No document camera? No problem! Use your smartphone, Dropbox, and PicMonkey to do even more!

Image courtesy of Cushing Library Holy Names University

Image courtesy of Cushing Library Holy Names University

One of the tools I use quite a bit in my English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classroom is a document camera. While I tend to use a lot of computer based tools, it is still easier (and in some ways better) to have students work in pairs and groups on writing projects with pens and paper. This allows the entire group to be active during the writing time instead of staring at their screens or letting one person do all of the typing. Also, I find it helps me see what problems they have with their writing since they aren’t relying on autocorrect or spell checking. Lastly, it also allows for a level of creativity that you don’t normally see when they are using the computer. I know, I know. It is possible with tablets and apps, but I am dealing with a situation where things are not equal with the students in regards to technology, so this allows for a level playing field.

When talking with teachers who are limited in their technology resources, such as not having a document camera, I try to find alternatives that do basically the same thing without the expenditure of another tool to buy. In the case of the document camera, I have used my smartphone plus Dropbox and PicMonkey to do something that even adds to the experience. Here is how it works:

  • Students work on their projects with coloured pens and white paper. I tend to use markers instead of pens and pencils for many reasons, mainly it is easy for others to read.

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  • Once they are done, I take a photo with my smartphone of the project. On my phone, I have installed the Dropbox app and have the settings set to automatically upload images to my Dropbox account. For those not familiar with Dropbox, this is a ‘cloud-based’ storage site that synchronizes whatever you put in there with all of your devices. Example: I have Dropbox installed on my Macbook, by Android phone, my Windows 8 laptop, and my iPad. When I put a file in my Dropbox folder on any of those devices, it automatically copies that file to Dropbox’s online storage site which then sends a copy to my other devices. Therefore, I don’t have to use a USB drive to copy my files between my devices and, in this case, I can use it to store photos from my smartphone and have those photos automatically appear on my computers as well.

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  • After taking photos of all of the paper-based projects my students have been working on, I go the computer hooked up to the projector at the front of the class and I go to the PicMonkey editor which does not require an account to use. From there, I open my Dropbox folder (after giving PicMonkey permission. This only has to be done once) and open the photos I just took with my smartphone. With PicMonkey, I can edit the photos (brighten, crop, zoom in, etc.) and I can also annotate them (type in titles, add arrows, etc.) on the projected screen while the students give me their feedback as a class.

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  • Once I am done with each photo, I can then download it to my computer or I can save the edited version back on Dropbox. I normally choose Dropbox since I can then get a link to the photo to post for our class on Edmodo. If I don’t, I will save it to the computer and then upload it to Edmodo. Either way, the students have access to the edited/annotated image for later.
  • If this sounds really complicated, it isn’t. Do it once and you will find it is very quick and streamlined. Students like to be able to access all of the projects, not just their own and it allows from a lot more discussion in class. The only thing you have to sign up for is a Dropbox account. You can do that here for 2.5GBs of free storage.

If you use this idea, post a comment below and let me and others know how it worked (or didn’t work) for you and what you used it for. Share your ideas! Thanks.

Options for registering for sites without using your personal email

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee

Image courtesy of Sean MacEntee

One of the things I talk about a good deal on this site as well as in presentations I give about using online tools in the classroom is the idea of using registration free websites. This is great if there is a decent option available, but this isn’t always that case. This can be a real problem for teachers who are asking their students to use their personal email or social media accounts to sign up for online tools. In Canada, this may also become a legal problem in certain situations with the various national and provincial privacy laws in place. Because of this, I have had to use various workarounds to obtain access to certain sites, including fake and temporary email addresses.

