Friday, 25 September 2015

20 + Things you can do with QR codes in your school

 QR codes are possibly one of the most underused useful features of new technology. Perhaps one of the main reasons for this is that many people see them as a form of barcode and wrongly believe that they can only be produced by companies, but the reality is anyone can produce a QR code within seconds.
QR literally stands for 'quick response' and it enables you to transfer various types of digital content onto a mobile device in seconds without having to type any URLs.

There are two essential things you need to make QR codes work for you.

1. A means of creating the code.
There are a number of quick free services that enable you to create QR codes in seconds. These are two that I like:
 Here’s how to create the code:

2. A means of reading the code
In order to read the codes students will need an internet connected device with a QR scanner installed. There are a number of these also available for free.
QR codes can have a transformative effect, not only within a the classroom but also within a school. They have multiple uses which we will go on to look at, but among the greatest strengths they have is that they are platform agnostic, so they can be used on any mobile device with a camera regardless of brand as long as it has QR code scanning app available for it, so they can form a fundamental tool to enabling an effective BYOD program in any school.

Here are a few suggestions

In the classroom
  • Add QR codes to worksheets and classroom handouts so that students who prefer a digital version can download one directly to their device.
  • At the end of classes create a QR code for digital notes from the class with new vocabulary, errors or interesting expressions that came up during class etc.
  • Create a QR code link to an interactive phonemic chart so that student can use it to work on their pronunciation and use their phone to record themselves.
  • Create QR codes so that students can download grammar reference notes or vocabulary records at the end of a lesson.
  • Get students to scan their timetable directly into the calendar on their phone using a QR code.
  • Make a list of QR codes which link to suitable apps you want students to download to use in class. This will help them to save time searching for them.
  • You can get students to scan images and infographics directly onto their device.

  • Everything you print and put on a wall or put on paper and handout can be distributed using a QR code.

Around the school
  • Have a QR code at the entrance to the school which links to a welcome video from or info video about the school, so that when people arrive at the school they feel some form of human contact, even if the school is closed.
  • Add QR codes to pictures of staff members and link these to short video clips of the teachers introducing themselves.
  • When you take photographs of events at your school and put them on display, add QR codes so that students can download the ones they want directly from the display.
  • Add QR codes to any competitions you are doing around the school. These can link directly to email addresses or SMS text numbers that students should submit their entries to.
  • Set up QR codes for events and schedules so that they are scanned directly into students digital calendars.
  • Make newsletters available digitally with QR codes. Teachers or students can just scan the code if they want a copy.
  • Set up QR codes with various study and learner training tips around the school so that students can get a tip and some inspiration where ever they are in the school.
  • Add QR codes to instruction sheets so that teachers or students don’t have to make a photocopy, they can just scan them onto their phone.
  • Add QR codes to teachers resources so that they can quickly scan and download a copy to their phone or mobile device rather than photocopying.
  • Set up a treasure hunt with information and clues delivered to students phones as they search for QR codes which tell them where to find the next QR code clue.
  • You can quickly get students onto your school Facebook page to like it.

  • Everything you print and put on a wall or put on paper and handout can be distributed using a QR code.

In the self access centre
  • Create QR codes for self-access worksheets and online activities that students can then scan and complete on their own device rather than paper. You can link to webpages, videos, listening activities etc.
  • Make digital books and magazines in the library available to students through QR codes. There are  vast number of magazines that can be downloaded for free from sites like,, or students can download classics from or from Google books.
  • Create QR codes for recommended videos from YouTube or other video sharing sites. You could also have a QR code for a worksheet with activities for the students to do while they watch it.
  • Create QR codes for recommended audio books or podcasts for students to listen to.

In your marketing
  • Add QR codes to any brochures and promotional materials round your school. Then students can download a PDF version to their device and you can save money on printing. You can also update your materials without having to re-print them or change the QR code.
  • Create a QR code with a link to a Google map showing the location of the school and add this to marketing materials to help people find the school.
  • Add a QR code to materials that enable potential customers to easily send you a text message for more information.

Benefits of using QR codes
Getting staff and students familiar and comfortable with QR codes can take some time and training, but if you can integrate these into your school the potential benefits are huge.

