19 June 2015

Assistive Technology in the Classroom: Research via Google Forms

This term, I am researching the use of Assistive Technology (AT) in classrooms around the world.

AT is anything that assists learners who require additional support in accessing their work and being successful. I included a video in the form to explain what AT is to help my audience.

As I work in a school where technology has yet to be introduced fully, the people I can consult are limited. In addition, my previous schools have all finished for the summer already.

To combat this dilemma, I created a Google Form that I was able to share on Twitter for anyone to be able to complete. I felt this broadened my chances of getting some information from people who had experience using AT.

My form can be accessed HERE and my paper regarding these results will be published here soon.

If you have, or know of anyone who has, experience using AT in the classroom, please share and complete this form to help a life-long learner with her research. Thanks.

Explain Everything: Presenting & Sharing (Web 2.0 Tool 5)

Explain Everything is an app I downloaded onto my iPad probably two years ago... I had a tendency to get very excited by new tools and not allow myself the time to trial them properly - this was one such victim of my over-zealousness. But, now, I have the opportunity and a great excuse to have a proper play!

I found that I had to refer to the tutorials and help quite a lot to do what I wanted to do - which meant, perhaps, it was not particularly intuitive. It also took me about an hour to create a seven-slide presentation, which I am sure would become quicker with time. I do like how I can customise and add handwriting etc., and there is so much more potential to it than a regular presentation, so I think it is something I will continue to explore.

I have recorded my presentation for you to see - however, the microphone on my iPad Mini was not picking up sound effectively meaning I need to send it to my MacBook Air to add the audio, or use and external microphone - which is a little annoying.

Pros and Cons

- takes time to figure out; you have to watch the tutorials to really know how to use it fully - this means there is a lot to it, but it is not a download-and-go tool
- microphone and sound issues mean an extra element required to create a successful presentation
- cannot download the App to a laptop - requires a mobile device

- loads of functionality; can add handwritten notes, text, images, files, websites etc.
- very creative and personal - truly makes learning individual for your kids
- very different to regular presentation tools
- free - with no hidden extra costs!
- finished presentation can be uploaded directly to YouTube for easy sharing (and embedding into blogs!)

15 June 2015

TED-Ed: Lesson Creation (Web 2.0 Tool 5)

TED-Ed is not something I was aware of until recently. It is a "an extension of TED’s mission of spreading great ideas" and allows users to "take any useful educational video, not just TED’s, and easily create a customized lesson around" it.

TED-Ed houses a library of lessons that are "carefully curated educational videos, many of which represent collaborations between talented educators and animators nominated through the TED-Ed platform."

Types of Lessons

Creating an account is easy - if you are already registered with TED, you can use the same one. It will require some additional information such as the ages and subject you teach.

Once registered, you are able to search existing content by filters such as subject, content, student or duration.

Once selected, you can customise the lesson by adding "context, questions, discussion items, and follow-up suggestions to any video on TED-Ed or YouTube" to personalise the learning for your students.

Searching by series means you can view linked lessons:
Selecting the series reveals all the lessons available in that series:

The TED-Ed community offers "a creative space where the various groups of people using the TED-Ed platform can convene & converse around their ideas for TED-Ed and Education at large". It allows users to post "thoughtful ideas/questions, or respond to existing ones using the text field, categories and activity feeds" meaning it becomes a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and not just a place to create and discover lessons.

This platform is also the home to TED-Ed Clubs – an exciting new program that aims to stimulate and celebrate the best ideas of students around the world.

This is definitely a resource that I would like to use in the future - the videos will not play in school, due to our blocking of YouTube, and I will have to request permission for the site to be unblocked. I do think it is worth it though as there are already many ideas plus I like the additional questions and resources. It takes the idea I looked at with Personalised Playlists on Sophia, and extends it. For teachers just beginning to use tech, it offers ready made resources that they can use immediately and become familiar with before moving into creating their own.

