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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!

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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 Moodle Tertiary teaching

There’s something about H5P

Jessica Wilson: pick up a moo memory game! (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This is going to be a brief post on something I’m trying out for the first time in my online course. Back when I started designing it, I used to get so excited about all the different apps and activity types I was experimenting with but the novelty gradually wore off and now it’s been a couple of semesters (I think) since I’ve actually tried out something new. Partly this was because I’d figured out how a lot of the online tools I needed worked – for instance, if you’ve invested some time in getting the hang of a particular screencasting tool and you’re reasonably happy with it, you’re likely to stick with it. Or I am, anyway. The other reason was that the course had been pretty thoroughly thought through in terms of the weekly workload and what the purpose of each activity is, so there wasn’t really any pressing need to add to it. I did say last year that the course could use a facelift, but that refers primarily to the visuals.

A couple of months ago, I first heard that some of the people I was working with were very enthusiastic about something called H5P. It took me a while to work out what the name actually was, before I saw it written down (though this may have been due to the way it’s pronounced in Croatian). Their website says, among other things:

H5P makes it easy to create, share and reuse HTML5 content and applications… H5P enables existing CMSs and LMSs to create richer content. With H5P, authors may create and edit interactive videos, presentations, games, advertisements and more.

I had the opportunity to see an online course which made use of interactive videos and a neat little content type called memory game, which works like the children’s picture pairing activity. A definite advantage for those of us who use Moodle is that H5P is already offered as an activity type, so all you need to do is choose to add it, like you would a forum, say, and set it up.

Some months passed and I kept hearing good things about H5P, then a couple of weeks ago I needed to try it out at work and felt the kind of excitement – the “students are gonna love this” kind – familiar from when I was still working on putting the course together.

It was convenient that there’s a unit where I always felt a little like something was missing – an activity I do when covering this topic in class, but in the online version I’d relied on the students doing the necessary reading on their own, outside the course, which I wasn’t entirely happy with. It felt like a loose end. So I used the H5P drag & drop content type to recreate the in-class activity (the students need to match category titles to groups of linking words).

I first needed to create the background image, which I did in Canva. I chose different color backgrounds for the boxes representing each category – I picked three colors for nine boxes as the idea was simply to make the boxes easily distinguishable, not blind anyone – and added the groups of words to each box, making sure the font was sans serif and thus easier to read. I was worried initially that the whole thing might look too crowded, but it looked fine. I saved it offline.

Then I added it as the background image to the drag & drop activity. I wanted it to appear as a page in a book, so I chose the “available but not shown on course page” option in the settings. The reason I wanted it in the book was so the students would come across it in the order I wanted them to, and it might be confusing if it appeared in two places (as it would have if I hadn’t chosen the option in the previous sentence). I don’t know if this – I want them to do things in a certain order – makes me appear a bit of a control freak. I think maybe people have this idea that you can do things in any order you want online; maybe it’s because of MOOCs where everything is available all the time. I figure my course is no different than a face-to-face class, where I plan the lesson and the order in which we do things.

Finally, I defined the drop zones on the background image – the boxes in different colors – and added the text boxes (draggable elements) with the category titles. Because the background image already had quite a bit of text, I didn’t want there to be potential for confusion between the groups of linking words and the category titles, so after a bit of experimenting I settled on red letters for the titles (the rest of the text is black). It probably isn’t the most elegant of solutions, but graphic design is really not not really my thing.

And that was that. It’s a bit more fiddly if you have many drop zones but not complicated. This is in a unit that the students can’t access yet, so it’ll be a few days before they see it. I hope it proves helpful.

Have you used any of the H5P content types, especially for language learning? I’m planning to see if I can add some interactivity to the couple of videos I have in later units, but there are lots of other content types that seem worth looking into.