Customizing Menus in WordPress

WordPress Logo

Managing navigation menus on a website is usually a difficult task. WordPress takes way most of the difficulty of creating menus and, some would say, even makes it fun. In fact, on many WordPress sites the menu will automatically be configured as you create each new page. Page settings such as the ‘Parent Page’ and ‘Order’ allow you to control where in the menu the page will be listed.

There are, however, many cases where the menu needs to be customized. For example, if you need to add a link to a third-party webpage or add a post category.

The following video, part of the “Getting Started with WordPress” series, demonstrates how to create and manage a custom menu:

Creating a New Page in WordPress

WordPress Logo

If you intend to use WordPress  as more than just a blog, and in my opinion you should at least consider it, it is necessary to understand how to create pages. While there are many similarities between creating a post and a page, there are some significant differences.

The following video gives an overview of creating a page and the various options available:

For more video tutorials on how to use WordPress check out the How-To page at the Palomar College WordPress Central site.

Publishing from Camtasia to YouTube


I had the opportunity today to offer a Professional Development workshop on capturing and producing screen video from Camtasia, the remarkable screen video program from  The normal Camtasia workflow is Record > Edit > Produce, with most of the work occurring during the edit phase.  Last semester I did a workshop on Editing in Camtasia, and the attendees asked for another in Capturing (the Record) and Publishing (the Produce phase), so that is what I did today.  I could not help but notice that the people at that last semester workshop were not present.  However, lots of other enthusiastic attendees were, and we covered the topic as best we could in two hours.  What was only touched on throughout the workshop were the relationships between the manner of video production, i.e., the production settings, and the actual link to the video.  In other words, the various ways to link to or embed a Camtasia video once it is produced, and what your production settings mean related to your link style.  There are a bewildering variety of ways to create video links and embeds, but my strong recommendation is to publish to YouTube.  This will virtually eliminate any bandwidth or platform-related playback errors, and also embeds elegantly within Blackboard.  Later blog posts will deal with other publish options, but today’s will deal with publish to YouTube.

To begin with, Camtasia makes it one-button easy to publish to YouTube—or in fact to their own (Techsmith’s, the company that makes Camtasia) video hosting service  YouTube is to be preferred unless you have a special reason to use Techsmith’s service, which I will discuss when I post about that publishing method.  Here are the steps for using YouTube.

After capturing and editing your video, click Produce and Share on the Camtasia Studio toolbar (we used the latest version of Camtasia in our workshop, version 8).  Click on Share to YouTube… to start the Share to YouTube wizard.  You have to provide your YouTube account credentials, and then the produce and upload will occur.

Share To YouTube

What screen dimensions should be chosen to upload to YouTube?  It depends on the video, of course, but up to 1280 x 720.  YouTube will re-encode it, and scale it down for display, but your users will have the option of showing up to full 720p video in the YouTube player, whether linked or embedded.  If your user decides to display the video full screen, as many if not most students do when watching screen video—I know from simply observing large numbers of them over the years—your 1280 x 720 video will look good.

If your goal is to display your video through your Blackboard course, use the YouTube mashup tool in a content area, or within the content editor to embed your video.  This is the best way to embed a YouTube video in Blackboard.   Here’s how:

Login to Blackboard, enter your course, and go to the content area where you wish to embed the video.  If you wish to place the video in the content area without any other written instruction, use the YouTube Video mashup tool on the Build Content drop-down.

YouTube Mashup Content Addition

The mashup tool will allow you to search for your video, which is best accomplished by simply entering its YouTube URL in the search box, and then select it.  You will end up, depending on your configuration choices within the mashup tool, with a thumbnail like this, the recommended way to do it.

If you have other written instructions you wish to impart to your students before they play the video, however, you will want to insert this thumbnail within the content editor.  Here’s how:

Rather than selecting YouTube Video, as above, select Item.  The item form will load.  Give the item a title, click in the content editor and type your opening remarks, and then click the Insert Mashup drop-down in the content editor tool bar.  From here the procedure is the same as immediately above, except that the thumbnail is inserted within the context of your item, and not a stand alone item in your Blackbaord content area.

