Correct me if I’m wrong

This post has been sort of brewing for a while: since the spring of 2015 if I’m honest. You may wonder how come I’m so sure about this. It’s because at the time I was using Kaizena for feedback and wanted to write about that. Only I never did.

Handwritten correction of less to fewer
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Also, James Taylor had suggested at that year’s BELTA Day that instead of simply correcting student work, I could indicate the problem areas in the sentence and have the students do the correcting themselves. I found this idea very appealing and immediately put it into practice. I think we ran with it for a couple of semesters, but it turned out to be terribly time-consuming as I had to check every submission at least twice. Some I had to check three times because not all the students managed to do what I was hoping they would; i.e., they made a stab at correcting the error but went off in the wrong direction. I wanted to write about that too, only I never did.

In the post 7 things students expect from an online writing course (see the fourth thing), I briefly wrote about how I don’t actually do that much correcting. I’m not sure this is highly popular with students, as they’ve been taught to expect the instructor to correct their work, and there’s always the nagging feeling that they think I’m not doing my job properly. At the beginning of most semesters we discuss a couple of statements about writing as a group, one of which is: I expect the teacher/instructor to mark all the mistakes in my work. I ask the students to mark the statements as true or false and I don’t think I’ve ever had a student claim this particular one to be false for them.

I use this as an opportunity to explain that there are going to be three slightly longer pieces of writing throughout the semester on which they’ll be receiving detailed feedback and where everything that could be seen as a mistake or potentially confuse readers will be addressed, but apart from that, I won’t be correcting their grammar. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of the writing they do on the course is read by other students and I’ve always figured it wouldn’t exactly be productive to analyze to death something they’ve already used to communicate successfully.

I’ve recently completed this detailed correction for the first assignment of this semester and I wanted to have a kind of record what I do these days, both in terms of the tools involved and how I go about making corrections/giving feedback.

Since I stopped using Kaizena, I abandoned the idea of having students make corrections themselves. A quick digression: I’m pretty sure I’ve come across papers on Twitter on whether student correction of their own mistakes is effective, but haven’t bookmarked any, so please let me know if any research comes to mind. I think what I do now is fairly conventional. Students submit their work as a Word doc – or very occasionally in a different format which I then convert to Word so I can do my thing – and I upload the corrected versions of these back to Moodle when I’m done.

There are two types of interventions I do with the Word doc. If something is likely to be considered a mistake in terms of conventional grammar rules, I use the track changes option to correct this. If at all possible, I will add a comment explaining that this would be considered a mistake as far as standard usage rules are concerned. I’m not sure it’s very helpful to treat absolutely everything as fine just because it is fine in some dialect or other, although I do think students should be (made) aware of dialect differences. In my case, communication science students are generally aware of this in their L1, too, so my job is easier in this respect.

If I want to make a more general point, such as suggest that a student run a spell check on their submission, consider breaking up a longish paragraph into two or more if it seems to be addressing several ideas, or double check the meaning of a word they’ve used, I’ll add comment bubbles. I’ve done a post on a comment bank which I had – still have – in a regular Google Doc, but I’ve since come across this post on the Control Alt Achieve blog and started building up a comment bank in Google Keep, which does feel more organized. In the spirit of Sarah’s Twitter anniversary resolution, I think it was thanks to Adi Rajan that this post came up in my feed about two years ago.

Even though my online groups are small, giving feedback and correcting student work is time-consuming enough to make me want to know if there’s some kind of uptake, even if it’s just students reading my comments. When I used to ask them to correct their own mistakes, this obviously wasn’t something I worried about because they had to do it, even if perfunctorily, to make the corrections. The way I currently give feedback and correct though gives me no indication of whether the corrected version of the document has even been downloaded. There’s something I do about this in the second and third longer piece of writing (hopefully more on that in a future post) but for this first piece, what I do is include a reflection prompt on corrections and feedback in the portfolio section of the course. Not every student addresses this topic, but enough people do for me to feel that the work hasn’t been thrown away.

