Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Evaluating authentic mobile apps for learning

Back in April 2013 I delivered a workshop at the IATEFL 2013 conference in Liverpool. The topic of the workshop was 'Criteria for Evaluating Web Tools and Apps' and in the workshop I encouraged participants to share and explore their subconscious criteria for deciding which apps and web based tools they used with their students.



I particularly encouraged them to think about 'authentic' apps rather than those made for learning. This is because in many ways I feel that most made for learning apps have made very little pedagogical progress beyond their roots in CALL from the last century.

I also believe that encouraging students to get 'hands on' with authentic apps has a much more important role in helping them to develop digital literacies which they can use outside of the classroom.


As a result of that workshop and the research that developed from it I've now developed this list of criteria for evaluating mobile apps for educational purposes.

Here I've divided the criteria into 4 categories and given some explanation of each. I welcome your comments and feedback as this is still very much a work in progress.

Technical

Accessibility - Will all the students have the necessary equipment to use it? Will it work across all / most mobile platforms and also work within a desktop web browser?
  • Unless teachers are working in a teaching environment where a uniform set of physical devices are provided for students, such as a complete set of iPads or Android tablets, then they need to check carefully that all the variety of devices that their students possess are all supported. The safest way to ensure this is to check to see if the app also has a browser based version, so that students without up-to-date mobile devices will still be able to participate.
User friendly - Will students be able to learn how to use it reasonably quickly?
  • Apps that are complex and take a long time to master may not be worth the commitment. Teachers need to ensure that they plan how to teach the students how to use the apps in a reasonable amount of time or have a strategy for gradually uncovering more features of an app as they develop more activities with it.
Registration - Do students need to register to use it?
  • Getting students and teachers to register and remember passwords can be laborious and time consuming, so apps that don’t require registration and particularly those which run in the browser on mobile or desktop can be very convenient to use. Registration does however offer students more protection and makes any potential misuse or mischief trackable back to its source.
Security - Is the app secure?
  • Although it can be difficult and time consuming to check, teachers need to determine that the app is secure and the creators will treat their students data and personal information responsibly and confidentially. If there is any form of social interaction enabled through the app teachers need to check if there is any mechanism or process for blocking and reporting abuse.

Financial

Price - Is it free or affordable?
  • One of the great advantages of apps is that many are free, freemium (have both a free and a commercial version) or are quite low cost. Having said that, even if low cost apps are being used it needs to be decided who will pay for them, especially if each student in the class needs one.
Business model - Is there a business model to support the app? Is it clear how it makes money?
  • Every app producer needs to make money somehow, so it is important to identify the business model supporting the development of an app. Although teachers and students are keen to use free apps, apps that have no visible business model may be generating money through advertising or by trading data. An app that has no visible means of financial support, may have a very short life span, rapidly become unreliable, and fail to develop and evolve due to lack of funds.

Motivational

Digital literacy - Does learning and using the app help students to develop a useful or transferable digital literacy?
  • Just using an app in itself doesn’t necessarily constitute developing a digital literacy. The use of the app must in some way develop a digital skill that can be transferred outside of the learning context and used in some authentic way either in the workplace or as part of the students’ lifestyle.
Authenticity - Does it have an authentic purpose beyond language learning? Is it an app that a native speaker would use for a genuine purpose outside of a classroom?
  • Apps that are motivating for native speakers to use for a genuine purpose should also be motivating for language learners for that same purpose, so authentic apps that involve some sort of linguistic input or output are ideally suited to language teaching purposes.
Personalization - Does the app enable user to express some aspect of who they are and what they believe?
  • It’s important that language learners have the opportunity to use language creatively to express something of their own personality or identity. Apps which support this kind of creativity can be potentially very useful.