Here are few options you can use if you find yourself in need of registering for websites that need an email address:
  • Enter your own fake email address: This works well for certain sites that only use your email if you forget your password. If you don’t need to get an email from the site to use their services (i.e verification), this works best. I have one standard email address I use in these situations. That way if I need to sign in with the email address again, I won’t forget it.
  • Use the Gmail+ trick: This works for many sites if you already have a gmail account. I have a class Gmail account I use for my students and I just add + and then a number or a word afterward to create a new address for each student. Example: if my gmail address was, I could create unlimited email addresses that send the mail to that account by adding + after the word fake and then a number of word (e.g. Note: all + email addresses still go to the original email address, so if you need to reply to that address for verification, the owner of that account will need to finish the process. In this case, I am the owner of my class account, so I need to verify each of the student’s registrations. Not perfect, but certainly workable.
  • Use a temporary email address site: This also works fairly well, but some of these sites only forward to your email address which means you are giving them your email address which is what we are trying to avoid. Here are some sites that do not require you to give your email address:
    • Fakeinbox: Click on the ‘Create random email address’ and you will get a temporary (an hour, but can be lengthened by 1 hour increments) email address and inbox. Note: there is an ad that appears in on the page, although I haven’t seen any nasty ones so far.
    • Temp-Mail: This is my favourite since I haven’t seen any ads and it is very clean and easy to use. There are even options to create your own email address and have longer periods of time. If I choose a temporary email address option, it is this one.
  • Use your own email domain: If you really want to make things secure, you can purchase your own domain address and set up an email account. With most hosts, you can create many email accounts under that domain. For my email domain host, I can create up to 100 different accounts. I can delete those at any time which creates room for more. I could create accounts for each student and then delete them once the course is over.
  • Have a class email: You could create a set of email addresses, enough for everyone in the class. This would mean the teacher would have to register a class set of email addresses, but then those could be recycled over a period of time. Not a great solution, but it works.
  • Have one login for a site: Some websites allow multiple people log in with the same username and password. Some sites don’t care if 10, 20, or even more are logged in at the same time with the same login information. You have to test those out before to see what sites are okay with that and what ones kick you out.
I hope that helps. If you have any other suggestions, let me know. Thanks!

Convert scanned words into editable text using Google Drive


Image courtesy of Wikimedia

In my class today, I wanted students to work through a transcript of a lecture that they had listened to earlier. We had worked through some of the content and comprehension material, but now I wanted to look at some of the language used throughout the speech. The problem was that the transcript was in very small text and was too long for me to retype. I wanted to have it both projected on the screen as well as printed out with larger spaces between the lines for highlighting and writing notes. To get around this problem, I used a trusty standby for me, Google Drive.

I am surprised how many people don’t know that you can convert scanned text into editable text using the built in text recognition feature of Google Drive. It works really well if the text is typed or written clearly. Here is how it works:

  1. Scan the text you would like to convert or take a really clear closeup photo of it.
  2. Go to Google Drive and log into your Google account.
  3. To make sure the upload settings are correct (this only needs to be done once), click on the gear symbol near the top-right corner of Google Drive, go down to ‘Upload settings’ and make sure there is a checkmark next to ‘Convert text from uploaded PDF and image files’. I also like to have Google ask me each time in case I am not uploading a text image. If you would like to do that, make sure there is a checkmark next to ‘Confirm settings before each upload’.
  4. Click on the up arrow next to the ‘Create’ button.
  5. Click on ‘Files’ and select the image you scanned.
  6. It may ask you something about the sharing preferences. Choose what works best for your situation.
  7. If you have asked Google to prompt you before each upload, check over the settings in the box that appears to make sure it still has the ‘Convert text from PDF and image files to Google documents’ selected and the language you would like it converted to is selected.
  8. Click on ‘Start upload’
  9. Once it is finished, you will see a new document appear in your Google documents. Click on it and it will open. The document will have the original image embedded in it along with the text. You can now copy and paste that text into a new document, presentation, etc.

I would suggest reading over the text carefully to make sure it didn’t make any mistakes, but usually it is really accurate.

I hope that helps!

An introductory guide to Padlet: Your free online multimedia bulletin board

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I am trying something new for my technology instructions. I mentioned in my previous post that I am going to try to make this site more accessible for those who don’t have a lot of experience with using technology in the classroom. I have added links to documents that have instructions that can be printed off for and given to those who may not visit this site. They can be found a the bottom of the post. Feel free to share those without having to give any credit. I just hope that they are helpful to those who may need a bit more help to getting started in using technology in the classroom. If you have any ideas or comments on how I can make this better for those who need it, please let me know. Thank you.

