Saturday 1 November 2014

Practical English Usage - The App!

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan was one of the first books I ever bought when I started learning to teach. It's one of the few that I still keep on my shelf and probably the one that I have most often consulted, especially in those early years as a classroom teacher when I was having to field constant grammar questions from my enthusiastic students - who I suspected knew much more about the rules of grammar than I did.

Now after more than 20 years, I'm delighted to say I have been asked to review the app version of the book.

The app itself couldn't be simpler to use. It opens to an index on the left with a search field at the top and entries appear on the right.  It's very simple to navigate and the entries are cross referenced with hyperlinks, so browsing the contents in a non-linear way is much easier than it would be in a paper-based book.

You can also add entries to your 'Favourites' so they are easy to come back to later and the app also tracks your browsing history, so if you get distracted by various hyperlinks to different entries you can easily find your way back.

If you have problems reading the small print as I do myself these days, you can go to 'Settings' and adjust the size of the font and background colour to one that suits you better

I know that a lot of paper book purists will object to this further step towards digitisation of more traditional content, but for me the advantages of having a reference book like this on my mobile rather than at home on my bookshelf far out weight the smell and the feel of the paper.

These for me are the main advantages
  • I can have a the book with me as a reference where ever I am and even take it into the classroom with me.
  • Using standard mobile features like AirPlay and a data projector I can project entries from the book onto the projector screen for my whole class to see and use it as a classroom tool.
  • I can use features like text to speech to get the app to read examples to my students.
  • I can grab quick screen shots and add these to my lesson plans or materials as reference.
For me Practical English Usage has always been my definitive grammar reference, so now to be able to have it on my phone and tablet where ever I go makes it so much more useful and accessible. I might even throw that hold dog-eared paper copy away- well maybe not.

The app is available for iOS, Android and Windows 8 and at £28.99 / $40.99 is slightly cheaper than the paper-based version.

As a teacher, building up your own essential teaching reference library represents quite an investment these days, so having it all on your mobile device where it's always available for just-in-time learning makes so much more sense.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Saturday 25 October 2014

Business English eLearning

Having worked on many elearning and mlearning materials development projects I can safely say that I know what a huge task it is, even when working with experienced teams, to produce really good quality, well designed, interactive digital content and that’s why it is such a surprise to see Paul Emmerson’s new BEhereBEthere Business English site.

The site is remarkable, because it doesn’t just tick all of the boxes for good design, excellent content and great interactive design, but it is also free and is produced by Paul working pretty much alone!

As Paul state’s on the home page, the site is still under construction, but the courses and materials that are there already are really useful for either a self-study Business English student or for a teacher working with groups of Pre-intermediate to Upper Intermediate business students.

To find the course materials, just click on ‘Free Courses’ and choose either ’Talk Business’ or ‘Business Bites’.

The ’Talk Business’ section has a lesson based around an interview with a manager who discusses various issues relating to supply chain management in the auto industry.

The video has preparation activities to help students understand the content, as well as activities to help students analyse the content and at the end students can text their understanding of what they have studied.
At the end of the lesson there are also some classroom activities so teachers can use the materials as a form of ready made blended learning.

The ‘Business Bites’ section has three courses, one at each level on the topic of Inbound Marketing. These courses have a strong emphasis on building students’ vocabulary around the topic as well as teaching the core concepts, so these aren’t just online language lessons they are also valuable lessons that help students to understand the topic area.

The materials themselves rely heavily on video, but these aren’t just the usual talking head type video. The videos have been well produced and developed and all the points in the monologue are well illustrated to support students understanding.

One of the things I like best about BEhereBEthere is the way Paul has designed the interactive activities. They are clear and intuitive and simple for students to navigate. Paul has also taken the time to add feedback for students when they get the answers wrong, so this isn’t these aren’t just click and test activities.

