A blog for teachers and learners who love technology

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Massively Multi-player online Role-playing Games - Learn English and play at the same time

Massively Multi-player on-line Role-playing Games

An alliance battling a boss monster in Guild Wars 2

Some initial thoughts

Throughout this journey of talking about different ICT tools that are capable of promoting ELT in their own unique ways, I wanted to express my thoughts on this video-game genre. During the last decade, the academic community have expressed various views on MMORPGs. But why would academics care about a video game that much? In 2004 an MMORPG called World of Warcraft emerged. At its peak this game had more than 10 million active players. Its popularity and the capabilities that some people identify made this game a controversial topic. Some exalted this genre and acknowledged its affordances for language learning while others argued that the possible dangers coming with those games like the fact that it promotes violence, cannot make it qualify as a game that fosters language learning. In this post, I will briefly explain those games' mechanics in order to move on an activity that could be used in an English language course and finally identify its advantages and limitations.

What are the MMORPGs?

For this part I will borrow Steinkuehler definition of Massively multi-player online games: 

Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are highly graphical 2- or 3-D video games played online, allowing individuals, through their self-created digital characters or “avatars”, to interact not only with the gaming software (the designed environment of the game and the computer-controlled characters within it) but with other players’ avatars as well. These virtual worlds are persistent social and material worlds, loosely structured by open-ended (fantasy) narratives, where players are largely free to do as they please-slay ogres, siege castles, barter good in town, or shake the fruit of tree (2004:2).

A typical start of an MMORPG involves creating a character> arming yourself with a weapon> killing some monsters> scavenge them> sell the material that you scavenged> upgrade your weapons and armor etc. What is more, players can carry out tasks also known as quests in order to make their avatars stronger, casually communicate with other people, as well cooperate with them in order to achieve higher difficulty quests. 

Example activity

This activity can take place either inside a classroom or from the students's homes. It consists of a series of goal oriented tasks which gradually lead to learners using higher order skills in order to carry out the tasks. Last but not least, the tasks' can be done in every MMORPGs. This is because, the basic mechanics as explained above are common to every MMORPGs. Therefore I will not use real places and the tasks are meant to be changed depending on the MMORPG that each teacher will use

To begin with, the teacher and students need to have their characters placed in the same area of the virtual world. Then the teacher can either hand in a or e-mail depending on where this takes place, a handout with different tasks that students need to carry out in-game.

Some tasks could be the following (this is just an example of tasks, there are thousands of things that can be done in MMORPGs):

  • Go to X area and kill a dozen boars
  • scavenge their fur
  • try to sell the fur to other players
  • Get into a group and travel to the X area
  • In this area there is a wooden hut. You need to find it and search for a potion.
  • Give the potion to player with the least health.
  • Now as a group you need to hunt the wild boar that terrorized the people who live in this hut
  • Share the loot according to your needs
After finishing this quest, students can be asked to evaluate this quest based on how interesting or helpful for their character's progress was. After doing this for a few weeks students should be able to recognize some of the target language that is used in those quests. Therefore, after a while they should be start composing their own quests which after being reviewed by the teacher, could be the next quest for the classroom. After completing them students could peer-review them and so on.

The teacher's job during the quest is to monitor the students so as to be sure that they follow the tasks. We could also provide help in case students have any difficulty in understanding any of the tasks. Also language help in tasks that learners will have to other players that do not belong in our classroom and finally to make sure that students' in-game behaviour is appropriate.

Pedagogical value

The level of accomplishment in those games largely depend on working within a group as opposed to playing individually. In order to be able to work within a group you need to be able to communicate with your group. Considering the fact that the dominant language in MMORPGs is English, players, in order to progress within the game, need to become competent in using English. To achieve communication between players, the game provides chat channels.

