Category Archives: Education Concepts

Essay Questions in Moodle VIDEO

How to make essay questions in Moodle

Adding Activities to the Moodle Gradebook VIDEO

In the video below it explains how to add activities to the Moodle gradebook. For those who are teaching online, this is a great tool for communicating academic performance to students. Moodle can be difficult to use at times with practice it becomes usable.

Making Grade Categories in Moodle VIDEO

The gradebook in moodle has several useful features for teachers. One of them is the use of categories in the gradebook which can serve for organization of the contents and for mathematical purposes when calculating the grades. In the video below, it explains how to make categories in the Moodle gradebook.

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Wire Framing with Moodle

Before teaching a Moodle course it is critical that a teacher design what they want to do. For many teachers, they believe that they begin the design process by going to Moodle and adding activity and other resources to their class. For someone who is thoroughly familiar with Moodle and has developed courses before this might work. However, for the majority online teachers, they need to wireframe what they want their Moodle course to look like online.

Why Wireframe a Moodle Course

In the world of web developers, a wireframe is a prototype of what a potential website will look like. The actual wireframe can be made in many different platforms from Word, Powerpoint, and even just paper and pencil. Since Moodle is online a Moodle course in many ways is a website so wireframing applies to this context.

It doesn’t matter how you wireframes their Moodle course. What matters is that you actually do this. Designing what you want to see in your course helps you to make decisions much faster when you are actually adding activities and resources to your Moodle course. It also helps your Moodle support to help you if they have a picture of what you want rather than wild hand gestures and frustration.

Wire farming a course also reduces the cognitive load on the teacher. Instead of designing and building the course a the same time. Wireframing splits this task into two steps, which are designing, and then building. This prevents extreme frustration as it is common for a teacher just to stare at the computer screen when trying to design and develop a Moodle course simultaneously.

You never see an architect making his plans while building the building. This would seem careless and even dangerous because the architect doesn’t even know what he wants while he is throwing around concrete and steel. The same analogy applies with designing Moodle courses. A teacher must know what they want, write it down, and then implement it by creating the course.

Another benefit of planning in Word is that it is easier to change things in Word when compared to Moodle. Moodle is amazing but it is not easy to use for those who are not tech-savvy. However, it’s easiest for most of us to copy, paste, and edit in Word.

One Way to Wire Frame a Moodle Course

When supporting teachers to wireframe a Moodle course, I always encourage them to start by developing the course in Microsoft Word. The reason is that the teacher is already familiar with Word and they do not have to struggle to make decisions when using it. This helps them to focus on content and not on how to use Microsoft Word.

One of the easiest ways to wireframe a Moodle course is to take the default topics of a course such as General Information, Week 1, Week 2, etc. and copy these headings into Word, as shown below.

Screenshot from 2017-01-20 09-15-19.png

Now, all that is needed is to type in using bullets exactly what activities and resources you want in each section. It is also possible to add pictures and other content to the Word document that can be added to Moodle later.  Below is a preview of a generic Moodle sample course with the general info and week 1 of the course completed.

Screenshot from 2017-01-20 09-26-00.png

You can see for yourself how this class is developed. The General Info section has an image to serve as a welcome and includes the name of the course. Under this the course outline and rubrics for the course. The information in the parentheses indicates what type of module it is.

For Week 1, there are several activities. There is a forum for introducing yourself. A page that shares the objectives of that week. Following this are the readings for the week, then a discussion forum, and lastly an assignment. This process completes for however many weeks are topics you have in the course.

Depending on your need to plan, you can even plan other pages on the site beside the main page. For example, I can wireframe what I want my “Objectives” page to look like or even the discussion topics for my “Discussion” forum.

Of course, the ideas for all these activities comes from the course outline or syllabus that was developed first. In other words, before we even wireframe we have some sort of curriculum document with what the course needs to cover.

Conclusion

The example above is an extremely simple way of utilizing the power of wireframing. With this template, you can confidently go to Moodle and find the different modules to make your class come to life. Trying to conceptualize this in your head is possible but much more difficult. As such, thorough planning is a hallmark of learning.

Learning Styles and Strategies

All students have distinct traits in terms of how they learn and what they do to ensure that they learn. These two vague categories of how a student learns and what they do to learn are known as learning styles and learning strategies.

This post will explain what learning styles and learning strategies are.

Learning Styles

Learning styles are consistent traits that are long-lasting over time. For example, the various learning styles identified by Howard Gardner such as auditory, kinesthetic, or musical learner. An auditory learner prefers to learn through hearing things.