14 June 2015

Grammarly: Writing Support (Web 2.0 Tool 4)

As an English teacher, working overseas with a majority of learners with language needs, any tool that I can find to support the writing process is one that I HAVE to explore.

In the past, I have used Ginger Software, and Read and Write, which I find useful, but Grammarly is a tool that has been on the edge of my explorations so far, and this seems like a perfect opportunity to see if I can add another writing support tool to my repertoire.

What makes Grammarly different, is that it is free. Ginger used to be free, but as it has grown, it has limited options in the free version. What I do like about it, is it works on ALL online apps - and the same appears true of Grammarly.

Once added to Chrome from the Chrome Store, it works across all online platforms:
The links appear automatically and once added to my Chrome toolbar, I was taken to the page to create an account:-
What I am impressed with, is that the account suggests it saves your style, learning your particular way of writing so you can retain your personal voice whilst also being grammatically correct.

The free account is also available to upgrade for different options:

Before I even completed the login, a little green circle with an arrow in appeared as I was typing my blog post.

Once I hovered over it, it gave me information about my writing:

The tutorial informs me about how easy it is to use, and, like Ginger, spots errors such as homophones, which regular spell-checkers do not, as the word is spelled correctly just misused grammatically.

The green arrow turns with a number, indicating the mistakes. Clicking on it reveals them, plus suggestions:

There are two types of correction tools offered: real-time and uploads.

Real-time corrections occur as I type. It did keep duplicating words and phrases without my asking it to, which was very frustrating. It also slowed down my scrolling when reviewing my blog post.

I was also the whole blog post by using the circle button:

   these options: Grammarly also offers these options:
 Uploads allow you to add documents that may not be online. Here is the text from the HTML file of the created for the Web 2.0 Tools 3.

Pros and Cons

  • free, quick and easy to install and use
  • spots grammar and spelling mistakes, as well as formatting (e.g. before full stops)
  • works across all web-based applications
  • offers the ability to upload and check non-web-based documents
  • limited options offered in free package, but they seem adequate for most needs
  • slowed down my blog post writing
  • often duplicates words and sentences, often nonsense and with mistakes
  • kept deleting writing I did not ask to be deleted

I think I would have to figure out the bugs, as they became very frustrating.  All in all, I like the options offered and the capabilities it suggests it has, but the deleting and the adding words meant it actually took me longer to write this post that it would have normally.

TiddlyWiki: A non-linear note book (Web 2.0 Tool 3)

I am always on the search for ways to collect, curate and organise information - both for my professional and my personal life. Recently, I stumbled across TiddlyWiki, which claims to be a
unique non-linear notebook for capturing, organising and sharing complex information (TiddlyWiki.com, 2014)
What drew me to it was its transformation of traditional note-taking techniques, such as index cards, into an interactive tool that lives on my computer and can house hyperlinks, self-proclaimed "hypertext index card from the future". What could there not be to love?

The site hosts helpful explanation video tutorials, as well as text instructions on how to get started. After watching the introduction, I must admit that whilst i feel it sounds good, I am not sure about the user-friendliness of it. Use of codes for formatting, etc., much like in the Bubbl.us mind-mapping tool I reviewed.

After the introduction, I decided to opt for the leisurely introduction, or the "Gentle Guide', which does admit that TiddlyWiki is,
conceived and constructed differently than most software. This can make it hard to understand until the moment when it clicks, and becomes a seamless extension of your brain. (TiddlyWiki, 2104).
I downloaded the empty file and managed to create three posts. However, I found it difficult - it was not intuitive and very difficult to save in the end.

Setting up the TiddlyWiki

The control panel does allow for some customisation, and I like that palettes are pre-chosen to avoid nasty, over-messy sites.

Equally, there are three view options and two themes, pre-chosen, presumably by designers who know what works and what doesn't. Again, this prevents time-wasting when it comes to frmatting and lyaout, leaving time for building. Which, in this case, you DO need, as it is not liek tools we might be used to.

