Monday, December 3, 2012

Trace Effects: Gaming meets Pedagogy for ESOL

In thinking about ways to make learning more engaging for our students, I've been developing activities based on work on gamification by Graham Stanley and Kyle Mawer <> and looking into ways of integrating Minecraft and Second Life into our curriculum, especially the former; e.g. <> and <>. And in one of these podcasts it's mentioned that ESOL teachers are predominant among educators using Minecraft:
But these are hard sells.  Colleagues can't always see the link between the game activity and the curriculum.  It has been pointed out that those questioning the value of gaming sometimes ask, "But is it in the curriculum?"  The short clever reposte is to flip that to, "Actually, the curriculum is in the game."

Recently the US Dept. of State has developed a game called Trace Effects where these linkages are much more obvious. I have known the prime developer, Rick Rosenberg, for some time, and I saw him working on this when I attended the recent TESOL conference in Philadelphia, but after exploring the Ning set up to provide resources and develop community around the game, I realize that there is a prolific team effort behind this (e.g. Deborah Healey who was one of the scriptwriters, and Dawn Bilkowski who wrote the teachers' manual to include a rationale for gaming in language learning). From the seminars and teaching materials I realize that a course. or a good part of one, could be built around this from what is already online.

Unlike Minecraft, this game is free. Also unlike Minecraft, its online version can only be played in single player mode (though there are accompanying games that can be played against other players online). But the game does not require Internet; it can also be played via DVDs that can be obtained (also free) from US Embassies and consulates, as well as from Regional Language Officers and from American Corners abroad. 

The game is a lot of fun to play. It has the immersive look and feel of Second Life, except that your avatar (Trace) can only jump and run, not fly. The game is played from the point of view of a future university student Trace who, on a tour of a science lab pushes one button too many on a time machine and ends up at the same location, but in the present time. You become Trace as he struggles to figure out what has happened to him and goes in search of people who can help him return to his own time zone. On the way he picks up certain powers (verbs) which can be used to activate the objects in his inventory.  The game is a sharp departure from other video games in that there is no violence, and cooperation and helpful behavior are rewarded. The game teaches culture in the USA and helps build language that will help students develop their emerging language skills and come to better understand the culture.

There is a Ning at with forums for discussion around the game and a repository of resources.  Hopefully, this repository can become a clearinghouse for teachers worldwide who develop materials that can be used in teaching language using Trace Effects

Teachers will want to join the Ning. It helps if you can provide the secret password divulged in the first seminar on Trace Effects given by Rick Rosenberg (something to do with the U.S. State Department publication, the English Language Teaching Forum). All seminars are recorded and their links are at the Ning: The Ning provides a wealth of other materials including a page of 19 links to teacher resources, from manuals to extension activities and worksheets to games and scavenger hunts:

If practical, it's best to access the game online through your (or your students') ID's and passwords.  To find the game online, enter 'trace effects' into a search engine, or go directly to  Account creation is simple: just provide an email address (for password recovery), a user name, and a password.  Game access is instantaneous, and subsequent logons will take you back to your last checkpoint, or accomplishment, in the game.

The only problem is the time it takes to download and install the Unity browser (or browser plugin) through which the game must be played.  I reported trouble loading Unity into Chrome once, but I simply switched to IE and it worked fine, and I'm using it with Chrome now, and it's working fine. I spent a morning installing the Unity browser needed for game play to computers in our Independent Learning Center to get them ready for students.  I found that installing from the DVD had no impact on the web browser, so if planning to play online, you need to install the Unity browser first.  I found that this could take anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes first time. It says in the user manual that in order to install the browser you need to play through the opening sequence and get your avatar into the Quad of the university, and once there close the game.  After this we were able to log on as other users and not be prompted to download the software.  Sometimes it took just a minute or two for the game to ready itself for the new user, but one of my students came along and tried it, and though he was not prompted to download and install anything, his configuration routine still took almost 20 minutes.  It might be good in this case to have the standalone version loaded in from the DVD so the students would have something to explore while waiting for their personal version of the game to load in.

I'll provide more feedback here once we've learned more about how students and staff can most quickly install and access the game, and I'll report problems to look out for, but hopefully dwell mostly on success.

A lot of work has clearly gone into development, enough to impress colleagues. Trace Effects  looks like a well-conceived and highly validated entry into gaming that will pave the way for work with Minecraft and other interesting and challenging activities for young students, once their teachers come to better understand the power and potential of learning inherent in utilizing enjoyable games in the curriculum.  Work with this game should help achieve a better understanding of that concept.

