Engaging students online: Going beyond BB Collaborate and Zoom

BlackBoard Collaborate and Zoom are both excellent as web conferencing tools to link teachers and students, but educators need to expand their repertoire to include tools outside the web conferencing software to get engagement once the initial novelty wears off.

Here are some suggestions:

Google Forms

This is very versatile as it can be used in so many ways. Here are two:

  • As a recap on a lesson, create a blank short answer format question. Share the link via the chat area then ask a question orally or by writing in the chat area. Delay showing the webpage with the responses until most students have responded. Then all the students can view what the other students answered. Compared to using the chat area, it is in a more compact form, doesn’t prematurely show students what others wrote and does not disappear if there are lots of answers or other comments in the chats area later.
  • To get information about what the students are using to join the webinar: Create a multiple choice quiz with as many options that you think may apply; for example: laptop, desktop, iPad, other tablet, smartphone. Post the link in the chats area and display the webpage for the responses immediately after posting the link. The result will be a dynamically changing graph to entertain the students and encourage all to contribute.

Google Docs

I wanted a class to compare Scoop.it and Pinterest as curation tools. With 16 students the feedback in the chats area would be chaotic and superficial. So I created a Google doc that could be shared by anyone who had the link – no login needed. The students nominated their own area of interest on the whiteboard in BB Collaborate. After that they spent 15 minutes researching their topics on both Pinterest and Scoop.it (note: webinars don’t need to have educators talking all the time), then commented on the merits of the two curation tools in the Google doc. To make sure the students knew where to write, the name of each student was written on a new line. The document expanded as the students wrote, and students could read each other’s comment to compare ideas about the two curation tools. The link could also be sent to students that were absent so that they could also contribute to the document after the webinar.


If you are introducing some new terms you want students to learn, then create a Quizlet. After providing context around the vocabulary items in the lesson, the terms can be revised by displaying the Flashcards mode – students can guess the answers via the audio chat or text chart area. After students are given the link to the Match mode in Quizlet and they report how long it took them to match terms – a fun exercise.

Of course these have their limitations. Students on smartphones would find it harder to navigate to a separate browser tab to carry out the extra tasks.

Unsurprisingly, these tools are also the tools to boost student engagement in classrooms. Expect the greater awareness of eLearning tools to lead to greater uptake of them in the classroom after the effects of the COVID 19 virus wear off.

Posted in elearning tools, Quiz, Vocabulary, websites | Leave a comment

Demise of Windows 7 and the digital divide at schools

As school begins for a new year in Australia, parents are doing their best to provide their children with as modern a computer as they can afford. Many will still have Win 7 as their operating system (as many tertiary institutions also did in 2019!). But Win 7 is no longer being supported by security patches and updates, and developers will no longer make much effort to keep their apps compatible with Win 7. It may be time to upgrade if possible. So what can parents do?

  • They could just buy a copy of Win 10 and install that over the Win 7 system. From the official Australian Microsoft store that will be $AUD 225.There are far cheaper options if you google them, but I can’t vouch for their authenticity. 
  • Buy a new laptop with Win 10 pre-installed. For an Intel i5 or equivalent AMD processor and at least 500GB ram, it will set parents back at least $500, but possibly quite a bit more.
  • Buy a cheaper portable netbook. That will cost at least $300. It will have an inferior CPU (processor) and a very small hard drive – as small as 32GB, but even the 64GB models are inadequate for school requirements (unless the school is using Chromebooks). In some models the hard drive is soldered in so cannot be swapped for a larger hard drive. This is possibly the worst option – this is why: https://edtech-challenges.com/wp/blog/windows-32-gb-laptop/
  • If the laptop (or desktop) is working well, and you have a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) for Win 7 stuck on your machine, you could try to just install Win 10 over Win 7. Download the ISO for Win 10 and use the COA as the product key. It may not work in all cases, but it has worked for me in multiple cases. There are many websites that will lead you through the process of installing Win 10. This could wipe out the Win 7 files and all personal files so make sure everything is backed up appropriately. If the COA doesn’t work, you may have to reinstall Win 7 – there are many websites that can help you with that.

