How do you like to provide and receive information? What circumstances allow you to express yourself best? Our students’ learning experiences center on the exchange of information, and since they don’t typically get to design their own courses, we implicitly ask students to adapt to our communicative norms. I’m not a student, and for 40 hours each week, I work with colleagues who speak a shared language of diagrams, file naming conventions, and annotated comments.

dense email with color-coded table
Would you like to receive this email? This is how I felt most comfortable communicating with an instructor when deciding between two ways to facilitate a 4-step peer review process.

But in my everyday interactions with people outside of work, when I enter other professional domains, I am keenly aware of my communicative disadvantage, not unlike what our students sometimes face. Paying attention to these interactions gives me humility and makes me curious about how I can give students the agency to express themselves in the ways that suit them best. Let me share an anecdote from outside the office.

Recently I had to visit the doctor for a routine health issue, and he showed me a diagram of test results while using some terms I wasn’t familiar with. When I left, I thought in frustration, I would have benefited from having been provided a glossary of key terms in advance, and a reading list afterward to learn more about the implications of the diagnosis. Surely this doctor could have tailored the visit better by assessing my introductory level of knowledge on the subject and then by expanding on what I already knew, while filling in on the gaps he’d discovered. That’s the confident critique from the instructional designer in me. But of course, I was at someone else’s office this time, operating outside of my professional identity, and my expertise wasn’t being solicited. And I was pretty uncomfortable. What did this medical professional think of me? I could barely follow along with the conversation! And, more importantly, what had I gained from the (quite expensive) interaction, for which I had just taken time off from work?

Our students are in a similar bind. Time spent in our courses is time they can’t spend with their families or in the workplace – and they’re paying for it! So how can we make students’ experiences more satisfying?

I return to the UDL Principle “Provide multiple means of Action & Expression” regularly, and I think it’s worth simply reading the original text:

Learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. For example, individuals with significant movement impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (executive function disorders), those who have language barriers, and so forth approach learning tasks very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in written text but not speech, and vice versa. It should also be recognized that action and expression require a great deal of strategy, practice, and organization, and this is another area in which learners can differ. In reality, there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for action and expression is essential.

This UDL principle reminds me to be open to ways of demonstrating and communicating knowledge that are outside my own comfort zone. So, when you create your course’s assessment plan, consider building variety and options into assignments. How will certain activities advantage some students and not others? Consider how can you draw on your students’ funds of knowledge. Like me, who brought along a specific communication toolkit, our students’ backgrounds have prepared them to communicate in unique ways. If your course relies entirely on one type of assessment (all exams, all essays), ask yourself whether the learning outcomes require it. What evidence of learning will be acceptable to prove students’ newly developed skills? What experiences will provide that evidence? For example, you might provide students with opportunities to:

These options can expand the range of actions and expression available to your students so that more of them can communicate to you, and to themselves, that they are successful learners.

If you’re in need of a few good reads to add to your end-of-summer list, Ecampus Course Development and Training has provided suggestions from our team, along with insights into how these texts have encouraged us to ponder the design of online learning experiences for students and support for our online faculty.

Educated by Tara Westover

reading a book

This book will get you thinking about some of the many obstacles that our students may face on their journey into higher education. This memoir is about a young woman who leaves her fundamentalist family to pursue an education, eventually earning her Ph.D. from Cambridge, and who has to emerge from deep familial assumptions about education-as-brainwashing to chart her own path. As I’ve listened to this book on my commute to and from work (yes, it’s a great audiobook, too!), it has given me an opportunity to think deeply about what it means for students to come from a family that does not place any value on formal education, and what courage and persistence would be required to leap into academia and then find a way to belong there. – Katherine McAlvage

Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang

A small change can go a long way. This book is full of examples and quick tips of how small adjustments in a course can lead to significant benefits. These small adjustments particularly help students who come to a course with misconceptions about how to study and learn. View the bibliographic entry (and get eBook access if you’re affiliated with OSU). – Elisabeth McBrien