The Webinar recordings are an excellent resource for finding out more about the game and how to teach it. The webinar recordings are available here:  There are usually 3 recordings for each webinar in the series: (1) the dry run dress rehearsal produced by each speaker without audience interaction, (2) the first interactive recording, and (3) the second interactive recording.  The webinars were normally given twice in one day several hours apart.  The speakers are:
  • Introduction to Trace, Rick Rosenberg, Nov 20, 2012
  • Teaching with Trace Effects: Tips in the Teacher's Manual, Dawn Bikowski Dec 4, 2012 
  • Extending Learning in Trace Effects: Practice Activities and Multi-player Games, Deborah Healey, Dec 18, 2012
The next webinars will be:
  • Webinar 4: Using Trace Effects Graphic Novels and Video in the Classroom
  • Webinar 5: How Do You Know What Works? 
  • Webinar 6: Learning by Doing: Communicative Language Teaching with Trace Effects
  • Webinar 7: Trace Effects and the TESOL Standards
  • Webinar 8: Incorporating Trace Effects Teacher's Manual Activities into Lesson Plans
More information is available

This post will likely be updated as we learn more, so stay tuned. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seeking QIS

In November 2012 I started a blog for teachers at KBZAC at Posterous.  My purpose in creating this post was to show some interesting affordances of Posterous.  However, as of April 30 Posterous ceases to be.  So I moved the post to Blogger, but have lost the affordances.

What Posterous did really well, was when used in conjunction with Jing. Jing gives you the option of capturing screenshots and videos and sharing them online.  This gives each a URL.  When you type this URL into a Posterous blog it displays the image which the link points to.  This cuts out many steps in creating tutorials.
Formerly the steps might go like this: use PrintScreen to capture.  Paste that to PAINT.  Save that as a JPG on your computer.  Open a web space (like Posterous). Insert the JPG where you want it to go.

Many steps can be cut out with other screen capture software like Snaggit or Windows' own Snipping Tool.  Some of these may or may not allow you to annotate the capture (Jing allows that). Normally these other software tools save directly to computer, cutting out the paste-to-PAINT step. But they do not normally provide a one-click URL that Posterous can read as an image.

In the Posterous post, all the images at the URLs listed here displayed.  In this post they will display if you click on the links, or if I click on the links and use save image as to get them on my computer, and then load them into this blog post.  This is probably not worth doing since this exercises was never followed up on, and I am only saving the post here to avoid losing it entirely when Posterous closes down.

The report below is as far as I got with the process in Nov 2012. This is what we were looking for, the QIS site on the HCT Portal

We tried this:

When we clicked on that we got a Server Error

When we find out how to do this correctly, we can use this technique, and perhaps some of what we have here already to create accurate tutorials.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

YouTube and ProProfs: Can we reach students where they live online?

If you take this quiz it will send your responses to Vance's ProProfs account.

I consider my work to be OER (open educational resources) and if you think this might be useful you are welcome to copy it or any part of it to your own ProProf's account, or leave a comment regarding any other online tool that you think will do the job equally well or better.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Learning Vocabulary in an Independent Learning Center

I'm tasked today with thinking how ILC ( Independent Learning Center) activities can be developed to improve reading skills.  The textbook Reading Explorer is being used with the students we are teaching, and the text itself appears authentic, based as it is on National Geographic articles and pictures.  Certainly many readers of this blog will relate to childhoods growing up in anticipation of the newest National Geographic to appear in the mailbox, to be paged through by kids first for the provocative photos, and if interest was sufficiently piqued, for background reading of the text.  Many of this generation have boxes of old National Geographics stored in an attic somewhere, and with all the moving house my wife and I have done, our National Geographics have followed us.

One of the great attractions of living in the UAE is relative ease of travel in the region and farther afield.  The geographic orientation of Reading Explorer should play nicely on this propensity of Emiratis and expats alike to travel.  I can imagine using Google Earth and Google maps to have students plan trips to some of the places mentioned in the readings.  What if  you wanted to visit Machu Pichu, or Orangatuns in Borneo, or the caves in Oman (whose counterpart cave chambers can also be reached in Mulu just south of Brunai in Borneo)?  Google Earth will fly you there, and there are innumerable web resources to help students envisage travel to any part of the world.  Each section in Reading Explorer could have a different student give a presentation on a real or imagined trip.  An ebook could be created in one of any number of spaces online, to be utilized and improved on by current and subsequent students.

Should IELTS be taught with or without activating schema?

In my last posting, I would sometimes get into discussions with colleagues whether when teaching IELTS preparation it was best to try and replicate the experience for students or to stimulate their schemas beforehand.  The colleagues with whom I would have this discussion would hit their students with a reading out of the blue, have them take the practice tests on topics in which they might have little interest and which were often beyond their comprehension, and rely for support on a lesson on debriefing at the end what went wrong.  My approach was different.  I would spend a class in advance in which we would Google the topic and find information and then have them take the test, with subsequent debrief.  I was told that by interjecting prior knowledge and understanding of the topic, I was compromising the experience with an opportunity that the students wouldn't actually be given to prepare the material in advance.  I felt that at the preparation stage this would help the students to better envisage the task even if they would have to leave that step out when they actually took the test.

