Thursday, May 16, 2013

LTMOOC 4: Assessing language skills using technology

This week in the LTMOOC we have been discussing about assessment in blended learning environments. Readings  have mentioned assessment techniques such as self-assessment (e.g., language passport) and language portfolios.
I would like to present a formative assessment task I used some years ago with my Spanish 101 Honor students at college level. I will present the formative assessment task and the rubric I used to assess the outcomes by answering the following questions proposed for discussion:

  1. What are the outcomes to be assessed?
  2. What are the capabilities/skills (implicit or explicit) in the outcomes?
  3. Is the method of assessment chosen consonant with the outcomes and skills?
  4. Is the method relatively efficient in terms of student time and staff time?
  5. What alternatives are there? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  6. Does the specific assessment task match the outcomes and skills?
  7. Are the marking schemes or criteria appropriate?
  8. Who should make judgements about student learning – the teacher, the student, the student’s peers or others?
This task was used as a formative assessment because the main purpose was to provide students practice for the formal oral exam. The formative assessment task consisted on interviewing a native speaker via Tokbox (when it was free) to learn about him/her. Students had to take notes about the information provided by the native speaker to then create a Voki (speaking avatar) that introduced him/herself as if they were the native speaker. You can read about this formative assessment task in a previous post.

1.  I was targeting different skills here. By completing this assessment task, students would show they were able to use basic Spanish to: 
a) ask for personal information (name, age, nationality, likes and dislikes, description) in an interview with a native speaker.
b) understand personal information in an interaction with a native speaker and take notes.
c) present the main information learned about a native speaker in an oral form by using an avatar.

2. These learning outcomes assumes knowledge of vocabulary related to personal description, introductions, likes and dislikes, occupations, numbers, etc. Students should also be able to ask and answer personal questions using basic grammatical forms such as verb ser and estar, genre/number agreement, gustar-like expressions, verb-agreement. The task also assumes the ability to produce orally basic information with intelligible pronunciation and fluently. The task also requires the ability to negotiate meaning in case of communication breakdowns during the interview by the use of different strategies.

3. The task used was appropriate to measure the outcomes and skills in an integrated way and more motivating way than a traditional multiple-choice exam. As we practiced in class different role-plays simulating real-life interactions, the assessment task replicated such role-plays and real-life interactions with native speakers.

4. I wouldn't say the method was very efficient. I arranged to have pairs of students interviewing different native speakers. It was not that difficult to find enough native speakers for the class since I have many friends from different Spanish-speaking countries. However, it was challenging to find native speakers available at the same time of the class. We did  the interviews in the computer language lab. The  second part of the task was to create the Voki avatar using the information from the interview. This part was done at home individually. So the whole assessment tasks was not time efficient.

5. An alternative could be to have the whole class interview just one native speaker during a class session. All of them should take notes and record an oral message summarizing what they learned about the native speaker. This would be more time efficient, however it would minimize students participation during the interview and would eliminate the creative part of representing the description of the interviewee in the avatar. It could be less motivating. 

6-7. The marking scheme was as follows:
Instructor's formative assessment:

Students' self-assessment :

8. Both the instructor and the students assess the performance. The teacher assessed the linguistic aspects or skills and the students self-assessed what they were able to do with basic Spanish during the task.

In my experience, technology can bring more authenticity to assessment in blended environments, however the more authentic an assessment task is, the less time efficient or practical to administer and grade it would be. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

LTMOOC - week 3: Social Interaction in Online Language Learning

This week we read about social interaction in online learning and watched an interview with Dr. Dixon, a German professor, teaching German online. The interview with Dr. Dixon was really interesting because he pointed out different ways of interacting in online environments. Besides flipping his German class, he uses different social networks such as facebook to increase the social interaction among students. It makes sense to me that social networks can enhance the learning of a language because it allows students to use the language in the context of communicating with other speakers of the same language. This communication, however, if not mediated by the learning goals of students, could not be as beneficial as it appears to be. The social interaction as a learning task in an online language class should have a real or genuine communicative purpose for the student and it needs to be at his/her level so that they can have a sense of accomplishment. Students are already using these social networks to communicate with friends and family, however I wonder if they are willing to use it for educational purposes. In this regard, studies like the one by Blattner and Lomicka (2012), Facebook-ing and the social generation: a new era for language learning, can offer some insights about the use of social networkings in language learning.

The question then is how to promote effective interaction in an online class. I have never taught an online class, but I am familiar with the online Spanish classes at my university. Students interact with content through a commercial e-textbook, interact with other students and the instructor using platforms such as Elluminate, wimba tools, etc. It seems to me that this kind of interactions are not enough. If we consider    the strategies for incorporating interaction suggested by the Academic Technology Center of WPI, it is obvious that we, language teachers, can do much more to improve online language education.  I like the idea of having student participate in online simulations. In this sense, I think virtual environments such as second life could help. A Spanish professor, here in Arizona, has created a virtual place in second life, Mi casa es su casa, where his students interact with vocabulary and forms in simulated real life place.
Also, in Hawai'i, Dr. Gonzalez-Lloret has used the task-based language teaching approach to create a virtual environment "En busca de Esmeraldas" that allows students to perform tasks such as "giving directions" and tasks where the language is used for specific purposes such as in the health professions. You can learn more about the application of technology in TBLT in this youtube presentation.

 In sum, it is clear to me that the kind of interactions provided in online learning environments can increase the motivation of students and their participation in the course. Language learning students are not the exception. They need to see what they can do with the language more than what they know about the language in any kind of learning context: face-to-face, blended or online.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Usando TED, Skype y Vocaroo en la clase de español

Me encanta cuando la tecnología hacer reflexionar a mis estudiantes no sólo sobre el español sino también acerca de su mundo, metas y valores.
En mi clase de composición estuvimos discutiendo sobre el tema de la infancia en latinoamerica. Uno de las tareas de los chicos fue ver un video TED sobre EL Sistema - programa social de orquestas infantiles en Venezuela. Muchos de los estudiantes en la clase tienen inclinación por la música y les gustó mucho ver cómo la música podía afectar la vida de los niños más desposeídos de Venezuela.

Después de ver el video, discutimos sobre el tema en clase. Posteriormente, organizamos una video entrevista usando skype con Ron Davis (Twitter @Music_rondavis), joven director de una orquesta infantil en Groenlandia, que fue formado en el Sistema de Orquestas Infantiles de Venezuela.

Ron contestó las preguntas de los estudiantes y hasta tocó la pieza venezolana "Moliendo Café" para los estudiantes. Fue una experiencia que marcó a alguno de los estudiantes. Algunos estudiantes tomaron la oportunidad de reflexionar sobre el trabajo con la música en su comentario oral para la clase usando Vocaroo.

Audio recording >>