This is more of a utilitarian post for those teachers out there, but I have redesigned my courses a bit for the upcoming semester in an attempt to engage my students across a wider variety of media, exercising, hopefully, their capacity for communicating across modes and across languages (my students are all, with a few exceptions, using English as a second language). As such, I am incorporating more blogging into my compositions courses, which I will post about another day, and using more audio engagement for my presentation courses. These courses are designed to develop speaking skills in my students and fulfill the language requirements they have as part of their formal degree program. The courses meet once a week for two hours at a time. I was mildly pleased with the progress I saw in my students last semester and I experimented with audio assessments and exams (required by my university) to go along with the presentations themselves. However, I want to engage them in learning over greater stretches of time than merely the two hours we are in class together. So, I turn to technology.
Our university has an in-house LMS that is good mostly as a repository for materials (my presentations, media content, rosters, etc.), but lacks the robust social features that would make extended discussions possible outside the classroom, so I turn elsewhere. In this instance, I turn to Audioboo as a means of extending discussions outside the classroom. There are other services that I could do this with, or I could even use WordPress plugins as a system for engaging students through audio posts and audio responses, but I choose Audioboo as it is the least painful in terms of getting started. The sign up procedure is relatively painless, as indicated by the three steps below. There are also apps for both Android and iOS and I encourage them all to post from their mobile devices.
So this essentially becomes the homework for the first week of class, the one where all the students are expecting to do nothing other than catatonically cycle through the syllabus. I have them create an Audioboo account, generate a paragraph of profile and a representative image, and answer the first question that I pose to them in Week 1 with an audio post. I do not require the students to use real names or photographs of themselves, but I do require them to submit the URLs of their profiles to me via a Google Drive form (I put the Google Drive form URL on the slides for the week along with a QR code). So I know who they are, they know who they are, but nobody else in the class or outside the class will necessarily know who they are. However, they are free to choose to use their real identities as well.
After the first week, I broaden it out to include audio posts to questions posed by me as well as responding to other’s responses. This is relatively easy in Audioboo as well as they allow for audio responses, as the next two images demonstrate.
So every week, I say that one audio post is mandatory in response to my questions, and two audio responses to other posts are suggested. With that one relatively simple step, I generated or facilitated another 60 minutes of learning activity per week to complement the two hours in class. Over a course of a semester, that is significant. More importantly, it is an elongated engagement with the learning, meaning that it is something that they carry with them through the week, checking often and looking for something to respond to, composing their posts (they are second language learners), composing their responses, etc. I try to make the question for the week engaging enough to stimulate this kind of activity and it is related to what we discussed in class so it acts as an extension activity. Ultimately, though, it gets students who might otherwise be reticent to talk aloud chances to practice their language.
As a teacher, there becomes the whole issue of how might I track this activity to see who is engaging the learning and who isn’t. Since I teach in Korea, this is generally assessable, this activity. The students expect it to be assessed and it would be culturally awkward to suggest that it was just for their personal betterment. But elsewhere, I wouldn’t make this mandatory per se, but rather suggested. Something they could prune later to include on a Lifestream activity, much as we did on the MScDE programme at the University of Edinburgh. Assessment aside, as a teacher I would still want to see who was engaging with who and around what topic, providing pointers and suggestions as needed. This is relatively easily done as there is an RSS feed for each user (or you can pull it into iTunes).
Many of my students have me for multiple classes so I use a series of tools like this and also go through instruction in Week 1 on setting up their own RSS reader with their feeds. I want them to have incoming feeds from fellow students, outside sources in their major, and their own generated content. This, I believe, is the beginnings of digital literacy, seeing exactly what you have posted and reflecting on whether or not you would have posted it again. I insert reflections like this throughout the semester, particularly at the midterm. I will post at a later date on easy ways to have your students set up RSS readers for themselves but I also make it a part of the final. I have them select their best posts from the semester on reflect on why they are good and what would make them better. Constant iteration and cycling back and forth.