Leveling up

Stefanie L: cat watching tv (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about H5P and how excited I was to discover this new resource I could make use of in Moodle. In that post I described the process of setting up a drag & drop activity and adding it to my online course. I was sure I wanted to try out a number of other content types – which is what the 40 odd H5P activities are officially called – but I wanted there to be a reason for adding them, apart from novelty and the thrill of experimentation.

There are a few screencasts in the course, which I thought I could use the interactive video content type with. A little bit of background on the screencasts: they started out as presentations I used when I taught the same course offline. Yes, they were PowerPoint, but I didn’t think that was enough to ditch them, especially as they were brief and had been designed to get the students to interact with the content. The first time I moved them online I used Present.me, which I’m not sure even exists anymore. About three years ago I re-recorded them, uploaded them to YouTube and added subtitles: a far more user-friendly experience overall.

There aren’t many – six in a four-month course – partly because they’re pretty time-consuming to make for someone who doesn’t do this on a regular basis and partly because I don’t think a writing skills course actually requires many. The longest screencast is just under ten minutes, if you don’t count the one in the revision unit, where I chat about what students can expect at the exam (a little under 15 minutes). That one is unscripted and those are likely to be longer anyway.

Eventually I settled on the longest screencast – the ten-minute one – to experiment with. As with the drag & drop, I first added the H5P interactive content activity to the course and selected the content type: this time around it was interactive video. You can either upload a video directly (in which case I think there’s a size restriction) or add a link to YT, which was the route I took. One aspect I was immediately unhappy about was the disappearance of subtitles; apart from the fact that they’re important to ensure accessibility, I think they can be helpful even for pretty advanced students. I got around this (sort of) by embedding the YT video directly below the interactive one and recommending the students first try the interactive version, then watch the one with the subtitles if they felt they needed them.

The screencasts are based on short sets of slides that are often meant to be presented in the following way: I do a bit of talking, the students work in pairs to answer a question or discuss it as a group, and then we check their ideas on the next slide. Because of this, in the recordings I would often ask the students to pause the video and try to answer a question I’d asked – one that they would address in pairs or groups in class. I’d suggest they make a note of their responses somehow, so they could compare them with what came next in the screencast. These were great natural places to add questions to the video and I took advantage of them.

The interactive video content type lets you add a range of different question/interaction types, (MCQs, T/F, drag the word – which can be used for gapfills – matching, and more). I was able to add a link to external content as well, and at the end I wrote up a brief summary of what the video was about and made it into a gapfill activity. I rather liked the option of having the students choose the best summary out of three possible ones – I gather this is a separate question type – but it seemed like it might take a while to set up and I didn’t have much time.

Another advantage of these H5P activities is that you can view the results of the interactions in the Moodle gradebook and see how well the students did on average, as well as if there’s anyone who seems to need a little extra help. Of course, what you can’t see is whether those who did well maybe did a bit of research before answering the questions or if they simply knew the answers from before, nor can you see if those who did less well rushed a little/took a random stab at the answers or if they didn’t really understand/follow the explanations in the video. I did add a question about this to the list of questions the students might want to address in their learning journals, so we’ll see if any interesting insights emerge.

How do you feel about interactive videos: have you used them with your students? Are there any effective tools you would recommend for this besides H5P? I recently came across an article which recommended Edpuzzle, but I’m sure there are others. Thanks for reading!

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Collect them all!

Greg van Brug: badges (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I’ve been wanting to add badges to my course for a couple of years now, but somehow this always got relegated to those optional activities I’d maybe introduce next year. To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical for quite a while if university students would even want to be awarded badges; I guess I thought they might consider them too frivolous. I think I even had a vision of students chatting about the course over coffee, “Did you get one of those badges? Like she seriously thinks we’d care about something like that?!” I’m guessing I may have been too optimistic in thinking student chats over coffee ever involve the course. 😛

Some time ago I came across this post by Maria Theologidou and decided I would definitely try to introduce badges, then last year I saw them used to good effect in the project I was involved in at work. I thought I’d write up a brief post on which badges I eventually settled on this semester and how I planned to have them awarded, as this turned out to be a little more complicated than I’d initially assumed. At this point I still have no feedback one way or another on how the students feel about them, so this remains something to investigate in more detail towards the end of the semester.

I think it could be quite easy to get carried away with the visual appeal of badges and you suddenly find yourself creating a whole raft of them, thinking you’ll find a way to work them into the course. For experimental purposes I thought three would be more than enough, so that’s how many I actually ended up with, although there’s one more I’m toying with and think I’ll probably add.

