A great alternative to Interactive Whiteboards

In this post Ian McNaught, Director of e-learning at Majan College reports on the college’s recent experience with an Interactive Whiteboard iPad app. You can see an example of this technology in action in the video below.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Interactive Whiteboards (IWB). On the one hand, it’s not hard to see they genuinely have some great potential in the classroom and there is plenty of research reporting them to be popular with staff and students (curiously “popular” is a more common adjective used to describe them rather than “effective”!). However, they are beset with two major problems: 1) They are very expensive and 2) they are not portable.

Why we’ve never invested in Interactive Whiteboards

Being expensive, it is rarely possible or sensible to equip every teaching room with the equipment, but because they’re not portable  access to them is limited (I realise there are some portable options, but because of the time they take to set them up before a class can start I don’t count these). Using them effectively takes some practice and experience, therefore easy access to them is essential. Unless every single classroom is equipped with the technology, a teacher may be in a position of having to plan two lessons, one for when they’re timetabled in an IWB equipped classroom and another for when they’re not, or settling for the lowest common denominator and failing to get the best out of the technology and relegating the IWB to being a $3000 PowerPoint clicker! If the IWB classrooms are under heavy demand (as you would expect) when can teachers get access to the technology to practice?

Doceri IWB iPad application being used at Majan College

Doceri IWB iPad application being used at Majan College

For these reasons and more, we’ve resisted buying IWB’s, despite being attracted to some of their features. Now however, we’ve discovered technology which is much more affordable, completely portable and offers all the major features of an IWB (plus a couple of unique ones of its own). This technology is called Doceri, it comes in two halves – a desktop application (for PC or Mac, costs $30) and a (free) iPad app. At a basic level Doceri works as a remote desktop application allowing you to control the screen of the PC you are wirelessly connected to (usually the one connected to the projector), but beyond this it allows you to control PowerPoint,  annotate on the screen, create diagrams and graphs and take pictures using the iPad camera (or importing from the gallery). It also allows you to record your presentations using the built in microphone making it the easiest lecture recording applications I’ve come across.

While there are certainly a few areas where a true IWB would be better than Doceri, many other factors tip the balance in Doceri’s favour. Below is a summary of the biggest advantages Doceri has over an IWB.


Even if you were to buy an iPad for every classroom or teacher, it would be substantially cheaper than equipping the same number of classrooms with IWB’s, plus you have all the other functionality built into an iPad. Even with a limited number of iPads, staff can get a lot of use out of it due to how portable an iPad is.


IWB’s are limited to projector screens small enough for a user to reach to all four corners. Doceri has no such limitation, it can be used in small teaching rooms and huge lecture theatres.


Staff who have their own iPad can download the free iPad app and use this in any classrooms with the $30 software installed. This software can even be used unlicensed and for free, but with a watermark on the screen. This means staff can practice using the software in the comfort of their office or living room, rather than having to practice out of hours in an empty classroom.


Despite their names, IWB’s are designed to enhance rather than replace what is a very teacher-centric pedagogy. All the action takes place at the front of the classroom and students who wish to interact have to walk to the front, taking valuable time out of the session and leaving out those who may not have the confidence to “perform” in front of their peers. In contrast, an iPad can be handed round students without them getting out of their seats and more students can participate without taking time away from the learning process.

We’d love to hear of any other innovative technology people are using in their classrooms to enhance the students learning experience.


Contextualized teaching and learning

A lot has been written in the ESL literature about taking into account the social and cultural context of the learners, however very little has been said about the pedagogical implications of contextualized teaching and learning. Education has never been a sterile endeavor, separated from society or from the culture in which it takes place. In fact, the purpose of education is to form responsible, highly skilled members of society hence the idea that cultural and social values do not belong in the classroom is proving to be unrealistic and even detrimental to the success of the teaching and learning process. Nevertheless, incorporating cultural and social knowledge in education remains a challenge particularly in an era of intense globalization and massive standardization. This challenge is even greater in the case of English language teaching where oftentimes internationally published teaching and learning materials have to be adapted to the local context. So how can an international language be taught effectively by incorporating the local context? Here are a few ideas:

a) Go “glocal”. This means that international materials can be adapted to the context by association, comparison and contrast. Thus when a global issue such as pollution for example is discussed it can be referred to as both a global and a local problem by providing examples from the international and local arena.

b) Develop a cultural awareness.  As educators we have the duty to keep educating ourselves about the culture and society we work in. This in turn helps students relate to the issues we bring to the classroom and enhances their motivation and involvement. It also ensures the building of good rapport between teacher and learners.

c) Go for gradual exposure. Education is about learning new things and broadening minds but this cannot happen overnight. Research into retention in learning has shown that activating prior knowledge also known as schemata is the first step in introducing new ideas and involving learners in discussions on global issues.

