Macmillan hosts one-week sale of bestselling apps

This week (Mon-Fri inclusive) Macmillan are running a sale on all of their MacEd mobile apps. This includes the premium version of the Sounds app, all 5 IELTS Skills apps, and the Macmillan Diccionario Pocket. Apple and Android versions are included. All apps are available for a fixed price of £1.99/$2.99/EUR 2.69, via the usual app stores. Worth knowing about and passing on!

English for Academic Studies – Collaboration Works!

Epigeum. It’s not a name that will automatically be familiar to those of you who know the old faces of UK ELT, but it’s about to launch a brand-new suite of EAP courses for Universities using a radical collaborative publishing model – which makes it a very exciting place to be for HEIs (Higher Education Institutions).

Epigeum has actually been around for a while; it’s a spin-off from Imperial College London, and up until now has published a range of wholly online courses for university teaching and management, which are aimed at blended delivery. According to their website, 65% of UK HE institutions have purchased their courses, including 95% of Russell Group members and 9 of the top 10 UK universities.

The unique aspect of Epigeum’s offer is that they don’t just throw a product together and hope it sells. Instead, everything they produce is a collaboration between leading institutions and specially-commissioned authors and advisers. Technical development is managed in-house – the final product is then deployed on each institution’s own LMS, so no need to mess with annual contracts, subscriptions and multiple logons, the bugbear of third-party products like Macmillan English Campus and English360.

The process kicks off with invitations to participate sent out to key prospective partners, and leads to a workshop (often held at Imperial) where the basic framework of the programme is discussed and the outline is finalised. The company then commissions the materials, all of which are peer-reviewed on the go by the consortium. The end result is a product which truly reflects the needs of higher education, and which enables the consortium members to obtain a finished, class-leading product which would be excessively costly otherwise, both in terms of financing and staff time.

Epigeum has just launched its latest collaboration, English for Academic Studies (if the link is broken paste in your browser) – a comprehensive blended programme which, judging by the outline on its website, should be of massive interest to all universities and places of higher learning  including international  business schools. Not only will the (limited number) of consortium participants have an outstanding, appropriate educational tool at the end of the process, but they will also have the opportunity to network with other major international institutions.

Epigeum is to be congratulated on putting together a proposition which eschews the usual EAP book-based model and which is driven by peers, not publishers. Check it out.

Oh – and one of the lead advisers is our very own Pete Sharma!



Interested in Writing EFL Material? This new SIG is for You!

It goes without saying that the majority of EFL teachers are also writers.

Many of us have ambitions to be published, or (increasingly) to publish themselves, but it’s a big wide world out there and budding writers – with whatever goal they ultimately have in mind – need support and advice.

With a group of colleagues (Karen Spiller, Karen White, Sue Kay, Jill Florent and Nick Robinson) we’re putting together a new IATEFL SIG group for all who are interested in exploring ways to write better materials, either for your own class or for wider publication. It doesn’t matter whether you are new to writing or an experienced author with practical knowledge to share – whichever end of the spectrum, this SIG is for you.

MaW SIG – yes, that’s its name – will share and promote best practice among authors and materials writers, encourage new authors, and disseminate information regarding professional writing opportunities among members.

There is no commitment (financial or otherwise!) needed at this stage, just register your interest and we’ll do the rest. If you feel this new SIG could be for you, email us on and we’ll be in touch! And watch out for us at IATEFL Liverpool 2013!

Byron Russell

Macmillan Education – sale week on all apps

All Macmillan's apps - including IELTS Skills - are on offer this week..
All Macmillan’s apps – including IELTS Skills – are on offer this week..

Just a quick heads-up to start the week…Macmillan Education is running a sale on all their mobile apps this week. This includes the premium version of the excellent Sounds app, all 5 IELTS Skills apps, and the Macmillan Diccionario Pocket. Apple and Android versions are included.

All apps are available for a fixed price of £1.99/$2.99/EUR 2.69, via the usual app stores. Grab yourself a bargain, as they say on eBay.



McGraw-Hill announces launch of the SmartBook

Investor company Apollo’s recent  $2.5bn investment in McGraw-Hill Education is starting to bear fruit. At the International Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas this month, McGraw-Hill Education gambled on the launch of suite of adaptive learning products for higher education;  most interesting among these is the SmartBook, which uses sophisticated software to improve learning and student performance. Actually of course plans for this project were well advanced before the investment, but such products are potentially more nails (there are lots already) in the coffin of the traditional coursebook.

