Categories
Edtech Moodle online course

On talking to your online students

Graffitied brick wall that says "Listen".
painteverything: listen (CC BY 2.0)

I’ll skip references to the fact that I haven’t posted on this blog for months now and dive right in, shall I?

Right. Four semesters ago I wrote a post on how I’d decided to start adding audio recordings to the online course I teach and a follow-up post on the topic soon afterwards. In the meantime I kept working with audio recordings and adding tweaks, so I wanted to write down some observations.

A brief digression: have you noticed how it sounds almost strange to be describing students/courses as ‘online’? It’s like all courses now have some kind of online component and it’s hard to even imagine a time – just four semesters ago! just four course iterations ago! – when teaching a semester-long course online wasn’t exactly routine and it seemed important to note that for context. Or maybe it’s just me?

Anyway, the way my audio files are structured and presented has developed over time into a Tips on what to watch out for chapter in each unit guide (a Moodle book resource). The tips are divided into Things that were done well over the past week or so and Things to watch out for in the current unit. The ‘developed over time’ bit makes it sound as if a whole lot of development has been going on but this setup has in fact been in place pretty much since I started using the H5P course presentation (see the second link above for a more detailed account of how that came about). 

One thing that became obvious pretty quickly was that a lot of the recordings in the Things that were done well category needed to be recorded over again each semester, as each group was slightly different in the things they did well and it was tricky to stay neutral in these recordings. What I mean by ‘neutral’ is avoiding any mention of something group-specific. I knew that I should strive for this in theory, if I wanted to be able to reuse the recordings, but in practice it’s surprisingly difficult to speak to a group of students without references to that particular group. Try it and go back to the recording in six months’ time. I guarantee you’ll find phrases that will make you groan. For instance, you’re commenting on forum activity and you hear yourself saying, “I can see that several people have added comments to this thread…”, whereas this semester, with your luck, no one has added anything to that thread. 

The Things to watch out for in the current unit files were easier to reuse because they’re basically general advice on what to keep in mind as you complete a particular activity, so aren’t linked to any individual group. An example would be how to approach a glossary activity: if there are any areas students commonly slip up on, what to watch out for with regard to the final exam and so on.

The most time-consuming aspect of working with these files is that you have to listen to them again every six months before you re-record. I guess what you could do is just assume that all the Done well recordings need to be re-recorded and not waste time listening to those from last semester but I always hoped that I could at least use some of them again, possibly dealing with minor differences by adding an explanatory text box as in the screenshot. 

Tips on what to watch out for: Before you start on the tasks in this chapter, I recommend listening to the audio comments. They need not all be listened to at once; instead you can listen to them as they become relevant to the task you are completing. Things that were done well over the past week or so: communication, Hypothes.is app, Jobs of the future forum. To the right of each topic there is an icon indicating audio content can be played. An arrow is pointing to the audio file icons, suggesting the following text refers to all the audio files: "I've recorded these with a different device, so the sound is lower than in the two recordings in the "Things to watch out for" section below. You'll probably need to turn the sound up."
Screenshot from course

Also, those in the Current unit category would sometimes need to be re-recorded as well because there would be changes to the way some activities were set up or some advice was too specific. For instance, only today I realized that advice on pair work included a 2-minute segment on how to make sure exchange students were not left out but this semester we don’t have any exchange students. This segment was somewhere in the middle of the recording, so I used 123 Apps’ trim audio and audio joiner to excise the bit that was no longer relevant. 

When I’d first introduced audio files to the course, I was really curious to see what the students thought, so I added this as a possible reflection topic for their learning journals. It was actually student reflections that helped me realize one longer recording might be demanding to stay with and might be more easily processed if broken up into shorter files. Although student perspective was key to this change, I didn’t add audio as a reflection topic for the next two semesters. Then last semester I added this poll.

How do you feel about the "Tips on what to watch out for" chapter in the unit guides? Possible answers: a) I listen I listen to the comments and generally find them useful, b) I listen to the comments but they don't contribute to my successful completion of the course tasks, c) I listen to the comments but have no opinion about them, and d) I don't listen to the comments. View 14 responses.
Screenshot from course

Just over half the group opted for “I listen to the comments and generally find them useful” and out of the rest only one person chose “I don’t listen to the comments”. The way the poll was designed basically only told me whether students listened to the audio and to some extent if they saw the comments in a positive light. I planned on following this up with a reflection topic but didn’t. The results didn’t seem overly negative, i.e. most students said they listened to the comments, so I probably didn’t see a pressing need to get more feedback, although it would definitely be useful to know more about why some felt the comments didn’t help them.

