A Case for Mentally Ground Breaking Learning

Schermafbeelding (9)                 Photo 1: VoiceThread (2012). [Screen Shot].

My internet travels have led me to a fascinating multimedia application that is highly effective from both a learner and educator perspective. Mental Case is a study application that is designed to make learning not only more efficient, but a multimedia experience. It uses your notes like flashcards that can take the form of text, visuals, video, audio clips and combines them into study presentations. You can create your own or download pre-made flashcards from sites like Flashcard exchange or Quizlet. 

Schermafbeelding (7)                   Photo 2:  Mental Case (2012). [Screen Shot].

The study presentations are based on your preferred learning selections: Q& A, multiple choice, reversible note, simple note, or translation which make learning far from rote! It expands these presentations with related lesson and feedback activities that allow you to assess your own learning process.  You can also set the learning pace to meet your needs and preferred learning style with options that vary from long-term, target deadlines, short-term cramming, intermittent or unscheduled study. For ESL learning applications, there are amazing self-directed learning possibilities.

The flashcard is no longer just a visual cue reference. It allows you to imbed image files to accompany the new word or grammar prompt or audio files for pronunciation.  You can even incorporate video clips for enhanced learning references like the socio-cultural aspects of language learning rendering the flashcard a more complete learning activity. This functionality sets it apart as one of the most innovative of learning apps. The easy drag and drop tool for image files, built-in features like iSight camera and screenshots provide rich learning experiences. It really has thought through the learning methodology as TÚAW (2013) remarks that “education is deeply imbued in the Apple DNA”.

mentalcasestats                             Photo 3: VoiceThread (2013).[ Screen Shot].

Are there are any drawbacks? If you are not a Mac fan or owner, well then this is app is not for you.  It is specifically designed as a Mac app that can sync between iPhone, iPad, iTouch and desktop for 29.99 US at the Mac store or free with iTunes. What that includes is free access to the massive Flashcard Exchange libraries which normally require paid access outside this app.  Thus, it is another score for Mac and intriguing way to extend the learning curve for the ipad generation. “Mental Case is a well-designed application that would definitely benefit many who need to learn heaps of new information” (Bennet, 2012). http://www.mentalcaseapp.com/


Since we are on the Mac bandwagon, I would be negligent if I did not talk about all the rage surrounding VoiceThread as an educational tool. Digital storytelling is becoming a standard part of the 21st century skill set for educators and students.  It requires learners to consider the message they wish to convey through all digital narrative creative components and process: meaningful audio soundtrack, image quality, economy of detail, grammar and language use, video and additional multimedia elements relative the intended goal (University of Houston, 2013). In addition to digital and information literacy skills, the power of this form of storytelling is its ability to inspire learners to share, be accountable and engage in meaningful dialogue about their work and the contribution of others.

Presence                                           Photo 4: VoiceThread (2012).[ Screen Shot].

Mac’s highly touted digital storytelling application is Voice Thread (VT). This is a simple way to introduce learners to the value and art of learning through exchanging our narratives about the world we live in. It allows the learner to incorporate image or video files directly from your mobile device or library as narrative input or annotative feedback. The difference is that learners can engage with the content through thumbnail size video clips of the speaker and others in a continuous conversation and feedback process providing a multisensory learning experience. “VoiceThread takes your conversations to the next level, capturing your presence, not just your comments… and invites others to learn and contribute to the conversation via their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac or PC” (University of Houston, 2013) wherever they have access to the internet.

The possibilities for ESL or intercultural communication include a more interactive experience that taps into varied learning styles by capturing the gestures, tone and inflection of voice attached to real people.  Learners and educators can engage in real conversations that extend across countries and cultures. Open each thumbnail comment as they are added to hear and see what participants are saying in a more complete communication exchange.

The basic limited account is free and it may be enough to get you started with simple video creation and commenting. The possibility for analytics feedback is also available, but you will need to upgrade to an institutional or business license which will cost you depending on the type of support and user needs.  “More than 25% of the top Universities in the U.S. use VoiceThread to connect and communicate around digital media” (VoiceThread, 2013). http://voicethread.com/

analytics                          Photo 5: VoiceThread (2013). [Screen Shot].



Bennet, H., (2012). Appstorm: Study More Efficiently with Mental Case.


Bush, L (2009). Viva VoiceThread: Integrating a Web 2.0 Tool in the Additional Language Classroom. In I. Gibson et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2009. (pp. 3247-3250).

Mental Case (2012). Mental Case, The study app [Photo 1,2 & 3]. http://www.mentalcaseapp.com/

The Unoffical Apple Weblog (2013). Mental Case reinvents the flashcard. http://www.tuaw.com/2009/08/15/mental-case-reinvents-the-flash-card

Voice Thread (2013). iTunes preview. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/voicethread/id465159110?mt=8


A White Paper on Whiteboards

8287168078_918d957878_o                                                 Photo 1: Playing with electronic whiteboard


What’s all the hype about interactive whiteboards?