Pedagogical

Learning goal / outcome - Is there a a possible learning outcome that use of the app will lead to?
  • Using an app is not in and of itself a learning outcome. Use of the app needs to lead towards some form of learning goal. In some cases it can be easy to see what learning goals can be achieved through using the app, at other times teachers may need to think carefully what learning outcomes can be achieved through building activities which include the use of an app.
Interaction / communication - Does it support interaction and communication between users?
  • Apps which are developed around social interaction and communication are much more likely to be able to find a useful place in the language classroom and should be easier to base tasks around as communication naturally fits with the aims of language acquisition.
Prolonged use - Does the app need prolonged use to achieve a satisfactory outcome?
  • Many apps are designed around short daily tasks build up over a period of time to achieve an outcome. If teachers choose to use these kinds of apps they need to factor this long term approach into their timetabling.
Assessment - Is the work on the app assessable by the teacher? Does the app support the delivery of teacher response and feedback?
  • Students need to know that teachers are evaluating, assessing and responding to their work, so apps which can support this kind of teacher intervention can be potentially very useful.
Collaboration - Does the app support collaboration between users?
  • The ability to collaborate on projects or producing some form of tangible outcome is viewed as being a potentially significant digital literacy so apps which foster these kinds of collaborative interactions in a meaningful ways have great potential.
Context - In what context would the app be useful? For whom is the app more useful?
  • There are a number of different contexts in which apps can be used. Some may be more appropriate for use at home by the student, or in the class by students, whereas others could be more appropriately used by teachers for their own development or the development of content for students.
Reusable - Does the app have sufficient depth of purpose to support multiple activities and tasks?
  • Many apps have great novelty value which can be motivating for students, but novelty can soon wear off, so it is wise to weigh the amount of benefit students gain from novelty apps against their potential for extended use and the amount of time it takes to download install and register them.
Learner autonomy - Can app be used independently outside of the class by the student to support some form of learning?
  • Apps that can be used by students working independently may well help to foster a degree of learner autonomy if there is some in built learning outcome.
As I said, this is still a work in progress, and I did struggle with which criteria fell in to which of the categories and with the categories themselves, so all comments are welcome.
I hope you find these criteria helpful in evaluating the apps that you choose for your students.

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Nik Peachey

Monday, 9 September 2013

Making lectures and lessons more interactive with mQlicker

As the traditional lecture has come increasingly under fire for being completely out of touch with modern teaching and learning methods, there has been a move by many teachers, conference presenters and lecturers to make their teaching techniques more modern and interactive. One of the key technologies for enabling this has been a range of audience response systems that provide real time responses to polls, questions and surveys while the speakers is actually presenting.

It’s great that many teachers are taking this step, but some of these response systems like mQlicker can deliver much more than a simple audience response, in fact you can use them to initiate debates, brainstorm ideas or even develop complete units of elearning which can help you to ‘flip’ your classroom and create motivating blended learning materials which encourage and keep track of student engagement.

mQlicker has a number of ways of encouraging interaction and displaying results. To see a live demo of how mQlicker look at: http://www.mqlicker.com/demo.html

Be sure to tab through the different questions types, enter data and use the settings tab to change the way the data displays. I particularly like the word cloud type data display for text and numerical entries.


To set up your mQlicker interactions you need to register and log in on the mQlicker site. This is free to do.

Once you have done this you see the admin user interface. This is much simpler to use than it looks at first glance and the initial field shows you the 6 step instructions for how to create your poll or questionnaire.

Once you have created your questionnaire and launched it, participants just need to go to: https://respond.cc/ enter a numerical code and then input their response.

Here are 3 short video tutorial which show you how to do that.

How to create an mQlicker questionnaire 1



How to create an mQlicker questionnaire 2

How to create an mQlicker questionnaire 3



Why I like mQlicker

  • For a start mQlicker is cross platform compatible so as well as working an app on all the major mobile platforms it will also run in the browser on both mobile and desktop.
  • It has a range of ways of displaying participants responses which you can choose from. I particularly like the one which shows responses to text input as a word cloud.
  • I really like that you only need to set up one fixed URL https://respond.cc/ for responses and that respondents just enter a short digital code. This makes it pretty simple to get people to the right place at an event and they don’t have complex URLs to copy down or registration codes to handle.
  • mQlicker is pretty simple and straight forward just to get started with, but it also comes with a complete manual http://resources.mqlicker.com/doc/manual.pdf that you can download to start digging into the more complex capabilities.
  • You can embed mQlicker chart results into a presentation (PPT) and make it dynamic so that your presentation slide updates automatically when people vote.
  • It’s easy to reuse questions or questionnaires with multiple classes as it collects questions together in a question bank.
  • There are premium services if you want something that looks customized for your company or event.
Some tips for getting the best from audience response
  • Don’t limit participation to the room. Why not send out surveys and polls for response through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook or through a back channel chatroom, then you can get a much wider variety of opinion and get the people in the room to respond to that.
  • You can use the tool to brainstorm, especially with the word cloud data display. This would be great for brainstorming vocabulary based around topics, or words which collocate with ... etc.
  • You can set up before and after votes for in class discussions, to see how many people can be persuaded to change their minds.
  • You can create complete flipped interactive learning, by creating questionnaires with a video embedded into a slide at the beginning and then a variety of questions to get students exploring the video content. Then when you come to class students are prepared and you have some response data to get them working with and thinking and talking about in class. Using videos for flipped learning in this way when you are tracking the responses,  puts more pressure on students to actually do the work and watch the video as they know their responses are being tracked by the teacher.
  • You can create questions based around images, so be sure to take advantage of this feature to help stimulate response from the students.
  • You can allow students / participants to be anonymous, so this is a great tool for doing action research and to collect genuinely honest feedback on your teaching methods or content.
  • You can use it to make your classroom more democratic, by setting up votes to find out which parts of the book or course students most want to study or what kinds of activities they want to do next.
  • It’s great that mQlicker can enable open text input, so make the most of this feature. Participants are often frustrated wit questionnaires or polls that don’t really provide the answers that they want to give. Creating open text questions gives the respondent much more ability to express what they feel. This can though be more difficult for you to analyze statistically
  • And last but not least you can use it for assessment and set micro tests as you class progresses. This can assure you that participants are following and understanding your message.

