Monday, 24 March 2008

Top tools for e-learning

For a while now Jane Hart over at Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day has been collecting the top 10 favourite tools of a range of people involved in e-learning.

These have been compiled into a top 100 from, would you believe it, a directory of over 2,000! Anyway, I'm proud to say that I have now also contributed my own top 10 to the collection. I think this is a great idea so do check out the collection. The collection of 2,000 is also categorized, so if you are looking for something particular, like a tool for blogging, (there are more than 70 of those) or a Virtual World tool (there are 31 in this category alone!) then it's a great place to look. Anyway, if you'd rather not go through all those at the moment, here's a look at the 10 I submitted as my top 10 tools.

Nik's Top 10 Tools as at 20 March 2008

  1. Blogger: This is my basic essential survival tool for writing my blogs. As I look around more I realise it's probably not the best tool in the world for creating blogs, but it's certainly an easy tool to use and one that does the job well and doesn't cost anything.
  2. Second Life: I seem to have gotten drawn into Second Life, despite the fact that it's far from my favourite virtual world, and I now rent my own office space there. I was drawn in by an increasing amount of course design work that I get related to it and a fascination with the interface and the illusion of 3D. Great place to take a meeting too, much prefer it to using Skype.
  3. NVU: This is a new tool that I've started using recently for web management and development. I have been using DreamWeaver for quite some time, but decided to make the switch to a free tool that I could use on both PC and MAC as my copy of DreamWeaver became increasingly out of date and unstable. So far it's worked out pretty well and the learning curve has been quite simple to deal with.
  4. Instapaper: This is another free tool which I use almost every day. It's a sort of cross between a temporary favourites page and an annotation / bibliography tool. It creates a small plug in for my Firefox task bar and whenever I spot something I want to read I click on a read later button which saves the link to my Instapaper page. Then when I have some time I can go back and read through the articles and either delete them, annotate them as a bibliography or just leave them as read.
  5. Stumble upon: This is one of my favourite plug ins for Firefox. It's a great way to find new sites and I use it when ever I have a free moment. You can create your own favourites page and share the sites you find as well as adding new sites and reviewing them. But the best feature is just clicking on the Stumble button and looking at random sites that matches my interest criteria
  6. Google Browser sync for Firefox: This is another great plug in for Firefox and it enables me to sync history, favourites, passwords etc across my Firefox browser on any computer. I frequently have a MAC and PC running at the same time and so this keeps all my browser information synchronised without me having to do anything apart from install the plug in.
  7. Google analytics: This is a great way to track stats for websites and blogs etc and it's free. The information is a lot more accurate and in depth than many paid for tools and gives me loads of information about my site content, where my visitors are coming from and what they are looking at etc. I'm addicted to it!
  8. Hottnotes: Juggling lots of different projects along with family commitments and running my own business can get a bit overwhelming sometimes. Hottnotes really helps me keep on top of things and remember those meetings and phone conferences. I can create post-it type reminders for my desk top or to-do lists and program them to remind me when specific tasks should be done. Essential stuff, just a shame there isn't a MAC version.
  9. BBFlashback: This is the only tool in my top 10 that I have actually paid for. It's a software tool for recording screen cast tutorials and I've used it for all of the tutorials on my blog. It's easy to use, reliable and adding branding, call-outs and audio is all pretty easy. It also exports to a lot of different formats including Flash swf files and avi files. I can also import short avi video files made on my digital camera and edit them and then export them to Flash (I find that useful honest!)
  10. My Yahoo Feed Reader: I'm sure this probably isn't the best feed reader in the world but MyYahoo homepage is what I started with and I've got comfortable and stuck with it. RSS is one of those really big time savers and I can scan all of the new content on my favourite sites and blogs in just a few minutes and pick out the things I'm interested in reading, not to mention my horoscope and world news. It's saved me hours of going from site to site.
Hope you enjoy these.



