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Driving Engagement in Language Learning [Learner Engagement Summit]

Bob Ertischek, Head of Client Success, Yellowdig 0:04
Welcome to Yellowdig learner engagement summit day two, I'm Bob Ertischek. I'm the head of client success at Yellowdig. I am excited and thrilled to be here with Sue Griffin and Alison Gottlieb, who I've had the great pleasure of working with for gosh, it feels like the better part of the year is it's been more than a year and more than a year, I think, more than a year. And they have they're piloting and they'll tell you more about it. They're piloting Yellowdig to use in their language courses. And I'm gonna just turn it over to Allison to introduce herself and then to sue. And we'll go from there. Allison, please. Hi, everyone.

Alison Carberry 0:47
Yeah, I'm Alison Carberry, and I'm a master Lecturer in Spanish at Boston University. I've been teaching there since 2004. I started as a teaching fellow, and Sue was my first mentor. And now we are near colleagues. So Sue, do you want to?

Sue Griffin 1:04
Yeah, Sue Griffin, I'm joining you today from very sunny South Africa. And Allison and I have collaborated on a number of projects over the year. And we've very much enjoyed this one in particular, and will tell you more about what we've been working on.

Bob Ertischek, Head of Client Success, Yellowdig 1:21
And I'm going to let them get to it. I just want to say one thing. Um, you know, we mentioned that we've been working together for over a year. And I think that relationship has been really important. You know, hopefully, from their perspective, definitely from mine, I've learned a lot from them. But but we've worked together to help them get the most out of Yellowdig, they've had issues and we've worked to correct them and vice versa. And we've, you know, we've tried to help them with the pedagogy and all that kind of stuff. So this is the kind of relationship that I love as the head of client success at Yellowdig. And I'm looking forward to continuing it. And with that, you'd want to share your screen and get into your presentation. Let's do it. Thanks. Okay.

Alison Carberry 2:05
So let's get started. This is our presentation on Yellowdig for language learning. And I wanted to start with a little bit of background about our program and where we're coming from. So in our department, the Department of romance languages at Boston University, there are four languages that are taught Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. But there are other language departments at Boston University, namely, the Department of World Languages and literature's and the Department of African Studies, world languages, and literature's has, I believe 10 living languages into ancient languages that they teach. And we collaborate quite a bit with World Languages and African Studies with regard to pedagogy with regard to curricular development. So while we are a relatively small group, in terms of the number of languages in our own department, the number of language faculty at Boston University is quite large. Part of that is because the College of Arts and Sciences which is the largest college at BU has a four semester language requirement, meaning that students have to complete through Spanish for now, if they placed in let's say, from high school experience into Spanish for they only have to take that one course. But if they start fresh from 111, or sorry, these are our Spanish, one, Spanish two numericals, then they would end up taking four whole language holds semesters of language with us. As I mentioned just a minute ago, the core sequence is 111 112 to 11 to 12. This corresponds to at other universities, things like 101102. And so in addition to the four semester language requirement, students also have various Gen Ed requirements that they have to cover at Boston University, and that is university wide, not just in the College of Arts and Sciences. It's called the BU hub. And it has various sort of distribution requirements. So natural sciences, things like that. The things that apply directly to what we're talking about in our program, our individual in the community and also sometimes global citizenship and intercultural literacy. But for the purposes of the Yellowdig pilot, we were really thinking about how we can get students involved in these concepts of individual and community a little bit more about the program itself. This is the language program through the four semesters then we end up with approximately 150 minutes of synchronous instruction each week with two to three class periods. Usually Monday, Wednesday, Friday, in our lowest two levels, it's Monday, Wednesday, Friday so that we can have have an additional 50 minutes of instruction asynchronously on either Tuesday or Thursday, just so that students get a little bit more contact meaningful contact with the language, but they still have an open schedule, and they're able to sign up for all different types of courses at view. This change to asynchronous on Tuesdays or Thursdays was a big change for us. And it happened actually, during the pandemic it had been planned prior to the pandemic. But it was not something that we had a lot of lead time on to prepare. And so we ended up trying to help each other, come up with meaningful ways for students to continue to interact with each other, even without that face to face class hour. And I think we've done a really good job, especially using tools like Yellowdig, our program sizes are quite varied, but in Spanish, it's quite large, we have 12 to 15 sections per level, and each one of those sections would have 18 students in it. Our French program is a medium sized program with six to nine sections, again, 18 students per section, Italian is a smaller program with two to six sections. And Portuguese is our smallest with just one section. But we're hoping to grow that over time. This also would apply to many of the languages and World Language and Literature, which we'll talk about shortly, because two of our colleagues who joined our pilot, in the second portion are from smaller language programs hoping to build from there. So our faculty and this is definitely applicable in terms of scalability of Yellowdig. Our faculty is made up again of a sort of a diverse group, we have several full time lecturers who teach only and exclusively at Boston University. But then we also have many part time lecturers who are teaching at Area institutions, in addition to BU, so Boston College, Tufts, Simmons, Brandeis various places around Boston, and we have a Graduate Teaching Fellow Program. So in addition to, you know, working with part time faculty, we're actually also training teachers from the ground up, right, so our graduate students end up instead, they're called Teaching Fellows, but really, they function much more like part time or adjunct faculty, and that they run their own sections, they're not assisting anyone, they are, from the very beginning, getting their chops in the classrooms so that when they graduate from our programs, they are successful on the job market. The other thing about our faculty is that with so many sections, we have to have course coordinators. And so there's one per level one for Spanish one, one for Spanish, two, etc. And same for all the other languages. And the course coordinator is the leader on curricular development assessments, they disseminate materials, they do the bulk of the teacher training, while our graduate students are, are running their own classes. And they hold regular meetings with instructors. So everything that of course, coordinator creates, needs to be easily accessible to all different kinds of faculty. And it needs to be easily shared across multiple different sections of our Blackboard, our LMS everything has to be has to flow easily outward into all of these different sections.