Looking at the tasks I created one can say that the element of group work is quite prominent. In a number of occasion learners will have to communicate in order complete the tasks. For example, during the task which asks learners to find the hut, I would expect that some of the students will give directions to the others either because they follow their intuition or because the have been in this area before. In the last three tasks group work is unavoidable. The reason for that is that the wild boar will be way stronger their characters. Therefore they will need follow some strategy which they will have to negotiate it beforehand,  in order to ensure that every player knows his role in the team.

I also suggested some tasks that can happen outside the game. This idea is not new at all. Asda Story which is another MMORPG  gives players the privilege to write their own quest. This could be far more complex than my quest. It could include a story and various objectives along with directions and maybe rewards for completing it. Then after other players finish this quest Asda story ask those players to evaluate the quest and give their suggestions. Therefore, if you are using Asda story there is no need to prepare this exercise as it is already implemented into the game. In other games though this could be done as a separate exercise.

I believe that this series of tasks move smoothly from the lower order thinking skills to higher. At first learners need to experience the game, understand and memorise its mechanics until the build a level of familiarity with it. Then when they are ready they will move to evaluation where they can evaluate my quests in order move to the highest order skill which is to create their own quests.

At this end of this activity, learners will have practised their writing skills, their ability to negotiate meaning and find solutions in issues that they may face all as a part of a group.

Issues and Limitations

First of all, in order to be able to run the game a laptop/desktop is needed. In case this is happening in a class students will need to have a laptop if the institution cannot provide them. What is more, an internet connection is essential. Concerning the game, there are free MMORPGs like the Asda story I mentioned earlier; therefore learners are not obliged to buy a game.

A limitation often found in those games originates from the absence of any oral communication. From my experience, I have not encountered a MMORPG that features voice communication technology. Therefore communication only happens through chat channels. This issue can be easily tackled if the game session takes place in a classroom. However, if students play from their homes, it will be more challenging to have students speak to each other apart from writing. This can be done with various software, but it takes time to set them up money to use them.


Steinkuehler, C. A. (2004) ‘Learning in massively multiplayer online games’. In Kafai, Y., B., Sandoval, W., A., Enyedy, N., Nixon, A., S., Herrera, F., (ed.), Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of the Learning Sciences, ‘International Society of the Learning Sciences’. Mahwah: Erlbaum, 521-528

Monday, 23 March 2015

Wordle - Discover new words by creating Word Clouds


What is Wordle?

Wordle is a free on-line tool that allows you to create word clouds, like the one in the picture above. This can be done by either copy-pasting a whole text or by copying the URL of a web page, including a blog. Depending on how frequent the same words appear on the texts those words will appear larger on the word cloud. There are also some options for modifying the word cloud, like changing the words' colours and the background's colour, changing the fonts, as well as an option that allows you to remove very frequent words from the word cloud, such as the articles.

Example activity

I believe that wordle holds the potential to aid learning in enriching their vocabulary. Learning a language is not a process that happens solely inside a classroom, In countries where English is not used outside the classroom, by the time learners leave the class, the will stop thinking in English, because English does not have any uses in their everyday life.

To deal with that, we could urge our learners to start making connections between what's happening inside the class and outside of that. This would only be possible if our lessons dealt with topic that are universally appealing, In other words, topics should be culturally provoking in the sense that they are culturally specific but, at the same time they are present in all cultures' (Saraceni 2013:58).  For instance, we could ask our learners to create word clouds with words that belong to the same meaning-based families. So, if we having a lesson about literature, we could ask our learners to create a list of words they encounter that are linked to books. Then, they could also sort the words depending on how frequent they encounter them. So, in the end they will have a list of words that are linked to books and with some of them appearing more than once in the list. Then they could copy paste this list in wordle in order to create the word clouds. The result might look like that.

Pedagogical value

As I have already mentioned, the lack of domains in which English are used in Greece and many other countries where English is perceived as a foreign language, significantly decreases the opportunities for language practice. Therefore, the point of this activity is to have learners think in English outside the classroom.

