Category Archives: Web Services

Using Online Citation Creators

One of the huge bugbears for students when writing essays is the whole process of in-text citation and bibliography. There are no substitutes for good old-fashioned teaching around how, and when, to use citations in text and how to go about creating a bibliography, but the collation of bibliographical information and formatting of bibliographical entries has always been problematic, for students of all ages. Thankfully there are a number of websites available, free to use, which allow you to create bibliographies with a minimum of fuss and bother. They all work in fairly similar ways, and offer similar services, usually with premium versions offering long term storage of citations, plagiarism checking and so on. It is easy enough to find a free one such as EasyBib, which you can use to generate website, book, journal and a range of other entries. Users are asked to type in the URL or title of book or journal article. The website then searches for the information and offers a suggested bibliography item. Most services allow users to add additional information not captured. You can then copy the bibliography and paste it into your essay.

To my mind the thought that students need to put into citations should be on the in-text part, rather than the formatting a bibliography part of it. Having a handy online tool liberates teacher and student to concentrate on this aspect. Most online services offer an opportunity to copy the in-text citation as well as the bibliographical entry, but I prefer to get students to do this themselves. How hard is it to extract author and date information? You also need to make sure that students are able to check what information is being generated for accuracy and update missing data where necessary. Getting students to work in pairs to do this is a good idea.

If students are using different websites, get them to rate the accuracy they achieve and make recommendations to each other.


Zap it with Zaption!

zaptionI am always on the lookout for new free tools for creating content for Flipped learning, and Zaption seems to fit the bill quite nicely! You can add video clips that you have created, or that you have found online, and make a tour out of this sequence. To this, at any point in the tour or individual clip you can add a multiple choice question, open response or check-box response. You can also add text slides, image slides and even drawings to your tour. This allows you to create an entire online lesson segment, and share the link to this. The service is web-based, requiring no download, and is free, although pro features can be purchased.

The interface is easy to use. To add a multiple choice quiz to your tour, you drag the progress cursor to the required position in the video and drag your chosen option type (eg. multiple choice) into the sidebar next to the video and type in the question and options. When you click submit, it is added to the tour. By adding slides at appropriate points you can add notes or details to your video in a very useful manner. You can unpublish and edit your tou at any time, publishing it again when you have finished updating. Neat!

It is a pity that you cannot download the file to place on other platforms, but you can share via a link which can be placed on your Moodle or Edmodo page quite easily. All in all Zaption will be a welcome addition to a range of new web-based tools for creating interactive video content quite painlessly for your flipped content.


Zhush Up Your Moodle

takkMoodle is a very powerful Learning Management System, but it has always been a little clunky. It takk3needs zhushing up! Luckily Moodle has the ability to embed content created using HTML, and this can go a long way towards allowing you to design your Moodle page if you have that inclination.

If, like me, you are not that gifted in the design department you can create content online sing sites that help with the design, and then embed it. I recently found a useful website where you can create great-looking sharable content easily online. You can then share it to FB, twitter, etc or create embed code to pop into your Moodle page.

The site is called Tackk and it allows you to add very elegant content using words and graphics, which can then be shared easily.The result is pretty much like a Facebook post which users can then comment on. I created a notification of a class project, for example – and then embedded that on my Moodle page using an HTML block.

What is great about this approach, and this particular little widget is that students can then comment on the embedded feed. Moodle has long lacked this kind of Facebook-like interactivity, and being able to introduce it,via the back-door is a huge plus!

Because comments can also include links to uploaded content, this is potentially a very useful way of sharing interactive content. Moodle acts as the portal page for the sharing of content, and because it embeds on the page, the user does not need to go off-site to see what others are saying, sharing, or uploading.

I have yet to see the results of these trials, in the field, so to speak, but I would love to hear from others trying it out, and I will report back on my own experiments.


Lost For Words


I have always found the need as a teacher for quick-fire tasks which can fill an odd moment in your lesson plan, or keep students who have finished busy while the rest of the class scratches their heads. Quick puzzles which can be stored in a box and trotted out when needed. When you’ve finished you can take another puzzle from the box kind of thing!

