Technology as a Storytelling Tool Resources

Let me first say that as long as this list of resources is, it is not intended to be exhaustive (or even close to exhaustive.)  These are all resources or tools that I know well enough to be comfortable recommending as something that could really be useful.  So because of that this list is going to be rather idiosyncratic and somewhat limited.  That said – if you think I’ve missed something important, please post in the comments!  Enjoy!

Recommended Books:

(note that if you go to Amazon through these links and buy these books, I get a tiny commission from them but be assured that these books are here because I own and love them, not because they make me money.  Of course it doesn’t effect the price you pay anyway…)

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

This is an amazing book in which Daniel Pink suggests that to succeed in the world today being good left brain (logical) thinkers is not nearly enough. We need to ALSO have the right brain skills he talks about as Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. This book changed the way I think about what I do every day. The author has also posted a more detailed description as well as an educators study guide at

Three Cups of Tea:

One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time

I used cups of tea as a metaphor in my talks before I knew about this book, or had met it’s author, but naturally I was curious.
If you have not read this book, just do it. It is one of the most powerful, inspiring and amazing stories I have ever read, and it’s all true. Just read it.

Books on creating effective presentation visuals.

For a “quick hit” on effective presentations check out Seth Godin’s free e-booklet Really Bad Powerpoint, and How to Avoid it. I love his ideas, but of course you need to take what’s useful and leave the rest. He says, “no more then 6 words on a slide EVER.” I disagree. It’s not a bad rule of thumb – but there are times where 8 words is more effective then 6, and there are even times when more words then that are effective. But his basic concept is a useful one. Use PowerPoint to paint pictures in your presentation (even if you’re using a few words to do that.) Also, he wrote this in 2001 so his recommendations for where to find good graphics are out of date – but you’ll have better ones (some are listed further down this page, and more in the resource guide I’m still trying to get finished)

For more depth:

I really enjoy both of these books, and I think they both are useful. However, you need to decide what parts of their recommendations are useful to you. Atkinson in particular is recommending a specific method that he wants you to use in it’s entirety – I think he has useful ideas – but I don’t stick to his style. Take what’s useful and leave the rest. These books go in to much more detail about how to actually use the software to create effective presentations.

Blog post on the problems of PowerPoint

I wrote a post a week or so ago called PowerPoint is the Enemy of Effective Communication!

While the title is (intentionally) provocative, really what I’m talking about is how to use PowerPoint so it will be effective.

Software Tools

This is an annotated list of tools, most are free or inexpensive.  Some are easy to learn, others are more difficult (but I’ll warn you about those).  My focus here is to offer tools that are available at low or no cost to educators so you can get your hands on them.  These are all products that I’ve used, though some more then others.

Presentation software

Microsoft PowerPoint —

Of course, this is the standard product in this area. Most schools and businesses have it easily available, and so it gets quite a bit of use. I think it’s often not the best tool, but since it’s so available, and relatively powerful it can work out very well.

Apple Keynote —

Sold only as a part of Apple’s iWork suite, Keynote is Apple’s answer to PowerPoint. I really think that they have built the better mouse trap. When I present, it’s always using Keynote if I have a choice. What makes Keynote better? Mostly that I think it’s easier to create really good-looking presentations with minimal work using Keynote. Design has always been a very important consideration at Apple, just look at the boxes that their products come in. This focus on design has translated into software which is designed to help users make good design decisions as they create their presentations. By the way, Keynote will both import and export Microsoft PowerPoint files, so you don’t have to worry about compatibility.  Of course, Keynote is only available for the Mac.

Prezi —

This is a relatively new tool which is radically different from both PowerPoint and Keynote. It sets aside the traditional model of a slide deck in favor of a model of an infinitely large piece of paper, as you present this “paper” zooms in and out, moves and spins to reveal different presentation objects. This gives a very powerful ability to visually connect elements that you’re discussing. This is a web-based product, which you can at least try for free. The best way to understand it is to go to the Prezi website and watch the one minute video on the front page. If the video gets you excited, play with it. This is definitely not the right tool for everyone, or for every presentation; but, if it’s the right tool for you in your topic it’s awesome.

Check out this great example of Prezi in action in James Geary’s TED talk “Metaphorically Speaking”

Presentation remotes

One of the most common questions that I get whenever I speak (particularly from teachers) is about the remote control that I use to run my Keynote presentation.  There are quite a few different types of remotes available from different manufacturers, at a great variety of price points. In some ways though, they are all similar. They all have some sort of wireless remote that you carry in your hand, some sort of “dongle” that gets plugged into the USB port on the computer.

