A blog for teachers and learners who love technology

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Aurasma - Can ELT textbooks come to life with this app?


What is Aurasma?

To begin with Aurasma is a free to use mobile application which is compatible with both Android as well as IOS mobile devices. It enables users to experience augmented reality by aiming the mobile's camera at different images, objects or even places. For example, a car magazine editor is writing an article about a new car but he wants to make the article more engaging. What Aurasma enables him to do, is to link a picture of the car inside the article, with a video/3D product model showing this new car. As a result, when the reader points his camera to the picture while using Aurasma , the preselected video/ 3D model of the car will appear. In order to better explain Aurasma I will present one of the uses I am very fascinated about.

Example Activity

Before presenting the examples I prepared, I would like to briefly explain how I came up with those examples. A significant number of teachers who teach English using a textbook will probably agree that textbooks have some flaws. For those examples, I would like to focus on two specific flaws. Sheldon (1988) in his article "Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials" describes textbooks as  static and at the same time he highlights the fact that they become outdated quite fast due to the long process of writing and publishing. Even though the article is quite old, textbooks have not changed dramatically. Both of those drawbacks still exist in many English language textbooks. Supplementing materials either in the form of CDs or computer software have considerably helped to improve the reputation of textbooks. However, the problem is still there. In other words, the actual textbooks will remain static even though most of the material those material refer to the book content.

How is Aurasma relevant to that? Before answering this question, I will present my examples and then I will try to explain how these are relevant to what I have said about the textbooks.  For those examples, I have used a very popular ELT textbook called New Headway Elementary written by Liz and John Soars and published by the Oxford University Press. I have made three examples. In the first two, students need to carry out a reading task, in which they need to read about two famous women, a singer and an actor/politician. When students point their camera at the pictures 1,2 a video of the singer performing and the biography of the actor/politician will appear on the screen respectively.

You can download the app on your mobile phone if you want to test the examples I created. Android - IOS (In order to be able to use my Auras you need to follow my Aurasma profile - username: Antonopa)

When students point their camera at these extracts the following webpages will open:

Shirley Temple Black IMDb Profile

The third example is a bit different. It comprises of a recording I created in which I demonstrate the correct pronunciation of four words that appear in a box. This box presents the words know, talk, girl and thought, all written in phonetic symbols.

Linking this to theory

During my practical teaching modules, I recall my groups' tutor highlighting the importance of activating schemata. Teachers should be able to help learners relate their previous knowledge so as to engage with the material.
Schemata theory proves that reading texts enable learners to construct their own understandings by taking part into an interactive process between the learner and the text (Carrell, Eisterhold 1983). Learners bring the own experiences, and background knowledge into the classroom which will be activated by the time a learner receives the input by reading the text (Carrell, Eisterhold 1983). However, what happens when learners background knowledge is not enough to engage with the text? Carrell and Eisterhold (1983) highlight the importance of a balance to exist between the learners' background knowledge and the knowledge that the text require learners to possess.

Example 1

I believe that Aurasma can play an important role at this problem which exists with outdated or irrelevant to the learners material. Namely, in the first example not everyone in the class might know Joss Stone. Considering the fact that she is a contemporary singer, watching a video clip of her will help learners engage with the material because they now have some exposure to her. Depending on the learners' age the song can be also changed to increase engagement. For instance, I choose a live performance of the song 'here comes the rain again' which was originally sung by  Eurythmics, an 80s band. As a result, in a class of adults who might not be familiar with Joss Stone, this song which they will probably know, will help them to engage with the material.

And this is how textbooks can actually become alive for the first time and within the boundaries of the pre-selected content can possibly change according to the learners' needs.

As I mentioned before teachers need to be able to engage learners with the topic. However, I have witnessed a significant number of trainee teachers and found it challenging to start and then handle a conversation which would activate learners schemata. Therefore the use of Aurasma, can possibly help those teachers who find it difficult to grab their students attention and engage them with the topic.

Example 2

The idea behind the second example is the same with the idea behind example 1. Shirley Temple Black was not a name I was familiar with when I was reading through this book for the first time. Therefore depending on my learners' age I assume that they would probably not know her, which in the worst case scenario may result in a lack of engagement.