You can also pick and chose the buttons you want to appear, based on your personal preferences. I think this would change over time, as you got used to the tool and decided what worked and what didn't work for you.

You can also choose your font - but need to know the name, as there is no drop down menu, you simply have to type in the font you want to use.

This is what my blank TiddlyWiki looked like after I had set it up. Creating this probably took longer than completed the previous two Web 2.0 Tools (Bubbl.us and Zunal).

Creating notes

 Pros and Cons

I do not think this would be a tool that I would use or recommend in the classroom as it is not at all straightforward. Perhaps, after time, it might be easy to use as it suggests, however, as teachers, we know that we don't have that time. Often, we are teaching content and don't have time to add in teaching new tools. We want user-friendly apps that can be picked up and used with ease immediately; apps that support the learning process not add on to it.

Here is a link to my completed TiddyWiki.

05 June 2015

Bubbl.us: Mindmapping (Web 2.0 Tool 2)

I am a fan of Sketchnotes (see @Rhodesign's great books) and visuals, so I had to explore a mindmapping tool that I had not come across before.

There are different options including a free account that I signed up for and was able to access the tool straight away.
The free account lets you make three maps that can be shared - however, whilst you can add hyperlinks, you cannot add attachments from your computer. For this, you pay $6 a month or $59 a year, which is a significant amount of money. Unless you plan on making A LOT of mind maps.

Immediately after signing up, I was sent straight to the creation board:

The interface is limited and fairly straightforward, though I did consult the HELP section for details about adding links and basic formatting, which has to be done using codes rather than buttons.

Clicking on the box brings up a colour chart - 

where you can choose from an existing Palette or chose Custom.

The Custom option allows you to use Hex codes or the hue slider, meaning you can match your colours exactly for aesthetics or branding purposes.

To change the text in a box, you simply click, and type.
Adding new boxes is super easy to:


I had to use the help function for this, as there was no familiar B or I buttons to press. The instructions were simple and straightforward:

Adding hyperlinks also required some code, but again, this was easy:

Clicking on the EXPORT button gave me the option of saving as a JPEG or PNG, which looks like this:
It is also possible to save as a webpage outline, click HERE to view, or PRINT:-

The mindmap I created, shown in the above images, took me less than five minutes - it is simply as there are limited features, and once the codes for links and formatting is known, detailed interactive mindmaps could be made very quickly by learners and teachers alike.

Pros and Cons

- only three mindmaps can be created with the free account
- files cannot be added with the free account, meaning it is all text-based so could be too wordy particularly for younger learners or additional language learners
- functionality is limited and the help section is needed to figure out fomatting and hyperlinks

- the limited functionality means attention is paid to content rather than making it look good (which we all know kids can get carried away with)
- easy to use, once the codes for formatting and hyperlinking are figured out
- images can be printed or downloaded

02 June 2015

ZUNAL: WebQuests (Web 2.0 Tool 1)

For my current MEd. module, I am exploring Web 2.0 tools that can enhance learning. WebQuests are characterised by inquiry-based learning activities often involving an element of collaboration. I decided to look for tools in this area, as successful well-designed WebQuests address essential twenty-first century skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity, and are a way of bringing together the most effective instructional practices into one integrated student activity.
The first WebQuests were used in 1995, by San Diego State University’s Bernie Dodge and Tom March. They developed a type of lesson plan that incorporated links to, from, and along the World Wide Web that they termed a “WebQuest” (Zunal, 2001). I first studied WebQuests in a previous MEd. module and used Weebly to develop a scavenger hunt using a WebQuest structure called, 'The Hunt for Dracula' (Fairbrother, 2014). I found that successful WebQuests should engage learners in problem-solving and allow them to draw their own conclusions meaning the resources provided should allow for many different possible results. Knowing that WebQuests address so many key skills means that educators want to include them as part of their teaching repertoire. However, many teachers new to using educational technology may not feel comfortable in designing one of their own. This is where Zunal.com can help.