I have one overall recommendation: buy a remote which does not require any driver software to be loaded on the computer. Many remotes, particularly the less expensive ones require proprietary software to be loaded on every computer you want to use the remote with. This software doesn’t always work, and can truly be a pain in the neck. So, as you’re looking at remotes check to make sure you can just plug it into any computer you happen to be presenting from, and it should automatically just work.

Another tip I’ve discovered, is that it’s important that you plug the remotes receiver into the USB port before you start your PowerPoint work Keynote slideshow. Once the slideshow has started, often the computer will not recognize that you’ve put the receiver in, and therefore the remote won’t work. If this happens to you, exit the slideshow (by pressing escape,) pull the receiver out of the USB port, put it back into the USB port and give the computer a moment to recognize it. Once you’ve done that, you can go back into the slideshow in your remote should work.

On to some specific recommendations:

In general I have had very good luck with with remotes from SMK-Link. You can look at their full line on

In general, the remote that I use myself is the SMK-Link VP4700 RemotePoint Onyx Presentation Remote Control.  I am particularly fond of this remote, because I like the way it sits naturally in my hand with my thumb on the advance button. It also includes a back button and a laser pointer.  My favorite feature of this unit though, is that the small USB receiver “dongle” is stored inside the bottom of the remote when it’s not in use. It’s available from and other online retailers.

The other remote that I’ve used quite a bit is the SMK-Link VP4150 RemotePoint Navigator 2.4.  The primary difference between this remote and the one I just mentioned is its shape. It works very well, but I find it a little less natural to hold in the hand. However, most people seem to find this remote a little more intuitive than the other one when they pick it up for the first time. Once again, this remote is available from and various other places online.

Screen capture and screencasting tools

Sometimes it’s very helpful to be able to include either static images from your computer screen or video of your screen as you demonstrate something in your presentations.  These are tools for doing that.

Skitch –
This is a Mac OS X only tool -but if you’re on the mac, it’s a great one.  It’s best explained by this 3 minute video that the producers have made:

Jing –

Jing is a totally free system for creating screencasts and hosting them online.  You can do a quick video to demonstrate a feature in a piece of software, it records what you do on the screen and audio from your microphone, and then you can upload it to their site where you can give people a link to get to it online.  It’s available for both Mac and Windows and works great.

Image editing tools

gimp — the Gnu Image Manipulation Program

The gimp is the most powerful free, open source image editing program that I know of. It has many of the capabilities of Adobe Photoshop with none of the price. It is available for Macintosh, Windows and Linux as a free download. Much like Photoshop or gimp is not a particularly easy program to learn, you’re going to need to invest some time in it. The best thing to do is to work through some of the online tutorials that you can find in Google.

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is the granddaddy of image editing tools, it’s been around for many years. It’s used by professionals all over the world, it also has a price to match and a steep learning curve. On the other hand, there are many online tutorials, training programs, books and even a conference (Photoshop World) to help you learn it. If you don’t know that the work you’re doing requires the full version of Photoshop, you probably don’t need it. In fact you’ll probably be much happier with one of the less expensive, easier to use tools.

Adobe Photoshop Elements for windows and Mac — and

Adobe Photoshop Elements sells for less than $100, contains most of the features that you are likely to need from Photoshop, and is much easier to learn. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is my recommendation for most people as their image editor. —

Recently, Adobe announced a free online version of Photoshop at  This is a web based tool that gives you the basic features of Photoshop for free, online.  It does require an internet connection whenever you’re using it.  I don’t have any experience with it yet, but there are some commentators who are saying that this is the future of all software….  and hey, it’s free.

This is a new free image editing tool for windows.  It looks cool, but I don’t have any experience with it.

Audio Editing Tools

Audacity —

Audacity is a free, open source audio production tool. It’s available for Macintosh, Windows and Linux so it’ll essentially run on anything. It’s quite flexible, and capable for most audio recording and editing tasks that you would need to do. However, I find it non-intuitive and difficult to use. Then again, the price is right, and there are lots of online tutorials to help you learn.

Adobe Soundbooth —

This product is not free, but I believe the educational price for it tends to be around $100. It’s also included in a number of versions of the Adobe Creative Suite, so if you have Creative Suite, you may already have it. Soundbooth  is available for both Windows and Mac, it’s fairly easy to use, and works very well for most audio editing tasks.

