Categories
Edtech Thoughts and reflections

Milestone

I’m going to start off by quoting myself. This is what I once said in a comment on one of Ljiljana’s lovely posts:

I don’t think it’s likely I’ll feel comfortable calling myself a blogger until I’ve written about 50 posts.

This was in January 2015. Yes, over four years ago. Which won’t be a surprise if you’ve read any of my posts, as they usually start with something along the lines of: This post has only been waiting for me to get around to writing it for two years…

You guys! The day has finally arrived! This is … drum roll … post no. 50!

I still don’t see myself a blogger – maybe that’ll happen after 100 posts and if the first 50 are anything to go by, I think this may just happen before I retire 😛 –  but I *am* really glad I stuck with it. 

Anyway, this is simply to say that I’ve reached a milestone of sorts and I thought I’d do something different to mark the occasion. Because many of my posts have been about something digital, I figured I might as well try out something new and decided an infographic would fit the bill nicely. I haven’t done many of those and I’ve never tried out Piktochart, which I’ve heard good things about. (Adding this sentence before I hit publish: you can add links to the infographic, but they won’t be active if you’re on the free WP plan because you can’t embed content. I had to upload the png file, so you can’t click through to the two posts included in the image. But you can click through to the interactive version of the infographic if you want to give the AMORES post a bit more love.)

What do you think? Do you need to have written a certain number of posts before you qualify as a blogger? Does it matter at all? 

Thanks for reading!

Categories
Thoughts and reflections

Looking back on 2018

I love year-in-review posts. They’re often a tad more personal than the usual ELT blog post in that they touch on areas of life outside of the classroom, which I always enjoy reading about. I’ve been following some folks’ blogs long enough to feel as if I know them in real life, so it’s great to read about their successes and challenges, and how they overcame/are dealing with the latter. Year-in-review posts can also be a useful reminder of things people have previously shared on their blogs or social media, but with the flood of news out there it’s often easy to overlook/forget bits of pertinent information.   

The idea for this post came from Sandy Millin’s blog, where you can also read which other posts inspired hers. I’ve adapted it a bit because a) it’s not December anymore, b) if I wrote about 31 points this would be completed in June, and c) I have nothing to say for some of the prompts, so I left them out.   

Your favorite activity from 2018

I haven’t taught offline much for quite a while now, so I’m going to go with an online activity which isn’t from 2018 but remains one of my favorites: the anonymous peer review. I wrote about how it’s set up in my course and which tweaks have been added over time in this post.

Most memorable story from 2018

This would have to be my visit to Athens in the spring. I hadn’t been to Greece before and it was great to have the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks there. One thing I’ll definitely remember the visit by is meeting one of my PLN in person – thanks for everything, Christina! Proof that the ELT world is indeed a small one is that in the brief time while I was in Athens the sixth BELTA Day took place and Christina was a presenter, so I was able to reminisce about the lovely BELTA people and previous BELTA Days without – hopefully – sounding too nostalgic.

the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a teacher

This isn’t classroom related but I’ve been adjuncting at the University of Zagreb since 2008, and a couple of years into this I was expected to qualify for the title of lecturer, which is the educational title lowest on the scale in the Croatian tertiary education system. Once you qualify, you hold this position for five years, after which you can go for re-election or try to move a step up the ladder. Last year I qualified for senior lecturer, which sounds grander than it is (especially if you’re still adjuncting – I expect I could soon be setting some kind of record), but was a bit of a proud moment nevertheless.

A new idea you implemented in 2018

The idea isn’t new but I finally got around to trying out badges. I’m still planning to create two more – for which I’ve more or less defined the criteria – by the end of the semester.

Your favorite teaching aid in 2018

A reliable board marker that doesn’t die on me halfway through the class.

The moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

There was definitely more than a single moment/student, but one that readily comes to mind is when a wonderful, very motivated and hardworking student – who recently graduated (or is almost there) – got a job at a place that inspires job satisfaction and looks good on their CV.

Your favorite teaching website in 2018

I don’t really have one. My favorite resource for everything teaching related is Twitter and I follow up on interesting info I come across by clicking through to whatever resources the person tweeting has linked to. These are, however, far more often blogs than websites like Edutopia or Teaching English. A quick look at some of my recent retweets suggests that I may have visited the EdSurge HigherEd website pretty often and I think this is explained by the fact that they cover topics of relevance both to my non-teaching (but still in the education sector) job and tertiary ed topics.

The person who inspired you in 2018

Some of my coworkers. I won’t single anyone out just in case someone from work ever reads this, primarily because many people there have been inspirational in a number of small (and not-so-small) ways and I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

Your greatest challenge in 2018

Overcoming impostor syndrome. Changing professions/working environments after such a long time did leave me with nagging doubts as to whether I was doing a good job, even if objectively I knew I was coping at least satisfactorily. Before I always used to be the one who had been doing that job forever when a new coworker came along and it was a challenge to be on the other side.  