Certificate of Authenticity
Microsoft Cert of Authenticity – example, not real
  • Install Linux either alongside the Win 7 system, or instead, just install Linux and in the process delete the Win 7 system (and personal files which must be backed up on an external drive beforehand!). For most people this would be free as there is no cost for most of the Linux distros and you only have to download it to use it. I recommend Linux Mint or Ubuntu.  I have installed Linux in machines that were built in 2007 and they run well with up to date Linux applications and security.
  • You could also upgrade your laptop more cheaply by buying a second hand one locally, or a refurbished one on the internet, which has Win 10 installed.

This was written using Libre Office (not Microsoft Word) on a 2013 laptop with the Linux Mint operating system, (not Windows).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Think again before buying a Windows 32 GB laptop

With the power of hardware these days, it is tempting to just buy a cheap lightweight laptop. After all, you can cruise the internet, check your email, and watch videos on them. Windows 10 is a great operating system for all PC’s for light surfing or heavy duty gaming. No brainer.

A student of mine with not so deep pockets, decided a Lenovo Yoga 300 would suit him – a laptop that flips over into a tablet format. The 32 GB fast hard drive was great and he stored most files on an external drive. But it slowed down a bit. Then crawled and finally became useless. Returning to the shop to complain, the staff obligingly formatted it – it was a one button function that the student didn’t know about. Happy days again. Till it slowed down, again. Agonisingly. By the time I found out, he had given up on it and was looking for any cheap laptop that could actually work. He even considered an old 2007 Dell could be a better performer. That is when I found out his problem.

He didn’t know why it was so slow and had given up on it. A glance at his hard drive in Windows Explorer showed red – not enough space. The 32 GB hard drive only shows up as 28.5 GB in C drive. Presumably the other 3.5 GB was taken up by the Recovery drive? He said he had hardly any files in it. I doubted that but when I investigated, it was true. No videos and no pictures. I deleted every file that was outside the Windows folder that I felt was safe to get rid of. That increased the free space to about 3GB, with 25GB being used. It did run faster. The Windows folder itself was close to taking up all that 25GB! Wow! I thought that perhaps someone, or a virus, had dumped a lot of large files there – or he had somehow used it as his media folder. Couldn’t find any evidence of that, and when I checked on the internet, it seemed to be quite a common problem (see https://www.cnet.com/forums/discussions/low-disk-space-on-empty-laptop/).

We decided a reformat would presumably help a lot. But the laptop declared it needed more free space to enable the reformat to take place. After a couple of hours I had deleted enough files from within the Windows folder to enable the recovery option. It showed “error”. Finally I did a clean install of Windows 10 – no Lenovo software, just a straight Win 10 installation. That took up 15.7GB. Almost half the hard drive, and more than half the C drive. After the first set of updates, it showed as 12 GB free. This is with NO added software. No Word, Excel or PowerPoint. No Chrome or Firefox.

C drive in a clean install Win 10 on a 32GB laptop. No added software.

So how much of this 12 GB will the student have to use for himself? When it approaches 90% of the C drive, it will probably start to slow down, so that will take 2.8 GB from the 12GB. The Software Distribution folder in Windows is where a lot of update information and downloads land and it grows over time. It is now 767 MB, but before I had formatted the hard drive, this folder had grown to 2.5 GB. So that will be almost another 2 GB lost. After the installation of some software another couple of GB could be shaved off the remaining free space. Maybe 6GB for the user? Most smartphones have more useable space than this!

Chromebooks manage to leave more room for personal files and are geared towards cloud usage. Linux, especially those distros created for older PC’s and smaller drives, would make a smaller impact than Windows. The obvious solution would be to just add an SD card. But this solution is far less convenient than it ought to be with the Lenovo Yoga 300, as the SD card doesn’t hide snugly in the interior. It sticks out which means it would have to remove it every time you travel with it. In my opinion, this type of laptop is not fit for purpose.

Posted in Microsoft, Productivity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New quizmaker software: Swency

If you find Kahoot too much hype and over competitive, with too many options that you never use, then there is a start up that has produced a simple down to earth quiz maker. It is web-based, called Swency (https://swency.net).

A great feature is that it is fully multimedia in that you can import images, videos, PDF’s and even upload audio files – which with Kahoot, amazingly, you cannot. Read some exasperated language teachers here!).

Another feature which makes it standout from most modern genre quizzes is that it allows short answer questions. Socrative also does this, but Swency actually marks the answers as well.

Below you can see the automatic feedback to a quiz which was made using Swency. The question about the First Fleet was a straightforward multiple choice question. You can see the student got the date wrong (in red) and the answer is provided. The next question was also multiple choice, but based on a video. The students got the answer correct so it is coloured green. The final question had a picture prompt (not seen in this view) and was a short answer question, which was marked correct. This provides immediate useful feedback to a student.

