Structure of Spanish

Problem: The course content is difficult, and the course is given in Spanish. In past semesters, a number of students submitted incomplete work done at the last minute on a regular basis, and failed each assignment. They continued to submit homework throughout the entire semester, but never attempted to get help to figure out what they didn't understand.

Objectives: Use technology to improve student learning by giving immediate feedback and allowing students multiple attempts on assignments.

Design: The course redesign had two key components. First, all homework assignments were digitized to allow students to receive immediate feedback and to complete multiple attempts. A critical element of adapting written homework to an online context was providing clear directions and a model for all fill-in-the-blank questions. In addition, my experience as an instructor has allowed me to identify creative ways in which students avoid learning. To this end, I did not use any multiple choice or true-false questions, as they promote gaming the system. However, I identified alternate self-grading question types that would accomplish the same objective with a minimized potential of gaming the system, such as matching questions. Instead of a series of true-false questions, for example, I created one matching question with twenty items, and students had to decide if each item was true or false. They could see their answers and scores, but not which items within a question were correct or incorrect, so they could not simply change their answer without understanding what they were doing wrong. Furthermore, because the number of attempts was limited (4 attempts for very detailed assignments involving phonetic transcription, 2 or 3 for other assignments depending on level of detail required), they could not merely repeat the question until they got it correct.

Because the content in this course builds on previous content, I implemented a gated assignment structure using Blackboard's adaptive release feature, so students were required to get a grade of 70 or better before the due date in order to continue to the next assignment. This aspect, combined with the automated assignments, allows students to identify problem areas immediately and forces them to get help at the very beginning of the semester. Lastly, I implemented lab time during the regular class period so that students were able to ask questions as they worked on the homework. The lab time provided was not sufficient for students to complete an assignment, but allowed students to attempt the assignment before class and identify problem areas, and then ask for help on those areas. The next step in the design process is to create instructional videos that students can review on their own.

Special considerations: This is a course in linguistics, which includes phonetics and syntax. Phonetics requires the use of IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols, and syntax requires the use of tree diagrams. During the current iteration of the course, I provided students with the phonetic symbols necessary in each question, and they copied and pasted the symbols by highlighting them and right-clicking. I investigated the feasibility of adding buttons for the special characters within Blackboard, but this was not possible because of the way that Blackboard is coded. However, I have now identified a simpler solution that will considerably lessen the tedium of phonetics assignments. There are several IPA keyboards available online, and these keyboards copy the symbols to the clipboard when clicked. A former student is currently developing a customized keyboard specific to Spanish phonetics based on the Javascript for the available IPA keyboards.

For the syntax trees, I identified a site that generates tree structures and trained students on how to generate trees using the site ( Students downloaded the images and then uploaded them into Blackboard for questions requiring a tree diagram. A past problem in this area has been that students are unable to identify the different parts of speech, and it is impossible to create a correct syntax tree without this knowledge. Automating the homework assignments allowed me to provide additional questions to help students review parts of speech and learn new labels for some parts of speech. As a result, students who previously would have failed the assignments (and usually the class as well) have been able to learn the material.

Support: A course redesign grant for $1500 from UNO's Center for Faculty Development/University Committee for the Advancement of Teaching.