Your strongest point as a teacher

Modesty dictates I say my students should be asked about this. But now I think about it, this really is a tough question. I’ve been teaching for 20 years so there are probably few things I’m hopeless at (apart from teaching YLs and teens, which I’ve never done). I hope I’m good at making students feel confident about their language skills. Let’s put it this way: I would be happy if that was how students felt.    

Your favorite teaching application in 2018

Definitely H5P, which I’ve written about here and here. I’m planning to try out more of their content types this year.  

The best CPD book you read in 2018

Readers of this blog know I occasionally do translations, so I think I’m justified in choosing this as a CPD book: Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos.

Your greatest frustration in 2018

Probably the fact that I wasn’t sure if my non-teaching contract was going to be extended, as a result of which I thought it would be prudent to hang on to any work I’d been doing previously. This included proofreading/language-editing/translation work and online teaching, so I worked almost every evening and weekend for the first half of the year. Luckily, the contract was eventually extended.

One thing you want non-teachers to understand

That it’s normal for teachers to be on the lookout for things that will make their job easier. People in other professions do this too. It’s great that there are teachers who enjoy being immersed in PD opportunities 24/7 and who will always take the more challenging route, but that works for them and shouldn’t be seen as the norm every teacher should necessarily aspire to.

Your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

This has got to be the workshop on academic writing I delivered for my coworkers. I asked for my PLN for ideas and input in this post and would like to thank everyone once again: I thought the workshop turned out pretty well. There was some talk at the time that we might have more frequent sessions for those interested, and not only on academic writing but other aspects of language, but that hasn’t yet come to pass, primarily because I haven’t done anything about it. I didn’t want to commit to something I might not have the time and energy to do properly.

your personal success in 2018

I’m not sure if the “personal” is meant to stress that I see this as a success only I contributed to/brought about (as opposed to being part of a team), but I’m going to interpret it as also referring to team successes. I wrote about being involved in AMORES project here and here. The project ended three years ago but in 2018 articles describing project results were published in two books. It’s great to see the project living on!

One thing you plan to change in 2019

If I were the least bit confident that there was a chance of this actually happening, I’d say I’d do more exercise. 

Your greatest discovery in 2018

I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but you know the timer app on your phone? Oh, okay, I know, Google Keep. ILovePDF? Nope, nothing revolutionary.

Thank you for reading! I hope it’s not too late to wish you a great year ahead and please let me know if you’ve done a year-in-review post – I’d love to read it!

Categories
Project work

What can a teacher learn from transcribing interviews?

headphones
Photo “headphones” taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mzn37/ by Michael Newman, used under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

It’s that time of year again. I’m back in the office, working on #amoresproject. This post is only tangentially related to the project so this is not going to be an update – if you’re new to my blog or missed my earlier posts on the topic, you might want to have a look here and here.

I have previously said – well, I can’t remember if I’ve said it in that many words on the blog, but certainly plenty of times in other contexts – that it’s been really interesting working on the project in a non-teaching role. I enjoy teaching, but it’s generally familiar ground. It was great to have the opportunity to work in a different environment and deal with tasks a teacher does not normally do in the course of a day. Not just because it was novel, but also because I now feel more confident that I would still be employable if, at some point, teaching, for whatever reason, was no longer an option.

For instance, something I recently did was transcribe interviews. I don’t know that this particular skill will contribute significantly to my employability; however, I was surprised to discover that there are agencies out there that offer this as a billable service. At roughly $1-4 per audio minute, depending on how quickly you need the finished product and the level of accuracy you’re happy with.

These were interviews with teachers on the project – we needed to find out how they felt about a number of aspects of the pilot now that it’s over. The first one was with the Croatian teachers: we thought it would make more sense to interview them in Croatian, as they’re not teachers of English, and thus might find it easier to express themselves and feel more comfortable in their mother tongue, particularly as the interview was recorded. The plan was that my boss would do the interview and share the audio files with me, and I would translate them so that they could be used in the pilot evaluation.

As this was a first for me – translating audio (into writing) – I’m not even sure this qualifies as transcription. I tweeted this as I was working so if you know a more accurate term, please let me know in the comments.

The recording was about 35 minutes long and seemed easy enough to follow content-wise, so I translated directly; I listened to the original in Croatian and typed out the English translation. The second interview was with the UK teachers and that, obviously, was transcribing. The audio was roughly the same length, maybe 5 minutes longer, and I should point out that another researcher met with the teachers in person, so I wasn’t present at that interview either.

I was fascinated by the differences between the two resulting texts. Despite the similar length, the Croatian document was just 7 pages long compared to the UK one at 15. I thought I would describe some of my observations about working on both interviews, and recommend a pretty useful tool at the end.

