Digital tools – Powtoon

Does anyone remember Dfilm or Dvolver as it became known? I remember being introduced to it by a colleague years ago and thinking to myself, “This is amazing!” I used it almost immediately- I got students to make clips, I set it for homework and even gave feedback through it. Safe to say, I used it to death.

Anyway, skip forward a good few years and I was looking for something a little more versatile which did not require a steep learning curve. I found umpteen different programs which were either too complicated to use or too expensive. Eventually I stumbled on Powtoon. This is a web-based animation software tool that is predominantly designed to create animated presentations. It is free (up to a point) and fairly intuitive to use.

In summer school, I’m always conscious that the initial teacher induction often leads to an information overload. This is why I decided to create a series of short explainer videos uploaded to YouTube, highlighting the most salient ideas teachers need to know. The theory behind this was that it would allow teachers an opportunity to absorb key ideas and give a general understanding of everyday life in a summer school prior to their arrival.

The initial feedback I received was very positive, which has prompted me to consider making more and updating the ones we still use. Of course, we should remember that it is one thing to ask someone to watch a couple of 5 minute videos and quite another to ask them to sit through multiple videos in the weeks leading up to their employment. Regardless of how informative they are, the fact is, until they arrive, they are not getting paid and really under no obligation to do anything. Having said that, when I initially contact teachers, (usually a week before their contract begins) I give links to some of these videos and invite them to have a look. Most will but I never insist this has to be done.

The first videos I made were through trial and error and took quite a long time to finish. I recorded a voice-over track and spent hours getting the animation right. However, I found that I quickly learnt to manipulate the software better to the point where I can now create a simple animation in around 10 minutes.

Once you are happy with your animation, you can upload it to a YouTube account. It is worth pointing out at this stage that if you have a Gmail account you also have a YouTube account as well- one comes with the other. Once uploaded, I typically set videos that are work related as ‘unlisted’ so they do not show up on the channel’s home page, nor will they appear in a general search. This is a little like having your home telephone set as ‘ex-directory’ (does that exist anymore? Or is it something that only existed years ago? I’m showing my age now…). The only way someone can access each video is when you give them the URL link.

A little like Dfilm, I went through a spate of making a lot of these videos. Last summer, I taught a group of A2 level teenagers and got them to storyboard some ideas, write some language, before letting them create their own films using Powtoon. Young people these days take technology like this in their stride and really do not need instruction. I simply let them start and within no time they got the hang of it. My role was to monitor, troubleshoot problems and keep them on task in order to get their videos complete within 3 hours. In the end, what they produced was quite good and something tangible they could take home to show their parents.

I have to be honest that setting this up did take a bit of time and effort but the level of engagement and results made it worth it. If you ever want to repeat your activity, the set up the second time round is never as laborious or difficult.

Fundamentally, we are getting learners to engage together and navigate their way through a task. This is not just about writing either- writing is only one of the component strands which is composite of the whole task. Learners need to agree and disagree on what actions are taken, take the lead as well as allowing others to take charge. This requires independent thinking, skills and language to help learners negotiate the process. As a teacher, I would give learners some appropriate functional language they could use to aid their communication. A little success i.e. a bullet point list of things they should do in order to carry out the task successfully, also helps scaffold and give learners a road map they can refer to keep them on track. The idea being once the success criteria has been fulfilled, they will have more or less completed what they need to do. The final bullet point should probably be something on the lines of, ‘Invite another group to watch your video and ask them for feedback.’

The final point on the matter, which you may also be thinking, is that as a general rule, anything filtered through a technological medium will always heighten the level of engagement than if an activity is done in a more traditional way. Curious, isn’t it?


Powtoon –

Dfilm/Dvolver –



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