An Interview with Melinda Dooly and Shannon Sauro from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I interviewed Melinda Dooly and Shannon Sauro at EUROCALL 2015 in Padova, Italy. They talk here about their experience working on international educational research projects, particularly in telecollaboration, and managing the practical, legal and ethical requirements of such projects. Potentially very problematic, but also very important.

Just to let you ‘behind the curtain’ at Lives of Teachers HQ, I approached this interview in a slightly different fashion from the others on the site. Usually I attend a conference with one or two interviews in mind, and I often contact potential interviewees in advance and read some of their work beforehand. I wasn’t aware of Shannon or Melinda before I saw their presentation, but I was so impressed I asked them if they would spare a little time to talk, and this is what you see here. I had a great experience at the conference, partly because it was in a beautiful place, and partly because it was packed with very clever people explaining interesting things well.

If you enjoy this interview, please check out more in the archives. You can subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes, and follow on email, twitter or Facebook for updates – check out the sidebar for the links.

An Interview with Robert O' Dowd from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I met with Robert O’ Dowd at the EUROCALL2015 Conference in Padova, Italy in August and had a really interesting conversation about telecollaboration. If you know anything at all about the topic you will have heard of Dr. O’ Dowd, as he is amongst the leading figures in the field. If you don’t know anything about it, then watch this short video and learn!

Dr. O’ Dowd has been involved in the INTENT project and the development of UNI-Collaboration amongst many other projects. Although I had heard of telecollaboration (and it’s variants) I was surprised at the number of projects in progress in Europe and beyond. For example, I learnt about TILA and SOLIYA as other examples of teachers and students striving to build linguistic and intercultural understanding.

If you like this interview, please visit the interview index to find many more. I’ll be posting more in the coming weeks. You can also subscribe to the audio podcast version via iTunes. The updates are sporadic, but the archive is building!

An Interview with Regine Hampel from darren elliott on Vimeo.

This interview took place in June 2014 at the JALTCALL conference in Nagoya, Japan. I was joined by Professor Regine Hampel of the Open University, and we discussed CALL, distance learning and blend learning.

There are more interviews to follow, and if you like this please visit the archive for more. You can subscribe via iTunes, and I would appreciate reviews there if you have time. You can also find us on Facebook and twitter.

An Interview with Glenn Stockwell from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I talked to Dr. Glenn Stockwell from Waseda University, Tokyo, at the 2014 JALT CALL conference, held in Nagoya, Japan. In fact, this interview takes place in my own personal office!

Dr. Stockwell had just given an excellent plenary talk, and we discuss his ideas about teaching and technology here.

There are more interviews to follow, and if you like this please visit the archive for more. You can subscribe via iTunes, and I would appreciate reviews there if you have time. You can also find us on Facebook and twitter.

New technologies provide wonderful opportunities for language learning, yet teachers and learners alike should be aware of the potential pitfalls. When implementing educational technology, the fundamental question is whether the tool is an efficient way of achieving the pedagogical aims. In this workshop the presenter will outline some considerations for good practice, illustrated with examples from his own classroom. Amongst other things we will discuss mobile learning, the relationship between autonomy and technology, inclusivity, ethics and security.

What do we mean by ‘technology’?

“A process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants” (Selwyn, 2011, p.6)

Technology is not tools alone, but the knowledge and skills necessary to utilise them. Technology is also associated with ‘improvement’ – doing things cheaper, better and faster. It’s important to remember that devices themselves have no intrinsic values. Technology is situated in culture and society.

Do you and your students perceive technology in the same ways?

Digital Natives (see Prensky, 2001), in contrast with digital immigrants, have grown up in a multimedia, web-enabled world. Prensky’s original metaphor was compelling enough to take hold and has had an impact on educational policy. More recent research (see Bennett et al., 2008,  Hargittai, 2010, Jones, 2011) has uncovered a far more nuanced picture. Nonetheless, there may be some generational differences in how digital technology is viewed by students and teachers.


traditional modern
professional(spreadsheets, word processing) leisure(YouTube, Social Networking)
archival and searchable(email) transitory and ephemeral(snapchat, line)
situated(desktop, CD’s) mobile(smartphone, streaming)

Why use technology?

