100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

Often many VLE courses look very “boring”, a list of resources and activities. Often many VLE courses look very “boring”, a list of resources and activities. This is partly down to the fact that a VLE is often seen by practitioners as a repository of content, with links to resources and activities. One way to break up the list is to use embedded graphics to enhance the visual appeal of the course on the VLE.

One use of graphic that can enhance the look of a VLE course or as a mechanism to engage learners is to embed a comic strip into the VLE course.

Comic strips can be serious as well as humourous. They can be used as the starting point for a discussion, to emphasise the key topics in an assignment, to engage learners in a particular subject or just to break up a list of other resources.

You can either use an existing comic strip or using a tool create your own.

If you are in the UK FE/HE sector then one particularly excellent source of comic strips is the British Cartoon Archive.

UK schools, colleges, and universities can also obtain a licence from JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee) which permits them to download high-resolution images of many cartoons on the BCA catalogue without charge, including all of Carl Giles’ work. You can then use these high-resolution images for teaching purposes within your institution. For details visit the JISC Collections website.

The collection is huge and contains a wealth of historical cartoons and comic strips. The Carl Giles collection is huge and contains strips on such a huge range of topics that you will be able to find something relevant to the topic you are using the VLE for. The cartoons and strips can also be used in Powerpoint presentations and handouts in addition to using them on the VLE.

If you like geeky comic strips then check out xkcd.

This comic strip (warning sometimes contains adult humour) is often shared across the web. The humour can be quite geeky at times, but sometimes very relevant to topics that are taught using the VLE.

What is nice they allow you to embed the comic strip direct into the VLE (or a blog post) with a link back to the xkcd website.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License. This means that you are free to copy and reuse any of my drawings (noncommercially) as long as you tell people where they’re from. That is, you don’t need my permission to post these pictures on your website (and hotlinking with <img>  is fine); just include a link back to this page. Or you can make Livejournal icons from them, but — if possible — put xkcd.com in the comment field. You can use them freely (with some kind of link) in not-for-profit publications, and I’m also okay with people reprinting occasional comics (with clear attribution) in publications like books, blogs, newsletters, and presentations.

Even big mainstream comics like Dilbert allow you to embed them.

Like so…

Be aware though that comic strips are protected by copyright and ensure you have the rights to “embed them” into your VLE course. A less “attractive” alternative would be to link to a specific comic strip.

Calvin and Hobbes

Which is something that you are trying to avoid by embedding a comic strip!

Sometimes though you may want to create your own comic strip.

If you have a Mac then the one tool you should be buying is Comic Life. It’s also available for Windows. This is a fantastic app that allows you to create comics quickly and easily using photographs.

Turn your photos into comic layouts (even entire books!) with Comic Life. Speech balloons, fonts and filters give you all the tools you need to make the perfect photo comic. A great way to retell a family vacation or relive the events of a special day.

I have always liked Comic Life and it is very easy to use. Those with the skills can of course use an app like Photoshop or Illustrator, but if you are using a series of photographs then an app like Comic Life does make life much easier.

If you have an iPhone or an iPad there are various tools that can be used.

I really like ToonPAINT for creating black and white cartoons from photographs, certainly one of the best apps for doing this. The process in ToonPAINT is very simple, take a photograph, either with the camera or from your image library, the app converts it into a comic format, you then save it!

So if you are using an application like Comic Life on your desktop you can create a series of comic images from photographs using ToonPAINT and then use them in the Comic Life application. Now it should be said that Comic Life does indeed have filters that do a similar trick, but I much prefer the results from ToonPAINT then the included ones in Comic Life.

There is also Comic Life for the iPad which is very similar to the desktop version. A very powerful iPad app

Another comic strip creation tool I like for the iPad is Comic Book! I don’t think it’s quite as good as Comic Life, but certainly is quite easy to use and has a range of effects and tools.

For very simple effects, Halftone is another easy app to use, generally though I would use this when creating a single panel cartoon rather than a comic strip.

Another app I have used is Strip Designer, but prefer using Comic Life as it has much more functionality.

With all these apps you will need to export the completed comic strip and then upload to the VLE to embed it into the relevant page, activity or discussion forum.

There are a fair few web based tools too. Some of these allow you to embed them into web pages (so can be embedded into the VLE), whilst others allow you to export the comic strip as an image which can then be uploaded and embedded into the VLE. Sometimes though you may find you need to do a screengrab to capture the comic strip as the only option available is a link with no embed code or export option. So do consider these things before decided which creator tool to use.

Strip Creator is a quick and easy way to create short comic strips and was one of the first tools I have used to make comic strips.

Very simple and easy to use, you do need to consider what message you are trying to get across.

There are now a wealth of tools out there, one which was recently recommended to me by a lot of people was Toonlet.

Toonlet is a nice and simple web based tool for creating comic strips and publishing them. You can expand the number of panels easily to increase the length of the comic. There are a range of characters available and all of them are editable. So if there isn’t the expression you want, it is pretty easy to go in and edit the character. You do need to watch the amount of text in each speech balloon, but again careful planning should stop this being an issue.

ToonDoo is another comic strip creating tool with a slightly different style to Toonlet.

You can create short panel comic strips or full page comics. Once published you can then embed it into the VLE or download the comic as an image file. Nice thing about ToonDoo is the wealth of clipart available as well as scenery and backgrounds.

All of these tools don’t require drawing skills, however you still need to be able to storyboard and write a comic strip and this isn’t as always easy as it sounds. Thinking and planning before starting to use the tool will save a lot of time later.

Creating comics is an activity in itself and could be the medium for any assessment activity. The fact that with many of the web based tools being able to embed them into a webpage (or a discussion forum), or even an assignment module, on the VLE makes it very easy for learners to submit their comic strips. With any comic app or tool, the key is the thought and planning that goes into the comic design process and writing before you even open the app. That is something to consider if you want your learners to create a comic as part of a learning activity.

Comic strips can be a way to engage learners in a particular activity, discussion or topic on the VLE.

Thank you to Guy W Wallace, Ana Cristina Pratas, Melissa Techman, William Emeny, Doug Belshaw, James Ballard, David Hopkins, Craig Taylor, Graeme Boxwell and Alicia Robinson for suggestions and links to web based tools.

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