However,  Aurasma's benefits are not limited to helping with students' engagement. In example 2, a webpage of a famous site will open which keeps record of all the actors in the world. This page includes Shirley Temple Blacks biography, filmography as well as famous quotes of her, trivia and strange facts. The possibilities for extra activities are significantly increased with this new piece of material. For instance, learners can scan the texts for particular information about some of he movies or they can create a group project about the different aspects of her life. Of course, the same can happen with example 1. Extra activities can be built around Joss Stone's live performance such as gap-filling activity based on the song's lyrics.

It must be acknowledge though, that the activities that I proposed are not innovative at all. Perhaps Aurasma can help with creating activities that were previously infeasible due to the lack of such technology, but this is not what I am examining in this post.

Example 3

Example 3 is significantly different to the other two. To begin with, while example 1,2 are designed to take place within the classroom environment, example 3 is designed to help learners while studying at home. In this example I have linked the image from a box which highlights the correct pronunciation of four words with a recording I created with Vocaroo (an on-line voice recorder). In the recording, I read the instructions of above the box as well as the actual words.

In my opinion, there is a lot of potential for publishers to improve their textbooks by implementing small sound clips or video clips depending on the Target language. In other words, learners, especially those who live in countries where English is not used for everyday situations, have limited exposure to English. Fours hours of teaching are not enough to receive an adequate amount of input, What if textbooks publishers would include sound clips modelling the correct pronunciation? Or small video clips in which teachers would explain some grammatical points? Or even some hints on how to finish a specific activity? The opportunities are endless. As long as those extra materials are carefully designed to help learners and avoid confusing or spoon-feeding them, textbooks will be considerably improved.

Target Audience

Regarding the use of Aurasma as in the third example, learners can be exposed and experiment with the material stored in an on-line repository as they would do in self-access centres. Assuming that there is at least one extra material (Aura) for every activity, rule etc. in the book, learners are able to choose which of those extra materials would experiment with. Therefore, we can describe this as self-directed learning. Either because of personal interest or because they identify their weaknesses, learners will be able to focus on different materials. What is more,  there is an element of programmed learning through this. Namely, learners would be able to work individually on their own pace, in pre-determined by the teachers or publisher, chunks of language (Benson 2011). Having said the above, I believe there is high chance that autonomous learners will be positively benefited by the use of Aurasma.

Concerning examples one and two, it can be generally said that, learners who enjoy using their mobile phone would like this new technology. I also believe that there is a strong element of active learning in those examples. In other words, teachers who implement Aurasma in their lessons, will give them the chance to discover on their own what comes next. This is utterly unpredictable considering the fact that learners will not have access to the Auras until teachers decide it. Therefore, there is high chance that high risk-takers, as well as active learners, would embrace Aurasma.


One of the limitations, or to put it more correctly, disadvantages of this technology is the probability of distracting learners from learning. The fact that learners, need to open and use their mobile phones during the class-time can be a good reason for them to check their Facebook profile's news feed, In a big class monitoring what learners do with their mobile phones is a very difficult task. However, I believe that similar to example 2 (Shirley Temple Black), if learners use the App to access new piece of information which will enhance their understanding and maybe be a part of another task, under the correct management learners will not have the time to be distracted. In other words, if this becomes a vital part of the lesson which is necessary in order to progress into the next activity, task etc. , I strongly feel that learners will maintain their interest.

A tutorial video 

This is a tutorial video that I created and gives a good introduction on how to use Aurasma studio.


Benson, P. (2011). Teaching and researching: Autonomy in language learning. Routledge.

Carrell, P. L., & Eisterhold, J. C. (1983). Schema theory and ESL reading pedagogy. TESOL quarterly, 17(4), 553-573.

Sheldon, L. E. (1988). Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT journal,42(4), 237-246.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Soft Chalk - Creating web based lessons

Soft Chalk

What is soft chalk?

Soft Chalk is a web lesson builder. In other it is a tool that enables teachers to create digital lessons. Teachers can make use of their own material or they can search through the built-in search engine for materials and put them together to create the lessons. What is more you can share and borrow your lessons and other people lessons respectively by uploading them to the soft chalk online repository.

Free to use?

Soft chalk is free to try for 30 days but after that it requires you to pay the amount of 495$ which is considerably high. However, the 30 days trial gives the chance to decide whether this tool is worth your money or not.

