Tool Review: PowToon, presentations with cartoons!

Have you ever sat down through a presentation where the author of said presentation would blankly switch from slides to slides, showing graphics and bullet point notes for countless painful minutes. Of course you have. Most of the time, you’re not even listening to whatever is shown and you drift away in a daydream. Well, what if the daydream could be present within the presentation itself. That’s right, how about a presentation with colourful graphics, themes and staging? Well, that is exactly what PowToon suggests to its’ users. This tool allows users to create eye-catching presentations with cartoon-like animations. So let’s get to it, roll the Merry Melodies theme song, we’re going on an adventure!

Starting with technicalities, PowToon (which is a combination of the first syllable of PowerPoint with a reference to its’ cartoony style) was created in July 2012 with the intent of being the new industry standard for evolved presentations. The tool is an online software for creating professional slideshows or animated presentations. There is about 9 different possible plans, one of which is the free version. There are premium plans, plans paid by number of exports and, most relevant to our interest here, some educational plans. Theses plans are divided into 3 distinct ones, namely : a teacher plan, a student plan and a classroom plan. Instead of explaining all of this with words, why not use PowToon’s concept and use images! The plans may also be consulted on PowToon’s pricing page Another version of  the PowToon Edu web app is downloadable on Google Chrome’s Web Store for free.

Here is an example of the plans, using the educational plans as reference:

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Once registered, users can start creating presentations in the blink of an eye, thanks to PowToon’s highly intuitive interface. First, simply choose a theme, whether it be the conventional corporate style or a more creative picto style. You can also upload visual content from your personal device. Then, simply drag and drop items and props from a tool-bar to the right of the screen onto the slides in the middle of the interface, animate them with guided pre-set animations, add text, create a next slide on the left side of the screen and so on and so forth. Moreover, you can record your voice and use it as voice over that can be added to your PowToon. There is also a wide variety of royalty-free music available that can be added to play as background during the presentation. At the bottom of the interface is a timeframe that can be used for quick editing, placing cues and more. Using PowToon is as simple as it sounds, honnestly, the interface is so easy to use and gives countless possibilities. No need for any technical skills here, anybody can create a fine-looking PowToon in a matter of minutes. When they are done, projects can then be saved online or downloaded onto a device with the right plans.

Writer and speaker Cathy Moore praises PowToon’s humoristic input as well it’s easy usability and intuitiveness. She explains that the timeline feature is simple to use and allows the user to control the entrances and exists of each slides. She mentions that the stock characters and props inspire to use humor and that the different themes offer a great choice of images. Mrs. Moore is an advocate of humor’s presence in education as she says:

humor in teaching can increase retention, motivation, and comprehension.

For her, PowToon is a great tool to better ways of spreading ideas in a fashion that is likely to be better retained by audiences, namely students. In her article about PowToons, she expresses her deep advocacy for humor’s beneficial relationship with learning and retaining information. Humor has a way of lowering anxiety, one of the key antagonist to second language learning and humor can also help bring memorable moments. Therefore, her theory about humor speaks of a direct positive influence on learning and I believe that she explains well how PowToons can help teachers make their students remember lessons better.

Moving on to the ESL applications of PowToon. As reference, Eric mentions quite a few school usage for the tool in a classroom. Students could be asked to re-enact a specific part from a story they read or an alternate storyline using PowToon’s creative characters to play as characters and by recording their voice. They could use it to make a short cartoon-clip explaining a vocabulary word or give a grammar lesson to the rest of the class. Or simply use it as an alternative to PowerPoint since it is a presentation tool after all. Students could use it to create an original storyboard or as part of a greater project, say a video project, to act as a draft.

Personally, I would use the tool for projects involving creative creations in groups. I think it is a great tool that would motivate students to work because it gives a nice looking result to anybody who puts at least a bit of effort into it. I find it is a very motivating tool to work with, especially for younger audiences, because of it’s cartoonesque format. I would use the tool to illustrate grammar lessons in a funny, imaged way, because I believe in what Cathy Moore said about humor’s relationship with learning.

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Tool Review: Prezi, enhanced presentations.

