Searching for native speakers for video-chats with students: Free and risky or costly and safe?

Previous posts in this blog have reported on the use of videoconferencing in foreign language classes in order to provide students with authentic experiences that can bring a completely new dimension to the language learning process. See my previous post  and Luis Gonzalez’s post for details.

When video-conferencing is used with the main purpose of providing out-of-class opportunities for the students to practice the target language, one of the main issues and challenges we face is finding native speakers who will engage with our students in a meaningful way.

For my elementary class project in Spring 2017 I used Talkabroad. Although this platform comes with a cost, I highly recommend it with elementary level students. The platform itself is very user-friendly both for the instructor as well as for the students. The instructor can create a classroom where students register, and design one or more assignments for the students to complete within a set deadline. The instructor can track the assignments and review the students’ performance as it records the audio of the video-chat. The technology is quite reliable and good quality, out of 25 conversations only 2 were cut off after 15 minutes (each conversation lasts 30 minutes), which was more due to the partner’s connection than to the technology itself. The conversation partners are all native speakers residing in the foreign country and are trained to be kind, patient and to never use English when talking to the students. My experience with this platform has been very positive and has resulted in a successful final project last spring. One complaint I have, though, is that the pool of native speakers for Italian is a little small. There were only 5 partners to choose from and my students ended up interviewing mostly 3 of them based on their profiles. Nevertheless, I still highly recommend it for elementary level students because the sheltered experience guarantees success, necessary to boost their confidence at this stage of their language learning process and increase motivation toward the language.  

For intermediate students I think this type of hand-holding is no longer necessary. These more mature language learners can safely venture into one of the free online language exchange communities that connect people all over the world to practice language with native speakers.  Years ago, I tried to direct my students to using The Mixxer, a free site hosted by Dickinson College, but the technology at the time was not well developed and the community of Italian speakers was extremely small and unreliable.

Next Spring, I am planning on incorporating video-conferencing with native speakers in my upper level conversation class again as I find it an invaluable tool, and I am optimistic that this time around things will work better.  I did a quick Google search to see what other language communities are available, besides The Mixxer, and I found quite a few. Of the many that came up, WeSpeke seemed the most promising of all. I decided therefore to test its reliability and the community that uses it.

First step to access a language community in WeSpeke is to create a profile and specify your native language and the language that you want to practice. You can also write a little bio for other people to read. Based on your preference it will match you with a community of speakers that have similar preferences. You can always reset your filters so that it will narrow down the community even further. Once in a community you can then directly message people that you want to establish a friendship with. I must admit that this is an extremely active community, as soon as I signed up people started messaging me and had 4 friendship requests in the matter of a few minutes. I had to switch my profile to offline because I couldn’t keep up with the messages. I, however, didn’t go past a few introductory greetings with other people as my focus was to just test the platform for future use.

The messaging system is not perfect. Some chats are saved but they do not show up in the chat window for some reason. There is also the possibility of doing audio and video chats once you have established friendship with your language partner. The bar at the bottom of the screen has a number of interesting features. There is a quick dictionary feature, and you can also send an image or URL. The community seems quite active but, I was told by one of my new acquaintances, it is also a little volatile. Establishing a contact is extremely easy as the community is very large, but maintaining the contact and laying down the grounds for a video-chat is a little harder, according to some.

With this in mind, I have, nevertheless decided, to give WeSpeke a try for my intermediate conversation class for next semester and see how it will work in the context of the assignment that I will design over the winter break. 

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Teaching with Wikipedia, the Fall 2017 Edition

Image from the Eli Coppola Wikipedia article created in Fall 2016 ; Polaroid photo of Eli in 1992, captioned by Eli

This fall I am again working with Wikipedia in my Feminist Theory course (check out: Why You And Your Students Should Work To Improve Wikipedia, Feminist Praxis and Wikipedia in the Classroomand Adding Voices to Scholarship: Wikipedia Editing). It’s the second time that I’m mixing the Wiki Education Foundation’s online dashboard with our Linda Lear Center’s archives. This Wikipedia-based assignment continues to be a uniquely engaging for students because they are not only able to contribute to public knowledge, they become Wikipedia editors. They shift from being passive visitors to the Wikipedia site to editors with a working knowledge of the principles and culture of Wikipedia and an ability to add and edit Wikipedia pages.

