Annotate and share a document online with Crocodoc Personal

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 9.06.24 PMHaving a place to share and annotate documents online with students can be very handy. Instead of swapping documents, such as Word documents and PDFs, anyone can upload these files to Crocodoc Personal for free without registering and without having to deal with ads. Once uploaded, people can highlight, comment, add texts, and draw on the document and others can add their thoughts as well. Here is how it works:


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  • Once uploaded, you can add three different types of comments: point, area, or text.

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  • Point comments add a red mark on the document where you would like to add your comment and links to a comment area on the side where you can add text.

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  • Area comments allow users to drag a box around an area which links to a comment area on the side where you can add text.

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  • Text comments allow users to highlight text which links to a comment area on the side where you can add text.

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  • Users can also draw on the text in four different colours.

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  • Users can also add text comments directly onto the document using the ‘Text’ tool.

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  • Choose the highlight tool to highlight sections of the text without adding comments.

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  • Use the ‘Strikeout’ tool to draw a line through whatever you select and it also gives you a box to add text comments directly above the deleted text.

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  • To share the document with others, click on the ‘Share’ button and copy the ‘Link’ URL. If you want others to comment, make sure the ‘Allow others to add comments to this document’ button is checked, otherwise, uncheck to allow for reading only. Click on the ‘Embed’ tab to copy the embed code to add to your website.

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  • You can also download the original document or the marked-up PDF by clicking on the ‘Download’ button.

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  • An easy way of getting through all of the comments and highlights is to open up the comments pane. Click on the double-arrow button right beside the ‘Download’ button. You can then click on a comment to go directly to that section. You can also use this as a bookmark functions to make it easier to manage a larger document.

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I’ve also created a printable guide on commenting that can be given to students or teachers. Feel free to print, distribute, or edit as long as you keep the credit along the bottom.


Convert an image to editable text without registration using OnlineOCR

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While Google Drive can do a decent job of converting an image to text using OCR, there are some situations, such as with students, where using a registered account won’t work. That is where does the job quite nicely. All you need is a good screenshot or scanned image of some text (preferably typed). Here is how it works.

  • Go to and click on ‘Select File’ and choose a file from your computer.

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  • Select your language and file type. I have found that ‘Text Plain (txt)’ option works very well for copying and pasting into other text. The ‘Microsoft Word (docx)’ option works best with things that have a lot of fancy formatting, such as tables, that you would like to keep.

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  • Enter in the code in the ‘Enter Captcha Code’ box.

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  • Click on the ‘Convert’ button to start the process.

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  • Once the conversion is complete, you will be shown your text in a box below along with a link to the appropriate file type chosen. Copy the text or download the file.

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The site doesn’t appear to have any ads and it works very well without an account. I have used it for adapting texts in my class and for converting scanned files into editable text for file size reduction (scanned images are notoriously large compared to a document). It shouldn’t be used for illegal copyright uses, but can be used in bits and pieces for situations where a text needs altering or for quoting in a paper.

A guide to Dreamreader: A free online English reading site

dreamreader1Finding good reading material for English language learners, especially for mid to lower level adult learners, can be quite difficult. The other day, Michael Griffin introduced us to Neil Millington, the co-creator of Dreamreader. I took a look over the website and I am impressed with what I have seen so far. It is still in the early stages of creation, but there is plenty of content and more still to come.

I thought I would take some time here to give you all an overview of the site and what it has to offer you as a teacher and also your students on their own.


At the top of the page, you have five options to choose from, including easy and academic English. Each lesson has a large image, an audio playback of the written questions, and interactive, multiple-choice questions. There are also a number of downloadable items such as printable versions of the page with answers and a separate audio file.


After doing the quiz, a button appears below the quiz that takes you to the score and answers.


Your answers and score then appear in a new window.


The printable handouts look a great deal like the page, but with the answers found along the bottom of the page.


Some lessons also incorporate a reading section and/or a video to watch.


For the academic English section, you will also find a vocabulary handout included with the lesson.


Overall, I think this is a good site for English language learners to practice their reading skills. In time, the site may evolve and add more components, but for now, I am already pretty impressed.


A guide to Reel App: Host and embed PPT and PDF files without registration

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Sharing images, PPT, and PDF files with students is simple enough, but to view the files online or embed them in a website, you would normally need to complete some sort of registration. That is where Reel App comes along. It is an elegant and simple place to upload images, PDF, and PPT files without registration and then you can share a link where recipients can view the slides or pages online. It even gives you an embed code to put into a blog or website. Here is how it works.

