Frugal edtech: Document camera

Frugal edtech.jpg

Do you know India is famous for frugal innovation? It’s a phenomenon born out of poverty, systemic issues,  environmental problems, and a really resourceful attitude coupled with homegrown ingenuity. There’s even a name for it in Hindi – Jugaad.  My teacher training projects take me deep into the hinterlands and I’ve been observing some examples of frugal education technology that I’d like to document.

This first one, though, is from my own repertoire.

When I first laid eyes on a document camera – I was instantly smitten. The participants in the workshop I was attending were producing written work which was then being projected for everyone to read. The whole group could follow along as the participant or the facilitator discussed this work. I could see lots of potential for applying it in my own classroom. At that point the cameras were really expensive. While they’re a lot more reasonably priced now (between ₹5490 and ₹18105 on Amazon), it’s an added expense that an educator can do without.

You can, however, replicate a document camera using a free Chrome app called the Overhead Projector. To use this app, you need to have a laptop with a webcam (I suppose it could work on a tablet as well although I haven’t tried that yet) and an LCD projector.

Overhead projector.png

Downloading the app

  • Open up a New Tab in Chrome
  • Select Chrome Web Store
  • Search for Overhead Projector (or click on this link)
  • Click Install
  • The projector will now sit within your Chrome apps. To access it, go to a New Tab and then select Apps.

Using the Overhead Projector 

  • Connect your laptop to the LCD projector.
  • Place the document you’d like to project on your keyboard.
  • Open up the Overhead Projector app. It uses your webcam so it will display whatever’s in its direct line of sight.
  • Bring your laptop screen about half way down.
  • Now look at the document being projected. You may need to adjust its position on the keyboard to ensure that no portions are being cut-off.


Here’s a non-exhaustive list of activities you can use the overhead projector for:

  • Display mindmaps created by participants in small groups which they then share with the whole class using the app. If the mindmap was done on a flipchart, this wouldn’t be a problem. But in my lessons, mindmaps are often created in notebooks and participant guides.
  • Project a list of ideas after a brainstorming task.
  • Share peer feedback notes. Get participants to note observations within a graphic organizer which you can project when they report back to the whole class.
  • Display participant responses as an answer key. While monitoring, make a note of a participant who has got most of the answers to a controlled task correct. Project this page from his or her book and ask other participants to check their answers.
  • Annotate, correct, elicit, and/or give feedback on written work.
  • Project keys from teacher or trainer material.
  • Display model texts.
  • Share utterances for emerging language focus or error correction towards the end of a lesson.

Do you use any frugal edtech in your classroom? I’d love to do a post on it so do share your ideas in the comments section.

Automated group generators

Last year, I blogged about creative grouping techniques. It was a post that was specifically meant for a group of teacher trainers I’d worked with. Incidentally, I don’t use these techniques very often because I usually have an LCD projector so I prefer using a random or automated group generator, which I find a lot more efficient.

random group

How does it work? 

Select a random group generator that fits your classroom (WiFi or no WiFI) and budget ($$$ or are you kiddin me). Feed in your participant or student names, hit enter or group or whatever and voila.

Paid offline 

  • Smart Notebook: This is the one I use. Dated UI but it’s got a random group generator as well as a random word generator which can be repurposed to select a person. I learnt to use it from this Youtube video.

Paid online 

  • Triptico: This is a fab app with much more than just a random group generator but connectivity is often an issue for me so I can’t invest in something that constantly requires an Internet connect.

Free offline 

  • Random group generator in Excel: Here’s one version and here’s another.  A bit dull but they do the job.  You’ll need to do some learner training though because the grouping happens in a single list with numbers, participants are perpetually confused.

Free online 

Do you know or use any automated group generators which I haven’t included? Add ’em in comments.

Evernote Comparisons | A Business English Jolt

In one of his newsletters,  Thiagi, an exceptionally talented facilitator and designer of learning games describes one of his most engaging creations, a class of activities called jolts.

A jolt is an engaging learning activity that lasts for a brief period of time and illustrates one or more important learning points …  A typical jolt does not teach a skill. Instead, it helps you experience an important principle in action and provides you an “aha” moment … They capture your attention by startling you … During the activity, jolts encourage you to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. After the activity, during the discussion, jolts encourage you to share your insights with other participants and to discover that different people have different perspectives.

This is not a conventional jolt because it requires some pre-work but I hope the potential for an “aha” moment would nevertheless qualify it as a jolt.




Ss should be familiar with using Evernote and able to access it in class on their own devices (laptops, smartphones, whatever).


Assign the following research task as pre-work.

  • Choose a topic that’s trending in business circles e.g., big data, gamification, deep analytics, social intelligence etc.  Now make it specific and relevant to your Ss e.g., big data in offshored healthcare services.
  • Before coming to the next session, ask Ss to find seven interesting articles, posts or sites on this topic. They should do this in not more than seven minutes. Instruct them to use an online countdown timer or their phones to ensure that they don’t take more than seven minutes doing this task.
  • Ss should skim articles/sites quickly and use Evernote to clip interesting ones to a notebook labelled with the topic.