mQlicker is a great free tool for making your classroom, lecture or conference presentation more interactive. It would be great to see more tools like this being used at conferences and in classrooms, but of course you do need to make sure that your venue or classroom has good connectivity and get people into the habit of coming along ready with devices to participate, but as mobile and tablet penetration grows in the education sector and educational authorities realize that we have to stop banning these devices from classrooms and start exploiting them more fully.

I hope you find mQlicker useful

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Nik Peachey

Friday, 23 August 2013

Video communication apps and mobile learning

One of the great things about mobile devices such as tablets, iPads and phones is that most modern devices have good quality cameras and microphones built in. This opens up a really wide range of potential for communication and speaking practice that used to be such a struggle to organise on older laptops and desktop computers.

App developers have also been quick to exploit the potential of this powerful tool and in this post I'd like to look at some of the tools that have been created and how they can be used for language development.

Mailvu for asynchronous messages


Mailvu has been a long time favourite of mine, mainly because the web based version is so easy to use and doesn't require any downloads. You just point your browser at: http://mailvu.com/ and as long as you have the Flash plugin installed on your computer you can start recording immediately. Mailvu also provides mobile apps for iOS, Android an Blackberry. These are easy to use and it allows you to send short spoken messages which don't require the viewer to have any specific software or to download large video files. They just click a link and watch your message. This kind of cross platform compatibility is really important if you are working in a BYOD environment where students could be coming to class with a wide range of devices.

EyeReport for picture in picture


EyeReport  puts an interesting twist on the video communication genre by adding the ability to record video on video. By this I mean that students can upload or record a video on their mobile device and then add a video commentary over the top explaining or commenting on what they see in the original video. This opens up a whole range of potential activities that we can get students doing. They could add commentary to sporting clips, give guided tours of places they have visited, explain processes or even make their own documentaries. Once students have completed their recording these can be shared to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or emailed directly from within the app.

CoachesEye for video annotation



CoachesEye is a similar app to EyeReport (though this one is no longer free) but is much more feature rich. Like EyeReport you can record video commentary over video, but with CoachesEye you can also add annotations and you can stop and control where you insert your comments into the video. This app was designed for coaches to give detailed feedback to athletes on their physical movements, but it's a great app to get students creating and talking about their own videos, and also a useful tool to use when observing teachers for training purposes.

Storytime for bedtime stories 


Storytime is another app which puts a new Twist on the video communication genre. It combines video conferencing with reading stories out loud. The app was designed to enable parents to read to their children from a distance and it contains a number of books you can choose to read and while you read you can discuss the books, ask questions and point to things on the page whilst chatting with the video window at the top. This is great for doing online tutoring with younger learners. There is quite a range of books from very basic and up and they are nicely illustrated.

Teleprompter for controlled speaking practice 


Teleprompter is an app that I wrote about a while back when it was still free (iPhone for Speaking Homework ). The app is what it says, it allows you to import text and then it scrolls through the text while creating a video of you reading it. This is great to get students doing controlled speaking practice and then watching and improving their speaking. You can set texts which include a range of sounds which they find difficult and then watch them together and help them to understand what elements of their pronunciation are causing problems.

Keek for video journals


Keek mixes web with mobile in the form of video journals. Users can post short messages of up to 35 seconds from their mobile or computer and these are published to the web or can be browsed through the app. This would be a great tool to use as a daily learning journal, but it's probably best used by adults or more responsible teens. It seems to be a very popular tool with teens in the USA and there is a wide range of content that students can browse through, some of which is not best suited to educational purposes, but as a concept this is quite a good app. If you prefer your students to be sheltered from this kind of popular culture app, then you can still take up the idea of the video learning journal and just get them to use their built in video camera app and post the messages to a Dropbox site.

