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
Moodle online course Tertiary teaching Thoughts and reflections

It’s been a privilege

Those who have been following this blog a little longer (as in 5 years or so) since the dawn of time may remember this post in which I talked about the first semester I had assistant moderators: (mostly) graduate students who helped me moderate forum discussions and comment on student learning journal entries. It was the first time I’d involved students in this capacity in an online course, although, to be fair, I hadn’t been teaching the course for very long at that point. It was in its fifth run. A brief digression right at the start: involving students this way online seems completely natural, yet doing a similar thing in class is much more difficult to imagine, for me at least. 

Photo “Team Work” taken from https://www.flickr.com/photos/jerixthekid/ by mønsterdestrøyer, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The original four-mod cast only stayed together that one semester, but running the course with the help of moderators has remained a permanent feature. Twelve semesters on I can say that I have had the privilege of working with twelve incredibly communicative and motivated young people (says she, sounding about ninety-three 😛 ) who I have learned a lot from and who have been hugely helpful. Here I was, all overcome with warm and fuzzy feelings and then it occurred to me that it would be really interesting to do a post in which they would talk about their moderator experience and what it meant to them. 

So I set up a Google doc and added a few questions plus the option that they add their own questions if they felt there was something more they wanted to say. Of course, I told them the answers would be shared on this blog and that they could remain anonymous if they liked. This all happened in the first half of November, so by now I’m feeling guilty for not getting the post out sooner. One lovely (partly) unexpected benefit of the whole endeavor was catching up with some of them and finding out what they were up to professionally. 

Without further ado, I’m adding the questions and answers below. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them! Oh, and if you have any questions for the mods I’ll pass them on.

Q1. How many semesters (roughly) were you an assistant mod for Writing in English? (my comments in italics)

Beatta: 1 semester (Actually, it was two now I’ve checked my records. Then you went on a semester abroad.)

Ivana: Huh, 4 i believe (Three, actually.)

Marija: This would be my 5th, but I am not certain 🙂 (Yes, you’re right!)

Dora: I believe 4 but could be more 🙂 (It was four.)

Q2. What made you decide to “accept the challenge” – it could be argued that being an assistant mod is just more work for students with already busy schedules?

Beatta:  I just really like expressing myself in English so thought this would give me an opportunity to expand my vocabulary and get a better handle on the language. It was not so much about the actual work – as challenging as it may have been sometimes, but rather just talking to other people in English 🙂

Ivana: I liked the concept of online courses, which was completely new for me at the time. Plus I looove writing and expressing myself in that way so this was a perfect way to match my passion for writing, helping students and learning some new english 🙂

Marija: To be completely honest, it just seemed like something I would actually enjoy doing that would look good in my resume 🙂 What is great about this specific course is that all of our work is online, and that I could (and I have) be active anytime, day and night. So, on top of all my other activities, it seemed like a good challenge to take on.

Dora: I always liked being an assistant, helping other students as well as professors. I didn’t mind the additional work, it wasn’t too much for sure. Also, this additional stuff in college always look good in CV and you definitely learn a lot.

Q3. How would you describe your assistant mod experience? Is there anything you’d single out as applicable outside of the course (here I’m not referring to the course content but the work of assistant mods)?

Beatta: I do not remember many details, but I remember having fun. As I said, some tasks were more challenging (i.e. getting the students to “debate” you) or boring than others (i.e. checking their homework) but all in all, I have positive memories regarding it. I really think the assistant mod experience upped my English game – I became more fluent in both speaking and writing, I expressed myself easier and my “ear” and instinct for the language developed further. Regarding some hard skills I may have developed from my mod experience, I think it pushed me to be more/better organised with my private time.

Ivana: It was a long time ago but I remember feeling amused and it really was not a problem for me to work on the tasks we had to fulfill. Sometimes I was looking forward to reading the tasks other students have done or to read about their opinions connected to the subject (and the themes that we were talking about were always rather interesting and current). I also feel like it prepared me for some future obligations that I had (doing some work online). Also I got a job because of the recommendation of prof. Vedrana 🙂

Marija: It is not so hard or too time consuming, but it makes a big difference for the students – I remember having really bad and indifferent assistants in other courses and I felt like I could contribute and make other students’ experiences better. I would like to single out the “leadership” aspect of it. We are only assistants, but we manage student communication, give instructions and directions and provide much needed feedback. It was a new field for me personally and a great practice.. It made me really improve myself and my communicating abilities which I am sure I will use later in life.

Dora: I liked the whole experience and that is why I was an assistant for all those years. We didn’t have many English classes as I would have liked, so it helped me stay fluent and learn even more. Also, it was really interesting to see what other students are thinking, how they do the assignments and how I actually got to know them without ever knowing them 😃 for my future it helped with keeping to the schedule, having obligation to other students to help them when needed and somewhat mentor them.

Q4. How do you see the work of assistant mods as contributing to the course?

Beatta: I think assistants can be of great help, not only to the professor but to the students as well. They can lessen the workload of the professor and help students open up in the debates as well as their assignments (especially blog entries).

Ivana: Sometimes students might feel more open towards the assistant and therefore open themselves in writing also. Plus, I remember that sometimes me or my mods colleagues were needed to direct the debating in a different way that was needed for the course.

Marija: My main task, I believe, is to help the professor manage all the aspects of the course (from portfolio entries to forums and debates), but also to be the link between professor and student – students tend to hesitate in asking for help and directions, but we reassure them and help them realise it is OK, even welcome.

Dora: They can help with work overload for the professor but also students might be “less afraid” to ask assistants some questions.

Q5. Is there anything about being an assistant mod that you found challenging (and how did you address that)?

Beatta: As I already mentioned, it was quite some time ago, so my memories are a bit faded, but I don’t remember it being too challenging. I remember there were lessons where the workload was heavier and/or more demanding (be that in volume or in the type of task – for me the grammar always got me :D). I addressed it by just taking more time to go through it.

Ivana: Nothing challenging about it as far as I am concerned, but it wasn’t boring either. Maybe sometimes I had a lack of time to do some tasks, but then I wrote shorter answers, simple as that. Would recommend this kind of assistance in class anytime because at the end of the day, you do your own schedule.

Marija: Everything was really well organised and I managed to stay on top of things, but sometimes I had too many other responsibilities in order to assist as well as I wanted to. It was such a terrific experience for me because of professor Estatiev too, because every time I felt pressured or thought it was too much, all I had to do was let her know and she would help out – which was greatly appreciated.

Dora: Can’t remember honestly. Just know I enjoyed it!! 🙂

Questions you wish I’d asked (add your suggestions below – possibly to be addressed in another post)

Marija: Would I recommend it and why? Absolutely! Having a great mentor who gives you responsibility and trust you do serious work is such a valuable college experience. It helps you work on yourself, come out of your student comfort zone and makes you work closely with other students and, in the end, do beneficial work for those students who really need assistance in tackling new course concepts. Plus, it sounds really good when you mention it during a job interview (I speak from experience).