There are a number of things which digital technologies may help you do better, faster or more efficiently (although probably not cheaper)

Out of class collaboration, learner autonomy, learning management, portfolio building, reflection, learner ownership, engagement with authentic materials, ‘real world’ language use, curation and collation of learning resources, testing and assessment etc.

Case Study One – Digital video for reflection and creativity.

More details available at my previous post ‘Creating and Using Digital Video with Learners’

Case Study Two – Google Forms and QR codes for classroom management. 

I use Kaywa to create QR codes, and QRafter to read them. Google forms are a very simple and paperless way for teachers to assess and track students.

Case Study Three – Prezi, Diigo and Google Drive for out-of-class collaboration 

Prezi is an online presentation tool. Instead of a series of slides, the presentation is one big slide which the user navigates. The final product is not to everyone’s taste, but it has a couple of pedagogical strengths. Firstly, I like that it encourages non-linear thinking in a brainstorming style. (unlike PowerPoint, which is a very linear process). Secondly, it is easy for several students to work on one slide at the same time, even if they are in different places.

Google Drive is a suite of tools in the cloud, including word and excel – like software, which can be edited, shared and accessed amongst users. Collaboration can be between students, or students and teachers.

Diigo is a social bookmarking tool, in which online research can be easily tagged and shared amongst a group.

Further Reading

Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital na (t) ives? Variation in internet skills and uses among members of the “net generation”*. Sociological Inquiry, 80(1), 92-113.

Jones, C. (2011). Students, the net generation, and digital natives. In Thomas, M. (Ed.). (2011). Deconstructing Digital Natives: Young people, technology, and the new literacies. Oxford: Taylor & Francis.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9 (5), 1-6.

Selwyn, N. (2011). Education and technology: Key issues and debates. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

JALT CALL has an excellent and regularly updated blog at DMLL with practical advice and ideas.

This post is a development of ideas first presented in this post five years ago. No doubt there is plenty more to do!

Some Questions – A Technology Checklist

Accessibility Do you need a password to access the site? Do you need to log in every time you access the site? What kind of internet access does your institution allow?What are the opening hours of your institutional computer rooms? Are students able to access institutional servers off “campus”? Is the equipment powerful enough to do what you want to do?
Mobility Is the material accessible from a mobile telephone? How much of it? Can students add or edit material by mobile phone?
Hardware BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or teacher supplied? Who will maintain and store the hardware? How long will it last?
Security Are the students going to upload or create their own work? Is the site searchable on search engines, or can it be hidden? Can anonymity be protected? How much information does a student need to give in order to register with or use the site? Are students comfortable with their work being published? Are the students aware of net security issues? Do the students have good security software at home? Is there a danger that your project could be damaged by viruses?
Navigation Is it easy to get from one place to another? Do hyperlinks pop up in new windows? Is the colour scheme readable? Is it well designed, for both aesthetics and utility? Does the interface change depending on the user (e.g. does it automatically set language based on the userʼs ISP?)
Usability Will the students require a demonstration? Is it simple to use, even for those who generally lack confidence or experience with computers? Is it easy to back up and save work, and are previous versions retained?
Management Will you be managing alone, or with others? How will you delegate management tasks? Who will have access to which parts of the tool? Will students be able to edit? Where will your site be hosted (if necessary)?
Cost Can you find a free version? Can you get an educators discount?If you pay a subscription, is your school willing to commit long-term? Will there be any other expenses? (equipment etc)
Stability Is the site still at a beta testing stage? Does it crash or freeze often?Does it work in the same way on different browsers, computers or networks? Does the look of the site change frequently? Are features and functions often added or removed?
Support Does your school have technical support staff? Are they aware of your project, and willing to help? Does the site have support? How does it operate?Is there a lot of other unofficial support available from the web, colleagues, etc?