A promo view of McGraw-Hills SmartBook interface

New technology tends to replace old when it can do stuff that cannot be achieved by more traditional methods, and when the cost comes down. A classic example is the field of popular photography, where the joy of viewing photos and videos instantly – a huge benefit – became mainstream when cameras started cost so little that consumers could afford to replace them every year or two with the latest model.

McGraw Hill’s new SmartBook products achieve both the aim of being innovative – they are basically dynamic, multi-platform digital textbooks ( or ebooks ) that “learn” where individual students need reinforcement and adapt the text and revision questions accordingly – and  will be relatively inexpensive at just under $20.00 per “book”.

Of course, digital textbooks are available on a variety of platforms and from most of the major textbook publishers. The advantages are clear. They are cheaper, easier to carry around and usually incorporate interactive features such as videos or social media to make learning tasks more appealing. The SmartBook takes this to a new level by incorporating algorithms that adapt learning content to the student, based on given responses in test and revision units.

The SmartBook will then continue to monitor learner progress, and adjust to student needs as they progress through a course, constantly updating to offer the most appropriate content pathways. A SmartBook also predicts what material the learners are likely to forget over time – and when – and can build in revision sessions accordingly.

There are further benefits to the publisher, using feedback and data analysis to allow McGraw-Hill to build a dialogue with authors, to help refine areas where learners struggle most.

The SmartBook is a nice concept. Not entirely new – back in the nineties there were early attempts at creating offline dynamic learner pathways in response to input, but you had to be sitting at your PC to study (assuming you had a PC back then). But coupling this technology with the web and multi-platform delivery represents a very interesting step forwards – ELT publishers (and providers like Macmillan English Campus and English360) take note. As ever, expect McGraw-Hill’s new baby to take off first in the US – and be over here in Europe sometime in the next five to ten years…

Happy New Year, if it’s not too late…



Enter the Doki…an app that uses a games-like approach to great effect

One of the interesting developments in the past couple of years has been the proliferation of apps for language learning, and it seems everyone is getting in on the act. We have peripheral products, such as OUP’s rather over-priced and inanimate readers; Dictionary apps; Exam practice apps, such as Macmillan’s IELTS Skills. Such products, focusing on the minutiae of language learning, can be successful as long as they have a sound business model, such as IAP (In App Purchase, where the customer has the opportunity to try a a free sample before making a purchase decision), and are appropriately priced. However, many educational apps seem to have been rushed to market without a great deal of care or forethought in their execution, and represent an exceedingly dull journey for the user.

One which really breaks this mould is the latest language learning app to hit the market; called Doki (don’t ask!) it’s well worth checking out. Available from launch in Spanish, Latin American Spanish, German, English and French and in most of the leading national app stores worldwide, Doki is one of the very few language learning apps that is actually great fun, whether used for self-access (its original target market) or in the classroom. By the way, don’t confuse it with DokiDoki, a rather saccharine range of kids’ manga character apps…

No stereotypes there then…the Doki English app. Luckily the app is far better than its icon.

Two units of Doki are available as a free download for iPad, with additional units for IAP. The free version demonstrates something of the “games” approach used in the programme, though this only really comes out in scenarios such as the Bar and Supermarket. Two levels – Basic and the oddly-named “Further” – which appears to mean lower intermediate – are currently available. Unlike the majority of language learning self-teach programmes, Doki is non-linear, which makes it more relevant for the learner, and more motivating. A further innovation is the extensive use of cartoon-quality animation – with a unique design style – throughout. On opening the programme the user is invited to choose an interface language from a choice of 17 – including Polish and Chinese – and then given a choice of two age ranges (7 – 14 and 15+). I understand the mild “adult” references in the 15+ version have been excised from the kid’s edition, though I’m certain any youngster using Doki would automatically opt for the grown up version…

One the language has been selected, users are taken to a “cityscape” which is a nice way of navigating through the various scenarios – restaurant, hotel booking, emergencies, shopping and so on. Only two of these (Greetings and Travel) are actually open on the free version. The full version is available via in-app purchase for a modest $1.99 for three units (or “Chapters”, as they are called), or $7.99 for the package of 12 units. Learners can therefore follow their own route through the “city”, choosing the language scenarios – and learning sequences – most appropriate to their needs. Picking up on the interactive Bar sequences, for example (where else would you go first?) I had a presentation session and practice conversation with animated barman Luigi. I was then swiftly able to pick up the language needed to order those all-important beers, and an orange juice with ice for the kids – despite having no prior knowledge of Spanish at all. I could even be a Madrid barman myself. Pretty impressive.

