Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Virtual Grammar Lab

One of my goals as a teacher this year is to reduce the amount of paperwork in my classes as much as possible.

With this in mind, I have been searching the web for a site that will allow students to read information and complete assignments online.  For sure, there are many great sites, such as this one, with educational activities.  My problem is, how do I check that the students have actually visited the sites and completed the activities?

I thought I had found the answer with the Virtual Grammar Lab

This site links to many websites that contain English lessons and activities.  Teachers can create class accounts and assign activities to the students.  The students create their own accounts and connect to the class account.  When a student visits the assigned website, this is recorded for the teacher’s benefit.  It sounds like a great idea, and it sounds like just what I was looking for.  Unfortunately, the site seems buggy.  Already, I have discovered two things that I do not like about it.  First of all, when I add a single assignment, this assignment is repeated in the assignment list many times.  Thus, a single assignment appears as forty-plus assignments; although, they are all the same. 

Second of all, the Virtual Grammar Lab only records if a student visits a website.  It does not record if the student actually completed the tasks, and it does not record a mark of the student’s performance.

So, I am not sold on utilizing this website quite yet.  I will keep looking.


Daryl said...

Hi Steven,

I ran across your blog post about our Virtual Grammar Lab site, and I'm really glad to hear that you've been trying out the new features, and I'm especially glad to get the constructive feedback.

However, I haven't been able to replicate the bug that you mentioned, where the same activity is repeated many times in the assignment list. When I click on your assignment link (under the screenshot in your post which shows the bug), I see a list with just 1 activity. Here's a screenshot of what I see:

I've tried creating activities in a number of different ways, and I haven't been able to get the results that you got. I wondered if this might have been a bug that we already identified and fixed, so I checked back in our bug list around the time that you posted this, but unfortunately, I didn't see anything. So I'm afraid I'm quite baffled.

I'm wondering if you might be willing to log into the VGL again and try the assignment out again, to see if you still experience that same bug. We would very much appreciate your help in trying to track down and eliminate the problem.

Your suggestion about tracking scores is quite a bit more difficult. As you know, the VGL is basically a search engine for English grammar activities. So we don't have any control over the way that the activities themselves are programmed. We think one of the strengths of the VGL is that it includes such a wide range of activities, but all of those activities work in very different ways, making it very difficult to develop some way that the Spunky English servers could read scores off of pages. The VGL was originally developed to meet the needs of a college ESOL department--so in that environment with adult learners, we are probably more comfortable with leaving score tracking up to the students. (For example, in college classes, often we don't assign grades to daily work at all--the idea is that the students should learn from the mistakes they make on daily assignments and then demonstrate their progress on tests, which are graded.) I can understand that in your teaching context, your needs are probably quite different.

On the other hand, it is a feature that we have considered. Our activity info database already includes a field for the "number of items" in an activity, as a stepping stone to potential future tracking of scores. One easy way to implement this feature would be to add a place where students can input their own score after they've finished the activity. However, we anticipated that this would be difficult/confusing for a lot of our students, and not any more reliable, so that's why we haven't done it. Perhaps what we need is a fresh view--we'd love to hear any of your ideas about how score tracking could be implemented.

Thank you again for your constructive feedback, and I hope to hear from you soon re: the repeated activity in assignments bug.



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