When it comes to presenting a project to an audience, whether it be a sales pitch, a storybord, a research project, or any project at all for that matter, people tend to unanimously fall back to the regular presentation tools such as Powerpoint, to name the main one. These presentations tools, while very efficient, have become dull and formal to the point where creativity is at its’ limits within their parameters. More and more, people long for presentations that possess feature which help share ideas in a colorful, creative and stylish way. In 2009 by Peter Arvai, Péter Halácsy, and Adam Somlai-Fischer founded Prezi, a company that enables users from across the globe to use their online software. The software is fairly simple, it allows anyone to create an original presentations by providing a wide array of templates of different artistic themes.These templates can be filled with content like text, image, video and can be modified by the user to fit his or her own needs. People have used it for various reasons and one of them, which is relevant to our interest, is of course to make presentations for teaching!

Starting off with the basics, when registering with Prezi, the website offers you 4 different bundles; The first is free and allows user to create a number of Prezi that will amount to a total of 100 MB. Secondly, a 10$/month option allows for 4 GB of storage, control privacy setting by making your presentations unavailable to the public, add custom logo and premium support. The third option of 20$/month  will include all this with unlimited storage capacity and the ability to work offline with a desktop app as well as enhanced photo editing. The last bundle is a team-adapted pricing system that can be billed to teams or organizations which includes all of the above mentioned with account management features and custom branding options. Next up, how does it work? Prezi is an easy to use template-based customizable presentation building tool that will allow the user to create presentations with the shape and appearance he or she desires. To begin, create a Prezi by choosing an artistic theme or template, then you can start filling in the textbox and you’re on your way. The software works like pretty much any other presentation tool, with the insert feature that allows you to insert images, youtube videos, PDFs and much more. you can then enhance your inserted content with a variety of image filters, special effects, animations, movement, etc. This sofware requires a level of understanding that surpasses the casual users so familiarizing yourself with Youtube Tutorials  may be necessary in order to use Prezi at its’ full potential. Because this tool has a lot to offer. A fun fact about this online software is that it has an image search engine powered by none else than Google.

Prezi has been given great praise both by online comunities as well as teachers and even by the BBC itself. They describe the presentations as a cinematic epxerience, relating to the zooming in and out shape that a Prezi presentation uses to navigate through itself. They explain how it is classroom and interactive board friendly as it was created with touch navigation in mind. Making Prezi presentations accessible in the public domain is another plus, considering the fact that students can simply be given an online address and consult it or that it requires no portable storage device for teachers because of the online storage feature. Prezi can be used during interactive classroom sessions or for group projects, it can help students and teachers alike organize their thoughts and present them in an original and creative way. Another impressive feature can be used to remodel an already existing PowerPoint presentation by importing it directly into Prezi without having to start all over. Prezi is an efficient tool because it can serve both the minimalist and the perfectionist. The minimanlist will be able to focus on the content of his presentation without worrying about the format and get an amazing result whereas the perfectionist may take the time to enhance his Prezi and play with the different modifiable features to get a personal and unique result.

However, some out there like author and public speaker Scott Berkun have a rather negative view of prezi. In his opinion, all popular presentation tools focus on slides while the focus should be on thoughts. Tools like Prezi may appear nice and fancy but they take away the main pupose of a lecture or a presentation, says Mr. Berkun. In his words:

There is no point in making a single slide until you know some of what you want to say, and how best to say it.[…] You will spend all your time perfecting your slides, instead of perfecting your thoughts. You will likely talk to your slides when you present, and not your audience, as you will have spent more time on the slides than you did practicing giving the talk itself. Sadly, I don’t know of any tool that guides their users properly towards how good speakers prepare.

Obviously, Berkun takes Prezi through the perspective of a public speaker,  as he is one himself, which is not so far from a teacher if you think about it. So his words strike home when he mentions that although Prezi can be a great tool in the hands of a skilled communicator, it remains a potential distraction from the content.  In his mind, Prezi attracts people who are more interested in the style rather than the substance of a presentation.

