Digital literacy for “offline” students – Part 1

Worried about how to incorporate digital literacy in your literacy course if your students have no, or limited, Internet access? There are downloadable tools that you can use to help you with this. Most need to be installed on the computers your students use although some may be run from a USB memory stick or a CD/DVD. This article focuses on PowerPoint as a tool for creating digital texts.

The maths resource “Language of shape” on this blog page, was developed in PowerPoint. It is a digital text containing internal hyperlinks and audio so that it has a degree of interactivity. The links below connect to short “how to” tutorials on creating different interactive texts using PowerPoint:

Some ideas for student tasks that create digital texts using PowerPoint advanced features.

Wordle ideas for Ppt projects

There are a number of other tools that may be used to create digital texts without being connected to the Internet, however PowerPoint is probably the most easily available in most teaching contexts.

Jo Hart

Infographics – what are they and how can we use them?


The word is itself a contraction of “Information graphics” and describes a visual representation of data, information or knowledge. Wikipedia has a comprehensive article on Infographics.

Using infographics

Infographics are a great way of sharing information in a visual way that makes it easier for most people to understand than a written text. For example NCVER have produced a range of infographics about the VET Sector including this one:

This infographic from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research


Students and courses

We can use infographics with students in a variety of ways some that I have used in the past include asking students to: explain in writing or orally parts of an infographic; compare two infographics with similar topics; find and critique infographics relating to their own interests; research information/find data and produce an illustrative infographic. For me infographics are a good way of integrating numeracy and literacy.

There are lots of online tools that you and your students can use to create infographics these include: “easelly”,  “infogram”, “Piktochart” and “visually”. Most of these need you to sign up to use them and they have both free and paid versions. However you don’t have to use one of the online tools, it is possible to make excellent infographics  using Powerpoint. Using Powerpoint makes it easy to incorporate graphs/charts created with Excel.

The two infographics below were made in and Powerpoint for some PD I delivered a while ago.


Participants all preferred the one on the right created using Powerpoint. They found it more engaging because of the graphics used and the greater use of colour. I also found the Powerpoint one much easier to create, this was partly because I am very familiar with Powerpoint. However I also found that consistently selecting and moving shapes to the right places more difficult with the other application.

ThingLink – a different way to share!

In one of our regular webinars a couple of weeks ago someone mentioned “ThingLink”. Over the follwing weekend I spent a bit of time exploring this tool.

ThingLink is described as a tool that helps you share content using images. The idea is to use an image and to add “tags” which link to content. The tool has been developed so that you can add many different types of content link including audio, video, webpages and polls.

Here are a three different ones that I have created – these are fairly simple and just link directly to content relevant to the spot in the image where the tag is positioned. The images can be easily embedded in websites and blogs. If you don’t see the links on the images immediately then move your mouse onto the image, you should then be able to checkout the content links.

The scene from Gooseberry Hill


  A “Toon” for introducing e-pedagogy

Free E-tools for teaching and learning

For me this has immense possibilities for use in literacy/numeracy contexts. Here is just a very quick “off the top of my head” list of some of the possible uses:

Students making their own “ThingLinks” to evidence their own understanding and research eg in “Current Issues”

  • Students developing their own audio, visual or written explanations of maths concepts and linking to them via tags
  • Students making ToonDoos eg related to Internet safety and linking to the source of their information
  • Students collecting a series of images recording project progress with tags linking to videos of different project activities and/or other project documentation
  • Language of shapes with links to audio files and or text glossary items.
  • Maths concepts with links to practical applications of the concepts in the real world
  • Managing student web access in exploring a topic to ensure that the sites they visit are of suitable quality
  • Writing prompt images with related information links as tags in the image

One of the reasons that I liked this tool straight away is that basic use is very quick and easy to learn. So it makes a great addition to the repertoire of quick and easy to learn tools that can be used by students while also having potential for developing engaging learning resources.

If you explore and try this one out please let us know by commenting on this post – we would love to know how you use it and what you and your students think of it!

Jo Hart (April 2014)

Slideshare – sharing on the web!

Slideshare is one of my favourite tools for sharing the slides from any PD sessions that I deliver. If you have been to any of my BlackboardCollaborate or face-to-face sessions for the ALaN network it is quite likely that I have shared my slides via Slideshare. I have found it a really useful and easy to use tool for both me and my students. I use it mainly to share presentations and resources created in Powerpoint (.ppt and .pptx) so that students and others accessing the content are not required to have Microsoft Office in order to open the resource. My students who have used it have used it for sharing their own presentations and stories – again they don’t need to have Powerpoint, presentations made in OpenOffice Presentation Document (.odp) can be uploaded as can .pdf and other documents.