This semester I introduced another tweak, partly brought about by the fact that since I’d started recording audio comments I was aware of the fact that there was no transcript and that ideally there should be one, both in accordance with accessibility guidelines and also because it’s okay, I think, not to force people to listen at a certain speed (or even twice that speed) if you can offer them the option of glancing at a transcript and picking out the main points. The other reason for the tweak was, as is so often the case, Twitter.

I started using the tool in the tweet with the Done well comments. I realize now that it says this particular tool is aimed at social media use, which I don’t recall being in focus that much back in February. I suppose it may have been and another reason for choosing it may have been the (subconscious) idea that anything to do with social media would appeal to students. Anyway, using it didn’t address the transcript issue because what you do is add captions, which should make it easier to follow what the person is saying but you still can’t process the information the way you would with a transcript available. Also, I have since learned that screen readers can only read transcripts, not captions. This wasn’t an issue for the students I’ve had these past semesters but if you’re making a recording for a larger group of students (on a MOOC, say) it would definitely be important. 

An upside I noticed is that recordings made with this tool are definitely shorter, which is great as I tend to ramble the minute I don’t prepare notes on what I want to say. The captions are generated by the software, so that’s done quickly but I still need to clean them up and it’s much quicker and easier if there isn’t much waffle. In fact, compared with the first screenshot above, in which there are three topics in the Done well section, this semester I only had one topic/video per Done well section. I really did plan on checking with the students if they noticed any difference between just audio and these recordings with a visual component, but the end of the semester is here and I don’t seem to have done that. Maybe next semester.

What are your thoughts on audio in courses which are mostly delivered asynchronously online? Do you think you would prefer engaging with the audio as opposed to going through transcripts? What strikes you as the ideal length for audio recordings?

Thanks for reading!

Categories
Edtech Moodle online course Tertiary teaching

Practice makes perfect?

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for about a year. If I don’t post it now, I’m not sure I ever will, so here goes. 

danna § curious tangles: words (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
March 2020

I recently tweeted this.

It then occurred to me that the tweet could be construed as a promise of a blog post, so I thought I should do something about that.

I’ve previously written about H5P activities in our online course here, here and here. I like the versatility of the tool and the fact that it’s available as a Moodle plugin, so I can use it free of charge. There are many content types (activity types) you can use and so far I’ve only been able to test out a relatively small number: drag and drop, interactive video, audio recorder and course presentation.

I was pretty confident H5P would be useful for tasks more obviously associated with vocabulary learning (probably primarily because I’d noticed a content type called Fill in the blanks), so at some point I thought I should look into it as a possible substitute for Textivate. 

I’ve been using Textivate for several years now and really like it, but if you want to use it in combination with your own resources – to practice specific vocabulary, for instance – you have to get the paid version. Which I completely understand and *have* renewed my subscription a couple of times, but as I’m an adjunct and get paid comparatively little, I’m always on the lookout for free versions of apps and such. 

I decided to revamp our revision unit with the help of H5P content types and made the following changes.

  1. User-defined gapfill (Textivate)Fill in the blanks (H5P). For vocab revision. In the Textivate version, once you define the words students need to add to the text, they conveniently and automatically appear below the text and you drag them to where you think they should go. In the H5P version, you define where the missing words should go and get blank boxes where students need to type these words. It’s not incredibly flashy or exciting in Textivate either, but in H5P it’s really bland, so I decided to jazz it up a little by creating an image in Canva and adding the missing words to it. Then I added the image above the text. When you have a go at the activity in student mode, the image shows up as much smaller than it is, but you can click on it to enlarge it, which I thought could be convenient for practice. If a student was doing the activity for the first time, they could click on the image and view the words, but if they wanted to try it again, they could see if they recalled any of the words without first clicking on the image. Incidentally, you could also add a video instead of an image to the activity, which wasn’t suited to my purpose but could work well in other contexts. 
February 2021

So, here we are, back in the present. It’s a little more difficult now to identify the type of activity I used in Textivate because I can only make a guess based on what the activity looked like in earlier iterations of the course. I knew there was a reason I should have done this sooner. 

