Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Students as individuals...

This is (an edited version of ) the article from TDU Talk issue 1, 2014, which I wrote to explain to the staff at the University of Waikato how the online resources available at Student Learning have expanded since the grammar resource became available.

Quoted directly from TDU Talk

In Student Learning we are well aware that any teacher facing a lecture theatre filled with new students may make assumptions about student knowledge and ability. Teachers have very little option but to expect the students’ language proficiency to be such that it will allow participation in written and spoken interactions;that they can read an academic text as guided by the teaching; that they recognise the basic purpose of a library; that they have experimented with digital technology in some capacity at least; and that they are conscious of the principles underpinning a Western concept of intellectual property. On the whole such assumptions are justified, but when dealing with students as individuals we find that they fit somewhere along a spectrum of academic readiness. Quite frequently, a student discovers some rather distressing gaps (however minor) which may impact on his or her learning experience in a potentially far-reaching way. The problem for you, as a university teacher, is how to respond when individual students present with underdeveloped understanding of academic conventions and limited awareness of the intellectual rigour required for tertiary study. 
Student Learning is a university-wide service provided to enhance the success, retention and completion of University of Waikato students. We see students from many faculties and schools who range from pre-degree to PhD levels. As a team we have, over the years, become familiar with certain patterns of student enquiry. A significant proportion of the work of Student Learning involves offering learning development opportunities to individuals that are targeted to their unique experience. This is highly effective teaching at the micro level, which of course is limited in its volume capacity. As effective as this intervention is, we find ourselves constantly repeating the same information for the same type of enquiry.
In response to years of anecdotally-collected insights the team has developed a series of internet resources. A learning developer working with an individual can identify a gap and introduce the student directly to the resources dealing with that particular diagnosis, allowing him or her to explore a solution independently - which students find strategically desirable. Students can then return to the resource to revise their learning and ultimately to develop academically beneficial problem-solving strategies. This approach is good for our NET / BLK service to students too. When commenting on a draft in written form, an explanation can be crushing for a student in the amount of detail needed to make sure that the learning point is made. With these resources we can identify the feature with a brief explanation and direct him or her to the relevant page or pages.

There is a little more here about inviting feedback, before the text explains the grammar pages, which you know about already. The next excerpt I will use is from the pages I've entitled Annotated Academic excerpts:

Students frequently ask us if we can show them a well-written piece of student writing. We have gratefully made frequent use of the “Working Papers in Applied Linguistics”, a journal that collects and publishes the best applied linguistics assignments each year. With these we can analyse how successful students structure
their assignments, their paragraphs, and their sentences; we can look at the sorts of words they are using and verb forms they have chosen; we can highlight the frequency with which successful students are referencing (in APA), and how those citations are integrated. Students find a guided tour of successful student work a
useful exercise, and although the topic should not matter in terms of the writing strategies, they wonder if there might be texts in their disciplines that they can analyse. As a response we have a new (and still being developed) innovation called Annotated Academic Excerpts. This innovation takes successful assignments donated by high-performing students and annotates the features that contribute towards the quality of the text in question. At present the tool has focussed on the introduction and conclusion structure of the academic rhetorical essay, but we are hoping to include excerpts of text-types for specific disciplines as these become available. As with the grammar, many of the excerpts have an activity at the bottom of the page inviting active participation.
We would like to continue to develop this resource in collaboration with students, and value the insights of teaching staff on what they consider important when grading specific assignment types. We welcome both positive and constructive suggestions for improvement on this innovation.
To see our annotated academic excerpts:

I've included here a screenshot of the master left-hand navigation. Towards the bottom of the list you can see the links to Grammar, Academic Text Analysis, Help with technology, and Basic referencing APA (still under construction). Information about these two latter to follow.

