If you follow me on Twitter (or are in touch with me on Facebook) you may have noticed me occasionally sharing something from the EduFutura account such as this tweet back in September.
EduFutura is a non-profit organization which I’ve been a member of for some time now. The EDGE project (Empowering Digital Teachers) which it has been a partner on for the past two years is EduFutura’s first big project and as we’re a small organization, for some of us these project activities have been taking up quite a bit of spare time.
I’ve been meaning to write up a short overview of the project for… well, basically since it started, but if you’re a reader of this blog you won’t be surprised it’s taken me this long to get around to it. Actually, I’m aiming for this to be a very brief post, just to share that one of the two chief results of the project – the Guidelines for Online and Digital Teaching and Learning – is finally available in six (project partner) languages: English, Polish, German, Croatian, Italian and Spanish. The idea is to write up a follow-up post later on, to provide a bit of background on how the guidelines were produced and what else the EDGE team has been up to.
The guidelines aim to answer a series of questions about the digital aspect of teaching and learning, grouped around the following themes:
There are around 30 questions overall and each is covered by about 2 pages of what we hope is practical and accessible text, including links to helpful resources.
We’d love it if you could take a quick look at the table of contents (p. 3-5) and choose a question you find relevant in your context. It would be great to hear your feedback on the answer given in the guidelines!
Also, if you find the document useful, please feel free to tell others about it!
A brief digression: have you noticed how it sounds almost strange to be describing students/courses as ‘online’? It’s like all courses now have some kind of online component and it’s hard to even imagine a time – just four semesters ago! just four course iterations ago! – when teaching a semester-long course online wasn’t exactly routine and it seemed important to note that for context. Or maybe it’s just me?
Anyway, the way my audio files are structured and presented has developed over time into a Tips on what to watch out for chapter in each unit guide (a Moodle book resource). The tips are divided into Things that were done well over the past week or so and Things to watch out for in the current unit. The ‘developed over time’ bit makes it sound as if a whole lot of development has been going on but this setup has in fact been in place pretty much since I started using the H5P course presentation (see the second link above for a more detailed account of how that came about).
One thing that became obvious pretty quickly was that a lot of the recordings in the Things that were done well category needed to be recorded over again each semester, as each group was slightly different in the things they did well and it was tricky to stay neutral in these recordings. What I mean by ‘neutral’ is avoiding any mention of something group-specific. I knew that I should strive for this in theory, if I wanted to be able to reuse the recordings, but in practice it’s surprisingly difficult to speak to a group of students without references to that particular group. Try it and go back to the recording in six months’ time. I guarantee you’ll find phrases that will make you groan. For instance, you’re commenting on forum activity and you hear yourself saying, “I can see that several people have added comments to this thread…”, whereas this semester, with your luck, no one has added anything to that thread.
The Things to watch out for in the current unit files were easier to reuse because they’re basically general advice on what to keep in mind as you complete a particular activity, so aren’t linked to any individual group. An example would be how to approach a glossary activity: if there are any areas students commonly slip up on, what to watch out for with regard to the final exam and so on.
The most time-consuming aspect of working with these files is that you have to listen to them again every six months before you re-record. I guess what you could do is just assume that all the Done well recordings need to be re-recorded and not waste time listening to those from last semester but I always hoped that I could at least use some of them again, possibly dealing with minor differences by adding an explanatory text box as in the screenshot.
Also, those in the Current unit category would sometimes need to be re-recorded as well because there would be changes to the way some activities were set up or some advice was too specific. For instance, only today I realized that advice on pair work included a 2-minute segment on how to make sure exchange students were not left out but this semester we don’t have any exchange students. This segment was somewhere in the middle of the recording, so I used 123 Apps’ trim audio and audio joiner to excise the bit that was no longer relevant.
When I’d first introduced audio files to the course, I was really curious to see what the students thought, so I added this as a possible reflection topic for their learning journals. It was actually student reflections that helped me realize one longer recording might be demanding to stay with and might be more easily processed if broken up into shorter files. Although student perspective was key to this change, I didn’t add audio as a reflection topic for the next two semesters. Then last semester I added this poll.