Sue Griffin 8:46
So when we were faced with this fourth, asynchronous hour, we needed to think very carefully about what we wanted to do. And what we didn't want to do. We knew right away that we didn't want it to be busy work, we weren't just going to throw a bunch of activities at our students. We knew that we wanted to give them into personal writing and speaking practice. And in doing so we also wanted them to interact very directly with one another. And hopefully our intention was for them to build a sense of community amongst our students. We really wanted to encourage consistent engagement with Spanish and what I mean by that any of those of you who know the Foreign Service Institute, which ranks languages by levels of difficulty, they talk about what an English speaker the number of hours that an English speaker needs, actively engaged with the language in order to progress. And we wanted our students during this asynchronous I'm going to call it our technically 50 minutes. We wanted it to be very active engagement with the language and with other students, and we also realized that something we'd never really thought about before, was not just in class participation, but also out of class participation. This was a slightly new concept to us. But once once we wrapped our minds around the idea, it just made perfect, logical sense. So these were the things that we wanted to achieve. Now, going on to what we were hoping not to achieve. And isn't could you sort of, sorry, we have certain limitations, we knew that Boston University was committed to Blackboard as our LMS learning management system for the foreseeable future. And there was some concern in the number of different platforms we were using. In addition to Blackboard, the concern was that we went all the way through what those particular institutions or organizations were doing with the student data that they may or may not be collecting. We also learned very, very quickly that the number of different accounts that students had to access created a barrier between the student and whatever we were asking them to do. And because we had during the pandemic, we had tried all sorts of different things, we use Flipgrid, which I believe is now called Flip, for student video recording, we'd use the different discussion forums, or blogs in Blackboard. And we were finding that all of these were incredibly cumbersome. So what we were looking for was something that could help us use fewer platforms, you know, we didn't want to have Padlet, and Nearpod, and Flipgrid, and perusal and whatever it was that Blackboard offered, in part because it was just too much technology. And in part, because in many of these cases, it didn't actually encourage student interaction. And we understood that we wanted students to be in touch with one another, not just with us, we didn't want to be the only people that were actually the audience for the work that they were doing. Moving on.

