If you’re an educator in Singapore, you’d know how rough e-learning and home-based learning can be. From finding the right microphone to using a good VoIP app, it can be overwhelming for many educators.
I can’t say it was any easier for Swords & Stationery, at least in the beginning. I’d set aside TWO whole weeks to set up the e-learning platform, and even that was cutting it too close. Despite my best efforts, we still had random disconnects, lag spikes and disappearing mouse cursors.
That being said, I’m very proud of what I’ve done for the e-learning platform, and it’s worked so well for me that I’d like to share it with all my fellow educators and parents out there. Whether you’re an MOE teacher, private tutor, speech/educational therapist, or even just a parent looking to support your child during the circuit breaker period, I hope you find this information useful!
My essential applications for e-learning
Discord (VoIP/video call/screen sharing)
Price: Free (but I got a Nitro subscription because I dislike streaming at 30 frames per second)
Link: Discord homepage
I chose Discord as opposed to Zoom, Skype or Meet—the three most popular options used by schools and institutions. Zoom was experiencing security issues at the time, Skype is a bandwidth hog and Meet is just too choppy in my opinion. For Zoom and Meet, streaming quality didn’t meet my expectations even at 720p. Most importantly, however, was the fact that they were too basic to use.
In contrast, Discord is a platform that I can use to not just live stream/video call, but to play interactive fiction, run text-based RPGs, etc. Besides the occasional “Teacher Shaun, I can’t see your screen” or “hello my mic isn’t working can you hear me?” complaint, 90% of my classes were successfully conducted on Discord. Streaming was so smooth that I could screen videos (without stuttering or noticeable loss in quality) and have students watch them during their break time.
However, bear in mind that it can sometimes decide to troll you. There were intermittent connection and voice/video issues until everyone learned to use the magical “Reset Voice Settings” button. Even then, with one class we had to switch to Google Meet because Discord just wouldn’t cooperate.
Another thing to consider is that although Discord can support up to 50 users for their Go Live streaming service during this quarantine period, it’s still a bit tricky to use for parents who aren’t tech savvy. It’s not difficult, but it is less intuitive than Zoom and Meet for sure.
Microsoft Office 365 (For teaching)
Price: Varies (it’s probably more worth it get an annual subscription of Office 365)
Link: Microsoft Office
I use a combination of Microsoft Powerpoint, Microsoft Word and Discord’s Go Live to disseminate information.
With Microsoft Powerpoint, the sky’s the limit when it comes to what activities that you can do there. It’s also elegant enough if you know how to play around with animations and transitions.
Firefox and Chrome (For teaching)
To me, Firefox has a slicker and faster interface. I’m able to load new tabs faster than on Chrome. Nevertheless, there are some sites I use which don’t work well with Firefox (sadly). It’s therefore good to have Chrome as a backup.
My essential equipment for e-learning
RØDE NT-USB Mini and KZ ZSN Pro (Audio equipment)
It’s probably a good idea to invest in a quality microphone if you can afford it. I found the RØDE NT-USB Mini to be really good while being at an affordable price range. It picks up on my voice well, mitigates a lot of pop sounds, and cuts out a large chunk of background noise. For kids with learning challenges, I’ve found this this to be tremendously helpful.
For my earphones, I’m using the KZ ZSN Pro. They’re quite comfy, though like most in-ear earphones, they will start to feel annoying after hours of being worn. They’re also very affordable and the sound quality is crisp.
USB hub (Tech equipment)
Price: Around $10-$20
Link: USB hubs on lazada
A USB hub is one of those things you won’t know you need until the situation actually calls for it. Then it’s a mad scramble to find one. Keep one handy just in case.
Additional apps, sites, and equipment to facilitate e-learning
AWW App (Virtual whiteboard)
Link: AWW App homepage
From time to time, I doodle to help my students visualise narrative texts on AWW App (A Web Whiteboard). It is a fantastic virtual whiteboard with a clean and simple UI. Functionally, it has everything covered, including pen, marker, post-it, shape, and typing tools.
Classcraft (Learning management system)
Price: Free for now
Link: Classcraft homepage
Classcraft is a fun learning management system that gamifies classes. I use it to get younger students to behave and be more mindful of their own behaviour. Its premium features are free for now, but they’re worth the money. I know I would subscribe even after the circuit breaker is over.
