Frugal Edtech | A speaker named Mike

Earlier this month I blogged about a teacher training project I’m currently contributing to. Last week, I returned to Aurangabad, a city in the middle of the western Indian state of Maharashtra to train government officials whose role in the project is to offer administrative and logistical support to the Teacher Activity Groups.  This time round, a colleague and I were training at an old teacher development institute. As is often the case with government colleges, they have very elaborate but dated microphone systems for their lecterns but no way of connecting the existing speakers to a laptop if you want to show a video.

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As we pondered over this conundrum, help was at hand. One of the staff at the institute simply stuck the mike under my colleague’s laptop and voila – we had the audio projected through the speakers.

I’m really amazed at this little example of frugal or juggad innovation or making the most of what you have. What would I have done if I hadn’t had help? I would have probably whinged & whined and cursed my karma. I would have wondered if it would be possible to pop out during the lunch break and buy a pair of speakers. I might have come up with ineffective alternatives like having 25 people crowd around a tiny laptop or perhaps had them view the video in batches.

I really value the time I spend on government education projects because of what it teaches me about scarcity and resourcefulness. I hope one day I’ll be able to develop a mindset of making the most of what I have.

Frugal edtech: Document camera

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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.

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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.

Nik Peachey’s Talk on Online Learning at the LTSIG OLLReN Conference | Summary

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This is a summary of Nik Peachey‘s talk titled “Learning a language online – How we can ensure quality?” where he focused on the challenges of learning and teaching online for the IATEFL LTSIG OLLReN web conference on Oct 7, 2016. The conference presented research into how teachers use technology.

Online learning and teaching are topics that often get discussed in terms of the challenges they pose. However, rarely do we get to hear robust solutions that respond to these challenges. In his talk on ensuring quality in online language learning, Nik Peachey presented challenges both from the perspectives of teachers and students and followed them up with some ways of mitigating them by sharing initiatives that he has supported or led at English Up, a 100% online school.

With online learning, students face a range of challenges, including the double-edge of experience where poor previous online learning experience can affect their perception of the course they are taking and those who are completely new to this mode of learning may lack the technical knowhow to navigate the course. Staying focused and motivated over a longer term may be challenging for students who believe the online format translates to quick results.  Lastly, the online environment can be very isolating.

It’s interesting how the challenges faced by teachers mirror those of their learners, pivoting on the very same double-edged sword of experience. Teachers who are often used to working within a larger physical space with the freedom to walk up to their learners, may feel constricted by the fact that they have to do all that and more seated in a chair.  Rapport and paralinguistic behaviours operate differently in the online environment. Teachers may also lack the technical toolset to be successful online and like their learners, feel cut off from their both students and other teaching professionals.

Nik placed the human element firmly at the heart of his solutions (Nik called this ‘human on board’). He suggested that early and direct teacher-student contact, learner training, and structured support through goal setting and period reviews could motivate learners to stay focused. He highlighted the first three months as a critical period for these pastoral conversations when students are most likely to drop out. For teachers, he proposed mentoring and peer support, regular sharing of anonymised student feedback, group action points derived from video observations, facilitating an online community for teachers, and providing training and development using the very same online platforms.

Using clean, simple, elegant slides Nik compellingly made the case for building a cohesive online learning community of teachers and students. These genuinely seem to be practical solutions because they leverage the affordances of the online environment, rather than resist them.

Powerful tools for teaching and learning: Web 2.0 tools | Week 3

This week’s focus was on creativity tasks and tools. The course facilitators spoke about how creativity is an important 21st century skill and that research suggests that there are long term positive benefits of fostering creativity such as the fact that creative people are more likely to get promoted, be satisfied with their jobs, be in better physical health and be more resilient.


As usual, the course recommends that Ts understand the nature of the task to select an effective tool and they offered a creativity continuum to do this.

word <-> visual <-> visual + word + sound

  • Word: Being creative with words such as using Visuwords to graphically show the relationship of a word to other words. Wordle create word clouds and Tagxedo allows you to create word images in different shapes. These tools are useful when you want your learners to be creatively engaged with words.
  • Visual: Students look at given pictures or collect pictures in bookr and use these as prompts to write stories which finally converted into a digital book. Sketchpad allows users to create sketches and drawings. Graffiti Creator lets Ss create text that looks like graffiti.
  • Visual + word + sound: Ss can use WeVideo to select pictures, text, video and audio clips to create a digital story. Alice allows users to learn computer programming in a 3D environment. StoryJumper lets Ss create stories in a comic-book style/format.