Six3 for video messaging


Six3 is similar to MailVu and also compatible with most platforms, but it gives you the choice of recording private or public message and has an additional filter feature which can help to improve your appearance on the video. It's called Six3 because you have 63 seconds of recording time in each message. Like Mailvu, the messages are also sent via links through your email, but they can also be posted directly to Twitter or Facebook from within the app.

Skype for synchronous online tutoring



Skype has been around for a good while and was one of the first video based communication tools to break into the mainstream. It's being used by many online schools to deliver live online lesson from teachers to all parts of the globe. One of the great things about Skype, apart from the reliability, is that it keeps developing and adding new features. The recent addition of video messages that enable it to be used as an asynchronous tool will really help to widen its scope for use as a language development tool.


Built in camera app
With all these apps and the possibilities they offer, it can be easy to overlook the obvious. Most modern mobile device come with a built in video camera application and you can always use this to record and send video message. This has the advantage that messages are very safe from third party app providers and any possible security breaches, but sending the video clips to someone else often involves sending the whole clip via email which can be slow and require good connectivity.

For more ideas and activities for using video and webcams to develop languages see my posting 20 WebCam Activities for EFL ESL Students

Why use video communication?
  • Well one of the best reasons to use these kinds of apps is to get students speaking. Speaking homework has always been particularly difficult for students, but now you can ask students to produce spoken homework which you can watch and assess.
  • Video as a communication genre is likely to become increasingly important as a 21st century digital literacy, so it's important that our students have practice and are able to use this communication genre, just as they do with speaking on the telephone or writing emails.
  • Video can draw students' attention to many of the paralinguistic features of communication that are hard to highlight in a crowded classroom.
  • Enabling students to record themselves speaking and then to watch themselves can be very enlightening for students as they can then start to self assess their own performance and look for ways they can improve. It can also encourage some students to try harder, because they know that someone else might see the video.
  • Video can be very engaging and can be played repeatedly so it gives students the chance to listen again and in more depth.
  • Video communication can help teachers to build a stronger sense of connection with their students, especially with online course when you might never physically meet your students. Conveying some sense of your personality, sense of humour and character can be very difficult in written communications, so video has some really big advantages.
  • Giving students 1 to 1 time and having the time to just sit down and spend a few moments listening to a single student without the noise of others around can be really difficult in the classroom, but having a short recorded video clip of our students can really enable us to focus on their specific strengths and weaknesses and enable us to give them some really personalised feedback.
Potential problems
  • As with any kind of online communication, make sure your students know how to protect their privacy and also themselves from harassment. Be sure to have a transparent and open policy on any kind of harassment so students know what is likely to happen to anyone harassing and how to report harassment.
  • If you are using video communications with younger students also make sure their parents know what you are doing and why you are doing it and get their approval (in writing if possible) and if possible get them involved too.
  • Make students aware of the difference between poor quality speaking and poor quality audio. You don't want them to think they sound bad if the real problem is the recording quality and interference from background noise etc. Help your students to understand how to get he best quality results from whatever recording tools they have, by finding somewhere quiet to record and experimenting with the best distance from the microphone.
  • Helping students to look their best on video will also help to boost their confidence. Getting the camera angle right and having the light coming from the right direction can also have a big impact on how students look, so helping with this can be part of the learning experience. There is a useful article here which may help: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/look-good-on-webcam/
  • Always remember and remind students that anything they do or say on video can potentially be seen by other people for years and even centuries to come, so whenever one of these apps is used, encourage them to think about what they are doing and saying and keep in mind that it could be seen by people they know and people they might yet meet as well as strangers who they might never meet. It's important to remind students of how they want to be perceived.

I hope you enjoy these apps and that they help to get your students speaking. Please leave a comment if you have any favourite video communication apps that you use to get your students speaking.

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Nik Peachey

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Peer editing in digital and mobile environments

For years now I have been happily using EtherPad based services like http://primarypad.com/ and http://sync.in/ to get participants on the training courses I deliver to work collaboratively to create and peer edit texts. Increasingly though I've been having problems with the reliability of the free services these companies provide and the lack of reliable compatibility with mobile devices.


At last it seems that now I have a very elegant solution in the form of https://quip.com/.
Quip looks a lot like Evernote and has a similar interface with documents contained in notebooks, but one of the big differences is that Quip was designed specifically to enable peer editing and collaboration on documents and has a very clear way of showing and tracking the changes.