Besides activating all available schema on reading topics, I think it is important that students read not only what they are assigned to read, but also that they read for enjoyment, out of their own interest.

Task-based work in ILC and student accountability for independent learning there

For students to work on their own interests in an ILC setting, each student must be accountable for making progress toward the agreed upon goal. What I am picturing here is a program in the ILC where students are responsible for ticking off items in their portfolio.  That is each student must submit certain deliverables and budget time in the ILC accordingly.  The process starts with all students signing a EULA, or end-user license agreement, wherein all parties agree to what is acceptable behavior in an ILC and where the line is for unacceptable behavior.  This agreement would acknowledge for all concerned the reason that the ILC has been established for the students, and give the parameters they must meet in order to maintain their privilege of using it.

After that, we specify various categories of deliverables the students are expected to produce.  This would be agreed-upon evidence of performance in areas such as:

  • Project work; for example given a set of readings for a term, students are assigned to one location which they must explain to the others, how they would reach there, what they would find on arrival (attractions besides the ones described in the book). Ideally students would make their presentations at the outset of the KWL approach to the reading for that unit, the K part, or prior knowledge or schema part).
  • Completion of activities associated with the reading that should be set by the teachers of a course for the given readings; this could involved work with online exercises, or critiques of films associate with the readings, or with recommendations and critiques of supplementary multimodal artifacts online, such as YouTube videos, or other visualizations of the material.
  • Evidence of free-reading, such as book reports, exercises completed on graded readers; e.g. evidence of reading on a vocational topic, either publications in print or online.

Learning vocabulary through text analysis

Vocabulary is an important focus of Reading Explorer. Specifically, this entails work with word links (roots, prefixes, and suffixes), partnerships (collocations and phrases), and usage.

One important aspect of vocabulary development is student ownership of the words, and for this reason, students are encouraged to keep lists of new words they encounter with examples of word links, partnership, and usage.  I used to share ideas, and an office in Oman, with Tom Cobb who was working at the time on sets of hypercard stacks that he eventually developed into the Compleat Lexical Tutor ( This is a comprehensive set of word exploration tools that can enable student learning through exploration of the aforementioned features and interrelationships among words.

Tom and I were working at the time with concordancing in the SRC (student resource center) at SQU (Sultan Qaboos University) in Muscat.  I developed a technique which I suggested as a replacement to gap fills whereby bundles of 4 or 5 instances of concordance output were presented for a set of words, and in each bundle the word concordanced was blanked.  The task for students was, rather than find the word from the list that fit any given blank in a passage of continuous prose, find the word from the list that fit the 4 or 5 contexts in each bundle.  I argued through research that this was a more doable and authentic task for students than gap fill exercises sometimes quickly contrived by language teachers to help students with vocabulary (Stevens, 1991).

Learning vocabulary through experimentation with concordancing

KWIC concordances can be used to identify collocations.  KWIC means 'key word in context'.  It's the kind of concordance output that can be sorted so that words left or right of the 'key word' (i.e. word or string being concordanced) can be sorted on and identified. Sometimes much can be learned from playing with this feature, but this can also be limited by the corpus of text used.

It is possible to purchase concordance programs and to either tap into existing corpora or to accumulate one's own.  Brown and LOB are two well-known corpora of over a million words each; whereas the more specific the corpus is, the fewer words, and the more limited its output.  For example, at SQU we in the language department requested and accumulated texts being written by science professors for our students.  Although this work predated the open movement, as in OER (open educatational resources) we did 'share' materials, and I was surprised to hear Michael Barlow reference our corpus in a presentation he gave on text analysis at a TESOL conference only a few years ago.  This relatively limited text base allowed us to create language learning materials for our students, and also produced some surprises, such as where a word that might be introduced in a subject matter text as being important, in fact appeared only once in the entire corpus.

Here is a sampling of corpora available through Tom Cobb's Compleat Lexical Tutor:

There has been a lot written and researched on using concordancing in ESOL.  Nik Peachey has an article online, for example (2005). I have a page on text analysis that I have not maintained all that strongly (, last updated in 2007), but I have accumulated more recent links in my Delicious account, here:   

My Delicious links point to PIE ( which searches the BNC (British National Corpus of over 100 million words).  PIE pulls random hits from the BNC and displays them in the context in which they appear. This gives a good overview of word usage, but because this is not KWIC it is not possible to easily find productive collocations. There are other tools available for querying BNC, available from, and pointed to via the UCREL site here:

Just the Word ( is such a tool, and appears utilitarian in that it pulls out many collocations in its primary analysis (there is even a tool here to view the results in Wordle).  For example, here are an analysis of collocations on the word "familiar" and an alternative visualization in Wordle:

