I had the opportunity to visit Dr Hamel‘s 400 level class on technologies for language learning, at the University of Ottawa.  Class was in English for students who are in the program of didactics.  The class focused on teaching grammar with technologies and a group of 5 students presented two scholarly articles before engaging us into an activity using mind-mapping as a tool to create an interactive storyline (we used Popplet).  The presentation skills and analytical level exhibited by these students were quite impressive.  The students were actively participating in all activities, commenting and asking a lot of questions.

In the last 30 minutes, I talked about the use of Twitter as an instrument for languaging, sharing and active participation (from receiving input to producing output) within an authentic context. We also discussed the limits of such a tool.  One student reminded us of the poll feature, one aspect of Twitter that can be of value to informally evaluate and prob students’ knowledge and/or opinion on a specific subject.

Presentation in notes format (PDF) can be found below

microblogs UOttawa_notes

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On February 8th, 2016, I gave a three hour workshop on the use of mobile devices for language learning.  The presentation was in French and can be seen below:

atelier U Guelph 2016

Catherine Caws

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I left UVic with 6 iPads from our lab. On my way to U of Guelph to give a workshop on using portable technologies for teaching and learning. In keeping with the context of our research, the workshop will be organized to allow participants to interact with various digital artefacts.  Six of the participants are MA students in French studies and the other participants are experienced instructors who are curious to know what digital learning is all about.

Catherine Caws
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 9.29.18 PM

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Me, my Mac, and iPads.

Back in mid-September of 2014, we decided to test the full range of our Brentford iPad cart in an effort to maximize our time saved and minimize our collaborative headaches. For those that don’t know, an iPad cart is like a miniature apartment block, designed to closely house up to 30 iPads simultaneously, all connected via USB cable, so that they can be charged, updated, and even manipulated synchronously. After all, if one must install an app across 30 iPads, they might as well do it all in one go.

In practice, one connects as many iPads as they want (in our case, 20) to the Brentford cart, then accesses them for updates and installations from a single Mac computer that connects to the cart with a separate USB cable. All iPad work is done through the program Apple Configurator, a management app that is easily picked up through the iTunes store.

We hit our first hiccup in the process when Apple Configurator would not recognize the presence of iPads 5 or 15. We disconnected and reconnected the two tablets repeatedly to no avail. While iPad 15 showed that it was at least connected to the cart on its own interface, iPad 5 could not do even that. We encountered an error message regarding the USB cable. We switched some of the tablets around and determined that the problem for iPad 5 was, indeed, in the cable, as no other iPad would function with it. iPad 15, however, was more of a mystery.

It’s worth noting that in the early stages of experimenting with the Brentford cart, the Mac itself was prone to freezing completely when hooked up to the cart with Apple Configurator open. It occurred twice before we called Brentford for help. Every time it froze, it was necessary to hard reset the computer.

Our next issue arose when we decided to move ahead with synchronizing, or “preparing”, the devices that the cart did recognize. Often, the Mac would freeze and need to be restarted. Other times, the synchronization time given by the program was well over an hour per tablet. While the program does take time to configure 20 devices, an hour per device was obviously wrong and indicated a problem. We restarted the cart as well as the computer in an attempt to “start fresh”. Within one of these troubleshooting attempts, Apple Configurator alerted us that one of the connected iPads had entered recovery mode. Once an iPad has entered recovery mode, it must be “restored” before being usable again. In layman terms, the iPad had been wiped. Before venturing further, we decided to explore our troubleshooting options.

We called Brentford first to determine if any of the problems could possibly be coming from the hardware of the cart itself. With Brentford on standby, we addressed the faulty cable issue first. The specialist, Brad, had us switch the cable with a neighboring one to determine if the issue lie in the cable itself or the USB port at the back of the cart to which it connected. This test told us that the port functioned perfectly and the cable was to blame. When we brought up the freezing issue of the Mac as well as the iPad that self-reformatted, Brad could only suggest contacting Apple directly, as they both indicated either a software or hardware issue with the devices themselves. Our only other question for Brad involved the charging lights of the iPads that were supposed to remain solid green while connected, but blinked instead. It turns out that all 20 of our iPads are, in fact, iPad Airs which draw significantly more power than a first gen iPad while charging. We were assured that the extra power draw of the iPads and the subsequent blinking lights were all within normal parameters and should not cause any problems.

