As I discussed in a previous section, we can’t start teaching without Understanding By Design, or considering Bloom’s traditional taxonomy, or a modified “Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy”. But what does the design process look like in action? I’ll take you through my thought process for designing a digital learning object, step-by-step.
Step 1: What do we want learners to be able to do?
If we’re using backwards design, then we need to start with what we want learners to be able to do. For this activity, I’d like students to decline Latin nouns based on their context in a sentence. If learners can identify the appropriate syntactic contexts in which to use the various Latin noun cases, then it follows that they should also be able to recognize the cases while reading. This is an invaluable skill for Latin students, especially anglophone Latin students, who occasionally fall into the trap of reading a Latin sentence as if the word order determined the syntactic functions of each noun. To clarify this briefly for readers unaware of languages without nominal case morphology and free word order:
1. Puer puellam amat.
2. Puellam puer amat.
Both 1 and 2 mean “The boy loves the girl”, despite puellam (‘girl’) preceding puer (‘boy’) in the second sentence. The accusative case marks puella as the grammatical object of the sentence. For anglophone elementary Latin learners, the way they decode English sentences can sometimes interfere with decoding Latin sentences. Since English assigns syntactic functions using a fixed word order (e.g., for “The boy loves the girl” and “The girl loves the boy”, the subject is whichever noun comes first), a common mistake would be to parse Puellam puer amat as “The girl loves the boy”.
Step 2: How do learners evidence this skill?
If the learning goal is to be able to decline nouns based on their context in a sentence, then students will be able to evidence this by composing or completing Latin sentences. Instead of giving them too much freedom to compose their own Latin, I’d like to have something a little more guided. I’ll settle for students assigning the correct case to nouns in an excerpt of Latin text. Within these parameters, students will already be given the syntactic context, as well as the correct noun. The one skill they need to showcase is choosing the correct form of the given noun based on the specific context. I will use an excerpt from a text they haven’t read before, that way they’re processing the meaning during the task, instead of relying on their memory of the text.
Step 3: Design the activity
This design phase itself is a multi-step process. I’m fond of the ADDIE model:
Step 3a: Analyze
What are our learning goals? Who are the target audience? What resources do we need to develop and deliver the activity?
Goal (from above): decline Latin nouns based on their context in a sentence
Target audience: Elementary Latin learners who have already learned the five noun declensions, but who need more practice to read more accurately and fluently. This will be fore a digitally-mediated Latin course.
Resources: I’m going to create something using H5P, so I can set it to provide instant feedback for learner responses.
Step 3b: Design
Define the learning objectives. Pick relevant instructional strategies. Consider how to provide feedback.
Learning objectives: (as above)
Instructional strategies: This is a review activity, so no new content needs to be delivered. Since I want to use text that employs nouns from several declensions, and in several cases, triggered by different contextual clues (e.g. subject or object of a verb, prepositional complement, predicate nominatives), I’ve chosen a selection from Sant Jerome’s Vulgate, Genesis 1. Compared to Roman poetry, medieval prose is far more straightforward to read, so there shouldn’t be too much difficulty for the beginner students.
Feedback: The H5P fill-in-the-blank module can provide instant, written feedback and allow students to update their answers.
Step 3c: Develop
Create a prototype and run a pilot test of it. Validate it to ensure that it works. If it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board.
I ran a pilot test with some of my Latin-reading friends. The H5P works as intended. The feedback is accurate for both correct and incorrect responses.
Step 3d: Implement
Distribute the learning object to the intended students!
Step 3e: Evaluate
How well did students meet the learning objectives? Did they engage with the learning object? How can the instruction or the object be improved?
Ran into some problems:
- Intended answers are case-sensitive
- Intended answers do not use macrons, therefore inputs with appropriate diacritics are marked incorrectly.
Unfortunately, these issues can cause students grief. First, if they don’t pay attention to modern spelling conventions (in this case, capitalizing the first word of a sentence and “Deus”), they can lose points on this activity. Scoring in this manner is preferable, but can blindside a learner if I don’t mention as part of the instructions that they must adhere to these conventions.
However, if they’re diligent and use macrons, that work is not validated. I want to encourage students to remember the macrons as part of the spelling, but this second problem actively discourages macron use. So now I need to change the responses to reflect appropriate macron usage. And, of course, it would only be fair if I edited the text to include macrons as well.
Teaching and learning are both iterative processes; we can always improve our teaching, because we can always improve any of our abilities. That’s why it’s important to reflect on the activities we give to our students.
One of the main affordances of digital learning objects is the instantaneous feedback we can provide. While this activity could have been written down with a pen on an exam, this H5P module allows infinite retries and automatic scoring, so learners can receive actionable feedback and continue learning at their own pace. This enables teachers to flip the language classroom, even at the elementary level. Many traditional tasks which measure lower-order thinking skills can now be digitized and automated, easing up the teacher’s workload while still providing students with copious, effective practice on which they receive feedback.
Although setting up these kinds of activities can be time-consuming, the reusability of these learning objects, and the time saved through auto-grading are worth it.