I’ve had my new toy for a couple of months now, enough time to play around with it in various teaching contexts, on a few long and short trips, and in two different countries. I say toy because, if I’m honest, that is mainly what it is – I mean, it’s a luxury item, something I wanted rather than needed, and something which makes my life more fun rather than better. Nonetheless I have found myself doing a lot with it, and with certain reservations I would recommend it.

Which Model?

Mine is wi-fi only, and 64GB memory. My university campus doesn’t have wi-fi, so it means I have to be a little better prepared for class – not that I was unprepared before, but I had greater flexibility with a laptop plugged in via an ethernet cable. I miss not being able to call up youtube videos, google images and the like on the spur of the moment. On the other hand, I don’t miss carrying my MacBook Pro up a very steep hill every morning.

In the UK, wireless coverage is far more widespread – you can check up in pretty much any cafe or pub. For Japan, I may pick up one of these mobile routers – very cheap minimum monthly plan, but handy for emergencies.

I can live without the 3G, but I am glad I got the largest memory available. I have a lot of audio and video, as well as quite a few books, and it’s nice not to have to keep deleting and re-synching.

Classroom Apps and Applications

The main reason I held off on the first model is that it didn’t have video mirroring, which the iPad 2 does. That means that whatever is on the screen of the device can be beamed through a projector or shown through a TV, with the right adaptor cables. This is great for showing video clips in class – I use handbrake to rip my own dvd’s onto my mac, and it is also handy for converting other files sourced from the internet. From the laptop, I can easily synch them onto the iPad. One video app which has a lot of potential is the TED+SUB application. Many of the subtitled videos are available to be saved and played offline, too. I have also loaded up all my class cd’s – one less thing to forget when scrabbling around before a lesson, and also easier to use in mp3 format with a touch-slider control.

The first essential app is Keynote. You may have used the desktop software in presentations or class before, but I really love the way it is set up in the iPad version. It’s so easy to create nice looking slideshows, with animations, audio/visual inserts, or different design features. I like it because it allows me to pace the class according to the mood. Rather than writing three discussion questions on the board, for example, I can put each one on a slide and reveal them one at a time. The same goes for new vocabulary, or images, or example sentences, or whatever it is you want to show. It saves paper, and looks neater than my scruffy handwriting. One drawback is that I haven’t figured out a way to save the files into folders on the device itself yet, although they are so quick and easy to knock up that I’ll probably just delete them and remake them as necessary. Those that are worth saving can be exported in several formats and saved externally, them synched back onto the device in the future.

The two other apps I have used the most so far in class are both dictionary apps. The first is the Oxford Deluxe Dictionary and Thesaurus, very expensive for an app, but for an English teacher probably worth it. I’ve found it very useful as a dictionary training tool, for pointing out differences in usage, and for demonstrating pronunciation (with the audio). The other dictionary is Midori, a very effective Japanese / English (and back again) translating dictionary. Lower level classes in particular tend to rely on their translating dictionaries, (although I try to encourage and support other methods) and it helps me to make sure that they are saying what they want to say. As an aside, it’s great for my personal study. I can input Japanese via the keyboard or with a stylus directly onto the touch pad – so I can even look up complex Chinese characters.

One more reference tool which has come in handy is All of Wikipedia, as you can imagine it’s a huge file but when I am offline it can be handy for checking up on random ideas or questions which come up in class. A very useful tool for a wi-fi only, 64GB iPad 2. If you have wireless access, Qwiki presents information via audio, text and pictures. It also detects your location to offer you encyclopedia entries which may be of particular interest, although to be honest the best use in class might be spotting the inaccuracies! I am still tinkering with maps, but World Travel Atlas seems to be the best so far.

With only one iPad for a class of twenty to thirty, and no wi-fi, there have been no fundamental changes to the way I teach. If I had several iPads and wireless classrooms… now THAT would be something! Imagine students video recording each other and uploading the videos to a class blog, solving puzzles, doing research together….

