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Crazy but true

Jonathan Boyle uncovers a bargain gem that literally gives voice, any voice, to his online curriculum resources

It's amazing what you can find lying in the bottom of the bargain bin at your local Co-Op. Last summer, I was sent on a baby mission by my wife for that special, pure, filtered milk. You know, the one that comes from cows that moo far better than most. But I was diverted. I happened to chance on a software application loitering in a bargain bin. Crazy Talk (from pound;23.50, can take any digital image of a face - whether human, animal, statue, painting or robot - and make it talk. It is truly fabulous and has brought back the wow factor to my online curriculum resources for design and technology.

It's an incredibly simple but effective package, and the synchronisation between lips and voice when you play back your words is stunning. Speech can either be input by typing into the built-in speech engine or directly recording the voice of the user. Crazy Talk then synchronises the words with the movements on to your chosen face. As if that is not enough, you can apply happy, sad and crazy expressions to your Crazy Talk face. Why anyone would want to place this nugget of gold in the bargain bin is beyond me.

Since mastering the package, I have brought stardom to many Crazy Talk models. I still laugh at some of them. For example, the students are mesmerised by Vincent Van Gogh talking to them about the work they are going to do on laser screenprint stencils. Tutankhamun talks to the students about how he was a boy king and might have been murdered. A little puppy dog gets them all going, discussing high-end CadCam (computer-aided design and manufacture).

It's hilarious, but also educationally viable. These stimulus materials aid the dynamics of the lesson launch. They take minutes to produce yet the impact they have on individuals is enormous. I have used few resources that have had so much potential for so little - it cost me just pound;2.99, but even at its full list price it's still bargain. At last year's BETT show I considered a similar package for pound;1,000 so am I glad I went shopping for milk. If cows could talk... well, they can now.

How do I integrate this rich content into an online provision? Well, the latest version of Crazy Talk can create all of the different file formats you need for a creative web experience. However, I prefer the excellent Camtasia Studio (Education Licence $149, to record the video and audio from the Crazy Talk playback window. When the captured video is on the Camtasia timeline you can add Flash hotspots. For example, Tutankhamun asks in a serious voice, "Where is my tomb to be found?" His eyes blink and then one eyebrow drops, waiting for the student to respond to three call-out text options. By placing a Flash hotspot over the correct answer, the students are able to progress to the next question. On selecting the wrong response, the video can advance to any time frame, rewind or even take you to a relevant website to help you select the correct answer. Naturally, you will want to create a Flash movie of this content so that the students can enjoy your work as soon as possible and create the right atmosphere for some highly creative work.

Oh, and the milk was good too!

Jonathan Boyle is a deputy head, technology at Walsall Academy, Birmingham

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