Monday, 10 May 2010

3 Tools for Exploiting the Wifi During Presentations

Coming as I do from a background in language teaching that emphasises that the teacher should shut up and get the students to do the talking, I often feel uncomfortable doing conference presentations, many of which still follow the format of; speaker gets up in front of audience with presentation - does presentation - audience listen (try to stay awake) and desperately try to think of a few questions at the end to prove they were awake and listening.

One of the gifted- Jamie Keddie.

There are of course a few gifted speakers who can hold the audience’s attention for a full hour and keep most of them listening and awake. If like me you’re not one of those, then here are a few tools that, thanks to the increasing availability of wireless connectivity at conference centres these days, might help to turn your passive listeners into a bunch of multitasking audience collaborators.

Set up a backchannel
One of my favourite tools to use during presentations is Today’sMeet . It’s a great tool for setting up backchannels. A backchannel is basically what your students create when they talk among themselves or text each other during your lesson.
  • The advantage of setting one of these up to allow your audience to do this is that you can capture and share what your audience is saying while they are listening to you and enable them to collaborate and share with each other what they know about the topic and links to any relevant resources.
  • It can also help them to type in questions as they think of them rather than waiting for you to ask at the end, and for me it’s a great way to pass out URLs to interesting websites to give the audience some hands on participation during the presentation.
  • It’s also a good way of getting the audience to brainstorm and do tasks together, just ask a few questions and get them to type in answers, and they’ll appear in the backchannel window for everyone to see.

Setting up a back channel with Today’s Meet takes about 60 seconds. You just type in a name for your channel and launch it. You can select how long you want the channel to be available (from two hours to a year) and if you have people in your audience posting updates to Twitter, you can select a hashtag (#) specific to your talk so that their ‘tweets’ appear alongside the backchannel chat window.

Live polling
Getting audience response during presentations can be done quite easily by getting a show of hands, but I tend to find that pretty unsatisfying in terms of capturing and sharing data, so I’ve started using a polling / survey tool called Urtak during presentations.
  • With Urtak you can prepare a number of short online polls to to get your audience to do during the presentation.

  • Just send the URL to them using your backchannel and then you can show and capture your audience response live during your session, as Urtak collects and shares results as soon as people vote.
  • If you are logged in during your presentation it’s even quick and easy enough to create short polls on the fly and pass out the URL through your backchannel.
Here’s an example one I created for a presentation on digital teaching skills that you can look at: . Urtak even enables the audience to add questions if they register and log in.
Make note taking collaborative
Many listeners at presentations do their best to keep notes during presentations, so if your audience has wireless connectivity why not get them to do this collaboratively? A great tool for doing this is .

  • It has a desktop launcher that your simply click to create an online collaborative note taking pad. You then share the URL for each pad with your audience and they can then work in groups to assemble notes and comments on your presentation as you go or work on collaborative tasks that you can set them.
  • The texts can then be saved by each person at the end of the presentation or they can even continue to refine the notes after the presentation is over. also has a handy text chat room which runs alongside each document that’s created, so collaborators can discuss things and ask questions as they work. See Collaborative Text Editing Tool for more information on
Of course these tools aren’t just useful for conference presentations, but can be used for online training webinars as well as classroom teaching if you work in a wireless enabled classroom environment. Be sure to practice with them one at a time first for short tasks as you gradually build them in to your presentation skills repertoire.

Good luck and I hope you find these tools useful and soon have your audience multitasking as well as listening.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Monday, 3 May 2010

3D Computer Games with Young Learners: Spore

In a recent digital skills survey I carried out using Urtak I discovered that more than 50% of digitally skilled teachers don't feel able to utilise 2D and 3D computer games to achieve pedagogical goals (See survey), so I've been looking around and exploring some possibilities. The first of these is the Spore Creature Creator. Spore is a game which allows you to create creatures and evolve them along with their environment, all the way through to a space traveling society.

The free trial creature creator that we will be looking at allows you to create creatures, take snap shots of them and make videos of them to see how they move. Here's an example of a video I created to get students interested. I added the captions and text using i-Movie though you could just as easily use a free online video editor such as Video Toolbox or Windows Moviemaker if you are using a PC.

The creatures are very easy to create, you just drag and drop different features onto a body and the add colour and test them out to see how they move. These are some of the other creatures I created.

Once you have created your creatures you can either make videos of them, take snapshots, which you can either save or email to someone, or create an animated gif of your creature (I wasn't too impressed with the quality of the animated gifs)

Here' a tutorial showing you how it's done.

You can download a .mov version of the tutorial here or this pdf document has the main screen shots and instructions if you'd prefer to follow on paper.

You can download the Creature Creator from the Cnet website here. It's a big download (205MB), but once you have it, you don't need to have web access to do any of the tasks or create the movies and snapshots.

How do we use this with students?
  • Create images of different creatures and get the students to create a story about them.
  • Get the students to create descriptions of different creatures - This could include appearance, but also likes and dislikes, habits etc.
  • Get students to match pictures to descriptions.
  • Get students to create a creature based around your description.
  • Create a creature and use a picture of it as a picture dictation with one student describing the picture while the other one recreates the creature using the software.
  • Get students to create a short video of their creature and add a description and narrative below it as a video project.
  • Ask students to create a creature suitable for a particular environment, or types of tasks, then get students to discuss which they think would be best adapted for the environment.
  • Get the students to write instructions for how to create a creature.
  • Use the creatures to demonstrate present continuous tenses ( sitting, running etc.)
What I like about it.
  • It looks great on a data projector and if you work in a single computer classroom, you can get students up and dragging things around and creating in front of the class.
  • The creatures are very colourful and in the environment mode they really start to take on character.
  • You can use the tool to create versatile and stimulating materials.
  • It's free and pretty easy to use once you get it installed.
  • I like the integration with YouTube as it makes it very easy to get your videos online quite quickly.
  • I like that they can produce a range of gestures and expressions.

What I'm not so sure about.
  • It's a big download and will need to be installed on any computer it is used on, so if you want to use it in your school computer room, you'll need the help of a supportive IT manager to get it downloaded and installed on all the computers.
  • The Gifs it creates aren't that good, but you don't really need to use them.
  • You need a fairly good computer with a good graphics card for it to work well.
I hope you enjoy trying some of these ideas with your students.

Related links:


Nik Peachey