Friday, 21 March 2008

Tackling political issues

Big Think is running some really nice clips from two speakers on a range of political issues at the moment. Here's a nice taster to view with an opinion on "Is it fair to ask developing countries to go green?"

The speakers are:
The videos are all quite short snippets even though the language level is quite high, and if you get your students to register and log in, they can then vote on whether they agree with the speaker or not.

These videos could provide a good route into what can be a difficult and controversial topic to deal with in the classroom.

I think we should be dealing with these kinds of topics, but personally I feel as a teacher it's our role to help students articulate and understand each others' opinions. I generally try to avoid adding my own.

You could also have a look at my previous posting for more ideas on how to use Big Think
Hope these are useful



Friday, 7 March 2008

Personalised flashcards

Flashcards have always been one of my favourite teaching tools and with the FaceinHole website I've found a place where I can quickly create my own personalised ones.

The site is easy to use. You just need either an image of yourself that you can upload or a webcam that you can take a picture with. Then you choose the picture you want to put yourself into and upload your image. With a bit of resizing and colour adjustment you can have a set of your own personal flashcards in just minutes.

Then you can either embed them in a webpage like these ones, have a link to them on the site or print them up to use them in class as flashcards.

How to use these with students
These kinds of flashcards can be used for a multitude of purposes.
  • They are great for generating stories / personal anecdotes ( The time I met Paris Hilton etc).
  • You can use them to practice a range of grammar structures. The ones below could all be used for 'used to' and students could either ask about the experience or you could make up anecdotes to tell them.
  • You could get your students to create their own flashcards using their own images and then come to class and tell the class about their imaginary experiences.
  • Often when students have to talk about their own experiences, they can't think of much to say. Hopefully these flashcards will stimulate their imagination and they can have fun making up stories and anecdotes.
  • You could even try to convince your students that some of these are true! (I actually used to have long hair and go dancing with Paris Hilton!)
Here are my 'used to' experiences.
  • I used to play football for Manchester united
  • I used to go dancing with Paris Hilton.
  • I used to be a stunt man.

    • I used to have long hair.

    • I used to be a bit of an ogre.

    • I used to play in a band.

    What I liked about it
    • Lots of different pictures to choose from
    • Quick and easy to create the flashcards
    • Lots of fun for free and registration necessary
    What I wasn't so sure about
    • Would be nice to have some more ordinary images and perhaps different places around the world.
    • It only worked with jpg images, not with gif
    • Watch out. Some of them are less suitable for younger learners
    There's so much you can do with good images and personalised ones can be even more stimulating. I hope you find this useful and you get your students creating and talking about some great images.



Soundscapes from Soundtransit

Sound Transit is a really wonderful formulation of an idea. It's not just a huge collection of Mp3 sound files from all over the world, but the sounds have been tagged by country and described and a visitor to the site can take a sound journey around the world.