In this blog post, I want to offer up a few key reasons to consider using Wikipedia in your class:

Ubiquity

As of As of Friday, November 10, English Wikipedia had 5,491,385 articles and is estimated to be the seventh most popular site in the United States, and the fifth most popular in the world. I have yet to teach a student who has not visited Wikipedia. While there is a longstanding skepticism of the reliability of Wikipedia, students are often unclear about how the encyclopedia works and yet often use it for information. Through a Wikipedia-engaged assignment, faculty can assist students in learning when Wikipedia could be useful and when it is not an appropriate source.

You can do it!

Thanks to the Wiki Education Foundation’s development of an online dashboard, there is an increasingly easy to use and nicely scaffolded way to plan out an assignment. My dashboard allows me to draw on the trainings provided by Wiki Education to help students learn the basics to Wikipedia as a community, as well as how to edit, conduct research, write an article, and provide substantive feedback to their peers. It also harnesses the transparency of Wikipedia to make it easy to track students work throughout a project. Plus, each class gets connected to a Wikipedia content expert who can provide additional support to students. I have asked my content editors to video chat with students the past two years and that has been helpful for establishing rapport. All in all, while I don’t ever feel like I’m an uber-Wikipedian, I know that I have the basic knowledge needed and when I hit a roadblock, I have the support I need.

Built-in Motivation

Students respond well to the challenge of a Wikipedia assignment because it engages with a public-facing platform. In this case, it’s a site that possibly everyone they know has visited at some point. As a result, they care more about doing high quality work because they have a sense of responsibility towards a public audience. They also look forward to sharing their work with friends and family. Finally, I already have had a student be asked to do Wikipedia work during a junior year internship, and she surprised her placement supervisor by already having this experience.

Student Feedback & Assessment

This fall in their reflection essays, students noted that this assignment allows them to engage with a mainstream audience.

As a student argued:

In 2017, in a climate of extreme political polarization and turmoil, as well as an increasing sense of distrust in news and credible sources, assignments such as the Wikipedia Project are exceptionally valuable, in terms of the content they produce, as well as the online communities they form and support.

Another observed:

Student created content creates a sense of accountability and agency within learning. Producing knowledge is empowering. It gives students a sense of greater purpose within the classroom, creating a conversation in which students can be critical of information and its production. Instead of simply reading about theories about voices being left out and that there is not enough content written by women, I was able to learn transferable skills and add to the voices on Wikipedia that are written about and by women.

Overall, while they noted some limitations of both Wikipedia (an important element to the assignment to develop their understanding of concepts like positivism, objectivity, situated knowledges, and standpoint epistemology) and working with materials from the archives, students reported that this was a particularly compelling assignment unlike a standard research paper.

In regards to assessment, Wiki Education provides suggestions and an assessment rubric that can be repurposed for your own needs.

Interested, but not sure about all this? Drop me a line and I will be happy to meet up to look through the dashboard with you.

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Getting It Together! Teaching with Digital Portfolios: Part 1

An excerpt from Misao McGregor’s ’18 journal

In this 2-part blog series, professors Ari Rotramel (GWS) and Sabrina Notarfrancisco (Theater) team up to share their experiences teaching with digital portfolios. Together, they hope to offer readers insights into the possibilities for portfolios in their work with students.

Digital Portfolios in the Design Classroom

In a blog post last March, I shared my goal of incorporating digital portfolios in my Costume Design and Construction course as a way for students to document and reflect on their process in conjunction with showcasing their completed work. I tested a variety of applications before discovering Morpholio Journal, an innovative app for the iPad and iPhone that allows students to combine sketches, thoughts, and images in a virtual Moleskine® Notebook.