The new app offers a basic vocabulary loading of 400 words and over 20 hours of learning, more than enough to assimilate the basics of a language for casual holiday purposes. From the teaching point of view, I tried Doki out on an interactive whiteboard and the bright Technicolor and lively animation come across beautifully – the scenarios would make for excellent additional classroom practice if used on an IWB or with a projector. The developers, Eazyspeak, clearly have taken a leaf out of games developers’ books, and are to be congratulated for making the most of this crossover approach, which is the way I think all Educational apps will be going.


Here comes India’s Aakash…so what’s you’re mobile learning strategy now?

So you’re happy with your iPad? Of course you are. It’s sleek, fashionable and sexy. OK, it has a few irritating niggles. For example, it won’t handle Flash. There’s nowhere to upload files via a USB port, and attaching peripherals such as a projector needs a clunky adaptor, and if you have the new one you have to buy new charging cables, but you can live with all that. And of course it only cost £400 or thereabouts.

But what if there was something else out there, that didn’t look quite as sexy as an iPad but was a whole lot more versatile? Something that could accept USB devices, something which had a 7-inch touch panel, 1GHz Cortex-A8 processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of Flash storage, Android 4.0.3, built-in WiFi and a front-facing VGA camera and could even be user-programmed, or used to teach programming.

Looks familiar…the Aakash 2, which will be marketed outside India as the Ubislate

Something which costs (are you sitting down?) $21?

Well, just such an object has arrived. You’ll only pay the subsidised $21 if you happen to live in India. Outside the continent the new Aakash 2 – built by British company Datawind – will sell for a whopping $80. Get your credit cards out right now…

As Steve Jobs might have said, this changes everything. There have been cheap tablets before, of course. Pearson have tried to get in on the act with a bundle solution of tablet and software for schools in India called MX Touch. Difference is that the MX Touch 7 inch computer bundle is roughly five times the price of the Aakash. That’s a lot (relatively speaking) to pay for software. Put into perspective, the average per capita income in India is 61,000 rupees, or 50 times the cost of the Aakash – but nine times the cost of the MX Touch bundle. The Aakash is to be presented at the UN today (Nov 28th) before an invited audience, including Ban-Ki Moon

At the price of the Aakash, learning in India – and elsewhere – really is going mobile (it’s hardly worth even stealing one at this price). At least Pearson are trying. Publishers who aren’t planning a raft of material for this big new learning market – or who aren’t doing it already – are really running the risk of losing out, big time. And if I were an author, one of the first questions I’d ask my publisher is “what is your mobile publishing strategy?”.

Ultimately the Indian government would like all 220m students in India to have a $20 tablet. And nobody using a tablet for everyday learning – a tablet pre-loaded (or ready to be loaded) with content, either as pdfs or interactive exercises – is going to have much use for a satchel full of heavy, expensive textbooks.


BESIG Stuttgart – Shift Yourself!

Just back from Stuttgart. Another year, another BESIG behind us. Next year’s venue is a closely guarded secret, but for 2012 Stuttgart treated us to two days of unseasonably sunny weather, and the conference was the biggest ever – around 500 delegates crowded into the atrium of the SpOrt building in Neckar Park, in sight of the vast Mercedes-Benz arena and the striking architecture of the carmaker’s museum.

Paradise for petrol heads- the Mercedes museum opposite the BESIG venue.

The conference programme kicked off with a hugely entertaining plenary on defining digital literacies from Gavin Dudenay. I’m not going to spend ages blogging about this or the other presentations, but there were two initiatives really worth drawing some attention to, and Gavin’s plenary highlighted two particular paradigm-shifting issues.

The first of these is the growing importance of gaming approaches in digital learning. Gavin referenced the use of “non-ELT” games like foursquare to motivate learners, as well as overtly games-based learning tools of which our fave vocab app Word Carrot is one. The other is the dramatic shift in the use and availability of technology in the past five years, none more so (I think) than the introduction of the wifi tablet. Suddenly learning on the move – the anytime, anywhere potential of m-learning – is a reality that all publishers and writers will be paying close attention to.

Overall there was less overt focus on technology at BESIG this year, both in the exhibitors stands ( a notable exception being that of gold sponsor english360) and in the talks themselves. This isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot of technology about. Just that in many talks the digital angle was presented less as the core, but  part of the integrated whole: a certain level of knowledge and practice was assumed, which certainly would not have been the case even three years ago. As Gavin said, shift happens. He rightly pointed out that this means all of us involved in this profession – as writers, teachers, or publishers – have to add a veneer of technical awareness to everything we do. Technology impacts on our research, our professional development (check out sites like TeacherTube and the Utubersity),  workflow management, lesson planning and specific content creation. And of course on our professional image. You don’t have to be a so-called digital native (how I hate that term!) to be in this business, but you do have to be digitally literate. Who would employ you as an educator if you couldn’t read and write?