In these examples I'm wondering what happened to the expected "familiar with" but we might have to learn more about how the "clusters" work.  There is also a cousin to Wordle available online, possibly worth checking for any useful affordances: Concordle,

There are also concordance programs that can be downloaded for free and run locally.  One is Laurence Anthony's AntConc ( and another is TextSTAT (Simple Text Analysis Tool) from the Frei Universitat Berlin,  Both of these programs come as exe files that run as-is, without installation on users' computers.  The big catch is that both require users to provide their own corpora.  TextSTAT allows users to pull one in off the Internet.  Note in the screen shot that you have the option to send the spider out for text on just one page, or several pages (I think this means from one or more levels of hyperlinks), or from the entire domain or server.  This could result in quite a lot of text if not used judiciously (although in the end, lots of relevant text is what you want).

What to do about "the big catch" - assembling or finding a corpus

One obvious source of text is the Internet itself. Yet another online concordancer with big promises in this regard is, which "lets you access the Web as a corpus - a large collection of texts from which examples of real language use can be extracted."  Inputting my test strings 'familar' and 'extreme' here produced surprisingly no results (I even tried the word Google using a Google dbase, no hits).  However, I had better luck when I signed up (free) to use the Webcorp linguists tool at Still I didn't see how to sort the output for 'familiar' on collocates to the right, but the pattern 'familiar with' at least appeared to dominate the results.

On the other hand I found Mark Davies's collections of corpora assembled at BYU,  You chose a corpus, enter it, and the put in your search term, and it extracts the data.  Again I was unable to sort for collocates on the "familiar" search term, but the databases available seem extensive here.

Where to from here?

I found more programs available; e.g.
I was looking today for an ideal tool that would be freely available online, either web based or running from exe files on a local computer, but that would point to a ready-made corpus, or one compiled at a click from Web URLs, AND that would do some of the common text analysis features of commercial programs, most usefully giving simple searches alphabetically on words immediately left and right of the KWIC.   I found a number of candidates meeting one or more of these criteria, but no one-stop shop for what I was looking for.

When I get more time I might look more closely at 
  • - there might be a tool in there close to what I am looking for
  • TextSTAT, to see how it compiles corpora from Web resources
  •  Mark Davies's collection of resources at BYU,


Peachey, Nik. (2005). Concordancers in ELT. British Council BBC Teaching English.  Available:

Stevens, Vance. (1991). Concordance-based vocabulary exercises: A viable alternative to gap-fillers. In Johns, Tim, and Philip King (Eds.). English Language Research Journal, Vol. 4, University of Birmingham, pp. 47-61. Available:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Online tools for creating engaging activities for students

Someone asked on a list I follow if there were more updated tools for creating activities for learners online apart from old standby programs like Quia and Hot Potatoes.  From this posting there ensued a lively discussion, pointing to some creative online possibilities. This posting has evolved from the original discussion but those evolutions have been fed back to the original thread.

Compiling this list of tools was only the first step.  Now I am in the process of trying out and evaluating these tools.  One particular need we have in our context is to find tools that will feed back to teachers what the students are doing during class-time in ILC and one-to-one (each student has a laptop or iPad) environments.  As I identify such tools, I'm bringing them to the top of the listing below (some of the other tools might do this, we just haven't identified them yet).

Quiz, exercise, and polling tools that provide feedback to teachers

LearnClick - recommended by Nik Peachey and Larry Ferlazzo, the free trial is for only 7 days, it's $15 a year if you want to just make quizzes, and a pro subscription only a whopping $25 to get the basic features plus ability to collect statistics and grades.  The site is plain, but it's easy to create quizzes here, and if you want feedback on your students, LearnClick will generate user names and passwords for them (doesn't need their emails), you can assign them to take your assessments, and you'll get a report back something like this:

LearningClick lets you make multiple choice quizzes or polls, as well as gapped exercises that work off texts that you supply.

Socrative - allows teachers to create quizzes and polls which students can answer at their own computers and mobile devices (see review,  The teacher logs on to the site and opens a room which has a number.  The students visit the student interface and put in the number, then JOIN the room. 

At his or her end the teacher activates exercises which the students can take.  Students are asked their names and a report with those names is emailed to the teacher when the teacher requests it, in the form of an Excel (or Google Docs) spreadsheet.


This one looks promising, at

Here's the catch:

ProProfs - The site has been reviewed by Mike Marzio on his Real English blog: He says in his comment (below) that "this site has it all" so certainly worth checking out ...

Here is a quiz created in ProProfs (go ahead, try it out):

On completion, students are awarded certificates, which can be printed or downloaded in PDF format and emailed to the teacher:

But the teacher also gets a report (available via login to the site) that looks like this:

A serious caveat: So that's why the call it PRO profs
This just in from the ProProfs team, free version not very useful for classes larger than 10

And it gets worse ...

