Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Twitter vs. Zombies 2.0 using Popcorn #2

So I thought I would talk about Popcorn Maker as educational software today rather than just sharing what I made with Popcorn. I am in the process of creating a new movie with Popcorn to experiment with the program so more, so as I warned before, there will be another Zombie movie coming to a browser near you.

What's to like about Popcorn? Actually, quite a bit. It is certainly easy to place media into the template and to add all sorts of popups, text , etc. But anyone who has used the software is aware that it is supposed to be user friendly.

But is it? First, the tutorial.

 "Hi, Popcorn is so easy to use, any idiot can do so and it will take you five minutes or less to understand how to use the software. Then you can make a video. Enjoy!"
"Hi, my name is Karen and I have some questions? Um...Hello?" New user goes through Popcorn site looking for answers and gets this:
 "Hi, Popcorn is so easy to use, any idiot can do so and it will take you five minutes or less to understand how to use the software. Then you can make a video. Enjoy!"
So maybe I was having an off day but nobody's software is that good that it doesn't need a help desk that gives answers. So hopefully other users will also share their experience of using Popcorn ( this one was helpful. You'll notice the interface has changed a little since this wiki was created.)

Now why did I need help?

Have a look at the tutorial. All of the extra content added to the video is in one or two layers. The tutorial plays and it looks so easy.

When I started playing with the program to make my video "Twitter vs. Zombies 2.0" I wanted to cut the first 19 seconds after the first second. I used Skip, then I added in my first popup, played around with length, font, etc. of the popup and moved on. I then added in my next popup (@cogdog) and a photo of a strawberry that Alan Levine had tried to use to save himself from zombiehood. Placing it on the screen, I could see that no matter where I placed it, the photo wasn't going to work, so I went to delete it.

Guess what? There is no delete button in Popcorn Maker. I tried to move it, and it wasn't going anywhere. That's when my fruitless hunt for answers began. I found the wiki I've linked to above and it mentions (in passing, almost as an aside!) that if you want to remove something from your video you can delete the layer as each layer has a garbage can icon beside it. So I deleted the layer, plus all the work I had done so far.

Started again. Made many layers. Worked on the content some more to refine my popups and text. Added some more skips into the movie. While the play bar tells you approximately what second you are in the movie, each event demands an exact time and you need to know that for the movie to be seamless.  Added a loop. Added another loop. Loop seemed to be broken and kept looping at the original number of loops I requested instead of the new number. Removed looping layer (which was a shame because I think having the woman look over her shoulder a couple of times would have been amusing.) Tried to line up looped event with popup event (Statue of Liberty) hoping that would improve play by moving the layers. You can't add extra layers between layers to keep events together for tracking purposes. You can only add layers at the bottom. You can't move layers. If you delete layer 2 it messes up at the layer 13. Complete hopeless mess. Movie now stuck skipping between the opening and the first zombie and won't progress. Close program. Open program. Seems to be working......and no it's not. Delete movie. Did this a few more times.

And that's when I went back to the first principles of design. I know we all want to build spontaneity into the process of creation but it is still a process. I created a storyboard. For every layer I wrote down the potential action/event, the time when I wanted it to occur, the accompanying text and I did it sequentially (except for the first skip that did not seem to like being in layer 0, it went into layer 1). This time it seemed to work. I previewed, refined the content of the events and published.

But my cautionary tale does not end there, unfortunately. When you play the movie back prior to previewing, it seems to run smoothly. All of the cuts and loops seemed to splice together nicely. Then you look at the preview. Little bits of film that you've skipped or looped that you may have missed magically appear. You go back, refine again, republish, preview, all seems well and post. As you review the finished product you notice the little problem areas that still plague it.

Today, I went back to my video and tweaked it a little more. I think I may have improved it a bit, but the Statue of Liberty loop still isn't right.

The moral of the story? Please use Popcorn in your classroom. It is a great program. But be prepared to teach students how to storyboard in conjunction with using this program because remixing a story in Popcorn needs to be planned to work. It will save you and your students hours of frustration.


  1. Thanks for the tip, Karen. I, too, was frustrated by the fact that there is no "user guide," or "troubleshooting tips," or even any place for users to discuss issues they are having and what other users have done to try to solve them. I was having trouble getting a photo I uploaded from my computer into the video. It would show up at first, and the photo event would be in the timeline, but then when I'd go back a little later the photo wouldn't show up in the video (even though it was still in the timeline). An internet search turned up nothing, so I turned to the #etmooc twitter group, and fortunately someone there had run into the same issue. He said to just upload your photo to flickr and then add through a URL instead of straight from your computer. That worked.

    Why isn't there a place to report bugs? Why isn't there a guide that says: if you're having trouble with x, check y? Why do we have to go searching the net to find other users who've had similar issues and come up with solutions rather than having a bulletin board or something?

    I did find that I could delete individual items like photos or other events singly, from each layer. I just clicked on the event in the timeline layer and pressed "delete." So I didn't have to remove the entire layer. But having a place that told one that is possible would be a great help.

  2. Okay, so I've done a little more digging, and Popcorn maker seems to be so new that they're really just getting it up to speed. Thus, I will retract my whiney tone of complaints! If one is a developer or expert of some kind, one could contribute to this:

    For those of us who aren't, it's nice to see that the various issues we're coming across are being noticed by others and placed into a queue to be addressed.

    Still, some further help for users beyond the tutorial saying how easy it is, would be a nice thing.

  3. Christina,
    No no, no no! I think your "whiney tone of complaints" is spot on. It is new, but not that new. Besides if enough of us are singing the same chorus, someone will say, "I think we have to fix this." Not only that , how do we take it as a tool into the classroom if there are this many issues with it? We'd have to spoonfeed it to the students and I don't want that!