Regardless of all Berkun’s opinions, I believe that as an ESL tool, Prezi could be of great use. Students, especially younger ones, need visual stimuli to keep their attention on what is going on at the front of the class.  Prezi may be taking the focus away from the speaker, but at times that’s exactly what students need. Zooming and moving from place to place on the presentation makes for an interesting feature for young learning minds. This allows for bright, colorful and stimulating presentations that differ from dull and repetitive PowerPoint slides. I could see myself use this with my class to make interesting presentations on various topics, whether it be grammar lessons or simply going into the depth of a subject or for organizing a whole unit or chapter from the textbook. With Prezi’s vast posibilities I could make lessons into themed visual adventures, making it more than just words and concepts on a slide but actual visual progression into the topic. I could aslo see this as a tool for collaborative research project for students. Say they have to create a timeline of historical events with information and images related to these events. With the use of Prezi, they could setup a fluid timeline that would jump from dates to dates and zoom into them for a closer look at the relevant information.

Presentations are all in a day’s work for a teacher, this much goes without saying, and let’s face it, one does not have all the time nor the skill in the world to create the most dynamics of presentations. I believe that with a tool like Prezi, any adept of technology can play with the tool without too much trouble and leave the format to the software and concentrate more on the content to make visually stunning presentations in less time. I recommend the tool for teachers as their personal presentation building tool as well as a good way to introduce students to creative ways to present ideas.

Tool Review: EDPuzzle, because recycling is less time consuming than creating new content.

At times, being a teacher requires one to be inventive and resourceful. As teachers’ responsibilities slowly move away from the traditional ways, their tool box must now include clever tricks to save them time and optimize their classroom management. The role of teachers can now reach outside the classroom, in an attempt to maintain their students’ focus on task. This is where innovative and new technological tools like EDpuzzle come into play. Flipped classroom enthusiasts may see this tool as fairly useful while others see its’ limits by comparing it to more popular and complete tools. But before judging it for its’ pedagogical uses let’s explore together this video-editing tool’ functionalities.

This free cloud-based online app is very efficient for creating original material based on what is already available on the web. This tool allows the user to take videos from various sources like Youtube, KhanAcademy, LearnZillion, National Geographics, TEDEd and many more and modify the content to his needs. Modifications include cropping parts of the selected video out, add voice comments and embed questions or quizzes in the video as they are watching it. In this fashion, EDPuzzle allows teachers to make up lessons in less time by using what is already present on the web and therefore save time spent in preparation and replace it by time invested in researching content. EDPUzzle also allows teachers to monitor their students’ progress with a leader board  feature that makes it easy to know who watched the video, when they watched it and how good they did on the questions. Using EDpuzzle is ridiculously easy to use, it literal comes down to three steps. First, select an online video from a bank of videos with a search engine powered by Google and add it to your teacher account then start editing it by cropping out what you feel is unnecessary and by adding your questions and voice over. Second, assign the video to your class and let the students answer the questions. Third, collect meaningful data on students’ performance and understanding and get instantaneous feedback to adapt your in-class activities. This makes EDPuzzle a complete pedagogical tool, in the sense that it is a stand-alone tool that requires no prior technical video-editing skills nor does it require any complicated management. Just like the video creation process, consulting these videos can be done with the same ease and knowing whether students did their homework or not can be seen with a quick look. Students’ progress can be reviewed and monitored at an individual level as well as at a global level and their struggles identified in a matter of seconds with the leader board feature shown below.

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Another practical functionality of EDPuzzle is that it is fully compatible with Google Chrome browser’s app toolbars. What that means is that it enables you to select online videos at any given time and save them for later reference. You can download the app at Chrome’s Web Store for free and with the ease of a simple click, start uploading chosen videos to your teacher account on EDPuzzle.com.

People from the Edudemic staff describe fairly well how this tool is simple and easy to use both by teachers and students alike. Yet, they mention how EDPuzzle is not nearly as complete a tool as  »a MOOC platform or LMS » by criticizing how the app does not allow you to use many  »chunks » of videos in one single assignment. In their opinion, this makes EDPuzzle very limited because there can be only one video by assignment and therefore this makes for shorter and potentially less complete assignments. The fact that the audio recordings must make out the entirety of the video and cannot be  partial voice over cues placed around the video also is a considerable downside.