Tools that will create exercises based on texts supplied

Textivate - creates a large variety of text-manipulation exercises from texts you provide. The site is free and allows uploads of texts that can be stored and tagged on the site, then shared via a URL such as this one:

Textivate is made by a company that created Task Magic, which seems to be the site's money spinner: This site allows creation of a range of exercises via a tool that you must install to your computer.  You can run it on a 1-month trial and after that prices range from $185 single user to $335 for ten users, and almost $600 for a school site license, so not in everyone's budget.


Lets you create numerous kinds of simple exercises and share them and access those of others at Activities include apps for making

  • matching pairs and matching pairs on images
  • matching grid and matrix
  • pair game
  • number line
  • sequence and order
  • cloze test
  • crossword
  • fill table
  • hangman
  • quiz with text input
  • guess
  • horse racing
  • multi-user quiz
  • order challenge
  • where is what?
  • App matrix
  • Audio / video with notices
  • collaborative calendar
  • chat for your website
  • Mindmap
  • Notebook
  • Pinboard 
  • Etherpad
This was recommended by colleagues at BaW (Becoming a Webhead).  They list other computer-based exercise creation tools here:

  • LearnClick, mentioned above
  • Triptico, suggested by Phil Oxtoby, has some activities where you supply text. From its web site at, "Triptico's desktop app contains over twenty interactive, fully-customisable resources for you to use in your classroom... and it's completely free!"
  • Phil O also uses Dragster from Dragster 2 is free though you have to register with the site to store your resources and download the tool to your computer to create them.

Tools we have yet to evaluate
  • - Just adding items at the top here
  • is free, unless you want the plus version for only $15 a year.  Either version will let you use Flickr photos but the basic version only allows you to have 8 classes.  The Plus version allows unlimited classes, and you can upload any images you want.  Teachers provide paired items in the form of pictures or text, or combinations of one or both, and the site provides learning tools ranging from flashcards to regurgitation exercises, plus some games to help reinforce the associated pairs.
  • - variety of activities provided (Interactive Map, Riddle, Fill in the blanks, Crossword, Dialogue,Dictation, Jumble Word, Jumble Sentence, Matching, Word Search Puzzle, Quiz and Collection (mash up). You can add images and sound to some of the activities.), free, easy to use and embeddable.  I'm not finding it as user friendly as some of the other sites but I'll keep working on it.
  • -  lots of templates to create new applications, e.g.multiple-choice-quiz, word grid, matching pairs, find correct order, sequence and order, cloze test, crossword etc. You can add audio or video, too, e.g. a YouTube video.The exercises are embeddable and you even get a QR-code.
  • - If you mouse over the list of Templates you get a little visual preview of what they look like. Post-It is very visually oriented, so it's different from the usual quiz or flashcard set. Dustbin is cute, but the Arcade Game Generator lets you input one set of prompts/answers to generate 5 different games. These are all pretty much on the word/vocab level, but they are different kinds of activities.
  • - Input one set of questions and answers, and create a whole batch of interactive, arcade-style games. Save them for use in the class, embed them in your blog/website/wiki! 
  • - The tools can be used in many different ways: for in-class activities, student projects, homework, or assessment. Because they are tools, not completed materials, they will work with your textbook, language, and level. RIA is a way to help you easily integrate technology into your language class. The programs, shown below, are free and work in your browser:

In the course of this discussion, this interesting site was mentioned, showing how a number of teachers are putting their lessons on video to tackle an amazing range of classroom grammar and vocabulary issues.

And finally, this Prezi was created by a colleague Lawan Dalha in Nigeria to present the affordances of the site

And once the technology is in place, what can you do with it?
In her blog at, Barbara Sakomoto writes about what others do with technology in teaching young people, but some activities apply to any level of students, such as the listening and speaking activities suggested by Juan Uribe in this post:

Finally, don't forget games!
There is a later post in this blog about Trace Effects and Where Gaming Meets Pedagogy

And many sites like this one from Fractus Learning, 5 Fun Online Games that Disguise Important Lessons By Laura Bates, Published January 16, 2013

This post introduces 5 games
  • Immune attack "An incredibly exciting and addictive game from the Federation of American Scientists"
  • Logic Puzzles "teaches students to use logic and reason to solve a problem about a mix up with pet adoption ... A particularly useful feature of the site for teachers is that the puzzles can be printed off as worksheets, making them a great classroom activity whether computers are available or not."
  • World Landmarks Puzzles "turns famous landmarks from around the world into jigsaw puzzles"
  • English Memory teaches "important linguistic constructs such as synonyms, antonyms and homonyms, as the game requires them to match words that mean the same as, or opposite of one another"
  • Element Groups for play with "the properties and groups of elements in the periodic table" 
And there are more here: 

help students make their own games using some of these coding tools suitable for kids and for adults who still think they are kids: Scratch, Alice, Hackety Hack, Code Academy, OpenClassroom, Code School, and for programming apps on the iPod, Codea.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Extemporaneous PD - Google Docs and PBWikis

On Oct 22, 2012 I met with most of the teachers at KBZ in plenary, my first opportunity to meet with them and explain to them what we were implementing with Google Docs since I arrived here in September.