As I said at the beginning of this review, the site is free but Paul is hoping to finance it on sales of his books, so do check out the ‘Books’ section of the site where you can download some samples of his books or if you like his content you can buy the books.
I think BEhereBEthere is a great site to support Business English teachers and learners and I really hope that Paul gets the support he needs to keep the site going and keep developing new materials for it. If you are a Business English teacher, then do go along to and check out the content and sign up to get information when new courses are added.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Thursday 18 September 2014

HelloTalk - A language learning community on your mobile

I've always liked the idea of language exchanges and peer learning as the learning tends to be driven by and through an authentic desire to communicate.

HelloTalk is a wonderful example of this, but with lots of nice features to make the process mobile and more efficient. Most of these features are accessed by pressing down on your partner's text to get the pop up tool bar.

HelloTalk is a free app that you can download for either iOS or Android. Then once you have registered and created a profile you can find language partners to exchange languages with.

Finding a partner
Once you have registered on the app and created your profile showing which languages you speak and which you want to learn you can start looking for exchange partners. Clicking on 'Search' at the bottom of the screen will show you a list of the people on the site. You can browse this and see how recently they have been online and check out their profile or you can type in a specific name or email address to search for someone you know. You can also customise your search to specific age, level, nationality and you can even search for people from a specific city.

Once you have found someone you can send them a message or add them as a partner and they will get a partner request.

Once you start chatting with someone, things start to get interesting. You can text chat or send voice messages by clicking on the microphone icon to record.

You can also send images or doodles using a drawing pad. These features open up the app to a deeper level of engagement as you can share more interesting content to talk about.

You can play games like pictionary or use the doodle pad like a whiteboard to draw images and explain vocabulary. The images are then sent to your partner through their chat interface.

If you don't understand what your chat partner is saying you can also press down on their text and get a translation.

If your partner makes a mistake in their text you can correct them. Just press down on their message text then write in the corrected version of their text beneath the mistake and your partner will be able to see their version and the corrected version. You can even add an explanation comment. All of the corrections are automatically saved into a separate area of the app and you can go back and revise and check them.

If you don't know how to express what you want to say in the language you are learning, you can also type in your mother tongue and get it translated before you post it.

If you join a chat exchange group with your partner, you can decide whether you want to chat by text or by voice and for how long or how many words. The time spans are all quite short so this is ideal for doing some short bursts of learning when you have a just a few moments to spare or some time to kill on the train, etc.

Finally, HelloTalk has a Notepad where you can send messages to yourself or copy and paste parts of your chats that you want to remember.

One of the first concerns with any service that connects our students to people they don't know, is their privacy and security. HelloTalk seem to be taking this very seriously and make it very clear that any one using the app for flirting or sexting purposes will be blocked and banned.

There are a range of built in security settings. These include tools to block anyone making you feel uncomfortable as well as initial security and privacy settings that allow you to limit your visibility within the community and control who can approach you for language exchange.

  • I've been using HelloTalk for a few days now, mainly with my wife, who is teaching me Spanish, and I really like it. I feel like the learning tools and the record of our conversation and the corrections help to make my learning more tangible and enable me to reflect on our interaction and to go back and check things and revise.
  • I really like that I can 'try to' express things and then get some immediate feedback on my errors. This happens when we talk face-to-face, but I don't have the written record of our interaction.
  • It's great that HelloTalk are taking privacy seriously too and that it's very easy to block people or restrict who can see you.
  • Because there are quite a few features, there is a learning curve to the app and it takes a little while to understand how to use everything, so it may be best to start off by practising with a friend just sitting next to them so that you can see what's happening on each device.
  • The app is perhaps also best suited to younger people, though under 18s are discouraged, who are more comfortable with the concept of chatting to people they don't know online, but if you are feeling brave, then I certainly think that with regular use this could lead to improvements in your language level.
  • If you recommend it to students, then it would also be good to set them some tasks to do or topics to discuss, as often the most difficult thing when talking to someone you don't know is just thinking of something to talk about.
  • HelloTalk would also be a great app to use with your class to do language exchanges with a class in another country. You could partner your students up, set them tasks and know that they will be safe and have some tools available to support their language exchange experience.

I'm really enjoying using HelloTalk now. I hope you find it useful too.