Example material

I created an example lesson in which I deal with the prepositions. The lesson will be suitable for a group of either adults or teenagers learners at an elementary level/ A1-A2. For this lesson, I tried to follow an inductive approach. Learners, after a very brief introduction which explains what prepositions are, are given a text which I wrote for this activity. Learners need to scan through the text in order to locate the prepositions. The purpose of this task is to give them the opportunity to "notice" the prepositions inside the text. At this stage, mistakes are expected, therefore, a low score in the activity would be normal. However, learners through activity two would hopefully be able to figure out what the prepositions are and not confuse them with the articles. The reason I chose the articles a, an and the to be the wrong answers is the fact that the learners should be familiar with the indefinite and definite article therefore they should be able to figure out that the rest constitute a different group of words. Then learners move to activity 3 in which they are given a picture (picture 1) with different colour boxes and a tree. Learners should scan through the text once again and locate the prepositions in order to be able to distinguish between the different places that are mentioned in the text. Then they need to move the labels (bus stop, convenient store etc.) into the correct boxes.

By the time, they finish with the labelling activity learners should be familiar with the prepositions and figure which words consist them. Then one the same text but without the prepositions, learners need to choose the correct prepositions. Learners are urged to recall the picture in which the label the different place in order to finish this task. Finally, now that they have been presented with the target language and have practised it they are asked to create their own paragraphs in which they will describe what is around their own home as in the text.

Target Audience

Softchalk is a tool that gives teachers the opportunity to decide on their target audience. As long as, learners have basic IT skills they can experience a soft chalk lesson. The reason why there is not a particular target audience is mainly because soft chalk can be described as a tabula rasa. What I mean by that is that soft chalk is just the platform in which teachers will create their lessons. By lessons, I refer to complete lessons similar to those taking place in a classroom. Therefore both activities and theory can be included. As a result, depending on the context of the lesson the target audience may vary in terms of proficiency. Concerning multi-modality, soft chalk will be particularly appealing to visual learners. Auditory learners will also find soft chalk interesting depending on the teachers' approach when creating the lessons. For example, a lesson that asks learners to watch a series of videos and do some activities based on them would be motivating for that type of learners. On the other hand, kinaesthetic learners will find softchalk monotonous and demotivating considering the fact that the only movement that takes place is limited to moving the mouse and typing on the keyboard. Last but not least, analytic learners will be benefited by softchalk. The company who created softchalk are rewarding teachers for excellent lessons every year. All the lesson had one thing in common. They were given small chunks of knowledge followed by activities. As a result, information and instructions were given in an explicit manner. What is more, each of those chunks which include theory and activities had very clear goals and objectives. What is more , the range of activities the softchalk offers are particularly relevant to the analytical learner's taste. Those include matching, labelling and jigsaw activities. Finally, due to the fact that softchalk promotes those small chunks of activities and theory, learners who get easily distracted and find it difficult to concentrate would be particularly benefited by this approach that softchalk promotes.

Does it meet our pedagogical goals?

In terms of feedback, softchalk records learners scores for the teacher to identify the learners' weaknesses. It gives real-time feedback, as a result learners are given the chance for self-correction. Concerning writing tasks such as essays in which the answers are very long, those will be store in order for the teacher to read them later give them appropriate feedback. 

Concerning the four language skills, writing and especially reading can be sufficiently practised. Again, however, the affordances for language learning depend on the teachers' correct use of this particular technology. Normally, each lesson will include a reading task followed by an activity, based on the task , which will lead to activities that require higher-order thinking skills. At that point, learners will need to reflect on the learning process or create an authentic piece of work such as an essay which is similar to what I did in my lesson with the writing activity.


While creating a lesson, I realised that what I was creating was a web equivalent of my normal lessons that would take place in a traditional English classroom. However, when I tried to include a speaking activity I came to realize that this is not possible. What is more, listening is not provided in the possible activities. Finally. groupwork is also missing from softchalk. However, at some point in this presentation I said that softchalk is a platform which can enrich with material from another source as well. For example in my first post, I talked about Voki, a tool that lets you create speaking Avatars. Voki avatars can be embedded in a softchalk lesson to provide learners with some spoken language input. Similar to that, learners might be prompted to write a collaborative essay by embedding a Google doc link. Finally about speaking, learners could be given a speaking task along with a link of Vocaroo which is an on-line tool capable of recording one's voice. After that, learners could post the link of the recording in a space created by the teacher similar to the one I created for the writing task. To conclude, as long as we have knowledge of the various ICT tools, we can embed them in our lessons to provide our learners with ample practice of the different language skills.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Classcraft - Managing the class or playing World of Warcraft?


