Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: apps

Three Useful Apps for Teaching/Learning

In this blog, I want to introduce a couple of apps that could be very useful additions to any lecturers’ teaching toolbox.


The first is Screencastify.  Screencastify is a lightweight screen recorder that can be used to capture your desktop and webcam allowing you to create videos that can be uploaded directly to YouTube and, at the same time, saved to your Google Drive. Being a Chrome extension means that there is no heavy weight software to download and it can also be used offline. There is a free version that limits the number of videos you can make to 50 per month with a maximum length of 10 minutes per video. However, you can upgrade to a paid for version, approximately £20 (it comes priced in dollars), which has no such limits.

Anyway, enough reading, here is a short demo of Screencastify in action

It does lack the functionality of a product like Camtasia, but if all you need is a quick easy screen recording it is well worth a go. You can also keep the videos on YouTube private by setting them to unlisted so they cannot be found in searches or as recommendations, students would just need the URL which can be made available via your Moodle pages.

Once you’ve made your video using Screencastify, you can have it as a stand alone resource available via YouTube or you could use it to produce an enhanced learning object by combining it with Adobe Spark.

I can see this having a variety of uses from giving video/audio feedback to forming part of a set of flipped learning sessions.


An alternative to Screencastify is Screencast-O-Matic. As with Screencastify, this app also comes in free and licensed versions. The free version of Screencast-O-Mantic will record videos of 15 minutes which can then be saved as MP4 files, this version also comes with some limited editing functionality but does require a software download and does not work quite as seamlessly with YouTube or Google Drive.


The third app, useful as a revision aid, is Brainscape . Brainscape is an online flashcard system, you can either create your own flashcards or use a pre-made set. Unlike other ready made flashcard systems I’ve seen, Brainscape does have resources suitable for HE and not just in traditional academic disciplines. This system is free (though you can pay to release a larger number of cards) and can be accessed through your Google account.

As students work through the set of cards, they can rate how confident they are in their knowledge and understanding. Staff can create classes to which they can invite students, thus allowing you to view how many cards the students used and how they themselves rate their learning.

Brainscape says that its system is grounded in proven techniques that help improve learning and understanding. Not having used this particular platform myself with learners I can’t comment on the veracity of the claims made but as flashcards are a popular learning technique this online system is worth looking at, especially given the range of topics it covers.

Credit Image: Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Technology and our mental health and wellbeing

I am very fortunate that I get to walk to work daily (okay, except on really rainy days, then maybe I’m not so fortunate!) and I am obsessed with listening to podcasts on my journey. On my walk in this morning I stumbled across a podcast episode from Ctrl Alt Delete with Emma Gannon who was talking with Dr Megan Jones Bell, the Chief Science Officer at Headspace.

Headspace, in case you haven’t heard of it, is an app that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing through the practice of mindfulness. The app takes users through guided meditations and shares techniques in dealing with, for example, a busy, overthinking/negative-thinking, mind – a state that can impact on sleep, performance and relationships, which of course can in turn lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression… basically all of the things preventing you from being your best self!

Dr Megan Jones Bell was, interestingly, talking about how businesses are buying into meditation apps such as Headspace for their employees, because employers are starting to recognise the value of nurturing a sense of positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Listening to this got me to thinking about our students and colleagues University-wide, as I have recently been working closely with personal tutors and support services at the University. Through these encounters I have heard first hand how mental health issues are a real concern, and they appear to be on the rise. I’m sure this is not just an issue within our institution.

Our University freely provides staff and students with software licenses and accounts, such as, for free online training to develop our academic and professional skills. However, knowing what we know about the current situation regarding mental health and wellbeing, I wonder whether we are doing enough in this area? Is it time for Portsmouth and other institutions to invest more in access to products such as Headspace (and other apps are available – I’m using this just as an example), which encourage self-care and have a more preventative approach to mental health and wellbeing? In other words, should employers be helping to embed practices such as mindfulness and meditation, potentially via apps, into people’s daily lives so that we are all armed with tools to deal with difficult and challenging experiences when they arise? Surely this can only be a good thing for staff and students? What are your thoughts?

Note: I am by no means forgetting that mental health and wellbeing is a very complex subject and that apps alone cannot ‘fix’ things in times of crisis! If you or a student are experiencing any mental health issues please seek support from either Occupational Health or refer students to the Student Wellbeing Service.