You can see the teacher’s view below. Green means it was right, red means it was wrong, and the number in the red circle is the option student wrongly selected. But, that isn’t all as here you can see another unique feature of this software. If you click on the red circles you can see the actual answer the student wrongly chose, not just the option number. Very useful if you can’t recall what the wrong option 4 was! And invaluable for the short answer questions. For example, you can see Alan had written Kev instead of Kevin, which is why it was graded as incorrect.

Swency teacher's view
Swency teacher’s view

The software was designed as a simple introduction for teachers to digitising paper tests and adding digital value such as immediate feedback, even for short answer questions. Reflecting that, the question creation page is probably the simplest there is. You have the option to choose an image, a video you have on your computer or one from Youtube, a PDF or an audio file. Or no media file. Then you choose to have 2, 3 or 4 options. Finally, you choose whether your next question will be a multiple choice or short answer question.

Few options – uncomplicated

All the quizzes can be tagged and shared with other teachers in a school or worldwide, as long as the creator allows it. The quizzes are stored on the Swency servers so everything is on the internet, just as with the other web-based quizzes.

For any teachers who want least hassle plus full control over multimedia, this could be an excellent option. Don’t be put off by the slogan of “Digital Workbook” – it is purely quizmaker software.

Disclosure: I was introduced to this software by someone associated with it. I decided it had merits so I have published this review. I have had no inducement to do so, and this review was not shown to the company before I published it.

Posted in elearning tools, Quiz, Vocabulary, websites | Tagged | Leave a comment

Macbook abandoned by Apple, embraced by Linux

Installing Ubuntu on a mid-2007 Macbook

For the last couple of weeks I have been fighting a losing battle trying to get Linux to work on an Macbook. I was happy enough to use the Macbook with the original software – Snow Leopard that I could upgrade to Mountain Lion. For Windows users, this is like updating from Win XP to Win Vista. However, when I tried to install Firefox, Chrome, and even the Opera browser, in my mid-2007 Macbook, I was informed that the software I was using was too old for them to work properly. If you can’t browse the internet except for Safari, and the software can’t get security updates, it has been abandoned. The hardware from this laptop is pretty impressive, so it was a shame that Apple had giving up supporting it.

Ubuntu running on Macbook

Ubuntu running on Macbook

The Macbook deserved better! After several fruitless evenings trying to install Linux via Linux Mint, Fedora, SuSE and Ubuntu, I was wondering if I was ever going to crack it. I could get the live disks to work and then complete the installation process, but I felt really challenged as I couldn’t get any Linux distro to install and reliably boot afterwards.

There were quite a few forums and youtube videos that provided some insight – but never enough. I had learnt that disks with 64 bit software didn’t get loaded, which helped a lot. My first try with Linux Mint got as far as installing and restarting. But it couldn’t be relied upon as sometimes the restarts never loaded up Linux. Blessedly, I found the one line of code I needed to get Linux to boot: bless –device /dev/disk0s1 –setBoot –legacy –verbose. My gratitude goes to bionicman2 who provided a long and clear set of instructions on how to install Ubuntu into a Macbook here: https://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2266424. However, rather than following all his steps, I just used that one line of magical code.

For those who want a short version of how to install Linux in a mid-2007 Macbook:

1. Use a live 32 bit Linux disk or USB and run it in live mode.
2. Use whichever partition tool is available to edit the hard disk. Leave the 200MB EFI partition, create a Linux Swap partition and create a third partition for the Linux distro.
3. Click on the Install icon and choose to instal it in the 3rd partition let it run to the end.
4. Use the Mac OS disk (Snow Leopard in my case) to boot up to the stage where you can see the Mac OS Utility tab.                                                                                                                              5. Use the Terminal to instruct the Macbook to use the Linux bootloader using: bless –device /dev/disk0s1 –setBoot –legacy –verbose

That worked for me.

Posted in Linux | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Two more online clipboards worth knowing about

Since I move around a lot of different campuses and venues, I talk to a lot of groups that I want to give links to so they can see online resources I have created or want to share with them.  I don’t usually have access to their email accounts nor any LMS they use. In the past I have used Justpaste.it. It has also had short periods of not being available, but it is still my favourite, especially for iPad users as it produces clickable links, not just text that needs to be copied and pasted. Kl1p.com has also been useful as I do not have to log in to use it, but the site has been down for the past week, so that is not reliable.  However, I now feel that I need a back up option.