Alison Carberry 12:27
So we together we devised and a sort of a plan, we had accidentally ended up with access to Yellowdig, while we were serving as sort of hybrid teaching coaches during the roughest times of the pandemic. And in seeing what the platform could do, we got very excited. And we then decided, well, how can we take this and apply it to another language, right? Because usually, what we had seen was Yellowdig being used with a lingua franca with with English. And we thought well, but it's a communication tool. So how can we maximize this for language learning. And what we liked about this was that, obviously, by combining the writing portion, and the share ability, you know, portion of Yellowdig, videos, links, images, we were essentially creating a one single platform within Blackboard tied to our Blackboard Grade Center, where students could be targeting all of their skills at once. We also really liked that it had a much more attractive and engaging visual flow similar to social media, as well as the ability to react using emojis, which we felt like was much more of a real world ask, communicate communication. So often, when we have discussion forums and things like this, it's so divorced from a real world setting. It's just so exclusively academic. And we really liked that the platform has a much more social media esque sort of landscape to it. And we also really liked that there were built in participation targets, right, so students could not just leave it all to the end, and then suddenly do a bulk of their communicating towards the end of the semester, that there really was a an incentivized means of getting students to go back and participate sort of week by week with each other building community as they as they did it. And so we ended up having a an initial consultation. We're extremely blessed at BU to have the Shipley center and an entire organization related to digital learning and innovation. And we had initial consults with some of the people there Romi Roco, and Deanna Maryanne and they were very supportive of the idea. And with their help, we submitted a proposal for pilot funding to try out Yellowdig. Specifically, in our lowest level, Spanish courses in Spanish one and Spanish two, they were so helpful to us in terms of literally from from point one designing the project and coming up with, you know, the proposal that might actually get funded through consulting with Yellowdig. Getting to know our partners at Yellowdig. And facilitating ongoing conversations as the pilot went on. And one thing that we were really thrilled about was how responsive and reactive they were to our input. As faculty, they really allowed us to have student learning be the driving factor of this pilot, as well as the student experience and the faculty experience. And so we've been very lucky with this pilot, we've continued it, we are now about to start a third semester. And they were also good enough to help us expand and as I said earlier, incorporate two other languages into the pilot, Turkish and Arabic. And so we're really getting a vision of what Yellowdig can do for multiple different languages in a second language, instruction, context.

Sue Griffin 16:24
And as Allison said, obviously, we needed that we needed Yellowdig, to be something that all of our instructors could use, but we definitely needed feedback from our students as to their experience. So in the last two semesters, we have conducted student surveys. In the first semester, it was just Alison and my students. So her two sections of one 112, my two sections of 111, and we got a pretty good response. We have, as you can see, expanded into additional sections of Spanish. So I was able to bring in a section of Spanish 212, which is full semester. Turkey Turkish traded up with there's one section of beginning Turkish, and Arabic traded out, and they included a 300 level Arabic course, which is something that the students do not have to take, but choose to take. So in our first semester, we had 59 responses, all told, and then in this latest semester, we got feedback from 84 students. So let's take a look at some of that feedback. These are comments from our very first semester, and then to read out three that I think are particularly meaningful, but please feel free to peruse on your own as well. I'm going to start with, it's easy to use, and it's fun to look at other sharing. So immediately, we see that there is a connection, people are actually reading one another's posts. Another one, I enjoy the blog like aspect that allows creative freedom, and the ability to see what my fellow classmates feel and think. So again, they really are paying attention to one another. And then something that I thought was particularly interesting, I really like it. I think it's a nice short assignment. That helps me practice what I learned in a low stakes environment. That was something that was incredibly important to Allison and myself, we didn't want it to be stressful. We wanted it to feel like it wasn't burdensome, as well. So those we took all these comments, and we separated out the individual ideas. So in our second survey, we came up with 10 statements, there were additional questions as well which Allison will go into but just 10 statements across the board that we had seen repeated. Number five was something that our Turkish and Arabic colleagues are assessed to include because they are smaller languages. And it's extremely important for them to actually have the fun aspect of it. Alison and I were a little bit more pragmatic. We realized that homework is seldom necessarily fun, and we were okay if it wasn't as as much fun. But you will see across all of these statements that we've got more than 50% in every single case of our 84 students strongly agreed with these statements. I like reading other people's posts. It is easy to use. I like that it's interactive. It lets me practice language outside of class. It is fun. We got more than 50 there as well. It helps me get to know classmates better. It makes participation easy. It helps me develop my language skills. It is more like social media than Blackboard. It is a low stakes formal practice. These were things that had come up in our first survey, but many of them represented the objectives that Allison and I had in starting this pilot. So clearly we wonder I tried moving on to some additional comments.

