Sophia Mavridi – Interactive virtual learning for the synchronous and asynchronous EAP classroom

The speaker is Sophia Mavridi, who did this talk for BALEAP TELSIG – Interactive virtual learning for the synchronous and asynchronous EAP classroom

As Sophie begins by saying, this is an important topic in E-learning. It is also very topical in the Covid19 era. This was the session plan:

She started by asking us “What is interaction?” some ideas that came out from participants were it’s a 2 way process, students sharing ideas, showing that you are engaged, being engaged. Then she gave us two definitions:

How does this relate to online learning?

She says we often talk about how pedagogy informs decisions, and so before the practical element she wants talk about some pedagogical theory, specifically theories of constructivist learning environments, the flow model and social presence. Looking at these will help to answer the question why interaction is so important when it comest o online learning.

According to cognitive constructivism, knowledge is constructed and this requires meaningful and interactive materials. They need to make meaningful connections between prior knowledge and new knowledge. Social constructivism meanwhile focuses on the idea that learning is a social process requiring scaffolding, which is interaction with the teacher or peers, but it also includes interaction with materials when it comes to online courses.

The FLOW model is the point of maximum concentration and involvement with an activity. The “flow zone” is where we are at this point. For students to reach the flow zone, the activity cannot be too challenging or too easy, as this leads to loss of concentration/focus.

Social presence is the extent to which someone perceives a person as ‘real’ in computer mediated communication. It influences students’ sense of belonging and engagement with collaborative activity. There is a strong correlation between social presence and successful online learning.

So how can we use these fundamental principles in synchronous and asynchronous classrooms?

In the synchronous classroom, physical distance is an obstacle. But it is usually pedagogical distance rather than physical distance that is an obstacle to learning. Sophie shares 6 techniques for embedding and integrating into online teaching/learning:

  1. Turn on your camera. Challenging for the teacher to speak to avatars/names but not all students have good computers or connections and may not be able to use cameras, some students may be sharing their room with a sibling or may not be comfortable sharing their house. We need to be sensitive towards student’s privacy. But WE can turn on our cameras. It is important to do so.
  2. Try to be animated and use eye contact/gestures. Don’t be a talking avatar.
  3. To maintain attention, ask questions every 3-5 minutes. E.g. start with an icebreaking activity e.g. share in the chat a word that describes your day and explain in a sentence why. For content questions, short questions, not too difficult or easy, will help keep them in the flow zone. Get them to use the chat as the mic activation process (“can you hear me?” etc) will be too time-consuming for these frequent little questions.
  4. Ask them to do things hands on. When you give feedback, share the pdf or slides with them and get ss to annotate the slides themselves or add the answers. This gives them something to do.
  5. Use polls and interactive tools – e.g. Padlet, wooclap (interactive platform for collecting immediate answers to questions of different types) – this allows you to get feedback and share resources. You can upload recordings, youtube videos (and ask questions) etc.
  6. Use breakout rooms or 1-1 chat for class collaboration. They are good for discussion and collaborative projects, can also be used to break up the lecturing time and avoid the lesson being too teacher-centred, which synchronous sessions tend to be. For a short question, you wouldn’t use them. Instead, ask them to message the next person on the participant list and discuss the question in chat. That is a quick way to do interaction and pair work.

Interaction in the asynchronous class

Live classes are fantastic for social presence but even the best live class is predominantly teacher-led and that’s why we need to the asynchronous bit. This can be more student centred and it is where students become more autonomous.

LMS = Learning Management System e.g. Google classroom, Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, Edmodo, Schoology. If you don’t have one, get one and make use of it! Sophia gave us some ideas to do this:

Think about how you did skills and what tools you could use now. E.g. Google Docs, OneNote Reading annotation apps e.g. GoodReader, use Youtube/Ted Talks/Flipgrid/podcasting. You can still do Group work. As well as in live sessions using break out rooms, you can run asynchronous group projects. They are more effort to set up but it is very worth it. Tell students to find a way to communicate (Zoom, whatsapp, we chat) – their responsibility.

Sophie says forums are important and they need to be kept alive by a moderator which is usually the teacher who may ask interesting questions, keep students on their toes and on topic. We need to teach students to add quality comments. If they just say “that’s a great idea, I agree”, that’s a positive comment but not necessarily a quality one. We need to teach them how to participate in a forum. This is an important skill as applicable to participation in a community of practice at university.

In terms of materials, there should be an element of interactivity in any materials. E.g. short and interactive video recordings, self-correct quizzes, questions, reflections. If we just share pdfs, there is no interaction. Even a simple pdf can be made more interactive, it can be broken down by adding in questions. Recordings of longer than 10 minutes mean students are more likely to disengage. Short chunks and frequent questions are better. The ideal length of video for asynch learning is 6 minutes – anything more than that, students tend to switch off. If you really need to record something of 15 minutes, periodically ask them to stop the video and reflect on a question. You can’t expect them to stay focused for 15 minutes watching the video, there are too many distractions to impede that.

Sophie goes on to talk about VoiceThread. It is a collaborative multimedia tool, where you can add images, documents, slides and videos. Users can navigate slides and can leave comments through text, video or voice. It makes materials more interactive and is easy to use as an educational technology. She says ease of use is very important in tech tools, which is why she likes this one. It shouldn’t take a long time to create.

She shows us an example she made. It is a powerpoint with an embedded video of her speaking. You can add multiple recordings to one slide via voice messages. which means if you forget to say something you can add it rather than re-recording. Students can click and select text, audio or video comments. You should specify which according to what skills you want to focus on. E.g. audio and video for practising speaking. Some students aren’t comfortable being on camera, so may be better not to exist on that.

Then she tells us it took 5 minutes to create, record and share (not the slide itself but putting it in VoiceThread and recording the video. It is interactive as students can respond to the questions in the video by typing or speaking. Students add their comments, then as a follow up should listen to/watch classmates comments and complete a task.

Next, participants are asked to go to a link of one she made and leave a video/audio comment, text comments acceptable if you are that shy. To leave a comment, you will be prompted to sign in for an account which just takes a few minutes to set up. The comments appear down the side of the slide off to the left. Sophie plays a few comments to show us.

What can we do with VoiceThread?

It seems like a pretty versatile tool based on all these ideas from Sophie! Recordings can come from Youtube and be embedded. Before you share something with students, you need to change the share settings to allow anyone to view/comment.

It is free for 3/4 voice threads but after that you would need to delete previously made ones or upgrade.

Finally she suggests watching this video with ideas for using VoiceThread in higher education.

You can find Sophia on Twitter with @SophiaMav and her website is sophiamavridi.com

 

 

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