Finally, learners are very much anchored in the 21st century which means they expect more from their educators in terms of individual attention, knowledge of their learning styles and the use of technology. Education is no longer about knowledge but about what one does with knowledge, how it is used towards one’s personal and social development. Learners have the right to know why what they are being taught is important or why it should matter to them hence grounding education in a local context while keeping a global outreach is the way forward. Contextualizing teaching and learning is about remembering that we, either educators or learners are ultimately citizens of the world, the different bits and pieces of a global tossed salad  and not the unidentifiable ingredients of a melting pot.

Using Google Docs to give instant feedback to English language students

Live comments on a document

Live comments on a document

In a recent classroom session, Mohammad Tanveer (referred to as Tanveer), one of our lecturers teaching English Language to foundation level students (usually native Arabic speakers) used Google docs to facilitate a writing activity. Prior to the session, Tanveer put the students into groups and created a document shared with each group (we use Google Apps for Education, so students already had accounts). They were assigned a topic “Poverty” and given a few pointers to inspire their writing. The students then worked on individual computers, but on their group documents.

As the groups were constructing their documents, Tanveer sat at a computer with all the group documents open in different tabs. He was constantly switching between these documents to check the progress and adding comments to highlight any mistakes. These comments would pop up instantly in front of the students, and they would make the correction and click on the comments “resolve” button to make it go away. Tanveer could see the corrections being made live on his screen, often before he had finished writing the next comment.

This activity meant students could receive instant feedback on their writing, make corrections and in the course of the session create a document of grammatically correct English. The added advantage of this approach is it encouraged students to keep writing because they knew their progress was being monitored.

Overall this was a very successful session; however it was not without its challenges. It was the first introduction to Google Docs for most of the students, so there was a slight learning curve, and it took a bit of time to get going waiting for them to get over the novelty of seeing multiple cursors simultaneously writing a document!

Where Did We Go Wrong?

The Sanskrit hymn “Antarikhsha Shantih, Prithvih Shantih, Vanaspatayah Shantih ….” (Peace of the Universe, Peace of the Earth , Peace of Flora and Fauna) was recited at the beginning of every Indian ritual to invoke peace and harmony of the universe, the earth and the Botanical species. The philosophy behind it was the vision that no person on earth could lead a quiet and serene life without a balanced ecology. The Vedic Age was the first recorded age, when Peace of Nature was propagated. The visionaries could foresee it then itself, that there can be no peace prevailing in human life until there was harmony between nature and humans and until all the three ecologies were taken care of in their natural forms.  Nature was worshipped and regarded as religious entities in many cultures of the world  for the simple reason that people respected them and looked up to them in awe – which ensured that they were protected and taken care of, and if not, the men would be punished.

The Romantics like Wordsworth, Keats, Shelly and Byron changed the entire mood and tone of the history of the English Literature by propagating nature as the inspirer and a source of “Joy Forever “. They had their intuition telling them about the human dependence on nature for their own good, much before Science proved so.  They realised soon that the intrinsic nature of humans could be kept safe and sound only amidst the calm, external one.

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This proves that ancient men had abilities to foresee future and measures to safeguard their habitat even without the technological breakthrough, which the modern human species have failed, despite being helped by umpteen supports of scientific aids. Modern age, opposite to what was expected from it, in fact, collapsed the whole philosophy of preserving nature in disguise of growth and advancement. Modernism arrived with clearing greens for selfish interests, with focus only to the present and absolute negligence of future. Synthetic lifestyle became a status symbol and everything natural was replaced with artificial objects, for example, Polethene bags instead of jute, refrigerators instead of earthen pots, synthetic clothes in place of cotton-life moved away from everything natural; the consequence was obvious in terms of the Green House effect.

