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Kimberly D. Hogg Posts

Reflections on Semester 1: No Limits.

After a semester as a student again, I’m more aware of some of the problems in my own classes, some of which is my own making. In my next few posts I’m going to focus on issues that were particularly frustrating and consider how I would have approached them, and also how this applies to my own teaching. The first post is below.


One of the most frustrating things I encountered this semester was limitations. In one of my classes, I was limited in which journals I could use for my research assignments, and as a result, doing research became very difficult. While 30-50 journals to choose from may seem adequate on the surface, other limitations in the titles of the articles, content, or focus of the journals themselves made the projects near impossible to do in a timely manner. If I had access to journals in their paper forms, skimming for main ideas, themes, etc, would be a lot easier- pick up the journal and look at the cover. When working with journals that are a mix of on and offline, and some that haven’t updated since 2007, it’s hard to “browse” for themes as one could at a library. To visually “browse” each journal via Google Scholar is likewise a daunting task.

While the intent of the exercise, as far as I could surmise, was to familiarize us grad students with the current issues in what the professor determined were the major publications in the field (which I should hope she is a capable of determining). Okay, this seems like a reasonable goal. I’m not sure, however, that throwing a list of about 4 dozen titles at the students and telling them to determine the themes AND write a paper about it in under 25 hours is a reasonable request. And I have access to some of the fastest internet anywhere, when I’m home. *sigh*

Given the educational goal, how would I have run this exercise? I may have required 50-60% of the research to be pulled from the reading list instead of 100%. It seems to me that there is much crossover in discipline and much can be gained from drawing on sources parallel to education and technology. In any normal literature review, a scholar would pull from all appropriate, peer-reviewed sources, books, etc, in an effort to give strength to her position.

Another aspect may have been giving a list of recent trends and having students make the connections between the trend and how technology is being applied, or seeking consistency in the technology used to create or support this trend. Another possibility would be a list of old trends and have students examine what has supplanted it and how.

Finally, I would have provided students with explicit access to examples of good, better and great work with explanations as to how each example met the criteria I was expecting, especially if I were going to be a stickler for format on equal grounds to content.

Applying it to My Classes
Students new to a content area can find a lack of limits paralyzing. This is particularly true if they don’t have a clear vision of the goal and requirements of the project. Limiting my students to a single method and content stymies creativity and only assists my grading ease. Giving student freedom in either what they present or how they present it (keeping the course goal constant) allows freedom for variation in interest or ability. When both the content and the method present challenges, but only one is relevant to the course, either teacher, student, or both end up missing the educational goal of the activity.

An example of this is most certainly the mandatory online homework that I had to assign to my students last semester. The vast majority didn’t even register, let alone do the assignments. As a result, most students, and certainly the students most in need of it, missed out on the practice that could have helped them on their assessments.

The other issue is assessment. My program doesn’t have measurable outcomes, and as such it is impossible to identify whether or not students succeeded. Having measurable goals and keeping these in mind make assessment easy. Without them, assessment is subjective at best and more likely impossible.

Your Take
How have limitations served or hampered your students’ learning? How can you change how you limit your students or what you limit in your classes to help your students reach their educational goals?

Is there anything I missed? Do I have any wrong assumptions or reactions? What do you think I could be doing better?

The importance of automated backups

Why any professional outfit running a CMS for teachers does not have an automated backup for data recovery is beyond me.

Also, teachers should be forced to set up a backup email where they an be sent the data from the grade book, etc, automatically on a daily basis.

We should be past the days of asking, “Did you make a backup?”

Website Registration Processes

Site registration is something, it seems, many users just want to do as quickly as possible so that they can get on with doing what is actually important to them. Myself included. I’ve noticed this previously with my students, and when I was using Moodle, I tried to cut out all the unnecessary registration information to both expedite and simplify the process.

This year, with the online course book that we’re using at my university, students have a multi-step registration process, which is, in my opinion, setting students up for failure. Parts of the registration are available in their L1, but not until after some critical decisions have been made. Additionally, it is not obvious how to change the language settings (and I didn’t catch it until I walked several students through the process).

In fact, many of my students have indeed selected the wrong product (the 1st edition of a textbook rather than the 2nd, as the title on the text for the first edition is the same as we’re using in class, whereas the edition we’re using in class shows a higher-level textbook.), and because they’re both unlikely to read the English instructions and unable to, they continue forward, blindly, just doing what needs to get done so that they can get to their online homework assignments.