Here's a short tutorial showing you how it works:


Why should we get our students peer editing?
  • It improves their awareness of accuracy
  • It can improve the quality of their writing
  • Pushes students to accept that writing is a process that needs revisions and redrafting
  • The ability to collaborate in digital environments is likely to be an important real world digital literacy

What kinds of peer editing activities can we do with students?
  • We can give them texts with planted errors (10 - 20) in to work on a find and correct together. These could be the lyrics of songs they like or stories or articles they have read.
  • We can get students to correct each others' compositions before we look at them.
  • We can give them texts with specific features missed out and get them to work together to add them. These could be linking or referencing devices, punctuation, vocabulary words, grammatical features such as prepositions or articles etc.
  • We can get them working together to rearrange parts of a text into a better order or structure.
  • We can give them the bare structure of a story and ask them to embellish it and make it more descriptive and interesting.

What I like about Quip
  • It's free
  • Nicely designed interface
  • Works and looks well in both tablet  app form and in the browser
  • Clearly tracks and highlights changes to documents by different users
  • It looks secure and enables you to limit who sees and works on the document while editing
  • Has a kind of chat messaging feature which works along side the notes for changes
  • We can use it to get students collaborating and working together outside the classroom

What I'm not so sure about
  • It requires registration, which can slow things down in class, but it does also add a degree of security
  • I haven't tried it with larger groups yet so I'm not sure how reliably it will function when scaled up to say having a whole class work synchronously on a single document
  • Not sure how long it will stay free (There is a Quip Business already available)
I'm now looking forward to my next course so that I can try Quip out and get a bit more experience with it. I hope you also find it useful with your students. Do drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

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Best

Nik Peachey



Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Why I don't want an IWB (Interactive Whiteboard)

Recently, I have been asked quite  few times about IWBs and which ones are best etc. My usual answer is 'none' and then I have to explain, so I thought, instead of explaining I would write this post so that I could point people towards each time they ask.

So this is my classroom set up of preference and these are the key components.


1. Data projector - I'm not really bothered which one as long as it produces a good screen resolution (There's a reasonable article here on how to choose one:
How to Buy a Projector)





2. A Laptop - My preference here is for a MacBook, but I can understand why some people find that extravagant and don't feel they are worth the extra financial outlay. Personally, I think they are worth the extra money, because they work faster and so save time (the most valuable commodity we have) and because they are pretty durable(The Apple products I've owned have lasted at least twice as long as their PC counterparts I've had and are still going strong.)


3. iPad - Again my preference here is for the iPad mini, because it is so light to hold in one hand and pass around, but still big enough and powerful enough to fulfil my storage needs and to operate without squinting (also quite a bit cheaper)

4. Reflector app - This is a key app that you download onto your laptop. It then enables you to project your iPad screen onto your computer (and so through the data projector) as it wirelessly receives signals from the iPad's Airplay function.


For those who aren't familiar with Airplay, it's an Apple function that allows you to use the wireless to project sound and vision from an iPhone, iPad, iTouch etc of to Apple TV. You can find more information here: Airplay

Why I like the Airplay enabled set up
  • For me this allows the best of both worlds. I can use the laptop for any software that's native to computer world and very quickly and wirelessly switch to the mobile environment of the iPad.
  • This set up is portable so you can use it in any room with a data projector and computer, as long as the Reflector app is installed.
  • This also has the advantage of allowing your students access to the data projector if they also have iPads, in fact the Airplay function combined with Reflector can allow your students to project onto the screen from a number of iPads simultaneously, which is great to get students showing and comparing work for the whole class to see.
  • Controlling the projection screen from the iPad means that you can move around the class and control it from wherever you are.
  • To hand control over to students you just pass them the iPad
  • You can store all your materials on your iPad and use it to do all your preparation / marking etc at home.
  • You don't have to fiddle with replace or try to find those awful IWB pens.
  • The iPad gives you access to the vast range and variety of apps that you just can't run on a computer or IWB environment. 
  • An iPad and a $12.99 app are hugely cheaper than the cost of an IWB and far more flexible.
  • You can also use the Reflector app to record screen activity so you can easily turn parts of your lessons into flipped learning or useful revision.
  • The iPad and laptop set up provides an authentic digital learning environment so digital literacies can be developed, whereas IWB software is an artificial digital environment which students will only encounter within schools.
There are of course some downsides to this arrangement. 
  • Hand writing on the iPad screen isn't so comfortable even with a stylus and a good whiteboard app (though if you want to try it I would recommend Bamboo Paper).
  • The Reflector app isn't free, but it is very cheap ($12.99) so much cheaper than an IWB.
  • This set up only works with Apple mobile products as the controller (Though you can use any laptop to install the app on), so if your students bring along Android or other devices they won't be able to access your projector (but they wouldn't on an IWB either).
  • The Reflector app runs through the wireless to connect the laptop to the iPad, so you may need to have some specific ports open if your IT manager has them closed.
If you don't have the choice and you already have an IWB, then that's fine, you could still install the Reflector app and start using an iPad too, but given the choice it's pretty clear. So, now hopefully I'll be getting asked this question a lot less often.