In class 

  • Ask Ss to walk around with their devices and compare their Evernote lists with others.  
  • Whenever two Ss find a common link, they should delete it from their list.
  • Continue the activity till each person has had a chance to interact with a reasonable number of Ss.  Use a timer to hurry things along.
  • Get Ss to count the number of links they have left in their lists.


It’s highly likely that most Ss will end up deleting at least half their links, more for in-company settings.  Take a quick poll to understand how many links were common. Here are some questions to get the discussion going:

  • Why do you think so many of the links were common/so few were unique?
  • What does this imply about the way in which we seek and select information?
  • What does this say about the search engines we use and how they rank information?
  • What could be the impact of people in the same team/department/organization reading the same sources?
  • How do our reading choices influence our perspectives?
  • How might this influence business decisions?

When you think to yourself “let me look that up”, everyone else is looking it up as well and in all probability surfing the same site.  Is something ranked high on a search engine because it’s a rich source of information that can truly inform your perspective on a topic or for less noble reasons?  Get Ss to explore issues such as shallow reading, group think, and search engine ranking and their impact on business outcomes.

Making headlines with X-Ray Goggles

The New York Times called me late last night and asked me if I would commit to a last minute interview and I decided to oblige. They completely loved what I had to say and bumped me up to a front page spot!  🙂 No, I didn’t manage this with the help of Photoshop and you can have a look at what the page looks like on the web.  I signed up for the Teach the Web MOOC some time ago and skimmed the tools including X-Ray Goggles without really understanding them. It wasn’t until a couple of hours ago when I read Jonathan Sayers’ post that the awesome coolness of this tool dawned on me. Using it is effortless – just a couple of clicks – and you can add pictures as well. I really like Jonathan’s idea of transferring this into the English classroom by getting  “students to hack their favourite website and write their own content using X-Ray Goggles.”  Can’t wait to try it out! Anyone can make the headlines with X-Ray Goggles

CuePrompter: activities across skills

During the ISTEK ELT conference last weekend, a delegate tweeted about a session that had activities with CuePrompter. Apparently, the activity involved a read & do version of Simon says.

From ISTEK ELT 2013
From ISTEK ELT 2013

It’s an interesting tool that allows you to paste any text you’d like(it doesn’t seem to do so well with non-Latin scripts, I tried with Chinese) and select speed, font size, and colour (white on black, black on white). While the prompter is running, you can pause, reverse, fast-forward as well as increase and decrease speed. Many thanks to Okan Önalan for tweeting about the site.


CuePrompter seems too versatile a tool to be limited to just a variation of Simon says. I brainstormed some other applications for it which would extend its use across other skills.


  • Ask Ss skim a text to answer a linear sequence of questions. Since the text disappears after a couple of seconds, Ss will be compelled (hopefully) to skim. This could also be a good exercise to help Ss get over regression – where Ss repeatedly read the same sentences or paragraph when it’s not required. 
  • Give Ss a set of statements and ask them to skim the text displayed by CuePrompter to decide whether they are true or false. Alternatively (this could be useful for EAP & ESP contexts), decide whether the information is available or referred to in the text.


  • Create a text that has synonyms of the target vocabulary. Give Ss a table or a bingo chart with the target vocabulary. Let the prompter roll and ask them to read quickly and write down synonyms from the text next to the words they have in their worksheet. Repeat until they get most of the words. 


  • Distribute a list of words to Ss and ask them to look up how they’re pronounced after class. To make it more interesting, you could run it as a jigsaw task and give out several lists. In the next session, ask students to teach each other words that might have appeared in their lists but not in those of others. Then, set the stage for a breaking news broadcast activity.  Pick up recent news items from the net and plant words from the lists you have distributed. Divide Ss into groups and name them after rival news channels.  Tell them they are competing for viewer ratings which they can secure by pronouncing all the words correctly.  Paste the text into CuePrompter and have a student from the first group read out the text as if it were a live news broadcast. Explain to the Ss that news broadcasters don’t get any prep time when it comes to breaking news – they have to read from the prompter without making any mistakes because there’s no second take. 


  • Most creative writing activities allow Ss a lot of time to think and write. But, what if you wanted to encourage the capture of spontaneous thoughts?  Create a series of prompts in a narrative (You enter a large room, what do you see? Suddenly, you hear a loud noise, describe it.)  Paste the prompts into CuePrompter and puts lots of ******** between each prompt. Ss read the cue quickly and start writing using the first thought that pops into their heads.  They have to write really fast because the next cue will come up soon.  When the prompter runs out of text, get Ss to proof-read what they’ve written and then teach them some discourse markers to connect their sentences and transition smoothly between events and actions. Let Ss rewrite their stories as a cohesive narrative before sharing it with the rest of the class.


  • A replica of the writing activity except Ss are in small groups and each time CuePrompter displays a prompt, Ss discuss it and collaboratively construct a story.  

I’d love to hear your feedback on these ideas especially if you get the opportunity to try them out with your learners.