Another potential advantage of this activity originates from the learners sense of discovery. What I mean is that a lesson cannot cover all the vocabulary items linked to a certain topic. Too much new vocabulary will hinder the learning process. Therefore, it is normal that learners will encounter vocabulary items connected to books that were not introduced in the lesson. As a result, it is likely that they will use a dictionary to find the English equivalent words. I believe that learners know better than any teacher in the world their own zone of proximal development. As long as their motivated to carry out the task. they will try to identify as many words as they can learn. However, teachers should not put pressure on their learners to include words that they have not encountered during the lesson. It is them who they would put pressure on themselves to find more words for their word clouds. And even if they stick to the words presented in the lesson, they would have still carried out the task and spend extra time using the Target language.

Target Audience

Connecting things you encounter in your every day life with a given word (book) constitutes a logical process; therefore I believe that this would benefit sequential learners, who enjoy identifying those connections compared to global learners who often tend to learn in large jumps and more randomly. Those type of learners will enjoy categorising information. And this what this activity is trying to achieve. So, by creating  those different groups of words, hopefully, those type of learners will be able to recall the words when they need them.


Saraceni, C. (2013). Adapting material: A Personal View. In Developing Materials for Language Teaching (1st ed., p. 58). London: Bloomsbury.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Present.me - An online presentation tool for reflecting our students' speaking tasks


What is Present.me

Present.me is an online tool that enables students as well as teachers to create presentations. What makes this tool special, is the fact that its users can upload or record a video of them doing a presentation, while at the same time they can upload some power-point slides to go with the recording. This results in one video split into two parts. As a result, when you record yourself presenting, you can control the slides so that they would be synchronized with the video.

How does it work?

After you have successfully registered an account you can start creating your presentations by clicking create at the top of the screen. At this point, you can choose what you want to include in your presentation. It could be from slides along with a video or a voice recording to just slides or just video or voice. It is also important to highlight that Present.me also supports Prezi presentations in case someone wants to make his presentations more creative. Apart from that it also supports power-point presentations, pdf files and Google docs.

Another interesting feature of Present.me is the fact that it allows you to delete bits of the presentation that you either do not like or because you made a mistake and keep the recording going from where you left off.

Finally, it allows you to embed the presentation into your website, share them by e-mail or even upload them to YouTube.

Example activity

Even though Present.me identifies itself as a tool for creating presentations, I can see this to be useful with speaking activities as well. In other words, teachers along with their students can imitate the speaking part of various examinations, including those to acquire the Cambridge English First (FCE) and the Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) as well as the IELTS examination.

Teachers can create handouts similar to those that are given during the examination and place them as slides. Then a video recording can be made with both the teacher and the student appearing on the screen. The teachers ask the student the questions appearing on the slides and then the student responds accordingly. 

Pedagogical value

The most important of the reasons that Greek students choose to learner English is to pass the Cambridge examinations, either the CPE or the FCE examinations. From my experience, English language teachers in Greece will often neglect practising speaking with their students. This often originates from students' unwillingness to communicate in the Target Language (TL). Either because students do not feel confident to speak or because teachers don't promote the use of TL, students' unwillingness is a fact.

Probably the use of technology, in this case, might help students change their attitude towards practising speaking. It is to be said, though, that this will not 'simply happen'. Greek teachers of English should encourage their students to speak. This should constitute a long process in which, learners should be aware of the importance of communicating, in order to be able to use the aforementioned tool in order to prepare for the examinations.

What is great about that is the fact that teachers after recording the speaking practice, they can re-watch and send it to the students to reflect on it. After that, teachers can also make some corrections on the students' language, as well as on their approach to the answers and the different tasks that might be particularly challenging, especially the FCE's speaking task.

Difficulties with using this tool

English language teachers in Greece are often intimidated by the use of technology and prefer to stick to more traditional teaching methods. They will often say that our sole purpose is to prepare our students for the Cambridge examinations.Therefore, according to them if we put the advantages and the disadvantages into a scale, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. However, I believe that this is because many of those teachers are not aware of the ICT tools that can be used in education.