Google Docs

I explained why we were using Google Docs and addressed privacy and security vis a vis Google's strong commitment to education on the Google system of services.  I explained that Google Docs or Google Drive were the same, and that there was an old classical (easy to use) interface that one could revert to, or use the new interface, which was not as intuitive.  I showed teachers how to revert to the classic look in Google Drive if they wished,

I explained how they can organize their folders (Google calls them 'collections). I showed them how they can apply filters.  For example HOME is the default filter, but you can filter on any folder, or remove all filters, and the last file changed should be the first to appear in you list, and anything that has been changed since you last opened it will be in bold.  Also, you can file your docs in collections (folders, remember?) and then right click on any file and select Don't Show in Home (this prevents it from showing in two places at once, HOME and the place you filed it). Once you've taken control of filing this is a great feature.

One problem was that the new interface is asking teachers to download the app which synchs Google Docs (Drive) on the computer you download the app to (not something you want to do in the ILC; but on your laptop, why not?).  This in theory backs up your Google Docs to your personal PC and then synchronizes them after that.

I showed how we are committing two of our KBZ files to Google Docs, the KBZ schedule and the ILC schedule with activities entered.  I showed how the files are shared with teachers (editing allowed, or view only) and how teachers with editing rights (our normal sharing method) can share files with each other and newcomers.

For example there is a third document, the KBZAC Share list, where teachers can find each other's Gmail addresses.  There is a graphic there to explain how they can copy the list of addresses and paste them in a share field to make their documents available to everyone.  Since all teachers have edit rights over this doc they can also share it with other teachers who might have just arrived or somehow been left off the share list. They can also share any other doc to which they have been given editing rights with any other teacher who might need access to that document (no need to put in a request to an administrator for permission to all so and so to view a document).  The KBZAC Share List of all teacher Gmail addresses is here:

The other two documents in question will open for you if  you are logged on to Google and if they have been shared with you.  Test these two conditions here:

More about Google Drive

In November, Google made the new Google Drive view mandatory.  Before that, many of us were reverting to the old Google Docs view.  Consequently, I experimented and learned the following:

Downloading Google Drive to your PC

If you enter in a browser when you are not connected to the Internet, it directs you to the Google Drive mirror on your own PC.  You can open docs and work on them normally, but you are informed that you are working offline.
When you later connect that computer to the Internet, it synchronizes that computer with your Google Drive mirror in the cloud.  I presume it keeps the latest version there (so if you work on that document on a connected computer at a later date, it probably ignores your earlier changes, or maybe it asks you which version you want to synch; I haven’t encountered this yet so I don’t know how it works).

This is a recommended way to work with Google Drive.  Obviously this keeps backups of your cloud service in local storage, so it is to your advantage to install it on devices which are private to you.  DO NOT install it on devices which others might have access to.


I showed everyone where the help documents I created for students are kept in the Google Docs tab at the Toolkit4Learning blog (i.e. the blog you are most likely viewing now, note the tabs at the top).  Here you can find helpful screenshots showing how to force Google into English, create documents, rename them, etc. This blog and tab are here (scroll to the bottom for the screencaptures):

To get there I had to remember where it was.  I myself, the creator of this blog, cannot off the top of my head recall its name on demand.  Fortunately there is another entry which links back to this one, where I track teacher performance on the PD sessions started in September in much the same way as I model for my classes.  This one is easier to recall:

One of the next goals of this PD effort would have been to model for teachers how such sites can be created for students.
At you can see exactly what I am doing with the 43 class Academic Communication students (and the students in those classes can too). In the sidebar you can see materials I have created when I am 'covering' classes on an ad hoc basis at KBZAC.  These sets of materials in general incorporate websites which can be adapted to language learning (in this case Prezi and Samorost). Here you can find sreenshots made with, download handouts I've given students (in Word), and interract with vocabulary follow-up exercises created either at or (the latter is free; the former is $25 a year for the person creating the exercises; free for students of course).

To wind up the PD session I showed where these two sets of materials are located online. To find them, you can go to and look in the sidebar for Games and Prezi.  The links you want are, obviously, Samorost under games, and Getting Started with Prezi.  Here are the direct links:
Prezi is a creative online presentation tool that students like to use, and the Samorost is one of many games available online where players have created walkthroughs (also called cheats, or spoilers) to help other players with the game.  When the game is played in conjunction with its walkthrough, there accrue opportunities for practice in reading, writing, speaking, and vocabulary.