A perennial favourite with students is the word search. You know what I mean, a grid of random-looking letters and you have to find the words hidden in the table! The last one I made I did by hand. Even typing into a word processor took me hours. The whole experience was so painful I never tried another one again! I’ve had to use ones I could find on the Internet or magazines. But now there is a handy web-based tool which can do the job painlessly!

I found one on A Teacher’s Corner website. You can select one already created, or type in a list of your own, for example characters from a Shakespeare play or common adjectives, or elements in the periodic table. Make selections for rows and columns and click on generate. You get a printable word search table in seconds without having to download software, log in to the website of pay a cent!

What a joy!



stoodle2Stoodle is a web application which allows you, without any download or registration, to create a quick classroom space. By sharing the URL of the classroom you can invite other participants. You can use microphone or text based chat, and upload files (images) to discuss.

It is a somewhat crude platform compared to Elluminate or other classroom spaces, but it is so easy to set up, it is great for enabling student group-work sessions online, or conducting quick seminars! What I like about it is that it so quick to launch, and the interface is clean and straight to the point.


You can only upload image files to share on the “whiteboard”, but you can add text and are able to add extra pages. This allows you, in effect to build an impromptu slide show, You can also record video.

The site itself presents as a tool for both students and teachers to use, and this, to my mind, is one of its most exciting aspects.

All in all it looks like a powerful and promising educational tool. And, best of all, it is free to use! You can’t argue with free!


Excuse My Avatar!


Everybody needs an avatar these days, and in a school environment where one wants to use social media, but privacy is a key issue, students should be encouraged to use avatars rather than photographs on any accounts they create. There are many free web-based services out there which allow you to create avatars, but I will look at just three.

The first is Portrait Illustration Maker which allows you to create cartoon style avatars like the one on the right, from templates. It is a web-based service, there are no downloads or logins required and you can download the avatar to store on your computer when you are done.

illustration maker

It is easy to use, and relies on you making selections of face shape, hair-style, eyes, mouth, etc and then downloading the completed avatar to your computer. There is a helpful preview, and it is easy to change and experiment with. All good clean fun!

There is a definite place for this type of cartoon style avatar in the classroom because it preserves anonymity, and yet allows students to have a profile picture. The next web-based service I looked at uses a photograph to cartoonize, but the face remains clearly recognisable. This may or may not be considered a privacy concern, but I certainly do advise students to be very careful about images they upload.

cartoonizeCartoonize is a web-based application, also available as a free “trial” download, which uses a photo you select, to which you can add effects and then download the result to your computer. There are no logins required. the downloaded avatar does have an annoying water-mark attached, but you can purchase the software if you like it.

I have to say that I found the effects you could apply were rather limited and the result not exactly what I had in mind. Nevertheless, others may find it a fun tool, and it is certainly easy to use.

4f4dd996_oMy last web-based service is  which is free, requires no logins, and is easy to use. It produces an animated gif which is way cool! You upload a photo and then apply a range of face morphing effects. I chose a smile for the avatar which you see on the right. It is a smile, promise! I cannot believe there is a student alive who would not enjoy playing with this tool. Does the avatar protect privacy? Not really, but you do not need to choose a photo of yourself.

To my mind this is one of the most engaging activities I have come across all year. Then again I am in the middle of writing school reports, so dental surgery might well seem engaging! All I can suggest is set aside an hour, and play with it! My only regret is that Moodle could not display the image as an animated gif!


Dvolver Movie Maker


I have just come across Dvolver, which is a website where you, or your students can make free short movies using templates, and typing in text narratives for the actors to speak. I was able to make a short movie in under two minutes. The templates and character avatars are somewhat limited, but because you can type in your own dialogue, the tool is very powerful nonetheless.

Your movie renders and you are emailed a link to the completed movie, including code for embedding the movie on a Moodle page website or blog.

The website does not require passwords or logins, making it perfect for rapid deployment in the classroom. How many lessons have been derailed by forgotten passwords, I wonder? I am always on the lookout for new ways in which students can make report backs from group discussions, and it strikes me that this kind of short movie would be perfect. The embedded report backs can be posted on a Moodle page or blog and viewed out of class in preparation for follow-up classes. To my mind this kind of movie-making application makes perfect sense in your Flipped Classroom armoury!