An Urgency of Teachers by Morris & Stommel

An Urgency of Teachers is really thought-provoking and challenges many of the assumptions and changes in education. It is a wonderful introduction to critical pedagogy, and I return to it over and over for reminders, suggestions, and to help me to continue being a thoughtful and meaningful educator and designer. – Meghan Naxer

What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy by James P. Gee

While this book isn’t primarily intended for a higher ed audience, it helps introduce many of the connections between learning in a video game and learning in a classroom environment and how we can improve teaching by observing and adapting what video games do particularly well. – Meghan Naxer

Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies by Michelle Pacansky-Brock

The author, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, shared her tips for Humanizing Online Learning as the keynote speaker at Ecampus’ recent Faculty Forum event. Learning online can be an isolating experience, and, for many students, disconnection can contribute to feelings of self-doubt that undermine their success. Pacansky-Brock’s book features several technologies that increase students’ social connectedness. If you want some quick insights, review technologies highlighted by chapter at the book’s companion site. – Deborah Mundorf

We hope these titles give you some fresh perspectives as you finalize your fall courses. Happy reading!

student response slide

In my last post, I described how Ecampus courses use synchronous study sessions to provide listening and speaking practice to students of world languages. Much of the Ecampus language learning experience is entirely asynchronous, however, to provide flexibility for our students. So how exactly do students converse asynchronously? This post will describe the design of asynchronous listening and speaking exercises in 300-level French conversation courses, executed by Ana-Maria M’Enesti, PhD, and facilitated via VoiceThread, a slide show within the LMS that displays course content about which participants comment via text, audio, or video.

Title slide and Intro slide
In these two slides, Ana-Maria intros the topic via video comment, contextualizes the resource via audio, and links out to the resource. The “i” icon indicates an “Instructions” comment and the numbered icons indicate links 1 and 2.

VoiceThread was an appealing platform because of the ease with which students can add audio or video comments, more streamlined than the protocol for uploading video to a discussion board, and because of its display of content in sequential slides. When Ana-Maria and I began exploring how to present her asynchronous conversational lessons within VoiceThread, we realized that we could chunk each stage of the activity into these individual slides. This made the cognitive load at each stage manageable, yet provided continuity across the activity, because the slides are contained in a single assignment; students navigate by advancing horizontally from slide to slide. VoiceThread allows each slide to link to external content, so students can maintain their place in the sequence of the assignment while engaging with linked resources in another window. Most importantly, since students encounter all the related learning activities from within a single context, it is clear to them why they are investing time in reading or watching a resource – they anticipate that, at the end of the assignment, they will complete a culminating speaking activity.

For the culminating speaking activity, we used VoiceThread to provide each student with a place to upload his or her initial post as a new, individual slide that occupies the entire horizontal pane. Replies from peers are then appended to each student’s initial slide post. Visually, this is easier to follow than a text-based discussion, with its long, vertical display of posts that uses nesting to establish the hierarchy of threaded replies. Within VoiceThread, as students advance through the slides, they are able to focus their attention on each student’s initial post and the associated peer replies, one at a time.

student response slide
A student’s initial slide post displays her individual environmental footprint gained from using the resource linked earlier. On the left, there is an audio explanation and comments between the student, “AC,” instructor, and peers, labeled by their initials or profile pic.

Now that I’ve discussed how we exploited the mechanics of VoiceThread, I’ll review the learning design. To progressively scaffold students’ conversational skills, Ana-Maria builds each assignment as a series of activities of increasing difficulty. On the first slide, students might be prompted to share opinions or personal experiences of a topic in order to activate prior knowledge of thematic vocabulary and associated grammatical structures. Then, on subsequent slides, students are challenged to read or watch related content that is comprehensible, but a bit beyond their current language competence, the “i+1” level, as Krashen coined it. Afterwards, to ensure they’ve grasped the resource, Ana-Maria typically poses factual comprehension questions and then asks students to re-read or re-watch so that they can grasp any meanings they may have missed on the initial encounter.