I was instantly drawn to Morpholio Journal –  it has a clean and customizable format that is easy to use and my students quickly figured out how to draw, write, and create dynamic layouts with the aid of their DELI iPad loaners. They particularly liked the virtual page-turning feature, a small but splashy detail that made their portfolio-journals appear almost analog. Currently, the app only allows screenshots of individual page layouts to be shared digitally, an unfortunate drawback that diminishes the curated journal experience, but I enthusiastically recommended the app as an option to my class nonetheless. Several students took the plunge and thoughtfully chronicled their design process using Morpholio Journal while others opted to use traditional platforms such as Google Slides and Docs with similar success.

Before realizing how important a journaling feature was to meeting my pedagogical goals, I tested several “photo album” style portfolio applications including:

Foliobook – a highly customizable iPad portfolio app with a minimalist interface. This app looks great and it made my presentations look really polished. It didn’t take long to figure out how to import backgrounds, add labels, control the transitions between slides, add music, etc. I highly recommend Foliobook to both student and established artists wishing to create professional looking and shareable portfolios.

Minimal Folio – an inexpensive application that allows users to create galleries that can be viewed by not only swiping images from right to left but also by swiping up and down, similar to a tile board game. It is a minimalist and elegant platform without a lot of bells of whistles, but still solid and visually compelling.

Morpholio – developed by the Morpholio Journal team, this is another stylish portfolio app with a minimalist interface. It is shareable and allows collaborators to write and sketch suggestions directly onto images. I found this intriguing app to be less intuitive and there are a few features that I still can’t figure out, so if you go with this one be prepared for a learning curve.  

As a result of these explorations, I learned that digital portfolio apps are an effective way for students to document, showcase, and reflect on design projects and can be particularly beneficial to those wishing to impress graduate schools, potential employers, and clients with their visual artwork. However, for pedagogical applications, familiar (and free) platforms such as Google Slides and Google Docs can be equally effective. Nonetheless, I highly recommend exposing students to a variety of portfolio options, especially as they near graduation.

Avoiding the Rabbit Hole of Distractions on YouTube: How to Embed YouTube Videos Into Moodle

YouTube is amazing. With nearly 1 billion hours of uploaded video, the site hosts an impressive array of content germane to many topics in my courses. But YouTube is also a rabbit hole of distraction. I’ve gone to YouTube to watch a four-minute video on mitosis and left over an hour later having watched eight videos featuring farm animals attacking humans, nearly 14 minutes of carpool karaoke with Madonna and James Corden, and maybe 12 minutes of Queen at LIVE Aid. Thanks to increasingly savvy logarithms, the opportunities to click on other “suggested” videos are seemingly endless. And then there’s the cesspool of oftentimes caustic user commentary that continues to erode my faith in humanity.

Suffice it to say that sending students (or faculty) to YouTube to watch and think about only one video is like sending my 8-year old to a candy store to do her homework. It’s just not gonna happen. So my challenge has been how to use YouTube content without all of the distractions. My solution, detailed below, is to embed the YouTube video into my Moodle site and to do it such that only the video displays.

Read step-by-step instructions in the document embedded below.

Image credit: Rabbit Hole. By Amanvanasparesort (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Asynchronous Collaborations: Using Google Docs to Facilitate Working in Community

This semester Ariella Rotramel and I are engaging in community-based teaching and research. In order to work efficiently in our collaborations with community partners, we have both turned to Google Docs as an important tool. This post describes how each of us use use Google Docs in this work.

Joyce

IASC LogoMy course, ANT/LAS 431 Globalization, Transborderism, and Migration, is partnered with an organization I have a longstanding relationship with, the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center (IASC) in New London. Students are working on two projects: creating bilingual Know Your Rights materials for our local community and  interviewing immigrants that IASC has supported through the legal system. Students will write synopses with selected quotes for IASC’s newsletter to highlight success stories. The interviews also provide data that IASC can use in grant applications. Finally, these interviews will provide me with research materials for my long-term research project on the local migrant community and the non-profits they interact with.  

Google Docs has been essential to creating and editing the materials that are at the core of these projects. First, IASC members logged into Docs and commented on the course syllabus as it was being designed. IASC’s direct input into the syllabus follows best practice guidelines for community learning courses. Google Docs allowed IASC collaborators to comment and co-design at times that were convenient for them, enabling us to make progress without meeting in person. While in-person collaboration is key, many of the challenges our partnership faces is finding times to work together given that we exist in two rather distinct work-cultures: academia and nonprofit service sector. This kind of collaboration and co-designing never would have been possible without Google Docs technology.

