Using Google Docs to give instant feedback to English language students

Live comments on a document

Live comments on a document

In a recent classroom session, Mohammad Tanveer (referred to as Tanveer), one of our lecturers teaching English Language to foundation level students (usually native Arabic speakers) used Google docs to facilitate a writing activity. Prior to the session, Tanveer put the students into groups and created a document shared with each group (we use Google Apps for Education, so students already had accounts). They were assigned a topic “Poverty” and given a few pointers to inspire their writing. The students then worked on individual computers, but on their group documents.

As the groups were constructing their documents, Tanveer sat at a computer with all the group documents open in different tabs. He was constantly switching between these documents to check the progress and adding comments to highlight any mistakes. These comments would pop up instantly in front of the students, and they would make the correction and click on the comments “resolve” button to make it go away. Tanveer could see the corrections being made live on his screen, often before he had finished writing the next comment.

This activity meant students could receive instant feedback on their writing, make corrections and in the course of the session create a document of grammatically correct English. The added advantage of this approach is it encouraged students to keep writing because they knew their progress was being monitored.

Overall this was a very successful session; however it was not without its challenges. It was the first introduction to Google Docs for most of the students, so there was a slight learning curve, and it took a bit of time to get going waiting for them to get over the novelty of seeing multiple cursors simultaneously writing a document!

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Where Did We Go Wrong?

The Sanskrit hymn “Antarikhsha Shantih, Prithvih Shantih, Vanaspatayah Shantih ….” (Peace of the Universe, Peace of the Earth , Peace of Flora and Fauna) was recited at the beginning of every Indian ritual to invoke peace and harmony of the universe, the earth and the Botanical species. The philosophy behind it was the vision that no person on earth could lead a quiet and serene life without a balanced ecology. The Vedic Age was the first recorded age, when Peace of Nature was propagated. The visionaries could foresee it then itself, that there can be no peace prevailing in human life until there was harmony between nature and humans and until all the three ecologies were taken care of in their natural forms.  Nature was worshipped and regarded as religious entities in many cultures of the world  for the simple reason that people respected them and looked up to them in awe – which ensured that they were protected and taken care of, and if not, the men would be punished.

The Romantics like Wordsworth, Keats, Shelly and Byron changed the entire mood and tone of the history of the English Literature by propagating nature as the inspirer and a source of “Joy Forever “. They had their intuition telling them about the human dependence on nature for their own good, much before Science proved so.  They realised soon that the intrinsic nature of humans could be kept safe and sound only amidst the calm, external one.

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This proves that ancient men had abilities to foresee future and measures to safeguard their habitat even without the technological breakthrough, which the modern human species have failed, despite being helped by umpteen supports of scientific aids. Modern age, opposite to what was expected from it, in fact, collapsed the whole philosophy of preserving nature in disguise of growth and advancement. Modernism arrived with clearing greens for selfish interests, with focus only to the present and absolute negligence of future. Synthetic lifestyle became a status symbol and everything natural was replaced with artificial objects, for example, Polethene bags instead of jute, refrigerators instead of earthen pots, synthetic clothes in place of cotton-life moved away from everything natural; the consequence was obvious in terms of the Green House effect.

The common preaching of every religion is – “what you give is what you get”. People started disturbing nature by cutting jungles, filling oceans for high rise buildings and factories. The nature gave them back with interest – it gave back Tsunamis, global warming, fewer colds, new diseases every day, and much more. The realisation finally came to us and understanding the importance of “now or never”, we started celebrating Earth Hour and Earth Day to spread consciousness amongst the citizens of the world. But we also have to realise that a single day in a year is not enough to unwind our past mistakes. We must remember to take care of our planet every moment.

I am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland today where he describes the chaos all around.  Critic Edmund Wilson said,“The terrible dreariness of the great modern cities is the atmosphere in which the Wasteland takes place”. An hour or a day of dedication to the Mother Earth is not enough. The consciousness must prolong for 365 days, 24×7.  The human species will have to rise above from selfish considerations and think about others for their own sake, to save this world from becoming a Wasteland!