Zunal: Features & Tools

Zunal is a "web-based software for creating WebQuests in a short time without writing any HTML codes" and offers a "free service for Preservice and Inservice teachers, and faculty to create WebQuests" (Zunal.com, 2001).

Zunal boasts an easy  five step process to the creation of your WebQuest:
Zunal, 2001
Whilst you must register and create a free account to use it, this is an easy and quick process and I got immediate access.

The features of Zunal include:
Zunal, 2001
 There is also the option to include interactive features to engage learners:
Zunal, 2001
The site hosts menu of WebQuests by subject, a list of the 15 most favourited WebQuests, a search bar, a list of recently reviewed WebQuests, the 20 most visited WebQuests, as well as recently published list, which members are all able to access. 

However, what is not mentioned clearly is that many of these enhanced features requires a Professional account, which costs $20 for three years. 
Zunal, 2001

Example Zunal WebQuest

The most recently published was a 'Romeo and Juliet Background Knowledge' WebQuest (Romero, 2015). The Welcome page includes details of the WebQuest including target Grade Level and Curriculum used.
Jose Romero, 2015 on Zunal.com
The side bar features the required elements of a WebQuest:
Jose Romero, 2015 on Zunal,com
  • Introduction. This is an overview (often a simple one) of what is to come. 
  • Task. This page details the assignment that is to come. Tasks are often comprised of numbered lists of items that must be accomplished to complete the quest.
  • Process. The Process is the meat of the quest — it is here that students work together, develop plans of action, and find ways to solve the presented problem. 
  • Evaluation. The evaluation phase centers on a “rubric,” a carefully designed chart listing goals for the quest and the standards by which performance will be measured. 
  • Conclusion. This is a brief summary, that wraps up the project.
  • Teacher Page. Instructors are provided with their own subsection of the WebQuest site, with instructions for each of the above sections. Teachers who develop WebQuests often fill this section with information to help other educators adapt the quest to their own class (Zunal, 2001).

Creating My Own WebQuest

Navigating to my Dashboard, I am able to create a profile as well as view my account settings and created or favourited WebQuests. Zunal also offers the ability of creating a classroom website that is only accessible by your students. 

Clicking on Create a WebQuest gives me option to create one from scratch OR adapt an existing WebQuest, which is great for beginners and helps prevent teachers from reinventing the wheel (which happens far too often). HOWEVER, this feature requires a Professional account

Creating a new WebQuest was easy. Once I had named it, a template opened with the essential components ready for me to edit. Adding an image and updating the Welcome page was as simply as clicking the buttons and uploading the image or adding the relevant information. 

At this point, it was also possible to change the name of the WebQuest:

Once saved, it was easy to add other resources by simply clicking on the button and choosing from the menu of Basic, Group, Video (from YouTube as well as other video-hosting sites) and Web 2.0 (which includes Voki and Glogster) - simply by pasting the URL. 

Other sections can be added to by clicking on the relevant sections in the left hand menu bar.

For beginners, Zunal offers advice of what is required for each part of the WebQuest:

For the Introduction element for example, a Help box provides ideas and features of what should be included in the Introduction. Clicking on 'Update Content' allows you to add the relevant information. A box at the bottom provides the information again, along with a rubric for an effective introduction. An example feature states 'coming soon'. This information was available on each of the sections.

The language, background image and menu colour can be changed using the 'Settings' option in the left hand bar:
You can view what my sample WebQuest looks like by clicking HERE. It is not complete as I was only exploring, but this took me less than five minutes to complete what you can see.

Pros and Cons

  • It is not strictly free. Whilst the cost is minimal many features require a paid account.
  • Limited layout and customisable options.
  • You can only create ONE WebQuest for free.
  • No collaboration - unless you pay.
  • Easy to use for teachers who have no experience of building websites.
  • Provides ready to go templates that adhere to the requirements of WebQuests.
  • Resources can be added very simply.
  • A WebQuest could be created within 30 minutes (if all information is ready to go).
  • Huge resource of ready-made WebQuests available.