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
Edtech Moodle Tertiary teaching

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!

Categories
Edtech Project work

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!