Do post comments and let me know what you think. I'd also appreciate hearing about any alternative apps you may have used to connect your iPad and especially your Android tablet to the projector

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Nik Peachey

Friday, 7 June 2013

Gamification to encourage learner autonomy

This post tries to pull together a couple of things I have been thinking about recently. The first was a post I saw on the 21st Century Fluency Project blog a few weeks back. The title of the article 'How I Turned My Classroom into a ‘Living Video Game’ caught my eye and before I even had time to read it I started thinking about how the factors that create motivation in computer games could be applied to the classroom. The article is well worth reading, although this is only one element it touches on.
The other thing I have been thinking about recently is time management and distraction as it is one of the more significant objections which teachers often raise to having students using computers and mobile devices in the classroom, so when I saw 'HabitRPG' I thought it could be a useful tool to help deal with the problems and implement more of a gamified approach to the  classroom.

HabitRPG is a time and task management tool which overlays motivational elements of computer games onto managing time and tasks.

The two major motivational elements are health points, which can be used up and coins which can be earned by doing daily tasks, following good habits and doing jobs from your 'Todos' list. These coins can then used to buy rewards.

You can define the rewards for yourself. In my case I decided to define the rewards as the things that I usually do to procrastinate, such as check my email or look at facebook updates etc.


Then you can simply add your list of 'one off' jobs to the 'Todos' list. For me these are things like 'write an article', 'complete a job application', 'update my CV' etc. These become more valuable the longer they are left and so this increase motivation to do them and gain the coins so that you can pay for your rewards.

Then there are my daily chores which I can set up. These are things like 'update my blog' , 'add some links to Scoop.it' , 'search my RSS feeds for interesting articles' etc. If I do these they earn me coins, but if I don't do them by the end of the day I lose health points.

Lastly, there are the habits. These can be positive or negative depending on whether you do them or not, like 'take a walk' or 'have a snack'.

You can edit all of your lists quit simply by clicking on the pen icon, making the changes and then clicking on save and close.

The main thing you may need to edit is the price of rewards and the amount of coins you get for each task.

To change the price of the rewards, you just click the edit icon and then type in the price. The default amount for a reward is 20, but you can adjust the price depending on how much time your reward takes.

To change the amount of coins you are rewarded for doing each task, you need to go to edit and then go into the advanced options and choose, Easy, Medium or Hard. Doing a hard task will of course earn you more coins.

Once you have your lists set up it becomes quite easy just to click the + and - each time you do a task or have a reward.

Everyone starts off with 50 health points and if they have no coins to buy rewards or if they indulge in bad habits then they have to pay with health points. The challenge is to stay alive and build up enough coins to start buying rewards.

So how would this work with students?
  • Well you could set the rewards as similar things to my own rewards, especially in a connected classroom. You could also add things like play a game or have a few minutes free browsing time online etc.
  • Within the habits you could have things like 'speak L1', 'take notes' or 'copy an answer' etc.
  • The daily things could be 'revise vocabulary', 'read a short article', communicate with someone in English', 'do an activity from the course book' etc.
  • The 'Todos' could be a range of homework and autonomous learning assignments.

Here's what I imagine an ELT students profile would look like.


You'll need to guide students through the set up process and make sure they understand that for this to work they will need to be honest. You could actually have one page for the whole class, or set a page up for a group of students, but it will probably work better if they manage their own page.

They can also add a few elements of personalisation. If the click on the avatar (top left) there are a range of ways to change its appearance.



What I like about HabitRPG
  • It's free and easy to use.
  • It can help get students to take responsibility for their 'bad habits' and reduce the amount of 'policing' you have to do.
  • It can encourage students to work on single tasks with concentration, rather than constantly multitasking.
  • It's a great way to get students to take responsibility for their own time and learning and have some fun at the same time.
  • It could increase motivation and help your students to be better organised.
  • Students have their own account so they can log in on any computer.