Dr Tulika Mishra

Women and emotional intelligence

The month of March marks the beginning of a season when women are celebrated for what they are and what they do. In some parts of the world, this month is celebrated with gifts and flowers in an emotional out-pour of congratulating messages and feelings of elation. Women, being the emotional creatures that they are would not let such a momentous occasion pass unnoticed hence take every opportunity to remind their loved ones that this one of the days when they should be given their due importance as women. Women have long been fighting for recognition of their merits and equal rights with their male counterparts. In their fight for equality they have been forced to do away with their emotions in the name of professionalism and their claim to positions that were traditionally held by the unemotional men. However, women are wonderfully different in the way they perceive and react to the world and now science has come to prove that their emotional nature can prove to be an asset and not a downside.

Emotions if handled correctly can be transformed into emotional intelligence which consists in the ability to monitor emotions and use this as a guide to one’s thinking and actions. It seems that the presence of emotions at the workplace is no longer seen as a negative trait as it helps in promoting collegiality, compassion and most importantly creative thinking. Passion is one of the key ingredients to any creative process and when we talk about passion a whole range of positive and negative emotions can be included. Women have an innate ability to detect emotions such as unhappiness therefore they can act very quickly to remedy a communication break-down among parties. They are also more compassionate, nurturing and people-oriented therefore they can be great at building networks and dealing with people.

Turning emotional outbursts into emotional intelligence can prove quite a challenge and for this transition to happen few steps are necessary:

a) Perceiving emotions-identifying emotions and the situations that trigger them
b) Understanding emotions-being aware of when and why emotions appear
c) Managing emotions-knowing how to control emotions to prevent outbursts
d) Using emotions-translating emotions into positive actions

Thus the notion that emotions are a proof of weakness and should be disregarded no longer stands as in reality every decision we make in our lives is affected by feelings. Women and their different, emotional approach need to see themselves as being in an advantageous position. In order for women to be recognized as high-achievers and world-changers they need to understand their emotions which, instead of being shunned, can be put to good use. Women should cease to aspire to take the place of men but rather claim their own place as successful members of the human race, irrespective of the personal or professional role they fulfill.  The acclaimed eighteenth century writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley said: “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

Alina Rebecca Chirciu
English Language Lecturer
Majan University College

Integrating classroom and online activities – in practice

Dr Tulika Mishra teaching with the aid of Moodle (on the screen)

Dr Tulika Mishra teaching with the aid of Moodle (on the screen)

After previously looking at 5 steps towards true blended learning, in this post we look at some strategies adopted by English Lecturer Dr Tulika Mistra to try and integrate the two learning environments for students of Poetry

  1. As recommended in “5 steps towards true blended learning“, I get the ball rolling in the first week itself with an Ice Breaker activity. Before the semester starts, I post the Module handbook and the Icebreaker Activity. In my first lecture, I introduce the students to the Moodle page which not only makes them comfortable about accessing the module page, it makes them acquainted with the lecturer, their colleagues and gives them a feel of writing online on a topic which is generic in nature on the module that I teach. For example, I ask them to post their favourite poem and state the reasons for that being their favourite. This does break the ice in the first week itself.
  2. A snapshot of the student/lecturer interaction on Moodle (seen on a mobile device)

    A snapshot of the student/lecturer interaction on Moodle (seen on a mobile device)

    Each prescribed poem of the course is uploaded on Moodle and after each face to face session and a live discussion in the class, discussion questions are uploaded online. The students post their answers and each of them are given feedback almost immediately. This gives them the freedom of time and space; they do not have to wait until next class to show me the answers. As their lecturer, I benefit by seeing the depth of their understanding, level of writing skill, and the most importantly, the points related to the content which needs to be repeated and emphasized for a better and critical understanding in the next lecture. The answers of the students are in nested form and they are visible to each student. The feedback to one student automatically enriches others and they could also learn more from each others’ reply.