Finally, students are asked to speak critically on what they read or watched, express a solution to a problem, or place the topic within their own cultural context, using topic-specific vocabulary and associated grammatical structures that they’ve heard or read from the included resources. The instructor is present throughout, mediating the interaction between student and content, since Ana-Maria narrates each slide, reading the instructions aloud and adding additional context. There is also support for listening comprehension, as the most critical instructions are written on each slide.

For the feedback stage of the assignment, students learn from each other’s responses, listening and providing replies to at least two peers on two different days of the week. This requirement allows conversations to develop between students and provides the third type of interaction, learner-to-learner, so that the activity sequence facilitates all three of the interactions described by Moore (1989): learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to learner.

As expressed by one of our own students, “I was uncertain how a conversation course online would really work,” but “VoiceThread proved to be a helpful tool.” It allowed us to solve the puzzle of providing asynchronous conversational activities for students, who reported in surveys that it helped:

  • to “humanize” them to each other, like being “in an actual classroom”
  • to connect them with their instructor
  • to provide “access to multiple tasks within one [assignment]”
  • to improve listening and speaking skills
  • to make “group projects flow better”

VoiceThread is quite a versatile tool and is being piloted for use with many other disciplines at Ecampus. I’m sure you can imagine other ways to adapt it to your own context and content!

We schedule asynchronous coursework to provide flexibility for online students balancing multiple commitments. But asynchronous interaction is not ideal for achieving some learning outcomes. How can students learn to converse extemporaneously in another language, for example, through entirely asynchronous exchanges? If the outcome we want is the ability to engage in an unplanned spoken exchange between interlocutors engaged in social interaction, we can’t expect to achieve it by structuring learning experiences that are entirely self-paced, independent, and asynchronous. For this reason, many Ecampus world language courses require students to hold synchronous study sessions via videoconference software with other students who serve as conversation partners. This communicative approach to instruction provides for immersive experiences, frequent interaction in the target language, and improvisation.

The remainder of this post outlines how to structure this requirement for maximum flexibility and participation. While the focus is on application within world language courses, the general assignment protocol is applicable for facilitating synchronous study sessions in any course in which students would benefit from regular, live interaction.

Matching

During the first week, facilitate a sign-up process that matches students based on availability schedules and study habits. Allow the students to choose their own partners and to outline study session guidelines so that both parties feel respected. Provide suggested videoconference software along with alternatives, and encourage students to install and test the software in advance of their planned study sessions.

Planning

Once students have identified their study partners, require them to commit to a meeting schedule. Share the approximate dates by which their meetings should occur and give an estimate of how long students will need to meet in order to complete each assignment successfully.

As you plan a synchronous component, be cognizant of the competing demands on your students’ time. Depending on your student population, requiring even a weekly study session may be unrealistic. Also be aware that, like with any independent group activity, you will need to intervene in the case of student attrition, incompatibility, and conflict. For this reason, you might stage new partner matching twice in a term or require study groups of three students each so that no student is left without a partner or is consigned to a bad match for the entire term.

Monitoring

Before each synchronous assignment, prepare students to complete a clear task and then follow up to see how it went. For example, students might design a presentation on an assigned topic or play different sides of a conversation using assigned vocabulary and grammatical structures. If there is a deliverable, like the presentation, you’ll have some evidence of how well the study session went. If the deliverable is intangible, like conversation practice, consider asking students to record and submit a video of their meeting. Part of the assignment might require students to re-watch their conversation and identify several strengths and areas for improvement. This makes the recording beneficial for the student on top of its utility as a monitoring and assessment measure for the instructor. There is a limit, however, to the volume of recorded study sessions you’ll want to watch and grade, so you might also consider appealing to students’ academic honesty to ensure that the study sessions truly take place. For example, assign a periodic 1-question quiz that requires the student to attest to having met with their partner and then leave the study sessions otherwise ungraded.