In my own classes, there was a rather convoluted process for finding all the information I needed for my program, and a couple of steps with special instructions that I missed, because, like my students, I wanted to get to the goal and I missed the process.

My take home: People are going to ignore registration instructions, look for the red asterisks that indicate a mandatory field, and get through the process as quickly as possible.  It’s the same reason people click the “I Agree” box on EULAs. We assume familiarity indicates sameness, and we assume we don’t need to think about the process. Fix: call out special instructions or information separately, bringing awareness to it. Make it un-ignorable.



So, the online component of my course book has no admin system. And this week it lost all of the assignments I had assigned to students. Who is managing this database?

Pre-Grad School Reflections

I have reactivated my blog/site as I’m starting grad school in a few weeks, and given that I’ll be taking classes entirely online for a degree that specializes in online learning, I thought it might be wise to track my experiences and reflect on them to help make my own online learning development better for my own students. And it will be a fantastic procrastination tool.

While the application process for the degree was fairly simple, the initial enrolment procedures have been anything but. Universities, I am rediscovering, are a labyrinth of administrative protocols, a plethora of loosely-interconnected websites all requiring some sort of informational input, and occasionally conflicting or unclear information. Facing each different interface for the first time and determining the needs of the site is always a challenge. And I’m pretty good with this whole interwebs stuff.

Another concern I’ve been coming up against since receiving my letter of invitation to the program less than a week ago is the coming registration tomorrow evening. It took some scrounging to find at least screenshots on how to register, what the page was going to look like, etc, so that I could make the best use of my time. I still haven’t determined if there’s an easy way to know which courses are online and which are on campus. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

These ideas are especially pertinent as I teach (and have been teaching) some variation on blended classes for about 4 or 5 years now. The take-away for me here is, remembering that my students are often working in L2 (their second language) to:

  1. Keep visual input to a bare minimum. Branding is reassuring, but too many options leading me out of a page to somewhere else aren’t helpful. I need to clearly know what I’m supposed to do, where I’m supposed to enter information, exactly what is required, and how to get all that done. Video demos are helpful. Help pages (popups/AJAX) are good. Rabbit-holing through series of links and general search boxes only mildly assistive, and then only when I can find what I’m looking for. It’s also very annoying.
  2. One page does one thing. See above.
  3. Succinct lists of what I need to do in one place, and auto-updating checklists of what I’ve accomplished.  In my invitation letter I received a checklist that was for every possible situation. I know the university is making it easier on themselves to send out one list for each student with sub-sections, but it’s not easier for the student. Ideally, I’m told where to log in and create a profile. Then I get to answer a questionnaire determining my next steps. From there, the website takes me through a full process where I can save my process at any step, much as my university’s online application process was completed. It was easy to see what was done, what needed to be done, and for me to walk away and get additional information without losing what I had started.
  4. Websites that work. If I need to accomplish something important, like getting my ID produced so I can take exams, it’s good to have that webpage functioning. That is all. For my students, testing, testing, testing. My students this year have to use a website created by a textbook supplier. We found out a couple weeks into the process of getting students signed up that they couldn’t use the dominant web browser (or the version after that, but needed at least TWO upgrades) to use the web page. And professors couldn’t use the most recent Mac OS X version with the materials we had been provided. Well, that would have been good to know going in.

QR Code Scavenger Hunt with ESL students

Posted originally on earlier incarnation of my blog at

Update: I worked up a version of this activity for grad school that involves more attention to Multiple Intelligences. You can download a version of the lesson plan for use in your own school or classes.

Original Post:

I had a brainwave a few weeks ago when I was looking to prep my students for some guided practice with directions language. In the past, some other teachers and I had created a variety of activities where students get up and move around a space to practice the language. This could be as simple as making streets and roads out of desks and aisles, or as complex as a scavenger hunt around campus using a series of directions.

The problem that I encountered with the latter situation was an excess of cheating. It was painfully obvious that some students would follow the course while others would just wait and copy the answers at the end from someone on the same course. Creating multiple routes helped stem this problem, but the campus space and preparation time don’t allow for custom sets of directions for each student.

So, how do I get each student to actually move around the course? One way is to have them take photos periodically. Since all cell phones come standard with a camera, and cell phone use by my university students is in excess of 99% (I have actually met students who don’t have them, although they are extremely rare) this is easy.

