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A Personal Touch

Is it ironic that I am suggesting the use of technology here to add a “personal touch” to your course materials? It certainly seems odd to me, but it just makes sense. We use so much technology to create the materials we use, but we often limit ourselves to interesting photos, clip-art, and different fonts to make it ‘ours’. Well, if you have the new app Paper, from  FiftyThree Inc, then technology has brought you full circle. What makes this app so useful is that you are able to share images with an alpha channel. This means that the background becomes transparent, so you are able to overlay your image over other things.

I have been using Paper recently to save sketches, text, and charts to add to my course materials. I have used it on my course websites, Keynote presentations, and classroom handouts. It is simply a great way to make your materials more personal.

Check out this short Youtube video to see how I added a self-portrait and some text to a Keynote presentation.

A student-centered video process using iPads

The Problem: How to collect, process, and disseminate videos of student performances in a language learning class while protecting student privacy and reducing workload.

The Solution:, iCabMobile, and Moodle

  • Students capture the video themselves
  • Students access our Moodle course using the iCabMobile browser
  • Students upload their video to a forum with special permission settings

The Background: One of the things I find important in education is that the assessment should always match the goals of the course. This is one reason why I have always found it rather silly to give students a 90-minute written exam in a conversation class. As such, for nearly ten years now I have concluded each semester of my conversation courses with conversation exams. These conversations were recorded on video for later assessment, and proved to be a bit of a logistical nightmare to process. Long story short, the teacher-hours required to process, assess, and disseminate were slowly convincing me to start giving paper-based tests again. While my colleagues and I had put a lot of thought into it, we had just not come up with a good way to get around the video processing issue while also protecting student privacy.

The Plan: The plan to overcome the teacher-centered nightmare is centered around the new iPad Classroom at our university. We have 20 new iPads set-up in the Media Center, our campus library, where I have been working to help establish the new iPad Classroom.  This video project seemed like a great opportunity to have the students create something with the iPads while testing out their usability. The concept is fairly simple:  (Continued)

Cleaning up your homescreen

It seems fitting that the first post to this blog on iPads for Teachers is about starting fresh. One of the advantages of the mirroring ability of the iPad when used with external displays and projectors is that you can share everything. However, this can also be a disadvantage, as your students may be distracted by the full screen of folders and apps on your homescreen.  This is what my homescreen used to look like:

Distracting Homescreen


The problem with this is that it is not really suited for display in the classroom, as the students are certain to react to the background image, and possibly start commenting on the different apps and games they may recognize. While I might welcome this as a conversation starter with a one-on-one interaction, this is not as suitable when the students begin chatting amongst themselves. I learned this the hard way, so I decided to clean things up a bit. (Continued)

Teacher Travel 2.0

I recently returned from a trip to Paris for the TESOL France Colloquium for a poster presentation on my cross-cultural blogging project, and I had an extra day on the end of my trip.  The trip required that I miss a few classes in my teaching schedule, but I decided that it was also an opportunity to involve my blogging students in my travels.  Instead of cancelling their class on Monday morning, I decided to do the lesson via Skype. I woke up early and initiated a chat with them from my hotel at 5 AM on Monday (1 PM Japan time). I talked with them about the lesson, and gave them the task of researching Paris and writing a post on their personal blogs with the following prompt:

“If I had one day in Paris, I would…”

90 minutes later I had a pile of blog posts to sift through, and over breakfast I planned my day using their suggestions. I used my camera and my iPhone to document the day, and the following video is the result.


If teachers must travel for conferences, why not involve the students? Why not give them an opportunity to share in the experience?

My students often pester me for souvenirs from my trips, but there is simply no way that I can bring back gifts for all of them. Why not allow them to take part in your travels instead?

How else could you involve your students in your conference travels?

Mojibake on the iPad

I am sitting on the Shinkansen from Kurume to Hiroshima, and I just discovered that the web site with the bus schedule for the last leg of my return home has an encoding issue on the iPad. I tried to visit the site to find out when the next bus is, but all the text was garbled.

Luckily, I don’t give in easily. I have more than a handful of browsers on the iPad, so it was just a matter of time before I found one that would work.

Opera seems to do the trick. So, if you find yourself having trouble reading Japanese on your iPad, try using Opera. Unfortunately, now that I can see the schedule I realize that I will arrive in Hiroshima just a few minutes before the next bus leaves. It looks like I am in for one of those “OJ runs” through the crowded station…

For the record, the browsers that did not work with the Hiroden bus schedule site were:

  • Safari
  • Atomic Web
  • iChromy
  • Knowtilus
  • Mercury
  • Rikai
  • Terra

Working on the bus

I am polishing up one of my presentations for JALT-CALL this weekend while traversing the Chugoku mountains by bus.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Keynote Remote with an iPad

KeynoteOne of the things I love most about using an iPad in the classroom is that in unchains me from the “PC on the podium” model of using technology in the classroom. I like to be mobile while teaching, so the ability to carry the device with me is central to its value in the classroom.  That said, I have also taken to using the iPad to completely replace my laptop in the classroom, so it is often used for giving Keynote presentations. The thing that always bothered me about this was the absence of a remote control for Keynote on the iPad.  This “mobile device” was now changing my presentation practice, as I found myself stuck at the podium using the touch screen to advance the slides. No more.