Finally, two initiatives from Nick Robinson and Sue Kay / Karen Spiller of eltteacher2writer brought a shift in perspective to the conference’s usual focus. Though the growing importance of digital delivery of content can mean the re-use of assets, overall publishers will need more content rather than less. Tired old course books cannot simply be recycled in a digitised format and win eager new customers. Along with a growing hunger among publishers for fresh, up to date materials – particularly for ESP and business training – professional writers like Paul Emmerson have found they can bypass the traditional publisher altogether, and publish their own ebooks or print-on-demand titles. But it isn’t an easy call.

Nick Robinson and eltteacher2writer help teachers to become professional, published authors via – in Nick’s case – an agency representation (one of the most difficult aspects, particularly for newcomers to writing, is marketing yourself to a publisher) and – in the case of eltteacher2writer – via a searchable, free database and a range modular self-help training course texts.

Both Pete and I will be contributing to eltteacher2writer training modules, so watch this space for more details. And if you have any writing aspirations whatsoever – and I don’t know ANY teacher who isn’t a practising materials writer! – check out and


BESIG or TESOL? A fun weekend, either way!

TEFL-ers have a terrible choice to make this week. Do they go to Paris for TESOL, or Stuttgart for BESIG? Stuttgart weather over the weekend is sunny on Saturday and cloudy Sunday, with an average temperature of 11 degrees. Much the same as Paris, though rain is forecast for Sunday. In Stuttgart you have some fine extra curricular activities, especially if you like cars, beer and speck. Paris is a tad more sophisticated. Also more than a tad more expensive.

In terms of events, both have excellent programmes and a chance to meet up with great people. As I cannot clone myself (am still working on it) I’ve opted for BESIG.

Gavin Dudenay is giving the keynote at BESIG, and there’s the David Riley Award presentation to look forward to. Cleve Miller will be there so if you’re interested in English360 (and who isn’t?) his talk will be one to watch out for. The excellent Mike Hogan will be talking about simulations, and Marjorie Rosenberg about the increasingly popular BEC Vantage exam. Our very own Pete Sharma will be speaking on “Apptivites for Business English” (snappy title). The effervescent Jo Grieg from Macmillan will be talking all about “Busy Business”, and she should know if anyone does. If you are interested in writing professionally, go along to Nick Robinson’s session on getting yourself published. The full programme – if you haven’t got it already – is here:


And if you really have to be in Paris (say hello to Bethany Cagnol for me) you don’t have to miss all the fun of Stuttgart – BESIG will be broadcasting a series of live talks (for the programme click here).

Wherever you’re going this weekend, have fun!


Gothic Goings-On in Digital ELT

One the great things about digital resources is how easily and quickly they can be adapted to real-time events. This is great for teacher and student alike – rather than plough on with the same old content, suddenly you can use material that reflects news and the world calendar. Take Halloween, for example. It’s on October 31st, in case you didn’t know, and – being a ghoulish celebration of all things dead and undead – is enthusiastically observed by trick-or-treating teens everywhere (for which I blame the US in general and ET in particular). It’s ideal source material for motivating students of all ages. So what can digital publishers offer us?

Macmillan’s brilliant onestopenglish  is offering a range of Gothic goings-on at These range from a murderous short story by Edgar Allen Poe – complete with trademark twist in the tale – to monster lesson plans and a suitably spooky Webquest. The webquest is free to any registered user, not just the paying “Staff Room” subscribers – a really nice Halloween gift.

Websites are not the only digital offerings that offer tricks and treats. Apps can do it too, of course. You may recall our all-time favourite vocab app, Word Carrot, which features a word-hungry Rabbit with Attitude.

One of the topical wallpapers you can upload for your iPhone or iPod Touch

Word Carrot is offering a spooky selection of wallpapers for your iPhone or iPod Touch plus a themed downloadable worksheets. Get them all by going to! The app itself – a finalist in the 2012 Digital Entrepreneur Awards – is free from the app store and is now available in British and US editions.

No traditional coursebook can offer material as fresh, fun and topical as this – material which will really give your students (of any age!) a motivational prod at this otherwise dull time of the year. So check these two out if you don’t want a class full of zombies.