The TDU talk article continues:

The basic referencing suite uses the same interface as the annotated academic excerpts. The excerpts demonstrate how successful students have integrated their citations (whether as direct quotes or as paraphrases) into their writing. These citations are annotated to show how the citations fit seamlessly into the paragraph and sentences to support a writer’s point. The original text (that the student has cited) is included (as a pop-up window) with the actual words the student employed picked out in blue text. The student can compare the original with the cited extract, and take note of the comments that we have included. The comments direct the reader explicitly to the citation strategies used within the excerpt and some of the technical features. The overall aim is to demonstrate what writers are doing when they include citations, and how their voice is supported by the authority of the authors who have influenced their thinking on the subject.
As well as providing examples of good writing, the section alerts students to pitfalls that they may not be aware that they need to avoid. In order to demonstrate examples of ‘what-not-to-do’ the Student Learning team have provided examples of things such as misquoting and patch writing (to name just two), that we can use to explain to students what is meant by these criticisms and why they are a problem.
To see basic referencing (APA):

... followed by the excerpt on technology:

The technology that is available to help students with their studies is remarkable, but sometimes students consult Student Learning because they are distracted from the subject content by new (to them) technology. For some, ‘new’ may be a process as simple as attaching a file in an email or simple formatting in a document of text. The ‘help with technology’ series is arranged according to technology themes and contains web pages with simple to follow embedded YouTube videos providing short instructional demonstrations. The pages cross-link to the ICT self-service provided by the University’s ITS, to the Library’s ICT tutorials, and to a Moodle forum where University students can invite interaction with a Student Learning tutor on more specific enquiries. 
To see Help with technology:

The article ends (with minor editing from the original):

We have found that the opportunity to offer targeted resources as part of an explanation for common learning enquiries has eased the burden of lengthy explanations, and enables students to revise the concepts under discussion more thoroughly, or to have access to the advice at a distance. We are interested in maintaining the collection by adding new grammar lessons as the need for them becomes apparent, by adding new texts to the annotated excerpts and referencing suites, by having a greater variety of disciplines represented, and by deconstructing a wider range of text-types. As well as the successful collaboration with teachers from the Faculty of Education, and Te Piringa - Faculty of Law respectively, there is discussion currently in progress also to include excerpts of successful reo Māori (indigenous language of Aotearoa, New Zealand) assignment types as well.

This text was written by Katherine Gilliver-Brown (me) explaining the resources available now for University of Waikato students. Most of the resources described here are available on the web and can be accessed by anyone (anywhere).
Gilliver-Brown, K. (2014). Students as individuals: Enhancing learning capacity with digital resources. TDU talk, (1), 11-13

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Self-access grammar tool

Our team has developed a grammar tool for domestic students here at the University of Waikato. We noticed a trend of students approaching us to explain that their teachers were telling them to correct their grammar but that they didn't know what grammar they needed to correct. As a response to this we've developed a tool that targets the grammar errors that are typical of native speakers of English. (Our strategies for helping non-native speakers is different... that's for another blog).

We're interested in constructive feedback about the content and the formative quizzes in the tool. What do you think should be there that isn't there? What do you think about the items in the quizzes?
 Student Learning grammar

I'd also enjoy discussing how you encourage grammatical accuracy and independence for NESB learners as well; strategies that avoid "correcting it for them". In our context we frequently must insist to our learners that "we do not provide a proof-reading service". Our 'goal oriented'  learners especially are frustrated by this, but so are our process learners; they're so tired, and their language difficulties add so much to their learning burden.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Reflection on FO2010 Mini-Conference event

My event was an asynchronous discussion hosted in this blog. My guest was Dr. E. Marcia Johnson who I interviewed about her experiences with online facilitation. We discussed the idea of managing student expectations, and Marcia described how she learned to be very explicit as in her instructions and in specifying what her expectations are regarding student involvement and participation. The interview of just over 5 minutes was streamed into the blog from OpenDrive, an online repository of sound files which can be stored and retrieved remotely. The OpenDrive interface provides a url link to sound files, and can even provide a console by which the user can listen to the file in the browser.
There was a deal of time that went into working out how this could be done in the blogger environment, and I was disappointed in having to limit my contributors to text-based/written responses. I would have preferred for them to have the option of leaving a voice message if they preferred, but blogger doesn't have that facility.

Note: My reflection on this process below has been organised to fit directly under the headings as they appeared in the FO2010 assignment 3 instructions.