Related links

Nik Peachey

Monday 11 August 2014

Edupunk and student centred learning through technology

I’ve often wondered why it is that the internet is such an amazing, creative and inspiring place full of so many fantastically interesting things, and yet so many educational software, applications and e-learning products turn out to be so dull.

In many ways this doesn’t make sense because many of the teachers that I meet, especially in the field of ELT, are really remarkably creative people.

Personally, I believe the problem lies in the institutions in which they work, in fact I’m pretty sure of this. Institutions are all about order, stability, control and accountability and to be fair I can understand why that is, but these are hard qualities to enforce on the rapidly changing face of technology.

Educational technology providers are bound by the needs of their customers, who are the institutions, not the teachers or the students, and so the products they produce are limited by those same criteria.

The result is a collection of learning management systems (LMS), interactive whiteboards and digital materials that mimic the traditional processes of institutionalised learning whilst doing little to develop the ‘real life’ skills that students need to negotiate the 21st century world of technological learning and communication and become the autonomous life long learners they will need to be.

So, if the institutions in which we work aren’t providing the tools that we need to deliver the learning our students deserve, what do we as teachers do?

For me, the answer to this is ‘Edupunk.’  Edupunk is a term that was first coined by Jim Groom, an instructional technologist working at the University of Mary Washington and it is a reaction against the attempts of corporate interests and commercialism to reframe learning into commercially defined products and applications.

Edupunk encourages more of a student centred and ‘do it yourself’ approach to the use of technology in education - student centred because it focuses on using the tools and applications students will need and use in their everyday lives, and these are very unlikely to be interactive whiteboards and learning management systems,  and ‘do it yourself’ because it relies on the teacher to assess the needs of the students and work with them to develop materials and activities that will broaden their understanding and use of these tools and help them to apply them to learning.

Of course this puts a considerable burden onto teachers and demands that they broaden their knowledge of technology and develop the ability to utilise an ever widening range of tools to help students achieve their learning goals.

In the training work that I do with teachers around the world I try to focus on a very broad range of tools and web based applications, so much so that I’m often asked, ‘Well isn’t there one tool or one place we can go that can do all this?’ but I’m sad to say that I don’t think there is a ‘one tool’ solution and I’m not really sure that there should be.

A one stop solution moves us back to the LMS and  being prescriptive about tools for containing learning, when learning should be about removing the boundaries on curiosity and discovery and learning how to cope with constant change.

The good news is that in the post ‘Web 2.0’ age of mobile and web-based applications, apps has enabled us more than ever before to access a world of ‘real life’ tools and applications that we can adapt to the educational needs of our students and in many cases these don’t cost us a cent.

I curate and regularly update a collection of these apps on one of my sites: Tools for Teachers and Learners

At present the site has in excess of 400 different web-based and mobile tools.

All of these tools come with their unique problems and challenges, especially if you want to use them within an institution that has a tightly controlled IT infrastructure, where social networking functionality, installing browser plug ins and many interactive scripts are blocked. This doesn’t however stop you creating materials and activities that students can access from outside the institution. In fact getting students working with web based tools at home can have a far greater impact on their learning than using them in the controlled classroom environment.

So, what’s stopping you? If you want to create student-centred learning that develops students’ language and digital literacies while also tapping into their creativity, everything you need is out there. Good luck and I hope you enjoy the adventure.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Monday 28 July 2014

Why do students frequently drop out of online courses?

Over the past couple of years 'MOOCs' (massive open online courses) have become the latest trend in the attempt to harness the power of online learning. MOOCs though, just like other forms of online learning have suffered from very high drop out rates.

So what's the cause the high drop out rates among online learners and what can we actually do about it?

In the questionnaire below I've added some possible causes of drop out. Please could you add any others that you can think of and use the 'Pros' in the argument section to make any simple suggestions for how to combat the problem.

Thank you for sharing your suggestions and helping with this simple research questionnaire.