I can see this tool be used inside a classroom without hindering the language learning process. It would only be used as a replacement to the speaking tasks that are similar to the ones that appear in the aforementioned examinations. Therefore instead of sitting in front of your teacher and answering his questions, you would be sitting alongside him/her and answering his questions while being recorded by the computer's/laptop's camera. It might be possible that the process of recording might feel intimidating for the first few times. But after that, the advantages of being able to self-reflect on your performance by re-watching it would definitely help students improve their speaking skill in the long run.

Target Learners

There is a type of learner that will find this tool particularly helpful. Those are the reflective learners. Boyd and Fales (1983) identify reflective learning as "the process of internally examining and exploring an issue of concern triggered by an experience, which creates and clarifies meaning in terms of self, and which results in a changed conceptual perspective". In other words, reflective learners are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses, in order to become better.

However, reflective learning is not an easy task in a language class. Students might want to go back home and write about their experiences in order to reflect. This is not an easy task, considering the fact that, reflective writing becomes more difficult as time passes mainly because it is most likely that you will not remember everything that happened. For the above reason, it is wise to do the reflective writing right after experiencing the event/incident  you want to reflect on. However, as I already said this in might not be possible right after the class. For that reason present.me holds great potential for reflective learners.


Boyd, E. M., & Fales, A. W. (1983). Reflective Learning: Key to Learning from Experience. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. doi:10.1177/0022167883232011

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Quizlet - A free tool for both learners and teacher who want to learn and teach vocabulary respectively


What is quizlet?

Quizlet is a free website dedicated to both learners and teachers. Students can use this learning tool to enrich their vocabulary as well as to improve their spelling by creating flashcards, study and play games such as the space race! Teachers, on the other hand, can create virtual classrooms and then create flashcards which students can study, share, and comment on. In this post, I will focus on the students' account considering the fact that it is free compared to the teachers and because what the student's account provides is enough to make this tool worth using.

To begin in, order to gain access to the website a registration is needed, This can be done either be registering an e-mail or by linking you Google+ or Facebook account with Quizlet. When you successfully log in,  by clicking "create a set" you can start creating materials.

How does Quizlet work?

First you chose the language you want and the you type the words that will constitute the set. Having said that. Quizlet works perfectly with words that belong to a specific group. Either distinguished by grammatical terms such as the prepositions of place or by the situations in which they are used such as words related to auctions this tool can really help managing and learning those vocabulary items.

A great thing about Quizlet is that there are audio files for 18 languages. Therefore, learners can create a set of words and then practise the pronunciation of those words. Due to the fact that my native language is Greek, I was interested to listen to the quality of the audio files. I have to say that the pronunciation was perfect. It sounded like the recording were taken from actual native speakers rather than a computer generated voice.

Quizlet has 6 different activities which calls them study modes that learners can engage with. Those include flashcards which give learners the opportunity to listen to the pronunciation of the target language as wells as connecting the TL with images that represent the TL. The next study mode is called 'learn' . Learners need to write/type what the picture represents in order to get the answer correct. The nex one is called 'speller' and it is quite similar to 'learn'. However in 'speller' learners can also listen to the words' pronunciation. After learners practise using the aforementioned study modes, the can start the 'test' study mode which is what its' name suggests. Learners need to respond to 5 written questions, 5 multiple choice questions and 5 true/false questions. Finally, if they feeling confident enough with the TL, they can try the 'space race' and 'scatter'. Both of them are games, which learners can play in order to practise TL in an enjoyable way. In the 'space race,' learners need to write/type the word on the picture before the picture disappears from the screen. In 'scatter' learners need to match the words with the pictures that represent those words.

Example Activity

First of all, I would like to highlight how powerful and user-friendly the embedded study set is. By embedding a study set learners can use all the different study modes that are available in quizlet. In other words, they provide the same experience without having to visit the website. What is more, teachers and learners can embed their study sets into various websites, like Edmodo, Google+, blogger etc.