  • Go to Reel App and click on ‘Click to upload images, PPT files or PDFs’. A file manager box will appear and you can choose a file from your computer to upload.

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  • Once you have chosen a file, it will begin to upload. A box will come up ‘Creating your Preso’ and thumbnails will slowly appear below. Depending on the size of the file, it may take a while for images to begin appearing.


  • Once your file is uploaded, you will be taken to a new page saying, “Your preso is ready to go!’ Give your file a name and description in the boxes provided.
  • You can also give a name and description to each page/slide by clicking on each page/slide and then typing in the information.


  • At this point, you can also add more images or files by clicking on the ‘Upload more images’ link on the righthand side. After choosing a file, it will say ‘Uploading’ and will spin until it has finished adding the new pages/slides to the thumbnails.


  • You can also rearrange the pages/slides by simply clicking and dragging the thumbnails around. You can also delete a page/slide by clicking on the grey X in the top-right corner of each page/slide.
  • Once you have finished with the names and descriptions, click on ‘Save Preso’ and a box will appear asking you to confirm locking your presentation. Click on ‘Lock Preso & View Report Page’.

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  • You are now at the report page. If you would like to check out what pages people liked or didn’t like, this is where you will be given up-to-date results. Bookmark this page to return here at any time.

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  • To share the presentation with others, simply copy the URL found just above the ‘Start Preso’ button. A box will appear with a shareable link and the embed code.

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Creating and editing screencasts as animated GIFs using Recordit and Ezgif

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Yesterday, I created a comprehensive guide to GroupZap and I used a number of animated GIFs to demonstrate certain functions. Today, Marisa asked me what tool I used to create them and I thought it might be helpful to do up a post showing all of the steps I used.

There are a number of ways to create a screencast for free, but not many of them export as an animated GIF. I have started using a tool called Recordit, a free app for Windows and Mac that makes a simple screencast that is cloud stored as both a video and a GIF. Here is how it works:

Recordit Mac install:

  • Go to and click on ‘Download for Mac’ button near the bottom of the page.

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  • It is a ZIP file and depending on your browser, may need to be opened by double-clicking on the ZIP file.
  • Once it is unzipped, move the file to your Applications folder.
  • Double-click on the app and you will likely get a security warning and won’t allow you to run it. This is a new security feature Apple added a couple of updates ago, stopping third-party apps from running unless they are downloaded from the Mac App Store. This app can be trusted. To run this app (this only needs to be done once), follow the instructions from this website under the “Trusting Apps on a Case-by-Case Basis” title. This works for all third-party apps.
  • Go to the Applications folder and double-click on ‘Recordit’ to start the program.
  • You will know it is running once you see the Record button in your menu bar (it looks like a rectangle with a dot in the middle of it).

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Recordit Windows install:

  • Go to and click on ‘Download for Windows’ button near the bottom of the page.


  • Once the installer has downloaded, double-click on it to run it.


  • You may be prompted by Windows about running the app. Give permission to run it and then click on ‘Next >’ to start the install.


  • Select whether you would like to create a desktop icon or not and then click on ‘Next>’.


  • Click on ‘Install’ to start the installation.


  • Once it is finished, click on ‘Finish’.


  • Find the Recordit program and double-click it to start.


  • You will know the program is running when you see the rectangular icon with a dot in the middle in your notifications bar in the bottom-right corner of the screen.


Recording screencasts with Recordit:

  • Once you are ready to record, click on the Recordit icon in either your menu bar (Mac) or the notifications area of the task bar (Windows).
  • Click and drag over the area you want to record and it will start recording immediately.
  • Once you are done, click on the ‘Stop’ in the menu or notifications area (same area as starting the screencast) and Recordit will start processing and sending the recording to the cloud. None of the screencasts are saved on your computer. Instead, you will be notified of a link once it is done. Click on the ‘All Done’ button to go to the video or click on the ‘GIF’ link to go to a GIF instead. Neither option uses audio (GIFs never have audio).

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  • If you miss the notification, or you want to go back later, click on the record icon in the menu or notification bar, and click on the recording you would like to visit.

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  • If you visit the video recording and would like to see the GIF, click on the ‘GIF’ button in the bottom-right section of the video.

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  • Once you are at the GIF, right-click (or also, Command+click on a Mac) on the GIF and choose to save or download the GIF (depends on the browser as to what option you will be given). You can also just copy the URL if you don’t need to download it.

Resizing a GIF using Ezgif:

  • Go to Ezgif and click on ‘GIF Resize’.