Most recently, students have used Google Docs to create Know Your Rights materials for our local migrant community. Google Docs has allowed us as a group to share materials already created (such as materials from the ACLU). We were then able to adapt pre-existing materials to the needs of IASC. Collaborating on Google Docs allowed students to share the responsibilities of formatting issues, and it allowed IASC to comment on our work as we went along. That kind of valuable feedback saved us time, as IASC was able to guide our work effectively and quickly.  

Finally, students will be using Google Docs to share their interview transcripts and field notes. Students are completing interviews in pairs, which means using Google Docs facilitates their collaboration. More importantly is that using Google Docs is a convenient way for me to archive the data produced by this class from year to year. A word of caution: be sure to own all of the documents, because if students own the documents and graduate, one could lose access. Barring this particular issue, using Google Docs to archive the data has been convenient  because I cannot misplace it and, more importantly, IASC always has access to the Drive. This means they can access all the data our partnership has produced whenever they need it, which again, is in line with best-practices for community partnerships.

Ariella

Fresh LogoI have been engaged with FRESH New London over the past year as a volunteer and board member. As FRESH began to explore the possibility of a youth participatory research project (YPAR) to tell New London food stories (related to questions of access, inequality, and culture), it became clear that I could help develop this idea into a collaborative research project that would address FRESH’s goals and draw on my experience with community-based research. Over last fall, I worked with FRESH staff to develop an IRB for the initial stage of the project, mapping New London’s food resources using Google Maps. This semester we are working together with youth as co-researchers, meeting weekly to design, collect, analyze, and map information related to New London and food.

I used Google Docs to share initial academic articles on YPAR and food stories, and FRESH reciprocated by sharing existing grants and other materials. Together, we were able to mix in-person meetings with Google Doc work to develop the IRB proposal and all of the related documents. As we received feedback from each other and then the Connecticut College IRB committee, we used Google Doc to make changes, give comments, and  track this work easily through the “see revision history” function. After the project was initiated, we continue to use Google Docs to share materials including brainstorming notes, research links and PDFS, as well as using Google Spreadsheets to track  research findings.

Final Thoughts

Overall, using Google Docs for our community collaborations allows us to follow best practices for community engaged learning because it facilitates input from community partners and community partner’s access to the data we produce. If planned, using Google Docs can also cut down on the amount of coordinating and administrative work the instructor has to do in community learning courses, which can be a barrier to engaging in this important and fulfilling work.  

Google into Moodle

About a year ago, I shifted my course syllabi to Google Docs as a strategy for more nimbly handling the inevitable hiccups and improvisational changes to scheduled meetings during the semester: snow days; opportunistic class visits by colleagues and other scholars; newly published research addressing course topics; etc..  As a result, any updates to syllabi are immediately available to students and other course participants.  You can read more about this here.

For similar reasons, I’ve since shifted to using Google Docs for all of my lab and other assignment instructions.  Whenever I correct a typo or tweak an assignment parameter, the changes are rendered in real time, and I don’t have to convert the doc into a PDF, upload to Moodle, and delete or replace the old version.  Fewer steps, fewer keystrokes, fewer headaches. Huzzah.

I might even consider shifting my courses entirely to Google Drive – for example, check out Ari Rotramel’s approach – but I’m a huge fan of Moodle’s online submission tools, gradebook, and quickmail features; I find all indispensable to my pursuit of less paperwork, less email, and a streamlined workflow during the semester.  But Google Drive and Moodle can happily play together.  Links to Google Docs, Sheets, and Maps are easily curated on Moodle with other course content and, when properly framed, all of these apps facilitate and enhance student collaborations in ways that are seldom afforded by other software.

Recently, in a moment of glorious nerdiness, I figured out how to take this simpatico relationship one step further, or how to display the contents of a Google Doc in Moodle.  My simple goal was to have my Google Doc syllabus display – not as a link but, rather, the actual contents – near the top of a course Moodle page.  In effect, the syllabus becomes the digital center of all digital content and workflow while retaining its autonomy as a document that can be shared with colleagues or added to a tenure or promotion file.