As mentioned earlier, there is an ongoing trend that encourages teachers to flip their classrooms; making their lessons into videos that students can watch in the comfort of their homes and spend in-class time doing exercises and filling in the gaps. Cathie G. is an middle school ELA teacher  that is in favour EDPuzzle by saying that she regularly uses the tool for grammar lessons. She says that there is already a vast number of videos on grammar available on the internet, but that many are too long for her students’ attention span. Moreover, she explains that with the cropping feature allows her to chose the exact piece of video required for her short lessons. She adds that being able to dub the video with her own voice makes the videos easier to relate to for her students and that the questions feature helps keep them in check. She enjoys how quick and easy it is to look at her students’ progress and thinks that this helps her adjust the content of her in-class activities on a daily basis. She also mentions that students can be encouraged to produce their own EDPuzzles and use their video in-class for collaborative teaching; making the classroom more interactive and heightening participation.

As for myself, I could easily see the use of this tool in an ESL classroom. As a student myself, I find that in-class time should be devoted to collaborative activities that build on what is already known. In my three hours-long classes at university, I enjoy it when the teacher makes it so that half the class is a  lecture and the other half knowledge building activities. But in primary and high school, teachers only have about an hour to give their classes so this leaves them with little time to do both. So I believe that flipping the classroom can come in handy, to save time but also to target students’ individual struggles and adapt the activities as well as their collaborating peers to their needs. I would use EDPuzzles for it would give me more time to focus on what’s important and less on preparing my material. This may come off as lazy, but I find that being able to recycle another’s work and tailor it to my classroom’s needs is much more efficient than having to do everything myself. I also think that the leader board feature is amazing for giving quick insight into the students’ understanding and I see it as a great self-managed direct feedback feature that, yet again, would save me time that I would have to invest by going through every student’s copy.

Tool Review: Storybird, a storyboard tool that gives wings to the creative mind.

Teaching, like many other skills, is a something that requires constant improvement. A teacher, like many other professionals, needs to remain aware of the new techniques and the new tools provided by the evolution of technology to ensure such an improvement in his/her teaching methods. Finding new innovative and creative ways to have the students participate actively in their learning process is of the essence nowadays: One must find ways to create a dynamic learning environment while making sure that the theory is well understood by the students. Many students can get fed up of the same old routines, and who can blame them! When the time comes to write a text, a story or any creative writing, some students cringe to a point where they get writers lock. A good teacher should be ready for such occasions and since  »an ounce of prevention if better than a pound of cure », he/she should have a bag of dynamic tools ready to make writing activities more diverse and original. And in this bag there should be Storybird.

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This tool is cloud based, easy to use and free. Stodybird offers a great choice of artistic themes for creating original online story-books. So how does it actually work? Very simple. First, you go on the website and you sign up. Second, you select an artistic theme comprised of a number of preset images that you will be able to use in order to create your story. Third, when you’ve decided on a theme, you simply start with your cover page by dragging one of the available images onto the blank slot, add a title and voilà! Thereon, You keep on adding empty slots that you can fill with images and texts that will suit your imagination. By dragging the images on the blank slots, an interactive shadow shows you where the image will land. With the help of this shadow, you can choose whether the image will take half a page, a quarter of it or if it will be on the lower or upper half of the page.

Some critics say that the provided images limit creativity but I disagree. What’s truly interesting about Storybird is that it effectively reverses the usual creative process. Usually, you build a story in words and ideas and then add pictures to it. Here, the opposite is done, and it is very stimulating. Having the images already given to you in no order makes you wonder about which images to select and this sparks the imagination on a whole other level. It can help those students who often have no idea of where to start with their story and kind of gives them something already there to build on.

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Teachers who wish to use the Storybird can create a teacher account and then add their students to share and work on their stories together in class but also while at home, due to the could-based system. From there, the variety of activities one can build with this software goes beyond regular! As a language teacher, you can use it for simple grammar activities by using images to build humorous examples for the taught rules. Still as a teacher, you can use it as a derivative from power-point to create more original presentations. As for the students, you can have them create a side story from a piece of literature reviewed in class, make original book reports, have them come up with an act and use Storybird as a storyboard draft. Some teachers like Stephen Davis even allowed one of his students to use Storybird as draft brainstorming tool for an essay. So you see, there are many possible applications to Storybird for a language teacher to stimulate his/her students to engage in writing.

