Exporting our expertise to U of Guelph

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

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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Transcribing interactions

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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Project “Practising Prepositions in German”

This is an eight week pilot project carried out in the Digital Language Learning Lab this fall.

The research is part of an investigation into supporting second language learners with technology. The focus is on practicing grammatical forms. These forms have been acquired in class. A toolbar, developed at the University of Tübingen by Dr. Detmar Meurers and his team, is used to analyze any htm or html text and generate activities.

The 30 participants are intermediate learners of German. They practice the use of prepositions with fairy-tales. They come to the lab once a week for a 30 minute session in which they read the fairy tale where every preposition has been blanked out. The project compares the use of MC (multiple choice) and FiB (Fill in the Blank) activities. Afterwards, students have to answer questions about the content of the fairy tale.

The project uses quantitative (pre / post test) and qualitative (the toolbar records every click / type in students do calculating the error ratio per preposition) measures. At the same time, it investigates how learners interact with the toolbar using software to record the screen.

The project has now reached its half way mark. So far there have been some technical issues (server / connectivity to the internet / programming glitches), some content issues (ambiguity of prepositions, level of difficulty of texts) and some space issues (with more than four students in the lab it gets really crowded). All of these were / will be solved for the main study starting September 2015.

The main thing is that participants like coming to the lab as it provides a supportive learning environment. As a researcher the benefit of carrying the project out in the Digital Language Learning Lab is to have control over the level of participation of learners as well as to be able to collect data, store data and analyze data in the same place.

The research potential lies in testing other grammatical forms in the future and a detailed observation of learner’s behaviour. The benefit for learners is to have a tool that supports their learning outside class.

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ARIS sessions in the DL2LLab: Student visions of a futuristic UVic campus

We’ve had some great ARIS sessions in the DL2LLab these past couple weeks. This term I had the opportunity to work as a consultant for the ARIS (Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling) platform in a fourth year Technology & Society course, here atUVic. As a group project for #TS400, Professor David Leach asked his students to create an augmented reality guide or interactive tour of a futuristic UVic campus-their vision of what our campus may be like in 2035 (details here).

Students could choose the means to create these AG guides or tours, but since ARIS is a user-friendly platform (you do not have to know how to code or have a background in computer science to be able to create games or virtual tours with ARIS), it was the default option. One tech savvy team opted to code a RPG (role playing game) for their version of UVic in 2035, but the remaining groups chose ARIS to construct their visions of our campus 20 years in the future.

I was pleased with the students efforts to learn ARIS & rework their games – although ARIS is user-friendly, because each action/requirement/quest builds on one of these prior elements, they discovered that this can be time consuming & meticulous work, in order to make sure the game functions as you intend. I mentioned this during class visits, but since the groups hadn’t yet completely planned out the games, these necessary details weren’t as apparent as during a face-to-face meeting, where I could walk them through the steps with their game.

While demonstrating to a group of students how to make all objects/characters quick travel, so that we could test certain elements from the DL2LLab, I remarked that since I hadn’t yet play-tested their game, I didn’t have photos at the required locations to trigger certain actions.  One student then proceeded to show us how to move pictures on the map, so that we could in fact test every quest in their game from our current location- awesome! The group then headed out to do a final field play-test before submitting their project.

I vaguely recalled seeing the option of moving photos and recordings on the map in my own exploration of ARIS, but without a context of how this might be used, I had overlooked this capability during the pilot testing of my ARIS creation Explorez. This goes to show how we, as instructors, can also learn from this tech savvy generation of students, who have grown up maneuvering new technologies & online tools.

ARIS offers many excellent resources such as, the manualtraining and links & an 18 video playlist, which includes an ARIS description and demos of “how to” on YouTube. These resources -as well as some trial and error- allowed me to effectively learn to navigate the system. However, the students who came to see me at our DL2LLab expressed that they greatly appreciate the face-to-face instruction and guidance. I look forward to this occasion – with the ARIS team – during the ARIS summit at the GLS conference this June.

Bernadette Perry (@BernadettePer14)

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