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.


Solvr: Pose a problem and solve through collaborative discussion


Yesterday, I wrote about a Clunic, a way for people to discuss a topic online without needing registration. Solvr is a similar tool that allows people to present problems and then allows others to share their comments, problems, and solutions on the discussion thread without needing to register. Here is how it works:

  1. Go to Solvr and type in the problem you would like to discuss into the box in the centre of the page. Click on ‘Start’ to open the new discussion page.
  2. On the next page, the problem appears at the top of the page in a red box. Click on the ‘Add entry’ link just below the problem to add an idea, problem, or comment. The new entry is related to the entry just above it. Choose the type of entry from the dropdown menu in the green box and enter your comment in the empty box before hitting ‘Send’.
  3. You can add a new entry to any other entry by click on the ‘Add entry’ just below that text.
  4. If you like the comment, you can click on the star beside that entry and it will get one vote.
  5. You can edit a comment by clicking on edit beside the entry and making your changes.
  6. You can delete an entry by clicking on the ‘X’ beside the entry.
  7. You can minimize a thread of entries by clicking on the ‘-‘ on the top entry of that thread. You can click on a ‘+’ to maximize it.
  8. At the top of the page is the unique URL of the page. Share this with others you would like to have participate in the discussion.
As I mentioned yesterday, this could be a good tool to have students engage in a discussion in or out of the classroom. It works well with the mobile phones I tried it with making this a possibility for use in m-learning.

Do you have any ideas on how you could use this the classroom? Share them in the comment box below, send me a Tweet at @nathanghall, or email me using the contact form on this website. I always appreciate comments and suggestions! Thanks! 

Clunic: A simple free mini discussion thread


Have you ever wanted to have a simple discussion online without having to use Facebook or Twitter? Maybe you want your students to have a place to discuss things online with the option to comment on other people’s thoughts. Clunic is a dead simple tool to use that creates a discussion thread where you can make direct comments, comment on comments, and even rate comments without having to register. Here is how it works:

  1. Go to Clunic and type in your question or comment into the box (limit of 160 characters) and click on ‘start’.
  2. You are taken to a new page where you can comment on the original question by typing in the box and clicking on ‘submit idea’. You will be asked to give your name (can be an alias) and choose an avatar from the list before clicking on ‘save’. Your comment will now appear just below the empty box.
  3. There are a number of options here: you can rate the comment by clicking on the up and down arrows to the left of the comment; you can comment on the comment by click on ‘add comment’; or you can type in a new comment in the empty box and click on ‘submit idea’.
  4. The comments can be ordered by date or votes by clicking on the appropriate link just under the empty box.
  5. You can have others share in the conversation by sharing the URL at the bottom of the page. Just click on ‘copy’ to copy to the clipboard.
This is a fantastic tool for having students discuss topics online. I believe it could be really useful in having students work on projects outside of class, possibly as an mleaning tool. Teachers could share questions with students to spark conversations, students could ask classmates or even teachers questions. Lots of potential for many different projects.
Here is a little tutorial on using Clunic:
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Have you used Clunic before or something like it? How well did it work? Share your comments here or send me a Tweet at @nathanghall. I always appreciate comments. It helps me know how I can be improving this site or sharing information that is helpful. Thank you in advance.