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  • To upload a file, click on ‘Choose File’ and upload the file. If you have the URL, paste the address into the box.
  • Click on ‘Upload!’ and wait for the GIF to appear on the screen.

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  • Under the GIF, type in your desired width OR height (not both) in the appropriate boxes and click on ‘Resize It!’ [Note: For my blog post, the larger GIFs were a width of 700 to fit across the post]

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  • The newly resized GIF will appear below the big GIF. Right-click (or Command+click on a Mac) on the smaller GIF and download it to your computer.

Speeding up the GIF:

  • If you have just resized a GIF, simply click on the ‘Speed’ button just below the new GIF.

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  • If you are uploading a new GIF, go to this page and upload a GIF or input a URL and click on ‘Upload!’
  • Once your GIF is showing at the top of the page, type in a delay speed in the ‘Delay Time’ box just below the GIF. A number like 5-10 will be quite fast, with a 15-20 being just a bit faster. [Note: I used 15 for the GIFs on my previous post].

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  • Your new GIF will appear just below the original GIF. Right-click (or Command+click on a Mac) on the smaller GIF and download it to your computer.

A Comprehensive Guide to GroupZap – An Online Post-it Board

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There are a number of online corkboard / whiteboard / pinboards that one can use to post notes and files, and even draw and then share those with others. Some can be done in realtime, and others require saving and sharing. One of the most popular is Padlet and for good reason. It is simple to use and handles multimedia files with ease. While fantastic, Padlet is not without some minor bumps. For one, you can’t change the colour, size, or font of the post-it notes, it doesn’t always play nice with links, and to download a file, you have to view it and then scroll down to the source link button. You can create as large a pad as you would like, but there is no map feature to see where you are and to easily navigate to that spot. Lastly, there isn’t a history function such as you would find in a wiki to scroll back to see what people have done to the board over time.

To address these things, I have turned to GroupZap. GroupZap is an online post-it board that allows users to collaborate with others in realtime and to do all of the things I just mentioned that Padlet doesn’t do. This post is meant to be a fairly comprehensive guide to all things GroupZap.

I’ve broken the instructions into sections to make it easier to find answers to what you need to do, but you can also read it in order from creation to sharing.

Creating a new board:



  • Type in your email address (note: you can use a fake email address as well). You may also give your board a name in the ‘Topic’ field. Click on ‘Go to Whiteboard’ when you are finished.


  • Click on ‘Let’s GroupZap!’


Adding items to your whiteboard:


Once you have created a GroupZap board, you can then start adding things to the board quite easily. Most of the functions are drag-and-drop, although you can also click and add items as well.

  • To add a simple coloured note to the page, simply drag a note over from the ‘Stuff to Add’ column on the right side of the screen.


  • To add a file from your computer, simply open a file window on your computer, find the file you would like to add, and drag it onto the GroupZap board. GroupZap will only support files up to 100MB.
  • You can also add a note by simply clicking on the note you would like to add and it will appear in the middle of the board.
  • You can also adda file by scrolling down the ‘Stuff to Add list’ and clicking on the ‘Choose File’ button.

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  • Lastly, you can add a file from a weblink by scrolling down the ‘Stuff to Add list’ and add the link to the URL box and click on ‘Add’.

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Arranging and resizing the items on your board:


Once you have added items to your board, you can resize, rotate, modify, arrange, delete, and move them.

  • To move an item, simply click and drag it to where you would like to place it.
  • To rotate and resize the item, simply hold down the shift key and click and move the mouse up and down to rotate and left and right to resize it.


  • To edit the content of a note, double-click on the note and click on the ‘Edit’ icon (pencil).


  • To move a note in front of another item or behind it, double click on the item and then click on ‘Front’ or ‘Back’.
  • To delete an item, double click on it and choose ‘Delete’. If you accidentally delete something, you will find an ‘Undelete’ panel at the top of the ‘Stuff to Add’ list on the right side of the page. Simply click and drag the item back onto the board.

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  • To lock an item in place and prevent it from being rotated, resized, or deleted, double-click on the item, choose ‘Edit’ and then click on the lock symbol before clicking ‘OK’.

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Editing the content of the item:


  • To add a note to a file, double click on it, choose ‘Edit’ and then add your text to the ‘Note’ field and click on ‘OK’.

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  • To add a link and/or note to a coloured note, double click on it, choose ‘Edit’, click on the link icon (chain) and add your note and/or URL before click on ‘OK’.