I have been teaching a professional couple, informally, on-and-off, for several years. In the past, I used a notepad with a piece of carbon paper in a ‘dogme’ style lesson – I noted the ’emergent language’, we worked on whatever we needed to work on, and at the end of the class I gave them the top sheet and kept the carbon copy myself. However, they are very tech savvy people, now each with an iPad! I am set up on the wi-fi in their house and we are figuring out together some of the things we can do. One app they put me on to is Note Taker HD. Using a stylus, we can write directly onto the screen, insert images or links, save as a pdf and share on dropbox or via email. Another which could be fun is Dragon Dictation, a very clever (and free!) app which transcribes whatever you say (as long as you are wi-fi connected). It could work for presentation or pronunciation practice very well.

Finally, GoodReader is another essential app. It’s a pdf reader which I’ll talk about it more in part two of this review, but in class I have used the highlighting and annotation functions on conversation transcripts, to show particular features of conversational English. It works well in conjunction with audio downloaded from elllo, an excellent free resource in its own right.

I am still exploring the possibilities for classroom use, but I can say that the device itself has a fundamentally different feel to using a laptop or desktop. By removing the keyboard and mouse and interacting more directly with the screen, it feels far more intuitive and responsive… there seems to be one less layer of mediation between what you want to do and what the computer does. Because of that speed, flipping between a video and a text document, then zooming on to a thesaurus page feels far more natural and the flow of the class is less likely to be interrupted.

In part two of the review I’ll talk more about the out-of-class applications, for research, for admin (and for fun!). Until then, I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing with your new toy!

Presented at the Chubu Junior and Senior High School Seminar 2010

First of all, a guide to the five kinds of digital camera I discussed. The ‘traditional’ camcorder, the pocket camcorder, the mobile phone, the digital camera, and the webcam.

A Field Guide to Digital Video from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Then a digital video checklist of things to consider when choosing a camera for a job.



Transcriptions can be a simple way of noticing errors, reflecting on strategies, checking gaps in knowledge and reviewing language. Here is an example video transcription worksheet to give you an idea. Students can transcribe conversations, role plays or even monologues, although I think they should be unscripted initially. Research suggests (see Lynch, below) that transcription can be beneficial as part of a task process.

You may prefer to put the students behind the camera too, in which case you will need to train them in the use of equipment. If all your students have video facilities on their mobile phones, you could have them record short videos over the weekend to discuss in class on Monday – playback through the phones themselves makes this a fairly simple job for the teacher. These could be project or topic related, or you could give the students free reign to express themselves.

If you would like to be even more ambitious, you could release the students to make and edit documentaries, interviews, skits or commercials. You could exchange video messages with students in other countries, remake scenes from movies shot for shot, make news reports or create weekly soap operas. With the tools and the time, let your imagination run wild!

Recording and watching your own classes, or those of colleagues, can also be useful. Check Ruth Wajnryb’s excellent ‘Classroom Observation Tasks’ for ideas.


Vimeo is the video hosting service I use. The pro service is cheap, has a massive 5GB weekly upload limit, can be password protected, and looks great. It is also free of the awful commentary one comes across on youtube, with a great community of artists, animators and film makers. Students can visit the site directly and watch the video just by typing in a pre-agreed password. No registration or log-in required.

Dropbox provides free online storage, back-up, and synching between computers. Premium services are available, but if you can get your friends to sign up to the free package you get free bonus storage. Your students don’t have to sign up to anything, you can upload video files and send students a download link by email. Very simple.

WordPress is a great blogging platform (this blog is a wordpress blog) to which you can directly upload video, as long as it not too large. Some services allow you to post by email. Each of the four student blogs I am administrating this semester has a unique email address. I give this email out to the students and they can post text, photos or videos to the communal blog to share. A great way to collaborate on projects, and to stay in touch over the long summer holiday.

There are absolutely hundreds of digital video formats available, some rare, some very common. This list helps you figure them out, and free software like Any Video Converter will help you convert them if necessary.

I have bookmarked a lot of stuff which turned up during online research here at diigo … have a look around!

Further Reading

Allan, M. (1985). Teaching English with Video. Harlow, UK: Longman

Geddes, M. & Sturtridge, G. (Eds.) (1982). Video in the Language Classroom. London: Heinemann.

