Study Abroad: Preparing for Your Trip

With just over a month to go before I head to Russia as the media and technology consultant for the William & Mary Summer Study Abroad Program in St. Petersburg, it occurs to me that there are a bunch of other Summer Study Abroad programs that are gearing up to launch, and many of them may have multimedia components that might benefit from a discussion of things to think about technology-wise before setting out. In this post, I’m going to discuss some software you might want to look into before setting out. I’ll be talking about equipment in a future post.

Capturing your projects: summer research projects usually have some sort of written component, most often a research paper of one type or another. While these papers have historically been hard-copy essays, more and more study abroad programs are looking toward electronic avenues for displaying their work. Individual students can set up their own websites for this purpose, or faculty members running study abroad programs can set up a website for the entire group. Faculty members and students at William & Mary can easily set up professional-looking websites using the College’s WordPress application. Just go to http://blogs.wm.edu to get started. You can have a look at our St. Petersburg website (still under construction, so be gentle!) right here: http://petersburg2012.blogs.wm.edu

Now that you have a website, the next thing to do before you go is to decide on where you’re going to save your videos and photos for sharing and displaying on your website. For videos, the easiest and most versatile solution is to sign up for a YouTube account (you may already have one if you’ve got a Google account or a Gmail address). To create your own YouTube account and start uploading videos, go to http://youtube.com and look for the “Sign In” link or the “Create Account” link to get started. Uploading videos shorter than 15 minutes long is free and easy, and YouTube makes it easy to embed videos you post into other websites, including that WordPress site you created for your study abroad program using the link I gave in the paragraph above. Embedding videos is as easy as copying and pasting the URL from the video you want to show up on your webpage, and in most cases, WordPress will recognize the YouTube link and translate it to a video, like you see below. It’s a video of me showing a tutorial on creating a green-screen effect, but that’s another post:

So now what about storing and sharing photographs? There are lots of services online that will allow you to upload and display images, but you’ll have to decided on what your needs are and what service works for you if you’re planning on using one. Picasa used to be my go-to recommendation for both photo editing software and for free uploading and sharing services, and I still like Picasa as long as you don’t have a Google+ account. People with Google+ accounts will have their Picasa web albums hijacked by Google+, thereby disabling some of the nicest features of Picasa, like geotagging and embedding albums into other websites (like your new WordPress site you created using the instructions above for the study abroad trip!). I just recently deleted my Google+ data (which you can do without deleting your actual Google Account) because of the way they ruined the photo sharing, so now I’m happy again with Picasa web. You can download the Picasa software at http://picasa.google.com. Below is an example of a Picasa Web album that I’ve embedded into this page. Notice that Picasa takes you to their page when you click on the album, so this isn’t the best option for integration into your website:

However, if you’re looking for a more integrated way to incorporate photos into your website, WordPress has a great plugin, called NextGen Gallery, that allows you to upload directly to your website and incorporate great-looking galleries directly into your site. Adding plugins and using them can be a little tricky, so please contact your Academic Technologist for more information or for help. However, a little effort really pays off. Here’s an example of a NextGen Gallery embedded in a WordPress site:

The last piece of software I’ve been encourging faculty members to learn about is another Google product, I hate to say, but it’s possibly the coolest of all the other things I’ve mentioned today. Google Maps makes sharing and collaborating on maps really easy, and there are also nice hooks in Google Maps that allow you to embed your maps directly into your website. Again, you can see our St. Petersburg Study Abroad site for an example of that here: http://petersburg2012.blogs.wm.edu. Besides this example, you can also see my complete set of tutorials on creating, sharing, editing, and embedding your Google map here: http://petersburg2012.blogs.wm.edu/tutorials/

Here’s an example of a map that I’ve built in Google Maps and embedded into the website here:


View Pre-18th Century Petersburg History in a larger map

That’s it for today. I hope I’ve encouraged anyone going abroad to think about getting started with some or all of these tools to help your students tell their stories of their research abroad trips.

About Mike Blum

Mike is the Academic Technologist for the Humanities at the College

Comments

  1. One thing I can add to from my experience as a Chinese student-exchange program to New Zealand who blogs every night is: Always stand-by and responsive about “Culture Shock” topic. It’s always jaw dropping and really2 fun to know. For example: it’s totally not polite to hand someone with your left hand in Indonesia i.e paying cash. etc.

    So it’s probably wise to research about local practical culture before going there 🙂

    That’s my 2 cents. Hope it helps.

  2. Gene Roche says:

    Lots of good information here, Mike. Thanks for pulling it together for us. Another resource for faculty organizing programs abroad is the post Jim Barber put together on the way his class used wikis in the Prague program:

    http://at.blogs.wm.edu/wiki-writing-in-prague/