Learning styles are also associated with personality. For example, introverts prefer quiet time and fewer social interaction when compared to extroverts. This personality trait of introversion my affect an introverts ability to learn while working in small groups but not necessarily.

Learning Strategies

Strategies are specific methods a student uses to master and apply information. Examples include asking friends for help,  repeating information to one’s self, rephrasing, and or using context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words.

Strategies are much more unpredictable and flexible than styles are. Students can acquire styles through practice and exposure. In addition, it is common to use several strategies simultaneously to learn and use information.

Successful Students

Successful students understand what their style and strategies are. Furthermore, they can use these tendencies in learning and acquiring knowledge to achieve goals. For example, an introvert who knows they prefer to be alone and not work in groups will know when there are times when this natural tendency must be resisted.

The key to understanding one’s styles and strategies is self-awareness. A teacher can support a student in understanding what their style and strategies are through the use of the various informal checklist and psychological test.

A teacher can also support students in developing a balanced set of strategies through compensatory activities. These are activities that force students to use strategies they are weak. For example, having auditory learners learn through kinesthetic means. This helps students to acquire skills that may be highly beneficial in their learning in the future.

To help students to develop compensatory skills requires that the teacher know and understand the strengths and weaknesses of their students. This naturally takes time and implies that compensatory activities should not take place at the beginning of a semester or should they be pre-planned into a unit plan before meeting students.

Conclusion

Strategies can play a powerful role in information processing. As such, students need to be aware of how they learn and what they do to learn. The teacher can provide support in this by helping students to figure out who they are as a learner.

Academic Dishonesty and Cultural Difference

Academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating, are problems that most teachers have dealt with in their career. Students sometimes succumb to the temptation of finding ways to excel or just survive a course by doing things that are highly questionable. This post will attempt to deal with some of the issues related to academic dishonesty. In particular, we will look at how perceptions of academic dishonesty vary across contexts.

Cultural Variation

This may be frustrating to many but there is little agreement in terms of what academic dishonesty is once one leaves their own cultural context. In the West, people often believe that a person can create and “own” an idea, that people should “know” their stuff, and that “credit” should be giving one using other people’s ideas. These foundational assumptions shape how teachers and students view using others ideas and using the answers of friends to complete assignments

However, in other cultures there is more of an “ends justifies the means” approach. This manifests itself in using ideas without giving credit because ideas belong to nobody and having friends “help” you to complete an assignment or quiz because they know the answer and you do not if the situation was different you would give them the answer. Therefore, in many contexts doesn’t matter how the assignment or quiz is completed as long as it is done.

This has a parallel in many situations. If you are working on a project for your boss and got stuck. Would it be deceptive to ask for help from a colleague to get the project done? Most of us have done this at one time or another. The problem is that this is almost always frowned upon during an assignment or assessment in the world of academics.

The purpose here is not to judge one side or the other but rather to allow people to identify the assumptions they have about academic dishonesty so that they avoid jumping to conclusions when confronted with this by people who are not from the same part of the world like them.

Our views on academic dishonesty are shaped in the context we grow up in

Clear Communication

One way to deal with the misunderstandings of academic dishonesty across cultures is for the teacher to clearly define what academic dishonesty is to them. This means providing examples explaining how this violates the norms of academia. In the context of academia, academic dishonesty in the forms of cheating and plagiarism is completely unacceptable.

One strategy that I have used to explain academic dishonesty is to compare academic dishonesty to something that is totally culturally repulsive locally. For example, I have compared plagiarism to wearing your shoes in someone’s house in Asia (a major no-no in most parts). Students never understand what plagiarism is when defined in isolation abstractly (or so they say). However, when plagiarism is compared to wearing your shoes in someone’s house, they begin to see how much academics hate this behavior. They also realize how they need to adjust their behavior for the context they are in.

By presenting a cultural argument against plagiarism and cheating rather than a moral one, students are able to understand how in the context of school this is not acceptable. Outside of school, there are normally different norms of acceptable behavior.

Conclusion

The steps to take with people who share the same background are naturally different from the suggestion provided here. The primary point to remember is that academic dishonesty is not seen the same way by everyone. This requires that the teacher communicate what they mean when referring to this and to provide a relevant example of academic dishonesty so the students can understand.

Understanding Techniques in Language Teaching

Technique is a core term in the jargon of language teaching. This leads to people using a term without really knowing what it means. In simple terms, a technique is any task/activity that is planned in a language course. Such a broad term makes it difficult to make sense of what exactly a technique is.

This post will try to provide various ways to categorize the endless sea of techniques available in language teaching.