The path to embedding the Google Doc into Moodle is not overly complicated, but it does require a dive into various menu commands and a minor tweak to some HTML code provided by Google.  For those who take the plunge, here’s a brief video tutorial as well as some step-by-step instructions and notes:

  1. Open up your Google Doc in one tab of your browser and your course Moodle page in another.
  2. Make sure that your Google Doc is shared or, at minimum, viewable by anyone who has the link.
  3. In your Google Doc app, select “File” from the menu bar, and then select “Publish to the web”.  (Make sure you’re selecting from the menu in the Google Docs app and not the upper menu bar that belongs to your browser.)
  4. Click on the “Embed” tab in the window that opens and copy the link. If no code is displayed, press the blue “Publish” button. Copy the code, and then close this window with the “X” in the upper right.
  5. In Moodle, turn editing on, and then select “Edit topic” for one of the major topic sections of your Moodle page.
  6. You might name this section “Syllabus”.
  7. In the Summary box below, select the “<>” button which allows you to edit the HTML source code.
  8. Paste the code you copied from Google.  

Some tips and code for making more screen real estate, making the document editable in Moodle, and for loading up on bookmarked pages in the embedded Google Doc below.

Deconstructing out-of-class discussions

This post will be an expansion on my earlier thoughts on developing a platform for out-of-class, discussion-based assignments. To quickly review, my goal is to “snow-day-proof” my classes and also create a framework for online discussion that I can use for planned or impromptu out-of-class assignments. I envision a three-step process for these assignments: (1) initial reading, (2) on-line reflection through GChat, and (3) collaborative responses to questions on a Google Doc. My goal with this post is to deconstruct the assignment’s various components (listed below), and raise questions to force myself to confront the scope of what it will take to prepare this assignment for actual use.

  1. Content
    While my goal is to develop this assignment in a content-free way, I still have to consider the types of content that I can use. Since I plan to use this activity both for discussions of assigned readings (which will tend to be more challenging and complex, and require advanced reading on students’ own time) and for impromptu snow days that arise unexpectedly (for which readings must be short and easily digestible), I must structure the activity with both of these readings in mind. But will any of the questions that I consider here have different answers depending on which of these two types of readings will be discussed? I must keep this question in mind as I proceed through the rest of the list.
  1. Group formation
    I have recently begun to think more and more about how to optimally put together groups for discussions in class, so I am wondering whether similar (or different) questions have to be asked when it comes to forming groups for online discussion out of class. Should I use the same degree of caution when attempting to achieve gender balance or aptitude balance? Should I use stable groups across multiple meetings or reconfigure groups each time? Specifically, if I want to get the most out of online discussion, would it be problematic, or helpful, to put people together who have never worked together? What are the advantages and disadvantages associated with the tradeoff between familiarity and novelty?
  1. Length of time for the assignment
    To facilitate communication across students in groups, the assignment must have a finite time to be completed. For snow-day-replacement classes, the length of time would naturally be one class period. For discussions of external readings, longer periods of time (but probably not much longer given coordination challenges) might be desirable. But how long is too long? And how will the construction of specific assignments change depending on how long I set aside for the discussion?
  1. Instructions
    The instructions will play a critical role in setting expectations, motivating students and setting the ground rules. What needs to be included in them in order to make the assignment meaningful and facilitate learning? What ground rules need to be established? How can I model successful GChat transcripts and answers to discussion questions?What do students need to be told in order to get them to take the assignment seriously and interact thoughtfully and respectfully with their group members? What do I need to tell them about what I expect the final product to look like, and how should I convey information with respect to how I will be grading it?
  1. Grading
    Speaking of grading, how can I assess the quality of the group’s overall work? What criteria can I use to judge both the final product (the ultimate answers to discussion questions) and the intermediate inputs that lead up to it (the chat dialogue that preceded the ultimate answers)? How can I assess the quality of relative contributions, both in terms of making my own judgment of the work and having students rate their own and their group members’ contributions? I envision a rubric that makes my approach to grading explicit, which will be provided to students along with the assignment’s instructions.
  1. Providing feedback to students
    After collecting the assignments, what feedback should I provide, both with respect to the work produced and the quality of the discussion? Should I spend class time debriefing? Should I provide written feedback and, if so, should it be specific to each group or general? Should I share specific responses to the entire class? Will the answers to these questions depend on specific readings?
  1. Learning and adjusting
    Once the work is collected and graded, how can I assess the quality of the assignment? How will I know whether learning goals were achieved? How will I know whether changes need to be made? Given successful and unsuccessful experiences, what should I be looking for in terms of readings that I can use for this assignment in the future? Reflecting on all of the questions, from all of the topics in this list, how will I know if there are things I can do to improve across all of these areas?