McGovern, J. (Ed.)(1983). Video Applications in English Language Teaching. Oxford: Pergamon.

(Three fantastic books. Not only are many of the ideas and activities still relevant today, but issues such as format incompatibility and teacher techno-fear seem to have quite a history….)

Brewster, M. (2009). Lights, Camera, Action. English Teaching Professional, 64 (September), 59 – 62.

(Some really great practical activities, highly recommended)

Shrosbree, M. (2008). Digital Video in the Language Classroom. The JALT CALL Journal, 4/1, 75 – 84.

(Slightly more technical, also practical)

Grayson, K. (2010). Flippin’ Out. Technological Horizons in Education Journal, March, 35 – 38.

(Useful overview of a number of handheld ‘pocket’ camcorders, although already dating fast!)

Lynch, T. (2007). Learning from the transcripts of an oral communication task. English Language Teaching Journal, 61/4, 311 – 319

Stillwell. C., Curabba, B., Alexander, K., Kidd, A., Kim, E., Stone, P. & Wyle, C. (2010). Students transcribing tasks: noticing fluency, accuracy, and complexity. English Language Teaching Journal, 64/4, 445 – 455.

(Two of many articles exploring the value of transcription)

Xtranormal is a site I have championed around the blogosphere before. It allows users to make animated movies by clicking and dragging icons, and converts text to voice in a variety of computer generated accents. If you have time, it is a great way of creating skits with students. We can work on body language, study the relationship between spelling and pronunciation, explore topics which are hard to talk about face to face, or just have a lot of fun!

A guy working for Best Buy in the US made a video about dumb iPhone users, which has now been seen by more than a million people. It’s rather rude (so don’t watch it if you don’t like swearing).

I was excited to see the tool used to make a big hit like this. The site is running a little slower due to all the extra attention generated by this video, and good for them! It’s a great idea, and in the past has always worked well. This has been a great opportunity for them to pull in a lot of new users.

But unfortunately, in the parlance of the internet, they seem to have gone for the epic fail. In their recent site updates, they have made the site more difficult to use and more difficult to understand. So what do I want?

1. Make it searchable

It used to be. But the search functions – movies, users… and even help forums, are all gone. How am I supposed to find the best videos to show as examples? How can I dig out my students’ videos? How do I find an answer to my particular question? Even this blog is searchable. Who ever heard of a site that wasn’t?  There are a lot of xtranormal videos on youtube, but most of them are pretty filthy (it is pretty funny to make cartoon rabbits do Lil’ Wayne tracks in computer voices, I admit). Filtered searches onsite would help educators and students. As one of my students said when presenting the tool to the class last week ‘We can’t show you an example because they all have bad words in’.

2. Make it easy

To be fair, xtranormal is ridiculously easy to use. The final product you see above probably took very little time to make, and the more familiar one gets with the application, the quicker it is. However, at the moment the user is offered three options at the bottom of the screen when it comes to saving the movie – preview, save or publish. What is the difference? Well, that depends on which of the packages you have signed up for… to make it even more complex, the ‘quick tips’ guide refers to the ‘action’ and ‘it’s a wrap’ buttons, which no longer exist. Five options for saving a movie?

3. Make it payable

I am very grateful for all the hardworking developers out there who make basic versions of their work available for free. If I use them enough (like vimeo and flickr) I am happy to upgrade and pay for premium functions and storage. That seems to be the standard model, and no one can complain. But when a site suddenly changes it’s pricing policy (as ning tried to do) a lot of people get irate. So imagine how irritating it is when a site keeps their pricing policy totally hidden. I am signed up for a free text-to-movie package with xtranormal but it wasn’t until I tried to publish a movie that I discovered I would have to pay. A new screen pops up telling me I don’t have enough points to publish, and that I should buy a bundle. There is nowhere on the site (that I can find) to explain exactly what the pricing package is. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, right?

4. Make it friendly

Reports are that people attempting to pay at this point are experiencing great difficulty. Customer support is perfunctory, with pretty flimsy answers to my questions so far..

I feel a bit mean picking on one particular application, but unless it improves I will be looking around for an alternative next semester. I’ve written about technology checklists in previous posts – any of you have feedback on this particular story?