Updates from Spanish

Creating Fun Online Objects to Make Course Content Easier.” 6th Annual Sloan-C/MERLOT Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium. Las Vegas, April 8–11, 2013.

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My mind was all over the place, but it settled down in Las Vegas. TCalixto, 2013.

Before

Sí se puede, and I wasn’t planning.

It was December. I had been turning a blind eye to the “call for presentations” emails that we had been receiving since months earlier when Nancy emailed to encourage me to submit a proposal for the symposium. I was in the middle of writing a different kind of proposal: a change of site for an internship originally set in Central America to South America, and I was also writing an alternate plan for the same internship in the Navajo Nation. The university wanted all that a month before the due date, and I had less than a week to come up with solid ideas. My mind was literally all over the place.

I confess that I neglected Nancy’s email for two days (sorry Nancy.) Then I decided to give it more thought and realized that the material that Marcelino, María, Martín and I have been creating was worth sharing and was appropriate for the symposium’s theme. Our online Learning Objects have a specific purpose and good quality, and have proven to be useful for the students. The LOs answer to our main question: what can we do to ease challenging content for the students and lessen the amount of time explaining the same content over an over in and outside of class? Writing this proposal became my priority. Guatemala, Peru and Arizona could wait. Nevada was first, and once again, Nancy’s guidance was invaluable in helping me be concise and in identifying the main points on the proposal. (See submitted document here.)

I was not happy with just “presenting” the LOs. I wanted the attendees to take something else than just information and really “Plan a Learning Object using media tools that will enhance your students understanding of course content, and save class and office hours time,” as it appears in the symposium’s booklet.

During

Months later, the proposal was key in putting together a presentation where I introduced the MELO3D project, presented the LOs and their production, and shared important notes about Creative Commons attribution. Towards the end, I explained the results on the best use of these LOs based on the data that Steve Lonn helped me collect in Winter 2012 (thank you again, Steve.) I also added improvements that are needed such as integration of interaction with the students in the grammar podcasts. Yet, the fun part of the presentation had to be the hands-on portion, and I was looking forward to this section the most.

I mingled with the participants before and after the presentation, and during the hands-on portion of the session. I learned that there were instructors, multimedia project developers, librarians, and people from academic units that I would think had little to do with online learning, like Registrar’s Office personnel. Seeing a good variety of participants dissipated my curiosity about the demographics of the potential attendees.

“We can have many ideas,” I said to move on, “but having an idea doesn’t make it real.” So, to plan for a plan, I posed five questions that my Spanish 103 colleagues helped me phrase. The attendees discussed in small groups in the last ten minutes of the session:

  • What do you teach? What are the most challenging concepts in your course
  • Do you find similar learning objects useful in your course?
  • What resources are available at your institution?
  • What first steps are needed to put your plan into action?

After this discussion, the attendees shared a couple of concrete ideas with the whole audience: an instructor of Italian (a U-M alumna) has plans for grammar podcasts, and the Registrar’s Office trainer would like to implement podcasts for FERPA training to employees.

Towards the end, there were still comments from the audience about how the presence of the instructor outside of the classroom environment does help to reinforce learning. The participant made reference to a study that concluded that it is good to have this kind of learning objects available to students 24/7; but listening to the voice of her instructor or watching the instructor on a video is more beneficial as the student connects and extends her classroom reality with her own. Unfortunately, I didn’t take note of the study (or the list of attendees,), but I still don’t want to believe that each instructor needs to make his own podcasts for his class.

Here is a PDF of the presentation. Contrary to what it may look like, I promise it makes sense.

As far as other conference sessions, I found most of them inspirational and useful. Some of them reinforced ideas that we have integrated (or not) in MELO3D. For example, I still need to think of ways to propitiate student contribution to a collection of LOs, or to respond/react to a LO. Also, athough it is not new, I found that the idea of “flipping the classroom” is still not as prevalent across the country as I thought it was and should be.

3Play Media did a presentation on a tool for captioning, transcribing and translating, and it blew my mind. I’m going to be lazy, and instead of a description –in case you are not familiar with the product, I’ll post the video here.

This media tool is not absolutely new to Philomena from the LRC. I hope to work with her, and to use 3Play Media to finalize captioning and translating the photo-journals that my students made in Peru in 2010. Also, thanks to attending this session, the next day I was able to mention this tool as well as the software that I have been using (dotsub.com) to one of the attendees in my presentation. She had questions about the podcasts accessibility to hard of hearing students. I hope this helped.

Even though I knew I had to leave early to flight back to Michigan, I attended the Unconference Sessions. I liked how it was structured, and I have already used a similar activity with my students in the internship in Peru. The dynamic goes as follows:

  • First, a prompt was presented to all the participants: “If it isn’t broken…”, which was discussed in groups.
  • After that, each group wrote down the ideas that came up, and all these were posted on a wall.
  • Then, the participants re-grouped with those who wanted to discuss one of the ideas from the wall. Some pictures that illustrate the activity are found here: http://sloanconsortium.org/conference/2013/et4online/pictures/unconference

At this point and for a short time, I sat in a small group of three where our main topic was the state of mentorship in online education. One of the members teaches exclusively online; and the other (also a U-M alumnus) teaches blended courses. I could not see myself teaching only online classes, but I tried to imagine what I could do maintain a close relationship with my students as I do in Michigan. Here, I have lunch or coffee with students from previous semesters to “touch base.”

Still, even in Michigan, mentorship is something I do incidentally and also using online resources. I may forward an email to a student whoI know is interested in an internship at a museum. I may encourage another to apply for an abroad program. I may provide solicited advice on whether or not a student should join a campus club. (Now in the “online grammar podcasts” era, I can focus more on the student and less on grammar concepts when students visit my office.) As I see it, small “acts of mentorship” count. I feel lucky that the teaching environment of a language instructor is ideal to get to know students: there is lots of talking about ourselves and how we see the world, 4-day-week contact and interaction with groups of 24 students maximum, and personal journal entries. I know that there are courses at U-M that are also conducive to getting to know students, and even in large courses I believe this “mentorship” is possible.

In the end, I was happy with the symposium and my presentation, and I want to thank again to MELO3D for making it possible. The next step is to start working on the photo-journals and turn them into yet another online LO. With this new collection, the students will have access to Spanish spoken in Peru, the weaving way of life in rural areas of Cusco, and to the understanding of an art that connects us to ancient history.

After

Now, oddly enough, if I were asked to pick one lesson from the whole experience, I would say that it was participating in  the moment when a presenter realized she didn’t have the VGA adaptor to project her presentation (and gosh, how you wish you had brought yours to save that moment.) It turned out well. She demonstrated how a well-prepared visual presentation could still be delivered without the visuals… and with grace and a smile. Her presentation was engaging, and one could sense how the audience was sympathetic and was on her side. Those human moments, produced by (the lack of) technology are priceless.

Sí se puede, and she wasn’t planning.

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