color to “black and white”, changing to “sepia tones”, “washout”, “colored pencil”, “watercolor”, etc. As you edit and arrange your pictures, you will be offered some helpful tips such as remove borders or crop photo for an improved appearance.
- Add text/titles to your pictures one at a time. You have the option of adding a title page as well as titles to any or all of the pictures that you want. As you add the titles, you have formatting options such as changing the font style, font size, font color, and general alignment.
- Add recorded narration to each picture in your story (if desired). At this step, there is a box where you can type some notes to help you remember what you want to say in your recording, which I think is a great, very user-friendly feature.
- The next step offers you the option of customizing the motion, transitions (48 different options), and timing or having the zooming and panning automated for you. This allows for some flexibility and choice in the appearance and presentation of your photo story but also helps those who do not wish to tinker too much with the features on their own.
- Select or create background music to play if desired. Furthermore, different music can be chosen for individual pictures or groups of pictures as needed. You can choose from music files within the program or find your own/save them for use, and you even have the option of changing prerecorded/saved music files to suit your needs. This also allows for some user choice and flexibility.
- Save your photo story to your computer as a .wmv file, to your phone (as long as it has Windows Media Player 10 Mobile), to a portable media center, or email it. At this step the program will recommend settings to keep best quality intact. You must save the project file of your story if you wish to edit it at all in the future.
- Complete your story (make sure to save the final project file as well) to view it in its correct and complete format. The program will automatically prepare this page for you once you have saved and clicked “next”. At this time you have the option of viewing your story or starting to create another new one.
As you create your story, you can go “back” to previous steps or, if the step has already been started and/or completed, “next” to the step(s) ahead. There is a “Help” button always available that has an organized menu of all the help topics available. I found this beneficial in giving me a clear overview of each larger step in the creation process as well as an individual “how-to” breakdown for each of those larger steps in the creation process. In fact, the other helpful feature is that at each step of the creation process, there is a box that says “Learn more about _________” that you can click on to go directly to the part of the Help page that pertains to the step you are currently on. While the program itself is not necessarily aesthetically pleasing, the photo stories you create certainly are. The overall ease of navigation and use of this software, at least to me in this case, trumps an attractive software design any day.
ACCURACY OF CONTENT: Although there are other, arguably more advanced/modern options available for creating a presentation of photos with text and music (ex. Movie Maker, Animoto), for the purpose desired (present content in an engaging, very visual way) this software includes all the basics and does meet the expectation. It can be used by and for people of nearly all ages. A drawback is that though it does have motion and transition effects such as zooming and panning, it is not an animated video, nor does it give the option of including an actual video clip in the presentation. A noteworthy feature is that on the Help menu, there are also some other categories to help users through the creation process. There is a “Tips and tricks” section to help with: configuring your computer’s microphone, adjusting the narration recording volume, maintaining photo story settings for easy/fast access when creating future stories, choosing the best video quality settings, playing the story, adding special effects and transitions, and producing burned copies. There is a “Customer Support Options” section for general assistance with the program. Additionally, there is a section on “Accessibility for people with disabilities” which can be used to change the appearance of the program and also provides support for people with vision and hearing impairments.
TECHNICAL QUALITY: To use Photo Story, users must download the free program. There is a version available for Windows but unfortunately, not for Macs. It is small in file size so taking up too much storage space is not a concern. You will also need an attached microphone or voice feature if you wish to add voice narration to your photo story. This program is very easy to navigate (a plus, see above “Description” section for details about navigation) because it pretty much guides you through step by step and actually will not allow you to advance until you have at least started (or in some cases, completed) the step and until the program has provided some helpful tips to you and you have clicked “ok”. After introduced, modeled, and taught, this would make a great program for teachers to use and kids to use mostly independently because of its simplicity. Very basic prior computer experience will suffice. Use of the program for me was smooth and conflict-free.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY: Photo Story makes good use of multimedia to achieve learning goals. Students are using photograph or picture files, recording voice narration, and selecting music. Besides being a means to demonstrate learning, the creation process itself involves many important skills for students, such as organization of ideas, determination of critical/most significant ideas to include, written and oral summarization of learning, use of written expression and writing process skills such as revision and editing, tailoring the message to target the intended audience, and selection of aesthetic/auditory elements of design to appeal to an audience. For the audience, viewing a photo story can be a very rich and exciting educational experience. Photo Story 3 is the most recent and final version of the program. That being said, a downside is that it is not being updated to reflect current trends and more modern changes in the ways in which we use technology.