In sum Storybird is one of those tools that may come in handy for sparking up the imagination of less motivated students and get them working on their writing and idea-planning skills. Storybird can be used to introduce students to writing and can hide the laborious task behind an original and personalized creative process. It can also serve indirectly as a mean to have students reflect on the creative process itself and the amount of work needed to come up with a work of fiction for example. With Storybird, students can be taught to enjoy literature, writing and even dreadful grammar!

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Lastly, Storybird also provides the opportunity to get hard copied of picture story-books projects for under 30$. You can register your mail information online and have a number of copies of your choice sent to you in a matter of weeks. This would be a great motivation for younger students, to have them make a presentation or simulate a book publication activity.

Tool Review: Socrative, customizable quizzes for all intents and purposes!

With being a teacher comes the inevitable task of having to make quizzes, exams or tests. This article’s purpose will be to expose a new way of making quick and dynamic quizzes with a particular attention as to how this great online tool could be useful in an ESL classroom.  The tool that is being reviewed today is called Socrative. Socrative is a great way of introducing student with ICTs by making them take tests on their tablets or with the help of a computer. It is also a tool that can help teachers with their correction as it does the correcting automatically, saving both time and effort for the teacher and expels all misinterpretation or wrong counting of points. So with no further due, let’s begin by describing the tool itself shall we?

To make a long story short, Socrative is a free online cloud-based quiz building software. A great description of every feature can be found in the user guide, but for the purpose of this article, let’s keep it simple. Socrative allows teachers to make quizzes with a variety of three question styles. These styles include: true or false questions, multiple choices questions and short answer questions. With this tool teachers can customize their quiz within the boundaries of these three question types to evaluate different aspects of their subject matter. What’s interesting here is that teachers can design their questions however they please. For true and false questions, the process is pretty straight forward: Write the question, then select the correct answer, either true or false. For a multiple choice question, you write the question, you can put up a number of choices and select the choice that suits the right answer. Finally, the short answer question allows teachers to have multiple answers possible for one question by letting them write all the possible answers prior to the test. In doing so, students do not have to get the exact word order in order to get the right answer. And just like that, teachers can invite students to log on to Socrative and begin the test. Upon answering a question, students may be provided with an explanation of the answer if judged necessary by teachers.

What makes Socrative so great for teachers is also the fact that it takes away the chore of having to correct each quizzes one by one. As described in the Thanks to a leader board feature, that only the teachers have access to, all the answers are compiled, evaluated and the grade automatically follows. This leader board can display a wide variety of information. As the students answer the questions, teachers can monitor their progress by looking at their individual names and what answer they give to which question. Teachers can notice if some students are falling behind or if some are done. After the quiz is completed by all students, the leader board can serve as a reference to check how the class did in general. It can also be used to go into details and look at a specific student’s answers or at the answers themselves to see how well the students did on this particular question. But wait, there’s more! One of the leader board’s interesting functionalities is that the quizzes can also be turned into polls. That’s right, teachers can do more than get a quick look at the student’s results.  By looking at a particular question’s statistics teachers can see how many (in percentage format) of their students chose which answer. Let’s say the question was a multiple choice question and that the correct answer B but only a small 25% of the class answered correctly while a large 75% answered A, C or D. Teachers can then notice that out of this faulty 75% a majority of them (let’s say 60% of the total) answered D. In this case, it could help teachers reflect on the level of difficulty of the question and ask the class why so many thought that D was the right answer. As a teacher, one must not lose sight of his own individual flaws and must thrive to improve his teaching skills all the time. Socrative can help with this by taking away correction time and by providing teachers with some quick insights.

As an ESL tool, Socrative could come quite handy for teacher a tablet dominated based classroom environment. It could serve as daily routines, by asking student 2 or 3 questions before leaving the classroom about what they learned during the lesson. Furthermore, like online critics from Graphite have this to say about classroom applications of Socrative:

A digital polling or quizzing tool like Socrative can also help a quiz-happy teacher go paperless and realize the dream of computer grading.