What is it?

  • Think of this as an online multimedia bulletin board. That means you can post messages, pictures, website links, documents, audio files, and videos on the virtual wall. These appear as message boxes that can be moved around the page. When you click on one of those items, they get larger so they are easier to read or see. The best part is, you can share it and have others add to it by posting their own items. This makes it a great place to collaborate and share.

Where do I begin?

  • There are two options here: register to keep track of all of your Padlet walls, or simply start creating a site without registering. If you keep using the same computer and don’t reset your browser, you should be able to keep editing your pages without registering. If you want to be safe, register first since it is free. Remember, you are the only one who needs to register, the students don’t need to register to use a wall you have created.
  • You can create a page by going to the Padlet home page and click on ‘Build a wall’. That’s it! You now have a blank wall ready to be used. Of course, there are plenty of options that you can use to make it better, but for simplicity sake, this is as easy as it gets.

What settings do I need to know to make it better?

  • Once your new Padlet wall appears, you will also see a yellow button that says “MODIFY WALL’. Click on that button and a new menu appears. I will go through all of the yellow menu items one by one so you can make changes that suit your needs.
    • Profile: This is where you can personalize the wall with a title and description along with a small picture. This information will appear on your wall in the top-left corner once you start typing in the boxes or click on an image. You can also add your own photo by click on the purple ‘Add’ button. This is a good place to give instructions on what you would like to use the page for.
    • Wallpaper: You can add a background image to your wall by choosing one of the options or adding your own. Wallpaper can be used to organize information such as adding an image that has columns or boxes.
    • Layout: There are two options on how you would like to see your information displayed: Freeform or Stream.
      • Freeform is the ‘pin it anywhere’ option that can look very cluttered if you get a lot of information, but it always for more free movement of ideas.
      • Stream is much like a blog in that the information that is added is put at the top until something else is added. It is very neat and tidy, but doesn’t allow for things like mindmap type of layouts.
    • Privacy: This has a number of options and is important when working with sensitive data such as a person’s personal information. Here are those options:
      • Private: This option allows you to limit the people who have access to your wall to those you invite via email. In order to use this function, you need to sign up for the free registration.
      • Password Protected: If you want to limit who can visit your wall without having to register, you can also always set a password. People who try to access this wall will then have to enter a password first.
      • Hidden link: This is the default option of a new wall. What this means is that no one can find your wall through a web search such as Google. They need to have the website address to visit. It isn’t a perfect way of keeping strangers out, but it works well for those who don’t want to use a password.
      • Totally Public: This is an open wall that can be found through search engines and anyone can visit.
      • Moderate Posts: This is the same as a public wall, but you are the gatekeeper. No posts will appear on the wall until you read them over first and give the thumbs up.
    • Notifications: If you register for the free account, you can ask Padlet to send you an email every time someone posts something on the wall.
    • Address
      • Pick a Padlet address: You can change the web address for your Padlet wall to something easier to remember. By default, Padlet chooses something random, but you can type in a word or combination of letters and numbers to customize your Padlet address. If the address is taken, it will tell you. If it is good, you can click on the ‘Pick’ button and it will change the web address to what you have chosen.
      • Pick a domain you already own: For this option, you need to own a domain (web) address. This is for those who know what that means.
    • You:  If you didn’t log in or sign up when you created the wall, you can do that here. This will allow you to make changes to the settings on the wall after 24 hours. People will still be able to add things to the wall, you just won’t be able to change backgrounds, passwords, etc. after 24 hours.
    • Delete: The name says it all. You can delete a wall using this option. Remember, you won’t be able to bring it back after you delete it.
  • There are also some other options along the black menu:
    • Home page: This takes you to the main Padlet home page.
    • Create a new wall: Click on this to create another wall.
    • Log in or sign up: Another place to log in or sign up for Padlet.
    • Share/Export
      • Share: You can share your Padlet wall on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Linkedin account.
      • Export: If you would like to save and print your wall, you can download it as a PDF. If you would like to save the data in a chart or for a data base, you can download as a Excel file or CSV.
      • Subscribe: This is an RSS feed. If you know what that means, this can be really useful for telling you when others have added something to the wall.
      • Email: This automatically starts an email for you within your email program so you can share the wall with someone.
      • Print: This will create a nice printable page in your web browser so you can print right now instead of downloading the PDF file.
      • Embed: There are two options here for putting a wall into another website. This is great if you have a class website and you want to make the Padlet wall a part of one of your webpages. The first option is for most websites and the second is if you have a self-hosted WordPress blog with the Wallwisher plug-in installed (level of difficulty: moderate).
      • Mobilize: This weird looking bar code is called a QR code that is often used on signs or other print material to make it easier for people with cell phones and tablets to go to your Padlet wall. Those people who have a QR code scanner installed on their mobile device, can just scan this code and they will be taken to your wall. You can download this image and paste it into a document to give to your students or you can project this code on your screen and the students can scan it from there.
    • Get more info: Simple statistics on your page.
    • Get help: Most of the information you need to create and use a Padlet wall.
    • Modify this wall: Takes you back to the yellow menu items.

