The project designed online synchronous learning activities, produced a suite of accompanying videos and developed a manual for Collaborate users, with a focus on language learning. The exercises aimed to have students communicate information to each other in Chinese, concentrating on listening and being understood while using visual stimuli. Early exercises were highly structured, while later exercises provided less specific structure. As the students were studying at an introductory level, the design had to take careful notice of the vocabulary covered and the parts of speech that were currently being studied. This involved creative thinking to produce an alternative to the sometimes stuffy scenarios of the text book. The design of tasks was greatly assisted by formative feedback from each member of the group during design, as well as informal feedback from students to Sijia. The experimental production of a video supplement for an early task proved successful, and showed the possibilities for video in the remaining tasks. The videos provide students with an authentic application of phrases and parts of speech, as well as a chance to practice before the online session. When using Collaborate in language teaching:
- In the design of learning tasks, trialling the task with colleagues is important. Actually doing the task highlights practical and pedagogic issues and enables feedback on how the task might be better managed or designed.
- We recommend using the structure of the textbook and tying activities in with the currently-studied parts of speech and vocabulary.
- The sessions were designed around using the mic, that is participation was through audio. The teacher can usefully offer corrections to students via the text chat without interrupting the participant as they speak. Text chat can also be utilised as a way of notifying the teacher of technical difficulties or to clarify instructions.
- Several practice sessions at least are needed to gain moderate proficiency in using Collaborate. Managing a Collaborate session involves multitasking - keeping an eye on several areas of the screen at once. Chat messages can be missed if you don't make an effort to keep watch or if you get distracted by another activity or area of communication on screen.