Here are a few:
  • Reduced costs of photocopying.
  • Reduced costs of printing marketing materials.
  • Reduced costs of storage and shelf space in library or self access centre.
  • Reduced cost of lost books, CDs, video, magazines etc.
  • Reduced costs of buying magazines, newspapers etc.
  • Increased engagement with learning materials.
  • Increased engagement with marketing materials.
  • Increased learning opportunities within the school environment.
  • A 21st century mobile friendly learning environment.
  • A more digitally literate staff and student body.
I hope you find these ideas useful and please do post any comments or suggestions you have for using QR codes.

Related links:
Nik Peachey

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Managing the digital classroom - Using a backchannel

In my first post in this series - Getting students' attention - I mentioned the use of backchannels. This post should give you more information about the use of backchannels within the classroom.

If you are working in a classroom where your students have internet connected devices, either through wifi or their mobile phone, using a backchannel can have a transformative impact on the way you can use technology with your students.

“Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside the primary group activity or live spoken remarks.”

Most backchannels are text based and many-to-many, meaning that anyone can type in a message and it is seen by everyone who has access to the chatroom.

Back channels are particularly useful if you are working in a face to face environment where all or pairs/groups of students are working at a computer or if you are delivering live online classes using some form or web conferencing or webinar platform.

Backchannels help to solve a number of common classroom problems

  • I often describe a backchannel as the communication that happens between your students in the classroom every time to turn your back on them. The advantage of using a backchannel tool is that you can capture the intercommunication, be part of it and make it a constructive rather than a distracting part of the class.
Democratisation of learning
  • Backchannels democratise the classroom or lecture room, at least for periods of time, and enable everyone to contribute what they know about the point or topic being discussed.
Giving students links to online resources
  • If you want students to investigate a website, do an online task, watch a video or complete a digital worksheet, you simply use the back channel, paste in the link and they can access the materials simply by clicking the link and opening it in a new tab. This saves a lot of time and gets students directly to the sites you want them to access rather than leaving them struggling to write down long URLs and type them into the browser address bar.
Getting all students to respond to questions
  • You can type in questions and get students to respond through the backchannel. Using this method all students are able to participate and respond to questions rather than the first one to put up their hand. This also gives less outspoken students the opportunity to respond.
Setting and reinforcing clear task
  • When you set tasks for students to do you can back them up by also typing your instructions into the backchannel. This gives them something to refer back to and also helps to reinforce your verbal instructions. This can reduce wasted time going round the class helping weaker students get on task.
  • You can get students brainstorming ideas, suggestions, vocabulary, opinions or anything else through the back channel. This way everyone's contribution can be collected, shared and acknowledged.
Enabling students to share knowledge
  • Students get share what they know about any topic or ask a question at any point during lesson, even when you are presenting, without disrupting the flow of the class.
Socialisation with students
  • Students can socialise and you can socialise with students within the back channel. Just spending a few minutes at the start of the lesson asking questions and finding out what students are up to can really help to engage with your students.
Developing written fluency
  • Interacting with students in a chatroom also gives students an opportunity to develop their written fluency through genuine communication.
Saving notes from the class
  • The script from a backchannel can be saved and downloaded, so this is a great form of collaborative note taking. At the end of the class each student can edit their own version of the text to ensure they keep the parts that they feel are relevant.

Some problems with back channels

  • As always we should take our students' online safety very seriously  when using any form of computer mediated communication that allows students or others to communicate with our students.  Some back channel tools require registration and this adds a greater element of security to the platform as users are more traceable, though student registration can add an extra layer of time management and friction to the setup process.
  • If you decide to use a back channel that doesn't require registration then it's better to make sure you create a new one each lesson and only leave it live for only a short time.
  • When you first start to use a back channel you may have some initial behaviour problems, especially with younger less mature students. Try to stay level headed when you deal with this. As the use of the back channel becomes more common place your students will get used to using it in a more responsible way, especially if they realise their comments can be traced back to them.

Class size
  • If you have really large classes and lots of students are contributing comments it may get hard to keep up with all the interaction. Having a more complex backchannel tool like Backchannel Chat can help you to manage this more effectively.
  • Reading back through the text from a back channel can seem like reading through chaos to someone who wasn’t there at the time. Backchannel records will need to be edited to be useful, but  this is a good review activity for students.