In future posts, I will turn my attention toward answering these questions. But this preliminary exercise has made me realize that I have my work cut out for me, and that I could benefit immensely from other tech fellows’ perspectives on these questions. So any help would be much appreciated!

“Clear Vision” flickr photo by C.P.Storm https://flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/167418602 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The perfect textbook is possible! Tools for creating or customizing textbooks

American History textbook based on American Yawp and created using iBooks Author

We’ve written a lot about open educational resources (OER) on this blog, in addition to presenting at regional, consortial, and national  meetings. One area we could explore further is the ability to customize true OER. Don’t like a chapter? Edit it, or simply remove it. Don’t like the order material is presented? Reorganize it so that matches the way you teach. Like some parts of one text, and parts of another? Mash them up to create your own.

A quick Google search reveals that there are hundreds of platforms and software options that allow you to create your own textbook from existing OER. This post focuses on four inexpensive (or free) tools that we have experience using. We also want to point out that this is only one step in successfully implementing OER into a course, and that members of the instructional technology team are here to assist you through the entire process!

  • iBooks Author is a free app that allows you to create ebooks and either export them as epub files and share with students, or make them available through the iBooks store. This software makes it very easy to incorporate multimedia content – image galleries, movies, multiple-choice questions, and more. You can even add interactive widgets to your books such as maps, 360 degree panoramas, and timelines. Note that your students will need to have software that can read epub files, but there are free options we can recommend.
  • Scalar, a free online platform built by the University of Southern California, is a favorite authoring platform of digital humanists who wish to create long-form, born-digital content. Its structure is flexible, allowing for multimedia-rich, non-linear texts. Scalar does not require you to install or use any specialized software – all editing is done online. If you want students to access your course materials online and you have a lot of multimedia content, this is a good choice.
  • Pressbooks is book production software, but you don’t have to create a print book. If you have used WordPress, the learning curve will be small. I found the different templates to be attractive, and was pleased with the ease of reorganizing my book’s content and the ability to select page-level copyright licenses. Also exciting is the Hypothesis plugin so students can highlight, add comments, and take notes while reading! While it is free to use the platform and distribute your text online, it does cost money to publish your book in epub and pdf formats without watermarks (from $19-$99). There is also an option to order printed copies.
  • Blurb is an inexpensive option for creating professional-looking books that can be easily shared as pdfs. Blurb also has many print options if you wish to professionally print copies of your textbook. The free online editing tool, Bookify, is user friendly and offers many different page templates. The cost to create an ebook is free, but to export it as a pdf, you will pay a one-time fee of $4.99 per book. Note that every time you update the book, you’ll need to pay $4.99 for a new pdf version.

Don’t Yuck Anyone’s Yum*: Using Google Drive and Moodle for Courses

venceslao_gennaio_castello_buonconsiglio_trento_c1400_detailIn 2017, many faculty use an online platform to provide their students with course content and engage with them in or outside of the classroom.  At Conn, we have two major ways to organize such work – Moodle and Google Drive.  As I started to use Google Drive to organize my work from job applications and budgets to collaborating on conference proposals with colleagues across the country, I was drawn to it as a potential course platform.  Its limits could serve my need for simplicity, and while there have been  updates to Google Docs or Forms, I was able to get my approach to using these tools locked down quickly.  For this post, I have been in conversation with colleagues to identify and share some key elements of Google Drive and Moodle, sharing what draws us to one option over another when considering 1) student communication, 2) organizing content, and 3) grading.