Just over half the group opted for “I listen to the comments and generally find them useful” and out of the rest only one person chose “I don’t listen to the comments”. The way the poll was designed basically only told me whether students listened to the audio and to some extent if they saw the comments in a positive light. I planned on following this up with a reflection topic but didn’t. The results didn’t seem overly negative, i.e. most students said they listened to the comments, so I probably didn’t see a pressing need to get more feedback, although it would definitely be useful to know more about why some felt the comments didn’t help them.
This semester I introduced another tweak, partly brought about by the fact that since I’d started recording audio comments I was aware of the fact that there was no transcript and that ideally there should beone, both in accordance with accessibility guidelines and also because it’s okay, I think, not to force people to listen at a certain speed (or even twice that speed) if you can offer them the option of glancing at a transcript and picking out the main points. The other reason for the tweak was, as is so often the case, Twitter.
I started using the tool in the tweet with the Done well comments. I realize now that it says this particular tool is aimed at social media use, which I don’t recall being in focus that much back in February. I suppose it may have been and another reason for choosing it may have been the (subconscious) idea that anything to do with social media would appeal to students. Anyway, using it didn’t address the transcript issue because what you do is add captions, which should make it easier to follow what the person is saying but you still can’t process the information the way you would with a transcript available. Also, I have since learned that screen readers can only read transcripts, not captions. This wasn’t an issue for the students I’ve had these past semesters but if you’re making a recording for a larger group of students (on a MOOC, say) it would definitely be important.
An upside I noticed is that recordings made with this tool are definitely shorter, which is great as I tend to ramble the minute I don’t prepare notes on what I want to say. The captions are generated by the software, so that’s done quickly but I still need to clean them up and it’s much quicker and easier if there isn’t much waffle. In fact, compared with the first screenshot above, in which there are three topics in the Done well section, this semester I only had one topic/video per Done well section. I really did plan on checking with the students if they noticed any difference between just audio and these recordings with a visual component, but the end of the semester is here and I don’t seem to have done that. Maybe next semester.
What are your thoughts on audio in courses which are mostly delivered asynchronously online? Do you think you would prefer engaging with the audio as opposed to going through transcripts? What strikes you as the ideal length for audio recordings?
I’m going to digress briefly right at the start because I’ve been meaning to say for a while now that I enjoy and very much recommend this podcast. It’s informative and interesting – I find my mind rarely wanders – and the presenters seem to get on really well, as if they’ve been working together for ages. Which I think they have. So if you aren’t already following them, you should definitely try an episode.
I found myself wishing I could join in and answer the questions, and then it occurred to me I could do it here on the blog. So here we go.
Question 1: Do you feel that your mental health has changed over this past year since we’ve had to move to remote emergency teaching? Do you feel that you’ve noticed any differences in your mental health, your mindset, things like that?
(I should note here that even if the idea was to talk mainly about teaching, the discussion ended up being quite a bit broader, so I’m not straying too far from the topic.)
Yes, my mental health has been affected by the past year but not so much by the pandemic nor by the move to online teaching. Readers of this blog know I don’t teach full time anymore and the teaching I do is all online anyway, in the sense that it was online for years before covid.
The event that has had the biggest impact on me since the pandemic started was the earthquake in Zagreb. And then 9 months later another earthquake pretty close to Zagreb. Prior to these, earthquakes were something you covered in science class and so in theory must be happening somewhere, only this wasn’t where I lived. Then the first one almost knocked me out of bed on a Sunday morning in the middle of the lockdown and there have been very few moments that I haven’t thought about it since.
Actually, last year it took me a lot less time to get back to my regular daily routine, for instance, not going to bed fully clothed or charging my phone obsessively so I was ready in case it happened again. It only took a couple of weeks, possibly because we knew so little about covid at the time and I was more worried about that. And it was easier to convince myself that if it hadn’t happened in the ∗coughs, clears throat∗ decades since I was born, it wasn’t likely to happen again soon.
