Edtech Moodle Tertiary teaching

Three tweaks

Sarah Horrigan: Listen (CC BY-NC 2.0)

That’s tweaks as in non-earth-shattering changes I’ve introduced to the course this semester. In case you were wondering if I was still teaching, yes, the online writing skills course is still going strong, despite the reservations I’ve been having about teaching it for the seventh (gulp) year in this format. I toyed with the idea of giving up tertiary teaching completely and finding a course at a language school. Then I thought I might give up the writing skills course and take up the presenting skills one again (for graduate students) – I’d really enjoyed teaching it a couple of years ago. Eventually, inertia did its thing (plus a busy schedule which means I’d find it really hard to teach F2F regularly for a sustained period of time plus the fact that I’m actually very fond of teaching online)… and here we are.

Tweak 1

Normally, I hand out the course guidelines at the beginning of each semester and we go through them in the (introductory) campus sessions. This is a document in which you’d bury the instructions for the students to send you a picture of an alligator. Dinosaur? Wait a sec. Yup, dinosaur. I don’t call it a syllabus because that’s what I call another document where we have the breakdown of topics which are going to be covered in the course. The guidelines are about things like deadlines, grading, referencing, tips on how to manage the online component, etc. Reasoning that time spent discussing the course guidelines is essentially wasted because they have nothing to do with writing skills, I used to set the pace for going through them point by point and clarifying anything I thought needed clarification.

This time around I asked the students to read through them (in one of the F2F sessions) and to come up with 1-2 questions they wanted me to answer. I thought this went really well. I’d initially said everyone *had* to come up with at least one question, figuring that if questions were optional, I’d be lucky to end up with 2 in total. In the end, more than half the students didn’t have a question (or someone had already asked the same one) but some people had more than one, so a very useful discussion developed. I thought the way we did it this semester was possibly more useful to the students. Following up on this, I asked the students to note down their questions and am going to add a FAQ section to the online version of the guidelines. 

Tweak 2

I’ve written previously about our use of Mahara for the students’ learning journals. The way this is set up is that the students join a closed group (a new one every semester) and create their own pages which they share with the group. Each student’s journal is then accessed by clicking on their page. 

What I used to do before was share my own page with the group, which was meant to show students if they were on the right track as regards the page setup. On this page I would have a sample journal entry – in the early iterations of the course I tried to add reflections regularly but was unable to keep this up – the slides on reflective writing which I also wrote about at one point and often other resources (linked to writing skills). The idea was partly to demonstrate what a portfolio page could be used for apart from sharing a learning journal. I suppose this would be sort of useful if there was a reason for students to check my page out regularly, but as mine was the only one which wasn’t updated past the sample journal entry there was really no reason for students to visit it later on in the course.

This time I didn’t share my page with the group, but added my resources directly to the group homepage. I figured it would make the environment look more friendly and accessible (and useful) because everyone would be able to see the resources right away. Besides, this will be more effective at pushing me to share new resources, even if I haven’t figured out how often I’ll be doing this yet. I really like online learning environments where additional links are available for people to explore in their own time. 

Tweak 3

This is the one I’m looking forward to most, although I haven’t done anything about it yet. Like a lot of ideas that come to me as I scroll through my Twitter feed, this was also triggered by others’ ideas. Here I remember seeing two courses in which audio recordings obviously featured – I can’t remember how exactly but I got the impression that these were recordings of the tutors speaking. One was the TBLT course by SLB Coop and the other a course shared by Andrew Porterfield (I think it was part of a project). I thought they’d made use of the H5P content type called audio recorder. Then Sandra A. Rogers shared one of her courses in which she had a video welcoming students to the course. These bits of info came together like jigsaw pieces in that they made me realize I wasn’t talking to the students as much as I could/should be. So I decided I’d be adding an audio recording (these take less time to prepare than videos) to each unit. I’m still not entirely sure what they’ll be about or even if they’ll be about the same thing each time. Right now, I’m thinking I’ll focus on aspects people have found tricky and maybe point out what they should focus on as they prepare for the exam; it seems to me it wouldn’t hurt to start addressing potential pitfalls early on. Much as I’d like to be able to ignore the exam completely, this isn’t an option. Another thing that I’d like to speak about in the recordings is what the students are doing well and draw attention to examples of good practice.