How would I use it in the classroom?

  • There are so many ways you can use it. Here are some ideas of how I have used it in my classroom:
    • Brainstorming: I give each group their own Padlet wall so they can gather ideas together. It could be for a presentation or some other group project. This gives students the freedom to work on things together in class and then continue that work on their own at the library, at home, or even on the go with their phones or tablets.
    • Presentations: Instead of using PowerPoint or some other presentation software, students can use the display mode of Padlet to create a presentation using the items they posted on the wall. Click on the first item to start and use the arrow left or right to move to the next or previous item. To change the order that the items appear, you just need to put them in order on the wall first. In the ‘Freeform’ layout, Padlet will display the items in order from left to right. Move the items around to change the order in which they will be displayed in the presentation mode. In the ‘Stream’ layout, Padlet will read the order of the items from bottom to top. You can click and drag the items in the order you would like them to appear.
    • Blogging: You can have students share their writing or presentations on the Padlet wall and then use the ‘Stream’ layout in Padlet to view it in a blog format with the newest item posted at the top. Students can create their own blogs or you can have one page for the whole class to use together. You can also change the order by clicking and dragging them up and down.
    • Bookmarking: Have students share websites, documents, videos, or audio files based on a topic and then use the page as an online self-access learning centre. Students can share and find items on things such as reading or listening, making this an online library.
    • Calendar: Using the calendar wallpaper, you can post things for students to do on certain days. You could use it to post a video you would like students to watch before coming to class or a reading that is related to what you are going to be to talking about.
    • Introductions: This is something I saw being used in a presentation I just attended last week. People could post a note and then upload a photo of the themselves or use the webcam function to take a photo.
    • Reference pages: You can have a page related to something the students need to learn (vocabulary around a theme, grammar point, etc.) and then have students find real life examples to post on the page. This gives it context.
    • Visual dictionary: Put a theme up and then have students create or find pictures and videos of things related to that theme and post them along with the word making it a visual dictionary.
    • And more!

Printable instructions:

Starting fresh


Image courtesy of Seth Anderson

Last week, I had the privilege of giving a session at the annual TESL Ontario conference in Toronto. I had a good time and met a number of really great people. As I continue to give this sessions, webinars, or certificate programs, I am starting to realize the gap in what teachers want to achieve with their students using technology and the knowledge level some instructors have in using computers, mobile phones, and the like. Yes, there are some who don’t even want to try to discover what they can accomplish in collaboration with their students throughout the use of these devices, but I feel there is an overwhelmingly large group of educators who really want to do something more yet simply don’t know where to start.

