What do you do when your Unit has highly practical elements and you need to suddenly transition to online mode? Department of Linguistics convenors of a language teaching methodology unit chose to pivot from face-to-face to online delivery in Session 1, 2020, by designing a series of asynchronous tasks for students to practice micro-teaching.
What did the team do?
Leveraging the affordances of technology readily available in iLearn (VoiceThread, Interactive H5P tasks and discussion forums), Agi Bodis, Melissa Reed and Yulia Kharchenko (the team of Convenors and Lecturers on APPL6000) developed a series of tasks to simulate the face-to-face experience of micro-teaching. The learning design changes had numerous positive outcomes, including improvements in: student engagement, learner autonomy, reflective practice and improved feedback and IT literacy.
Why did the team use asynchronous tools for online learning?
The team decided that an asynchronous mode of online micro-teaching would be more effective and ensure equality of opportunity for all participants. The goal of the learning design changes was to maximise student engagement through an active learning experience.
VoiceThread as a platform for discourse and interaction
VoiceThread (VT) provides a suitable platform for student engagement and active learning; it is available as an Activity type in iLearn. VT is a multimodal asynchronous interactive platform that allows creating and commenting on a multimedia presentation using voice, video, or written annotation.
What does the research say about the affordances of VT?
Research supports the use of VT for formative assessment, emphasising the collaborative nature of the platform and the benefits of peer feedback and self-evaluation in addition to the customary teacher feedback.
Recent research by Kirby and Hulan (2016) showed that VT provided a better sense of peer engagement than the traditional text-based discussion forum alone. Their postgraduate students claimed VT afforded deeper learning, despite a bigger time commitment in preparation for posting. Crucially, some stated that VT “resembles the classroom setting more” than an online discussion forum (Kirby & Hulan, 2016, p.94). The asynchronous nature of VT communication allows time for reflection, comparison and learning from others (Dooly, 2018).
How were the learning activities designed asynchronously for students?
The teaching team designed a series of scaffolded tasks using VoiceThread to prepare students for micro-teaching. To maximise the efficacy of the micro-teaching activities in VoiceThread, the team added two sets of enabling tasks: one focusing on peer feedback and the other on reflection (represented as purple and orange stages in Figure 1 above). The explicit modelling of peer feedback in the first enabling task was intended to familiarise students with the principles and the language of effective feedback. Following that, the students were able to practice providing constructive feedback language on model teaching videos.
The team realised that students would not automatically engage with the technology unless they were aware of its affordances. So, they recorded short samples of their own micro-teaching (5-15 minutes) to demonstrate the technical capabilities of VT and then also modelled feedback on selected student VT videos.
The second enabling task promoted students’ reflection on their micro-teaching. Two models of self-reflection were provided as examples in the form of interactive H5P tasks, after which the students were invited to write about their VT2 recordings incorporating feedback they had received from peers and tutors. The two enabling tasks directed students towards more autonomous learning and professional practice as reflective teachers.
How did learner/teacher autonomy develop?
Students had considerable scope about the lesson content, desired learners and their approach to the video. The flexibility allowed students to take control over many aspects of the video. The students were required to initiate and manage their projects in their own time and their own way. They were also asked to actively watch others’ videos and comment on them at any time within a two-week window. Students managed their own micro-teaching group and were responsible to their peers to provide feedback, decreasing reliance on the lecturer, who became a facilitator during the tasks. The reflective aspect of the tasks also increased the students’ autonomy as they gradually developed their ideas about teaching and learning.
The scaffolded tasks leading up to the first VT task were designed to assist students to give helpful, critical feedback and take on feedback themselves. Students were also led through how to write reflections incorporating feedback and theory and discussing what they would change next time.
What was the impact of the Unit changes?
The new series of learning tasks were useful in facilitating a growing understanding of how to give and receive feedback. The tasks support students to reflect on their own practice; this is an important skill for careers as teachers.
In the VT tasks, students can actively be seen developing their own theories about teaching and learning and becoming reflective practitioners. Several students mentioned that creating VTs had been the most useful aspect of the Unit, as watching their own videos had helped them to realise that their perceptions of their own teaching diverged from the reality.Linguistics team (Agi Bodis, Melissa Reed and Yulia Kharchenko)
Students received step-by-step instructions and demonstrations on the use of VT, but they also shared extra knowledge with each other. As an example, a student wrote an instruction guide on making and uploading VTs effectively, which she posted in the class forum. The authors believe that this also contributes to enhancing important employability skills as the use of technology and collaboration are likely to be in demand in the future too given the current worldwide situation. Agi also adds that as video samples are sometimes a requirement in job applications, the uploaded videos can be used for career purposes as part of a teacher’s portfolio.
Even when students were confined to their homes, they were able to produce VT practice lessons alone or with members of their households. Some students found creative ways to teach, using soft toys, cushions or even pets as ‘students’. Students were able to put into practice important ideas in the Unit such as giving clear task instructions, modelling and adapting the amount and complexity of their teacher talk. Additionally, students had the opportunity to increase their understanding of technology such as recording videos and uploading them to VT, which could be used for future teaching, whether fully online or through blended learning.Linguistics team (Agi Bodis, Melissa Reed and Yulia Kharchenko)
Although the Unit retained the weekly text-based discussion forums, students did not always communicate meaningfully, as students often reiterated each other’s ideas or posted their responses in isolation. At the same time, VT encouraged students to comment on each other’s videos more engagingly. “The asynchronous nature of this communication was in fact an advantage for the students less inclined to communicate in a real-time face-to-face environment.”
Is this approach transferable to other disciplines?
The approach used by Linguistics, with the series of VTs and scaffolding tasks is appropriate for any teaching context that requires the production of and assesses some form of oral genre. The same scaffolding tasks focusing on peer feedback and reflection could be utilised between the VT activities in all contexts to achieve similar effects of increased autonomy and assessment literacy. Finally, this approach provides an opportunity to equally involve internal and external cohorts of students as one community through these common tasks.
To access the full article: Microteaching in Isolation: Fostering Autonomy and Learner Engagement through VoiceThread, see: https://www.tesolunion.org/journal/details/info/0NDkucNzIw/Microteaching-in-Isolation:-Fostering-Autonomy-and-Learner-Engagement-through-VoiceThread