Sunday, April 5, 2009

Telling Stories with Timelines

Years ago I used paper, pencil and a ruler to document the events of a story. Yes, I'm older than dirt or feel that way sometimes. Tools advanced and I helped the students draw out their timeline events in a word processing program. Drawing the pictures to go along with each event spiced it up a bit. Finally, we got a computer program that let us type in the event dates and descriptions and it would create a timeline for us to scroll through history. We were on top of the world but still wanted more. The program was updated and now we could include some clipart. Creating timelines are like everything else; the more you have, the more you want.

Time flies by and new technologies are developed even faster. If you think about it, someone is usually already working on it. Now we don't have to install a program on one computer to create timelines and print them out to share with others in the class. I've been working with two web-based timeline programs: Timeglider (used to be Mnemograph) and Timeline Builder.

Although you need to sign up for an account, Timeglider is free and there is an educational account. They only ask for feedback as payment. Some of the timelines featured on the front page represent historical events such as "The Wright Brothers" and "World War I". Dates appear when you hover the mouse over an event title and annotations show in pop-up windows when you click on the title. It is very easy to create your own timeline by giving it a title and start entering your own events or importing them. This collection of events becomes your timeline. Images and links can be added to the events or imported through RSS feeds, Flickr, Wikipedia and Facebook. Timeglider is working on "how to" videos and has an easy to use set of instructions.

Timeline Builder is web based and provided by The Center for History and New Media. Their collection of historical timelines are called projects with three sections: Teaching & Learning, Research & Tools, and Collecting & Exhibiting. Some of the timelines use images, essays, and discussions to tell the story and others have video that walk you through the time period of events. The collections are made available from digital records, archived documents, and historical exhibits. Again you will need to create your free account to start building a timeline. The program is in Beta format - a work in progress. Although you will be able to share your timeline with others through a URL generated as you add events, Timeline Builder doesn't have as many features available through the free account. It comes with five categories for your events but you can't change the colors for the categories or change the default names. When you enter an event, it only accepts the month and year. This gets a little confusing as you add events for the same month. Adding pictures is not an option at this point in time. As they update the Builder, I look forward to being able to create a timeline as detailed as their collections.

Creating and sharing stories and events on a timeline have definitely changed since my first years of teaching. Using all the different types of media available now allow the students to use their creativity to the fullest. As mentioned before, the more we have, the more we want. Just think how we will be able to share a timeline of events six months from now - touch a screen and drag the information from another source into the timeline calendar or speak to the computer and tell it where to look for the information and pull it into your timeline.

Wait - we are thinking about it. I wonder who is already developing the way to do it!

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