The study set I created, deals with the fruits. I included 15 fruits each of them having a picture which represents every one of them. All the features I mentioned in the previous paragraph also appear in this study set.

Theoretical background

What I see in Quizlet is its potential to help learners and teachers understand and explain meaning respectively in a very explicit way. Jeremy Harmer (2007) highlights the importance of a visual representation of the target language. He defines this practice as the "clearest way of explaining the meaning of something" (Harmer 2007).  Translation in L1 is always a possible practice depending on the nature of the lexical set. On the one hand, could be translated into L1 to make learners understand the meaning of the words. On the other hand, idiom phrases would be more difficult for teachers to translate them into L1 and in many cases the translation might not make sense in learners L1. However, I still believe that visual representation are way more engaging than translation and possibly if we examine this from a psycholinguistic point of view, the process of retrieving the correct word just by looking at the picture could be faster than directly translating from the L1.

If I had to identify Quizlet's approach on language teaching I would compare it with the PPP (presentation practice production) approach. Flashcards resemble the presentation stage in which learners are presented with the TL's meaning and pronunciation. Then in 'learn' and 'speller' learners practise using the TL in a very controlled manner in which feedback is given instantly. Learners are able to compare their spelling of the word with the correct spelling and then are urged to rewrite it with the correct spelling. Production is missing from Quizlet and in each place learners are urged to try the two games which can provide them with more practice on the TL in a fun and enjoyable way.

Target Audience

Quizlet is quite easy to use. From registering an account to creating your first study set, potential users will not find it difficult to use this tool. Therefore, basic digital literacy skills are all that quizlet asks users to possess. 

What is more, visual and auditory learners will find this tool quite suitable. This tools is based on the power of visual representations and by implementing audio files with the correct pronunciation makes this a very useful tool for those type of learners. 

Last but not least, in the case of the teacher's account, learners can compete in the "space race" and the "scatter". Depending on their speed and accuracy, learners can score points which can be seen among the group. Therefore, this basic gamification element can be motivated for learners who enjoy a bit of challenge and competition.


One of things limitations that I can identify in this tool is the fact that no much cognitive work is happening while learners engage with the different study modes. For instance, when a learners is using the speller and he/she misspells a word, Quizlet will just correct the mistake, propose the correct spelling and ask students to rewrite the word. I found this way very ineffective and boring at the same time. Even if the learners spells the word correctly right after the correction, I am not sure if this would be the case in the long term. 

What is more, I would like to see some language production except for the typing involved in the spelling and learn study mode. For example, the use of cue-response drills even though they are out of fashion might be beneficial for them if used in moderate.

Last but not least, as I already highlighted this tool will be suitable for learners who enjoy watching and listening. However, kinaesthetic learners's needs are once again overlooked. The reason, I am saying this, is because throughout this journey of writing about those different tools I have found myself saying over and over again how limited are the chances for physical activity/movement. However, the difficulties of implementing those features that would suit kinaesthetic learners, must be acknowledged. 


Harmer, J, (2007) How to teach English. Essex: Pearson Longman

Sunday, 1 March 2015

MoPad - Collaborative writing inside the classroom


What is MoPad?

MoPad is a public pad in which users can collaboratively write a document. What is great about this technology is the fact that the text is synchronized as you type. Therefore, everyone who collaboratively work in this document can view the progress of the text at any time throughout the whole procedure.

Before starting typing, each of the users is able to write his name and chose a colour for his/her text in order to distinguish between who is writing what. Mopad allows some basic modifications of the text. You can choose between different styles of text such as bold, italics, underline your text or change its size, It also gives the ability to toggle bullet lists which can be proved very helpful depending on the nature of the text you want to produce. However, the most important of the features that MoPad incorporates is the ability to export the constructed text into different file formats. For instance, depending on your needs it can export the pad into HTML, Microsoft word file, PDF, OpenDocument, Bookmark File as well as a plain text. In addition, it enables with the help of a time slider to monitor the progress of the text from the beginning to the end. Last but not least, a chat box exists, which users who co-construct the text can communicate without affecting the actual text.