Manipulation to Interaction

One way to assess techniques is along a continuum from manipulation to interaction. A manipulative technique is one in which the teacher has complete control and expects a specific response from the students. Examples of this include reading aloud, choral repetition, dictation

Interactive techniques are ones in which the student’s response is totally open. Examples of interactive techniques include role play, free writing, presentations, etc.

Automatic, Purposeful, Communicative Drills

Another continuum that can be used is seeing techniques as an automatic, purposeful, or communicative drill. An automatic drill technique has only one correct response. An example would be a repetition drill in which the students repeat what the teacher said.

A purposeful drill technique has several acceptable answers. For example, if the teacher asks the students “where is the dog”? The students can say “it’s outside” or “the dog is outside” etc.

Restricted to Free

The last continuum that can be used is restricted to free. This continuum looks at techniques from the position of who has the power. Generally, restricted techniques are ones that are teacher-centered, closed-ended, with high manipulation. Free techniques are often student-centered, open-ended, with unplanned responses.

Conclusion

All levels of language teaching should have a mixture of techniques from all over any of the continuums mentioned in this post. It is common for teachers to have manipulative and automatic techniques for beginners and interactive and free techniques for advanced students. This is often detrimental particularly to the beginning students.

The continuums here are simply for attempting to provide structure when a teacher is trying to choose techniques. It is not a black and white matter in classifying techniques. Different teachers while classifying the same techniques in different places in a continuum. As such, the continuums should guide one’s thinking and not control it.

Making Auto-Groups and the Grouping Feature in Moodle

In a prior post, we looked at how to make groups manually in Moodle. In this post, we will look at two additional features in making groups and they are

  • The Auto-group feature
  • The Grouping feature

Making Auto-Groups

Auto-groups allows you to have Moodle make groups based on a criteria you give it. If the  characteristics of the groups doesn’t matter that is a fast convenient way to put students in groups. Below are the steps

  1. After logging in and going to a course where you have administrative privilege go to course administration->users->groups. If you do this correctly you should see the following

screenshot-from-2016-11-30-08-30-37

2. Click on Auto-Create Groups and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-07-05.png

3. The page is mostly self explanatory. Groups can be formed based on the number of groups you want or the number of people per group. Group formation can also be limited by role in the class or by last name, ID, etc. Before groups are finalized you can use the preview button to look at the potential groups. Below is an example of a completed group formation

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-12-52.png

The auto-group feature made 12 groups and the names of the members are listed in the table. Once you are satisfied you click submit and return to the previous page

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-14-02.png

Using Groupings

Groupings allows you to place several groups into a “grouping” this allows you to add several groups to an activity at once. In order to use groupings you must first make groups which we have already done. Just like with the group feature in which the same person can be a member of several groups so can one group be a member of several groupings. Below are the steps to making groupings

  1. On the groups page, click on grouping and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-22-03.png

2. Click on  create grouping and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-23-26.png

3. We will give the grouping a name and click save changes and this will send you to the previous page shown below

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-34-43.png

4. To add a group to the grouping, you need to click on the people icon under the edit column and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-36-06.png

5. Now we will pick several groups to add to our grouping and click add as shown below

screenshot-from-2016-12-02-08-37-37

6. When you are done adding groups you click on back to groupings to finish the process as shown below

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-38-46.png

Conclusion

We now know how to make groups manually and automatically. We also know how to create groupings. However we have not yet learn how to actually using groups and or groupings in Moodle learning experiences. This will be a topic of a future post

Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation are two extremes of a continuum of motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the desire to do something coming from outside of the person. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do something coming from within a person. This post will explain some of the pros and cons of each type of motivation as they relate to education.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is an external force that compels someone to do something. For example, it is common for students to study in order to prepare for a test. The test provides an extrinsic motivation to study. If there was no test, the students probably would not study.

This leads to one of the first problems with extrinsic motivation which is its addictive nature. A student will get used to the extrinsic motivation and never become motivated themselves to complete a task.

Extrinsic motivation can also lead to either of the following. In some situations, extrinsic motivation can lead to a competitive classroom environment in which students try to outdo each other due to the pressure. In other situations, the students will band together to push back against the extrinsic motivation by the teacher. Either situation can lead to academically dishonesty practice such as cheating and plagiarism.

Generally, extrinsic motivation is negative. When people are doing something willing and then are told to do it they often lose motivation. This is because something that used to be done by choice is now forced upon them.

The only exception to this is positive feedback. When people are given compliments on how they are doing something it helps them to stick to the task.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to complete something coming from within. For many, intrinsic motivation is one of the ultimate goals of learning. Teachers often want students to develop a desire to learn and grow on their own after they complete their studies.