Also known as electronic or smart boards, they are one of those things that you want to check out to see if they are as functional as they claim.  In fact, they have all the interactive capabilities of traditional whiteboards except the interactive component allows learners and educators in face to face (F2F) environments to increase their informative and collaborative reach.

How is it different?

By connecting the whiteboard to a computer via a standard USB portal or wireless support, you can save or export any content created on site or through the use of standard documents like pdfs, jpeg files, Word or Powerpoint.  Edits or annotations can be done instantaneously. Content is further expanded through a web browser connection that allows you to access and share information with your learners live.  In this way, the learners utilize the tool by learning where and how to learn and access the information they need for their own learning and professional needs.


From an educational and professional point of view the collaborative and interactive possibilities are endless. The new touch response models appeal to the kinesthetic as well as visual learners. Professionals will apparently love the large venue presentation formats and transfer tools that are great timesavers for session content (Mott, 2013). The mixing of online content with personal documentation allows you to integrate your own documentation and materials. Whiteboards are Mac, Window, Linus friendly making them one of the most versatile tools for educative and professional purposes. I would definitely utilize one in my ESL and GLT professional practice if not for the single drawback–the investment. I have seen prices listed between 1600 to 6000 US dollars taking a sizeable chunk from any education or training budget. That is the key, convincing the financial keepers of its long term investment professional benefits both in the quality of your educative program and in your learners.

What’s the alternative?

vyew-screenshot-teach                                                                Photo 2: Vyew screenshot reduction

An online whiteboard offers interactive drawing tools, extensive file support, screen capture tool, embedded commenting and videos with built in webcam and Voice-over-IP which is great for up to 6 long distance collaborators at a time. There is also a tool to generate quizzes and polls that can have a wide range of educative and professional applications. The marketing manager of Japan based Nidek believes that having his graphic designer on the viewer list allows him to make changes live as feedback is received (Wood, 2008).


In addition, the collaborative features surpass the physical ones because of extended global reach through video conferencing, sidebar forums, real time desktop and screen sharing, external publishing, tracking and logging your activity. You have the option of a closed forum by directing your private team members through the location noted in the address bar that is specific to each project. There are no automatized deletion features so your projects remain your forever, but best of all, the basic application is free with no downloading requirements. For me this versatility between private and public domain coupled with all the editing and collaborative features constitutes an ideal and affordable alternative that will enhance any academic or business teaching-learning context. It is the obvious choice for my business training and language learners.

So what’s the catch?

You have to put up with a few google ads that are selectively inserted throughout.  If you want to have them removed, then you will pay a small fee. They do have to somehow support the constant updates and changes to keep the application current.  Those upgrades are based on our user feedback which is collaboration put to its optimal effectiveness. Perhaps, this is why they merited the Web Hosting 2012 award for Recommended Web tool for Real time and Visual Collaboration.

“Communicating design revisions between nine different parties quickly becomes a constant barrage of paperwork. Rather than faxing, emailing and mailing documents, they’re uploaded once into Vyew, where invited participants can review and collaborate, all in one place” (Ostapower, 2007).



Glyndot1 (2013). Playing with electronic whiteboard [photo].http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8221/8287168078_a505cb6463_z.jpg

Lowensohn, J. (2007). Live whiteboard collaboration with Scriblink. CNEt. http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-9774928-2.html

Ostapower, S. (2007). [Officer Manager, Cellworks]. Transcript of Vyew success stories.http://vyew.com/site/customers/success-stories/
Wood, F. (2008) [Marketing Manager, Nidek]. Transcript of Vyew success stories.

Mott E., (2013). Demand Media. The Use of Interactive Whiteboards in Business Conferences. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/use-interactive-whiteboards-business-conferences-70476.html

Vyew (2013). Continuous meeting rooms for real time & anytime visual collaboration [Screenshot reduction]. http://vyew.com/s/


Blended Context


If you have managed to stumble on to this blog then, I encourage you to explore a little further… and you may discover a cyber space that is within your comfort zone!  Why? As the author, I confess that:

I am technically challenged and information technology has come at the end of my learning curve!

I am confronting my fears and appealing to educators and professionals, like myself.  By simplifying and sharing the knowledge, we can make sense of this together! We can arm ourselves with the basics in IT tools and trends and may even contribute to the conversation!

This great video clip puts it in perspective: My Blackberry is Not Working! http://youtu.be/kAG39jKi0lI

A note about the photo… It was taken last summer (2013) in the Polare Bookstore, formerly a Cathedral in Maastrict, NL. It is a living functioning example of traditionalism in harmony with modernity… a reflection of the times.