What have they been up to?

‘I have eyes in the back of my head’. Teachers everywhere

Classroom management is all about knowing and controlling what is going on in your classroom and is a core competency for teachers teaching face to face.  This is reduced to a certain degree in online teaching but we still need to know what our students are getting up to when they think we’re not looking.  Teacher omniscience is not only about behaviour though.  It’s also about appreciating what our students are understanding or struggling with and making decisions about how to address this.  So how can we be sure they are doing what we want them to do?

1. LMS access data

examples of dataUsing the information in Teacher Reports, you can easily track how much time your students have spent in the LMS.  You can filter the reports so that they just show one class so you can see straightaway if anyone is spending a lot less time than the others in the system.  This may mean that the student is slacking and just doing the bare minimum.  Be careful though – it could mean that the student’s level is a bit higher than the others so they are getting through the material faster.  If this is the case you will need to devise some additional tasks e.g. research and blogging that they can do to keep them interested but how do you know which is which?

2. Student progress data

Looking at student progress, you can see very detailed information on how the students are doing at any one time by clicking on the student’s name.  You can even see how many times a student attempted a particular exercise.

students progressLooking at the data for the student above, we can easily see the area she needs more support with.  She probably understands yes/no questions fairly well is struggling with the vocabulary for the lesson.  Hover over learning outcomes to get a clearer picture of what the student should be able to do now that she’s finshed this lesson.

This data isn’t really worth putting on certificates.  It’s for you to get a clear idea of what you need to do in your next face to face session or synchronous activity*.  Think about doing a grammar gamble or a quiz or a communicative activity that uses the language or skills in question that would give you an opportunity to address the issue with the group and see if they can help each other find the answers.

3. Web 2.0 Tools

web 2.0 tools imagesThese communicative tools provide you with a unique window on your students’ world.  You have the chance to see what they are thinking and how they express themselves in ways that are not available to you face to face.  For instance, with Voice Tools you will be able to hear the pronunciation of even those shy students who stop talking whenever they see you approaching.  Because the tasks in the Forum and Blog are directly prepared and scaffolded in the Touchstone content, you can get a very clear picture of what your learners have understood from their activity in the online course.  Take care not to fall into the trap of trying to correct all mistakes for everyone but do invite comment on common errors when in class.  Give them the opportunity to correct themselves as a group first and then fill in the gaps in their knowledge when they’ve run out of options.

Speaking of behaviour, you may still need to check into forums etc to make sure everyone is ‘playing nicely’.  It is important to establish an atmosphere of trust in the online learning environment so that students feel confident enough to risk making mistakes that their peers will see.  If there is anyone in the group who is behaving antisocially, e.g. making fun of other students, they are damaging that atmosphere and negating the value of the community of learners.  Part of the cure for this is to agree ‘class rules’ or netiquette and to emphasise its importance during orientation – not what punishments are available for rule breakers but what value there is for everyone if everyone follows the rules.

We no longer need to have eyes in the back of our heads but we still need to know what our students are getting up to and how we do that is changng too…



‘No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Assessment plays an important role in the Touchstone Blended Learner’s experience.  As with any other course of study it is used to establish students’ level of knowledge and ability before and after study, to review material and to teach.

Take this activity for example.  The learner is asked to listen to a conversation to answer the questions.  To help her, the audio script and a glossary are available, the students can check her answers and try again.  To many teachers, this might seem like we are providing ways for the students to cheat.  However, we are not really interested in how they get the exercise done but that they attempt it and what they get out of it.

The exercise is a type of assessment but it is not a test.  It is designed to give someone a chance to try and figure something out (the question), receive feedback on their performance (‘Check’) and try again (‘Start Again’), this time attempting to reconcile their prior understanding with the answers they are given.  In this way students are given the opportunity to learn.  This is called formative* assessment, whereby the assessment is used as a tool for learning and is part of a process.  End of term tests or a placement test are summative* assessments.  They are events at a given time in the academic year at which the student must prove their knowledge to the teacher.  This is a part of the same process but does not contribute to it in the same way.

In the Touchstone Blended Online programme, there is plenty of summative assessment in the form of Reviews, Overviews and Tests as well as the extra practice provided in the workbook.  These can be hidden and then made visible for a specified period to minimize information sharing between students, if that is a concern.  Tests can only be attempted once.

Formative assessment is a bit more subtle, especially with many students’ assumptions about the way they learn and how they are evaluated.  Many students think they should get the best marks possible on each activity and move on, which can often lead to superficial engagement with the material.  It is our job as teachers to train them to take best advantage of the resources available.  In the example above, students have 3 legitimate options to use the exercise:

  1. Listen, do exercise, check script, close script, listen again, revise answers, click Check, listen again, revise answers, check and submit
  2. Listen and read script at the same time.  Do exercise.  Listen and read again.  Check answers. Revise answers. Check and submit
  3. Read question, look up vocabulary in glossary, imagine conversation, listen, do exercise, check script or check answers, revise answers, check and submit.

All of the above demonstrate good learning strategies of self evaluation and self correction and will develop listening skills to some degree.  Number 2 has a focus on pronunciation, not unlike the voice recording exercises in the About You activities.  All of them rely on using the other tools at their disposal in order to successfully complete the task.  Try giving your students these 3 options and ask them to try the exercises in this way.  Afterwards, discuss which option they preferred and why.  See how well they remember the information the following week and discuss which is the most effective for learning.  This way you are not only training them to be more independent but also to use the resources more responsibly and not view them as simple ‘cheats’.  Some students will still not engage of course but it is important to train the ones who will try and give them the tools to start teaching themselves.

Try out these three options and comment on the results here.  What worked best for your students?  What do you think is the difference in learning between the 3 options?

See posts on motivation for more ideas.


*Formative – helping someone grow or learn

*Summative – summarizing someone’s current position