There were two more tools that came up in questions.  The first tool is useful in case you create a very long URL - say, a Google Doc which you make available to 'anyone with the link' and then change its settings so that anyone with the link can edit it. This DOC will have an unwieldy URL but you might want all your students to visit it so they can write on it collaboratively.  You can create a shorter URL at and tell your students to visit the shorter URL, and this will take them to the long unwieldy one.

A second tool I use in the ILC is to create a backchannel room in and have my students visit that.  For example I created one at  When my students are in the ILC creating Prezis, they can visit their Today's Meet space and put the links to those Prezis in the chat and I can easily transfer their Prezi links to the wiki where everyone can see what the students have created.  Later, we can also use this link in class for them to present their Prezis to the class by clicking on the links on this page.

This was a F.U.N. and informative session and I hope everyone enjoyed it and learned something they didn't know before.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shownotes for Web 2.0 toolkit for presentation skills

For HCT EdTech lounge events please visit 

The event was here:
The recording is being searched for, hopefully will be found

On October 14, 2012, Vance Stevens presented an hour long mini-workshop entitled "Web 2.0 toolkit for teaching and learning academic presentation skills" as a part of the online series of professional development webinars organized by the EdTech Lounge, an initiative of the EdTech Innovation Centre, Higher Colleges of Technology UAE. 

More details

Summary of the EdTech Lounge presentation:
The presenter recently developed an academic communication course for students at the UAE Naval College, where there are serious challenges in gaining and holding students’ attention and keeping them on task, compounded by the fact that each student has a laptop and is easily distracted. The solution was to utilize the laptops through designing a task-based course that introduced a series of Web 2.0 tools which the students would have to familiarize themselves with and then apply in some aspect of the communications skills they were learning. Participants in the session may have already encountered the tools used (e.g. Google Docs, Prezi, Survey Monkey, Jing, Blogger, so the presentation will emphasize how the tools were used to underpin a coherent course incorporating elements such as mindmapping, creating viable surveys,  harvesting and analyzing results, capturing screen shots, making effective presentations both in Prezi and PowerPoint, keeping a reflective blog, and documenting the semester’s accomplishments in simple ePortfolios. The presenter will briefly discuss results of action research on student attitudes to the course, using data from a survey created to model the technique to students, and from their reflective blog posts.

This is where people were told to start (this page):

The event was staged as a weekly event on Learning2gether,
Archived here:

These are the shownotes for the presentation

  • Naval college: each student has laptop
  • Aviation college: ILC setting, students come just 2-3 times a week
  • attitudes
  • language skills
Course organization
We looked at the tools in tabs at

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where we've reached at the end of week 1

After a 4 days of professional development at KBZ, we pause to have a look at where we have reached.

Stats on this blog show that someone has been looking at it every day, presumably fewer people than indicated, visiting the blog more than once in a day.

As you know, this course has been mounted organically over the past week, as in effect many courses we are called upon to teach are.  When challenged with having to create courses and give them coherence in a very short time frame, my approach is to call into play a number of digital tools that have happily emerged over the past decade.  I call this approach DIYLMS, or do-it-yourself learning management system.  I gave talks on this approach at a number of conferences last year, including the TESOL Conference in Dubai, and documented what I developed here:

Accordingly, I started out with this blog and arrayed several tabs at the top (called "pages" in Blogger) which would invite users to explore various facets of the course. I got participants into the Google system so that we could be working with shared Google Docs. I documented what we did each day in a wiki I created at, and as the course progressed day-by-day I created a table of contents there for easier navigation on the Front Page, and a sidebar to provide quick links to some of the artifacts we have placed online. For example, you can use the sidebar there to go to any of the Google Docs we have created for the course (handy to have a listing in one place) and you can see as participants create Prezi's and blogs, what the links are.

When I do this with students, they learn gradually what my system is, and their feedback suggests that they are able to adapt to it to predict where course components will be, and they appreciate having the clarity of being able to find what is expected of them online.  They have also mentioned in their postings that it's useful to see what other classmates have produced, both as models and as an indication of the standards expected.

What we need to do today

Student Google accounts

If you want to get your students into the Google Doc system, you'll have to help them create Google accounts.  Today would be a good day to do that because in addition to providing their age (to show they aren't children) and alternate email address (for password recovery) they might have to provide a mobile phone number where a verification code can be sent. If you have them set this up today, then they can get the code at the weekend, and return Sunday to complete account creation.