Backchannel tools

Here are a number of tools you can use to create a backchannel in your classroom.
TodaysMeet is one of the simplest and easiest to use tools, and also one that’s free and very reliable. It doesn’t require registration by you or the students so it’s really quick to set up and get students into, but if you want that extra security you can register for a free account, which will also enable you to save your chat transcripts.
You can enter an example room here:

Backchannel Chat:
Backchannel Chat is a bit more sophisticated and enables students to choose avatars for the chat and more importantly it enables you the teacher to pin a question or message to the top of the chatroom stream so that it doesn’t disappear as students respond. There is both a free version (which is limited to 30 students) as well as paid versions which have larger limits and other features like file adding attachments and personalising avatars with students’ own picture.

You can enter an example room here:

Chatzy offers two options; A quick chat room which you can set up quite quickly and simply (more like TodaysMeet, or a more complex virtual classroom which you can configure to allow students to add various types of online media too, such as images and videos.

You can enter an example room here:

Find more tools to use in the digitally connected classroom by downloading my ebook - Digital Tools for Teachers

I hope you find backchannels useful with your students and that they help you to integrate technology into your classroom in a more meaningful way.

Related links:
Nik Peachey

Friday, 11 September 2015

Managing the digital classroom - Getting students' attention

Competing with a computer or mobile screen for students' attention can be a challenge at best and at worst extremely frustrating. In this posting I will share some techniques and approaches for dealing with these problems.

Ban devices
  • Obviously this is the simplest way to deal with the problem, however, banning devices in class can be hard to enforce especially with teen students and older. It will also become harder as more technology becomes wearable, and particularly with adult classes, this approach could border on the insulting. 
  • Banning devices in the classroom also deprives us and our students of the opportunity to develop responsible approaches to using these devices and robs students of the opportunity to develop their digital literacy skills and exploit the genuine benefits that technology in the classroom can bring.

Turn off the device
  • This is much less extreme than banning devices from the class and can be part of a strategy for more responsible use of devices. Have parts of a lesson or even complete lessons when you ask students to turn off their device. 
  • In this way the devices can be available when we need them and we can start to build a more responsible though very controlled approach to the use of technology. This becomes more difficult with computers which take much longer to boot up.

Motivational reward
  • You can use mobile or computer use as a motivational tool by giving students a break when they have been working well and allowing them a few minutes to use their mobile device or computer freely. 
  • This isn't to say that you don't also use them as part of the lesson, but just giving students a short break to check their email or social media can help top reduce their anxiety levels. Remember that many more digitally connected people now have parallel virtual lives happening along side their physical life.

Turn off the screen
  • If you have students sitting with a computer screen screen in front of them in a more old fashioned computer room with desktop computers then you can ask them just to turn off the screen when you want their attention. Then they can quite easily turn it back on again when you are ready to get them working again.

Go to the home screen
  • Rather than turning the screen off, you can also get students to go to the home screen on the computer or device, until you are ready for them to go back to work.

Turn over
  • In the case of tablets or mobile phones an easy solution when you want students' attention is simply to ask them to turn their device over on the desk so the screen is facing downwards. Then as soon as you are ready for them to get back to work they can turn it over again.

Reinforce instructions
  • You can use the devices with a backchannel tool like TodaysMeet to reinforce your instructions. As soon as you have given instructions verbally you can add them to the backchannel and then students also have them to refer back to during the activity.
  • This can also help them to stay on task and interact with you and each other while they work.

Reduce teacher directed learning
  • Think about how you can reduce teacher directed learning and point students towards web based materials where they can learn for themselves. 
  • You can use the backchannel tool like TodaysMeet to share links to the materials you want them to investigate. This could be text video or audio materials that you have created yourself or that you have discovered. You can point different groups of students towards different materials sources and then get them to share and compare what they have learned together.
  • This approach makes much better use of the technology and helps your students to develop as more autonomous learners. It also demands more from them as critical thinkers and researchers and helps to develop the kinds of real life digital literacy skills they will need. 
  • This approach also has benefits for you as a teacher. It takes the spotlight off you and gives you The opportunity to get up close to the students, to monitor what they are doing and steer weaker students in the right direction. 
Controlling the device
  • Teach students how to control not be controlled by their mobile device. Many mobile apps are designed to be attention needy. They constantly flash up notifications through messages and sounds which attempt to engage the owner’s  attention. Teach your students how to switch off these attention grabbing alerts so that they can control when they decide to check messages.

