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, 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!

#ELTchat Edtech

#ELTchat summary 10/9/14: What’s the best idea/app/tool that you learnt since our last chat?

One of the things I love about Twitter is the unpredictability. You never know what random piece of news or wisdom you’re going to come across or what’s going to happen as a result. Living dangerously, I know. You could sign up for a MOOC on corpus linguistics, get offered work, spend hours wondering how come everybody spells ‘yep’ with an ‘e’ whereas you’ve always spelled it with a ‘u’…or you could find yourself volunteering to do an #ELTchat summary. In fact, on Wednesday two or three people apparently volunteered at the same time, which is either evidence of long-distance ESP – no, I don’t mean English for Specific Purposes – or people having missed #ELTchat. As pseudoscience is a dirty word, I’m going to go with the second option.

Back to school
Back to school

This was the first #ELTchat after the summer holidays and the topic was highly practical. Much easier to summarize, too, than topics such as ‘benefits of observations and feedback’ or ‘how to deal with passive learners’ – just to randomly pick two that were discussed earlier on this year.

Conversation revolved around two main topics: online professional development and recommendations of specific technologies that #ELTchatters had tried out over the summer. There were also a couple of ideas that got considerable discussion time, but wouldn’t fit into either category, so I’ve included them towards the end as suggestions for future chat topics.

Online PD

Several people said they had done online courses or attended webinars since the last #ELTchat. Specific recommendations were:

  • Social Psychology on Coursera (@ozgurdogan)
  • Russell Stannard’s course on how to use Edmodo as a teacher (@SueAnnan) ~ Sue liked being able to see Edmodo from both sides at the same time. The course included learning about the backpack and how to upload content, among other things.
  • #TOBELTA conference sessions, specifically @leoselivan on grammatical mistakes (@tarabenwell) ~ recordings are available to everyone
  • IATEFL webinars by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto ‘The Lives of English Language Teachers’ in July, and Nik Peachey ‘Getting the most out of online video resources’ in August (@MarjorieRosenbe) ~ recordings are available to members

Technologies (in alphabetical order)

  • (@HadaLitim): a great conference app to set up video chats, without registration (for up to 8 people) ~ More details can be found in Okan Bolukbas’s post. While on the topic of videoconferencing, LiveMinutes is another option; I mentioned it as an alternative because it was highly recommended to me, but I haven’t tried it out and no one else on #ELTchat seemed to have used it either.
  • Apps 4 EFL (@muranava): this website by @paul_sensei is worth checking even if it is still beta ~ the website itself simply says that it features apps, games, tools and tech for English language learners and teachers. I tried out “Pirate or Pilot” – fun!
  • Asana (@eslonlinejack): he’s been using it both for noting down his tasks, and also as a way to collaborate with his high-end learners. ~ Wikipedia says it’s “a web and mobile application designed to enable teamwork without email”. This video is short and shows what it looks like, and Asana seems to be free for up to 15 people.
  • Audacity (@muranava): this recommendation was prompted by a request for a tool that allows the recording of a 5-minute long audio file. The website describes it as a “free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds.”
  • Augmented reality (AR) apps (@ozgurdogan): examples given were Aurasma and Layar. Ozgur suggested they could be used to develop activities and said that with the help of smartphones or tablets, coursebooks can easily be enhanced and custom videos, audio and images added.To see how this actually works watch a video on Aurasma (start at 1:00 to see actual examples) or Word Lens (as someone who is a little upset with translators – at least in Croatia – being miserably underpaid partly due to the availability machine translation I particularly enjoyed “tongue Bolivian with a sauce spicy of anchovies”).
  • Bitsboard (@fabenglishteach): a flashcard app which allows you to make your own flashcards, add voice, and make games out of them. @StudyBundles noted that it was likely to be especially suitable for lower levels and vocabulary development. (Note: it doesn’t seem to be available for Android devices).
  • Cloze test generator (@StudyBundles) ~ it does seem quite straightforward, but maybe there is a post out there somewhere with examples/experiences?
  • Edmodo (@SueAnnan): there was much discussion of this tool. Despite the positive aspects – powerful and liked by kids – there seemed to be reservations. @MicaelaCarey and @StudyBundles wondered if it was worth investing the time to learn how to use it as it sounded complicated. @MarjorieRosenbe found it confusing when a teacher also used the tool as a student – for instance are badges meant for teachers? – while @naomishema and @SueAnnan weren’t happy with the app, though they praised the website. @KateLloyd05 was perhaps the most enthusiastic advocate, saying it was really simple to use and affords a range of possibilities (sharing links, docs, etc. in folders and using these for different classes, commenting on students’ posts).
  • Padlet @KateLloyd05’s question if anyone uses Padlet was met with enthusiastic endorsements of this tool. @SueAnnan said she’s used it for teacher training (trainees shared ideas like in a Google Doc), while @languageteach said it was probably the only tool she really used and liked that students could give feedback using their phones. I’ve used it in my Moodle course to have students share writing samples. We agreed it was simple to use, and that a surprising amount of text could be squeezed into each note, although for longer texts it might be more practical to attach documents. Video and other types of files can be attached to the notes as well.
  • Piratebox (@muranava): this tool is recommended as a great way to share files in class. More details can be found in Mura’s most recent post and an earlier one.
  • Quizlet (@naomishema): this popular and free tool was familiar to many of the chatters and there were enthusiastic endorsements. @HadaLitim mentioned a use outside of class, “Quizlet was a great tool during Delta module 1! Really helped with all that terminology.” (For more details on how Quizlet helped with the terminology, see David Harbinson’s post – scroll down to no. 4.)
  • SuperNova: a screen reader (@StudyBundles) is using to work with a blind EFL student. He was looking for recommendations of other tools that could help visually impaired students. No specific tools were suggested but Sandy Millin’s series of posts on working with an almost completely blind young learner was warmly recommended.
  • Thinglink (@UrsulaRoussou) ~ the website invites you to “easily create interactive images and videos for your websites, infographics, photo galleries, presentations and more!” This video shows you how it works.
  • A list of 50+ web tools for language learners and teachers compiled by Shelly Terrell (@tarabenwell) ~ the post organizes tools into categories such as ‘comic creators’ and ‘multimedia posters’, gives a description and link to the website.

Assorted ideas that could possibly inspire topics of future #ELTchats

  • @naomishema wondered if phone apps could actually replace having a computer to demonstrate in class. She said students sometimes resisted using mobile phones in class saying their phone is too full for an app or they are wasting their battery.
  • @angelos_bollas talked about teaching at a summer school in what he described as a very low-tech environment (“we were lucky to have pen and paper”). He mentioned the importance of preparing in advance and students becoming the teaching material.
  • @muranava raised the issue of what happens to student data when they sign up for various web-based language tools. This is particularly relevant with young learners, but not only.

Finally, on a more lighthearted note, I leave you with @tarabenwell’s discovery: “@cutemergency – a fun twitter account I came across for caption writing fun”. Heartless souls who can’t stand pics of bunnies, kittens and puppies will probably want to steer clear, but I wish everyone else a lovely day. 🙂