An Interview with Nicky Hockly from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I was very happy to talk to Nicky Hockly at the JALT National Conference in Nagoya, Japan in November 2010. She gave a fantastic plenary – well-paced, useful and pertinent – and if you get a chance, see her talk! If not, then this fifteen minute interview will have to do ; D

We talked about the online teacher training company Consulants-E, the obstacles teachers face in implementing technology, mobile learning and all manner of other geeky stuff.

You can follow Nicky on twitter at @TheConsultantsE , and I also recommend How to Teach English with Technology and Teaching Online

UPDATE: (6th November, 2014) This is a developing presentation / workshop which I first gave at the JALT National Conference on October 14th, 2012. I will add further information from time to time, but for a selection of useful links and readings you can check this list at diigo.


I very much enjoyed presenting a workshop at the JALT National conference in Hamamatsu at the weekend. Over the last couple of years I have been working more and more on video projects with students, and in this presentation I reported on what I have developed so far. We started by talking about the various options available to teachers – pocket video cameras, traditional camcorders, mobile devices, webcams and so on. You can see a short video with examples here.

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

This checklist covers some of the factors to consider when choosing a camera and planning a project, and a few questions to ask yourself.

We then looked at some samples my students have created. Unfortunately, I can’t share them publicly online. But I can outline the project cycles we have undertaken.


This is the simplest activity. Student conversations, debates or presentations can be recorded for later analysis. This video transcription worksheet shows the kind of thing you can do. I usually change the questions each time depending on what we have been studying in class (and because familiarity breeds contempt!). One important point is to emphasise that students are not only looking for mistakes, but alternatives and improvements. Yes, I want them to use the third person -s accurately if possible, but I also want them to develop their communicative strategies.

How-To Videos

Taking the website videojug as our model, students create instructional videos. They start by watching videojug’s own video on how to make a video, and to .check the advice offered, then choose a video of their own for homework analysis.
Students then plan and shoot their own video. Some language input is obviously helpful.


As with the ‘How-to’ video’s, it is important to plan carefully. Using a Storyboard enables both you and the students to focus on your task clearly (and makes editing easier later). With drama activities, it is helpful for students to express their emotions. Method acting is interesting, but any activities about self expression, body language or emotion can be effective.

Sweded Movies

In the Michel Gondry film ‘Be Kind, Rewind‘, Jack Black and Mos Def have to remake every video in their video store after the tapes are accidentally wiped. This worked very well with my class using their iPhones and the free editing app Splice.


If you have a windows machine, you can use windows media software, and Macs have QuickTime. There are many other applications available. Jing works with both Macs and PCs, and is free to download and use.

One man who has done a lot of great work with screen capture software is Russell Stannard. His Teacher Training Videos website teaches teachers how to use technology for education.

Two ways in which I have used screencasts – to give feedback on student writing, and to have students teach each other how to use web based tools like prezi, google drive and so on.


Allow me the indulgence. You could do the same with your classes with lexical sets, of course.

fghijk from darren elliott on Vimeo.


Vimeo, for uploading video to share (password protected) with students.

Lipdub for beginners

wevideo online editing application

My previous blog posts about making student video.

A is for Ankylosaurus

How-to student video making

Watch Yourself

I was fortunate to meet Dr. Stephen Bax at the JALTCALL conference in Nishinomiya, Japan recently. This is the third conference I have attended and, as usual, it was well worth the trip. Dr. Bax gave a keynote talk about ‘normalisation’ in educational technology, which was informative, engaging and relevant. We talked about his keynote as well as other work he has been involved in throughout his career. If you can, seek out his articles on ‘normalisation’ if you are at all interested in educational technology.