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Clicking on links, and downloading files:


  • To click on links of a note, double click on the note, choose ‘Edit’ and then click on the link icon (chain). Click on the arrow next to the URL and the link will open in a new window or tab.


  • To download a file, such as an image or PDF, double click on the item and click on ‘Download’ button.

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Adding boxes, lines, and arrows:


  • Scroll down the ‘Stuff to Add’ column until you see the lines and boxes. Drag an item on the board. Click and drag the dots on the item to manipulate them.

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Adding a different background:


  • At the top of the page, click on ‘Your Whiteboard’, click on ‘Administer’, and then choose your ‘Custom Background’, before clicking on ‘Update’ and ‘Whiteboard’.

Sharing with others:


  • At the top of the page, click on ‘Invite’ and ‘Send Link’. Choose the type of link you want by clicking on ‘Editing’ and choosing either ‘Viewing only’, ‘Administrators’, or leave it as ‘Editing’. Copy the link from beside it and share with whomever you would like.

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Adding a password:


  • At the top of the page, click on ‘Invite’ and ‘Security’.
    • Check off ‘Read-only’ to stop editing on the page.
    • Under ‘Access’, choose ‘Anonymously’ so those visiting the page won’t have to share who is editing.
    • Under ‘Board Password’, add a password and confirm if you want to make the page private.

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Export and embed your board:


  • Once you are finished, you can share an image or PDF of your board by clicking on ‘Export’ at the top of the page and then ‘PDF’ or ‘PNG’.
  • You can also export a CSV file of all notes and links by clicking on ‘Export’ at the top of the page and then ‘CSV’.

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  • You can embed the board by clicking on ‘Export’ at the top of the page and then ‘Share/Embed’. Copy the ‘Embed’ code and ‘Whiteboard’.  Paste the embed code into your website.

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“The medium is the message”: The message of educational technology

Image courtesy of Pranav Bhatt

Image courtesy of Pranav Bhatt

I’ve had it wrong all along. Time and again I have said that technology is simply a tool and it is how we use it that makes it good or bad, but that isn’t entirely true.

This week I have been preparing to submit a conference proposal on how to critically evaluate the educational technology we choose to use in our classrooms. It got me thinking about the old adage, “the message is the medium” and I started to explore what that really means. The saying actually comes from a book by Marshall McLuhan called “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” (1964) where McLuhan carefully unwraps the idea that the instruments of delivery, the medium, also has a message embedded within it. In fact, you can even have a medium without “content”, but still sharing a message.

His simplest illustration is that of a light bulb. As it is, the light bulb doesn’t deliver “content” unless it is used to shine out a message, but without it, surgery or nighttime sports would almost be impossible. As McLuhan puts it, “This fact merely underlines the point that ‘the medium is the message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (emphasis added). He continues by stating:

“The message of the electric light is like the message of electric power in industry, totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized. For electric light and power are separate from their uses, yet they eliminate time and space factors in human association exactly as do radio, telegraph, telephone, and TV, creating involvement in depth” (emphasis added).

When you consider the use of any particular educational technology “medium” such as webtools, apps, LMS/CMS/VLE, and hardware, we also need to be aware of the “message” that is being delivered simply in the choice, or non-choice as is the case in certain situations. When it comes to learning environments such as Class Dojo, Blackboard, Canvas, and many others, we need to also be aware of the theory of learning that is foundational in its creation.

Take ClassDojo for example. You can love it, hate, and even don’t care, but whatever your feelings towards it, this environment carries with it a theory of learning and even human psychology that is instrumental in its design and implementation. It comes from a certain perspective of the role of teacher and student, human motivation, and learning approaches, and places these within the “medium” of the platform. There is no implicit message, but it there.

Even some of the simplest “tools” have a message embedded in them. An example of this is Quizlet, the online flashcard platform. While it is simply a “medium”, there is a message carried though it on how people learn through repetition and memorization. Even something as simple as cloud storage communicates a message much in the same way that McLuhan talks about electric light and power.

What we need to do as educators is to educate ourselves on the messages embedded in the medium we are using in our classrooms. Are they communicating the message we want? In order to know that, we first need to deeply understand what we believe about teaching and learning, something that I think we have, but maybe haven’t taken the time to articulate. From that, create a set of questions to ask ourselves when evaluating the effectiveness of the instruments we choose to carry our and our students’ message. Like it or not, those “tools” are shaping and controlling “the scale and form” of the interactions between students, ourself, and all others with vested interest in what goes on in our classroom.