Socrative can greatly benefit teachers by reducing their correction time and letting them put this time to better use. It could be used as a form of trivia game amongst the students in various way. It could be used as a definition challenge for given words with multiple choices questions or as grammar tests with short answer questions for example. Moreover, with Socrative’s space race feature, students can race through the questions with a game-like friendly competitive atmosphere that students often appreciate.

Like mentioned before, Socrative isn’t just a tool for the students but also for the teacher. Katie Lewis testifies that thanks to Socrative’s leader board, she could quickly determine that her students would not make the distinction between a metaphor or a personification. She could tell this by simply looking at the statistics of the answers given to questions evaluating such differences. One could imagine that should could then create new quizzes that would target this specific distinction so that the students would be drilled to recognize each. It can also be used as a passive evaluating system for flipped classrooms. The issue with flipped classrooms is often about making sure your students listen to your audio or video tutorials. With the help of Socrative, a tutorial could be accompanied with a simple quiz asking a few questions that would confirm the student’s understanding.

Socrative truly is a fine tool in it’s kind. With the growing presence of technology in classrooms, teachers may find themselves in an environment where they must adapt to this new reality. This tool will not only help teachers accommodate but also lessen their time over correction and help them assess their classroom’s struggles swiftly and respond effeciently.

Tool Review: Zotero, mastery of references and citations with a simple click!

Being a student comes with many responsibilities and requires you to develop extra-curricular skills. A few examples of these are, researching information, extracting data, writing texts and so on and so forth. Usually, each student has his strength and weaknesses and manages to cope with his lesser skills by working with teammates that do better. However there is one thing, one skill that all students seem to dread without contest and that is writing a proper reference, citation or bibliography. Getting this right is, without doubt, the bane of every individual’s experience as a student. Personally, I struggled with it until I got to university, until I found out the magnificent tool that I am going to talk to you about in this review. This tool is called Zotero, and it is a game changer when it comes to citations, bibliographical references and research.

If you are anything like myself and the hundreds of students I have come across, you may have experienced what it is like to feel the stress of losing points on an essay for having made a mistake in your reference list. It’s usually the part students leave for last in an essay because they know they’re going to have a bad time doing it. Alas! Zotero comes to the aid of all anxious students and takes all of that pain away.

If only there was a single way of writing a bibliography, then one could argue that it is simply a matter of practice in order to get it into your head, but the fact is that if you compare a linguistic student’s reference section with a literature student’s, you will find that things aren’t written down the same way. Zotero takes care of that with a simple click, as I will explain below in the functionalities’ description. If you wish for a quick overview, here is a great review made by PCworld.com, a well respected online guide to every kind of virtual tools and more.

Zotero was originally a project brought together by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and it was funded by the  Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  It is an easy to use tool that requires almost no effort, truly a no-brainer in a field that usually requires much thoroughness. Zotero can be used as a web tool by synching it with your web browser or as a standalone tool that you can have on your computer’s desktop. It’s main purpose is to facilitate the acquisition of sources and it serves as a library that can retain a great amount of saved data. It is completely free of charge and fast to download.

Now let’s understand how Zotero works. First the web tool: while you are doing research, Zotero stays passively ready for you to use it. Say you are reading an online journal, or an academic paper in the form of an online PDF version or again a website page, and you happen to find some of what you read relevant for your research. What Zotero enables you to do is to select the relevant piece of text and save it in a quotation form. But that’s not all! Zotero automatically saves the source with the quotation and all other pertinent information that needs to be accounted for in the reference section of any research. It literally does it all for you with one simple click. So this is for the web tool’s main utility, now let’s talk about the standalone tool. Zotero’s desktop tool does all of what the web tool can do with a wider possibilities. Say you are looking for a book or any sort of source and all the technical info associated with the source itself(date, author, edition, etc.) but you only have the ISBN or DOI or PMDI; Zotero has an built-in functionality that allows you to input the ISBN or DOI or PMDI and, by accessing the internet, will find all technical information on the document that you seek. It then stores this information on the main interface where you can access it and view it with ease. But wait, there’s more! By right clicking on your newly acquired source you can create a bibliographical reference. Selecting this functionality then takes you to a new menu in which you may chose to have the document cited in citation form or as a bibliographical reference. Furthermore, it lets you choose from a variety of format(APA, MLA, IEEE, etc.) then, Zotero produces your reference note in your clipboard and all that is left for you to do is to go into your research document, paste(ctrl+v) and voilà! It shows up in a format that looks exactly the way it should without having you break a sweat.