So, that’s it. Nothing major but still, changes for the better, I think. If you were taking a writing skills course, what kind of resources would you like/expect to explore (the optional kind)? What would you address in the audio recordings? Would you even do them or do you think video is better?  

Thank you for reading!

Edtech Moodle

Correct me if I’m wrong II

painteverything: listen (CC BY 2.0)

Some weeks ago I wrote about correction and feedback on student work in Moodle. There are three longer pieces of writing over the semester that I look at in detail and in that post I described what I do with the first piece of writing: use track changes for (what would conventionally be seen as) errors and comment bubbles for more general observations, suggestions and recommendations. And praise, although I should probably add more of that. In my comment bank there’s a category titled “Good stuff”, which only has (gulp) 3 points. In the interest of full disclosure, I have 10 categories in total and 4 of these have 3 points or fewer.

I’ve recently corrected the second longer piece of writing and wanted to describe how this differs from the first. I got the idea for this from Clare Maas’ talk on multimodal learner-driven feedback, which she writes about in this post. I definitely recommend watching the talk as well; I thought it was embedded in the post and Google suggests it’s available on the LTSIG website, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to access it in order to include a link here.

In our face-to-face sessions we usually have a brief discussion on what the students consider important in a piece of writing, what they think they already do well and which areas they feel they would like to improve in. As they work on their second longer piece – which is usually no longer than 500 words – they have the option of looking back at the F2F activity and choosing an area (or areas) they would like more detailed feedback on.

Once they’ve handed it in, I use the same procedure as with the first submission (track changes and comment bubbles) but those students who’ve requested feedback on a specific area also receive an audio recording, in which I address these more specific issues – hence multimodal.

In terms of the tech involved, I use Speakpipe or Vocaroo, both of which are simple and intuitive, and add the audio files to Moodle along with the corrected version of the students’ submissions. The recordings are often no more than 5 minutes long – particularly with Speakpipe which cuts me off after 5 minutes – and I think this is a good thing because it forces me to be succinct and not ramble on unnecessarily. Of course, if I haven’t made all the points I wanted to, I’ll make another recording. I often make brief notes about what I want to say to help me stay on track.

Students don’t have to request feedback in a specific area and generally there are more of those who don’t. Just to give you an idea, in this semester’s group 5 out of 13 did. It now occurs to me that I could have included a question on this in the learning journal. Ideas I’ve had so far on why someone may have opted out include:

  • they don’t feel there’s any area they’re particularly good or bad at
  • they haven’t had practice in assessing their writing critically
  • they’ve put little effort into their submission (for whatever reason) and don’t feel comfortable with asking me to zero in on any aspect
  • they’re happy with “traditional” correction because it’s what they’re used to
  • they wouldn’t be taking the class anyway if it were optional, so they aren’t interested in feedback

On the other hand, re those who *do* ask for specific feedback, my guess is that they’re genuinely interested in the answer and will take the time to listen to the recording. I don’t let the students know beforehand that some of them will be receiving audio comments, so I guess you could argue that more of them might ask for feedback if they knew they’d receive it in a different format, if only for the sake of novelty. But I see this as something that might happen during office hours: if someone is interested in speaking to me about something specific, they’d come in and talk to me. In this case they can’t opt to talk to me, but they can ask a question they’re interested in and hear my answer.

I haven’t done any research yet on how students feel about different feedback modes, my reasoning being that the sample size is too small for anything conclusive. I guess I could treat it as a case study. This is something that’s on the back burner and could end up staying there for a while, although as I write this I feel guilty about not making time to hear the student perspective, regardless of how few of them have opted in.

I was wondering if your learners have a say in what they’d like you to give them feedback on re writing (or another skill), which formats you prefer to use for this and why. How do your learners feel about the different formats?

Thanks for reading!