One other thing I should mention is the track changes option. There’s a tutorial in the course materials on how to view suggested changes if this option has been used. When I’ve corrected everyone’s submission, I post an announcement on the course noticeboard, pointing out that this tutorial is available should anyone want to have a look. (An indicator that they’ll want to have a look is if the suggested changes don’t show up for them automatically and they don’t know what to do about this.) Step two, when each individual submission is uploaded, the student is notified of this and the message says, among other things, that they should make sure to view the suggested changes – now as I write this, I realize that I should add a link to the tutorial on how to do this to the message.

The reason I mention this is that even though you think you’ve got it all covered, of course you don’t, and it is through a random comment that you realize that a student was completely unaware of any changes suggested to their text apart from the comment bubbles. Panic sets in as the idea surfaces that maybe no one has ever, in any of the last couple of semesters, seen any of the corrections. You’ve been doing it all for nothing, plus the students all think you haven’t actually been doing anything! The panic gradually fades away and you do all you can do, which is post an announcement explaining once again how corrections are made, a link to the tutorial, and a screenshot to illustrate how to access the review tab.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear how you address corrections/feedback/corrective feedback on written work, not necessarily online. Any tips?

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Design your own exam question

Photo taken from ELTpics by @eannegrenoble, used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license

This is a brief post to report on something that I came across on Twitter last year and finally tried out at the final exam a couple of days ago.

There was a tweet – unfortunately, I forget by who and I didn’t bookmark it – that described an intriguing tweak to written exams. Essentially, one of the questions was left blank and students could add any question that hadn’t been asked but they knew the answer or had studied for this. As I understood it, this was entirely optional and was an opportunity to score extra points.

The tweet seemed to garner quite a bit of attention and approval but for all I know the idea isn’t as revolutionary as all that; it might only represent a novel approach in my context, which is not exactly prone to experimentation, especially when it comes to exams. In any case, I knew at once this was something I was going to try in February.

This was the question I added to the last page of the exam paper:

Is there anything else you wish were included in the exam? Something you studied or know the answer to but that question is not in the exam paper? Write down the question(s) and what your answer(s) would be and you may be able to score extra points. Of course, it needs to be related to this course.

Because I’d left it entirely up to the students how many bits of information to include, if any at all, I didn’t settle on how many points they’d actually be able to score. I had this vague idea that the answers might help someone pass if they were short of a few points or get a higher grade if they were pretty close to the cut-off point. As the exam went on, for a short while I thought nobody would take up the option of answering the question and I was sorry the exam had only been scheduled to last an hour because I thought maybe there wasn’t enough time.

Eventually, about half the group did answer. When I read the answers, I realized I’d expected them to refer to the students’ takeaways from the course and say, for instance, things like “I’ve discovered some really effective spell check tools: X and Y” or “I’m much more confident than before about where I could/should use a semi-colon,” along with a sentence to illustrate this.

Instead, they mostly referred to items they’d revised in preparation for the exam, which is not surprising given how the question was phrased. The last unit online included a screencast in which I talked about what they could expect at the exam, so they were (presumably) all aware of what to focus on during revision.

There was a category of answers that clearly didn’t aim at getting a higher grade: one student included suggestions as to how the instructions could be worded more clearly in an exercise and another said they wished they’d been asked to write an essay rather than being tested on a number of discrete points (but then didn’t go on to write an essay, saying that they doubted this would impact on their grade in any way).

Overall, I was able to use those answers where the students had shared what they remembered about the course content to give them a higher grade, so I am counting the experiment as a success, though for some reason my impression is that the person who shared the idea on Twitter was a lot more enthusiastic than me about the results. I think I’ll be using the question again, although probably not on the very next exam date.

Have you used this type of question with your students? What was your experience? If you haven’t, do you think you might? Also, if you have any ideas on how the question could be improved upon (or the link to the original tweet – it might have been phrased much better there), I’d love to hear them. Thanks for reading!

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.