  1. Shuffle? Multimatch? (Textivate)Fill in the blanks (H5P) For joining sentences. The point here was to practice joining sentences in a highly controlled way, with relatively little creativity and thus few unexpected outcomes. (No, it’s not one of my favorite activities either, but it’s useful for exam practice.) When I used Shuffle, students were instructed to rewrite the sentences in a separate document (which is not the happiest of solutions and I’m doubtful whether anyone ever actually did this, especially if they revised half an hour before the exam) and then do the Shuffle activity where they matched the two sentence halves and checked if they corresponded (in terms of punctuation, etc.) with what the students thought was correct. I’m happier with how it works with Fill in the blanks (H5P) because you can add hints to the blank boxes. The students have to type out the sentences in order to check if they joined them correctly and if there’s anything you want them to watch out for (something that might cause them to slip up at the exam) you add it as a hint. Now, you might think well, maybe Shuffle/Multimatch wasn’t the best choice of activity for joining sentences and you’d be right, but as I already had a Textivate subscription I sometimes used it in ways that were not ideal. 
  2. User-defined gapfill (Textivate)Mark the words (H5P) For identifying parts of text that need alteration. This was a really convenient change because it made me break the activity up into two steps, which I think is easier to process. Again, in the Textivate version the students were instructed to type the changes they would make in another document and then drag and drop the suggested answers into the correct gap. If they skipped the first step, the activity was deceptively easy compared to what it would be like at the exam. With Mark the words (H5P), they first need to highlight the parts of the text that need to be changed (and can check if they were correct), then there is another Fill in the blanks with hints where they focus on making the actual changes. 

And that’s it as far as H5P in the revision unit goes. There are also a couple of Quizlet sets and Moodle quizzes, so the H5P activities are just part of what students have the opportunity to complete if this is how they wish to practice. The unit is entirely optional, although I sometimes think perhaps it shouldn’t be, but that is material for another post.

If you teach online (synchronously or asynchronously), do you have materials that your students can access in their own time and practice, say, for an exam? What (tools) have you used for this and are these activities optional?

Categories
Edtech Moodle online course

Should your online students (want to) talk to you?

Photo “headphones” taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mzn37/ by Michael Newman, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license 

This is a follow-up post on the one from earlier this month, on the audio files I’ve been adding to the online course this semester.

Because several of the students had made the point in their learning journals that they were finding it challenging to focus on longer stretches of audio, I decided to try out Neil’s suggestion of adding shorter comments to the H5P Course Presentation content type.

This now pretty much looks like your typical PowerPoint slide with blue play buttons next to each bullet point. I add the Course Presentation to the relevant unit and choose the “available but not shown on course page” option so that I can embed it into the unit guide which is organized in the Moodle Book resource. I do this so that the students will access it in the order I’d like them to, i.e. that will (hopefully) make the most sense. 

I did say the students were free to comment on what they thought of this change – if they thought it made processing the audio any easier – in their learning journals, but as I haven’t had any takers yet, I’m not sure what they think. 

From my perspective, it’s definitely easier and quicker as far as planning goes. I haven’t opened the document in which I used to plan what I was going to say since I last made a longer recording. I jot down the ideas in a notebook and it’s just a couple of words for each point I plan to address. I’ve only done two units this way and the average is 7 recordings per unit, which I think overall adds up to a little more than the 15 minutes the single recordings per unit would take, but I make sure to state clearly that the students don’t need to listen to these in one go. 

I also find it much easier to record a 3-minute comment in the sense that I feel very aware it’s much easier to re-record if I go off on a tangent or if a text message comes through and distracts me. I just need to remember to say at the beginning of each recording what it’s going to be about, so those listening are sure which file goes with which bullet point.

In the last unit I did this for I also added a slide with links to a couple of video resources and websites, which I then expanded on in the audio comments, so right now Course Presentation is looking like a far more versatile resource than just audio files.

You know when you get excited about something and figure everyone will be just as thrilled about it as you are? Despite writing about the audio files as an experiment, I’d already made up my mind that they added something (valuable) to the course and expected the students to feel the same way. Halfway through the course I added an optional activity which involved the H5P Audio Recorder content type and instructions for students to record an audio comment no longer than 2 minutes – I called the activity “Checking in” – and share the recording on a Padlet wall. 

Only one student took part in this activity, which was a bit of an anticlimax. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise as it was optional, but 2 minutes – okay, probably more like 10 minutes if you factor in prep time (there were prompts), downloading and sharing to Padlet – didn’t seem likely to discourage the entire group. Clearly I miscalculated here but I’m not sure why.

In earlier course runs I used to offer the option of recording some learning journal audio entries and very few students ever took this up, which I attributed to the probability that these entries were likely to take more prep time. But there might have been an additional factor: some students said they hated the sound of their voice and couldn’t bear to listen to themselves. 

I thought hearing other students’ voices would make their online presence more evident and therefore have a bonding and motivating effect, but the whole thing fell flat. Apart from feeling a tad disappointed – the students don’t seem uninterested in the course overall – I’m not sure if I should consider this a chance development and repeat the experiment or just drop it. 

If you have any ideas re why students may not be as excited about the opportunities afforded by audio as I am, I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a lovely holiday season! Thank you for being around this year. 🙂