What went well, and what did not go so well
What went well was that the sound file provided an alternative to simply reading a transcript or prepared document... and in an asynchronous blog it was a little different. We kept the interview as short as possible to keep from being too onerous on the participants' time, and the interview, while spontaneous, was discussed beforehand to keep as 'on topic' and efficient as possible. However, a consequence of this was that the content of the interview was somewhat surface-level, and the real depth of Dr. Johnson's extensive experience could not be explored within that time frame. Additionally, I am not very accomplished as an interviewer, and stuttered my way through the process, which then required a modicum of editing in order to bring to it any kind of coherence. It turned out ok, but if I hadn't had the technical ability to edit the file it would have been decidedly painful to listen to... (I could never do something like this live!)
What was especially pleasing with this event was that, although there weren't very many participants, those who contributed wrote carefully considered and complete responses. It never became chatty; instead it provided an opportunity for real concerns to be aired. Any strategies or solutions that were offered were well prepared and it was clear that they were the product of extensive experience on the part of the contributor. This was the most gratifying result of all in this process. It was nice, too, that members of the public found their way in and contributed.
What did not go as well was that many of the FO2010 cohort who might have contributed didn't, most probably because the assignment took place very late; I speculate that many students had moved on from paying attention to the FO2010 correspondance. Consequently, although the quality of the discussion was high, the quantity of threads was limited.
There was a time during the discussion when VoiceThread was not available, and two would-be participants contacted me to say that they couldn't access the file. (This I could deal with, but I was not able to help with the fact that at the same time local infrastructure was also offline, compounding access difficulties)

How the event was organised and promoted
I am fortunate to work with my guest speaker, making it relatively simple to negotiate a time for our interview. I then advertised it through the google groups facility which the FO2010 course facilitator had made available. This went to approximately 100 recipients, and the initial response to the discussion was via this promotion.

Adequate information
The introduction to the discussion was entitled FO2010 - mini conference event:... after which I explained what the discussion was about and what participants could do to take part. It was very simple and I am not aware that there were any difficulties with this.
In my initial explanation I explained why the assignment was being completed so late, but I also assumed that the recipients of that correspondance would have some idea as to what I was attempting, having taken part in the course and facilitated their own 'events'.

Support (technical and access)
I am not sure to what extent the faciliator can be held responsible for the availability of infrastructure for all participants. There are low-bandwidth options that can be offered, but I hesitate to restrict participants who do have high-speed access to the level of content available to those who do not. I must acknowledge that I didn't consider these issues when I posted and hosted my discussion, and was a little startled to discover that there had been access issues for some people. I was able to make the file available via another route to those people, but realise now that I should have indicated this option in my initial promotion.

Relevant for the audience
It's hard to know if the low volume of responses was because my content was irrelevant, or more a factor of the event timing. However, as mentioned a little earlier, the quality of the responses suggests that for those who contributed at least it was relevant; perhaps relevance can be inferred in so much as the conversation slid sideways onto a participant-negotiated theme. I certainly found it relevant.

Whether the event was managed and conducted smoothly - particularly noting how you handled any disruptions.
The advantage of an asynchonous event is that it gives the facilitator and the participants time and space to deal with disruptions. There was a period of about a day in the 10 days of discussion in which the file was unavailable, although access to the summary of the content and comments was not disrupted. My reminder email to FO2010 google group included a personal email address in case any would-be participants were having difficulty with access. I have the resources to be able to provide the content via other means in such cases... but I hadn't anticipated this and hadn't offered alternative access in my initial advertising of the event. This was an oversight.
I was unable to help with participants' local technical issues, ... and most people understand this... but was successful in arranging access alternatively for several contributors.

What efforts you made to ensure that all participants knew where they were supposed to be and when, and arrange technical support for people?
Comment under this heading really has applicability more for a synchronous event.

How you set the stage, made introductions, explained the aims, and whether you managed to remain neutral and facilitatory.
Most of my learning about this process is in considering my performance in relation to the facilitation of this event. Throughout the process I was constantly questioning my role. I was torn between wanting to take part in the discussion as a participant, and knowing that as well as this I was facilitating... and being challenged about the degree to which these roles overlapped... if they did at all.
I think introducing my guest and the topic was handled adequately. However, I was aware of being unsure about the following: 1) my presence within the discussion... (the speed with which I should counter-post... should I leave it a few days and give another contributor time to interact, or should I acknowledge a contribution as quickly as possible?) 2) the nature of my postings... (should my post simply acknowledge and summarise a contribution, or was it appropriate that I add and question further in the hope that it instigate a fresh angle and motivate contributions. ... how much of my personal ignorance regarding the content is it acceptable to reveal? or should I rather be completely neutral on the topic and businesslike regarding the discussion?)

