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!

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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?

On the road with AMORES

A couple of months ago I wrote here about a project I’m currently involved in, called AMORES. It’s an EU-funded project aimed at developing a love for literature in children, specifically through e-artefact creation and collaboration. You can find out more about the project on the website, including info on the partners, our results so far, and the news items charting our progress. There’s also a Facebook page, and we share project news on Twitter using the hashtag #amoresproject. There. Let it not be said that I do not take dissemination seriously. 🙂

Like in the first post, I thought I would tell you more about the project goings-on from the viewpoint of a researcher. Which is what my job title officially is. At times that’s what it feels like too, but I have also dabbled in community management, tech support provision and the occasional administrative task. Despite the convenience of being able to contribute to the project online, I have found that I tend to get most work done when I go into the office while I’m in Zagreb. This is also probably due to fewer distractions: I’m in the office either during exam time or before the academic year gets under way in early October.

Since I last blogged about AMORES, the central part of the project has begun – the pilot implementation stage. Earlier on in the school year teachers in the five partner schools and their students developed a number of e-artefacts based on different literary works they were covering in language and/or literature classes. These have included comic strips, videos, digital cookery books and more. The next step, which is currently in progress, involves the schools sharing their creations with students from another country during a videoconference, introducing them to their national literature in the process. There is a very good account of how this works in practice here, written by Magdalena Gałaj, a teacher of English from Poland.

September

Rewind to last fall. The summer was understandably rather quiet on the AMORES front; things only started moving again around the time school began. I’ve decided that while I still prefer teaching to sitting behind a desk, there are certain advantages to office work. You come in at a normal hour as opposed to 7:30 for in-company classes. You don’t need to be all bright and perky, trying to prod your students into action, and you don’t necessarily need to make much of an effort with your appearance. (It’s not like I come in wearing pyjamas, but my colleagues’ attention is on their computers, not me.) Oh, and you leave at a time when the English teacher would normally be coming to work in the afternoon.

Anyway, I was going to talk about the project. I’d started working more on dissemination over the summer – in particular, coming up with items to post on the Facebook page. Whenever there was something remotely newsworthy going on, we would post that, but in the meantime I decided to follow the advice of a former student of mine, a public relations major, who pointed out the importance of drawing up a media plan. Applying this to our social media context, I figured we’d better start serving something up on a fairly regular basis. I got the idea of using Scoop.it from this post by Sandra Rogers, and found some excellent content that way – great articles on books, reading, digital storytelling, libraries, etc. We also had an impromptu photo session in the office to mark International Literacy Day, and compiled the AMORES answer to the book challenge.

How can you tell I really got into this community management stuff? 🙂 The only slightly worrying aspect is that we still only have fewer than 150 fans, so there’s the somewhat pertinent question of how much disseminating is actually going on. Oh well. Obviously, all this will stand me in good stead one fine day when I become admin of a page called Daily Dose of Cat Cuteness.

At the same time we were also finishing off the deliverables that were part of work packages (WPs) 1 and 2 – they mostly needed polishing and in some cases a bit of revision. They’ve since all been published here – I personally think it’s a bit frustrating that you have to register to download them, but can see the need for download stats when we submit our report to the EACEA.

The second part of September saw teachers in the project starting to hold workshops for parents, explaining the nature of the project and how their children were going to be involved throughout the school year. The steering group had their second meeting, this time in Denmark. And a rather unexpected thing happened in early October, just before I left – at a dissemination event I got to shake hands with the Croatian President. I hasten to add that this was a complete accident; I was there to hang out with one of the partners on the project, and the President was having an incredibly busy time of it last fall, attempting to shake hands with the entire population of the country since he was up for re-election in January. In case you’re wondering – no, it didn’t work.

February

I continued to do some work online in the following months, but AMORES came back into focus for me when I arrived in Zagreb for exams. Things were hectic. WP3 was at the stage when videoconferences would need to start being organized, and it transpired that the teachers would need quite a bit of support. Perhaps even more than the videoconferences it was Edmodo that presented a problem, as most of the teachers were unused to it and the idea was to use it as a secure platform for sharing e-artefacts between schools. The week I arrived we discovered our budget amendment had been approved, and we were cleared to go ahead with planning two more trips – an additional UK workshop for teachers and a steering group meeting in Sweden – as well as school visits between partner schools. Most of these would take place before the summer. I was given the task of scheduling some of these trips and found Doodle a very useful tool in that regard. Since I was using it for scheduling meetings outside the project as well, at one point it felt a bit like Doodle was my most regular email correspondent.

March

Once exams were over and summer semester classes had begun I headed back to Belgium. However, this time there was something project-related I was definitely looking forward to – the UK workshop, which I was going to! It was decided that I should, as part of what I do is support teachers, and I thought it was only fitting that I would finally meet them all in person and show them that I am not just about nagging people to fill in Doodle polls and assorted documentation. Which, I am afraid, is the impression some of them may have gotten from my emails. 😛

The workshop once again took place in Stoke-on-Trent. In addition to getting to do a bit of sightseeing around Birmingham, a Robbie Williams tour in Stoke (a first for the amused cab driver), and a generally busy and interesting social schedule, the workshop was highly useful and productive. The teachers had many questions and suggestions regarding practical issues, such as the use of Edmodo, and there was plenty of opportunity to share ideas and plan practicalities; for example, schedule future videoconferences. WP1 and 2 leaders also presented their findings on the reading habits of students in the project, and these will be used to measure whether student attitudes to reading have changed as a result of having taken part in AMORES, i.e. whether a love of reading has developed, so to speak, and to what extent.

AMORES workshop in Stoke-on-Trent - all pics by Magdalena Gałaj
AMORES workshop in Stoke-on-Trent – all pics by Magdalena Gałaj

Before I wrap up this post, I should probably stress that this is only a glimpse of what working on AMORES is like, and brings only one role into sharper focus. It is, in fact, a pretty massive undertaking and there are many people working hard to bring it to a successful end. Some of them have also blogged about it – see, for instance, this post by Dr Mark Childs and this one by Dr Geoff Walton; also this one by Janet Hetherington. The project is scheduled to go on until November, so watch this space. If there’s any aspect you’d like to hear more about, please let us know in the comments!