Related links


Nik Peachey

Thursday 6 February 2014

Grammarly to check and improve your grammar

Even the most confident of native speakers can sometimes have doubts about their spelling and grammar. As for learners of English, getting their writing to a really high degree of proficiency can be a real challenge. It’s great to have a friend to turn to in moments of doubt or better still someone who will proof read your work and give you a second opinion, but if you don’t have that luxury then the Grammarly plagiarism checker is probably the next best thing.

You simply copy and paste your text in, click and Grammarly will read through your work checking a whole variety of different criteria and give you detailed feedback on a whole variety of issues around your text.

Unlike most grammar and spell checkers, Grammarly can be set to be sensitive to your genre of writing and make suggestions based upon that.
Grammarly highlights areas of potential error and then makes suggestions for you.You can then work through the errors deciding whether you want to correct them or leave them as they are.

One really nice feature is the ‘Ask the community’ feature. So if you are really unsure whether you or Grammarly is correct you can post a question to the community and see what they have to say.

 Your question goes onto the Grammarly answers blog and this makes quite interesting reading for anyone with an interest in Grammar and error correction. This would be a great place to get your higher level students reading through problems and trying to decide how to help.

Grammarly also gives you explanations why the grammar needs to be corrected, so using this regularly can help you to better understand the rules of English grammar.

If you’re feeling that your vocabulary is a bit limited and repetitive, you can also use Grammarly to get suggestions for synonyms to replace some of the word you over use.

Grammarly is also a very effective plagiarism checker, so if you are writing a long assignment or dissertation and you are worried that you may not have cited all of your sources, Grammarly can check through for you and find the link back to any online source you may have missed.

Just out of curiosity I ran one of my previous blog articles through Grammarly. It came up with 72 potential errors. When checking through them, they weren’t all errors, but there were certainly a few, so knowing how hard it is to proof read your own text, I think I could be using Grammarly again.

There is of course a catch though as Grammarly isn't free. Whether you are prepared to pay for it though will depend on how much writing you do  in English and how important it is to you that it's absolutely accurate. I think for EAP students or teachers who have to do a lot or written work and marking of written work, Grammarly could be a very sound investment and save a lot of time.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Friday 24 January 2014

Digital books for teacher development

Within the last few weeks I have launched my first attempt to raise the funding for a project to create the first in a series of digital e-books for teachers.

The project is called Digital Classrooms and the e-books will be aimed at helping teachers with both the technological and pedagogical aspects of exploiting new technologies. If the project is successful, the first of the e-books will focus on digital video and will be followed by others on developing digital literacies, using tablets and mobile devices inside and outside the classroom, developing speaking and listening skills with technology and a whole load more.
You can visit this link The Digital Classroom and watch the video below to find out more about the project.

If you think this project is of value, I’m hoping that you will help and support me in a number of ways.

How you can help
  • You can share this link to the project with anyone you think might be interested in it.
  • You can back the project by buying an advance copy of the book. (You should receive the actual e-book some time over the summer.) Click here for more information
  • If you are really interested in the project and would like to be involved in producing it, then there are a number of ways you can get involved.
  • You could write an activity or a review for the book. You would do this with my guidance and support and the piece would be published in the book with full credit to you. You can find out more here: Write an activity or review
  • You could also help me by reviewing the finished book before it is published and sending me suggestions for improvements I could make before it is released. Again you would be credited in the book for your contribution to its development. You can find out more here: First look reviewer
  • Finally, the simplest and easiest of ways, is to contribute your suggestions for what this first book should include. You can add your ideas for activities or recommend links to sites that should be included etc. on this interactive questionnaire.

If you are just interested in finding out how the project progresses, then you can get regular updates on the Digital Classrooms Facebook page. Just follow the link and click on 'Like'.

If you are interested in finding out how to create your own digital e-book and discovering some of the problems I come across and some of the resources I find to overcome these problems, then you can follow my digital magazine on Flipboard, where I’ll be sharing some of the ups and downs and insights into the project. Digital Classroom on Flipboard

I hope you find this project interesting, follow along and help me to make it a reality.

Related links:


Nik Peachey