How you did a round up, drew closure and indicated where recordings and other follow up materials would be made available.
My strategy for winding up was to summarise the overall themes and direction of the discussion. Because of the small number of contributors I was able to name their contributions individually. (I reflect, however, that if there had been a far greater number of participants in the discussion this rounding off would have had to be more general.) I like to be complimentary and grateful to participants openly but I do realise that I risk coming across as patronising. I don't really know how I might avoid this.
As far as follow-up, already there has been a subsequent contribution to the conversation, even after the discussion closed. An asynchronous blog is a (semi) permanent document (as far as any electronic document can be) and there will not be any restriction on access... if people know where to find it.

Feedback from audience
A contributor posted a comment after the discussion finished with positive feedback. However, I have not sought contributor feedback which rather limits my ability to comment under this heading. I guess seeking feedback on my event would require the participants to again make their way into my blog, or as a first contribution to explain why they didn't participate earlier. Feedback of this nature (especially if it is critical) can be difficult to come by.

How you would do things in the future
I would do this again. In fact, I feel inspired to do so... however, I do not feel that I should 'spam' the FO2010 cohort... rather allow my followers to find their way in, perhaps advertising on twitter or facebook.

General comments and additions.
I think facilitated and structured asynchronous discussions are easier for participants than open-ended tasks, and inviting opinion or personal experience rather than expecting answers and facts is more encouraging... a discussion needs to be safe, and expecting solutions to problems before students even really have a grasp on what the problems are is asking for silence.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

FO2010 - Mini conference event: Interview with Dr. Marcia Johnson

I am interested in your comments and insights about the issue of managing student expectations in an online course. While all students bring their individual schema to any course, there is a degree to which, for some reason, students believe that an online environment releases them from participating. This can make it rather difficult for the teacher, and for other participants in the course. But ... what can we do about it?
I have here a voice file of an interview I conducted with my guest speaker, Dr. E Marcia Johnson, Her PhD is in educational technology from the University of Toronto and she has taught applied linguistics in Japan and New Zealand. Her current research includes eLearning across academic disciplines at tertiary level, and technology implementation in language teaching... (and in fact, more than 10 years ago I was one of her students in a paper on Computer Assisted Language Learning... which I thoroughly enjoyed).
In the sound file below Marcia talks about the reasons that students enroll in distance papers, and how the same reasons that they choose to take a net paper can impact on their ability to participate.
I invite you to listen to the sound file and reflect in the comment box on your experiences in this area. Perhaps you have been a student in an online paper, and it proved more difficult to keep up than you anticipated.

Marcia Johnson, BA Toronto, MA (Educational 
Technology, PhD (Ed. Tech) Toronto.
Relaxing in the garden
Maybe you are a teacher in a net paper. Is what Marcia describes familiar to you?
Marcia mentions some mechanisms that she would set in place to address some of these issues.
I am interested in your opinion or insights as to what you do to simulate the participation behaviours that we tacitly expect within a face to face classroom. I'd love to read some of your ideas.
Marcia will also be participating in this discussion, so please feel free to address your comments to her too.

Sound file (5MB) (File may take a little while to load)

Streaming link to the file (takes about a minute to load with medium speed broadband)

or... Download link to the file

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Testing... can a sound file work in the blog?

Here is my test sound file. The idea was to work out how to upload a sound file and player into my blog. I'm hoping next week to host here a mini-conference as part of the Facilitating Online 2010 course... with a guest speaker contribution sound file.

So, what I did (according to blogspot instructions) is make myself an OpenDrive account and upload into it my mp3 (which I'd made using Audacity).
Then, in OpenDrive, once I'd uploaded my file, I selected and clicked the little arrow-chevron link to reveal a series of options in a drop-down menu. I chose 'links', which took me to an interface showing a series of URLs for my file, (according to what one intends to do with it). In this case I chose the "html embed" option; copied the stuff in the box and pasted it in here (using the "Edit HTML" view tab) - it worked! (I think... let me know if it's not working for you)
Issues: is it a bit slow to stream?... does it start playing immediately or do you have to wait for the entire file to download?...
I'm going to put a longer file up and then test it from home (where I have a medium speed broadband connection).
My questions about this technology:
Is the idea of using a sound file in the blog appealing?
Is what I had to do to achieve this embedded file too difficult for the average blog user?... (no, but I had to persist a little... now that I know what to do it's a snap, you can do it too).
(Will Blogger develop a wysiwyg interface for uploading sound files similiar to that already available for video do you think?)