Mac only tools:

There are three audio editors that are are made by Apple and therefore are only available for the Mac. They are GarageBand, Logic Express and Logic Studio. Garage Band comes with every new Macintosh computer, and is probably all the audio editing you’re likely to need. If you really want to get into advanced audio work, like recording a band, then you may want to consider Logic Express or the Logic Studio. For my professional audio work, Logic Studio is my system of choice. All of the Apple software products are available at very attractive pricing to educational institutions, and slightly less attractive, but still excellent, pricing to educators for personal purchase. The last time I checked, the entire Logic Studio was available for educational institution purchase for $150. This is an astonishing price for the power of the software, and the wide range of tools which are included.

Video Editing Tools

There are now amazingly good video editing tools available for free for both Windows and Macintosh. One of these tools will almost certainly do everything you need. There are much more sophisticated, and expensive tools available. But in all likelihood one of these two is all you need.

Microsoft Windows Live Movie Maker —

The new version of Windows Live Movie Maker is really amazingly good. If you ever tried to use the old Windows movie maker that came with Windows XP, you probably found it frustrating like I did, and not very useful. I am happy to say that those days are gone. Note that this software is no longer shipped on the CD or DVD with Windows, you do have to go to and download it, but it is still free.  For a detailed review see The Supersite for Windows.

Apple iMovie —

Apple iMovie has been an incredible tool for many years, and the latest version is no exception. Not only will iMovie do a great job of editing video clips into something you can use in a presentation, it has some amazing new features. My favorite is a tool that lets you create animated maps to using your videos showing the path from any given point on earth to any other point on earth.  IMovie is part of Apple’s iLife suite, which is included on every new Macintosh.

Other video tools that are worth knowing about:

QuickTime Pro —

QuickTime Pro is a sort of Swiss Army knife video tool, Apple sells it for both Windows and Macintosh. It’s great for quickly trimming a video clip, without going into a full video editor like iMovie or movie maker. It also works very well for converting between a wide range of formats.

BoinxTV —

BoinxTV is a special-purpose tool. Available for the Macintosh only, it lets you turn your Mac into a live TV studio. Cameras connect via FireWire, and you can switch between cameras, add graphics, special effects and produce a full live TV show. The TV show you produce can be recorded on the hard drive of the computer, streamed to the Internet or shown on the screen live for an audience in the room. All sorts of interesting projects are possible with this sort of setup, but make sure you leave yourself enough time to learn the software. It comes with good instructions, and terrific templates that you can use to build your own shows, but it does take some figuring out.

Adobe Premiere Elements —

If the Windows Live Movie Maker is not enough of a full-featured video editor for a big project that you want to do, check out Adobe Premier Elements for Windows. It’s inexpensive, and extremely powerful. It’s also relatively easy to learn.

Apple Final Cut Express —

If Apple’s iMovie is not powerful enough for a major project, Final Cut Express will be plenty to handle all but the very largest, or most complicated projects. Apple offers very attractive educational pricing on both Final Cut Express and the full Final Cut Pro Studio if you really want to get in deep.  Educational institution purchases get a particularly good deal, though personal purchases for educators are still a substantial discount.

3-D tools

Google SketchUp —

The standard version of Google SketchUp is available as a free download from Google’s website. This is an amazing 3-D sketch pad. It’s easy to use (the only 3-D program I know of that is) and gives you access to thousands of 3-D models of everything from buildings to cars to people that have been created by users and made available for download. The best way to understand this program and its potential is to download it and play with it.

Blender —

If you want to get into a full, professional, 3-D modeling and rendering application, similar to what’s used to create 3-D animated films such as those by Pixar than what you need is Blender. Blender is a free, open source 3-D package. It’s available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Now, be warned Blender is not for the faint of heart. All of the professional level 3-D programs have a very steep learning curve, and a lot to know to use them effectively. There is lots of documentation, and tutorials available online, the quality varies from document to document.  There is an excellent, fairly comprehensive course for learning blender available for free, through Tufts University’s open courseware program at

Free Content Sources:

These are just a few quick notes to get you started – the detailed list with full annotations is coming.

Library of Congress American Memory Project —

Internet Archive —

The Freesound Project —

Flickr – Creative Commons Licensed Photos

There are a number of ways to access cool stuff on Flickr, much of which is available under Creative Commons Licensing

Flickr advanced search with Creative Commons License checked —

Cool Flickr Search tool –

Search Flickr photos by color –

Search Flickr by multiple colors –

Inexpensive Content Sources:

Sound Dogs —

iStockphoto —