Using creativity tools to learn programming

Hour of Code is celebrated in classrooms every year to get Ss to see the creative side of computer programming but most Ss are usually not interested. Ss feel disengaged because they can’t visualize and hear the code which just remains lines of boring text of them. Scratch allows Ss to understand the basic concepts of programming by using ‘code building blocks’. As Ss select new pieces of code, there are changes to the object that they are programming. A similar tool is Squeakland which can be used for creative and critical thinking skills for programming through visuals, sounds and words.

  • Realtime Board: A shared whiteboard where you add can ideas, images and videos. Manage group projects and creative contributions – as an alternative to post-its.
  • Simple booklet: Ss select a layout template and add media to create an online booklet. It could be used for student-centred instructional strategy as an alternative to rote-learning and promote collaborative and deep learning. For example, a history class that’s learning about the US constitution.
  • Magisto: It turns video clips and photos into edited movies quickly. Review concepts and terms by getting Ss to create a music video where lyrics draw on study material.
  • Evernote: A tool for taking and organizing notes including stuff from the web. Here’s an example.
  • Thinglink: Creative interactive images – designed for classroom use so – Ss login IDs can be nested under the teacher. Here’s an example.
  • WeVideo: A cloud-based video editing tool. Ss can upload media from their computers or from cloud storage and edit these in a number of modes. Here’s an example.

The tools for exploration this week include:

My picks are Tagul which creates really nifty word clouds and Playir which seems to have some engaging features.

This week’s reading

Here’s one more video based on Chickering & Gamson’s principles specifically encouraging active learning. The video’s creators list a series of responses from educators: rewards & peer pressure, practical problems, assessments, academic rigour and feedback, games and fun, pacing Ss with quizzes, respect, building community through group discussions and posing challenging questions. They summarized these responses an androgogical approach to engaging Ss and relating content to real lives.

Finally, here’s a video about a primary school teacher who used free cloud-based apps to get Ss to work on creative digital projects for an authentic audience.

Image attribution: Flickr | Creativity is Not Device Dependent by eliztesch | CC by 2.0

Powerful tools for teaching & learning: Web 2.0 tools | Week 2

This is a summary of week 2 of the Coursera MOOC – Powerful tools for teaching & learning: Web 2.0 tools. This week’s focus was collaboration (look up last week’s post to review the skill-lens used by the course to analyse and categorise Web 2.0 tools).

Collaboration tools

Once you’ve identified your instructional task or issue for collaboration, the next step is to discover the nature of the collaboration problem.  The course facilitators presented the categories of collaboration needs in the form of a continuum.

Collaboration continuum

project management  <->  co-creation <-> resource management

The continuum shows three forms of collaborative tasks. It’s also a way to group web 2.0 collaboration tools.

Project management (setting up projects and streamlining work)

  • Assign a day: a calendar that can be shared with Ss and their parents about latest assignemetns & due dates.
  • Doodle: an easy way to set up group meetings dynamically.
  • Todoist: allows you to manage tasks and then go about collaborating on setting and working on these tasks.

Co-creation (collaborating to create, edit & develop ideas)

  • Conceptboard: develop concepts for a group assignment.
  • Google drive: real time collaborative eding on documents, presentations and spreadsheets. A video example of peer-collaboration through Google documents.
  • Mindomo: allows for collaborative brainstorming.

Resource management (providing access to a communal resource page)

  • Symbaloo: a social bookmarking tool to share links
  • Dropbox: a shared storage space for documents and media
  • Wikidot: allows users to create real time editing space for both text and multimedia files

Some of these collaboration tools also serve as communication tools and indeed many of the tools suggested in this course could be used for multiple instructional issues. These include tools such as Google Docs,, Google Groups, Cacoo, PB works Wiki, Diigo and Creately. It’s critical to recognize the type or nature of the instructional task in order to choose the best possible tool for solving an instructional issue. Here are some more that were discussed:

  • Wikisend: A file sharing platform with a 100 MB limit. It doesn’t require you to sign up
  • Meeting Words: easy to use and doesn’t require registration. Ss can work collaboratively on documents.  Meeting words is a web based text editing tool that allows up to 32 people to edit simultaneously but no functionality for images or charts. Individual contributions to a project can be tracked through colour coding of user comments and a time slider. However, the tool requires access at least on a weekly basis or you will lose your work – you can however export in a variety of forms. Here’s an example. Google docs may be a better alternative because it has far richer features.
  • Cosketch: visually sketch ideas with the ability to document/track individual collaboration on an online whiteboard.
  • Stormboard: online brainstorming and collaboration for group projects with the ability to document/track individual collaboration.  Add sticky notes to a board which can have images, videos, documents or sketches. Users can vote to prioritize ideas as well as commenting on them. The final product can be exported in various forms. Here’s an example.
  • PBWorks: A binder where several people can contribute and edit content. It keeps track of all user activities and provides a mechanism for peer-feedback.
  • Creately: Collaboratively design flowcharts, idea maps and diagrams. Here’s an example.

The tools for exploration this week include:

  • Doodle (scheduling meetings collaboratively)
  • Trello (collaborating on and organizing tasks)
  • Zoho Docs (creating, storing and editing documents)
  • Wikispaces (communicating with Ss through a virtual classroom workspace for writing projects)
  • Mega (storing files on the cloud)
  • Wunderlist (organizing a shared list of tasks)
  • Papaly (sharing bookmarks)
  • MindMeister (brainstorming using mind maps)
  • Taskworld (tracking colleagues’ tasks and giving them performance feedback)
  • PrimaryPad (word processing collaboratively on the cloud)

Despite the annoyingly cheerful music, this video has some insights on meeting the challenges of facilitating online collaboration between Ss through one of the principles – developing reciprocity and cooperation among Ss –  in a framework of seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education by Chickering and Gamsom.

This week’s reading

Lots of tools this week that I’d never heard of before but what I really appreciate are the simple frameworks such as the collaboration continuum that can make edtech accessible to Ts in a more manageable way.

Image attribution: Flickr | LT – Google Drive- Collaboration by Matt Cornock | CC by 2.0

Powerful tools for teaching & learning: Web 2.0 tools | Week 1

One of my goals this year is to introduce people I collaborate with to edtech without overwhelming them. It’s what motivated me to take up this MOOC from the University of Houston on Coursera. And it would be added bonus if I get acquainted with some new tools along the way. BTW, all of the tools that are discussed in this MOOC are FREE.

The course is pitched at school teachers. The videos are simple but somewhat endearing and the instructional uses described in week 1 are fairly basic. What grabbed my attention was the analogy of hardware/home improvement tools which can be as intimidating as edtech tools and how we build our home improvement tool kit over time become familiar with a wrench before graduating to its more complex cousin. An analogy that works well for the edtech tool kit as well.


The course facilitators shared six guiding principles to select and overcome apprehensions about using edtech tools:

Before choosing a tool to fix a problem, it’s critical to understand the problem itself i.e., the instructional nature of the need. The key question to consider is is what types of instructional issues do you have and what sort of instructional tasks do you want to accomplish? The course recommends analysing the need through the lens of a categorization which divides Web 2.0 tools into 8 types based on the 21st century skills framework:

Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking & problem solving, productivity, social networking, presentation, reflection & feedback

This week’s activities focused on communication issues and suggested a continuum that comprises three ways to communicate.

1. One way: involves one way communication. Information is provided by the creator and there is no specific feedback.

2. Two ways: allows for feedback

3. Multiple ways: interaction between multiple parties, synchronous or asynchronous.

Some of the other tools were shared for eliciting multi-modal feedback from Ss included Voice thread (for audio & text commenting), Padlet (for commenting on pics, videos and presentations) and Penzu (an online journal that looks and feels like a diary). Remind101 is an interesting tool that lets teachers send text messages to Ss and parents of Ss without having to collect or distribute numbers – it works with a system of codes without sharing any phone numbers

The tools for exploration this week include:

I have used Jing and Disqus. I know of Kahoot although I’ve never used it. I’ve come across Vialogues on maybe Nik Peachey’s blog. The others are all new to me. Oovoo seems quite interesting but I don’t think it allows for screen-sharing so you wouldn’t be able to use it for coaching or virtual classes without some other application that has a whiteboard and screen-sharing functionality.

This week’s reading (the second and the third link are to papers/articles that fairly ancient by Web 2.0 standards but the facilitators suggest that they are still very relevant):

Attribution: Flickr |  Toolkit by Neil Turner | CC BY-SA 2.0