ROLE OF STUDENTS: A very positive aspect of Photo Story is the sheer variety of projects, learning activities, and assessments that could make use of it. If students are looking to present content to an audience, the ways in which Photo Story can be used and/or the subjects and topic areas it can be used for are virtually limitless. This program can be used as an assessment to demonstrate learning and knowledge gained in a particular unit of study. Students can work together to make a photo story and each could have a particular job, which would promote student interaction, collaboration, and discourse, as well as teach responsibility to a group. Although following the steps to create the photo story are somewhat linear, each step offers many choices to the user and students can move fluidly forward and back through the steps as they wish. In my opinion, using this software will empower students and help students to value their own thinking and learning processes because they can create and design a product to represent their learning in their own unique and interesting way.
ROLE OF TEACHER: It would be beneficial for teachers to first create a photo story of their own to familiarize themselves with the creation process and then to show students a finished product photo story. After students see a well-made example of a finished product, teachers should also briefly show students each step of the creation process (such as on a Smartboard screen) so they know the basics. Then, as I have found many a time even with younger students, teachers should simply give students time to explore and a chance to create a photo story of their own so they can get a feel of it for themselves. I did a mini-lesson on Powerpoint last year and then let students explore on their own and they even taught me some new tips and tricks. Sometimes I think we forget how tech-savvy kids today are since they have grown up using the technology that many adults have only recently learned in their later lives. It is not possible for teachers to modify the software in any way that I can see but since the nature of it allows for so much choice and variety of uses, I do not feel modifications are necessary. Although the simple navigation, clear directions, and Help topic menu, make it very possible for students to use this program mostly independently, teachers may need to offer guidance and support the first time students use Photo Story and would also need to continually supervise search and selection of picture images to ensure that students are only seeing and working with appropriate content. For example, even though most schools have some type of filter software that blocks unsuitable content, I know that in my school Google images is not blocked and that can at times accidentally be problematic. Teachers should learn about filtering systems and require that students use certain approved sites or, encourage them to take and use their own photos and pictures or even create their own artwork to use! There is no internal monitoring system but teachers can guide and oversee the process during class and also view/assess the finished product.
CLASSROOM USAGE: Another advantage of using this software in the classroom is that it can be used in different ways such as an individual student project, a paired project, or as a small group project. Here are some ideas for how to implement this in the classroom and tie to curriculum:
- Students can create their own photo stories to introduce themselves to their classmates or tell about their summers in the beginning of the school year. Teachers can model the software by also doing this to introduce themselves or their summers to new students.
- Students can use Photo Story to recommend books by make a photo story book talk. This can help all kids find new books and increase reading engagement for reluctant readers.
- Teachers can introduce new units of study to students to spark interest and begin building background knowledge. Teachers can then re-show these stories at the end of unit as a culminating activity and have students discuss their learning and compare/contrast knowledge before and after the unit.
- Individual students/groups can create photo stories to demonstrate their learning at the end of a particular unit
- My fourth graders do a big biography unit in the spring that involves much integration of subject area/skills. Students learn the features and structures of biography and autobiography texts, how to find legitimate sources for research, Internet researching skills, how to paraphrase and take notes, how to cite sources, and how to organize research notes into distinct categories. Students then choose a famous person and study his/her life using the taught skills listed above. For their final assessment, they must prepare a 5-10 minute presentation to share with the class and can choose from options such as a Powerpoint slideshow, a poster, a timeline, a skit, a board game, an interview, etc. Once Photo Story is demonstrated, students could now choose this option to inspire even more engagement and interest and at the same time make better use of technology.
- Teachers can create presentations for students as an end of year recap of favorite memories and “looking back” reflection. Teachers can burn these photo stories to disks as individual end of year gifts for students. (*Note that a separate program must be downloaded and installed to burn to DVD, as Photo Story itself does not have this capability.)
- Teachers can use self or student created photo stories during Curriculum/Open House nights to give families a taste of what to expect and some examples of the learning that will occur.
It is also important to note that a photo story can be as simple/short or as *detailed/long as the user desires. It is something that can offer relatively quick results if needed. (*Up to a max number of 300 photos.)
Please visit the following website for ideas about using Photo Story in the modern classroom: http://21stcenturyteaching.pbworks.com/w/page/833439/Ideas%20for%20Photostory%203%20Projects
CRITICAL SUMMARY: Given that Photo Story is a free, easily downloadable program that is simple to use for nearly all ages, and offers users a means of creating and delivering a very engaging, appealing presentation, I would highly recommend this software. The fact that it is so versatile and has so many possibilities for use is one of its best qualities. That being said, users do need to account for the fact that it is only for PC’s and there are no new upgrades available for this last version of the program and so looking ahead, options are limited to what is currently there and the technical quality of this software may fall behind other more modern software programs with more advanced available features.
OVERALL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 10): 8
EXPLANATION OF RATING: I gave this program an 8 out of 10 because it can easily be used to complement the curriculum in a variety of ways and enrich learning for students. If there was any plan to eventually upgrade the program to offer more options and make use of more advanced technology while still retaining the simple navigation, I would rate it even more highly.