With all this being said, I am left with one last question to cover: how is Zotero a relevant tool in an ESL classroom? To be honest, I feel torn between my student perspective and my role as a future teacher. Therefore, in order to reconcile the two perspectives and to keep my mental peace, I have come up with a fair trade. Firstly, if I were an elementary level teacher, I would not even consider introducing the students to Zotero because I do feel the importance of having them learn the basics of research papers formats. As a teacher, it will be my responsibility to explain the theory behind note taking and research discipline, including the notions of bibliographical and reference formats. Thereon, I believe that Zotero would be a great tool to introduce to senior high school students as an ITC tool. As a teacher this is one of my responsibility to introduce my students to technological tools in order to facilitate and lighten their work. After having given my students a first research assignment without Zotero and having corrected them on their reference sections, their citations, then and only then would I introduce them to Zotero. My point being that I personally don’t want to take off points from a good piece of work for such benign reasons and also I want them to spend time writing rather than stressing over the format. By having them understand the purpose and importance of a well written bibliography and citations, and by giving them this tool to work with, I would therefore place the responsibility of their success in their hands rather than have them feel unjustly marked if they fail to it properly. This is what profoundly exasperated me as a student because even though it is a student’s responsibility to be thorough, kids don’t see it that way, they feel like their efforts are and I don’t want my student to feel that way. With the rules and formats being set and with Zotero as their tool, it would make it so that there is no more excuse for them to fail at writing a proper reference section or proper citations. I personally think that Zotero would help students feel less burdened by the idea of a research and would have them concentrate more over the content than the container. This would heighten motivation, I am sure of it.

Tool review: ClassCraft, play as you manage your classroom!

As a teacher, the main struggle one is faced with is class management. Putting up a course plan together and following it is a hefty task in itself, but it becomes even worse when students misbehave or when their behavior impedes the progress of others. Another problem teachers face is lack of student participation in class or lack of involvement in homework. The main reason for students’ misbehaviour or lack of implication is due to a decrease in motivation. Motivating students is one of today’s greatest challenge and as the Vanderbilt University webpage puts it:

The challenge, then, is to provide teaching and learning activities that are both stimulating and offer students a degree of personal control.

This is where Classcraft comes into play(zing!). This software is downloadable over the internet at Classcraft.com and it is a very easy to use software. The enterprise is a family project  put up by two brothers and their father. Here is a great video tutorial made in the fashion of a walkthrough if ever you wish to get a wide perspective. It comes in three versions, a free one, a  »freemium », wich is also free but allows students to invest real money in the game and a  »premium » version which costs a yearly 10$ per class plus 1$ per student. The concept behind Classcraft is to combine a classroom management tool with an underlying videogame frame. It embeds video-game rewarding systems as well as character development present in games such as role playing games. The idea is simple: At the beginning of year, students are introduced to the game by having to chose and create an original concept for their character. The they must choose from three classes of characters: Mage, Warrior and Healer, each with its’ own particular abilities. Finally, the students are teamed up in teams that can go from 3 to 5.

From there, students have to manage four very simple statistics, namely: Their experience points(XPs), their health points(HPs), their ability points(APs) and their Gold pieces(GPs). In the game, the teacher can input some homework or extra work or workshops all disguised as  »quests » and  »side-quests » that, once completed, will grant experience points. Experience points can also be given in class by the teacher in the fashion of participation points like  »Who can answer this question for 10 experience points? ». Experience points are used to level up a student’s character, granting him some  »power points » for every leveling up which he can invest to learn new powers.