Student Communication
Online professor-student contact has become a regular part of class-related work, from updating students about an assignment or snowday plans to fielding questions about a reading.  Sending out messages efficiently is easily handled by Moodle’s quickmail function that sends a message to the entire class.  Working with Google requires more set-up initially, but provides further flexibility.  At the start of the semester, I set up a student e-mail list through Groups.  One cheat is to use the mail students function on Camelweb to grab the set of e-mails.  Once set up, I can have the ability to use Boomerang to send a message to students later or have a repeat message sent their way.  Other functions to explore on Moodle and Google Drive include chat functions, including chatting on a Google Document as students work through an assignment or collaborate on in-class research.

Organizing Content
With the advent of LMSs and websites, faculty now have the opportunity to organize course content in much more complex manner than a syllabus, texts or reader.  With Moodle’s sections, it is simple to create a readings section so students can easily find upcoming readings and download or print them easily.  With Google Drive, it is possible to move or copy a folder’s worth of readings for students to similarly access.  I appreciate the ability to link readings in my syllabus (a shared Google Doc) either to a reading in a Google Folder or to the library’s site to support the tracking of usage of our online journals.  tudents or I set up folders and documents for collaboration or individual work throughout the course.  

Grading
Moodle and Google offer distinctly different opportunities for grading-related work. Moodle’s Assignment activity includes the ability to create rubrics for grading and the gradebook has a wide array of grade calculation functions, it also has a marking guide that you can use to set categories and provide comments. I prefer using a paper rubric that I either upload from my desktop or edit online for paper assessment.  For exams, I create a spreadsheet rubric that I similarly edit and upload to my students’ folders.  These methods are more or less the same ones that I have used for ten years, allowing me to document and back up my grading process in case there are any points of contention.  Moreover, if I find that I am spending too much time staring at my computer screen, I can print out rubrics and/or papers and grade by hand easily.  For the semester’s-worth of grading, I keep a spreadsheet with an attendance page and a total grade page that simply calculates the percentages I have given to different assignments. The limitation of this approach is that students are not able to keep tabs on what grades and attendance have been recorded for them over the course of the semester through the platform. The Moodle gradebook and Attendance modules offer functionality for those faculty who prefer for their grade records to be more transparent to students, including attendance, rather than asking students to track and calculate the value of their own assignments. Through Google, a professor could also use a shared grading spreadsheet with students that is updated throughout the semester if they wanted to provide similar transparency.

Overall, both platforms have something to offer faculty seeking to streamline their online engagement with students. A final factor that has drawn me to Google Drive is that it has value for students embarking on internships or post-graduation jobs, as they will have at least navigated for a semester this platform and learned how to use some of its key components. Meanwhile, as Moodle is our College-wide Learning Management System (LMS), utilizing this platform ensures that students have more ease accessing all materials from the first day of classes.  

*I think it’s a beautiful edict, on par at least with the Golden Rule, and it simply means that no one in that safe space should attack or tear down what brings joy to someone else and which also doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Thank you for input from Diane Creede, Jessica McCullough, Anthony Graesch, and Lyndsay Bratton!

Snow Day Plan – Do You Have One?

Snowscape at Connecticut College

As you prepare for the semester, this is a good time to review some of our “weatherproofing” suggestions. What do you do when classes are unexpectedly canceled? Share what has worked for you in the comments!

  • Several low-effort ways to reach students when you can’t come to campus were featured in Snow Day Resources: Don’t Let Snow Stop You! Ideas include recording short, 5-minute screencast videos using Jing or whiteboard apps such as Doceri, Screen Chomp, or Educreations, meeting virtually using Google Hangouts or Zoom, or utilizing the many collaborative features of Drive.
  • We discussed strategies for communicating with students – well ahead of the snow day and during – in our post, Weatherproofing Resources.
  • Have a little more time? Our follow-up post to a weatherproofing workshop included many recommendations, from recording full lectures to facilitating synchronous and asynchronous discussions.

See you on campus soon!