Apple updated their iWork apps for iOS today, and one of the most exciting improvements to me is the ability to use Apples Keynote Remote iPhone app ($0.99 in USA store/ ï¿¥115 in Japan store) to control your iPad presentations.  I tried it out in class today, and it works perfectly.  KeynoteRemoteThe connection is via WiFi, while Bluetooth is also available for back-up, and the response is quite good.

Control your iPad Keynote presentation with your iPhone or iPod Touch.

The interface is actually quite nice.  You have the option between using the iPhone in Portrait or Landscape mode when using it as a remote.  Landscape mode will give you a view of your two slides, or slide builds, at a time.


The downside of this layout is that it will take two hands to work the iPhone, and there are no speaker notes on display.  I could see this being useful if you were to present from a podium, while your iPad was off-stage, but I can’t see using this in the standard classroom.  The loss of access to the speaker’s notes is also a negative point, as it is nice to have those in hand, so to speak. Although I have never used a remote with a built-in “cheat sheet” before, I am looking forward to trying it out this weekend at JALT-CALL in Kurume.

iPhoto using Keynote Remote in portrait view (left) and iPad display

Portrait iPadKeynote

Add to this set-up the Chronology timer running in the background on the iPhone, with the timer alerts set to vibrate, and you have a nice little presentation device.

What do you think? Not bad for $0.99.

Keep your class on pace

ChronologyI try to keep the number of apps I use in the classroom to a minimum, but there is one application that I have used since the first day I brought my new iPad to the classroom: Chronology. In all honesty, I started out with the free version of the application, and used it up until fairly recently.  Whether you choose the paid version, or the free version, this is one app that every teacher should have on their iPad.

While most university courses in Japan meet once a week for 90 minutes, I find myself in the situation of teaching 45-minute classes twice a week for my first and second-year courses.  The move from my previous position, where all classes were 90 minutes, made this a challenging transition.  Chronolite – Timer was indispensable in helping me to get a grasp on this new accelerated pace.  I started my setting up the app with a 45-minute timer for the class, and then other timers for group work activities.
Classroom Timer

Each timer is set with a custom audio alarm, which the students have become accustomed to.  While the screen to the right, in landscape mode, only shows two timers, the app can have many more timers lined up and ready.  You can simply scroll down to the others, or see up to four (Free) or five (Paid) in portrait mode.  One of the advantages of upgrading to the paid version is not only that you can create a set with more than four timers, but you can create custom sets.  For example, I now have the following timers sets:

  • English Communication:
    • 45-minute class timer
    • 3-minute “group work” timer
    • 2-minute timer for shorter activities
    • 5-minute timer for longer activities
    • (These are all available for on-the-fly adjustment
  • Book Group Day (A 45-minute classroom activity  based solely on group work)
    • 45-minute class timer
    • 7-minute “group work” timer set to loop (This “looping” timer sets of an alarm after the set time and then resets and repeats.)
  • Presentation (I just set this one up for my JALT-CALL presentation
    • 40-minute timer for presentation
    • 10-minute timer set to loop for audio reminder of pace

Although I was completely happy with the free version of this app for almost a year, I finally decided to buy the paid version out of appreciation. The new-found ability to create timer sets now has me wondering why I waited so long to upgrade.

Overall, this is a great app which does what it says, and does it well.

  • Chronolite – Timer [iTunes: USA, Japan] Free: Test drive it.  You will find this version quite useful for keeping your classroom on track.
  • Chronology [iTunes: USA: $2.99, Japan: ï¿¥350]: About the same price as a cup of coffee, and infinitely more useful.

Set up your site to work nice with iPhones

Tonight I adapted my site for the iPhone (or other smart phones) with a simple plugin addition to my WordPress installation. On the left you can see the “Before” image, and on the left the “After”. The plugin, WPtouch is simple to install, and there are quite a few settings which allow for personalization.

The plugin comes with a collection of icons, such as the calendar icons used for posts in the images to the right, and you can even upload custom images to match your blog. I took a quick click over to to create the icon used for this site.  I am sure that I will tweak that a bit in the future, but it was good to test the concept.

In addition to adapting your site to work well with handheld screens, the plugin also allows users to create a desktop “App” link to your site.  This is where the icon I created using Wordle comes into play.  Readers can click the bookmark link in Safari on the iPhone and choose to “Add to Home Screen”.  An App link, using your custom icon, is then added to the reader’s smart phone desktop.

What do you think? Useful?

Link to Full Browser YouTube Videos

I just came across an interesting post on the SearchReSearch blog about how to force YouTube links to open full screen.  (Almost.  It actually opens in a full browser window.) Apparently, all you need to do is to replace the “watch” in the URL with “watch_popup”.  As an example, here is a link to a quick video I did for this site last week:

If you click that link, you will see the video in the middle of the page and it will be surrounded by other images and text (see right).  This is potentially distracting to students, as they may choose to click a “more interesting” video and end up off task.  On the other hand, this link:, will bring you to a full browser version of the video.

This is obviously something that would be useful in education, as  you can help to reduce distraction.

I generally use embedding to add YouTube videos to my blog posts and Moodle courses, but I can see where this would be useful.

What do you think, interesting trick?