Things I'm not so sure about
  • Each student would need to have a computer or mobile device for this to work effectively.
  • It would be great to see this on mobile, but I think that is being planned and it does run in the safari browser on iPad.
  • There is some down time sometimes.
  • Grouping students would also be great, but again I think this is coming.

If you want to know more about HabitRPG, there is quite a long tutorial below which shows a number of other features that you can unlock by playing the game.


I hope you enjoy HabitRPG and that it helps your students to be more organised and disciplined about they way they use their computer or mobile device for learning.

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Nik Peachey



Friday, 17 May 2013

Create online learning with 123ContactForm

123ContactForm may not sound like the kind of tool that would be of interest to educators, but as I discovered when they asked me to review their online form creation tool, they offer quite a range of features that can solve many of the problems we have as 21st century teachers.

We can use it to:
  • Create surveys to do research and action research
  • We can create interactive materials based around multimedia objects
  • We can eve use it to sell our materials or services online and take payments

The tool itself is browser based and so doesn't require any downloading or installation and that in itself can save a lot of hassle if you work in an institution that has very restrictive practices regarding the installation of software.

To get started you just need to go to the site and register at: http://www.123contactform.com/education-forms.htm

Once you have registered you get access to the dashboard and this is where you can start creating your forms. You just need to click on 'Create New Form'.


You will then get a choice of different types of form to create. It's a good idea to click on 'Other Forms' this takes you to the online educator forms.   If you have a look at some of the templates and educator forms that have already been created it will give you some idea of what the platform can do. There is an Education section with some ready made templates in.

When you are ready to create your own educator forms, you could start by clicking on 'Blank Form'. Call your form 'My first activity' and then save it and look at the different types of interactions you can create.

You will see the basic interactions you can add to the page. Clicking on them will add the interaction type to the page.

Then when you click on the interaction type you can edit its features.

Some of the advanced interaction types are particularly interesting, especially the html feature which enables you to embed interactive media objects such as videos or digital books into your forms and then build interactive activities around them.

You can also add social buttons to enable users to share your activities through social media channels. 123ContactForm does also have a Facebook app so once your activities are complete you can post them directly into Facebook pages or groups for users to do from there.

This video shows you how to use all the main features of the forms.


Once you have created your activities they are saved in the 'My Forms' section of the site and you can go there to edit them. Here you can get the code to publish your educator forms into your bog website or CMS, or get a link to email out to students.

You can also check to see who has submitted answers to the questions and see the record of what answers have been given in the 'Reports' section. This is one of the best features of the site as it turns it into a form of LMS (learning management system) where you can collect and analyse students responses and generate graphs of the results.

The site also allow users to add and customise the theme of the forms, so if you want them to blend into your site or blog, then customising the look and feel of the forms is quite easy and you can even add your own logo.

This video shows you how to customise your form.


So how can we use this with EFL / ESL students?
  • We can create action research forms and get detailed and anonymous feedback on our teaching
  • We can create multimedia materials for learning or assessment and track our students responses. This is particularly useful if we a creating homework assignments and we need to assess these and know that our students have done them.
  • We can create learning objects to embed into online courses that track and assess students' performance.
  • We can make fun engaging quizzes based around images.
As ELT professionals
  • We can use the forms to create surveys for research.
  • We can start selling materials, self published books, or private online classes and collect payment in a safe and secure way.
What I like about 123ContactForm
  • It's a very versatile platform and really does enable a lot more than the name suggests. In fact it's a pretty sound way to create online learning materials with a built in LMS.
  • It's a great tool for freelancers who want to start making money online by selling their own products and services in a user friendly way.
  • It runs in the browser and is pretty simple to use.
  • It's easy to produce something that looks very professional.
  • I've said it already, but the tracking capabilities are great.
  • The company runs on a freemium model, so although it is a free service, there is also a business model there to support the site so it's less likely to suddenly disappear or fold.
What I'm not so sure about
  • As I said the company runs on a freemium model, so many of the best features are the ones they charge for.
  • On the free subscription you can create 5 forms and collect up to 100 students' responses each month which is probably enough for the individual teacher to use it with a class, but it would be nice to have a few more of the premium features available to the Free subscriber, such as the html embed to enable the use of video and multimedia in the activities.
  • You have to be on the Platinum account to be able to enable payments and that costs $29.95 per month, which for a company or school is not much, but for a teacher / freelancer who wants to test the waters with selling their own products or services, it might seem like quite a big risk when they are just getting started, but you can cancel your subscription if things don't go well and 123ContactForm does offer a 30day money back guarantee. It's also worth mentioning that if you are a teacher or teacher trainer and you get in contact with the company, they are offering a 35% educational discount, so that can help to reduce the risk and the cost.

