Giorgio Corda, CU Boulder Italian Language Instructor, enrolled in the CU ASSETT Teaching with Technology Seminar in Fall 2014. With the support of the ASSETT Seminar, Corda made a plan to incorporate GoAnimate4school virtual conversation activities into several Italian language instruction courses at CU Boulder. GoAnimate allows students to conduct conversations with one another online via animated characters of their choice.
Studying and consolidating vocabulary and idioms in a language class can be a daunting task for many students. They use flashcards, lists of words, recordings, but this is often a long and boring task.
To make it more real, I often suggests beginner students to keep a small journal of what they do daily in Italian. On one occasion in a class, I have used Twitter to create an online version of such journal that was then shared with the class via a Google document. The idea behind this is that using vocabulary in meaningful situations can improve its learning/memorization. Time constraints in class however did not allow the repetition of the activity on a regular basis.
Teaching a fully online version of Beginning Italian 1, I faced the challenge of creating meaningful and regular (asynchronous) interaction among my students. D2L Discussion Fora and VoiceThread became useful tools for many of these activities, which provided a positive feedback from students. However, some students reported difficulties in visualizing the interactions during some audio conversational activities.
When starting this seminar I hypothesized that GoAnimate4school might offer a solution for the above issues. Students could create short solo animations, dialogues with one another or more complex interactions online. I thought that such work should positively impact students’ motivation and, hopefully, their satisfaction levels while learning.
I created the following activities for three different levels:
ITAL1010 (traditional, hybrid and online) Beginning Italian 1 (5 credits)
Traditional class capped to 22 students; hybrid capped to 18, fully online capped at 15.
- First activity: Week 1-6 - Create a visual diary with a few actions that each students do throughout the weeks. This activity should help students to exercise vocabulary in a meaningful environment.
- Second activity: Week 7-10 - My typical day. Create an animation that visualizes the typical day of the student’s life. Each week this will be enriched with the new actions available while learning vocabulary.
- Third activity: Week 11-14 - Let’s meet! Group of two to four students merge their “typical day” adding interaction moments (like a lesson/conversation in class, one at the café, or in other environment that they use in real life, like the gym, a restaurant and so on).
- Final (only for the fully online) Should all activity be completed successfully, the final oral exam (usually undertaken via VoiceThread) might be turned into an ad hoc animated interaction that tests students' reactions in a simulated real life situation.
ITAL1020 (traditional and hybrid) Beginning Italian 2 (5 credits)
Traditional class capped to 22 students; hybrid capped to 18.
- Individual portfolio/diary: throughout the semester. Each student could create a short weekly visual diary of the most significant sentence learnt. A non technological assignment could follow this one in the final two or three weeks of class, in which each students is randomly given one of the diaries and needs to recreate situations in which these sentences are used.
- Group activity → assign a number of 2 to 3 students to each of the 7 chapters covered.
When each chapter is covered, the assigned group will create a complete interactive animation in the environment attached to the chapter (e.g. hospital and pharmacy; shops and flea markets; opera and theater and so on).
- Debate activity Last two/three weeks. In the traditional class the final oral exam is a debate in which groups of students present a topic from different perspective and then debate supporting each of the perspective. This is sometimes done via VoiceThread. An alternative choice could be for the students to create animations for this purpose.
ITAL2110 (traditional) Intermediate Italian 1 (3 credits)
- Group activity, The “News”: since the focus of the vocabulary/topic covered in this semester is mostly on the outside word, in their animations the students could recreate one or two items of news that are happening in the weeks of class.
- Individual activity “Io e il mondo” (The world and I), in which each students create a significant interaction in an animation on topics such as, recycling and pollution; multiculturalism, politics and elections and so on.
All of the above activities are thought to offer students a way to exercise the language they are learning in more meaningful environments/situations. This should increase their motivation and memorization of vocabulary and grammatical structures.
A number of indicators should be involved when assessing this pedagogical intervention:
- a questionnaire on how students experienced the activities, easiness of use, whether this affects their motivation, suggestions for changes and so on.
- each activity should have a pretest in class (create a written diary of your day for example) and a similar test following the activity.
- Vocabulary testing in class Chapter tests should be compared to the same testing in classes where the activities are not offered. This should be repeated for short term memory retention (chapter tests) and long term memory retention (final exams).
- More interactive activities should help the students’ ability to respond to an input. Recording of role play interaction should be used to assess both the quality of the responses but also whether the “thinking time” between one sentence and another or one sentence and a response to it become shorter for the people who participates to the activities.
- In the online class initial retention could also be an indicator of success.
- For the final exams I would let the students choose the method of delivery of their presentations/activities. The number of students who might choose GoAnimate might also be an indicator of the students’ preferred learning environment.
Whereas I was reluctant to add the above activities to the students’ workload, their feedback was overwhelming it positive. In the questionnaire administered, students stressed the easiness of use of the program and how their motivation to complete the tasks increased. A student wrote “I wish I could take this class again to do more”.
Vocabulary testing after the activity showed a significant improvement in vocabulary retention both in the short and in the long term. Compositions in the classes where GoAnimate4school nearly doubled the number of words they used at all levels.
Interactive roleplay in class was more welcome, students felt less shy and produced better improvisations.
I have not had the chance to teach a fully online class using GoAnimate4School, but it will happen in Summer 2015.
Apart from the initial success that the above described activities had, it is important to keep it real to students and to tailor them for each class and for each student’s abilities. Acknowledging different learning styles must keep our awareness that these activities might not work for everyone, and discussing the different options with our classes and students should help identifying the individual needs of every student within larger groups.
Furthermore, this work had me thinking of other ways to use it for reviewing and testing. For example, I could create animations with an avatar asking a number of questions, to which the students will need to add their own character with the answers. Similar ad hoc animations might be use for the oral component of their final exam.