“Xtranormal instantly turns your words into a 3D animated movie. It’s that simple.”
That’s how Xtranormal describes its service, and it seems to be true. You choose a setting, either one character or two characters, and type their dialog into boxes. Xtranormal takes that dialog and creates an animated movie.
Xtranormal is a web-based service with which users can create animated movies by using a variety of existing characters and Xtranormal’s text-to-speech converter. The characters feature a range of creatures from robots to crash test dummies to movie stars and political figures. To create a movie, one needs only to enter the dialog for either one or two characters into an easy-to-use interface, and the MovieMaker produces an animated movie that changes camera angles automatically and adds character gestures which are usually appropriate. Users can create a free account which comes with a limited number of points or pay for additional Xtranormal points. The pricing and differences between the Basic, Educator, and Professional accounts is described on the Xtranormal website.
Relevance to Learning
Xtranormal appeared online in 2008 and was used mainly as a venue for workplace satire. Eventually, more meaningful uses for it began to emerge. In the search for more engaging course communication and assignments, instructors have discovered that Xtranormal can get students’ attention and engage them in a way that text cannot. For example, an instructor may use a short video to explain a concept, discuss common questions around a course syllabus, or provide a humorous or satirical perspective on a problem.
It’s engaging and easy . . .
- Xtranormal is easy to learn and use. An instructor can create a simple video with a free account in a short amount of time.
- One can register at no cost and create a video with the points provided, but the points will cover the publishing of only one or two videos. There is a special type of account for educators that is not based on points; it costs $10/month. If you are creating only a handful of videos, and this may be wise since Xtranormal seems to be most engaging in small doses, consider sticking with a free account (or two).
- It’s simple enough to ask your students to use it to create a response to an assignment.
- Movies can be embedded in a web page, including any Carmen page that uses the html editor, or they can be published to YouTube.
- Xtranormal movies seem to be most effective when an idea that is normally expressed in one way is expressed in a totally different and unexpected way in an animated movie. For example, rather than standing up in front of your students and lecturing about the three branches of government or how to prepare for a midterm exam, choose two unlikely characters for your movie and have them discuss the topic.
- Your characters can speak in languages other than English, which may be particularly useful if you teach foreign languages.
- If you don’t like the computerized voices, you can record your own. However, the digital speech seems to be part of the charm.
- The movies created in Xtranormal can be made private, hidden, or public, but they are stored in the “cloud,” so FERPA regulations need to be considered. (“Private” means that only the movie creator can see it. “Hidden” means that the movie is not in the public streams but can be seen by anyone with the link.)
But there may be challenges.
- Spelling words in conventional ways can produce odd results in the text-to-speech function. For example, typing “OSU” may produce speech that sounds like “ohsue.” You’ll need to play with the way you type words to make them sound like you intend for them to sound, for example, “O S U” or “oh ess you.”
- The camera angles and character gestures that are chosen automatically by the Xtranormal Movie Maker may not be what you have in mind. They can be changed manually, and this will add time to the creation process.
- As noted above, Xtranormal movies are engaging in small doses; you don’t want to overuse them.
As with any tech tool that seems to have some value in teaching and learning, imitators have emerged that are worth looking at. Some alternatives for use in education:
- Chronicle article describing how one instructor uses Xtranormal
- Another article describing pedagogical applications
Examples of Xtranormal movies in education
- Future trends in instructional technology
- OSU Spanish instructor, Monika Major, introduces her Spanish course
- OSU Education instructor, Joel Bloch, explains concepts around plagiarism, citation, and copyright
- OSU Education instructor, Joni Tornwall, delivers a weekly announcement to her online class (embedded below)