The Croatian interview

  • The first thing I noted was the length of turn-taking: the interviewer asked a question and one of the teachers would answer in some detail, speaking generally for around a minute. Okay, perhaps this didn’t stand out quite so much until I transcribed the UK interview, about which more below. Just to illustrate what I mean though, the Croatian interviewer had 24 turns, while the UK one had 85!
  • What did stand out from the start was that none of the interlocutors spoke across each other. I remember thinking that they were almost too polite in terms of waiting for the other speakers to complete their sentences, at least compared with a typical (not overly formal) conversation. I suppose this could have been out of consideration for the translator, but it’s a little difficult to keep up as the conversation goes on just for that reason, I think.
  • There’s this thing you’re taught as a first grader in Croatia – answer in full sentences. “What do you think was the most important part of the book?” “The most important part of the book was…” – takes me back to elementary school. 🙂 I got the impression it was sometimes used in the interview to buy the interlocutor some time and allow them to organize their thoughts.
  • Because I was translating and wanted to convey the message in the source language as accurately as possible, I wasn’t sure initially if I should ignore fillers like “um”. There were, however, relatively few ums, and as they didn’t add anything to the meaning I eventually decided against including them in the translation. Other words/phrases that did seem to serve the purpose of fillers were “also”, “in a way” and “certain” (as in “certain level”, “certain content”) – i.e. their Croatian equivalents, and I included those in the text.
  • It was easy to follow the speakers; they enunciated clearly and apart from one short segment that was inaudible because it hadn’t recorded properly I was able to hear and understand everything that was said in the interview. The audio was broken up into 20 short files and thus easy to manipulate.

The UK interview

  • The length of turn-taking was noticeably shorter. The interlocutors rarely spoke for a minute; there were some longer turns, but generally this was much more like a real conversation with people cutting across each other and speaking at the same time – even though the interviewer said they should try and avoid that at the very beginning. The UK teachers had 76 and 84 turns, while the Croatian ones had 19 and 20.
  • I noticed the fillers a lot more. Maybe I should have been more selective about including them in the text because, again, not all added significantly to the meaning, but since I was transcribing and didn’t have to process the content as much as when I was translating, I found it easier to just type what I heard. Those that seem to have been used frequently are “um”, “okay”, “yeah”, “you know” and “obviously”.
  • The interlocutors spoke in short bursts, compared to the first interview. By this I mean that they tended to utter a segment and then pause, which meant ellipsis featured quite heavily in the text.
  • The teachers occasionally asked each other questions, unlike in the first interview where only a couple of references to what their colleague had said a little while previously indicated that the two teachers had actually been interviewed together.
  • It was at times quite difficult to follow the speakers. A spot of googling revealed that when transcribing you will either not hear fragments (or longer utterances), which you should indicate in the text as “inaudible” or you won’t be able to make out exactly what you’ve heard, which you should indicate as “unintelligible”. It’s apparently also good practice to note down approximately how many words you missed out. There were several times when I very reluctantly put down [unintelligible 2-3 words] because either the speakers trailed off or ran their words together to the extent I couldn’t decipher what they were saying even when I slowed the recording down. I say very reluctantly not because I think those fragments added something significant to the meaning, but because of this nagging feeling – hard to shake off – that someone will say it was unintelligible to me because I’m not a native speaker. Although rationally, of course, people obviously have better things to do with their time.

One final thing – the useful tool I mentioned. I was about 10 minutes into the UK transcription – that would be 10 minutes of audio and 2 hours of typing – when I came across this page, containing tips on transcribing interviews. Some helpful soul had shared it on Twitter. I was suddenly dizzy with the discovery of machine transcription! OMG! I could sit back and let YouTube do the work for me. To cut a long story short – and uploading a 40-minute audio file to YouTube as a video takes a surprisingly long time – YouTube could not even attempt a transcription of the interview. Possible reasons are that the sound is too low, speech too indistinct, or the recording is simply too long.

I tried out this service as well; I’m not sure if it’s available to everyone, but it was free of charge once I registered. I received the transcription in a few hours, but it was unfortunately inaccurate to the point of being pretty much useless.

Finally, I signed up for a free trial of Transcribe, and was absolutely thrilled with the results. After my unsuccessful forays into machine transcription territory their claim that “automatic audio to text conversion is largely science fiction” sounded like they might really know what they were talking about. Anyway, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You upload the audio, so, obviously, it works with any language, and being able to manipulate the audio and type on the same page is already a huge time-saver. In addition, you can slow down or speed up the recording, activate a loop which basically allows you to keep typing instead of wasting time replaying the audio manually, move back and forth in tiny increments… I love it!

Have you ever had to transcribe audio? Was it in one or more languages and did you notice any differences? Any tips for effective transcribing?