The common preaching of every religion is – “what you give is what you get”. People started disturbing nature by cutting jungles, filling oceans for high rise buildings and factories. The nature gave them back with interest – it gave back Tsunamis, global warming, fewer colds, new diseases every day, and much more. The realisation finally came to us and understanding the importance of “now or never”, we started celebrating Earth Hour and Earth Day to spread consciousness amongst the citizens of the world. But we also have to realise that a single day in a year is not enough to unwind our past mistakes. We must remember to take care of our planet every moment.

I am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland today where he describes the chaos all around.  Critic Edmund Wilson said,“The terrible dreariness of the great modern cities is the atmosphere in which the Wasteland takes place”. An hour or a day of dedication to the Mother Earth is not enough. The consciousness must prolong for 365 days, 24×7.  The human species will have to rise above from selfish considerations and think about others for their own sake, to save this world from becoming a Wasteland!

Dr Tulika Mishra

Women and emotional intelligence

The month of March marks the beginning of a season when women are celebrated for what they are and what they do. In some parts of the world, this month is celebrated with gifts and flowers in an emotional out-pour of congratulating messages and feelings of elation. Women, being the emotional creatures that they are would not let such a momentous occasion pass unnoticed hence take every opportunity to remind their loved ones that this one of the days when they should be given their due importance as women. Women have long been fighting for recognition of their merits and equal rights with their male counterparts. In their fight for equality they have been forced to do away with their emotions in the name of professionalism and their claim to positions that were traditionally held by the unemotional men. However, women are wonderfully different in the way they perceive and react to the world and now science has come to prove that their emotional nature can prove to be an asset and not a downside.

Emotions if handled correctly can be transformed into emotional intelligence which consists in the ability to monitor emotions and use this as a guide to one’s thinking and actions. It seems that the presence of emotions at the workplace is no longer seen as a negative trait as it helps in promoting collegiality, compassion and most importantly creative thinking. Passion is one of the key ingredients to any creative process and when we talk about passion a whole range of positive and negative emotions can be included. Women have an innate ability to detect emotions such as unhappiness therefore they can act very quickly to remedy a communication break-down among parties. They are also more compassionate, nurturing and people-oriented therefore they can be great at building networks and dealing with people.

Turning emotional outbursts into emotional intelligence can prove quite a challenge and for this transition to happen few steps are necessary:

a) Perceiving emotions-identifying emotions and the situations that trigger them
b) Understanding emotions-being aware of when and why emotions appear
c) Managing emotions-knowing how to control emotions to prevent outbursts
d) Using emotions-translating emotions into positive actions

Thus the notion that emotions are a proof of weakness and should be disregarded no longer stands as in reality every decision we make in our lives is affected by feelings. Women and their different, emotional approach need to see themselves as being in an advantageous position. In order for women to be recognized as high-achievers and world-changers they need to understand their emotions which, instead of being shunned, can be put to good use. Women should cease to aspire to take the place of men but rather claim their own place as successful members of the human race, irrespective of the personal or professional role they fulfill.  The acclaimed eighteenth century writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley said: “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

Alina Rebecca Chirciu
English Language Lecturer
Majan University College

Integrating classroom and online activities – in practice

Dr Tulika Mishra teaching with the aid of Moodle (on the screen)

Dr Tulika Mishra teaching with the aid of Moodle (on the screen)

After previously looking at 5 steps towards true blended learning, in this post we look at some strategies adopted by English Lecturer Dr Tulika Mistra to try and integrate the two learning environments for students of Poetry

  1. As recommended in “5 steps towards true blended learning“, I get the ball rolling in the first week itself with an Ice Breaker activity. Before the semester starts, I post the Module handbook and the Icebreaker Activity. In my first lecture, I introduce the students to the Moodle page which not only makes them comfortable about accessing the module page, it makes them acquainted with the lecturer, their colleagues and gives them a feel of writing online on a topic which is generic in nature on the module that I teach. For example, I ask them to post their favourite poem and state the reasons for that being their favourite. This does break the ice in the first week itself.
  2. A snapshot of the student/lecturer interaction on Moodle (seen on a mobile device)

    A snapshot of the student/lecturer interaction on Moodle (seen on a mobile device)

    Each prescribed poem of the course is uploaded on Moodle and after each face to face session and a live discussion in the class, discussion questions are uploaded online. The students post their answers and each of them are given feedback almost immediately. This gives them the freedom of time and space; they do not have to wait until next class to show me the answers. As their lecturer, I benefit by seeing the depth of their understanding, level of writing skill, and the most importantly, the points related to the content which needs to be repeated and emphasized for a better and critical understanding in the next lecture. The answers of the students are in nested form and they are visible to each student. The feedback to one student automatically enriches others and they could also learn more from each others’ reply.

