Survey of Global Collaboration Tools presented using Microsoft Sway

Microsoft Sway

I'm experimenting with Microsoft Sway, an application somewhat, a little, kinda, sorta like Powerpoint but much more interactive and more dynamic (in that it reformats content depending on the screen it is being displayed on). Users can search for, and embed content from a variety of other sources a little bit like Haiku Deck can find backgrounds based on your slide content. Sway will search images, videos, and Tweets for content matching your search.

Your Sway can be shared directly from the site with a view-only link, or you can share a link with rights to edit. Sways can also be embedded elsewhere... like here, for example! Sway has dynamic formatting, so the user need only focus on the content. This means that Sway will format the content suitable for desktop, tablet, and mobile viewing. Try this: Once the Sway has loaded, resize the window, or click to full-screen viewing. Everything is dynamic, including text, header images, embedded content... everything! Rather neat! I could see using Sway as a tool for knowledge building, content curation, story telling, and annotated bookmarking.

Global Collaboration Digital Tools

This Sway was created in response to an assignment in the Queen's University course 801 Collaborative Inquiry, part of the Graduate Diploma in Professional Inquiry leading to a Master of Education. The prompt was to create a montage of 21st century resources that could accommodate collaborative pursuits.

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Annual Reflection on Professional Learning 2015

Annual Reflection on Professional Learning 2015

In the same way we ask students to reflect on their work, so too should we, as professionals, take time to consider our practice. Returning to my home school after spending the 2014 calendar year teaching in Australia, I'm going to reflect on the two different systems and their impact on student learning.


My home province does not use high-stakes standards testing, rather, there is a greater emphasis on knowing the learner and nurturing their development. While our provincial department has subject based curriculum, my district makes it clear that academics are only one dimension of a child's development and we ought to attend to all dimensions (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.). It is, in my opinion, a compassionate and empathetic approach to education where our primary focus on people rather than data.

I appreciated experiencing Australia's rich data environment (particularly New South Wales, one of the largest school districts in the world) during my exchange year. Students write national standards exams called the NAPLAN (National Assessment of Proficiency in Literacy and Numeracy) at grade 3, 5, 7, and 9. These tests occupy the better part of three days not to mention the work beforehand to prepare students for the testing environment. Their exams are marked centrally and their scores are ranked within the school and the state. The resulting data from the exams highlight areas in granular detail where the child either met or failed to perform to expectations. Each outcome is tied to interventions and lessons to build capacity. External companies also offer (for sale) test question banks meant to mimic the standards exams in order to prepare students for the test.

The wealth of data was overwhelming, but certainly could be useful though I'm not quite convinced that an attentive teacher couldn't achieve the same sense of a child's needs in less time and without the enormous capital outlay and testing infrastructure. Another challenge is the test validity. I observed that students approached the test with different levels of interest and motivation. In small schools, the aggregate data has little utility when ranked with other schools. The real danger is when the data becomes the focus and "how do we bring the numbers up?" is asked more than, "how do we help this student?" I'm sure that in our heads, when saying the former, we see the numbers going up as a byproduct of helping students, but I've also observed that the time spent crunching numbers can far outweigh the time spent planning learning interventions for children.


In my home middle school we keep the same students throughout the day and, as their homeroom teacher, we are responsible for all content areas. This can be disconcerting for those teachers who consider themselves content specialists and it was for me too. However, in a collaborative environment with inter-teacher supports, one can quickly fill those knowledge gaps. The goal is not to divide the work, but to build capacity in all content areas. Part of this is a shift from thinking about ourselves as content specialists to thinking about ourselves as learning specialists. We know how to look at a skill, break it down into component parts, structure learning experiences to build capacity, and assess growth along the way. As learning specialists, the content is secondary - required knowledge, for the most part, can easily be discovered in learning communities.


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Learning out loud


I’ve been using Harold Jarche’s phrase, “Learning Out Loud” to describe my approach to learning. As a teacher, I consider myself simply the resident professional learner rather than the resident content expert. The idea of using social media to engage with colleagues both near and far appealed to my enthusiasm for technology and my passion for learning. Publically sharing work in progress, ideas, and experiments with reflections on the process as well as the product, I invite others to pitch in, offer their own experiences, ideas, and suggestions.

Twitter helped me find and follow some great people who talked about things I was interested in, or ideas that challenged my own notions. Often their posts would point to articles or blogs which, if I was interested, I would add to my RSS feed which pulled newly published content from my subscribed sources.

These articles fueled my interest and got me excited about changes in education in the 21st century. I would share these articles on my own Twitter feed, and engage with the authors or other readers in the blog comments area.

After consuming content for about a year, I felt the desire to reflect more deeply, to be more intentional about my engagement than the odd blog comment and to articulate my emerging understandings into something that I could build on later, but, more importantly, something that could initiate conversations with others all the time and everywhere. Articles published years ago on a blog can still fuel conversations long after I have moved on to other things and I appreciate being drawn back to that intellectual space to revisit old ideas.

My habits have changed over the last couple of years as I engaged more intensely with my coursework and my fellow students but I continued to share my coursework online for those who might find it useful. Normally, when we write a paper for class, it is only ever read by one or two people. By sharing that work online I get feedback and discussion from many more people who offer thanks (which is personally rewarding) or criticism (which is intellectually challenging) and it can take on a life of its' own.


Life Update

So my George Washington University adventure hit a terminal milestone with the August 31, 2015 conferral of my Master of Arts in Education and Human Development (Education Technology Leadership). YAY! Now, just two weeks later, another adventure begins. I have enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in Professional Inquiry at Queen's University with the intention of pursuing the Master of Education the following year. So... for the next couple of years, many of my blog posts will reflect the learning and engagement with people and ideas in that program. I'll use the tag #QueensPI for those posts. As always, I welcome notes, comments, critiques, suggestions, questions, ideas...

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6 things you need to know before starting your online graduate degree

Next month I'm writing my comprehensive exams and wrapping up a Master of Arts in Education and Human Development with a concentration in Education Technology Leadership. I learned a few things along the way about distance learning that will benefit others thinking about online learning. Here are five things to consider:

Textbooks: Buy or Rent?

Digital rentals sound like a great deal. You get use of the most current text, usually for six months, for less than the cost of the print text plus you have access anytime and anywhere you have an internet connection. Reader apps include markup tools and the ability to annotate with margin notes that you can share with others. The ability to search within a chapter or the entire text for keywords is very handy, and bookmarks are synchronized between all your devices.

On the down side, you need an internet connection unless you "check out" sections prior to being off-line. Printing is limited, though generous and your access is limited to the rental period. The latter is a serious consideration when it comes time, a couple of years down the road, and you're wanting to review for your comprehensive exams. While you can still access your margin notes and highlighted items, you no longer have access to the text. There are no short-term rentals to renew, say, for a month or a couple of weeks and there are no discounts for renewals.You have to pay the full cost again. While digital rentals are less than a new book, the savings is not always that great. maybe 25% off a print copy.

Knowing what I know now, would I do it again? Well, digital books are very handy when it comes to searchability, markup and sharing features. If the book were available as a PDF or ePub which you could keep forever for the same as, or a little more than the rental, I'd jump at that for sure.

Course Management Systems: Accessing Past Work

Online learning spaces like Moodle or BlackBoard offer a lot of tools for sharing content and engaging with other students. Discussion boards have a rich store of thoughtful questions, many considered responses, and robust debates about course issues. It is also the repository for lecture materials, links to supporting resources, and the syllabus.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to archive anything and courses are often archived the following term. That means you no longer have any access to those materials. No lectures, no syllabus, nothing. Unless you have made notes while you read, or copied and pasted (and formatted, because that is often a messy affair) you have none of that course material.

Keep a record of your own posts, particularly if they contain important ideas and research. On a couple of occasions I've been able to refer back to previous course contributions and revisit those ideas in the new course.

Citation Manager: You Need One

Best. Thing. Ever. Really. There are many out there, but I use Mendeley. I have a research folder on my computer that the Mendeley program monitors. When a new PDF file appears, it scans for author, date, journal, title, etc. and makes it searchable in my Mendeley database. I can read, markup, annotate, and make notes within the application and it syncs with my mobile so I have everything there too. There is a Word plugin that inserts citations and a bibliography with a couple of clicks. The web interface lets me create research groups and share/receive documents from others.

This tool has saved me countless hours of formatting and I have even received several compliments on my APA compliance from different instructors in different classes. Mendeley even recognizes when and how to change inline citations with multiple authors after the first instance, and when to use elipses for six or more authors... it's amazing.

Really. You need Mendeley.

Online Group Projects: Strategies to Make it Work

You're likely to have some group projects and they are great opportunities to get to know people from around the world, and to explore online conferencing tools. Skype is good for one-to-one meetings, but it's hard to beat Google Hangout for larger groups. Add in the ability to screen-share and synchronously work on documents, and Google offers a rich palette of collaborative tools that are well worth learning.

In your first group hangout, take some time to get to know each other. Talk about work and family, holidays, interests, etc. It's important to make those personal connections and builds a sense of trust and community. Talk in broad terms about the project and determine each other's strengths. Come to some agreement about how to approach the assignment and some vision of the final product.

Set up a Google Doc for sharing initial ideas, research, draft writing, marginal commentary, etc. At the top of the page, copy and paste the assignment description and assessment rubric. Set out one page with a section title for each part of the project. Plunk in information as you find it in the relevant section.

An important piece of this is keeping track of research and references. Set up a shared folder and upload the research you find and use. If everyone is using GoogleDrive, these will sync for all people on the share list. If you set the folder as a Mendeley watch folder, it will also automatically be added to your database! We would cut and paste the citations in APA format at the bottom of the document - it is really helpful if everyone does this in APA format, or whatever is required of you, right from the start. If you use web-based articles, take the time to make the citation as you grab the information. Don't just plunk in the URL, it's a pain to have to re-look up stuff when you're near the end and putting together the bibliography.

In the GoogleDoc, don't worry too much about the formatting. Have someone from the group copy and paste the document into Word. There you can format much more easily and you can take advantage of Mendeley's features to insert all the citations and generate the bibliography. It is also worthwhile to have someone to rework the paper from top to bottom to give it one voice, particularly if the group has each written a section and you're tacking it all together. My preference has been to get everyone to contribute to each section, then have one person wash through it. Then pass it along to a second person to proofread and clean up and finally to the whole group for a last polishing.

Make Connections

Part of the fun of online learning is connecting with classmates. In face-to-face learning, your peers are often from the same city. It is not uncommon in online learning, however, to share the virtual learning space with people from all over the globe. As a Canadian  enrolled in an American university, I've worked with people from all over the USA as well as learners that were living at the time in Israel, Norway, Spain, Guatemala, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. I was also able to continue my studies while in Australia for 12 months. Many of us have connected on LinkedIn to maintain professional contact. Several have connected on Twitter as part of a professional learning network, and a couple have made their way into my Facebook feed as friends.

One of the criticisms leveled against online learning is the lack of face-to-face contact, yet, having experienced a significant degree of both, there is no doubt in my mind that I engaged with more of my peers, and more deeply, than could ever happen in a classroom setting. Imagine being in a classroom where you are discussing a topic with the person beside you. You get the one conversation and may receive a brief summary of the others when groups report to the class.

Now imagine being privy to every one of those conversations, and having the ability to participate in them all too. Now imagine that those conversations aren't limited to a three-hour class on a Tuesday night; these conversations are on 24/7. That's what the online learning space is like. It's intense, it's deep, it's overwhelming at times, but managed right, it's tremendously satisfying.

Grad School Battle StationPrepare your Battle Station: Or "office", whatever you want to call it

Online work tends to be mostly, well, online. Your lectures are online, the syllabus is online, the discussion boards, research library, marking rubrics, group meetings, work documents... it's all on the computer and you're going to want to look at more than one thing at a time. My laptop has both an RGB port and an HDMI port. That lets me add two monitors to my workstation; think of it as having a huge desk with a massive bulletin board. I routinely have my course management system (BlackBoard) showing the assignment criteria, my digital text rental for connecting my writing to the course readings, Mendeley for managing other research and citations, Word or Google Docs (or both) for the writing task at hand, and Chrome for research. I tried using a single screen and task bar to flip from one to the other, but, transition time between tasks, even when pursuing the same goal, requires task-reorientation, and introduces risk of distraction. (See my article on  multitasking.) While there is a lot of visual stimuli going on, task-reorientation is minimized because no previous task has to be hidden and the time to switch tasks is reduced to fractions of a second.


Have you completed coursework online? Any tips or strategies to share? Would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

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Multitasking effects on learner achievement

Multitasking effects on learner achievement, the motivations driving multitasking and strategies for mitigating multitasking’s negative effects

Precis: The best way to multitask is to not to.


Multitasking is frequently used as a strategy for accomplishing more with time, however, few people realize gains in productivity when multitasking. This review of current peer-reviewed journals, gathered from the Education Source and ERIC databases, sought to define, and understand the effects and motivations for multitasking, then identify strategies for mitigating multitasking’s negative effects. Motivations to multitask come from the gratification of staying connected, perceived efficiency, and entertainment. However, no studies were found that identified any performance benefits from multitasking beyond practicing habitualized, routine tasks. Some cognitive, behavioral, and pedagogical strategies are identified that mitigate, but do not eliminate, multitasking’s negative impact on learning and performance.

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.”

Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

Letter IX, London, April 14, 1747


Lord Stanhope’s letter illustrates the longstanding concerns about multitasking. Even the earliest education journals studied the issue of distractibility and spreading attention too thinly (Bailey, 1889; Denio, 1897; Henderson, Crews, & Barlow, 1945; Poyntz, 1933). With digital technology, not only has the issue persisted, there are concerns that the impact on learning is even greater than before (Bowman, Levine, Waite, & Gendron, 2010; Fox, Rosen, & Crawford, 2009; Levine, Waite, & Bowman, 2007). Ubiquitous, always-on technology is changing the way humans engage with information and interact with each other. While offering tremendous personal and social enhancements, it also demands an increasingly greater share of our attention.

Historical Context

The term “multitasking” became well-known in the late 1980s describing a process by which computers could process several tasks simultaneously (Scott, 1985). Over the next decade, multitasking was used to describe an individual’s management of more than one task at a time and was seen as a desirable skill at home and at work (Chiavenato, 2001; Frand, 2000; Gray, 2000; “Multi-tasking with your baby,” 2001).

Multitasking refers to the choices people make about when and where they focus attention while attending to more than one task (Kenyon, 2008). The urge to multitask arises when more than one goal must be accomplished at more or less the same time and the individual has to balance pursuit of all goals independently and without cues to change tasks (Burgess, 2000). “Media multitasking” is the term used to describe multitasking that involves at least one form of digital technology (Judd, 2013) or, more commonly two or more forms of technology (Brasel & Gips, 2011; Lin, Lee, & Robertson, 2011; Rideout, 2013).

Cognitively, human multitasking is better understood as task switching, or continuous, often rapid redirections of attention. (Firat, 2013a, 2013b). Multitasking, it seems, has three dimensions: direction, duration, and depth.


Attention switching between tasks having different, unrelated goals are those that serve either to replace or interrupt study; attention switching among tasks related to achievement of the same goal serve as companions to study and advance the learner toward his goal (Benbunan-Fich, Adler, & Mavlanova, 2011; Levine et al., 2007). Benbunan-Fich (2012) further categorized patterns in changing attention direction as sequential (completing one whole task after another), interleaved (alternating between portion of multiple tasks), and embedded (completing one entire task within the timeframe of another task).


Time on task is one dimension of multitasking measuring the time between task switching. Salvucci, Taatgen, and Borst (2009) present a continuum of multitasking based on such measures that can span fractions of a second to several minutes. Short time spans between tasks are seen to be more simultaneous or concurrent involving cognitive control of attention while longer time spans are more sequential and operate on a more rational level. Duration of a switch affects the individual’s ability to return to the original task and is also dependent on the complexity of the task.


Rapid task switching has given rise to the notion of “continuous partial attention” (Stone, 2009) where an individual is aware of several stimuli but deeply engaged with none. Activities with low demand on working memory allow individuals to more rapidly switch and scan for points of interest. Where task complexity is high, though, the time required to make cognitive shift is greater and the new task is more likely to displace the old task from working memory requiring the individual to reorient herself to the original content (Salvucci & Taatgen, 2011, p. 116; Salvucci, 2010).


Effects of Multitasking

Despite the allure of multitasking’s supposed benefits, there is considerable empirical evidence demonstrating its impact on achievement and performance is largely negative.

Instant messaging while reading increases the time required to complete the reading task accounting for the time off task (Bowman et al., 2010). This is attributed to ineffective attention, the time required for interruption recovery, and time needed for task re-orientation. Bowers (2000) also described how task performance was slowed when concurrently processing more than one message. Introduction of novel stimuli can cause draw attention from the primary task at hand as cognitive capital is invested in making sense of the new information (Cheshire, 2015) such as occurs with push notifications from a digital device.

It was found that during independent study periods, a students’ average attention to tasks was less than 2.5 minutes (Judd, 2013). These findings were mirrored in IT specialists who averaged only 3 minutes between tasks (Salvucci et al., 2009). Shorter time on task and more frequent interruptions introduce a state of cognitive crisis (Firat, 2013a, 2013b; Stone, 2009) and reduce the depth of engagement (Rosen, 2008).

Exposure to new information elicits the slow onset of a cognitive phase of reflection and evaluation. Gilbert (as cited in McLarney-Vesotski, Bernieri, & Rempala, 2011) describes how a learner examines new information against existing schema. Individuals with low multitasking ability, in highly stimulating environments, can have this process interrupted resulting in incorrect or inaccurate judgements about the situation. Studies of an individual’s ability to recover from interruptions reveal that the more challenging the task, the harder it is to transition back to the original task after attention is diverted (Salvucci, 2010; Trafton, Altmann, Brock, & Mintz, 2003).

W. Zhang (2015) measured a negative correlation between laptop multitasking and the learner’s midterm grade. Self-regulation as manifest in the learner’s control over laptop multitasking was also found to affect grades. Several other studies support the conclusion that multitasking during class and self-study are correlated with lower achievement (Burak, 2012; Gaudreau, Miranda, & Gareau, 2014; Jacobsen & Forste, 2011; Ragan, Jennings, Massey, & Doolittle, 2014; Sana, Weston, & Cepeda, 2013; W. Zhang, 2015).

Negative impact on grades from multitasking affect not only the multitasker, but other learners in the same space. Close proximity to media distractions can negatively impact learning through distraction and some content is more distracting than others (Lin et al., 2011; Sana et al., 2013). Serious, somber, or banal content is less likely to create distractions than attractive, funny, or engaging content. The negative individual and proximal effects on others are made clearer in light of the user’s activity with on-task usage accounting for less than 40% of undergraduate’s time using a laptop (Ragan et al., 2014). Similarly, Benbunan-Fich and Truman (2009) found only 13% of an employee’s laptop use during meetings reflects “compliant use”. The introduction of what is likely more engaging stimuli than a class lecture or office meeting pulls attention away from the primary goal.

Analysing interviews with undergraduate students, Bardhi, Rohm, and Sultan (2010) categorized both costs and benefits to multitasking as identified by the participants. Those interviewed recognized multitasking’s inefficiencies and potential for distraction. They also describe the chaotic nature of rapid task switching and an obsessive connection with the device which pulls them away from being cognitively and emotionally present in their physical environments.

In addition to impact on learning, multitasking may also negatively influence executive function in adolescents (Baumgartner, Weeda, van der Heijden, & Huizinga, 2014), university students’ high-risk decisions regarding sex and substance abuse (Burak, 2012) and judgement in new social situations (Lieberman & Rosenthal, 2001; McLarney-Vesotski et al., 2011).

Motivators for Multitasking

If the negative effects of multitasking are so clear, it begs the question why people persist. Bardhi, Rohm, and Sultan (2010) go on to describe the perceived rewards of multitasking as expressed by their undergraduate subjects. Study participants valued the content control their and the convenience of access to so many tools from one device. Participants also valued access to pleasurable content while pursuing more banal goals.

E-mail, instant messaging, unrelated web browsing, and gaming are common in-class targets of multitasking amongst undergraduate students (Gaudreau et al., 2014). Social engagement speaks to the individual’s desire to stay connected with others (Firat, 2013a, 2013b) as the former is increasingly omnipresent in the latter. The rewards of human interaction and the desire to be up to date with news leads can lead to a multitasking state of “Continuous Partial Attention” (CPA) motivated by the desire to do more with one’s time as well as the desire not to miss anything (Stone, 2009). In this state, the individual is continually but superficially monitoring several information streams.

Gaming is another common part of multitasking. Frequent feedback, rewards, and a sense of accomplishment are strong motivators that can be achieved quickly and easily. Used as short breaks within more long-term and challenging pursuits a multitasker may mistakenly attribute gratification from gaming to the effectiveness of multitasking in completing the primary task (Wang & Tchernev, 2012).

Ubiquitous computing continually pushes entertainment and social media into our stream of consciousness through alerts of new content. In contrast to sometimes banal learning activities or work obligations, individuals may be enticed away from the primary goal and suffer experience drops in productivity and achievement.

Motivation to multitask is also connected to task appeal. Individuals engaged in mundane but important tasks are easily redirected when an exciting but irrelevant task is introduced either externally in the physical world, or internally through mind-wandering (Srivastava, 2010). If the task is sufficiently engaging, the individual may be unable to resist distraction.

Managing Multitasking

While Strayer and Watson (2012) suggest that those who multitask most are also the least effective at it and Wang and Tchernev (Wang & Tchernev, 2012) call out effective multitasking as a myth, it is, nevertheless, a significant factor in performance and achievement. Technology’s ubiquity, the prevalence of multitasking, and the changing information and communication landscape, make it prudent to seek interventions that regulate and minimise its’ negative effect on learning (Kenyon, 2010; Wallis, 2010).

Regardless of an individual’s multitasking abilities, people may have a natural propensity for either single-tasking or multi-tasking (Y. Zhang, Goonetilleke, Plocher, & Liang, 2005) though less than 3% of the population demonstrate high capacity to multitask without significant loss of performance (Strayer & Watson, 2012). Frequent multitaskers and those who are good at multitasking are not necessarily one and the same. Additionally, people may be oriented to a particular kind of multitasking such as continuous partial attention rather than task switching (Ophir, Nass, & Wagner, 2009). Beyond existing inclinations and abilities, research points to behavioural, environmental, and pedagogical strategies for managing multitasking’s negative effects on learning.

Behavioural and Cognitive Strategies. Self-regulation is the effort put into directing one’s own faculties toward achievement of a goal (Grawitch & Barber, 2013). Effective multitaskers exercise self-regulation over their technology use in order to achieve a goal and it is possible for others to learn self-regulation strategies (Gaudreau et al., 2014; Perels, Otto, Landmann, Hertel, & Schmitz, 2007; W. Zhang, 2015). Such self-regulation strategies include: goal setting, planning, self-motivation, attention control, flexible use of learning strategies, self-monitoring, appropriate help-seeking, and self-evaluation (Perels et al., 2007; Zumbrunn, Tadlock, & Roberts, 2009). The extent to which learned self-regulation can specifically mitigate the negative effects of multitasking, though, is still unclear.

The importance of self-regulation is highlighted in Tabachnick, Miller, and Relyea’s findings (2008) that inherently self-motivated individuals with clear goals made decisions about their actions and environment that contributed to their ability to focus. This exercise of metacognition contributes to a greater sense of self-awareness and ability to correct ineffective work strategies (Bonds, Bonds, & Peach, 1992). Extrinsically motivated learners may be enticed to employ self-regulation strategies through the use of external motivators (W. Zhang, 2015). Learning experiences that include self-reflection and metacognitive development expose the learner to strategies for improving self-regulation.

Cognitive processing time is another element of multitasking. Insufficient time between tasks interferes with transference of information to memory; too much time between tasks may tempt learners to seek other stimuli (Y. Zhang et al., 2005). The benefits of multitasking decrease as the rapidity of task switching increases. Where task switching is a matter of choice, an individual aware of the need for transitional processing time may better appreciate the need to reduce task-switching to maintain focus (Salvucci, 2010; Trafton et al., 2003) and the faster one can process information, the better able one is to multitask (Dux et al., 2009).

Lee and Taatgen (2002) explore time factors relating to how people approach tasks. Traditional planning prepares an individual for managing several tasks while reactive planning deals with issues as they arise. While it is not always possible to anticipate issues, it may be possible to improve multitasking by reconceptualising unique processes for several different problems into a unified process that addresses all problems. For educators, deconstructing processes can help students identify actions that may serve more than one purpose and to ignore extraneous information (Lee & Anderson, 2001). In this way, learners will focus better and capitalise on efficiencies when managing more than one task.

Dux (2009) found that repetition and training can also lead to efficiencies in information processing thus decreases the negative effects of multitasking. This effect, it should be noted, was observed with the repetition of simple but novel tasks that, with familiarity, required less and less cognitive processing. Low cognitive load activities therefore are less impacted by multitasking though there are initial performance concerns and the time required to complete the task is likely to increase (Bowman et al., 2010).

Off-task multitasking using technology may also be evidence of a disorganized approach to learning, unclear or ill-defined motivations for pursuing the primary goal, or possibly a low sense of efficacy or engagement with the primary task (Gaudreau et al., 2014). This highlights the value of study skills and learner awareness of organizational strategies to manage their workload.

Environmental Strategies. Simple and seemingly obvious environmental controls that reduce distractions and temptations to multitask are easily achieved but not always practiced such as reducing the amount of technology in a study space (Foehr, 2006) or enabling “do not disturb” features on mobile devices.

Bowers (2000) found that multitasking was enhanced when sensory input channels were designed not only to reduce conflict, but to supplement the task at hand. Reflecting that understanding, Clark and Mayer (2008) offer multimedia design principles that align with our capacity to take in and process information, or working memory. It may be possible to translate these principles to the design and use of physical spaces and learning activities. Doing so will reduce demands on working memory which increases one’s opportunity to take in and process new information. Additionally, working memory can be enhanced by increasing one’s sense of efficacy in a given task (Autin & Croizet, 2012) through computer gaming (Hawes et al., as cited in Morris, Croker, Zimmerman, Gill, & Romig, 2013) and controlled exposure and experiences with simulated multitasking situations (Morrison & Chein, 2011).

Pedagogical Strategies. Anecdotal reports from teachers express concerns about declining student attention spans and greater reliance on digital devices (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014; Purcell et al., 2012). Based on their experiences, many educators identify a poor fit between traditional behaviourist pedagogy and modern children’s learning needs.

21st century pedagogies like social constructivism and connectivism, see knowledge creation as a social activity (Fagan, 2010; Siemens, 2004) and technology as a tool for creating learning communities beyond the school’s walls (Couros, 2009; del Moral, Cernea, & Villalustre, 2013; Kop & Hill, 2008). These learning approaches are well-suited to embrace what Gee (2013) calls humans’ collective “synchronized intelligence” expressed in “affinity groups” that exist easily in online spaces. Engaging with online learning networks gives students the opportunity to use their devices in positive, task-oriented ways that address the need for social connections. This kind of intentional and planned use of technology, W. Zhang (2015) suggests, focuses student engagement and reduces multitasking.

Junco (2012), however, cautions that media rich lessons with frequent on-task changes of focus still introduce the potential for distraction, though narrowly-focused multimedia learning objects in constructivist learning settings do contribute to learner achievement (Mayer, Moreno, Boire, & Vagge, 1999). Similarly, Davis (2014) describes the benefit of “small-chunk learning modules”, a strategy for aligning engagement with attention spans leading to improved learning experiences.

Effective scaffolding keeps the learner in a position of regular challenge and achievement offering the opportunity for frequent and motivating reinforcement. When there is sufficient warning and time between task switching learners are better able to make task transition (Trafton et al., 2003). Extending time on task contributes to greater ability to resist distraction (Randall, Oswald, & Beier, 2014). Such learning experiences will help the learner stay focused and motivated and serve to reducing the appeal of digital distractions, or focus multitasking to completion of the primary goal.


Though multitasking may have some utility with routine tasks and cursory monitoring of many information streams, it is clear that multitasking has a broad range of negative effects with more complex and cognitively challenging tasks. It is likely that both learner-initiated multitasking and imposed multitasking in the form of distraction will always be a concern. Multitaskers believe they are effective and erroneously attributed gratification reinforces their sense of efficacy. While the negative effects of multitasking cannot be completely eliminated, they can be reduced by learning and practicing self-regulation and metacognition. Self-regulation equips learners with behavioral and attitudinal strategies for goal-oriented motivation, organization, and effort. Learner metacognition brings about greater capacity for honest self-reflection and evaluation and promotes continuous refinement of cognitive strategies. For educators, recognizing why students multitask opens the door to show students how to more effectively meet their goals. Understanding the motivations driving multitasking and intervention strategies for managing multitasking will help educators guide learners to more effective and efficient learning.


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Value of Teacher Volunteerism: some rough numbers

Like the legal and medical profession's requirement to do pro bono work, SHOULD EDUCATORS be required to serve populations that otherwise would not have access to particular areas of learning?  I believe they should.  Access to learning and education benefits society as a whole and an informed populace is necessary to a successful government.  The requirements and how this should be achieved, however, deserves discussion and debate.

This appeared in one of my course discussion boards and got me thinking about  the extent and value of existing teacher volunteerism in the absence of any requirement to do so. In Canada I believe all collective agreements recognize extracurricular work as voluntary.

I'd argue that all extra-curricular activities at schools during lunch breaks and before/after school is pro bono work. My limited research suggests that pro bono obligations in the legal profession are a minimum of 50 hours per year or the equivalent of 3% of annual billing[1].

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation conducted a workload and volunteerism survey[2] finding that 92% of teachers “run and support extracurriculars”. Extrapolating these numbers out to Ontario’s general teaching population of almost 115,000 teachers[3] and 30% volunteering 5 hours per week and 13% at 10 hours per week, that’s well over 12.5 million volunteer hours each year in a 40 week school year and that still only accounts for 43% of teacher volunteers.

That’s a big number.

If we think of an eight hour work day, that’s the equivalent of 1.6 million extra days of labour volunteered into Ontario public schools. That’s the equivalent of an extra 8000 teachers each year. At an average annual salary of $51,000[4], these volunteers are contributing well over $400 million in extra services.

That’s just in Ontario.

With more than 300,000 teachers in Canada[5] we can estimate the value nationwide to be well over one billion dollars.


Just for fun, if the same volunteerism patterns are applied to the United States’ 3.7 million teachers[6] , that’s more than $13.2 billion.

I know it's dangerous to extrapolate study findings too far beyond the target population, and I've rounded numbers (down in all cases) while putting this together, but the broad picture painted is clear. Teachers are already very generous with their time and work hard to keep it voluntary providing individuals the freedom to back off or ramp up as life circumstances change.


[1] Anand, Raj (2007), “Fostering Pro Bono Service in the Legal Profession: Challenges Facing the Pro Bono Ethic” (Paper presented at the Ninth Colloquium on the Legal Profession: Legal Ethics in Action, Osgoode Hall Law School, 19 October 2007), online: Law Society of Upper Canada






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Some authentic applications of Augmented Reality (AR)

Hsin-Kai Wu (2013) suggests AR should be understood as a concept rather than a specific technology. It is helpful to understand AR as a negotiation between the user and content delivery systems leveraging the power of several technologies to create intuitive and seamless, context-aware interactions between user and content. AR, therefore, is a novel concept for displaying digital information as a meaningful overlay attached to physical objects as viewed through a mobile device (Hsin-Kai Wu, 2013). Where it differs from other online content is spatial positioning of the content and the use of naturally occurring trigger image.

On the surface, it is easy to think of AR as just a fancy QR code – the user scans it and is directed to a web page, application, or a YouTube video. In this regard it is no different than a QR code, or a simple URL. AR is most effectively used when the user accesses relevant information relevant to a particular space or artifact.

A school celebration of the arts day offers a good example. Using an app like Aurasma to create content channels. Each piece on display can serve as a trigger image that, when viewed through a smart device, can overlay content specific to the user’s subscribed channel. It could be a video of the artist explaining the piece, or a clip of the artists’ work in progress, or the teacher pointing out important features. In this way, a single trigger image can simultaneously (though virtually) offer different relevant content to different users .

AR applications would work well with architectural reconstructions. Visitors to the remains of historic spaces could use the SightSpace3D app to walk through virtual recreations of physical structures as though they were in the past and inside the structure. Users could watch a video tour, or manipulate a scale model on a computer but AR connects the users’ movements in physical space to movements in virtual space offering a more immersive experience.

Another effective example of AR is Minecraft Reality. This app uses data (structures and land forms) from the game Minecraft, an immersive 3D virtual space, and displays it in physical space as though attached to the trigger image. Sharing work in 3D spaces is usually done as a projection while the user offers a tour through the space all from one point of view. With Minecraft Reality, several users can view the same structure using the same trigger image through their smart device camera, and tour around and inside the structure by physically moving around the trigger image.

Finally, my favourite example is WordLens which was recently purchased by Google and redistributed as Translate. The user can view a foreign language sign or poster while travelling and, viewing it through their device, have the app replace the foreign text with English text (of whatever the selected language is).

These are what I consider to be authentic uses of AR, or uses that really make use of the technology’s affordances. SightSpace ties physical movement to virtual spaces, Minecraft Reality make 3D spaces explorable outside a computer, and WordLens offers just-in-time translation services by simply pointing the camera at foreign text. Aurasma is a novel way to attach student voice to physical objects, though the novelty effect is short lived and, alone, rarely justifies expensive technology investments  (Juan, 2010). Further, Wrzesien (2010) suggests that some innovations may redirect learner attention from the content to the technology thus detracting from the technology’s effectiveness as a learning support.


Hsin-Kai Wu, S. W.-Y.-Y.-C. (2013, March). Current   status, opportunities and challenges of augmented reality in education. Computers   & Education, 62, 41-49. Retrieved from

Juan, C. L. (2010). Learning Words Using Augmented   Reality. International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies   (ICALT) (pp. 422-426). Sousse: IEEE. Retrieved from

Wrzesien, M. A. (2010). Learning in serious virtual   worlds: Evaluation of learning effectiveness and appeal to students in the   E-Junior project. Computers & Education, 55(1), 178-187. Retrieved from


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"The Anti-Education Era" by James Paul Gee, a SpeedRead

The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning by James Paul Gee

Gee, J. P. (2013). The Anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Collaborative Book Review by
Yukiko Bonnefoy, Møre og Romsdal, Norway
Miles MacFarlane, Winnipeg, Canada
LaKisha Scott, Atlanta, USA
Jenna Wallace, San Antonio, USA

With more than 20 books, almost 200 journal articles, and more than 300 conference lectures to his credit, James Paul Gee is an innovative thinker and prolific author at the intersection of linguistics, communication, cognition, identity, and technology, in both real and virtual spaces. Gee is most recently known for his application of gaming theory to learning situations. Gee is a member of the National Academy of Education and is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University.

His most recent works include Good Video Games and Good Learning: Collected Essays on Video Games, Learning, and Literacy (2013), Collected Essays on Learning and Assessment in the Digital World (2014), and Unified Discourse Analysis: Language, Reality, Virtual Worlds, and Video Games (2015).

This review focuses on his 2013 book, The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning.


Dealing with broad societal issues but focusing on the educational context, the author seems to target educators, but the subject matter could have a wider appeal. The content addresses issues far beyond the classroom showing how individuals and the broader social context affect how we think and perceive the world. More than a book of educational reform, Gee addresses the deep philosophical and psychological factors that cause us to be stupid. Anyone with an interest in how society functions and what can be done to improve the human condition will enjoy this book.


People are ill-equipped to cope with today’s fast-paced hyper-connected world and much of what we do stand in opposition to what we want. It is this, Gee suggests, that makes us stupid. Recognizing what makes us stupid is the first step toward being smart.

In our reading, Gee’s provocative and confrontational style pushes an unflattering mirror in front of the reader highlighting everything that is wrong with individuals and civilization. He then describes possible applications of technology that could direct the collective wisdom of humanity toward positive change.

Book Summary

Essential Ideas

In the first half of the book, Gee describes at length how people’s thought processes and behaviors result in stupidity. Gee suggests that the human brain was not designed and has not yet evolved to cope with the complexity of human relationships, society, and types of problems we now face. He suggests that we can use digital media to compensate for where we struggle and augment where we have it right. Digital media offers the means and context for coalescing human wisdom and experience into something not only manageable, but effective in helping us achieve our collective goals.

He outlines fifteen different ways in which human thought is misguided or deceived. These errors limit our ability to live in harmony with people and ideas and prevent us from approaching the world intelligently. Given the depth and pace of change, Gee says, we are, as a species, at greater risk of social, economic, and climatic catastrophe. He frames and details each of the fifteen challenges and, in the end, offers an approach to learning that leverages the collective wisdom of our species. In this way, we can overcome these challenges moving us farther from being “stupid” and closer to being smart.

The amount of ink devoted to what makes us stupid and the provocative language about human intelligence, creates in the reader a sense of discomfort and defensiveness. Gee describes numerous examples of how what we are doing is not getting us what we want. By holding up to humanity a mirror that exposes every flaw and blemish; he forces the reader to examine one’s worldview through a different lens. He offers much that is wrong, and only hints at possible solutions. For receptive readers, this will churn the ground on which belief systems are built offering an opportunity to rethink, debate, and collaborate on new foundations for a better world.

Major Points

Gee suggests that our current education system needs to engage learners in more social, authentic, and meaningful learning experiences that promote reflective thinking through collaborative mentorship. Rather than trying to get our brains to work more like computers he wants us to develop the unique creative and meaning-making capacities, and let computers manage our information storage and processing needs. We tend to think of human intelligence as a measure of an individual’s cognitive abilities. Gee urges us to think beyond that to humans augmented with technology connecting with other augmented humans. In this way, we can manage very complex scenarios more effectively.

Humans are good at identifying patterns but sometimes generalize too quickly, not appreciating the broader context of that experience. Such a narrow or limited focus is a barrier to understanding. Beyond limiting our experience, Gee says who we relate to (solidarity) and who we aspire to (status) similarly limit our thoughts and behaviors and our social position further affects our ability to participate in society. In the search for solidarity and comfort stories, we can often be led to believe things that are factually wrong. This mentality can lead to “us versus them” dichotomies, marrying individuals into groups that reflect one’s own existing beliefs and perceptions. Such groups can have a negative impact when they isolate the individual from other perspectives and other opinions. Similarly, learners in highly customized, personally adapted settings are sheltered from authentic challenges and do not develop the ability to problem solve or deal with the non-customized world. Likewise, institutions can also experience limited or narrowed focus when formalized processes lock participants into thinking and behaviors that prevent the institution from evolving as needed.

In the last portion of the book, Gee points to some scenarios or structures to address the sources of human stupidity. He describes the importance of both virtual and real spaces where people from a variety of backgrounds converge, by choice, in fluid and flexible groups to explore a common issue. These so-called affinity spaces promote a synchronization of intelligence that leverages the wisdom of the group and the affordances of digital technology, to make and communicate meaning. He offers Talk, Text, and Knowledge mentoring (TTK) with digital technologies as the foundational skills upon which a smarter civilization can be built.

Analysis and Evaluation

Strengths and Weaknesses

Gee’s book evokes a visceral response from the reader as he holds the unflattering mirror to humanity in an uncomfortable confrontation with our very belief systems and worldviews. Front loaded with blunt rhetoric about humanity’s stupidity, readers seeking solutions rather than colorful commentary on how awful the world is may be turned off and abandon the book. However, we found the longer we stood in front of the mirror, the more we saw the truth of his provocative assertions.

Two-thirds of the book clearly defined and gave examples of humanity’s stupidity while the final third, rather than offering solutions, gave only suggestions of a solution. This mentality is frustrating as a reader because the book title promises that we can “Create Smarter Students through Digital Learning” yet it is consistent with his thesis. Gee says that we must create purposeful communities where everyone has a voice and put our collective minds and technologies to finding solutions - solutions will not come from one single author.

Implications for Education

Understanding the many ways people get things wrong, and the ways in which we avoid the ruth, educators can better recognize the origins of misunderstandings in students and correct them. They may also use this understanding to craft learning experiences that address these human inclinations to help learners make meaning from determined truths.

Learning experiences, Gee suggests, should make use of digital technology to create both real and virtual points of contact where individuals can gather to learn, share, debate, teach, explore, take, and contribute ideas on a particular topic. Education can be restructured to make use of affinity spaces and leverage the synchronized intelligence of a vast and diverse learning community to create even better learning experiences than exist now.

Educators should identify those strategies and pedagogies that promote empirical thinking and leverage the power of communications technology to build productive and positive affinity spaces for learners. In this context, we can even rethink the definition of learner from one who simply receives or creates knowledge to a term that embodies the notion that they are contributors and active participants.

Relevant Quote

Gee (2013) stated:

To be smarter today we need Minds, not just minds. We need synchronized intelligence we need to be able to dance the dance of collective intelligence with others and our best digital tools. Talk, text and knowledge (TTK) mentoring and digital tools can be deployed in ways that reverse our brain bugs and social bugs to make us smarter. (p.208)

This quote communicates the essence of Gee’s path away from the stupidity toward smartness. The terms he uses in this quote are elaborated on at length in the book, and his full meaning is hard to comprehend out of context. Essentially, we need to confront our flawed and narrow thinking (brain bugs and social bugs) and use the unique capabilities of our brains (Minds) and technology (digital tools) together with diverse others (collective intelligence) in a coordinated (synchronized intelligence) and collaborative (mentoring) effort to make meaning based on empirical evidence.

Book Club Questions

Gee suggests that the pursuit of empirical reasoning is critical to creating a better world. He also suggests that religion, as a complex set of mental comfort stories can get in the way of our capacity to reason. He does propose that science and religion can co-exist as complementary frameworks for understanding the world. Do you agree? Can science and religion support each other in the pursuit of truth?
Gee identifies Affinity Spaces as important elements of a thriving civilization. Understanding Gee’s vision of affinity spaces, discuss examples of affinity spaces in which you already participate. To what extent do your affinity spaces reflect the criteria outlined in Chapter 20?
Gee describes video games as potential virtual spaces for learning and describes how affinity spaces can exist in the context of a game. There is a lot of criticism about the effect of video games on today’s youth. Is Gee on to something, or is this simply a bad idea? Is there unlocked potential in virtual gaming spaces, or do the dangers outweigh the potential benefits?
Humans often seek meaning over truth. Sometimes we find meaning that is void of truth or truths that do not yet have meaning for us. Gee urges us to recognize and false meaning, and find motivation for embracing truths for which we do not yet have meaning or use. Discuss examples of meaning without truth and truth without meaning. Explore the challenges of dealing with each scenario.
Gee suggests humans have to acknowledge our penchant for mental comfort stories. Nietzche famously said, "God is dead" but went on to say how we will always invent something new to take God's place. Can humans live without mental comfort stories?
How fitting is the title The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning for the book? What alternate title would you give it?



Individuals with an interest in sweeping social change will appreciate Gee’s observations and recommendations for changing the way we think to achieve a better world. Senior education leaders will find the messages a challenge to traditional learning approaches and may find Gee’s ideas useful as a framework to guide reform efforts. Educators, in general, may find the points related to society’s “stupidity” somewhat confrontational spurring reflection on their practice and experiences.

While the book proposed ways in which technology could improve education, we wouldn’t recommend it as a “how-to” book for those searching for practical strategies to implement digital technology in education settings. Rather, it serves as a conversation starter for those interested in improving education in the 21st century.

Additional Resources

James Paul Gee. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2015, from

DMLResearchHub. (2011, April 4). Games and education scholar James Paul Gee on video games, learning, and literacy. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from

Elbouza, M. (2014, May). The Anti-education era – Response to Gee. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from

Ellis, K. (Director), & Borovoy, A. E., & Rosenfeld, L. (Producers). (2008, April 12). Big thinkers: James Paul Gee on grading with games [Video file].
Retrieved February 16, 2015, from

Güss, C. D., & Tuason, M. T. (1942). Fire and ice: Cultural influences on complex problem solving. In COGSCI 2009: The Annual meeting of
The Cognitive Society (Vol. 1947).

Lewis, M. (2013, July 10). Reflection on the anti-education era by James Paul Gee. Retrieved February 15, 2015, from

Lilly, T. (2013). The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. IJEP-International Journal of Educational Psychology,
2(3), 353-355.

Shapiro, J. (2014, July 3). Games can advance education: A conversation with James Paul Gee. Retrieved February 25, 2015, from

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Mental and physical fatigue and multitasking

Then and Now

source: Reddit


I've been sitting at the computer for several hours now. For a while I worked on my research paper. When I need to reduce the cognitive load I popped on to Facebook for a bit. Then, I caught up on the latest posts for my course and spent some time reading a couple of articles. After that I replied to some emails and logged in to my account to pay an e-bill.

So, I did some research and writing, I socialized, I played a game, read some news, wrote some correspondence, paid some bills.

Every time I switched my focus, I did so because I was ready for a change bit not quite ready to go back to the cognitively demanding activity. Even after all that time doing something other than my paper, I'm still not ready - still not feeling like I'm ready to give it my best. Of course, when I really think about it, I've not been active. While my brain is switching activities, my body is still in the same position.

Lately I've been doing my coursework while walking on the treadmill and found that my powers of concentration are much stronger. Not only that, I can sustain effort on one activity far longer than I could if I was sitting at the desk task switching.

My research paper, ironically, is on multitasking and I will be posting more on that research later. As I posted elsewhere, distractability has long been an issue of concern for educators. Then, in the 1960s a new term emerged describing a computer's ability to perform more than one task seemingly simultaneously. By the 1980s, lots of people knew about a computer's ability to multitask and the notion sounded good enough for people to try. At this time, use of the word distractability decreased, and multitasking increased. (Check it out using the very cool Google NGram Viewer).

Now, I'm not saying there is a direct correlation, but it wouldn't surprise me. Cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable and us humans work hard to avoid it. Given our penchant for describing things in the best light possible, and rationalizing poor decisions or unfortunate situations I think we have simply re-branded distraction as purposeful and productive multitasking. Sitting at the computer is more appealing to me than reading on the treadmill because the potential for getting more things done at once is alluring.

It is clear though... crystal clear... that multitasking doesn't do anyone any good. The problem is we think we are the exceptions to the rule, we are the ones for whom the research does not apply. Well, the hard truth is that there are no exceptions. We all suck at trying to do a bunch of things at the same time.

So, does knowing this help me better manage my workload?

I wrote this during a break from writing report cards in a browser window with more than a dozen tabs open.

Self-control is another big part of the multitasking picture, but that's for another day. I need to get back to my report cards. Maybe on your break you could share strategies you use to manage multitasking in the comments below!    Send article as PDF   

Apps for whatever you are teaching and learning

Occasionally people ask about “must-have” apps for their devices. My preference is to focus on apps that ease the burden of communication, collaboration, and playing with ideas. These iOS applications are agnostic of content area and well worth the minimal costs. I suspect many are also available for other platforms, but I'll leave that to you.

Explain Everything ($3.49) gives the user a Khan-Academy-Like work space with the ability to record and share their voice and what’s on the screen. It’s like putting an interactive whiteboard in everyone’s hands.

GoodReader ($5.97) is my favourite reader app. It handles a lot of different file types, connects with several cloud storage services, and lets you create and share annotations with a pretty robust tool set. You can store files locally for off-line access.

Voice Dream ($11.99) speaks the contents of text files. Like GoodReader, it handles a lot of different file types and plays nicely with many cloud storage services.It remembers where you left off, has adjustable pitch and speed controls,handles challenging document including headers and multiple column formats. Tables, though, are a little wild to listen to. Other voices are available as In-app purchases for $3.49 each.

Dragon Dictation (Free) is a great way to get ideas from kid’s heads onto the (virtual) page. Voice recognition is much more accurate now than it was in the past and this app is very handy. The active listening time is limited so longer passages or thoughts might take a few starts/stops, but I’ve found it to be very accurate and easy to work with.

Coach’s Eye ($5.79) lets the user annotate video files with lines and shapes. There are a couple of in-app purchases that also let you place multiple timers and a protractor to measure angles. With slow-motion, shuttling, and live narration, it’s a great tool for science… and sport too. It’s a little pricey, but makes replays, slow motion, and onscreen annotations extremely easy.

Google Translate, formerly Word Lens (Free) provides through-the-lens instant translation of text to the selected language. Still a little choppy, and not great for small text, but a very cool app for language learning. Each language pack used to come as in-app purchases but since the app was purchased by Google, all the language packs are now free.

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