Students and Technology

So if I am a student, what do I want with technology? As a private student, I would be doing lots of the things that I am doing now – playing around with blogger, wordpress and everything else to make my life perhaps easier.  Some things I would continue using; others, I would register for, use a couple of times, and then decide they are not that useful. This is all well and good – it is up to me whether I use them or not. But whatabout the university where I am studying?

As a Centre we want students to use our eLearn platform. It’s a content management system, but one of the better ones so students can play around on the blogs, forums and wikis, as well as doing on the fill in the gap exercises and drag and drop ones. In future doing these things might become part of their final grade. We also have an eportfolio – using a good social network platform.  This is not so widely used, but it appears to be getting a lot of attention, so who knows in the future. There is also other stuff knocking around, while individual teachers (myself being a culprit) use things like wikispaces and online voice recording.

Remember this is just our Centre for which students have to do a very small number of credits compared to the total number required.  So students have their department platforms to use , as well as University wide ones.  Often these are repeated – how many eportfolios does a student need! As a student, all this would really annoy me, although I guess the pragmatic ones would just work out what is needed to be done to pass the course, and then do it.

What would be a good solution? One student / teacher centred content management system with social networking capabilities for the whole University would be nice. Who would run it ? Given the recent fiasco of logon requirements for classroom computers, somehow I don’t see our IT staff being up to it. So maybe this idea is a non starter and students had better get used to having to use multiple systems.

Online Voice Recording

There are several methods to record your voice and then put online.

1. Vocaroo

Vocaroo is very easy to use. It gives an embed code, so you can embed in a wiki or a blog, or a link, so you can send it by email. You can also download the recording on to your computer. You don’t need to register to use vocaroo, but if you do, it is free of charge and you can see a list of your recent recordings. The only problem with vocaroo is that currently recordings are only kept 6 months. So, if it is important, download it.

2. Audioboo

Audioboo is a little like vocaroo, but has more services. You need to register to use it, but it is free of charge. You can record online, although it seems to work better in IE than Firefox. You can also store online recordings on audioboo, and there are people using it a little like twitter. There are supposed to be smartphone apps that enable you to record on your mobile and then upload directly to audioboo, but I cannot find the app yet for my phone. While it is free at the moment, who knows what will happen in the future!

3. Podbean

Podbean is so far, a reliable host of audio recordings. Think of it as a youtube for audio. It doesn’t offer online voice recording, so you need to be able to record your voice some other way – such as on your mobile phone.

4. Wikispaces

If you have the MP3 file of your recording, then you can upload directly to wikispaces.  The one limitation is space, although this is true for all free services.

My advice

Use vocaroo for something quick and easy; no registration required. Use audioboo if it is more important. Record on your mobile phone and upload if you don’t want to be constrained by having to be at a computer when recording.

Why do it?

It is much more personal than a written introduction.

For a language teacher, it is very easy to judge a student’s level when they start to speak.

It is harder to plagiarise the spoken word.

Compared to a video recording, students are more willing to do it.

Technology is easy to use.

What activities to do?

An online self introduction. With  courses increasingly having an online element, and students being asked to complete their ‘profile’, asking students to record a spoken introduction adds variety.

A review of a book or an article. Can be used as practice for a in-class presentation of the article.

In a Workplace English type course, it could be used to introduce part of a student company – students in a group create an imaginary company with a homepage.  Each student is responsible for one section in the company – HR, R&D, Marketing for example. On the homepage they have to record a 1-2 minutes overview of their section.

An info gap type activity – Same idea as a class info gap where students are put in groups to exchange information. Here it is all done online.  Advantages – students have to purely rely on listening to get the information – there can be no cheating or other verbal clues;  Disadvantages – there is a loss of the real time element where students would naturally check and clarify with each other if there was a lack of understanding.

Giving Audio Feedback – if the students do written work, it is marked and they are given feedback and corrections.  So, why not for spoken work which is recorded online? One problem is the time it will take. You have to listen to each recording; note down problems; then record your feedback (while remaining coherent otherwise you need to do again!); then save and post. Actually it is not that hard- but if I had 40+ students, I don’t think I would want to do it. Why not written feedback for spoken work – how do you correct pron errors? Why not spoken feedback for written work? Feedback is an issue that needs thinking about.

Peer feedback? A possibility. Or self feedback? Perhaps more realistic. The problem with peer feedback; it’s my job to listen to them and I find it hard at times; possibly getting students to just listen to just one other and give feedback would work, but not several. Self feedback – something to think about; pronunciation would not work, but things like fluency / hesitation and structure / repetition can be self graded.

Other options

Voxopox – voice discussion forum; fairly easy to navigate; online voice recording;  you need an account to join – and you have to add images.  Let’s see how it goes.

Voicethread– more complex than voxopox; the idea is that you have a central image / video / discussion with discussion around the outside of it. You need to create an account, and you that only allows you to make3 discussions. Can be embed in Moodle which is nice, but a little hard to use first time.

Vaestro – if the others do not work out, I might come back to this one. But it does not look good! (this one now seems defunct)

Update:

Voxopox works well and is fairly easy to use – although functionality could be better.  For example, adding students to a private group and seeing how to approve their application is hard! Eventually, I made the group open, and then let students join, and then made it semi private.

Giving feedback to students.

I’ve just discovered how easy it is to record students using a mobile, then upload it directly to a video host, which then allows the annotation of the video, and makes it possible to keep the video private.  So in theory, you could watch the video segment and segment, and add annotations to each part about what is good or needs to be improved.  Reasons not to – the time taken to do this, and also that quite a few students are only interested in their grades and not any meaningful feedback.

Further update

I tried to use voxopox at a different centre without much success-and this illustrates the problems that can happen. Looking back it seems there were several problems; (1) wireless connection was not great, and might have failed at the end; (2) the browsers on the ‘tablets’ were fairly up-to-date (I don’t think we needed to download Java), but given the pop ups and the difficulty in controlling the mouse on tablets, we still had problems. (3) while the sign up process is fairly straightforward with voxopox, I probably should have created usernames to speed it all up; the advantage of students doing it themselves is that they have more identity. (4) voxopox is a little complicated to use – where do you make your recording! (5) lack of microphones – which shows that recording students is not at the forefront of ideas at least at that centre!

I took the decision at 30 minutes to give up on this occasion. It’s a pity, because if it works well, applications like voxopox are great for student learning.