Watch this space... a FO2010 discussion about issues with Facilitating Online happening at this location very soon

Monday, November 22, 2010

FO2010: Mini Conference

Karen, Mark, and Tracy's event:
I'm intrigued by iMEET. What a useful looking tool. I went in and found some questions, and was able to answer them successfully. But, unfortunately there was a problem with skype as a conference tool, and I wasn't able to take part at the time in the discussion.
That's ok.... these things happen and the faciliators we really sweet and wrote to me afterwards. (In saying that though, throughout the time that I was waiting to join the conference I fought with myself not to take it personally. I knew it wasn't personal, ... I hadn't been forgotten, ...that something wasn't quite right technically, so, although I didn't actually take part in the synchonous discussion, I have been able to reflect on the possible impact of a technical hitch on any 'highly-strung' student or participant in my online courses, and anticipate preparing for that eventuality. As part of my instructions, I would include a message telling students what to do if connection fails. As it was, in this instance, the facilitators handled making contact with me very well, and I felt a lot better when they emailed me... yes, I admit, I have the potential to be a 'highly-strung' high-maintenance participant. Sorry about that... tiresome ... but as I get older am learning to 'chill' more.)

I went into Illuminate to see if the conference had been transferred there, and came across
Jade Wratten's session, (with Fiona Coffey presenting)
This was a fabulously informative session and I loved it!
I took notes, not that I needed to, but was so inspired by Fiona's basic and essential tips.
  1. "Be prepared" she said. "Have your content ready! ...She continued with:
  2. Appreciate the richness of participant contributions. There are many ways to communicate, beware relying on one medium of interaction, especially voice, lest participants without microphones be excluded.
  3. Time keeping: her strategy for keeping on time is not to have an open mic. 
  4. Understanding the boundaries: inform participants of what you expect from them, and at the beginning of the class (and at relevant times throughout the course) remind participants about maintaining respectful interactions.
  5. Seek and welcome feedback: useful for making your course better, and you can use it as part of your institution's appraisal process... good tip!
  6. Get to the point: Fiona recommended that an average session should have no more than 10 minutes of content, and the rest of the time should be made up of discussion and interaction. Get students to prepare their own content to share... social collaboration, engaging methodology.
  7. Blank the screen at the end of the session, and invite participants to reflect on what went well in the session, and what they liked. Summaries are important for wrapping up the session, and the participants enjoy being part of this process.
Voice threads:
I fully intended to contribute to the several voice thread events... and in the end I didn't. This is my bad. The asynchronous nature of these events meant that that which is momentary (and urgent) is allowed to take precedence over that which is important.
I love the idea of asynchronous voice threads, and am ashamed of myself that the weeks went by til it was too late to contribute.
My thoughts on voice threads: what is that magic balance between having an overly rehearsed and stiff posting, versus  a rambling stream of consciousness, either of which would be equally inhibiting for the listener or participant? I know that I have a tendancy to gabble (which coupled with my New Zild uccint, must be decidedly distracting.) I think too, that people (generally) can feel more "exposed" using a spoken forum; as a learning developer and academic literacy advisor, speaking proficiency is fast becoming an area of particular interest. Will be discussing this with colleagues and community of learning advisors in a few day's time at the ATLAANZ 2010 conference in Christchurch, my reflections on which I expect will occupy the next few postings in this blog.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Training with Steve Wheeler "How lucky am I?!"

Here at the University of Waikato our WCeL team (Waikato Centre for eLearning) hosted UK elearning expert Steve Wheeler (aka Timbuckteeth on Twitter) for a morning workshop on Web 2.0. We defined this term as "real time interactive software on the net, that allows users to generate their own content" ...or UGC (User Generated Content), aka 'socal web' or 'participatory web', and valued for the way it has to potential to 'give everyone a voice'. To this end, Steve encouraged us to think about the nature of learning; to think about what students do to learn, and how they check the accuracy of what they are learning; how they make order from chaos. This reflection must influence the way we select the tools we use.