Brown, D. & Triggle, N. (4 December, 2018). BBC News. Mental health: 10 charts on the scale of the problem. Available at:

Economides, M., Martman, J., Bell, M.J.  & Sanderson, B. (2008). Improvements in Stress, Affect, and Irritability Following Brief Use of a Mindfulness-based Smartphone App: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Available at:

Mental health and wellbeing apps:

Emma Gannon (2019). Ctrl Alt Delete. #189: Dr Megan Jones-Bell: How To Invest In Yourself (California Innovation Tour #2). 3, April. Available at:


Hold – A rewarding app

What is it?

Hold is an app aimed at students that discourages them from using their mobile phone. Hold works by presenting a timer on screen that awards points every 20 mins. If you do exit the app, you receive a warning, and then if you don’t go back the timer resets to zero and you have to start again. The points that you earn can be converted into real-world prizes, such as; Amazon vouchers, coffee shop vouchers, and cinema treats.

The app certainly caught our eye in the TEL office after the BBC published an interesting article about it.

Hold App

Why use it?

Hold is clearly targeted at students who need a way to counter an addiction to using their phones, and is trying to help those students to focus on their lectures, reading or revision. It’s particularly popular in Norway where 40% of students are using Hold to help focus on learning and break their addiction.

What next?

Smart phones have changed how we interact with the world, they provide 24/7 social interaction that is now the norm for many of us, especially young people who have never known any different. Yet some experts are already highlighting how this new lifestyle may not be healthy, so perhaps any way to gain a little more control over our digital lives should be seen as a good thing.

If the amount of users of the app increases it could be a fantastic way to focus the attention of those students who are easily distracted both in and outside of the classroom.

We are living in a digital age, many academics are using phones and tablets as part of their teaching. It could be seen as sending a mixed message if you simultaneously ask students to put away their devices, as they prevent them from concentrating, and also ask them to use mobile technology to learn in class.

It is more than likely that the creators of this app, and those like it, are hoping to tackle the issues of those students who struggle to focus their time on learning. It is not meant to destabilise any attempts at implementing new and innovative teaching tools in the classroom.

Apps like Hold do however raise the wider issue of how much a university is expecting the student to provide their own device for learning interactions. Should more money be put into providing each student with a learning device? Where once it was expected the student brings a pen and paper, should that expectation now be that they have a tablet or PC/Chromebook that they use for their note taking and/or classroom interactions?

Day 12: Zombies, Run!

What is Zombies, Run?

Today’s app is Zombies, Run!, a quirky alternative to your ‘normal’ free health and fitness app. Developed by Six to Start, an independent and entertainment company based in London, Zombies, Run! Works on IOS, Android and Windows and described as ‘the world’s most popular smartphone fitness game’.

So as you prepare for the ‘run of your life’ here’s a little peek of what to expect from the app:

What does the app look like and how do I use it?

Once you’ve signed up, Zombies, Run! sets the scene. Only a few have survived the zombie epidemic, you’ll play a runner en-route to one of humanity’s last remaining outposts and they need your help to gather supplies, rescue survivors and defend their home – so the pressure is on!

There are lots of different missions you can complete, supplies that you can pick up and you’ll be able to monitor how far you’ve run and for how long with the built in run logs. The app let’s you register with the free online ZombieLink service to view and share your individual runs and also view your full run history including maps.

The great thing is you have the option to play by walking, jogging and running and can also listen to the story and your own music through your headphones while you use the app – so you’ll feel well equipped and ready to save the world!

How could this app help me?

There are several options to tailor the app to work to fit into any fitness routine. With a running commentary and warnings of zombies approaching, it’s easy to picture the scene and can be quite addictive to play especially if you are a completionist.

Definitely worth a download if you are looking for a more interactive, motivating fitness experience!


Day 5: NUS Extra

What is NUS Extra?

Today’s app is NUS Extra, a free lifestyle app to accompany the student discount card, which University of Portsmouth staff can also take advantage of. Available on IOS and Android, with over 200 exclusives discounts from well-known brands, the app is the easiest way to keep track of them all.

What does the app look like and how do I use it?

When you first install the app on your phone you are prompted to enter your student (or staff) email address and password.

Once signed in, you can view your NUS account details and start searching for discounts in your surrounding area. You can search for well-known brands, find the nearest ones to your location and view the discounts they are currently offering.