As mobile learning takes off, it’s inevitable that the big publishers are going to want in on the act. The question is, will they do a good job? Oxford University Press have started fairly gently by adapting existing print products for the iTunes store, and have very kindly gifted me a number of iPad apps for review. In today’s post I would like to focus on their dictionary apps.

The first is the Oxford Advanced Learners dictionary, (ALD) which I suppose we ought to look at as both a dictionary and as an app. As a dictionary, I like it – the definitions are clear and there are plenty of authentic (at least, they look authentic) example sentences. Words are also marked with symbols to indicate their ‘importance’ – a key shows that the word is within the Oxford 3000, and AWL indicates that the word is on the Academic Wordlist. Both lists are based partly or solely on corpora, and are worth taking the time to explain to students as part of dictionary training.

As an app it has strengths and weaknesses. The best way to look at it, I think, is in comparison with two other dictionaries I frequently use. One is the combined Deluxe Oxford Dictionary of English and Oxford Thesaurus of English which I bought for myself some time ago. At nearly forty quid, It’s not cheap by any means, but I find it pretty handy – especially when I sit down with my Guardian crossword. The other is a Japanese / English dictionary called Midori which I use as a learner of Japanese. Let’s look at the features in comparison.


Midori has none. The deluxe plays words in isolation, but the ALD wins here with it’s bank of audio example sentences. This can be downloaded for use off line, or not, depending on your memory space, at no extra cost. Both American and British banks are available.

Lists and Folders

One of the problems I have with dictionaries (as both a teacher and a learner) is that it’s very easy to look up a word, use it, and instantly forget it. These apps all allow book marking for later review with varying degrees of success. In the ALD, users can save words to a list, but that’s all. If you are good at reviewing at the end of the day, and transferring such information to organised notebooks or flashcards, then great, but otherwise it’s not especially helpful. The Deluxe is more useful, in that it allows the user to create and save words to certain folders. This way a user can organise lists to review in their own way… and as a teacher I can create lists to pull up in particular classes if I anticipate vocabulary ahead of time. Best of all though, by a clear margin, is the Midori app. Users can create their own folders, and the app will take your saved lists and turn them instantly into two sided flashcards. It also has a number of ready made lists, including sets of characters learnt by pupils in each year of elementary school, and sets for each level of the internationally recognised Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Perhaps this is not a like for like comparison – translating dictionaries and monolingual dictionaries are not really the same thing. Nonetheless, I feel that an app should offer something which its paper equivalent can’t apart from portability and novelty.


All three dictionaries have a ‘jump’ function, enabling the user to press a word or character within a definition and leap on to the entry for that word.  The Deluxe lets readers switch between the thesaurus and dictionary for the same word.  All three dictionaries will also automatically save your history, so if you know you checked a word yesterday you can pop back and find it again. As well as keyboard entry, you can look up words on Midori by using your finger or a stylus to write characters directly onto the screen. Japanese lends itself to such input methods, of course, but it might be a useful feature for students who want to check their handwriting in English!

Other Settings

Midori is plain black and white with a hint of red. But the OUP apps are far more customisable in terms of style, font sizes and colours. The ALD can also be adapted to show or hide certain aspects of definitions.

If you are looking for an English dictionary (and I think it’s a pretty important tool for a teacher) then I would certainly recommend both the OUP offerings. The features they have are generally well done and, compared to the cost of an electronic dictionary,  these are very portable and user-friendly. Both are compatible with iTouch, iPhone and iPad.

However, this is a hard review to write, as I realise my criticisms are not about what the apps do badly; rather, what they might possibly do but don’t. The best app developers are fully exploring the opportunities mobile learning affords. Features like jump navigation and audio examples are great compared to paper dictionaries, but nothing new to my Japanese learners used to electronic dictionaries. Whilst the OUP dictionaries are very nice looking, easy to use, and functional, neither will change the way you learn. A dictionary like Midori, on the other hand, might. A dictionary with the best features of all of them would absolutely blow your socks off!


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!