Creating Digital Stories using Foxit Reader Portable

USB Drive

Image courtesy of Phil Gradwell

The other day during #LINCchat, the topic of digital storytelling came up and a few options were shared amongst the chat participants. I thought it would be good to share another option that works really well with students who have limited access to the internet. This option makes use of a free, offline portable application that can be installed on a USB drive that the student can take home with them and use on any Windows computer.

This idea uses Foxit Reader Portable, a free PDF reader that allows users to create blank PDF documents on which you can then add photos, text, audio, and video files. In the end, users can create a multimedia document that can be played by almost all PDF readers.

Students can take their own photos or locate photos online, put them together on a page, and audio record themselves telling the story. They can then save and share that story with others who can see the photos and listen to the story being read by the student. You can even have students record replies and add them to the story. Here are some of the steps:

Installing Foxit Reader Portable on a USB Drive:

  • Insert a USB drive into your computer.
  • Go to Portable Apps and click on ‘Apps’ along the top.

portable apps main menu

  • Under the ‘Office’ category heading, click on ‘Foxit Reader Portable’

office category

  • Click on the big green ‘Download’ button.

Download button

  • Once it has finished downloading, double-click on the installer, and follow the instructions in the installer. Make sure your choose the USB Drive as the place you would like to install it.

Create a new document: 

  • You can create a new blank page by clicking on the ‘Create a Blank PDF’ button in the top-left corner of the page, or you can click on File -> Create -> Blank -> Create a PDF from a blank page.

Create a blank document button

Create a blank document menu

Adding a picture: 

  • Under the ‘Home’ tab, click on the ‘Image Annotation’ button on the far right.

Image Annotation button

  • Click and drag a box on the blank page where you would like the photo to be. The larger you make the box, the bigger the picture will be on the page.

Insert an image box

  • A box will appear. Click on the ‘Browse’ button, find your file using the file manager, and click on ‘Open’ and then ‘OK’.

Add an image

  • If you would like to resize the photo, click on the ‘Select Annotation’ button located under the ‘Home’ tab, then click on the photo. Move the red dots surrounding the photo to resize the photo. Click and drag the photo to move it around the page.

Select Annotation Button

resize photo

Adding an audio file: 

  • Under the ‘Home’ tab, click on the ‘Audio & Video’ button on the far right.

Add an audio file

  • Click and drag a box on the blank page where you would like the audio file to be.
  • A box will appear. Click on the ‘Browse’ button, find your file using the file manager, and click on ‘Open’ and then ‘OK’.

load an audio file

Playing the audio file: 

  • Under the ‘Home’ tab, click on the ‘Hand’ button on the far left and then click in the box where the audio file is.

hand button

  • A box will appear asking for your permission to play the file. Check the box ‘Remember choice until I close the document’ and then click on ‘Play’.

audio consent

  • The audio will continue to play until it the file is completed. If you would like to stop it earlier, simply click on the ‘Select Annotation’ button under the ‘Home’ tab.

Finding free photos: 

  • A great place to find free public domain images is Pixabay. All of these photos are free to download and use without having to give attribution. You also do not need to have an account.

Creating photos: 

  • There are so many ways that students can create images that can be added to the document. Here are some ideas:
    • Phones: Use the camera on your phone to take photos and then transfer to your computer using a USB cable.
    • Online: Use Pixlr Express to take photos using your webcam and then add effects, borders, text, and more before downloading to your computer.
    • Windows 8 and above: Use the Camera app to take photos using your webcam.
    • Mac: Use Photo Booth to take photos using your webcam.
    • Screenshots: Using Snipping Tool on Windows or keyboard shortcuts on a Mac.

Recording audio: 

  • There are a number of options for recording audio files. Here are some online and offline options:
    • Online: Use SpeakPipe Voice Recorder.
    • Portable App: You can download and use Audacity Portable or WaveShop Portable.
    • Windows (built-in): Locate Sound Recorder or Voice Recorder on your computer.
    • Phone: Use the voice recorder function on your phone and then download to your computer.
    • Voice recorder: There are a number of cheap music players that you can buy that record audio and then download to the computer through USB.
    • Mac: Use QuickTime Player on your computer.

