David Baugh finds one very good reason to put Macs in the classroom
Apple's bundled media creativity suite iLife has had a recent major upgrade to all of its five elements: iTunes for audioCD 'ripping', organisation and exporting; iPhoto for digital image organisation and editing; iMovie for digital video editing; iDVD for creating DVDs; GarageBand for creating music.
Apple makes much of the way these five programs work together seamlessly and this release improves on this in several ways with the ability to use resources created in one part of the suite in others. From an education perspective, three of the program upgrades in the suite really shine.
GarageBand was always a really simple program to use to create music, with its mix of using sound loops, software instruments, such as midi, along with real instruments in one interface. This upgrade now allows users to record up to eight tracks simultaneously. This means you can have people using different microphones tuned in individual ways and accompany them with real or software instruments. In terms of composition, it does make life very easy with output that is as sophisticated as that produced by top-notch music editing programs like Cubase, Protools or Logic (where much of the underlying technology has come from).
Those not equipped with midi keyboards or audio interfaces can simply use a built-in microphone and musical typing facility, where the top two rows of a Qwerty keyboard mimic a midi keyboard. This works quite well, and you can alter pitch bend, octave and velocity on the fly.
The most interesting feature of this GarageBand upgrade from an educational point of view is the inclusion of musical scoring. Now tracks laid down as software instruments can be viewed and edited in the program doing the sort of things programs like Sibelius or Logic can do. You can correct miss-played notes after recording, and if your timing is a bit out, the program will correct it. If you don't like the tempo or key, this can also be changed at any stage, even during recording and playback.
iPhoto has had a huge overhaul in this version, making it a wonderful photo editing tool and custom slideshow authoring tool, as well as doing the job it always was good at - keeping your images organised.
Image editing has improved with the inclusion of a floating adjustment window, which hovers above the iPhoto window allowing you to adjust an image's brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, exposure and horizon. It also features a levels histogram like the one in Photoshop. iPhoto will now import movies from your digital camera, which can then be used in iMovie and iDVD projects.
There is also the inclusion of custom slideshows, which allows a slideshow to be played with different slide durations and transitions for each slide, plus the inclusion of the very impressive Ken Burns effect. This allows you to pan and zoom with a still image so that the result looks like a piece of video. Music can be added to a slideshow from iTunes and a slideshow can be set to fit a piece of music. Slideshows can also be exported, complete with cinematic quality transitions, to a QuickTime movie.
With these improvements and the ability to share an iPhoto library across a network, the program has become the ideal digital storytelling tool for the classroom.
iMovie can now import and edit high definition video (HDV). This is movie video quality and captured by "high-def" video cameras offering a resolution of up to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels; in wide-screen 16:9 aspect ratio format as opposed to the normal 720 X 576 format of DV (PAL). iMovie can also capture and edit wide-screen digital video and MPEG 4 video.
Edits can now be undone easily and deleted video can be retrieved and reused. The program also seems to be more responsive.
To buy software separately that can do the same as iLife 05 could cost you between pound;300 and pound;600 depending on the quality of software purchased - for example, Sibelius at pound;339, Photoshop Elements pound;40, Premiere Elements pound;42, DVD Encore pound;157, Cubase SE pound;60, total pound;638 - but iLife is free with all new Macs and has an education price of pound;25 for existing Mac users. Of course programs bought separately could have more features than iLife but one crucial factor for schools has to be how much time it would take to learn these programs.