Benefits and Extension to Assessment

Synchronous student study sessions allow you to capitalize on student-to-student learning. Although the language learners themselves will not be able to provide each other with entirely accurate target language input, nonetheless each partner will offer different skills and resources for resolving conversational challenges. On a practical level, the scheduling of student study sessions is usually more flexible than instructor-to-student meetings, because students can choose from a range of partners with varied schedules at the outset and then renegotiate meeting times as needed. You can then assess conversational skills developed through the study sessions using higher-stakes, synchronous social interactions that require more planning. For example, is the student able to converse synchronously in an oral exam with the instructor? What about speaking with interlocutors in their own community? Can the student talk with others online, outside the confines of the course?

At Ecampus, some instructors facilitate synchronous conversation with native speakers by connecting students to the online service TalkAbroad. The instructor provides TalkAbroad’s trained conversation partners with general instructions and then reviews the resultant conversation recordings on the TalkAbroad platform. Because students pay $10-$15 per conversation, instructors are mindful of the cost. For this reason, a TalkAbroad activity is usually a culminating assignment at the end of an Ecampus language course. The practice students have had in synchronous study sessions earlier in the term prepares them to get the most value out of the TalkAbroad assignment, and it reduces students’ anxiety about speaking with a more fluent interlocutor.

With this assignment protocol in mind, are you ready to try out synchronous student study sessions in your course? Ecampus world language instructors would be glad to discuss it with you further – asynchronously, of course! Synchronous discussion will require a bit more planning. But sometimes, that’s the only way to get the job done.

Resource

Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Innovation | Group Work: How to Create & Manage Groups

Many online instructors create video lectures or include existing videos to model new skills and to expose students to new content. But how do you know that your students are engaged?

To make video watching an active learning experience, add Kaltura’s interactive quiz feature to your lectures or to YouTube videos. You can access Kaltura’s simple quiz tools from Canvas’s My Media tab, or provide Ecampus with quiz questions and let us build the quizzes for you.

Features:

  • Add multiple choice questions with 2-4 answers to any point in your video
  • Accompany the quiz with a pdf viewing guide containing all quiz questions
  • Graded and ungraded options
  • Integrated with the Canvas Assignment tool and Gradebook

How would you like students to interact with your videos? Depending on your needs, you can set Kaltura interactive video quizzes to:

  • Prevent students from advancing the video until they’ve answered each question
  • Prevent students from changing their answers
  • Reveal or withhold answers upon quiz submission
The question appears at the top of the video screen. Three answers are below, along with the option to "Skip for now" and a tally of the number of unanswered questions and an indication of which question this is.
Grammar question embedded in SPAN 211 video

In recent Ecampus courses, world languages faculty have embedded Kaltura interactive video questions at different points in videos to achieve different aims. In Second Year Spanish, grammar lectures conclude with questions that test students’ application of the grammar rules discussed earlier. The placement of questions at the end of the video holds students accountable for watching and understanding the entire lecture.

French author interview with questions interspersed along video progress bar
Numbered hexagons 1-6 indicate the placement of quiz questions in the video’s progress bar

In Introduction to French Literary Studies, interviews with authors are interspersed with questions that confirm students’ listening comprehension of topics directly after each topic is discussed. When students are unable to answer a question, they become aware of gaps in their French language listening skills and can rewatch the segment they misunderstood. Engaging in repeated listening is a critical second language learning strategy that instructors aim to foster in their students (Berne, 1998). Kaltura interactive video quizzes are a simple and fast method that gets the job done.

This tool’s usefulness isn’t limited to world languages faculty. Speak with your instructional designer about how to apply this tool to lectures and videos in your own academic discipline.

References and Resources

Berne, J. (1998). Examining the Relationship Between L2 Listening Research, Pedagogical Theory, and Practice 1. Foreign Language Annals, 31(2), 169-190.
Interactive Video Quiz Canvas Gradebook User Guide
Interactive Video Quizzes Guide for Creating Quizzes