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

Type little and give extensive feedback

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

It all started on Twitter, as these things do. I had covid and was stuck at home, so it was as good a time as any to do some marking. Then I came across Neil’s tweet.

I recommend you click through for the answers because quite there were a few suggestions and several people mentioned text expanders, which is useful for context, but the answer that caught my eye was this one:

I don’t use Linux, so I’m not entirely sure why I decided to try espanso out. Now I think about it, I’m pretty sure Neil tweeted an update on how well it was working out for him. Anyway, espanso works on Windows and Macs, although I use it on Windows most of the time.

I did need a little bit of help installing the program but I probably would’ve been able to do it myself if I’d put in a little effort. The point is, it’s pretty simple and quick. (To be fair, it was more complicated to install on a Mac.)

The idea of this post is to reflect a little on the past 6 months of using it and note down some pros and cons. 

First of all, this is what it looks like in practice. Please ignore the huge gap between the top and the bottom comment; it’s my first attempt at a gif.

User types "main idea" and this is automatically expanded to This seems like a new main idea and might be best in a separate paragraph. 
User types "meaning" and this is expanded to I'm not sure what you mean by this (in this context), so consider the possibility that other readers may not be sure either.
Demo of how a text expander works

And it works everywhere. If I typed :main idea it would expand like in the gif regardless of whether I was commenting on a Word doc, typing in a Google doc, in the Moodle gradebook… 

My initial reaction was – this is bliss! My days of spending ages on marking are over! All I need to do is add the comments which are already in my comment bank to espanso and I’m all set. 

This is why in the end it wasn’t as easy as that. 

I have a huge number of comments in my comment bank. I’ve written about the comment bank I have in Google Docs in this post and in Google Keep in this one. At first I thought it would only take a long time to transfer them all to espanso, but then I realized that I would have to come up with as many triggers as there are comments. (The trigger is the combination of : and the word or letter combination that gets expanded.)

It probably wouldn’t be that taxing to come up with a long list of triggers, but eventually I didn’t because it became obvious I couldn’t remember them all. In my comment banks the comments are categorized by unit and activity (in Google Docs) and by aspect of writing like punctuation or formality (in Google Keep). Categorization isn’t possible in any meaningful way in espanso, so you’re probably best off if you choose a trigger that will most easily remind you of the longer comment you wanted to add (or vice versa). 

What tends to work best (for me) is if I add a whole word or word sequence, like “comma splice”. Great, I hear you say, so do that. But the longer the trigger is, the more likely you are to mistype something and then you need to delete what you’ve typed and start again (at least if you’re using Windows). Also, if you want to use “comma” as part of a trigger for anything other than comma splice comments, you can’t. Say you wanted to use “comma not needed” as a trigger. The nanosecond you type :comma, espanso expands it to your comma splice comment. You could use “unnecessary comma” as a trigger, but it’s not what I think of first when I see one – when I start typing, my brain has already categorized that as a comma-related error, and “comma” is the word that first comes to mind, not “unnecessary”. So if you’re old and forgetful, you’ll catch yourself going through the espanso bank, muttering “Why did I ever think I’d remember “unnecessary comma”?!” You get the idea. This is just an example, incidentally; I’m not that concerned about commas.

In order to really save time and reduce the potential for confusion, the triggers need to be short. Ideally, just a few letters. But the shorter they are, the easier they are to forget. Did I say old and forgetful? Add stressed out over a million things. Coming up with a trigger like “spe” for spelling sounds easy enough to remember… okay it is. That one is. But when I have a comment which is essentially just positive feedback on participating in a discussion in unit 4, that is quite tricky to reduce to a three-letter combo that I will remember longer than a day. Yes, you are right to wonder how I deal with PINs. 😛

What I tend to do now is work with up to 20 triggers. I always open up espanso before I start to remind myself of the triggers and attendant comments. Then I mark everyone’s work in the unit I am currently grading, where I won’t need that many different comments because the mistakes and the things done well tend to be quite similar. When I move on to the next unit, I prefer to work with the same triggers and update the expanded feedback in espanso. I won’t be needing the comments for the unit I’ve just marked until next semester anyway. Then the trigger for my positive feedback can always just be “yes” and for negative comments/suggestions for improvement it can be “no” – definitely easy to remember.  

What I’ve also decided works for me is adding as much text as possible to one single trigger. In other words, instead of thinking up three different triggers for three variations of positive comments, I add all three to the same trigger, delete the unnecessary/non-applicable comments when the text expands (and then customize further if needed).  

In short, the tool isn’t as ideal as I’d initially expected it to be, but it does speed up the feedback process considerably once you’ve figured out how it can best serve you. I still use the comment banks and, of course, a large number of comments are personalized and context specific anyway, so nothing really helps there.  

What do you do to speed up the marking and feedback process? If you have any tips, either on how to use text expanders more efficiently or which other tools have been useful to you, I’d love to hear them! 

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?