Such powers are divided into three categories: Firstly, in-game mechanics like the healer’s ability to restore health points to another teammate, secondly, actual real life privileges that students can use in the classroom like being allowed to eat in class, and thirdly, academic relevant powers like having an approved  »cheat sheet » during an exam. These rewards, labeled as powers in Classcraft, are managed by the teacher and can be anything he deems appropriate.

Which brings us to the ability points. These are gained through two simple in-game mechanics: One being a daily amount of AP granted automatically by the game and the second is one of the mage’s power to restore APs to comrades. The APs are consumed by the player/student in order to use some of his unique class-relevant powers. Powers can also be used as a response from a teammate about one of the teacher’s decision, like the healer’s ability to give back some health points to some of their team or the warrior’s power to block damage for one of his teammate. Powers can be learned by using a power point, which are granted by leveling up, and can be evolved according to a  »spell-tree ». They are all unique to each class and can be used in different fashion: Some abilities are self-serving and other are collaborative. The latter kind of abilities rewards the player who helps out a teammate by giving him more experience points for example. This is one of the many underlying motivational tools implemented in Classcraft. Students want to help each other out because they personally benefit from it; it is a key value taught by the game without students even realizing it.

On the other hand, Health points do not replenish themselves daily and they represent the student/player’s lifeline. These can be deduced from the student by the teacher if he misbehave. Whenever health points are depleted, the student receives a sanction at random in real life like detention or after school community service or anything the teacher will input into the game. Again, in game actions have real-life consequences for the individual student and for his team, because if one teammate  »falls in battle », all other teammates lose 10 health points. Here we can notice another motivational tool of the game; students are motivated to behave because if they don’t their whole team is penalized in the end. This peer pressure can be found to be an even better behavioral lever than the teacher’s authority on the student itself. Classroom discipline is therefore auto-managed and correctional measures are no longer felt as personal attacks from the teacher to the students. The students know that a given misbehaviour will result in a given loss of health points because the rules are predefined and so, they take accountability for their behavior because they cannot rely on the excuse that they may be treated unjustly.

Gold pieces are only usable in-game to customize the player’s avatar. They are given by the teacher as rewards for extra good behavior. These do not bear any importance in real life, they are purely made for the student’s feeling of personalization. In the  »freemium » version of the game, the students can themselves invest a total of 5$ in the game to customize their character. In the free version, teachers can use gold points as an extra incentive for students to behave well.

Besides the fact that Classcraft is a great class motivation tool, the interface itself is very well done. Teachers have easy and total access to everything in the game, they can interact with their students’ characters and follow their development. The interface can be modified to display different information in order to monitor the progress of students. There is a complete log book that automatically updates itself everytime an event occurs in the game, for every experience points granted, for every health points taken away, for every power used, everything is kept in the log book. The student interface is fairly simple, students can use their powers, learn new powers, customize their avatar and that’s it.

As an ESL teacher, and a Role playing game/ video-game enthousiast, I could easily see the usefulness of Classcraft as a classroom managing tool.  I would use this as a motivational tool as well as a way to make interactions in class more casual and more entertaining. I find that it is an engenious way to raise in-class and outside-class involvement through the game platform. It can also be a great social skills building tool as it teams different people together. Through interaction in the game, like healing a teammate, people that would not usually interact now work in pair and help each other out. I think it could help lower the social anxiety that some shy and unpopular students may struggle with and I believe it could help everyone better relate to one another. I would use it to put up homework and have students update themselves with the class material through original quests and I would use original phrasings such as  »Your fellowship must travel to the far away land of youtube.com and there you will have to listen to the vision of this link ». It would be an entertaining way to learn, that’s how I feel about it. I believe Classcraft also brings strategy to the class, because students need to be able to rely on their powers and not use too many to deplete their reserve. In that fashion, it teaches them ressources management. Finally I strongly feel that this would help students’ take more responsability for their actions. As mentioned before, their actions sometimes affect their teammates and the rules are clearly stated so anytime they misbehave or don’t complete work, they will get punished in the game automatically. So in essence, it teaches them the values of responsability towards themselves and their actions and accountanility towards other teammates.
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