So I have done some research for alternatives and come across two that are worth using:


This was designed for coders to share code and keep the code exactly as they had typed it. It works for links too so long as the receiver clicks in the box in the top to make links clickable. You are able to create a short custom URL which no one else can edit. Make sure you keep the URL for the editing page! Perfect for mobiles. Very easy to use.

Textsnip - a useful online clipboard

Textsnip – a useful online clipboard


This website is similar to the textsnips website but it is not intended for coders, just normal users who want to pass text between computers or share with others. It also allows you to make a custom URL and the links can be made clickable. It is supported by ads, which is fine as they don’t interfere with the functionality I want.

When you get to Shrib.com you are met with the instructions on how to use it. One you click on the cross to delete it you are left with a blank page and a tool bar on the right side. As with Textsnips, make sure you keep the URL for the editing page! Very easy to use.

shrib tool bar

Shrib tool bar

If you have any other suggestions, please leave a comment.


Posted in elearning tools, Productivity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to transfer Minecraft worlds between iPads

Transferring anything between iPads is traditionally a difficult task. I have used FileHub to in the past to transfer documents, photos and music. Google Drive and other cloud storage providers can do a similar job. However, transferring Minecraft worlds has not been nearly as easy because accessing the Minecraft application data folders in iPads is quite difficult.

Luckily, iFunbox makes this task very easy. It has been around since 2008, so it has taken me 10 years to discover it! It is a program that can run on Macs or Windows machines which will provide you with a Windows Explorer type of folder views so you can browse to the folders you wish and also copy and paste the folders.

I used a Windows 7 computer and downloaded the latest iFunbox and iTunes programs. You need to have iTunes for iFunbox to work.

  1. After installing the two programs, connect the iPad that contains the games you want to the computer via the USB charger.
  2. Go to Managing App Data
  3. Left click on Minecraft to bring up the dropdown menu. 
  4. Left click on the Open Sandbox option.
  5. Click on Games and then click on com.mojang.
  6. You will now see the minecraftWorlds folder:
  7. Select the folder then press Copy To PC
  8. Save it somewhere on the PC.
  9. Click on the iPad’s name at the top of the iFunbox program:
  10.  Select: Device Safe Removal
  11. Connect the iPad you want to add the games.
  12. Follow the above steps to get to the minecraftWorlds folder.
  13. Click on Copy From PC.
  14. Browse to theminecraftWorlds folder you copied from the first iPad and select all the subfolders. These are all games.
  15. Copy all these subfolders and paste them into the new iPad’s minecraftWorlds folder. This adds the games, keeping the original games as well.
  16. Click on the iPad’s name at the top of the iFunbox program.
  17.  Select: Device Safe Removal
  18. Refresh Minecraft in the iPad you have transferred the worlds to and you should see all the old and transferred worlds there.

Hope you have success in doing this!



Posted in iPad | Tagged , | Leave a comment

iPad fun with math calculations

Getting students to do enough practice at maths for it to sink in and be retained is quite a challenge. QuickMaths is an iPad app that has been around for a long time but is still worth a shout out. It provides a limited number of questions and times how quickly they are done. At the end, students are presented with a graph of how long it took each time they attempted the exercise. This provides an incentive for the students to beat their previous times.

One unique feature of this app is that the students have to use their fingers, or a stylus, to write in the numbers. They can write anywhere on the iPad, any size, and the app will try to recognise the number as it is written. This provides incentive to improve their writing so giving them kinesthetic learning as well as visual learning.  An extra feature is the music that accompanies it which changes when the student gets a correct answer – reinforcing the message that the answer was correct.

First, students select which maths calculation they want to do (or are asked by the teacher to do!).

QuickMaths select mode

Let’s look at multiplication:

All modes have 4 levels making it suitable for individualising the practice – great for mixed level classes.

Below is the view for intermediate multiplication. The students get to see the correct answer for the previous question as well as the current question and the next question. If the student writes the wrong answer, it briefly appears in the answer box in red, then the answer disappears and waits for the next attempt. Students can choose to skip questions if they want.

After the student has completed the set of questions they are shown a graph of their times:

The above chart has been done by several people which explains why it is not in what would be expected from a students starting out.