Interactive Fiction Database (Story games)
Link: Interactive Fiction Database
Interactive fiction games are similar to Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Instead of choosing a pre-defined path, however, many of these games require you to input a “verb + noun” command to proceed, for example “open door” or “grab torch”. These games can be used to instill a love for reading in kids, but may not work well with bigger groups
Warsim (Story game with some elements of humanities subjects)
Link: Warsim on Steam
Ok this one is going to be a bit unusual, but I’ve been using this little game, called Warsim, with the older kids to demonstrate how politics work. Admittedly it has a lot of spelling and grammatical errors, but it really drives home how taxes work, why you can’t just randomly throw people into jail, and why an evil king can still win when all’s said and done. It’s fun, hilarious, and the kids have had a good time taking turns to make choices while watching my live stream. This may work well in a bigger group.
Zafehouse Diaries 2 (Story game that strongly encourages theatre of the mind)
Link: Zafehouse Diaries 2 on Steam
Another really unusual but neat game I’ve been trying with the older students is Zafehouse Diaries 2. This is a game that strongly emphasises theatre of the mind, and you can probably use this to teach new vocab related to the theme. The premise of the game is that you control a group of survivors during a zombie outbreak. However, most of the game is quite abstract. Survivors are literally represented by tokens, and the map is a crudely drawn sketch of the city’s layout. You can tell survivors what to do and where to go, but 3D graphics are minimal to the point of being almost non-existent. Instead, the action is conveyed through text in the form of diary entries. This is the perfect game to teach show-not-tell to older students.
Roll20 (Role-playing games)
Link: Roll20 homepage
I’ve been asked non-stop by some of the older kids to continue with our role-playing game sessions. Roll20 is what we use, and it’s ok with small group classes like Swords & Stationery’s. However, you may want to skip this if you’re not too tech savvy, since they have quite an obtuse user interface (but admittedly it’s still the most user-friendly option in the market, in my opinion).
StoriumEdu (Writing game)
Price: Free for now
Link: StoriumEdu homepage
StoriumEdu is a collaborative writing game. It teaches students to write within certain boundaries while offering them the creativity to add their own ideas. Genres include fantasy, sci-fi, and anything else under the sun—teachers are free to come up with their own settings.
To play StoriumEdu, the teacher first creates a Storyworld (i.e. a setting) for students. Each student then chooses from a list of preset characters. From there, students will play the roles of their characters, writing according to how their students will act in a given situation.
Your mileage may vary when using Storyworld. One thing I don’t like is that teachers must always play as a character, and can’t just take on the role of narrator (they must do both, which can be very taxing). Otherwise, it’s a fine tool for teaching creative writing.
Rosen LevelUp (Digital library)
Price: $48 per year
Link: Rosen LevelUp homepage
Rosen LevelUp is an invaluable resource for Swords & Stationery’s digital toolkit, featuring over 2500 books (I don’t know the exact number but there sure are a lot of books in there). These books are broken up according to varying Lexile ranges, which are used to measure a student’s lexical and literacy abilities. At $48 per year, it does seem pricey, but it’s worth every dollar for what you get (quantity + quality). The books can even be downloaded and used offline.
A Rosen LevelUp subscription can be purchased from September 21 (or through Swords & Stationery). If you’re interested in purchasing one, drop me a message and I’ll get back to you within the next 72 hours.
Spelling Shed (Spelling activity)
Link: Spelling Shed homepage
Spelling Shed made spelling a lot of fun for my kiddos. I like this one a lot despite its simplicity. In fact, I like it because of its simplicity. It works on multiple devices, and parents and educators can come up with their own spelling lists. The user interface is vibrant without being too in-your-face, and it’s got a scoring and levelling up system which makes an ordinarily boring activity feel rewarding.
Other apps that I’m not using (but which are worth trying)
Working with other educators, therapists and teachers alike, you come across a lot of different apps. Below is a list of well-known apps that I’m not using but which are worth trying out (if you haven’t already):
Finding a suitable range of apps is key
Let’s be honest, conducting an e-learning session isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It’s tiring, and even on my best days, I find myself pushed to the limit, skipping meals just so I can churn out the perfect lesson for each of my 13 classes.
That being said, it’s not all bad once you have the right set of apps, whether they’re from this list or not. Go with what works for you and your classes—treat this as an opportunity to transform the classroom experience into something else entirely. All the best!
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