So what is classcraft?

This week I am going to present you classcraft. When I visited classcraft's website for the first time, I knew what to expect from this multi-purpose tool. To begin with, classcrafts is a tool that is expected to be used during the class. It is classroom management tool that helps with rewarding, motivating the learners The reason behind this is the fact that, it was created while having in mind World of Warcraft and other famous on-line role-playing games (RPGs). It borrows some core elements that made RPGs so popular like creating a character, questing (finishing in-game tasks), leveling up your character by gaining experience points so as to make him stronger and cope with more difficult quests. Another important feature of the game is the fact that it promotes groupwork. The way has been implemented in classcraft completely nullifies every argument which supports that those games promote antagonism between the learners.

Do I have to pay to use it?

Teachers can choose between three versions of classcraft, the free version, the freemium version and the premium Version. The differences between those versions are hardly noticeable. The free version includes access to the full gameplay, support from the community and the developers, as well as different localizations including English, French, Spanish, German and Chinese. The Freemium version is a free version which enables learners to make in-App purchases. The in-game currency (gold) only affects the customization of each learners' character and they are not exclusive to only those who purchase them as the can be obtained by leveling up your character. It is important to highlight that the in-App purchases are capped at 5 dollars Apart from that, it includes the aforementioned features of the free version as well as the interactive class forums, the student analytics, the ability to obtain pets and finally iOS support through an application. Finally, the premium model will add nothing to the game experience other than granting teacher's the ability to distribute the in-game currency in order to reward learners, which means that they can no longer purchase gold themselves.

How classcraft works? Example class

I created an example class so I can explain classcraft's different aspects and capabilities. To begin with the game starts with the teacher creating the class and then allocates students into different teams in order create their in-game characters.

Classroom setup screen

Each learner can choose between the three available classes (mage, healer, warrior) which greatly affects their role in the game.  After creating their characters, players have access to a unique screen when logging in with their accounts in which can see their abilities. In this learners can see their HP health points), AP (Action points), EXP (Experience points), as well as their GP (in-game currency gold). When learners do a rightful action or give a correct answer in an question, they are granted with some experience points by the teacher.

Allocating Experience points according to what learners managed to do.

And vice versa, if the students have showed bad behaviour in the classroom they can be penalised and lose health points.

Penalising learners for bad behaviour

However, due to the fact that penalising someone also affects the team, team mates will often use their AP to help students who are in trouble. For example, a warrior may use his 'Protect' ability to share and reduce the amount of HP that will be losed. Similarly to the warriors, each character class has different skill trees. As Learners gain experience they can unlock new skills. For instance, mages later in the year after when they would have collected many experience points will have the ability to postpone an exam by 8 minutes for his team. This is an example of an academic power.

Mage's skill tree

Other interesting features

Those constitute classcrafts main features. However. the game implements a variety of mechanisms that can help with the classrooms management as well as motivation. Teachers can initiate a random event in which learners take part. Those may negatively or positively impact the whole classroom or a team or even one individual learner. For instance, one random event may result in all players losing some HP or carry out a task.

example of random event

Another interesting feature is the presence of a dynamic forum in which teachers can initiate conversations in which learners can give their opinion and argue with the other students. For example in I have created an example of a topic that might be discussed in an English language classroom.

In this particular example learners of this English class has to read the same graded reader every month.
Learners can share their views on the book and hopefully argue in a constructive manner in order to acquire a better understanding of the book. Having said that, someone may say this is something that can be done with a standard forum. However, the game being loyal to the mechanism of a role-playing game allows the teacher to allocate experience points for excellent posts.

Lastly, classcraft gives teachers the ability to monitor their learners performance. This can be done through analytics which through graphs shows how learners have been doing in a specific time period.

Ok, but how is this going to help me and my students?