In December things were different because it did happen again and it had only taken nine months. Like, what the…?! Also, I’d had covid in the meantime and thought I was relatively safe from catching it again in the next six months, so the earthquake could take priority. Getting back to normal has been much more challenging this time around. You can’t tell just by looking at me or talking to me – I hardly ever talk about it because people tell you you’re overreacting. They are willing to be patient with you for the first couple of weeks but then it’s, “You’d better pull yourself together; how old are you – 5?”. And by now everything is fine on the outside: I sleep okay, I can go into the city center with all the old buildings and ride on elevators. But when I cook I can’t wait to be done so I can turn off the gas, I rarely shower if I’m home alone and I think about when the next one is coming all the time. I do think about other things, of course. I couldn’t function otherwise. But every day, many times a day, the thought of the building collapsing around me pops into my head.
I’m guessing it *will* eventually go away but in the meantime it’s been exhausting. I keep thinking how I would give anything to be able to know with certainty that I can relax for a couple of days – just a couple of days during which someone could guarantee that there will be no earthquakes and I could go back to the way life was before, when it was just a topic in science class*.
Question 2: How have you been coping with professional challenges (but could be personal too)? What have you done to cope or pay attention or keep an eye on your wellbeing?
Perhaps I haven’t done as much as I could. For instance, about a month after the December quake, while I was still having trouble sleeping, I decided I would take herbal sleeping pills. I bought them and then, just as I was about to take the first one, I thought, “What if there’s another earthquake and you’re too drowsy to wake up?” So I never opened the packet and it’s still gathering dust in the living room.
I did consciously give myself time to start doing things again. For instance, I slept fully dressed for about a month and I didn’t beat myself up over it; I knew that there would come a day when I would stop doing it and so I did. I experienced phantom earthquakes for a long time and so I kept a glass of water on the desk to be able to tell if the shaking was real.
I realized I felt most anxious and sort of trapped in buildings (as opposed to outdoors) and so one reason I’ve been walking to work so often in the past year is because I’m able to go back to that pre-earthquake state of mind when I’m at ground level. At the same time, I listen to a podcast or an audiobook, so these are the times when I’m practically guaranteed to forget about the quake.
It’s also helped that we have moved back into our old office. I was in another office for a couple of months, including when the December quake struck. In the old office I find I’ve been thinking about it a lot less, although I suppose this is also partly due to time doing its thing. However, I was asleep in my bedroom when the first quake struck and there isn’t much I can do about that – moving to another flat so as to avoid reliving the experience is not an option.
I suppose the reason I think I may not have done as much as I could is because I didn’t seek anyone that I could talk to in a professional capacity. Mostly this was because the prevailing view seems to be that anything other than shaking it off and getting on with your life would be beyond childish and, well, peer pressure works on me.
After these opening questions, the podcast episode went on to discuss the article, which as you noticed from the title is about dealing with covid & online teaching and not earthquakes, so this seems like a good place to wrap up this post.
I did want to briefly note one more thing: the article described coping strategies that teachers adopted to deal with the stress they were experiencing due to the transition to remote teaching, and it’s my impression that these coping strategies could be adopted in many stressful situations, including the one I’ve been describing. The article lists 14 coping strategies and they’re divided into two categories: approach and avoidant.
I was pleased to see that the strategies I unintentionally seem to be using are of the approach category: acceptance and to an extent active coping. The emotional support and instrumental support strategies also seem to be useful – maybe it’s simply by writing this post that I’m using the emotional support strategy. Using the instrumental support one would be, for instance, asking you to tell me in the comments if you have any advice. 🙂 Thanks for reading!
*I actually did go on holiday after writing up most of this post and noticed that I felt much better, i.e. dwelled a lot less on earthquakes, probably because I was in an entirely different setting which I don’t associate with moving buildings.