This short screencast gives the steps for signing up to Slideshare. Once you have signed up you are directly in an upload screen. However you will get an email with a link for you to click to confirm your membership. Remember to click this or your account will disappear!

The embedded Slideshare below will show you how to upload and embed a Slideshare in a blog or other website, however you can also easily just share the link.

If you already use Slideshare please add a comment about how you use it. If you are encouraged by this post to try it yourself and/or to use it with your students, then again please post a comment to share your ideas and feedback.

Drowning in information?


How do you manage all those links to websites that you come across every day? Even if you don’t currently use very much digital or web-based content in your teaching you probably visit websites for printable teaching resources. There are many printable resources available from websites as well as the truly digital content. I know I was accessing (and printing) masses of such material some years ago, well before my face-to-face students had any computer access in class.

Information curation

Keeping the links that you need and want while discarding those items that are not useful for you is a big problem that is continuing to increase. Information curation has become a major issue for many people. This is compounded by the fact that most of us now access work related links and content on more than one digital device. In my own case I need to be able to regularly access links from at least three different desktop computers, my laptop and my iPad. This excludes classrooms and any one-off situations such as workshops or conferences. Browser “Favourites” are no longer sufficient to keep all those links especially when they are still often lost during updates.

As a general bookmarking tool I mostly use Diigo an online application that enables me to save and tag links and also to share with others. However this is not ideal for sharing links with students as it isn’t very structured (at least mine isn’t) and in my opinion links are easier for students to work with if they are organised in some way.

Using SymbalooEdu with students

My preferred tool for managing links that I use with students is SymbalooEdu. This is easy to sign up to and easy to use. The pages (“Webmixes”) can also easily be made public and shared.



Symbaloo is very visual using coloured “tiles” to which you can add icons and titles. In Symbaloo I create what are known as “Webmixes” groups of links that relate to particular topics. I can then share the “Webmixes” with students to use in activities.

Advantages of using Symbaloo:

  • enables me to give students a degree of ownership and choice in the links they access for activities;
  • allows me some control so that I can ensure that students visit websites which provide appropriate examples related to the activity concerned and are likely to be comparativley “safe”;
  • limits the websites students access for an activity (reduces the number I need to visit when evaluating work);
  • provides scaffolding opportunities from which students can progress to become more independent
  • I can use tile colour, page position and icon to provide clear navigation for students so that they can easily find the links they need;
  • colour and page position can also be used for level differentiation so that I can use the same Webmix for an activity that spans several levels – this makes it easy if a student needs to access higher or lower level links to meet individual needs;
  • I can give students access to the links they need for an activity without “cluttering” up their written instructions with a series of links in the text;
  • if a link becomes inactive it is easy to remove or replace without having to modify and re-upload the activity itself;
  • the visual nature of the tiles works well with literacy students.

This embedded Symbaloo page with groups related to career exploration and resume development is one I use online – the activity I use this with is similar at Certs I, II and III and, depending on standard of completion,  it may provide evidence for aspects of units on Learning Plan and Portfolio, Creating and Engaging with texts (Personal and/or Learning).


SymbalooEdu works well as a tool for managing links that are shared with students, it is easy to update links and manages student access reducing risk to students and potential for lecturer overload.

Jo Hart


Joining the conversation!


Our newsletter, like the ALaN Network GoogleGroup, is a way of starting conversations. The conversation may continue through other media but often the most useful way to join that conversation is to comment on the initiating post. Please! Please! Join our ALaN conversations – add comments to posts in the newsletter and in the GoogleGroup.

About commenting

Many very well known and experienced writers of online articles/bloggers say that the discussion that happens through the comments is the most important part for them, so being able to join in through commenting is a great way of sharing your own ideas as well as giving feedback to the writer. If someone has already made a similar comment to what you have in mind don’t be put off! You can still add your comment in support of an opinion already expressed – maybe expand on it a little, add further thoughts  or put your own slant. Also don’t be put off if you disagree – you can still comment – expressing disagreement is fine as long as it is done with respect and in an appropriate tone. Personally, I always think of the “feedback sandwich” and (especially if I disagree) try always to begin and end my comments on a positive note.

Commenting online in a public (eg the newsletter which is a blog) or semi-public (eg the GoogleGroup) discussion forum is a little bit different from providing feedback privately or within a very small closed group. Comments are an important part of both discussion forums and blogs. However remember that commenting is public feedback and so it is important to bear in mind your own security/safety as well as the tone and potential impact of your comments.


“Good” commenting

Good commenting is very much about:

  • Adding value to the conversation. You don’t have to say something totally new to do that, reinforcing someone else’s idea/opinion is fine.
  • Being respectful of others’ ideas and opinions even if you disagree. There is nothing wrong in disagreeing with someone through a comment it is how you do this that matters.

This Lifehacker post although several years old makes great points about good commenting that you may find useful for your students and for yourself.

Ideally when I am introducing students to commenting I give them these links:

or similar ones and then ask them to make their own list. I do also have “Guidelines for commenting” that I can share with colleagues for use with their students who may be commenting on blogs or taking part in discussion forums. Some of the points overlap with those made in made in the Lifehacker post mentioned above but I also raise issues of safety for the commenter and others.


Just as with face-to-face interaction respect is important! Making respect explicit is especially significant in asynchronous online interaction because we lack the body language and audio cues that can soften a possibly hurtful comment. This is one reason why using “emoticons” is so much part of online conversation.

Commenting in forums and on posts is the “life blood” of online interaction. So PLEASE join our conversations here in the Newsletter and also (if you are an ALaN GoogleGroup member) in the group. You could start with a comment on this post!

CGEA Network Files

If you are new to the Google Group, you may not yet be familiar with the CGEA Network Files (or Google Drive – formerly Google Docs) page.  This is the place to come if you want to look at resources shared by other teachers, find out about upcoming PD, find out about useful websites etc.

You can access the Google Drive page by clicking on the link on the CGEA Network Home Page (CGEA Network Files)

If you click on the ‘2011-the present’ folder you will get the most recent resources etc.

The folders should (hopefully) be fairly self explanatory.

How to” gives instructions on how to upload documents and how to join the google group

“Moderation” has a few examples of moderated tasks (we would really like more examples here…)

“Professional Development” has information of upcoming PD

“Resource Ideas” has a range of documents from lists of useful websites, to assessment tasks to teaching ideas.

Please feel free to contribute to any of the folders.

If you need any help with accessing folders or documents, please contact me (Dani Murray) through the Google Group or by commenting on this post.


 for learning!


There are lots of simple, fun to use, online tools that we can use to stimulate interest in writing. One of the simplest is “Lino”. This is a simple cloud based “sticky note” system – although it is certainly more than just a place to put notes. There are several of these available online including “Wallwisher” one of the early ones and the first one I used. However this article is about Lino and some creative ways to use it with students.

I like using online tools because they provide opportunities for students to write for an authentic audience ie someone other than their teacher/lecturer. This audience may be their fellow students or can be broadened out by sharing links more widely with students or teachers/lecturers globally.

Signing up and some of the fucntions

Signing up to Lino is very easy and your students don’t need to sign up to add to your canvases. Only users who intend to create canvases need to sign up. However students often sign up because they can use Lino for reminders, “to do” lists and taking notes.

There are a number of different functions available. You can drag and drop sticky notes of different colours or colourless ones and then add your own text to them. Images, files and videos from several video sites can also be included.

Once you sign up you get a Home Page with one canvas “Main” this gives you a run down on creating a new canvas adding stickies and also the other tools available for editing. You can use Lino as a memo and task management system but I have only used it for activities with students and as a contributor to Linos made by other members of my global network. creatively for student engagement

Lino is used by educators worldwide, with students of all ages and across a variety of subject areas. This example is from a school teacher based in Perth (I met him through my global network on Twitter and he has become a good friend both actual and virtual). He created a Lino for his students and other people across the globe to post ideas for World Water Day 2011. The response both within the school he was at and globally was huge! The Lino is embedded here – you can move around within it with click and drag. Also if you move your mouse to the bottom right hand corner you will see a thumbnail of the whole Lino.

I have used Linoit mainly for student feedback:

However it also works well for:

  • writing stimulus – with an image (and example) for a short piece of writing, I did one for writing a Haiku that was planned for use this year although this is now unlikely as my Institute has decided to cease delivery of CGEA;

As this will probably not be used with students I would be delighted if anyone felt they would like to visit “Write a Haiku” and add their own Haiku to the page 🙂

  • brainstorming ideas for collaborative work;
  • individual students – sign up and make their own for “to do” lists and reminders


For me the two best aspects of Lino are: its ease of use; and the opportunity for students to create writing for others than just their teacher to read. I believe strongly that students in a face-to-face situation, a blended situation or entirely online as mine have been for the last few years must have access to technology in their learning. This not just because of the opportunities to write for authentic audiences but because they will need to use technology to survive in their future lives at work and at home.

Please explore and investigate and add your comments – would your students like this? Would you use it with your students? Do you already use it with your students – share your/their Linos?

Images “fit for purpose”


Ability to carry out simple image editing quickly is very significant in making our images “fit for purpose”. If you do any of the following with images: use them in online publishing; email them especially if recipients have Inbox restrictions; put them on websites and find they take a long time to open/download; use them where image size on the page is important; save them where storage capacity is limited. Then you need to know some basic image editing techniques and have access to simple tools for doing this. So that you can resize images easily to suit their purpose.

The table above gives a  rough guide to sizes, but experience will tell you what sizes work best for you in your own context.

A suitable editing application

My own personal preference is a free downloadable tool called PhotoFiltre.

From my perspective the main advantages of this particular tool are these:

  • Small (4MB) so I can keep a copy on a USB drive to put on any computer at need – useful if you don’t have the access to download and install executable files on school/college computers due to organisational restrictions;
  • Free to download and use for private and education purposes so it can be installed anywhere without licensing issues;
  • I can recommend it to colleagues and students who can then use it without incurring cost; and also without large download time – significant in our infrastructure poor region;
  • My often not very tech savvy students, and sometimes colleagues, find it easy to use;
  • Simple short user guide – mostly written in plain comprehensible English
  • Quick to open and to access the tools I (and many others) use most frequently
  • Handles a good range of image formats

The main PhotoFiltre tool that I use is “Image size” to adjust the size of my images. However I do also regularly use: “Paste as new image” – extremely useful for screenshots used in “How to” resources; and “Crop” – to produce an image without extraneous clutter.

Adjusting image size

For me the way that I can easily and quickly resize an image is probably the most important feature of PhotoFiltre. Accessing the Image size” tool is most easily done via the “Image” menu at the top of the screen.

Resizing by reducing the number of pixels is probably the quickest and easiest way for most of us to reduce the size of the image file.

Making sure that your image is the right size for purpose is critical. When you import an image into a document and reduce the size within the document this has no effect on the size of the image in terms of file space. For example if you have a 60KB text document and you insert a 500KB image your document file size will be 560KB. Even if you reduce the visible dimensions of the image within the document your file will still be 560KB. This has impacts on download time and inbox capacity. Both “png” and “jpg” are widely supported.

Image saving format

The default file saving format on installation of PhotoFiltre is “bmp” (bitmap). This format is less widely used than in the past and therefore no longer supported by a number of commonly used tools and applications. This makes it a good idea to change the default file save format to “png” or “jpg” as shown below.


I hope you find this introduction to getting your images fit for purpose to be helpful. You could find it especially useful of you are planning an article for this newsletter. If you can submit your images already resized it saves us time in editing and contributes considerably to the smooth and timely publishing of the newsletter.

If you have any questions or comments about image sizes please put them in a comment on the post and I will do my best to help.


Jo Hart (Aug 2012)



Do you (or your students) Toon?


my students are all off-campus and so are using their own computers with widely varying software. Many of my students are also not particularly computer literate so expecting them to use sophisticated features of word processing or presentation packages is not an option. The strategy I adopt for a lot of work with my online students is to use mostly (though not always) online tools. This post is about using one of them – ToonDoo – an online cartoon making tool.

How do we use ToonDoo?

I have been using ToonDoo myself for several years to create occasional texts to engage student attention and to break up heavily text based resources.

Then about 3 years ago I first used it with online students when we created a cartoon together via virtual classroom (Elluminate). Each student was given control of my desktop in turn to add their own “bit” to the cartoon. These students then signed up to ToonDoo and made their own cartoons. I have also shared my use of ToonDoo fairly widely through webinars and associated blog posts.

Recently I have extended the use of ToonDoo with my students as part of my National Vocational E-Learning Strategy project Extraordinary Learning For A Digital Age (ELFADA) funded under the Partnerships for Participation initiative. This was part of a mini-project on digital safety. The students learnt about ToonDoo in a virtual class session through an Application Share demo and together we created a Toon. This was shared through the course blog in a post on visual texts.

The next step was for the students to visit a series of links to cartoons each addressing an aspect of digital safety. They chose some of these to review and evaluate.

Finally the students created their own cartoon choosing a topic from those they had learned about through our work on staying safe online, they then published a blog post with links to their cartoon, or with the cartoon embedded. These are two of the student posts,  Jordan’s looking at scams and some consequences and Meg’s with a warning to take care what you share.


I have found using ToonDoo to be a great engagement tool for students and will continue to use it with my own online students. I also find that ToonDoo is used easily by students across all three levels that I currently teach online. In common with many other online tools it is relatively simple to use – this is a huge bonus for online students who don’t always have a lecturer available for immediate help.

Please use the comments to share your own and your student experiences with ToonDoo or other cartoon making tools. Or if it is new to you let us know if you think you might try this with your own students.

Jo Hart