Alison Carberry 20:05
So we wanted to get some detailed information from students. And I should mention all of these surveys were anonymous. So there was nothing tied. You know, for for students, they weren't going to get an A if they said they liked them. But so we wanted to see what specific language tasks and activities were successful for the students from their own perspective. And so obviously, when you see this first graph, this first table on the left, we have writing posts very, very successful for students, over 80% of them said that it was easy to use this over 50% felt that, you know, recording videos in the platform was also easy to use, although some hadn't tried it yet. And so that's information for us to try and get students to expand and go beyond their comfort level and start posting more videos right. So this was all very helpful for us as we went through uploading pre recorded videos was also highly successful for students. And uploading images was also obviously a clear winner. Increasing your confidence and comfort level with the format's below as language teachers, that translates to fluency for us, not accuracy, but fluency. So when a student feels comfortable, and and is confident with particular language skills, and specific actions, that really translates to us as they're, they're gaining an ability to use the language. And so clearly, again, across the board with these particular rhetorical things like asking follow up questions, commenting on other people's posts, these are, you know, actual language skills that we're focusing on. And, and we feel like the results from the survey show that Yellowdig is definitely helping students gain confidence in a specific skills. In terms of building community, we also see, you know, more than 50% of students felt that Yellowdig helped them get to know their classmates better. In both cases, Sue and I have two different sections combined together, right. And so they have their peers that they see face to face in the classroom, but they also have peers in another section that they may not see face to face, but they're still developing community and crossing borders in that sense. And then with regards, do you find weekly targets clear and easy to meet? The vast majority of students said yes, and I am a little baffled by the sometimes because nothing changes, but it's still it's sort of the student response of I don't want to say yes, because then when I don't meet my target, I look forward. But really, again, it just it shows us that the ease of use is there for the students. And that was crucial for us. We'd like to show you a couple examples now of some of the student work. So one of the things we do in Spanish to write in 112, is we do a series of mini projects. And these used to be things that they would put into Blackboard blogs. And you'd have to click on the image to have it open. And then you would go back and type it. But now everything is highly visual, right? So this is an example of the students creating a Day of the Dead altar. And writing about why they chose this specific person. They're honoring, and incorporating particular visual elements that we've studied, that are incorporated into most altars. And then you can see on the right just, you know, the plethora of comments that come in. And just it's because the platform is so visual, and easy to use, that they can scroll through the feed, see each other's work, comments, like etc. And then here we have some more. See, Sue, did you want to jump in?

Sue Griffin 23:50
I'll just summarize the conversation on the left. It's not particularly philosophical, but it's important to students. One of the students posted the subject, she was studying the class that she was taking this particular semester. And another student asked her why she was taking such varied classes. Was it because she was trying to meet how requirements was it because she was in the College of General Studies. And she explained that, in fact, she was in the College of General Studies, and somebody said, Oh, I see you're also taking computer programming. What do you think, Oh, I love the course. She says I've actually signed up for a second course next semester. So you can imagine that to a student that is actually meaningful. And this is a beginning. These are beginning students. So they're using what is a very limited vocabulary, and very new structures to them to actually say the things that matter to them. The second example is we only do too many projects and in 111 But students had a choice of making a video showing you how to prepare a very simple dish, or writing a review of their favorite restaurant so they Here's an example of that. Now, again, the students know that everyone else can see their project, and everyone else is going to comment on their project that flips things on its head. They're not technically having their peers not graded, but review their work, suddenly, it matters a great deal more, the greatest, less important, and the peer review is much more important. The third example is from a full semester, Spanish class in which we were talking about climate change. And so students had, they created an infographic on their particular area of interest within that topic, which they then presented to the class in which the class then asked them questions about. So what I want to show you there is that Yellowdig is not something that is outside of class, it is something that is very much inside of class, because the conversation starts on Yellowdig. But it continues in class.

Alison Carberry 26:02
Just very, very quickly, I wanted to show you also the Open Forum, which was an idea that Bob brought to us. You know, we have directed assignments, we want students to be targeting vocabulary for different modules, et cetera. But we also want to give them an opportunity to express themselves as freely as they might want to. And so in addition to the directed forums, we have these open forums where students are allowed to post and converse about anything at all, as long as it's in the target language. And most students just thrived with this. I mean, I was blown away at the amount of active, excited participation with this sharing of photos of walking around the city talking, just think, how are you doing? Right? So this one, how are you really doing right on the left here, a conversation about, you know, how I'm really stressed, you know, I have all these exams, and then they respond to each other. And all in the target language. There's nothing more authentic than that, in terms of real world practice of the language structures. So we'll finish up by just giving a couple of ideas for best practices for using Yellowdig with language learning Su.