On the whole I think this is a really good product, particularly for a small school that wants to venture into online teaching or blended learning, then a platinum account at $29.95 per month is quite a small risk. For a teacher thinking of going freelance it might be a good option if you are confident that you can make enough through online sales to justify the monthly outlay. As a teacher working in class, then it's a nice way to get started with creating some online learning with a degree of interactivity, but it would be much more attractive if the html embed functionality came as part of the free subscription.

123ContactForm has plenty of potential for the online educator or anyone wanting to create blended learning, so it's well worth checking out, and when I get my book finished I may well be using it myself. I hope you find it useful too.

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Nik Peachey

Thursday, 18 April 2013

What are the qualities of a good educational technology trainer?

Whilst in the process of designing a unit of online learning I started thinking about the qualities and skills that a good educational technology trainer should have. After thinking of a few myself I decided to draw on the wisdom of my PLN and crowd-source a few more ideas.

Please feel free to add your ideas and to copy any of the ones you find here. I'd also like you to selectively vote for the ones you think are most important. You can also add some pros and cons to say why. You can add your ideas and comments without registering.



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Thank you for your help and participation. I hope you find this list useful.

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Nik Peachey

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Criteria for Evaluating Web Tools and Apps

I'm often getting asked what my criteria are for choosing the tools, apps and resources that I feature on my blogs and in my teaching and do be honest I don't really think about it that much. I look at so many sites and apps that I just get a feeling when I see something that I think will work.

As that isn't a very satisfactory answer to give people I decided to start exploring my own criteria for what influences my choice. I ran a workshop on this topic at IATEFL 2013 on looking at apps and how we can evaluate them.


I came up with a number of 'first impression' criteria that I think I apply before even thinking about 'how' I will use the app / tool.

Here is the presentation / workshop recording



You can download a copy of the presentation from here: Evaluating Web-based Tools

Please feel free to browse the list and add any 'pros' and 'cons' for anything you think I've missed.


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I hope you find these criteria useful as a starting point for your own reflections on why you choose to use certain apps and not others.

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Nik Peachey

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Mix Images and Animation on Your Mobile

A couple of years back I wrote about a really nice web based tool called Xtranormal and since then I've heard from so many teachers saying how useful their students have found it, so I was delighted yesterday to find that the same makes had now produced a free mobile / tablet app called Tellagami. The app runs on a mobile device and allows users to add animated speaking characters to a selection of backgrounds or to the users' own images. You can then either use text to speech to write a script for the character, or you can record your own voice and the app will lip-synch you text to the character. This is very quick and easy to do. Here's how.

Open the app an click on create.


Then choose your background, either from the ones provided, from your own image library or you can take a photograph of wherever you are at the time.

Then you can choose the character you want to use and customise their appearance.
Next you can select an emotion for your character.

Lastly, you can either type in your message or record it directly onto your device. You can record up to 30 seconds of spoken audio.

Once you animation is complete you can either send it by email, share it through various social networks or just save it onto your device to show it in class.


 You can complete the whole process in just a couple of minutes.

I think this is a great app to get students speaking either in the classroom, at home or while they are out and about in the world.

Some learning activities for students
  • Ask the students to create 4 - 5 animated images explaining their route to school.
  • Get students to create animated images of 4 - 5 of their favourite places around their town.
  • Get students to take pictures of objects and create an animated video dictionary.
  • Get students to talk about images of people in their family.
  • Create some animated images of different steps in a process (making coffee, tea etc) and then get the students to watch and put them in the correct order.

  • Get students to create an animated image journal by adding one new image each day.
  • Get students to take pictures of their favourite book covers or film posters and then record a review.
  • Get students to create animated video cards on special occasions.
 I'm sure there are lots more activities you can think of.

What I like about Tellagami
  • It's free and very easy to use.
  • It encourages students to speak.
  • It can be used effectively outside the classroom.
  • Students can use it to pull some aspects of their own life and experience into the classroom.
  • It produces very professional looking results.
Possible problems
  • At present it's only available for iPhone / iPad so that limits who can use it.
 So if your students have iPads / iPhones and you ant to give them motivating speaking assignments for homework, Tellagami is a great tool to use for the job.

I hope you find it useful.

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Nik Peachey











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