Early 2012, I started to blog and speak about the use of technology as a collaborative tool inside and outside of the classroom. This hasn’t changed, but I am beginning to see that my use of this blog and Twitter may not be reaching the people who need it most. Also, I am learning to be more focused and contained in how I approach things. I need to make these instructional moments accessible for all levels of users. So, from this point on, I will attempt to write each post on this blog in stages so that those who know more can skip over sections to get to the section that helps them most. Think of it like a flowchart. If you know this, go here; if not, do this. I also would like to provide a printable version of each post so that you, the people who work with others who may need assistance, can print off these instructions and give them to those who may never visit this blog. I realize that sounds a bit ‘archaic’, but I think we need to be helping those who need it most.

Also, I am going to be doing some ‘blogkeeping’ by cleaning up broken links, deleting irrelevant posts, and so on in order to make this a place you can reference when you need it. At the moment, it is very random and hasn’t been well taken care of on my part. I promise to make it better. Really.

I would love your input. I have always wanted this to be a place that other could have their input. I don’t want this to just be about me. Share your ideas, your critiques, and your passion. I would love to get to know each one of you better so I can make this place of collaboration.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you come again!

TESL Ontario Conference 2013 Session – Implementing and Facilitating Technology- Based Community Resource Centres

This past Friday, I had the privilege to give a 75 minute session on the use of technology to build an online ‘self-access resource centre’. The focus of the presentation was on the reasons for using self-access materials with your students and then working with your students to co-create the library of links and material.

The presentation was meant to be interactive, meaning that the session was less about me and more about the people how came to the session. Instead of showing what the sites looked like or how they worked, I wanted the audience to access the tools for themselves and practice using them.

While the concept worked well in my head, there was still a bit of technology gap that didn’t help in making this a reality. In hindsight, I should have come halfway on the idea of showing how the sites worked. I also tried to do too much in the time frame I was given, so that could be scaled back and still be effective.

Regardless of how it turned out, I am thankful for those who came and gave feedback that will help me in the future. If you were there in person, I hope you got something out of the time we spent together.

Here is a link to my presentation (click on the image below):

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 2.20.23 PMThe links in the presentation will take you to each of the sites that I mentioned. Feel free to explore them on your own. In the weeks ahead, I plan on digging into each of these tools on their own in separate blog posts. I want to extend the conversation we had and hopefully fill in some of those gaps that emerged during the presentation.

I am thankful to all of you for your support.

Recording directly to YouTube with your webcam

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This week, I have two students who have to miss class due to important meetings outside of the city. As a result, I am posting short summary videos on Edmodo for them along with the relevant material they may need to work on their own. I don’t want to spend a great deal of time recording, editing, and uploading my summaries since they are fairly short and informal, so I am using the My Webcam function of YouTube to record directly to YouTube without all of those other steps. Most people I have talked to don’t seem to know that it exists, so that prompted this short post. Here is how it works:

  1. Go to the My Webcam page of YouTube and log in if need be.
  2. The first time you go to this page, you will see an Adobe Flash message asking for access to your webcam and microphone. Click on ‘Allow’ and ‘Remember’ before click on ‘Close’. You won’t need to do this again.
  3. You will see a black box showing what your webcam sees. Click on the ‘Start recording’ button and it will start recording immediately.
  4. Along the side of the video, you will see a green bar moving up and down. This is your level indicator for the sound. Make sure it isn’t going too high or too low.
  5. Click ‘Stop recording’ when you are done. You can play back the recording by clicking on the play button. If you are happy, click on the ‘Upload’ button. If you want to do it again, click on ‘Start over’.
  6. Once you have click on the ‘Upload’ button, you will be taken to the info and settings page. Change the title name, add a description and tags, change the privacy setting to what is appropriate (I usually use ‘Unlisted’ since this takes it out of the search, but gives access to anyone I give the link to), choose a category, and click on ‘Save changes’.
  7. Depending on the length of the video, it should be ready fairly quickly. To access it, click on your ‘Video Manager’ link on the left side of the page. You should see the video listed at the top. Click on the video to view it and to get the ‘Share’ url.
There are plenty of uses for this in the classroom. I have had students record themselves for pronunciation practice or giving a mini-presentation. I can record mini lectures for self-access and so on.
I hope it was helpful.