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Time saving and effective language course design at The University of Melbourne

Dan Hasan
|
November 4, 2022
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Learner Workload

Context

Language learning, as with many skills, benefits greatly from collaboration. In the classroom setting, this can be seen where students share and clarify concepts among themselves, such as the meaning or pronunciation of a phrase. This results not only in deeper understanding, but the development of a shared understanding through communication. However, with more learning happening online, how can this interaction be maintained across different settings? And how can technology be used to support the pedagogy of language teaching without an increased demand on instructors?

Dr. Yasuhisa Watanabe, senior lecturer at The University of Melbourne has considered similar questions in his teaching and several of his recent published works. Like many instructors, he has been making use of a variety of different tools and programs aimed at digitising or streamlining elements in his course – Variation in Japanese Language. In recent iterations of this course, FeedbackFruits Interactive Study Materials and Peer Review were used inside the Canvas LMS to give students “a way for students to learn from each other”, and for the instructor to maintain oversight into their progress - as well as potential problems - throughout the semester.

Constructive alignment

Learning objectives

Students can demonstrate, identify, and explain various elements of communication in spoken and written Japanese.

Learning activities

Alongside weekly lectures and seminars, a reflective essay, and oral and written exams, students in this Advanced Japanese language course learned through role-plays and conversations with each other (both in-person and online).

Learning content such as documents and videos were shared with students using Interactive Study Materials, and assignments were reviewed with Peer Review.

FeedbackFruits activities were used as follows:

  • With Interactive Video, the instructor uploaded film clips and embedded open questions at key moments throughout to highlight key points. Students were also encouraged to share their thoughts and questions about the material, giving the instructor oversight into comprehension of the material.
  • Interactive Document was used similarly, and included the use of multiple choice questions which provided a quantitative measure of individual and class progress. Students were also able to highlight sections of the text where they had extra comments or questions.
  • Peer Review was used to support peer feedback on written and spoken assignments, including mock emails and recorded conversations in pairs. These materials were uploaded and, on average, two reviews were done per student. Feedback was given according to three linguistic criteria on a seven-point scale, with most students also leaving feedback comments.

Learning activities in terms of Bloom’s Taxonomy were at the levels of:

  • Understanding: 
    linguistic and cultural conventions of written and spoken Japanese
  • Applying: 
    learned grammar and politeness rules and received feedback in exercises
  • Analyzing: 
    peer’s work based on content covered in class and assignments
  • Evaluating: 
    peers’ work according to given criteria

Assessment of learning outcomes

Work in FeedbackFruits activities was only assessed formatively, so no final grades were determined by peer reviews or correct answer in activities. Instead, these data were used to inform the teacher of which points needed to be addressed in class, as well as providing a general overview of class progress and performance throughout the activities.

Notable outcomes

For the students: 

They benefitted from being able to share their understanding and address each other’s queries with Interactive Study Material, taking some of the work away from the instructor while maintaining visibility over these exchanges.

Being able to process peer feedback on videos was found to be a notable advantage, allowing students to analyse more than just written communication. This was found to be an effective practice before the final assessment.

For the instructors: 

They were able to use in-class time more effectively, as the activities provided both student analytics monitoring progress and performance, as well as a way of addressing questions about materials.

Being able to save and copy activities from templates, as well as synchronise groups from the Canvas LMS, saved the instructor a lot of time setting up Peer Review activities each week.

"I used some peer feedback in my class before, but being able to do this [with FeedbackFruits] was excellent... I'm sure it has reduced my workload and let me use my time more efficiently." – Dr. Yasuhisa Watanabe, the University of Melbourne

The role of the instructor

Activities were set up by the instructor each week, with student analytics such as “time spent on activity” and “number of comments left” being checked in the platform.

Students were informed about the procedure, frequency, and expectations around FeedbackFruits activities, with announcements in Canvas being used to give reminders of the deadlines.

The instructor also participated in the feedback process. After students used Peer Review to give feedback on each other’s work, the instructor reviewed this and gave further feedback on each assignment.

Added value of technology

Learning a foreign language requires more than just writing and reading comprehension. Real-life conversations and practice is essential to develop deeper understanding, placing more importance on digital teaching and learning. The use of video role-plays and feedback can give both students and teachers a means to practice and evaluate their speaking and listening skills, as well as boost their confidence.

Where the teacher is not the only one responsible for processing feedback, students benefit not only from exchanging and building their knowledge with each other, but also strengthen essential skills such as teamwork and communication. What’s more, the teacher can then rely on students to take ownership of their learning trajectories, resulting in a greater likelihood that students will ask questions or double-check their understanding of a point. 


Allowing this to happen online, as well as in-class, affords the class with more flexibility and makes it easier to be inclusive of a more diverse range of students’ learning needs and approaches. Especially with international students of different backgrounds or across different timezones, creating a space for this communication is an essential element of effective course design.

Possible variation

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