With the cart eliminated as a potential disturber of the proverbial peace, we turned to Apple to figure out a) why the Mac continued to freeze while using Apple Configurator and b) why the iPads were reformatting themselves. After several attempts to use Apple Configurator with Apple Support on the line, and the Mac subsequently freezing each time, Apple told us flat out that the problem most likely lay within the Mac. The next step was to install Apple Configurator onto one of the Apple laptops and use it as the default configuring machine from that point forward. After installing Apple Configurator onto the laptop, we plugged it into the Brentford Cart and hoped for the best. Everything worked perfectly. It recognized every iPad, supervised them without issue, and quickly and effectively updated them all. We have yet to have another issue involving Apple Configurator and the Brentford Cart to this day. Unfortunately, it meant that the Mac desktop was the source of all of our ills.

The next stage of our journey was to determine whether the Mac was malfunctioning due to a software issue, or a hardware one. In the end, we reinstalled the operating system. The reformatting cleared the Mac of issues for about a month or so before it began to act up again, freezing halfway through the boot up sequence. In an attempt nip the problem in the bud, we immediately called Apple. With Apple on the line, we tried to enter repair mode, safe mode, and even a disk repair to no avail. We proceeded to try an OS refresh, a process where the computer connects to the internet and attempts to download and reinstall any corrupted system files. The OS Refresh was initially successful in that the Mac was able to fully boot and maintain normal functions. However, it resumed freezing during boot up within two weeks of the OS Refresh. Having more bugs than an entomologists store room, we determined that the fault must lie within the hardware of the machine. As of this writing, we are in the process of replacing the machine outright. In order to do so, we will be contacting Apple one last time. May the odds be ever in our favor.


Addendum: The most elegant solutions are often the easiest. After trying time and again to figure out what could possibly be wrong with such a new computer with so few programs on it, we stumbled across the answer. The lab Mac is connected to a Smart board, one of those electronic screens that doubles as a chalkboard in the sense that you can write on it with specialized “markers” and share an image of your computer screen with others in the room or even in online conference calls. It just so happens that booting up the Mac while the Smart board is connected (not even ‘on’ mind you, but simply connected) will play havoc with the Macs processes and programs. After so much work and so many attempts to discover the problem, it boiled down to disconnecting the Smart board before booting the Mac, and reconnecting it whenever we wanted to use it. A Pyrrhic victory though it may be, we solved the final issue with the Mac.

Scott Stewart RA

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RAs (Dylan and Scott) are busy transcribing in the lab this week.

In October and November last year, groups of students enrolled in FRAN180 came to the DL2LLab in order to test various online tools and help each other edit their essays.  While students interacted with each other and with the technologies, we used VSC (video screen captures) to record all their interactions with the systems.  The VSC also recorded their voices so that we can analyse the types of interactions that occur between learners. What strategies are they using to help each other?  Are they using a specific metalanguage?  Are they using metacognitive strategies? Are they analyzing their language output in order to enhance its quality?

The first items of analysis are the transcripts of the learner-to-learner interactions. Next we will look at the learner-tool interactions to see whether they are using the tools effectively (see figure 1).  Thirdly we will analyse a questionnaire in which participants had the opportunity to tell us more about the intervention. Last, but not least, we interviewed the instructor (Dr. Catherine Léger) to better correlate the learner activity with the course outcome and get her feedback on the learning task.

Image from a VSC session

Figure 1: image from a VSC session

Transcriptions of audio recording is often tedious.  To facilitate the tasks, we set up a series of abbreviations and coding.  Here are a few examples:

LVH lecture à haute voix (when the learner is reading their own text aloud. No need to transcribe but it is a very important cognitive strategy that we need to be aware of)

DS discours simultané (students talking at the same time)

Some words are used a lot (probably too much) by participants.  The most common are abbreviated when transcribed:  beaucoup (bcp), quelquechose (qch), je (ne) sais pas (jsp), je crois que (jkq), intéressant (int), …

In order to analyse the VSC, we will set up specific markers that we need to look at:

CL every time a user “clicks” on an item or on a page, each click is annotated by a specific action that is also coded, for instance:

B browsing (page)

H help (accessing the help menu/page)

SP search page

Mov mousing over an item

In analyzing the actions within a site, we try to understand the efforts produced by users. We might notice some big discrepancies betweens participants (i.e. some participant will produce a lot more effort to arrive to the same result).  Results will be recycled into various practical outcomes:   (1) train participants on how to use a tool more effectively, or (2) custom a learning task to the tool that will be used, (3) (re)assess the tool in relation to the learning outcome, or (4) find/design a better online tool.

We will discuss the first results of these analysis in a future blog. Stayed tuned and/or add your comments!





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