I was looking for something more engaging, however, than simply giving them a sheet of paper to follow. I needed a visual hunt that all students could be involved in. Since telecom companies have been offering smart phones and tablets for steep discounts to my students, the penetration of iPhones, Android devices and the iPad and Galaxy tab are between 25 and 50%. I had my answer: QR Codes.


Example QR Code.Sample QR Code

My first inclination was to do some kind of mashup with the codes allowing students to “check in” like Foursquare or Facebook and reporting their activity back to Moodle. That was way over my head in terms of technical ability, so I started talking with Chris Surridge about it. He was immediately interested in how He could use QRs in the classroom. I decided that I would go with something I had the time and know-how to implement, which was a series of directions embedded in QR codes for four different walking courses. Here’s how I would recommend doing this going forward:



  • Familiarize your students with QR codes, and how to read them. Do this a week or so before you send them out. Have them download free apps to their phones if they don’t already have them. This will serve two purposes. First, understanding how to use the technology is paramount to success with it. Second, by giving them a week or so before you actually implement it in a guided practice setting (and tell them they’re going to use it in class), they will be more aware of just how many QR codes are around them and will start practicing of their own accord. Come time to send them into the practice environment they are familiar with the technology and it will be less of a barrier.
  • Choose places of interest around campus. These could be facilities, your office (seriously- why haven’t they been there yet?), the campus English Cafe or help center, a place with a beautiful view, etc.
  • Link a series of these places together, starting with something that is close to the classroom you’re teaching in. Try to create a few variations on the route, either through reversal, alternate starting points, or completely different routes.
  • Write up instructions to take students from one place to another. Make sure each one is 250 characters or fewer. Plug the directions into a QR code generator. Save the QR code (and please, test it!). Repeat for each set of directions.
  • Write up an answer sheet to help the students record the answers to the questions in the QR. On some reflection, it might be better to have the questions on the answer sheet rather than in the QR code so that there is a sharing of responsibility between the student “captain” with the phone and the others in the group. This not only gives students a place to record answers, but also a sense of how long the activity is going to last. They can mark their own progress and understand how to use their time most effectively to successfully complete the task.
  • Cue sheets ready to goCue sheets ready to go


    Colour-code things. I had four paths and four groups. I assigned a colour to each group (not that I explained it as such, but they understood it from context). The QR codes were pasted on to a sheet of paper (but if the color isn’t dark they can be printed directly onto the coloured paper, saving a little time). The answer sheet and first clue sheet corresponded to their group color. From there the students instantly knew which QR code to read when there were multiple instances at the same checkpoint. This helped to prevent confusion about which code to scan and which instructions to follow.The checkpoints were also numbered and corresponded to a number on the answer sheet.

  • Write the posting location on the back of each cue sheet. This will help you when you set up the course(s). I failed to do this and had to backtrack a couple of times, reposting QR codes in the right place. Waste of precious time.
  • In class, set up groups and give them a clue sheet directing them to their starting point. Use this time to double-check that they can successfully read the QR codes and understand the instructions.
  • Walk around the courses and monitor for problems. There were a couple of tricky points where students got hung up, and I’ll have to change some of the instructions for the next time I run the activity. The student reactions as I ran into them were largely positive and I was able to re-direct lost students. I was also carrying a complete list of the cues so I could help explain things as they came up without actually being at the QR code.

At the end of the activity, one student was assigned to upload the photos from the scavenger hunt along with their answers to our class Moodle. Alternatively you could plan to have students finish somewhere central and show you their work as a cloze before leaving for their next class.


Students following the clues to the next location.On the trail



Groups: They were a little larger than I would have liked (6 students vs. an idea 3 or 4), but if you have two groups on the same path they will become one group eventually. I would like to create more paths for next time, and expect even more students will have smart phones, enabling even smaller groups.

Focusing on productive language for higher-level students: I would consider having students start at the classroom and write up a set of directions to guide another student or even me to what they think are the interesting places on campus. It could be their club room, a great place to grab a quick snack or a quiet place to study outdoors on a nice day. This is a higher-level task as it requires production of the language, not just reception and decoding. I’ll have to think more about how to implement this. Ideas welcome. I might split this activity half and half, with them following some directions and then creating some.



Project Files (complete list of direction cues, the QR codes and the associated answer sheets. Some things will be re-designed for the next run for clarity and aesthetics).

Photos of the project in action (Facebook. No login should be required.)

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Multiple Intelligences EFL Directions Activity by Kimberly Hogg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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