As with other apps that start out on iPads, this app has now been made available on Windows PCs.












Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Youtube keeps offensive Youtuber, kicks out proven inoffensive creators.

New YouTube Partner Program (YPP) rules announced on 16 January 2018 will penalize the smaller and new video creators (https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/72857?hl=en). These new rules state that a Youtube channel needs to have 4000 hours of viewing time and 1000 subscribers to be invited to join the YPP. Any channel below that will no be able to be part of the YPP.

Random Robi's Youtube Channel. His most popular video - a flight review.

Random Robi’s Youtube Channel. His most popular video – a flight review.

Big deal? Yes – as the YPP is the way video creators get paid for their efforts. Youtubers cannot put adds on their videos unless they are part of the YPP. Youtube are at pains to point out that the smaller channels are not about to lose their livelihood and be forced to live on the streets as a result of this decision: “Though these changes will affect a significant number of channels, 99% of those affected were making less than $100 per year in the last year, with 90% earning less than $2.50 in the last month.” (https://youtube-creators.googleblog.com/2018/01/additional-changes-to-youtube-partner.html) So, yes, the vast majority of Youtube videos are largely a labour of love, not income. Why should Youtube keep paying administration costs on accounts that are so small. After all, they are already generously providing unlimited free storage and a worldwide audience – fame is just a few enticing frames away!

My son has had a Youtube account since about August 2016. His most popular video – a flight review of his trip from Singapore to Helsinki on Finnair – has about 12000 views and is still climbing. Several other videos have over 2000 views. The analytics that Youtube provides are great. Thanks to them Robi knows that over 90% of his views are a result of being selected by viewers from the recommendations next to the video the viewer had watched previously. This sharpened Robi’s marketing mind and he spends many hours ensuring the thumbnails for his videos are the most attractive that he can make them.

Click below to see Robi’s channel – Random Robi – and please subscribe while you are there. Strike a blow for the small battler!

Which is why the new rules feel like an enormous kick in the guts. All his videos will presumably be removed from the recommendations as they will no longer carry adverts. His views could easily plummet by 90%.

Robi managed to get into the YPP under the old rules. This meant that the Youtube algorithms would place Robi’s niche videos next to viewers who would be tempted to click on them. Great for Robi’s viewer numbers and a revenue boost for Youtube (80% of the revenue that Robi’s ads earn go to Youtube. Robi has earned only $40 over the time he has had a Youtube channel). Under the new rules Robi will be removed from the YPP and Youtube will have no financial incentive to promote his videos to the recommended list alongside. Google will have no incentive either to even acknowledge his videos when people search for flight reviews. He just wants an even playing field to be acknowledged for his effort and creativity.

Part of the push for new rules is because one of the biggest Youtube creators uploaded a video that was declared to have violated rules of decency by showing offensive material. Youtube had manually promoted it as it trended, so its own staff obviously hadn’t found it offensive. Nope – tens of thousands of viewers couldn’t be wrong, could they? However, the public backlash swelled so much that they had to remove it. Logan Paul’s Youtube channel is still up (I’ve just checked), with Youtube profiting from his notoriety.

Ironic that Logan Paul, who has uploaded offensive material, still gets to keep his channel (and his share of the revenue from the offensive material?) but small, inoffensive Youtubers like Robi, who have already proven their worth, are about to be denied the breath of algorithmic publicity.


Posted in Social Media | Tagged | Leave a comment

Social Bookmarking With Diigo – never lose a web link again.

Never lose a web link again!

You can soon fill up the bookmarking links on your browser – Firefox, Chrome or Safari. Then what do you do? My solution to this problem is to use Diigo. It is a social bookmarking tool, but it also works as an excellent stand alone personal bookmarks organiser.

To understand the logic and power of social bookmarking, check out this video. It is a bit old, and refers to the Delicious bookmarking webtool, but it is an excellent introduction to the topic:

It can do a lot more than just create a list of bookmarks. You can tag each webpage so that you can find the articles long after you have forgotten their details. For example, you can find the IELTS reading you have created an exercise for by using the tags: Solar IELTS Reading. All articles with these 3 tages will appear in a list. You can also annotate and highlight the sections of the webpage that interested you.

To find out about the features of the Diigo social bookmarking webtool, look at this video.

If you want to explore some other similar tools, this is an informative read: https://www.lifewire.com/best-bookmarking-tools-for-the-web-3486309

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment