Formative language activities using technology’, a free event organised by the School of Modern Languages and the Centre for English and Foundation Studies

As a language teacher I am always interested in what other colleagues do around assessment and feedback practice so on the 19th of January I attended a free seminar organised by CELFS (Centre for English and Foundation Studies) and SML (School of Modern Languages) on ‘Formative language activities using technology’.

The seminar focused on strategies for engaging students with formative and summative feedback using a range of technologies both in and outside the language classroom.

I took away lots of good ideas but also a couple of questions that remain unanswered. First, are we now more inclined to the idea that best practice may require the use of multiple technologies rather that one solution for all, and second, how can make the environment seamless to our students? and what about accessibility requirements?

my notes on the event

Engaging students with feedback. I know I did not come to our feedback appointment but could you tell me what my mark is?’ Emilie Poletto’s first slide showing a teacher snowed under a huge mountain of paper is a great illustration of the issue; most of the time students tend to concentrate on the end product rather than on their learning process but it is up to us to change this says Emilie ‘we need to change the role of the student from a consumer approach to a partnership’.
So the big question is ‘What strategies can we use to rethink the way we give students formative feedback? it clearly requires more than a new shiny piece of technology. Maggie Boswell says the change must be driven by the learning process not the means of delivery ‘Some might argue for the use of technology to mark student work while others might argue for traditional methodologies. How student engage with their feedback and make subsequent progress is at the heart of my student-driven ongoing enquiry.

Here are a few tips that teachers shared with the audience

  • work with students on assessment criteria and engage them in collaborative learning activities. Give them the opportunity to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to own a plan for improving their competences.
  • ask students to identify specific features for formative feedback so that you can target both the quality and the amount of feedback you provide
  • use personalised feedback, eg video through Mediasite or any screencasting solution
  • use a variety of feedback formats, written, audio and video
  • provide student support throughout the whole process, they may not need help with using the technology but with the orientation, for example finding where they have to go to look at the feedback 

a bit more from some of the individual presentations

Maggie Boswell uses a combination of different feedback formats such as drop in corrective written and voice comments, and a range of technologies like Turnitin Grademark and Mediasite. Turnitin Grademark allows her to annotate essays using both the a reusable comment bank and voice recording features, while Mediasite desktop recorder allows her to create screencast and add audio feedback.

With this combination of methods she provides feedback during TB1 over a twelve-week period on essay redraft and final draft. A couple of tips from Maggie on voice feedback; first, students engage more with this type of feedback because they hear a familiar voice, second, it is important to use the right tone and elaborate on some of the negative comments so that students don’t worry too much about a mistake that may be less serious than they might think. ‘I really like the video feedback. At first when I saw ‘omit’ (grademark drop in written comment) I thought it was really bad, but when I watched the video, I realised it was not such a bad error because of the intonation’. (from student survey collected via Google forms).

Emilie Poletto’s presentation ‘Thanks for the feedback, but what is my mark?” How to help students engage with feedback, was the one I liked most as it goes straight to the point, we spend lots of time providing formative feedback and then realise that students completely ignore it and only focus on the final mark. What can we do about this?

Emilie’s approach, inspired by the work of Alex Forsythe & Sophie Johnson as well as the work of other colleagues in the SML, focuses on ‘feedback action plans’ and student motivation.  Each student gets an individual action plan  to record specific areas of their learning that are routinely discussed with the teacher during individual tutorial. The action plan puts the onus on the students to devise their own strategies, critically evaluate the feedback they are given, build on their strengths and address their weaknesses. Students may not be used to do all of this at first but that they are more likely to engage if they feel they are in charge of the process and get good support from their teacher. Grades are only discussed at a later stage, in fact Emilie doesn’t give students their marks until they have completed the action plan which means students really have to focus on their learning first.   

In terms of working with multiple technologies I liked Jana Nahodilová’s presentation about the use of Blackboard, Quizlet and Xerte: the best parts of all of them to support assessment and feedback. Her approach for providing formative assessment is built on three main areas; Ongoing multi-phase daily process that takes place through teacher-pupil interaction, providing feedback for immediate action (for student and teacher) and reflecting on how to modify teaching activities to improve learning (motivation) and results.
For each one of these tools Jana has identified both advantages and considerations from a teacher’s perspective. Advantages include ‘easy to use and interactive’, ‘great for monitoring’, and ‘wide range of possible activities’, while some consideration are ‘little flexibility’, ‘complex set up’ and ‘lack of the functionalities required’.

More on the range of technologies on show

Blackboard assessment engine available within Blackboard and fully supported at UoB

Xerte online tutorial tool with a range of functionalities for assessment and feedback and fully supported at UoB

Quizlet  free online learning tool particularly used for flashcards to support vocabulary learning

Mediasite fully supported UoB lecture capture tool with a range of functionalities for editing videos and screencasting  

Turniting Grademark, fully supported at UoB grading tool with a variety of functionalities for automated written feedback and voice feedback

Google forms free and easy to use quiz tool available from individual google accounts

Sonocent an audio note taking software with a wide array of functionalities for feedback and assessment such as visual annotations of text and audio

Many thanks to the presenters for sharing their work:

Maggie Boswell, English teacher (CELFS)
Emilie Poletto, French teacher (SML)
Jana Nahodilová, Czech teacher (SML)