The various discounts are organised into categories, these are then subdivided by brand. The categories you can browse through include:

  • Beauty
  • Books and Stationery
  • Eating Out
  • Entertainment
  • Fashion
  • Finance
  • Health and Fitness
  • Music and Technology
  • Supermarkets
  • Travel
  • Uni Essentials
  • International Discounts

A nice little feature to the app is that you can also save your favourite brands in one place so they are literally a click away when you are out and about and want to find out the latest discounts and offers.

How could this app help me?

It’s great if you are popping out for a bite to eat as the app will flag up the nearest deals in your area. It also works just the same if you are off on a shopping trip, which comes in handy this time of year if you are looking to save some money on Christmas presents!

If you haven’t claimed your NUS Extra card already make sure you do to take advantage of all the discounts available out there and download the app so you don’t miss out on any of the offers!

Day 1: WiseDrinking

What is WiseDrinking?

Today’s app is WiseDrinking, a free health and fitness app which encourages responsible drinking. Available in 37 languages, both on IOS and Android. Developed by Pernod Ricard a french company that produces distilled beverages.

What does the app look like and how do I use it?

When you first log into the app you are asked to select your country, enter some details about yourself and then you are asked to add some information on your most recent meal, along with (obviously) what you’ve had to drink with it!

You can enter the type of drink and the units consumed from the following options:

  • Spirits
  • Wine
  • Beer and Cider

Once you’ve added this info for a few different meals you’ll start to build up a picture of your drinking. At any point during the day you can check how many units you’ve consumed to see how close you are to your limit. One nice feature of this app is that you can keep a diary of the amount of alcohol you consume on a daily/weekly basis, which is a great way to keep track of how many units of alcohol you consume over the course of a week, which can sometimes be a surprise! There are also drink related quizzes, advice on what wise drinking is and facts about alcohol metabolism.

The app contains a ‘Get me Home’ section which features a GPS location tracker showing you whereabouts you are, call options to search and phone friends and relatives, a 999 option for emergency services and a transport tracker to show taxis and public transport in your area.

How could this app help me?

WiseDrinking is a great app for monitoring your alcohol consumption, although, like many health and fitness apps it relies on user input. However once you get into the habit of recording your intake it provides guidance, particularly if you are a little worse for wear and helps you stay aware of how much you are drinking  – which could be helpful particularly during the festive season when we all tend to over-indulge!

SoloLearn – Learning where you want, when you want


We all learn in different ways and personally I’m a hands on learner. I need to be learning and doing at the same time, otherwise it’s not going to stick.

Currently I have dipped my toe into the world of coding. This is something I’ve tried my hand at over the years but each time I pick it up, without practise I lose what I’ve learnt. So I started to search for apps that could help me learn and practise basic HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) throughout my typical day.

So what did you find?

After a few clicks and swipes I came across SoloLearn – a free mobile social platform that offers coding courses which can be completed via the Web on iOS, Android or Windows.

The aim of the game with SoloLearn is to learn through playing. The courses consist of bite-size guides and quizzes to keep you engaged and your progress is saved each time you reach a ‘checkpoint’. To practise and play with what you have learned, there is the ‘Code Playground’ where learners can experiment with what they have learned so far and save for future reference. This is excellent for when life gets in the way and you need to put the app to one side for a while, making for a easy return when you pick it back up. Another benefit is regardless of what platform you happen to be using, Sololearn will sync up, so you can access your course in a range of situations via your mobile device and the app will know where you left off from.

A very important part of SoloLearn is that although their name suggests otherwise, you are in by no means ‘solo’ in your learning. On each course there is a space for comments at the bottom of each page from the global SoloLearn community to ask questions or find handy tips from other learners taking part in their course. Many learners also share code they have written to be used by others for practise.

This is all well and good, but why should I learn to code at all?

Many people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at being told by a friend that they might be learning a spoken language such as French, but telling them you’re learning a digital language? That can get you a few funny looks. Although a genuine interest in the first place doesn’t hurt, there’s no harm in learning a new skill and adding another string to your bow. There’s no escaping that we live in a digital age and learning to code can only benefit you in the long run. Having a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS can help your career, such as being able to improve your employer’s website, or quickly publish your own content on your own website or digital platform.

You can find out more and join up by visiting SoloLearn here.

Image credits:  https://pexels-photo-9204.jpeg

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