  3. The audio links of the oral recitation of each poem is uploaded beneath every prescribed poem by experts. It helps the listeners attain better understanding of rhyme, rhythm and alliteration. It aids them with understanding of assonance and consonance too.
  4. There are discussion topics uploaded in the open forum section of the module, which are indirectly related to their course. For example, a famous quote from a poem is put to them to critically analyse or sometimes an unseen poem is uploaded and their understanding of the lines are sought through discreet questions. This helps build up their analytical skills and critical thinking skills. The students take active part in it since it is like a free writing exercise which otherwise is not normally enjoyed due to assumptions of being wrong in content based question.
  5. Quizzes are another exciting tool which are appreciated by the students. They help attain the learning outcomes in an utmost stress free manner. The best part of this tool is that they can be taken several times and helps to know the finer nuances of the topic/ concept.
  6. One of the most important tools to integrate classroom teaching with online learning is the use of videos. Poetry for example deals with history of English Literature. After the detailed deliberation of each historical age, a viewing of a YouTube video on the similar topic helps enhance memories of the details presented in the class during a lecture. It transports them into the age that they are supposed to read. To make them understand Shakespearean sonnets, a video on the Elizabethan Age was uploaded which provided recreation to the students and helped me save time for content delivery in the restricted hours of the class.
  7. Moodle helps the introverts the most. Students who are otherwise quiet and seemingly inactive in the class surprise me on the online module page of Moodle. Their confidence level leaps up in the secure atmosphere of their private spaces without any hindrance of being intimidated by others. The communication channel is enhanced manifold between the lecturer and the students, thus providing more comfort level amongst both.
  8. Sometimes, the students are made to do things a little differently- since poetry has a correlation with fine art, the students who are good at painting are asked to draw on the theme of the poem they studied. At times, an online essay competition is uploaded and the students very actively take part in it since there is nothing to lose (in terms of grades) and a lot to win (like prizes and appreciation)

Its commonly misunderstood that elearning portals would make teachers redundant. In fact, the success of elearning or any other mode of self-access learning could be facilitated by teachers alone. The trick is that there shouldn’t be a division between online and classroom learning, it is all part of the same learning experience.

Let’s hear from you? How do you break down the divide between online and face to face learning experiences?

International Women’s Day 2013 – more than equality

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2013, Mind Majlis contributor Dr Tulika Mishra writes a reflection on what it means to her.

Female students studying at Majan College

Female students studying at Majan College

Women’s day (8th March) is a day of hope for all women and a day to reflect on the responsibilities and duties as women for humankind along with the rights. When we speak of virtue, our moral and ethical behaviour rather than rules comes into picture. While the modern woman is an epitome of success, the most successful did not walk away from accepting the fact that they are woman and nurturing the positive qualities of their gender to maintain equilibrium in their personal and professional lives. On International Women’s Day, we must not just demand for equal rights to men because the answer to our problems is not for men and women to be alike. All must be themselves, realising and exploring their unique potentials to lend a helping hand to the weaker sections of the society and to achieve their set goals in life. True women’s liberation does not mean seeking equality with a masculine world, but exploiting the feminine aspects of a women’s personality and using them for the benefit of the society.

It takes more than education for a woman to survive in the modern world. As Shakespeare said, ‘so our virtues lie in the interpretation of the time’- in 21st century, being financially independent is the foremost virtue of a modern women. One must aim at a job and yet handle their careers and family with patience and confidence because failure at any front would make them ultimately demoralised. The patience and readiness to listen to the problems are other virtues which help in procuring better results at work and home. Women’s instincts are well recognised at modern work culture as they walk ahead with subject skills combined with soft skills helping them for a promising performance.

A modern woman is and should be a combination of class and conviction. She is self-conscious, confident and capable of handling the turbulence’s of life as well as articulating her needs unlike ever before. She has a ‘dash of inspiration and dabble of endurance’. No wonder it has been said long back about women-“hands that rock the cradle, rule the world.”

What do you think? What does women’s rights and equality mean to you? Let us know in the comments.