Some ideas for using it in the classroom: 

  • Students create a personal story with narration such as about where they are from, their daily life, or an event in their life.
  • One student puts together a series of images and another student narrates a fictional story using the images.
  • Students can create a dialog using one image. Each students posts audio comments on the shared document and listens to what others had to say.
  • Pictures and photos are put on a document in the wrong order and students need to match the proper image and text combinations.
  • Students in groups have a discussion on a topic and audio record that discussion. All of the groups then post their audio file on one class page which gets shared with everyone.
  • For students who can’t make it to a class due to other obligations, teachers add audio files to PDF handouts so students can work on their own before the next class.
  • Students create dual-language stories with their first language. Students write and record  the story in English and their first language.

Awwapp: A registration-free collaborative whiteboard

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One of the best, free online collaborative whiteboards that doesn’t need registration has always been Awwapp, but that site has added some new features making it even better. This site works on basically every device making it perfect for the classroom. Here is how it works:

  • Go to Awwapp and click on ‘Start Drawing’.

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  • Click-and-drag anywhere on the screen to draw.

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  • To change colour, click on the top-left button and click on the new colour.

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  • To change pen thickness, click on the button with a dot on it and choose a new thickness.

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  • To erase anything, click on the third-button and click on the eraser icon (second option). Click-and-drag anywhere on the screen to erase.

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  • To add text, click on the third-button and click on the ‘A’ icon (third option). Click anywhere on the screen and a text box appears at the bottom of the screen. Type in your message and then hit enter.
  • To add an image to the board, click on the third-button and click on the image icon (fourth option).
    • Choose an image from your computer.
    • Resize the image by clicking-and-dragging any of the double-arrow buttons.
    • Rotate the image by clicking-and-dragging any round rotate-arrow buttons.
    • Once you are done, click on the checkmark button to add the image or click on the red X button to delete it.

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  • To undo anything you have just done, click on the third-button and click on the circle-arrow button (fifth option). You can click on this button as many times as necessary.
  • To delete everything and start fresh, click on the third-button and click on the trashcan button (sixth option).
  • To create a paid account or log in, click on the fourth button from the top and click on ‘Create new account’. An account isn’t needed to create a shareable online whiteboard, but there are options for voice chat, saved boards, and view-only guests for a price.

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  • To invite others to draw together, click on the bottom button and click on ‘Invite to board’. Copy the URL and click on close. Share the URL with anyone you would like to draw together with. Be careful, anyone with the link can enter.

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  • To save your board as an image, click on the bottom button an then click on ‘Download image’. A PNG image will be saved to your computer.
  • To share the image online at a certain stage, click on the bottom button and then ‘Share image’. A new window will open. Copy the URL and share with anyone. Any changes after that point will not show up. You will need to create a new URL for any new changes.

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  • To chat with online users, click on the bottom button and then ‘Show chat’. A chat box will appear in the bottom-right corner. Anyone can type in a message and hit the enter key to send the text.

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Create an online resource library with students using Send Ape

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One of the workshop sessions I have given over the past few years in on the creation of a resource library with students, a place for them to find reading or listening material that they can use outside of the classroom. Getting students engaged in extensive reading and listening is critical in their language learning process. The more they are exposed to the language in use, the more they are able to comprehend and make important connections.

I am also an advocate of students taking control of their own learning. They are only with me for a short time each week in comparison to time outside of the classroom. They need to learn how to learn on their own, a skill that many students have not yet been exposed to in a more traditional learning environment. Allowing students to choose their own reading and listening material is important since they will become more engaged in the process and also will learn the vocabulary necessary within the environment they plan on using English (ex. their major in university, their work environment, travel).

A large part of them taking control of their learning is in finding and creating content that appeals to them and then sharing that with others who may also find it helpful. This is simplified through the use of social sharing online, a cloud-based approach to the traditional library. This allows students to create audio or video content for listening, and also the creation of text-based material for reading. Even photos can used to share signs, newspaper articles, and anything else students find throughout their day that can be useful in learning language in context.