Example activity

Due to the nature of this tool, I will try to highlight situations where MoPad could possibly be used both inside and outside an English language classroom. To begin with, MoPad's ability to enhance collaboration in order to work towards a specific goal, makes this tool great for teachers who enjoy a TBL approach to their lessons. I will try to propose an example of TBL activity in order to see how and where MoPads fits into TBL.

Context: Last week our class went to the local theatre to watch 'As you like it' which is a Shakespearean play. This particular adaptation of the classic play has sparked a lot of controversy due to its revolutionised approach on a number of themes.  Your job is to produce a review of the play for people who will want to watch this play in the future.

Materials: Stationery, MoPad

Group Size: Any (divide into working groups of  4) 

Level: above B1


  • Learners silently recall the key features that make this play controversial. 
  • They share, compare, negotiate, their ideas  which had the larger impact on the play.
  • They decide which concepts/themes are the most important to be included in the review (up to four)

Task Realisation:

  • Learners use their devices (laptop/tablet/mobile phone) to create a new public pad with the help of MoPad.
  • Through the built-in chat box, they decide who is going to write what in order to deliver the review. Every review should include an introduction, 2-3 critically expressed opinion on the play's themes and some closing thoughts)
  • Learners co-construct the review


  • The groups are divided into pairs in which half of the students present their review and the other half listen to another pair presenting their work.
  • Then the two pairs are engaged into a conversation and critically comment on each other views about the play.
  • Then the presenters become the listeners and vice versa.

Linking MoPad with research into ELT

In the above example, I tried to present a situation in which MoPad fulfils a very specific role in a TBL activity. Learners are engaged into collaborative writing activity in which they need to construct a piece of writing in groups. Generally collaborative work is considered to be essential in an English language classroom. This type of pair/group work is promoted by Vygotsky's (1978 in Shehadeh 2011) social constructivist approach in learning which expresses the idea that activities which promote social interaction are connected to human development.

Shahadeh in his study (2011) about the effects of collaborative writing found learners who engaged in this type of collaborative writing produced superior texts but also their content organization and vocabulary competence will increase.

However, collaborative writing is not an activity which was inconceivable in the past. In other words, this type of activity can be present in a task even without the use of MoPad. As a result, someone might suggest that the benefits of this technology might not be enough to cover the disadvantages of using technology in the classroom, I believe that this is not true for this particular technology. I believe that this technology not only can substitute the traditional method but also the functional benefits are of great importance in the activity's outcome. Learners can see the text's progress at any time; communicate and make suggestions relevant to the text without having to move around and lose time from the actual task. Therefore, according to Hockley's SAMR model, this activity along with this technology belong to the category of augmentation. 


It can be said that during the writing process if learners had to use pen and paper, because of the absence of the chat box that MoPad has, the only way to communicate would be to speak. Therefore, this phase might have generated some language use, which would probably be relevant to the task. For example, vocabulary relevant to reviews, theatrical plays etc. As a result, learners will miss this opportunity to practise their speaking skills even though the focus of the activity is on writing.

One of the disadvantages which appears throughout the ICT tools which involves writing is the presence of a spellchecker. Similar to other pieces of software which can be used to produce a document, misspelled words will appear highlighted. As a result, learners by right-clicking the misspelled words can find the correct spelling. I strongly believe that this tools can only hide the learners' difficulties. Therefore, no learning happens during this process and learners spelling skills will not progress.


Shehadeh, A. (2011). Effects and student perceptions of collaborative writing in L2. Journal of Second Language Writing, 20(4), 286–305. doi:10.1016/j.jslw.2011.05.010

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Mind in Society The Development of Higher Psychological Processes (Vol. Mind in So, p. 159). doi:10.1007/978-3-540-92784-6