To create a movie, you select a scene, then select a plot, characters and type in the dialogue you want to use. Finally you can add a background music track if you wish. The most restrictive aspect is the paucity of plot scenarios: there are only four – rendezvous, pick-up, chase and soliloquy. Happily the choice of avatars as actors is more extensive.

There is no learning curve at all and it can be used with even the most techno-phobic or youngest of students. The simplicity is a plus-point and restriction is good for creativity, and good for speed! Sadly you cannot produce a video format file to insert into larger projects, but as a quick to use tool, Dvolver it is great!


Sound Clouds for Collaborative Learning

soundcloudI first became aware of when my son started posting music that he’d composed on the site. An email popped up one day telling me that my son was following me! I’d quite forgotten ever setting up an account! I was suddenly introduced to a whole world where musicians, and aspiring musicians were posting their music, commenting and collaborating, being mentored by more experienced users and generally engaging in the most amazing learning experiences. Wow! And I thought all he did was play computer games all day!

I had originally signed up for soundcloud with the idea of posting podcasts of learning material, but had never got round to it. Probably a good thing too. Who’d want to listen to my voice droning on about Shakespeare’s use of the pentameter? Not that there aren’t some uses for that sort of thing, but compared with the collaborative learning potential I saw in what my budding 16 year old musician was up to, teacher podcasts are really small beer!

Would it not be the perfect platform for storytelling, or creative radio broadcasts, asynchronous debates, poetry slams or project feedbacks? The English teacher in me sees thousands of possibilities, but the whole point behind what what was so valuable in the soundcloud community I witnessed through my son’s eyes, is that it is not regulated or imposed. I very much suspect that any attempt by a teacher to recreate this ethos would instantly kill it! In many ways this is the dilemma of the classroom. And yet technology offers the promise of providing ways in which many of the barriers presented by structure can be broken down. The challenge is to realise this promise.

As an experiment in setting up a soundcloud community I have challenged my students to a poetry slam on soundcloud.


Converting PDF To PowerPoint

I came across a great website called which allows you to convert PDF files to PowerPoint Presentations. This is very useful because it allows you to create SCORMs (from PowerPoints) from a PDF file.

SCORMs are content suitable for eLearning delivery, and I make some of mine from videos, but many simply from PowerPoints which are then converted into Flash files which can be placed on any website or class Moodle page..

I have many tutorials, worksheets and notes saved as Word documents, and I have not previously been able to convert these into PowerPoints so that I can create a SCORM. Converting the Word Document to a PDF, and then using this web service to convert to a PowerPoint file allows me to do this. There is a maximum 2MB file size limitation, which is problematic. But since the service is free, one can hardly complain! There is a paid version which will contain more features, but I haven’t explored them because, quite frankly, I have Scottish ancestry!

The site also allows conversion to multiple formats, such as Excel or Word – all very useful.

But it’s the PowerPoint conversion that is so jolly, jolly useful. Paragraphs get converted as text boxes in PowerPoint, which allows you to edit the slides easily. Images are also converted across quite nicely. It’s a little bit of PT to get the slides presentable, but way, way better than re-doing the whole thing.

Why is Word – PDF – PowerPoint – SCORM so useful? It seems tortuous, but actually represents only a few mouse clicks and a mug of coffee to drink while you watch it all happen. As a teacher who was preparing Word documents as notes and worksheets ten years ago, I have a tremendous amount of stuff that I could usefully deploy on my class Moodle, but I need it in a SCORM compliant format, and that largely means setting it up on PowerPoint. Till now, the chief obstacle has been this little step.


Vialogues in your classroom

I recently came across a web-based service called Vialogues which allows you to upload a video, or use one posted to YouTube, to start a discussion. Video + Dialogue = Vialogue!

As an alternative to a text-based forum or bulletin board, it seems to me that the potential is exciting. Once you have created an account on the website, you can upload a video and start a vialogue. You could get students to use the site directly to comment on your video input, or could grab some code from the site to embed in your class Moodle page or other web-page. Students could then view comments and post their own replies from that page.

Here is a vialogue that I created to give you a flavour of how it works.

All in all, it seems to me that this is a web-service well worth exploring in the classroom, and I am itching to find a project I can try it out with!



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