Update the progress chart

For your own continued PD, please bring this form up to date so we can see how far along everyone is in the 20 steps, and know how to pace ourselves for the coming week:

Bring yourself up to speed with Prezi

I have noticed that Trevor was teaching his students Prezi and Darrin and Rene appear to have had prior experience with it.  Viviana, Kevin, and Phillip J have been gamely coming to grips with it.  If you need a boost I have made a start on materials that I hope will help you and your students master Prezi. Have a look:

Start your blog

When you've created a Prezi and started a blog, enter their URLs on the Google Doc worksheet here:

On that worksheet you will find screen shots, made with Jing, that explain what URLs you should report, and what you need to supply as a TITLE for your blog, and how its address will look.  If you need help with this, you can ask Kevin, Rene, or Viviana, who have all gone through the process.

Get Jing

Jing is useful tool, as you have probably noticed.  You can download it from

Create an account at PBWorks

If you think you might like to set up your own wiki course one day, the first step is to create an account at

Be thinking about your surveys

Next week we'll get into and create and present surveys (report results last period next Thursday?). The process of survey creation is worth going through because there are many pitfalls at discreet points which you'll need to be aware of in order to get your students through them.  I have students prepare their ideas in Google Docs, which is why I asked you to sketch your idea for a survey in a Google Doc and share it with at least one other person for feedback.

I notice that no one has taken that step this week, but it is an important part of the process you might wish to experience before you try it on students, so if you are caught up through half the steps so far, then this is the next one you might consider.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Giving some thought to gaming

Yesterday I was invited to teach a class on short notice and so I set something up as quickly as I could.  While I was doing that the class went off and no other returned, but this gave me the opportunity to think through and further prepare my idea, which is now ready to trial.

This idea stems from the work of Graham Stanley and Kyle Mawer who co-author the blog Graham developed a presentation on genre of games he was exploring through his work at the British Council and blogged it here If you're interested in using games with your students, then these blogs are both worth exploring.

One of the games mentioned at the latter link is Samorost. This is not a free game but several levels of Samorost 2 are available for free online <>.  The most beneficial thing about these games for language learners is that there are often cheats or spoilers developed by others who have played the game that will walk you through them, in the case of Samorost 2, someone has helpfully created

I came up with an activity that would exploit these two items using another tool worth knowing, Etherpad.  Etherpad was a company that created a workspace which many people could visit without logon and write in the same space in real time.  The company was acquired by Google but the software had been open source, and the code therefore exists online in a number of places.  If you Google 'etherpad clones' you can find many of them; for example those listed here: However, not all clones are cloned equally.  Some limit the number of simultaneous users, and they vary in their quality of hosting.  The one I'm using now is a Mozilla version,

For your students, if we get a chance to try this, I've set up a number of Etherpad spaces and given them TinyURLs so we can remember where they are (this is another tool you should know about,  To reach them you start here:

There you will find the rules for a writing activity based on the game, also given at Several Etherpad spaces were set up for students to write in.  As I had time to prepare the spaces (open an etherpad, copy/paste seed material into it, give it a tinyURL) I was able to set up several spaces where your students can divide into teams so each team can go to the same space as a small group.  The spaces have time sliders and save points so when someone in the group eradicates what everyone else has done, prior work can be recovered.  This is more easily done in small groups than in large ones. If the students act responsibly then they will figure out how to avoid wiping out all of what is there.  Like riding a bike, it's a little wobbly at first.

I'll be in the ILC today and if you'd like to try this on students then this is what we'll do ...

  • This is a game your students can play in teams of 4 or 5 students, each at a computer
  • One student opens the instructions, another the game, the others the links to the SAME version of the Writing space
  • Then they follow instructions.  Be sure you assign the teams numbers and make sure they work in that team document.
  • The object of the exercise is to collaboratively produce a written description of what happened in Poklop
    • The description is created in a document they can all write on at one, like Google Docs
    • In case of need, there is disaster recovery.  On your computer, click SAVE often so you'll have a point to get back to. 
  • If they like it, and want to continue, we can set up the next level for them

This kind of activity would be better done in Google Docs.  Etherpad lets multiple users write in the same space, which can be useful, but users have little accountability there.  Unless all users of the space conduct themselves responsibly, activities there can be sabotaged (they can be recovered, but this is inconvenient in the middle of a class activity).  A better way to do this would be to have one student start a Google Doc and share it with the others.  Then each user of the space is known and accountable.  If a mistake is inadvertently made, the space can be easily reverted to the input of the last viable user. Things work more smoothly and professionally if users share with other known users.  Accidents and deliberate sabotage are much less likely and recovery to the last tenable position is a mouse-click away.

Tomorrow, Thu, the goal will be to get your students signed up at Google.  They can give their mobile phone numbers.  Over the weekend, they can get the confirmation code Google sends instantly from their mobile phones and on Sunday complete the process of registering their Google accounts.

Heading out to KBZ now, see you there ...