  1. The extra mile badge – this is for students who’ve taken part in an optional discussion, which requires them to do some extra reading as well. The discussion is quite early on in the course, so the idea is for the badge to provide some extra encouragement. I award this one manually, although now I think about it, I could specify in the settings that it gets awarded on completion of that activity, since everyone who took part in the discussion got the badge. In case you’re wondering, that’s five students out of this semester’s group of thirteen, which, on reflection, is a number I’m pretty pleased with in an optional activity.
  2. The halfway there badge – this is for students who’ve completed all the compulsory activities in the first half of the course more or less on time. We’re actually halfway through the course now and I’m planning to award these in the next couple of days. Initially, I specified in the settings that this badge would be awarded on completion of a bunch of activities by a certain date (more than one date), but this turned out rather less straightforward than I envisioned it. It looks really easy; all you need to do is tick the activities and set the dates, but some activities require the students to mark the completion themselves – if they don’t, the system doesn’t recognize they completed it – and, more importantly, it suddenly hit me it might not be completely fair to extend the same treatment to a student who was a day late with one or two activities and one who only logged on to the course twice in two months. Neither would get the badge if the criteria were set up this way, so I got rid of the dates in the settings. I’m still going to be requiring that the activities be completed but will be relatively flexible regarding the dates and will be awarding the badge manually so I can check if the students have completed those activities they don’t automatically get ticks on. Ultimately, I’d like the badges to be motivating and the criteria probably shouldn’t be too restrictive.
  3. The exam candidate badge – this is for students who’ve completed everything they needed to in order to qualify for the exam. I haven’t designed this one yet, but I still have time as I won’t be needing it before January. At this juncture I think I’ll set up the award criteria in the same way as for badge no. 2.
  4. The online star badge – this is the one I’m not sure about yet, including the name. I thought it could be for those students who’ve done excellent work throughout the semester, maybe demonstrated great patterns of online interaction or put in consistent effort with their learning journal, or something like that. I’m still trying to decide. I’ll definitely be awarding that one manually and I don’t think dates will figure in any important sense.

I’m sure there are lots of options available for designing badges but I’ve used Canva for these, mostly because I’m familiar with it by now. I should probably add that I had to find a workaround for the fact that you can’t download an image with a transparent background in the free version of Canva, which is a problem because you’re downloading a square image and the badges are round. I used LunaPic to switch to a transparent background and then added them to Moodle.

If you teach online, have you used badges? Have you won any for taking part in a course yourself? How motivating do you think they are/could be? Thanks for reading!

There’s something about H5P

Jessica Wilson: pick up a moo memory game! (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This is going to be a brief post on something I’m trying out for the first time in my online course. Back when I started designing it, I used to get so excited about all the different apps and activity types I was experimenting with but the novelty gradually wore off and now it’s been a couple of semesters (I think) since I’ve actually tried out something new. Partly this was because I’d figured out how a lot of the online tools I needed worked – for instance, if you’ve invested some time in getting the hang of a particular screencasting tool and you’re reasonably happy with it, you’re likely to stick with it. Or I am, anyway. The other reason was that the course had been pretty thoroughly thought through in terms of the weekly workload and what the purpose of each activity is, so there wasn’t really any pressing need to add to it. I did say last year that the course could use a facelift, but that refers primarily to the visuals.

A couple of months ago, I first heard that some of the people I was working with were very enthusiastic about something called H5P. It took me a while to work out what the name actually was, before I saw it written down (though this may have been due to the way it’s pronounced in Croatian). Their website says, among other things:

H5P makes it easy to create, share and reuse HTML5 content and applications… H5P enables existing CMSs and LMSs to create richer content. With H5P, authors may create and edit interactive videos, presentations, games, advertisements and more.

I had the opportunity to see an online course which made use of interactive videos and a neat little content type called memory game, which works like the children’s picture pairing activity. A definite advantage for those of us who use Moodle is that H5P is already offered as an activity type, so all you need to do is choose to add it, like you would a forum, say, and set it up.

Some months passed and I kept hearing good things about H5P, then a couple of weeks ago I needed to try it out at work and felt the kind of excitement – the “students are gonna love this” kind – familiar from when I was still working on putting the course together.

It was convenient that there’s a unit where I always felt a little like something was missing – an activity I do when covering this topic in class, but in the online version I’d relied on the students doing the necessary reading on their own, outside the course, which I wasn’t entirely happy with. It felt like a loose end. So I used the H5P drag & drop content type to recreate the in-class activity (the students need to match category titles to groups of linking words).

I first needed to create the background image, which I did in Canva. I chose different color backgrounds for the boxes representing each category – I picked three colors for nine boxes as the idea was simply to make the boxes easily distinguishable, not blind anyone – and added the groups of words to each box, making sure the font was sans serif and thus easier to read. I was worried initially that the whole thing might look too crowded, but it looked fine. I saved it offline.

Then I added it as the background image to the drag & drop activity. I wanted it to appear as a page in a book, so I chose the “available but not shown on course page” option in the settings. The reason I wanted it in the book was so the students would come across it in the order I wanted them to, and it might be confusing if it appeared in two places (as it would have if I hadn’t chosen the option in the previous sentence). I don’t know if this – I want them to do things in a certain order – makes me appear a bit of a control freak. I think maybe people have this idea that you can do things in any order you want online; maybe it’s because of MOOCs where everything is available all the time. I figure my course is no different than a face-to-face class, where I plan the lesson and the order in which we do things.

Finally, I defined the drop zones on the background image – the boxes in different colors – and added the text boxes (draggable elements) with the category titles. Because the background image already had quite a bit of text, I didn’t want there to be potential for confusion between the groups of linking words and the category titles, so after a bit of experimenting I settled on red letters for the titles (the rest of the text is black). It probably isn’t the most elegant of solutions, but graphic design is really not not really my thing.

And that was that. It’s a bit more fiddly if you have many drop zones but not complicated. This is in a unit that the students can’t access yet, so it’ll be a few days before they see it. I hope it proves helpful.

Have you used any of the H5P content types, especially for language learning? I’m planning to see if I can add some interactivity to the couple of videos I have in later units, but there are lots of other content types that seem worth looking into.