Sue Griffin 27:10
And actually this is, to some extent going to answer I think it is Kenya's question about how to integrate Yellowdig into lower level language classes. We We've We've played around, I mean, in the beginning, we were novices and we were a little bit nervous about this. But what we discovered was dedicating a certain amount of class time to just showing students the platform, showing them how things appear, showing them the different things that they can click on showing them. That they can search by topics that they can search by name, showing them what an accolade looks like maybe giving them a chance just to just to write something silly, maybe introduce themselves. The other thing we found was that because there is this weekly target, and maybe this was the sometimes we needed to make sure that they were enough topics that they could actually meet the weekly target easy. So that was something that we learned through experience. We are also in a situation where we are asking students too, we aren't training them, we aren't teaching them. We know from experience that you can't take first language skills necessarily transfer them automatically into second language skills. So we spent a lot of time explaining to a student what a follow up question is and what its purpose is and how it takes the conversation deeper. So what we are asking our students to do is, read other people's posts, comment, ask additional questions. But the one thing we learned, we needed to make the point system for follow up questions to be at least as high or almost as high as the point system for original comments. What by not doing that we were giving the students one message. But our points were giving them another message. So we realized we had to I want to say equilibrium arise. Spanish translation. Sort of Yeah. And then the other thing was, while we got very good at explaining to students how the system works, and explaining to them that they could front load their points, so that towards the end of the semester, when they had a lot of other work they weren't necessarily going to have to work on on Yellowdig. It took us a little longer to realize that we needed to warn our students not to backload because there is a point at which it becomes too late. So you know, some of the things that we learned along the way.

Alison Carberry 29:51
So the last three recommendations, I think I can sum up quickly by saying this is a communication tool, and it's a communication tool for For the students, you can use Yellowdig. If you want to go back and study previous work with students and have them examines particular uses of grammar, but really, the beauty of Yellowdig is in its ability to give students the chance to express themselves in the target language. So we would recommend using it for communication, not for accuracy unless in a very directed way. We also think as Sue mentioned earlier, that it's key that you bring that communication into the classroom, and you pick it up from there. So that Yellowdig ends up becoming a vehicle for students to continue the conversation. Not busy work outside of class. And then finally, we recommend that, as the instructor, you do not engage all that much with the students. Because even if you're the nicest teacher in the world, you're still the authority. And this is their space, where they should be able to react and speak to each other as themselves. However, the accolades function is a great place to get involved. And just really, Pat students on the back for doing exactly what you what you've asked them to do. And beyond from what we've seen. I think sorry.

Bob Ertischek, Head of Client Success, Yellowdig 31:16
So we only have a few minutes left, I wanted to going back to Canada's question a little bit in the Spanish in level one Spanish the first class, I remember, and we've talked about this a lot, because I always laugh is hammer basis. And I hope I got to closer that time. So one of the topics, yeah, no, I need to be in the class. And actually, that's one of the advantages of video is actually speaking and using the language in a natural setting. And that's what I wanted to bring up the Hamburg Asus, can you tell us about that? So real quick, say correctly, maybe.

Sue Griffin 31:56
So in 111, you obviously can't post a topic that is going to be too challenging. So we asked along the way, very, very simple things. The number of words, the word limit, before you actually earn the points is relatively reduced. And we may be at the word limit as the semester progresses. But for example, do you like and what gets us? And if so, how do you like them? And where's your Where do you buy your favorite Ebola cases? Or what's your favorite color? And what do you have in that color, post a picture of something that you have in that color. These are things that are super easy, but they're targeted to the level of language that the student has at that particular point. I am not going to ask a beginning students within the first week. So what do you think about climate change? What what do you think the possible solutions are? But I might ask a full semester student that question, you know, so it's really level appropriate

Bob Ertischek, Head of Client Success, Yellowdig 32:56
in students contributed didn't they also like put pictures of their burgers and things to

Sue Griffin 33:02
absolutely did. And that's the nice part because it then becomes much more visually attractive, visually engaging. And that was exactly what we didn't have with our learning management system.

Bob Ertischek, Head of Client Success, Yellowdig 33:14
Well, I know we only have a minute or two left. You know, any questions? Please let us know and Alison and Sue again, just an incredible pleasure working with you and looking forward to going on forward in this as well. Thanks so much.

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