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Top Web Tools of 2008 – Number 1

toondoo-logoToondoo always gets a rave whenever I demonstrate it at workshops and conferences. According to the company, “ToonDoo was the happy result of brainstorming session that was aimed at creating a new way of expression for those who do not have the talent to draw. You can now just drag-drop or click to create comic strips that express your views, opinions, angst or to just have fun, loads of it!”

There seems to be a bit of momentum in the use of comic strips as an outlet for student creativity. I encourage faculty to at least once a semester give their students the option of creating a comic strip or comic book as a means of expressing themselves rather than the same old tired term paper or other same-old, same-old project.

The ToonDoo site is a bit of a social network; sort of a YouTube for comic strips. You can comment on the comic creations of other people and also rate them. You can save your own comics and those of others that you have marked as as favorites and collect them into galleries. From the home page you’ll find links to the Most Viewed, Editor’s Picks, Latest Doos, etc. If a creator is so inclined, they can make their comics “Re-doo-able,” which means that others can remix or improve upon them. This is another example of where students can publish their creative works publically and receive feedback and evaluation of their work.

Here’s an example of a simple 3-panel Toondoo that I created. (link to strip at Toondoo site)

\Toon\

In addition to the single strip as shown above, you can also create a book of comics, called a ToonBook. Due to restrictions in this WordPress-powered blog, I can’t embed a ToonBook to show you the full array of features. I’ll try to embed one below, but you’ll probably have to click this link to open the ToonBook in a new window at the Toondoo site.

barrydahl LSC toondoo for students in the non-degree-seeking status for enrollment.

This ToonBook is a prototype for a project I hope to complete at LSC this year. I want to have various employees and student workers help create ToonBooks and Toondoos for us to use in place of some of our standard FAQs on the website. I’m hoping that they will be entertaining as well as informative (and better than the quickly thrown-together prototype shown above).

Toondoo provides a selection of characters, backgrounds, props, clip art, and text boxes to choose from; or you can upload your own pictures into a personal image gallery and use them. It is very easy to resize, rotate, flip, or position the objects in the comic strip panel wherever you like. When satisfied with your creation, you can publish (either publis to the world or private to invited guests) with a single click of the mouse. You still have the option of re-opening the comic strip and editing further even after it has been published.
Students I have worked with find these projects to be both enjoyable and engaging. It is one of the easiest ways of having students engage in digital storytelling. It also can be a great way of having them introduce themselves at the beginning of an online class, or for an online instructor to provide some of the basic information about the class. The only real limit appears to be your own imagination.
One final note. I have found the Toondoo staff to be surprisingly communcative and engaged. They care about their service and are always striving to make it better.
That’s all for 2008. Happy New Year to all, and to all warm wishes for a great 2009.

Toondoo, Zoho, Jambav, Adventnet – it’s all good

Another toondoo by Barry

Another toondoo by Barry

At the risk of sounding too much like a fanboy – I just have to say it one more time – love Toondoo and Zoho. This is nothing new for me since I’ve been sort of an evangelist for the past couple of years now. However, they continue to surprise me with how much they pay attention to their users and how responsive they are to suggestions or comments. With regard to Toondoo, back in Dec. 2007, I included them in my end of year list of the Top 12 Web 2.0 Tools. In that post I lamented the fact that I had wanted to use Toondoo with the elementary schools kids where I run the after-school Tech Club, but that I wouldn’t do it because there was too much inappropriate content on the site – mostly lame attempts at adult humor in cartoon format. Within a day or two of that post I received an email from Toondoo telling me that they had added a safe search button at the top of each page and a personal setting that can be turned on to not show any content that has been flagged as inappropriate. I was impressed with their responsiveness, but not terribly impressed with the solutions. I would still have very little control over whether the students turned on the safe search button, except when they were right in the classroom with me. Alas, I had them complete their comic strip projects using a far inferior, but safe, comic creation tool at MakeBeliefsComix.

Then, earlier this month I included Toondoo in my post of the free web tools that I would be willing to pay for. My caveat here was that I would be willing to pay for the tool in order to use it with the youngsters if they could give me a protected environment – think of something like a Ning site which can be password protected, but where the group members could create, share, comment upon, and otherwise do everything that you can do on the regular site, but only with your fellow group members. Sort of a fully-featured gated community for young toondudes.

Lo and behold, I received an e-mail from Rajendran D. of Jambav within just a few days of making that post. TPTB at Jambav thought that was a good idea and were especially intrigued that I had even offered to pay for it. They are proposing that I be a beta tester for their new branded sites opportunity. They will provide a unique URL such as LakeSuperior.toondoo.com and allow me to host the members of my choosing. They are thinking that this service will probably sell for about $50 US per year, but they are offering it for free to me as a beta tester to use it with the students and to report back to them with suggestions and comments. This isn’t yet a totally done deal, but I’m confident that I will be able to try this out with the Tech Club when school starts up again in the fall.

Jambav is owned by Adventnet, which is a profitable software development company. Zoho is also owned by Adventnet, which gives them a potent 1-2 punch in my book. The most recent moment of Zen for me regarding Zoho tools was when I was presenting at the Tennessee Board of Regents Summer Institute last month (TBR08). I did two sessions on Zoho tools that were well attended and well received. There were many times that jaws dropped during those sessions as people saw some of the functionality that they didn’t know existed, or hadn’t taken the time to investigate. I always say that I think the Zoho suite is far advanced over Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and a few Google users confirmed what I was thinking about the power that is Zoho. I also did a session there about Toondoo, and there were so many great ideas about how to use comic strips for both student projects and for other purposes related to online courses and programs. For example, (1) make a Toonbook of frequently asked questions, (2) have students prepare a comic strip to introduce themselves at the beginning of the class, (3) instructor-created comic strip or toonbook as a topic teaser (introducing a new topic before more in-depth study), and several others.