Probably what makes classcraft such an interesting tool its the fact that every aspect of it promotes collaborative work. Jeremy Harmer (2007 43-44) identifies several advantages of groupwork into English language teaching such as more active participation and, therefore, more opportunities for language practice. However, someone might suggest that the games that lend all those features to classcraft are based in violence and antagonism between the players. Instead, in classcraft no-one plays against each other. Namely, it implements strong elements of collaboration between the learners, considering the fact that someone's good behaviour will positevely affect the whole team and vice versa. This is where classcraft biggest advantage and possibly disadvantage lies depending on the teachers' ability to handle classcraft. Considering the fact that any good or bad actions will always affect the team, there is strong pressure come from within the teams to every individual to act properly and improve its performance. As a result, the pressure for becoming better is no longer coming from the teachers but from the group members. In an ideal world, this would be perfect considering the fact that learners will be keener to accept the pressure from the group mates rather than their teacher. However, this may be the reason from creating conflicts between them and therefore learners may miss their language learning goals. Therefore good managing skills, as well as knowledge and familiarity with the game, are essential for teachers who want to implement this to their classes.

In addition, I believe that classcraft can aid teachers and learners with receiving and giving feedback respectively. The fact that classcraft promotes teachers giving feedback and assessing learners' performance on the spot by rewarding the with experience points can greatly motivate our learners. Good language practice will result in our learners gaining more experience points. Similarly with homework, learners who did their homework can receive experience points and depending on the excellence more points can be given. The whole process resembles the rewarding system that teachers utilize with Young learners in which the give them stickers but in an adults/teenagers world. What is more, classcraft can help with long term feedback as well. What I mean with long term feedback is that it gives teachers the ability to have individualized graphs and notes for a specific time period or even for certain dates. Therefore, it allows us to reflect both on ourselves and our learners. For instance, if learners did no have so many correct answers in one lesson this is something that might be telling us something about our approach on this particular lesson. Maybe we failed on giving our learners the chance to come up with correct answers and therefore we monopolized the lesson or our lesson's topic  failed to catch their attention which led to not being actively participating. On the other hand, the fact that we can see our learners' performance over a specific amount of time, allows us to better understand our learners difficulties and tailor our lessons according to their needs. For example if we noticed a performance drop at the second half of term one in which we introduced simple past tense this might be a hint that we should revise simple past and probably hold a lesson in which we clarify learners question regarding simple past.

To conclude, I would like to highlight the fact that if learners manage to identify themselves with their in-game characters that would significantly motivate them. Research has shown that a connection exists between intrinsic motivation and game's characters (Susaeta et al. 2010). Therefore if learners can identify with their characters they would feel the need to improve them because that would mean that they would also improve themselves.


As I have already mentioned, to be able to use classcraft at its full potential and without hindering language learnering, it requires teachers to devote time in order to become familiar with it. The developers of the game suggest that the time teachers need to devote on classcraft during a class is less than five minutes. They also quote other teachers experience who are actually supporting this claim. Considering the fact that I have not use this tool and therefore I have no hands-on experience, I cannot argue whether this is true or not. However, having examined the tool a lot I assume that if teachers are extremely familiar with the game's mechanics then the five minutes pledge might be realistic. 

Considering the fact that classcraft was created after a niche game genre, a fact that I will like to put forward, is that when we are using a tool like this which heavy relies on our learners preference. In other words some of our learners might not find any interest in this game. The developers suggest that in this case those who are reluctant might not participate at the beginning of the year but they can join later if they believe that the game is interesting after all. However, this exclusion of the learners from such an important aspect of the lesson (considering that your using this tool properly and for a significant amount of time), is something I cannot consider as an English language teacher even for a limited period of time.

To conclude I would like to highlight something that Russell Stannard mentioned in one his lectures in my own words. We often get too carried away by our love for technology and the capabilities of a tool that we forgot to achieve one of our greatest goals which is the need to meet our pedagogical goals. (Stannard


Stannard, Russell. "Skills Development - Fluency." Professional Practice ELT (ICT & Multimedia). University of Warwick, Coventry. 10 Feb. 2015. Lecture.

Susaeta, H., Jimenez, F., Nussbaum, M., Gajardo, I., Andreu, J. J., & Villalta, M. (2010). From mmorpg to a classroom multiplayer presential role playing game. Educational Technology and Society, 13, 257–269.