Social Tagging:
Steve gave an effective visual demonstration as metaphor for social tagging. We were given a small pad of post-it notes (little squares of paper with a slightly tacky edge that can be stuck to a range of surfaces,) upon which we wrote a word (or two) describing or defining the objects in the room around us. We then stuck the notes on said object. As the exercise progressed we could start to see patterns emerging. Certain objects started to attract a noticable number of labels, and although the words describing such objects were different, they all could be seen to have meaning in relation to the object.
This is how social tagging works.
However, Steve Wheeler took this further to demonstrate how our global community has taken the seemingly chaotic and from it created a semblance of order. We wrote our names on pieces of paper (the same little post-it notes) and screwed them into balls we then tossed randomly into the room. That is chaos, but when instead he selected one participant and we all threw our papers toward him; this demonstrated how tag clouds develop. There are several theories that describe this phenomenon: "the wisdom of the crowd" being one. There were others he listed too, although I can't remember what they were (unfortunately) and some of them were contradictory. (I must go onto and see if he's uploaded his slides... this information might be there.)

Other tools
We looked at a number of tools or methods:
WetPaint - a tool for developing wikis. He uses it to encourage problem solving. Students go off and find stuff out which they then collaborate on to make a resource.
(Note: I've used wikis in the classroom successfully too, but modern students are extremely strategic... they have to be... and will not contribute to a project like this unless they have to... unless there is some way that they will benefit in regards to their grades if they do. My students benefitted in that the resource they together created formed the basis of an assessment, so although each student needed only to contribute a little bit of content, they could then use the entire resource to prepare for the assessment. It worked very well, but took a lot of effort on the behalf of the teacher to set up.) Back to WetPaint. There was concern raised that the free version of this product (if there still is a free version) is inundated with advertising.
Delicious - (social bookmarking) a place to go for aggregations of tag clouds on a theme. This raises the visibility of relevant content according to tag themes, but has the added benefit of raising the visibility of people interested in that content. (Really neat  - I was able to find very specific stuff I was looking for which I hadn't been able to find with a normal 'search-engine' search.)

Podcasting - there was a lot of interest in the demonstration that Steve gave on using Audacity to create quick and easy sound files. Audacity is really a very simple and effective tool to use which I (happen to) use all the time.
What wasn't discussed however, is that there can be a little bit of fiddling to install and set up Audacity. Getting Audacity working first off is a piece of cake, but ! to make MP3 files the program requires a certain type of decoder which (for proprietary reasons) needs to be installed separately and then linked in from within the Audacity program (the first time only - fortunately). It took me ages to sort this, and I didn't get a lot of help from my friendly ITS dept who responded to my bleat with "This is not what we do". However, they did then give me sufficient written instructions which, after a bit of perseverance, led eventually to success). - a repository for slides and other documents. What I liked about slideshare is that there were articles also... slides may have limited value, but the articles are interesting.
Flickr - similar to slideshare, but these are images. I like Flickr, but have yet to understand how it can become a learning tool.

Twitter - we looked at the tweets flying in for Timbuckteeth. The point that Steve Wheeler made about Twitter was that it's not about the content so much as the connections.
Forgive me... I feel the need to rant...
I must say... that, well... I found the session most valuable, but I was not comfortable with the interaction activities we were set. They worked very well to demonstrate what Steve intended, but they made me feel vulnerable and insecure. I did not know very many of the other participants, and certainly did not have the sense of trust that... well, that I feel that I have developed with you in the FO2010 course. This I realise is a personality 'thang' and there were other more social and sanguine personalities who really enjoyed the experience - so yay for them. However! I need remember that not all my students are like me so, I have to make it safe for all my students; allow the interaction that a sanguine craves, but give my phlegmatic learners permission not to participate if this is possible - whether f2f or online.
(And I did not appreciate having my 'fighting spirit' questioned in front of a class of strangers because I was the last to achieve an activity! I had so 'moved on' from that activity... who cares if the task is finished when the point that needed to be made was so made already)