Keep doing it
Whichever of these techniques you use, the important thing is to be consistent and persistent. You have to train your students to adopt the kind of responsible behaviour towards their device that you want in your classroom. This isn’t going to happen instantly. You’ll need to stick with it.

Please feel free to share any suggestions or techniques you have for helping to manage a digital classroom.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Using Scribd to monetise your writing work

Many writers like myself start writing blogs for free and sharing our work because we dream one day of becoming professional writers or at least of making some money to supplement our income.

Making the transition from free blogger to commercial writer can be a difficult one though. Sometimes it can come in the form of an offer from a publisher and at others we can generate revenue from including adds or reviews on our blogs. Many may, however, never be that lucky, but if you feel like going it alone and doing without a publisher, there are now many options to sell your work independently online.

One solution that’s incredibly simple is Scribd. Scribd has been around for a while and has been described as the YouTube of document publishing. In the past I’ve published lots of my work for free there, including my first book - Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers.

Scribd has been trying to expand it’s offering more recently though and seems to be rebranding itself as a kind of online library / book club / digital book shop. It also now enables any registered user to upload their content in either PDF or even Word format and offer it for sale at the price of their choosing.

When you publish your documents you can choose the level of protection you want for them. You can just enable the buyer to view the document on the platform and block any form of downloading or copying, or you can give readers freedom to download it directly to their device.

To get started you need to register and set yourself up as a seller on the site in order to get payment. This is very easy to do and I had my seller account set up in about 10 minutes.

There are two ways you can receive payment through Scribd:
  • Scribd will send a cheque to your address
  • You can be paid into a PayPal account.
Once you have your account set up you just need to upload your document along with an image of the cover and add in the description details. Then select the price you want to charge for it. Then just click 'Save' and your document is then available across a whole range of platforms.

Scribd will start sending you money as soon as you have made $20 dollars from you work, so if your work sells well you don’t have a long wait to start getting the money. Scribd does take a small percentage of the money you make from your work (around 20%) and as the publisher you are responsible for paying your own tax on the income, but that still leaves you with a much greater percentage than you would be likely to make from any publisher.

The down sides
There are some downsides to publishing on this platform, the biggest of which is probably the lack of copyright protection for your work if you are allowing download.
  • There’s little to stop someone from downloading a copy and sharing or selling it to whoever they choose. Although you can block downloading, the chances of users paying for a document that they can only access online are much lower and so you would need to reflect this in your pricing.

There are also some downsides which are common to self publishing in general.
  • Unlike a publisher, Scribd does nothing to help you sell or market your book, so you will have to do that yourself. This can be a big downside as publishers have considerable resources and expertise to make sure people do actually buy your work as well as a huge distribution network of shops. 
  • Customers will also have far more confidence in work that has been through the editing and quality control processes involved in getting a book to print or digital distribution through an established publishing house.
To give you some idea of what you may expect, for my own book - Digital Video - I sell on average one copy for every 500 visitors.

Alternatives to Scribd
There are of course a few other alternatives to Scribd and it’s probably worth trying to publish on as many platforms as you can to increase your chances of generating a reasonable number of sales.

Here are some of the alternatives, though none of these are as quick and easy as Scribd.

Kindle Textbook Creator
  • The is a free tool you can download and use to create and publish a textbook to Amazon. It’s not particularly difficult to use if your book is in ePub format, but as well as the standard commission they also charge for hosting based around the file size of your book, so if it has a lot of images or is very long you could find yourself losing money. I investigated publishing my book ‘Digital Video - A manual for language teachers’ there and the best deal I could get would have been around 35% of the cover price.
  • You can upload Word documents to Smashwords and it will convert them into files that it will then publish across a range of platforms for you. You have to follow their formatting guidelines very carefully, but this is a good option if you are most comfortable working with Word and you don’t have high layout expectations. Smashwords lets you keep around 80%.
iBooks Author 
  • This is a great tool for creating really professional looking interactive books for Apple devices and makes exporting to the iBook Store very simple. It can also export your work as PDF for upload to other platforms or as plain text, but there is no ePub export, so if you want to republish on platforms that need that format you may be better off creating your work with another tool and then creating the iBook version. The iBook Store allows you to keep 70% of your cover price.

Well I hope this article has been useful. Happy publishing.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

My eBooks and Lesson Plans