YouTube MashupIn Content Editor

The downside to this technique is that you have to wait for the video to index at YouTube before it can be found by the mashup tool’s search function.  This can take up to 24 hours.  If you are in a big hurry, this will not work.

Alternatively—and this will work if you are in a big hurry—you can simply use the YouTube Embed code in a Blackboard Item content area.  To do this:

Go to YouTube.  You have to wait until your video encodes at the YouTube site, but this usually takes only a few minutes.  Click the YouTube Share button, then the Embed button.

YouTube Embe Dialog

Note that the YouTube form that appears allows for selecting the size of the embedded window, and whether to use HTTPS (secure http protocol).  Using HTTPS is an excellent idea, because it eliminates a security warning the users of some browsers may get when they click on a link that combines secure and insecure content.  Since our Blackboard environment is secure, clicking on an http link can provoke this warning.  This is especially important for users of Internet Explorer and Chrome.

Selecting the size of the window is optional, but in this event I believe smaller is better.  The user can always elect to play full screen, or in a larger window.

From this YouTube form, copy the embed code (the code in inverse video on this page).

Create a content item in Blackboard, as above.  After typing your initial remarks, click the HTML Code View control in the content editor toolbar.

html code view

An HTML code view window will pop up.  Place your cursor under the remarks you have typed (or within them, depending on where you want the video player to appear) and paste the embed code.

YouTube Embed Code

Note that this is the more modern “iframe” embed code, and not the older Flash Object code.  At one time YouTube (and other) iframe code broke the Blackboard content area in which it appears, but that has been fixed with the latest version of Blackboard.  Note also that width and height are specified in the code.  You can manually change these settings by simply typing new values, though be sure not to change the aspect ratio.  Finally, note that the https protocol has been used, not the less secure http.

Now click update.  The video will appear as a shaded place holder in the content editor.  Click Submit.  The video will appear embedded in the content area.

Embeded Video

Once the user clicks play she will have access to all the normal YouTube controls for quality, closed captioning, volume, and play full screen.

This is by far the easiest Camtasia to web solution, and the easiest embed in Blackboard option as well, which is why we make it our number one recommendation.  If for some compelling reason you do not wish to use YouTube, there are many other alternatives, but I will reserve those for future blog posts.

Camtasia: Prepare the Desktop for Capture

When I intend to capture a full-screen video using Camtasia, I usually do three things to prepare my Windows 7 desktop:

  1. Set an appropriate screen resolution;
  2. Set the desktop background to a solid color;
  3. Set the Windows taskbar to auto-hide.

First, I record in widescreen aspect ratio (16:9) since that is the standard used by YouTube, my production destination of choice.  It is also the standard for most of the computers on our campus.  Therefore I set my screen resolution to 1280 x 720, what they call 720p video.  In older versions of Camtasia, and on slower systems I have seen Camtasia throw an error message when capturing or editing video at higher resolutions.  And in any event, you certainly wouldn’t want to display a screen larger than this, so I pick it as the optimal resolution.

Second, I set the screen background to a solid color, for two reasons: a) to reduce the load on my graphics card; and b) to eliminate the distractions of a colorful, scenic screen.

Third, I set the taskbar in Windows 7 to auto-hide so that it will disappear during full-screen recording.  If not, your audience will be spending time trying to figure out what programs you run from the taskbar rather than paying attention to your message.  The downside of doing this is that you have to remember not to stray your cursor to the bottom of your screen unless you actually want the taskbar to pop up.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand, and a video worth a million, so here is my YouTube video demonstrating these three steps.

Creating New Posts in WordPress


After obtaining a new WordPress site, one of the most important tasks to learn is how to create new posts. Posts can be used in many different ways within WordPress, but their primary use is as discrete entries in a blog. The home page of a new WordPress site is what is referred to as the posts page. Any page in a WordPress site can be designated as the posts page, but the home page is the default.

Posts are a great way to get fresh information online, keeping your site from appearing stale. The beauty of WordPress is that posts are quick and easy to create.