  3. The audio links of the oral recitation of each poem is uploaded beneath every prescribed poem by experts. It helps the listeners attain better understanding of rhyme, rhythm and alliteration. It aids them with understanding of assonance and consonance too.
  4. There are discussion topics uploaded in the open forum section of the module, which are indirectly related to their course. For example, a famous quote from a poem is put to them to critically analyse or sometimes an unseen poem is uploaded and their understanding of the lines are sought through discreet questions. This helps build up their analytical skills and critical thinking skills. The students take active part in it since it is like a free writing exercise which otherwise is not normally enjoyed due to assumptions of being wrong in content based question.
  5. Quizzes are another exciting tool which are appreciated by the students. They help attain the learning outcomes in an utmost stress free manner. The best part of this tool is that they can be taken several times and helps to know the finer nuances of the topic/ concept.
  6. One of the most important tools to integrate classroom teaching with online learning is the use of videos. Poetry for example deals with history of English Literature. After the detailed deliberation of each historical age, a viewing of a YouTube video on the similar topic helps enhance memories of the details presented in the class during a lecture. It transports them into the age that they are supposed to read. To make them understand Shakespearean sonnets, a video on the Elizabethan Age was uploaded which provided recreation to the students and helped me save time for content delivery in the restricted hours of the class.
  7. Moodle helps the introverts the most. Students who are otherwise quiet and seemingly inactive in the class surprise me on the online module page of Moodle. Their confidence level leaps up in the secure atmosphere of their private spaces without any hindrance of being intimidated by others. The communication channel is enhanced manifold between the lecturer and the students, thus providing more comfort level amongst both.
  8. Sometimes, the students are made to do things a little differently- since poetry has a correlation with fine art, the students who are good at painting are asked to draw on the theme of the poem they studied. At times, an online essay competition is uploaded and the students very actively take part in it since there is nothing to lose (in terms of grades) and a lot to win (like prizes and appreciation)

Its commonly misunderstood that elearning portals would make teachers redundant. In fact, the success of elearning or any other mode of self-access learning could be facilitated by teachers alone. The trick is that there shouldn’t be a division between online and classroom learning, it is all part of the same learning experience.

Let’s hear from you? How do you break down the divide between online and face to face learning experiences?

International Women’s Day 2013 – more than equality

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2013, Mind Majlis contributor Dr Tulika Mishra writes a reflection on what it means to her.

Female students studying at Majan College

Female students studying at Majan College

Women’s day (8th March) is a day of hope for all women and a day to reflect on the responsibilities and duties as women for humankind along with the rights. When we speak of virtue, our moral and ethical behaviour rather than rules comes into picture. While the modern woman is an epitome of success, the most successful did not walk away from accepting the fact that they are woman and nurturing the positive qualities of their gender to maintain equilibrium in their personal and professional lives. On International Women’s Day, we must not just demand for equal rights to men because the answer to our problems is not for men and women to be alike. All must be themselves, realising and exploring their unique potentials to lend a helping hand to the weaker sections of the society and to achieve their set goals in life. True women’s liberation does not mean seeking equality with a masculine world, but exploiting the feminine aspects of a women’s personality and using them for the benefit of the society.

It takes more than education for a woman to survive in the modern world. As Shakespeare said, ‘so our virtues lie in the interpretation of the time’- in 21st century, being financially independent is the foremost virtue of a modern women. One must aim at a job and yet handle their careers and family with patience and confidence because failure at any front would make them ultimately demoralised. The patience and readiness to listen to the problems are other virtues which help in procuring better results at work and home. Women’s instincts are well recognised at modern work culture as they walk ahead with subject skills combined with soft skills helping them for a promising performance.

A modern woman is and should be a combination of class and conviction. She is self-conscious, confident and capable of handling the turbulence’s of life as well as articulating her needs unlike ever before. She has a ‘dash of inspiration and dabble of endurance’. No wonder it has been said long back about women-“hands that rock the cradle, rule the world.”

What do you think? What does women’s rights and equality mean to you? Let us know in the comments.

5 steps towards true blended learning

blended-learning-divideWhen working towards a true “blended learning” environment, it is common to see more of a “split learning” approach with very little “blend”. It’s easy to segregate the different learning environments in your mind. It’s also easy to assign differing importance to each element according to the environment in which you are delivering them. You can end up observing some or all the following attitudes:

  1. online activities = optional extras for the keen students
  2. online = a repository of resources for the module
  3. online = optional; face to face sessions = mandatory

These may be subconscious attitudes, but they are certainly attitudes that can be observed in a lot of staff and students. The reality is, learning is learning whether online or in the classroom, and each environment contributes unique learning opportunities that the other doesn’t offer, or offers poorly. A key skill of the 21st century educator is to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the learning environments available to them, and create the most effective and holistic learning experience that they can. This is true blended learning.

If this post we will present a 5 practical steps we have found helpful in removing the division between online and offline learning. Continue reading