You just choose your country of origin, your destination and how many stops you want to make. You then get offered a choice of itineraries with stops at various destinations and descriptions of what you will hear there. You choose the one you want and then the site edits together the individual sounds to create a unique sound journey for you. You can then download your mp3 sound journey, listen to it online or send it to a friend.
  • To try this go to the Book a Transit part of the site. It's just like booking a flight on an airline website (except that it's free and a lot more user friendly!!)
Alternatively you can search the database of individual files by country, keyword or creator and just download the sounds you want. All the sounds are licensed under creative commons 2.0 so you can save and reuse them according to the limitations defined by that license.
How to use this with students
  • You can use the sounds for visualisations. Get the students to listen with closed eyes then write about what they heard. Or they can create a story from what they heard.
  • You could collect four or five clips for students to listen to and then get them to create a chapter / episode of a story around each one.
  • You could use them for grammar practice ( e.g. present continuous "Someone is speaking." etc.)
  • You could get the students to use the site to plan a holiday with four or five destinations then use the descriptions in the itinerary to say what they 'will / are going to' do at each place. They can then choose the best holiday. For past tense practice they can tell other students what the did on their holiday while the students listen to the sounds.
  • For vocabulary practice they could just listen and say the things they hear. This will probably involve a lot of guessing, so you could extend this for practice of modals of probability (e.g. It might be someone eating, It can't be in Argentina. That must be a car door etc.)
  • You could use this site to give students inspiration to collect their own sounds and to tell the rest of the class about them. They could even upload them to the site and share them.
  • They could create their own sound journeys ( e.g. Going to school, what they did at the weekend etc.)
  • You could play 'Guess the sound' as a warmer with student and award points to each student or team.
  • You could ask students to find their favourite sounds or talk about what the sounds remind them of. (e.g. This is one of my favourites. It's the call to prayer. This one was recorded in Delhi, but it reminds me of when I lived in Cairo. I went out to Giza one evening and listened as thousands of mosques from all over Cairo erupted in to a grand symphony of sound.)
    Listen here
  • You can use the sounds to create atmosphere for story telling activities or student plays
  • You can play the John Cage game and just get the students to sit silently and listen to the sounds around them in the school classroom ( for 4 mins and 33 seconds) then talk about what they heard. You could also tell them about the famous John Cage composition 4'33" afterwards and ask them what they think of it.
  • You can play "Where am I?" by playing them one of the sounds and asking them to guess where you are. Try this one. I'm in a cafe in Moscow getting some coffee
What I liked about this site
  • It's a wonderful free resource with a huge collection of sounds.
  • It can really get students thinking about the sound environment they live in.
  • I love the idea that the sounds are tagged to countries and that students can book a sound journey.
  • The creative commons license
What I wasn't so sure about
  • Some of the sound journeys are quite long if you add a lot of stops
  • Some of the sounds are quite unusual and could require quite a high level of language to describe, but I think this just means that you have to choose the activity that you use carefully and be selective.
Anyway. This is a site that I really enjoyed and I'm now determined to go out and start recording some of my own sound adventures. As I'm based in Morocco I thought I would finish this posting with the sounds of the Marrakech market recorded by Reza Tahami.

To download any of the sounds you just need to right click and then click 'Save As..'



Monday, 3 March 2008

Advertisement Project

Rollmio is an ingenious new website base around the idea of user produced advertisements! The site seems to be able to get commissions for online advertisements (they're only on their forth so far, but it is a start up site), then users come along, read the brief and produce and submit an advertisement (10 - 60 second video)that should fit the brief. The advertisement that the company likes best wins a prize ($500) and there are also some runner up prizes.

For more videos,

How to use this with students
This seems like the ideal site to build a project around and get your students creating and uploading their own advertisements. You could even try to win the prize for your school.
  • You might need to do some preparation work first discussing their favourite ads what they like about the etc.
  • Then you'll also need to do a bit of analysis of ads thinking about who the target of the ad is and the kind of profile of people the company wants to sell to etc.
  • You could also get your students to think about advertising techniques and genre of advertisements (story like, expert, celebrity endorsement etc)
  • Your students could then discuss and story board a possible advertisement and decide who will do what in the production of the advertisement.
  • Then if you have a camera try to get them to film, edit and upload the ads (If you have young learners make sure you get the parents permission before uploading anything)
  • You can see the latest creative brief here:
  • You could even use celtx with your students to help develop your project
The ads on the site aren't of a terrifically high / professional quality, they're mainly novel, so it isn't beyond the means of your students to compete with these.
  • If you don't have filming facilities / camera then you could just get your students to have a look at the ones that have been made in the archive and decide which they think is most effective / which will win.

What I liked about the site
  • Really attractive and user friendly interface
  • Really very authentic, motivating and a chance to make some money!!
  • It's free
  • It's easy to get an embed code so that you can add the videos to your own materials if you don't want your students to actually view the site.
What I wasn't so sure about
  • Still early days for this site, so it could be a huge success or by the time you read this it may have disappeared along with a great many other Web 2.0 type sites!!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and get to use it before that happens.