There are a number of ways of doing this, but there are certain obstacles that need to be overcome. One such hurdle is the use of online sites that require registration. If it at all possible, I try to use online tools that don’t require that students give up their personal information. Also, the site needs to be accessible from multiple devices, not just laptops or desktops.

One such site that works very well for this purpose is Send Ape. Send Ape is a file sharing site that allows for video and audio playback, document and image viewing, and multiple users without having to sign up or deal with advertisements. Here is how it works and how it may be used as a resource library:

  • Go to Send Ape and click on ‘Create new page’.

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  • Send Ape will give you a page with a unique name. From what I can see, there is no way to change this. In the middle of the page, you will see a dotted box that says, “Drop your files here”. You can either drag and drop your files into the box, or you can click on the box and you will be prompted with a file manager where you can choose your file.

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  • Once your file is loaded, depending on the file type, you will see it appear in a box on the righthand side.
  • Video files can be played in a window or fullscreen by clicking on the ‘Preview’ button. You can also click on the ‘Share’ button to get a direct link to the video in a new window. This is a great way for students to upload video they have taken on their mobile devices without having to sign up for YouTube. Lastly, students can also archive the video by clicking on the ‘Download’ button and adding it to their own device for offline viewing.

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Video pop-up window


Direct link shared video file window

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  • You can listen to the audio files by clicking on the ‘Play’ button. You can also click on the ‘Share’ button to get a direct link to the audio file in a new window. This is a great way for students to upload audio they have recorded on their mobile devices without having to sign up for any site. Lastly, students can also archive the audio file by clicking on the ‘Download’ button and adding it to their own device for offline listening.

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  • Most documents, including PDFs and Microsoft Office documents, can be viewed directly in File Ape. Click on the ‘Preview’ button and a pop-up window will appear with the document.
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Document pop-up viewer

  • Click on the box icon with an arrow in it in the pop-up window and File Ape will open the document in a Google Document viewer that you can share with others.

Google document viewer

  • All items are shared in a “page” that can be shared with others. You can create as many pages as you would like, although there is a 4GB limit if you use the unregistered option. Sign up and you will be given 10GB of storage and a login ID. Unfortunately, you will need to use a Google or Facebook account to register. There is not email option available.
  • To create a new page, click on the ‘+Add page’ button on the left side of the screen.

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  • There are a number of options available for each page.

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  • The far left button pops out the share options. The best choice is the link available at the bottom of the box. You can share this page with anyone using this link. It is also useful for when users switch computers without an account. More on that in a minute.

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  • The second button changes the view from ‘Blog’ view to ‘Thumb’ or ‘List’.

Thumb view


List view

  • The third button along the top is the sort button. Click to change it from most recent to alphabetical.

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  • The fourth button is the security button. Students can choose to add a password to the page before sharing.

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  • The fifth button along the top is the availability option. Users can set a date when to make it available and when to stop making it available.

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  • The last button is an important one. You can choose if visitors can add files to the page (great for students to have others give their input), can allow others to view their page (ie. make it private), or if visitors can delete items from the page (probably best kept off). Students can also delete pages here.

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So how would this work as a resource library with students? Have students create their own pages and then share them with the rest of the class with the option available for others to add content. Maybe one student is interested in computers. That student could make a list of reading and listening material that they have found or created and then share it with their classmates. Other students can then add files they find related to that topic to the page. This can be collected on a class website or a shared document. This becomes the reading and listening resource library for the class.

There are a lot of other great uses for Send Ape such as sharing videos with students, having students share their presentations on a page so the teacher can get them all lined up and ready when students are ready to present to the class. Teachers can share listening files with the class for those who missed class. Teachers and students could give feedback on writing assignments.

Here is a printable guide to creating a page as a resource library.

Here is a sample page you can add to. Please keep it clean! 🙂

Let me know what you think about Send Ape!