The following video demonstrates how to create a new post and talks about many of the options when doing so:

The New Windows Movie Maker: First Look


Yesterday Microsoft announced the release of a new edition of  Windows Essentials 2012 (formerly Windows Live Essentials 2011) that suite of installable programs designed to supplement and enhance Windows 7 and Windows 8.  Included in the package is a new version of Windows Movie Maker.  The changes are hardly radical, but they do include a few features that users have been clamoring for since the previous version of WMM (version 6) was abandoned for the radically simplified (some say ‘dumbed down’) 2011 version.

A little history

Windows Movie Maker version 6, intended to run on Windows XP, was a timeline-based video editing program a la Adobe Premiere.  It was not so sophisticated, but could be used to perform basic edits using the Premiere tracks style user interface.  with the 2011 edition of Movie Maker, released with Windows Vista and revised with Windows 7, the timeline was abandoned in favor of a very simple—and bewildering, for veterans of the previous version—user interface intended primarily as a quick and easy way to dump in vacation photos and videos, auto-add visual effects, pan and zoom effects, transitions, background music, and titles, and then produce a WMV video for play on computers, emails, or as input to Microsoft DVD maker for trans-coding as a DVD that could be played on the family big screen.

This left veteran users of the program howling.  Gone was all the find control on the timeline, and the ability to syn multiple sound tracks, narrations, etc.

On the whole, Movie Maker 2011 succeeded just where Microsoft meant it to succeed, with the average consumer, but they were apparently stung by the vociferous criticism of some of the “power users” who wanted more, because they have added a few of those elements back in with the new release.

The new release

The new release is still not timeline-based, it still has the ultra-simple Interface of the previous version, but Microsoft has added:

  • the ability to add multiple independent narration tracks throughout a video;

wmm 2012 tracks

  • a separative narration tool tab, with the standard editing features;

Narration Tools

  • hooks to adding free or royalty free (expensive, but pay one time) background music tracks—one of the big problems with the previous version is that users added commercial music background tracks to their videos, and uploaded to YouTube which promptly stripped the tracks out as being copyright violations;

Music Services

  • separate waveforms for the audio contained within a video track, the background music track, and the narration track—yes, I said track; while there are no true, continu0us tracks in the user interface, there are separate track-like representations of audio;

waveform representations

  • waveforms can be toggled on or off, but they are so useful that it is hard to see why they would ever be off;


toggle waveform

  • new tools to emphasize audio narration, video audio, music, or no emphasis on the Project tab;

audio emphasis tools

  • new text tools to add colored outlines around text and captions—before there was no way to set text off and it often became lost in the video background;

Text Tools


  • a new publication option to Vimeo, along with a new publishing partnership with that service, and the ability to manage  publication options through your Windows Live account;

Publish To Vimeo

  • many new Save Movie presets, including presets for Android phones and tablets, iOS phones and tablets, even an option to save for, and (Microsoft is always the last to know that no one cares) an option to save for the Zune;

Save Movie Presets


  • perhaps biggest of all, Microsoft joins the rest of the world in recognizing h.264 as the default video standard and mp4 as the default video file format.

mp4 File Format By Default

  • At long last Microsoft has also included image stabilization with Movie Maker, but it is only available on installs on Windows 8 (because it uses hardware acceleration only available in Windows 8), which, for the present, means Windows 8 consumer preview.  When I tested it on my own shaky, wobbly video I could not see a difference between the three possible settings.

Image Stabilization


In all the additions to the now familiar Movie Maker interface are very welcome.  I did have a few problems with splitting videos that contained a narration (the narration disappeared once in a while, especially on Windows 8), and I wish when recording a narration there would be some sort of indicator other than the play head moving through the video, but the addition of the narration tool in itself, and the addition of audio waveforms for clarity’s sake, makes Movie Maker a truly useful academic tool now, rather than a tool for grandma to put together the family slide show.  It doesn’t  take the place of a powerful video editor like Camtasia, never mind Premiere, but for the quick and easy video/audio edit its great.