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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mind the App!

Mind the App!
by Thomas Strasser
Mind the App!

Thomas Strasser is a New Learning Technologies researcher, teacher trainer and EFL teacher at University College of Teacher Education, Vienna - website: Learning Reloaded

Mind the App! is a comprehensive and well researched teacher resource book covering a collection of very useful web2.0 apps that may be used for teaching and learning both inside and outside of the classroom. Thomas concentrates on Web 2.0 apps that enable users to "become an important part of an interactive World Wide Web without having any IT-related knowledge other than a few basic skills!" Music to the ears of non-ICT teachers and those that may still feel threatened by the web2.0 revolution!!

The aim of the book "is to provide interactive, meaningful and highly motivational EFL activities" and, accordingly, there is a strong emphasis on the methodology of using the apps in the classroom, rather than just examining what the apps do. There is no doubt that Thomas succeeds in his aim and his emphasis on the practical tried and tested exercises will be of particular interest for teachers with limited ICT skills.

In the introduction, Thomas cites many positive reasons for using web 2.0 tools explaining that they are, in the main, motivational, interactive, creative, collaborative, fast, authentic, environmental friendly, support digital literacy and free to use!! All good reasons to further investigate their potential. Unfortunately, the possible pitfalls in using web2.0 apps should not be ignored, where misuse of such tools can lead to cyber bullying and Thomas does highlight various concerns including potential problems with piracy, spam, plagiarism, copyright and poor quality content on websites.

There is a wealth of information included in this book and apart from the detailed treatment of the individual apps, Thomas provides many links to other useful EFL websites as well as a very useful quick reference guide. This guide details the appropriate language level, focus of the app, suggested lesson time and any minimum age restrictions required for use. In addition, Thomas also provides video tutorials, which can be found on the website dedicated to the book

I love the layout of the book, where each web app is given it's own couple of pages and there is a wide left margin that allows for the teacher to add their own notes and ideas.

As shown above, each app is covered in three sections. The first deals with practicalities such as the language level required by the students, the most suitable age grouping, class time required, ict skills required and equipment requirements. In this section, Thomas also includes links to other similar applications, allowing for further exploration.

The second section explains, with clear accompanying screenshots, how the tool is actually used, while the final section provides examples of using the app in the classroom and for follow up activities including homework. Undoubtedly, this section is of great value to both ICT experts and those that are only starting to dabble in Web2.0 applications.

Thomas groups the 39 apps examined into five general areas (teacher tools, visualisation, collaboration, audio, writing) but is it worth noting that use of any tool is not restricted to only one area and there are many cross over points.

Chapter 1 - teacher tools (6 tools)
Apps dealing with creating and using online content, quizzes and games. Example: LearningApps

Chapter 2 - visualisation (13 tools)
Apps that help you create visual content including word clouds, timelines, presentations, posters, photo stories, QR codes and screen capture/recording. Example WordSift

Chapter 3 - collaboration (9 tools)
Apps that enable document/presentation sharing, webpage markups, backchannelling, surveys and polls, mindmaps brainstorming and online notice boards. Example: Markup

Chapter 4 - audio (4 tools)
Apps for audio including talking avatars, converting text to speech, voice recording and creating radio stations. Example: Spreaker

Chapter 5 - writing (7 tools)
Apps for social bookmarking, creating online stories/books, flipbooks, 3D flipbooks, diaries and cartoons. Example: ZooBurst

The following examples will give you a flavour of just some of the practical exercises suggested in the book:
  • Sharing powerpoint presentations with Authorstream
  • Removing "all the lists, ads, and other distracting features of YouTube" with Quiettube
  • Using MailVU to create short oral quizzes for the students to watch and answer questions or record a given text with deliberate errors (pronouncation, content and grammar) and get the students to identify the mistakes. Ask students to record themselves and listen to the recording for "instant feedback"
  • Encourage students to use Wordle (word cloud) to check for repitition in their essays or assignments. Some of the repeated words can then be replaced by synonyms - a nice visual way to encourage students to expand their vocabulary!
  • Let students use Glogster to create online multimedia rich posters about themselves or celebrities, interesting topics or book reviews.
  • Get students working in groups to create grammar Prezi presentions, which include grammar notes and examples of use - both in written and video format.

Although this book is primarily aimed at language teachers it is equally useful for any subject teacher and many of the exercises provided can be easily adapted to enhance learning in other subject areas. I highly recommend Mind the App! as an excellent resource for the modern 21st century teacher!!!

You can buy a copy of Mind the App! online
from Helbing Languages


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