Notepad: A collaborative text editor with text and audio chat

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 4.11.08 PMOne tool I use in my language classroom quite a bit is a collaborative text editor / word processor. For years, I have even using TitanPad as my main text editor since students don’t have to register and yet I can password protect it. One thing that is missing from TitanPad and other collaborative writing platforms is the ability to audio chat as well as text chat. Also, with the advent of mobile devices, Adobe Flash sites have become an issue for me, so I am always on the lookout for sites that use HTML5 so mobile users can us it.

One such site is Notepad. It doesn’t require any registration and doesn’t have any ads. Users can invite others to join in and collaborate on a document using a unique URL. Users on a browser such as FireFox, Chrome, or Opera can also give permission to use the microphone to audio chat. It is super simple to use and could be an effective tool in the language classroom. Here is how it works:

  • Go to Notepad and a new note will appear on the screen.

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  • At this point, users can start typing a message on the notepad. It doesn’t allow for any formatting, but that can also be an advantage as students won’t be tempted to fiddle with the settings.
  • On the right hand side is a set of blue buttons:

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  • Clicking on the top button allows users to change their name (‘Update your name’), add a profile picture (‘Change avatar’), and pick a colour to use so others viewing will know who is where on the screen (‘Pick a profile color’). You can also get help, give feedback to the website owner, or end the notepad (creator only).

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  • Clicking on the second button will give you a unique URL that you can share with others. Remember, anyone with the link can see and edit the document. Be careful where you share it.

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  • Clicking on the third button from the top will prompt the browser to ask you for access to your microphone. This starts the audio chat. Make sure to click on the appropriate button on your browser to give it access.

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  • Clicking on the bottom button will open the text chat window.

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  • When others are online, you will see where their mouse cursor is with a small hand and their profile name and colour. If you click anywhere, a circle will appear in your profile colour that everyone can see.

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I have added it to my ‘Webtools: No Registration Needed for Students‘ page under the ‘Documents‘ section.


Co-create an animated dictionary for language learners

The idea of having a video-based dictionary for action vocabulary isn’t anything new, but I thought I would do a short guide on how to co-create an animated dictionary with your students using animated GIFs and Padlet.

Creating animated GIFs

  • You have two choices here: create your own videos or find royalty-free / public domain videos that you can use freely.
    • You could have your students create videos using cameras or phones and then upload them to a computer to play back. This can be a bit tricky since each device will have it’s own system of uploading videos, but if you have your own set at school or students know how to use their own devices, this can be a very effective way of having students negotiate the language or to discover new words on their own.
    • Public domain and royalty-free videos can be found online, but some sites are not as safe as others. Here are a few I recommend:
  • Once you have the video on your computer, you can start creating an animated GIF using the instructions I created here.

Creating your animated dictionary using Padlet

  • You will need to have a Padlet account. For more information on using Padlet, I have written a guide here.
  • Create a new pad using the instructions from the guide and give the link to the students.
  • Students visit the page and upload their GIFs.
    • They can either double-click anywhere on the Pad and then click on the up arrow button to choose the file from the computer.
    • They can also just drag-and-drop the file onto the Pad.

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  • Once uploaded, students move their mouse of the GIF to bring up the pencil icon at the top of the GIF. Click on the pencil to add the action name in the title box and a sample sentence showing its use in the description area. They then can click anywhere outside the GIF to get out of edit mode
  • Students can move the GIF by simply clicking-and-dragging it anywhere on the Pad. You could organize this any way you like.
  • Students can resize the GIF by dragging the corners of the image.
  • People can see the full-size image by clicking on the GIF.


I have created a sample page that you can use to play around and try this out on your own. Please keep it clean. 🙂

Sample Padlet

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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Nkwiry: A Free Collaborative Bookmarking Tool For Schools

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A little while ago, I wrote a short overview of collaborative writing tools and amongst them was Scrawlar. What I didn’t know at the time was that Scrawlar was created by Brian Aspinall, a teacher in Ontario, Canada. I found this out when he followed me on Twitter and I started poking around his website. I was initially led to Scrawlar by Doug Peterson, another Ontarian educator and technology consultant. All of this eventually led to another tool that Brian created called Nkwiry, a tool for teachers and students where they can share resources they have found on the internet, a sort of collaborative bookmarking, but private and secure. Teachers create an account and then share the class code with their students. Best of all, this is completely free. Here is an overview:

Creating an account and a class:

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  • Go to Nkwiry and click on ‘Teacher Signup’ at the top of the page. You will be taken to this dialog box where you enter in your email address, password, and class code. The password is just for you since you will create individual student passwords later on. The class code needs a number in it and must be in all lower case letters.
  • Click on ‘I agree to the Terms and Service’ and then ‘Sign up’. You will get access immediately, so you don’t need to verify through your email. That means you can use a fake or disposable email address to sign up, but you won’t get any access if you forget your password. It is better to use your email address if you are comfortable doing that.

Getting started:

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  • Once you have registered, you will be taken to this screen. This is the default topic setup which can be easily modified. You will notice the  Add and Remove buttons located amongst the topics. This is for adding or removing topics. At this time, there doesn’t seem to be a way to edit a topic title, so make sure you choose wisely since you will be adding bookmarks to this area and you don’t want to delete those to change to a new topic name. I suspect this is something that may come in later updates.

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  • When you click on the ‘Add’ button, you will see this dialog box. Just enter a topic name and a description so participants will know what to add. Once you are done, simply click on ‘Add Topic’.

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  • When you click on the delete button, the topic buttons change to what you see above. You simply click on the ‘Delete’ link in the box you wish to remove to delete it. Be careful, once it is gone, it is gone.

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  • Another function found along the top of the page is something called ‘Class Feed’. This is where students and teachers can post questions or comments for the whole class to read and reply. Simply type in the message and click on ‘Post’.

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  • When you go to the Class Feed, you also can see this message on the righthand side. Clicking on this message will delete the entire message feed, so choose wisely. This could be helpful for when you use this with a different class.

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  • If you would like to change your password, click on ‘Settings’ at the top of the page and you will see this dialog box appear. Enter your old password and then your new one twice before clicking ‘Save’.

Adding students:

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  • Once you have set up the topics and are ready for students to join, you will need to add them first and give them each a password for them to login in. Click on ‘Manage Students’ at the top of the page and you will see a page similar to the one above.
  • Type in a student name into the ‘Name’ field and hit ‘Add New’. You will then see them show up below with a password appearing beside it. You can keep this password or change it to something else that they will remember. Make sure to give each student a unique password since this is how Nkwiry keeps track of who is adding what on the forum or in the bookmarks.
  • Once you are done, click on ‘Save Changes’ to save all of the settings.
  • To remove a student, simply click on the red X to the far right of their name.

Logging In:

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  • When you would like students to join, simply give them the class code and the password you set up for them and tell them to go the main Nkwiry page. From there, they click on ‘Login’ and they are taken to the page shown above. They click on ‘Select’ and choose ‘Student’. From there, they enter the class code and password before clicking on ‘Login!’.
  • For you, just choose ‘Teacher’ and enter your email and password before clicking on ‘Login!’.

Adding bookmarks:

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  • For both students and teachers, it is the same for adding bookmarks. Click on any of the topics where you would like to add a bookmark. Type in or paste in the URL, add a short title, and then type of a short description of what it is before clicking on ‘Add Bookmark’.

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  • Once you have added a bookmark, it will look similar to the link above. Click on the image or the URL button to go to the page in a new window or tab.
  • Students and teachers can also give it a ‘thumbs up’ by clicking on the green thumb button. A number will appear beside it showing how popular it is.
  • Click on the red X on the far right to remove the link.

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  • You don’t have to leave Nkwiry to search for links, you can also use the ‘Explore’ function at the top of the page. It is a custom Google search that is safe for students.

That is a general overview of Nkwiry. It isn’t the most comprehensive tool out there, but I think that is what makes it good for most classrooms. Keeping it simple will make is more manageable for students and teachers to use. I think there are some things I would like to see added such as creating different classes for each teacher, but that may come in future updates.

I hope you find it helpful. Share your thoughts in the comment section below or send me a tweet at @nathanghall. Thank you!