Blended learning is an approach to education where one portion of the course is provided asynchronously online so that the student can study at her/his own pace, and another portion of the course is conducted in an instructor-led environment which can be a physical or again an online classroom (Lawless, 2019). With the necessity of more blended and/or remote in-learning because of the pandemic, the need to motivate or encourage learner autonomy and self-monitored Continuous Formative Assessment (CFA) has grown. CFA is not a new concept in language classrooms. Every teacher who reflects on student performance and adjusts course materials and instructional design to promote student learning actually applies formative assessment (Popham, 2008; Shepard, 2005). However, the traditional in-class formative assessment strategies, such as student questioning or quizzes, may not be possible or adequate in online classroom settings. I have found that using add-ons for common web-browsers like Google, Safari or Firefox can help monitor student progress and reinforce learning autonomy while students learn new vocabulary or read in a foreign language. Three of these are presented here along with some suggestions on how to exploit them during reading or vocabulary classes in online or blended learning settings.
The first extension is Fluany, and it can only be added on the Google web browser. It is a kind of vocabulary revision tool, which can be utilized by the students to remember the vocabulary covered during class hours. Fluany provides an easy to use virtual notice board often used in physical classrooms. With Fluany, you can prepare different flashcard decks, and you can group them by assigning different names and colors to the decks. When you activate one deck, a small screen automatically pops up on the right corner of the web browser and asks the meaning of a word in the deck you are reviewing. Here is a video showing how it basically works:
Even though Fluany is appropriate for self-study, it can be exploited as a formative assessment tool as well. You, as the teacher, can prepare some flashcards for your students to save in their Fluany app. Each deck might have a different name, so you can assign a different deck for review each week. At the end of the week, you can go over the vocabulary in one of your face to face meetings with the students (remote or in person). For example, you can run the assigned deck in 5-10 minute intervals. When the word appears on the right side of your screen, you want your students to write the first related word that comes to their mind on a piece of paper and show it to you. Meanwhile, you can allow your students to explain the meaning of the word or give an example in a sentence about how to use that word in context. Similarly, you can run Fluany and ask students whether they remember the word that appears on screen or not. If the students remember the meaning they can write “Yes”, if they do not, they can write “No” on their papers to show you on screen or in person. Otherwise, they can use the chat box if the face to face meetings are done remotely. In that way, it will be possible for teachers to see whether the students regularly do their vocabulary revisions in their self-study times because the students usually study the content and input of the class on their own, leaving more class time for more productive activities for teacher-led meetings in person or online. By using Fluany, the teacher can change the class into a more interactive vocabulary revision session, and meanwhile monitor the students progress in vocabulary development. Accordingly, they can pay extra attention to the slow learners.
One of the advantages of using Fluany regularly in blended/online classes is that it creates a peripheral learning environment for students both when they are online and when they are working alone. As so much of their time is spent in front of a computer screen, Fluany can provide multiple opportunities to review vocabulary both explicitly and implicitly. Unfortunately, this extension is only supported by Google’s web browser, and this is not available in all countries. It may seem disadvantageous that the flashcards have to be prepared one by one,but if the students engage in this process, it can become another learning and review experience. It is also possible to buy already prepared packs in different themes and proficiency levels when you create or log in to your account as demonstrated below. For now, there are only packs for English language learners.
Sample Flashcard Decks Available in “Fluany” Accounts
The second add-on is InsertLearning, which is an application that can turn online reading passages into interactive activities.
Together with the quick changes both in the social and working environment of teachers, maintaining the attention of students and monitoring their progress during their online reading lessons has become more of a struggle. With the help of InsertLearning, you can easily turn every open access reading source into class material. Additionally, you can use InsertLearning as a formative assessment tool because you can monitor the student answers by creating an account. On the webpage of the extension, you can create different classes and share your reading activity with whichever class you want. If you want, you can assign different points to the questions depending on their difficulty level and change the reading tasks into mini quizzes for students. In this way, the students can also see their progress in a quantitative way.
The following video I prepared shows how to create and share a lesson with your classes, and how to monitor student progress on each task.
Depending on student answers and outcomes from the assigned activity, the teacher can prepare extra material, go over the problematic areas during face to face meetings if he/she has classes in blended format, or modify and enhance the material to be able to use it in another class.
As for its benefits and drawbacks, the good side of the application is it is easy to find and easy to use. It can be integrated with GoogleClassroom. The bad side of the extension is that it can again only be supported by Google as the web browser like Fluany and you need to have a Google account (G-mail) to be able to exploit the add-on together with its full features. Moreover, the program cannot be supported on tablet or mobile devices. The students have to have a computer to do the activities assigned by the teacher.
Finally, Edpuzzle is another extension allowing adding interaction to online videos. Thanks to this add-on, you can add open-ended or multiple choice questions to the videos that you want to assign as homework or to present during your class hours. In this way, the students will have an aim to watch them and be mentally occupied by the tasks provided for them in videos. Especially if you continue teaching in blended or online format due to pandemic or any other reasons, it is a nice tool to prepare interactive vocabulary course content for the students as the tool allows teachers to track student progress for the video activities, and it does not allow the students to skip parts of the videos. In this way, the teacher can see whether the students watch the course videos regularly before coming to the class, and whether there are any words the students do not understand in terms of form or meaning. In this way, the teacher can revise her/his lesson plan according to the lesson outcome. This extension can benefits a teachers and learners both as an interactive presentation tool and a formative assessment tool.
The following video shows how to create an account and content in Edpuzzle and how to share this with the students.
In terms of availability, Edpuzzle is a great tool because it is supported by most of the web browsers such as Google, Mozilla Firefox or Safari. It can also be integrated with most of the learning management systems like Moodle, Blackboard, Schoology or Canvas. You can import your student list to Edpuzzle, or you can embed the application in learning management systems to share your presentations and exercises with students directly. Additionally, the students can do Edpuzzle activities by using whatever electronic gadget they want because it works on all tablets, phones and computers. Once you add it to your browser, it will automatically show up under Youtube videos so that you can add interactive content.. The main drawback of the add-on is that the application only works with Youtube videos for now.
An illustration of Edpuzzle button after the add-on is activated on the web browser
To wrap up, attracting and maintaining student attention as well as monitoring their progress at the same time in online / blended classes can be harder than in physical classrooms; however, it is not impossible as long as the right tools are chosen and applied during the course hours. Even though only three add-ons have been discussed and some suggestions given regarding the use of those three in reading and vocabulary classes, they provide almost limitless options depending on teachers’ creativity and students’ needs.
Lawless, C. (2019, January 17). What is blended learning?. LearnUpon blog.