To achieve this, a teacher must become a facilitator of learning. A facilitator of learning is one who provides students with a context in which the students can set their own learning goals. A primary component of this is allowing choice in the classroom. Choice can be given in types of assignment, how to complete assignments or other ways.

There are also effective measures that can be taken. Examples include developing positive relationships with students, having a relaxing classroom environment, and increasing self-confidence.

Content-based and cooperative learning activities both provide opportunities for students to develop intrinsic motivation. The goal is to develop independent learners who can set their own goals and achieve them.

Conclusion

Motivation is necessary. The question is where will the motivation come from. In education both forms of motivation are present. However, the goal should normally be to strive for intrinsic motivation when this is possible.

Strategies for Relevant Language Learning

Meaningful or relevant language learning has become an important component of modern language teaching. For many students, acquiring knowledge without a corresponding context in which it can be applied inhibits the ability to assimilate the information no matter how beneficial the knowledge may be.

Defining Relevance in Learning

From a constructionist viewpoint, relevance in learning is about connecting new information with old information which strengthens the learner’s ability to retain the knowledge. An example of this would be how a child various words and sounds with specific goals of communication they may have.

The complete opposite of relevant learning may be rote learning. Rote learning focuses on memorizing for the sake of memorizing with the key component of context often missing. With the context, the learning may lack relevance for the learner which impedes their language acquisition.

One of the strongest examples of rote learning in TESOL would be audiolingualism. This method was heavy on drill and memorization. However, this emphasis on memorizing and drill made it difficult to produce language realistically for many language students.

Strategies for Relevance

A key idea in making learning relevant in the context of language acquisition is balanced. Some memorizing is fine but not in excess. This same idea applies towards the teaching of grammar, theories, and other abstract impractical concepts.

How to find balance is too complex to explain here as every classroom is different. The analogy I use when teaching fuzzy concepts such as finding balance is the use of salt in cooking. A little salt is great but too much and nobody wants to it the food. However, the amount of salt to use depends on preference/context and this also applies when striving for pedagogical balance in teaching.

Another way to improve relevance is to identify the interest and needs of the students and address these in the classroom. This makes a clear connection with a practical application for many students, which enhances retention of knowledge.

Lastly, making an effort as the teacher to show how a new idea or concept relates to what a student already knows also makes learning relevant. This extends the student’s knowledge just enough to provide new information that is not out of reach for understanding.

Conclusion

Learners need to be able to understand and see how they can use something that they are learning. This requires the teacher to develop ways in which to demonstrate to the student that the learning is relevant.

Automaticity in Learning

A key prerequisite to the mastery of any skill or ability is automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to do something automatically without much thought. The avoidance of thinking is often viewed critically but in the context of developing mastery, there is a point where something needs to be done with a great deal of conscious intellectual effort.

This post will explain automaticity and provide principles to use when trying to develop automaticity in language learning students

Children and Adult Automaticity 

In comparison to adults, children are excellent at automaticity. For example, children often learn languages fairly easy because they process the language without in-depth metalinguistic thought about it.

A child’s success with automaticity in relation to language is due to the fact that children do not become obsessed with understanding all the various aspects of the grammar of a language. Instead of examining tiny bits of the language a child will focus on using the language in various context. In other words, adults focus on grammar and rules which are hard to understand and remember while children focus on using the language without caring about the details.

To provide another example, whereas an adult might see languages like an accountant with a focus on minute details and careful attention. A child sees language like a CEO who often focuses on the big picture. The child wants to communicate and doesn’t care too much for how it’s done or the rules involved.

This is not to say that focus on details is bad it simply impedes quick communication. A child learns to speak but has a superficial understanding of the language. The adult is slow to speak but has a much richer understanding of the language.  In other words, the child knows how to communicate but doesn’t know why they can say this or that while the adults often don’t know how to communicate but know the why behind what they wish they could say.

Teaching for Automaticity

If the goal of a language teacher is for students to be able to develop automaticity they should consider the following ideas.

  • There is a place for sharing language rules. However, the teaching of rules should be related to practical use so that the student is not weighed down by rules they cannot use immediately. Often, the teaching of rules is inductive in nature in most modern methods/approaches.
  • Classroom and learning time should be devoted to the function or use of language. What this means is spend less time talking about the language and more time actually using the language.
  • Developing automaticity takes a great deal of time. In other words, classroom activities that contribute to automaticity must be consistently in the lesson plan throughout the semester so that students can become comfortable using the language.

Conclusion

Becoming a natural at anything necessitates some form of automaticity. For the adult language learning, acquiring automaticity means to reduce the desire to think critically and just accept how a language is used. With the help of a teacher, it is possible to develop this ability.