The pressures to find time to spend with my young family against the backdrop of ever increasing administrative demands in my teaching position have been pushing me to cut back on some of the volunteer positions I fill in some academic organisations. One role that is last on my list to cut is my position as treasurer for JALT Yokohama. My major motivation for making time to attend the monthly JALT Yokohama meetings is that it is the one place I can receive some of the nuggets of wisdom shared by the chapter president, Malcolm Prentice. Malcolm, or “Malc” as he is known to most, is also a very keen scholar and designer of edtech tools. I have been able to twist his arm to share a few of his insights on DMLL.
For his first post, Malc will share his use of text expansion tools to provide more effective and efficient feedback to his students.
Text Expansion for Efficient Feedback
Previous posts on DMLL have mentioned the benefits of online homework submission – for example by SkyDrive/Google Drive, DROPitTOme, or standard email attachments. Since giving feedback on electronic documents can involve a lot of typing – often the same comment again and again – in this post I’d like to share how Text Expansion software can make typed feedback more efficient.
What is Text Expansion?
A Text Expansion tool automatically inserts prepared chunks of text when it detects you have typed a short code. For example, when I type “cmapanum” the tool pastes a reminder of the APA rules for numbers in academic essays. I mainly use it with “Insert – New Comment” in Microsoft Word, but it has also helped with Google Drive comments, answering questions by email, and preparing printed comment sheets for paper essays.
Why use Text Expansion?
Marking codes (ww, wo, sp, ^) can save time with common errors, but there are many issues – not just with form, but with presentation, arrangement, content, citation style and so on – that aren’t quite common enough to justify a place on the list or time in the class. However, when you grade hundreds of pieces of writing per term, even rare issues start appearing frequently enough that repeatedly commenting on them can become a pain. I tried providing an extended reference code list, but it grew so long (a 30 page PDF) that students started deleting whole sentences from their final draft just to avoid looking up a code. Then I discovered text expansion.
With text expansion, if I find myself making a certain comment often enough to notice, I add it into my list and assign a memorable code. I might tweak it a few times as I come across similar issues that aren’t quite covered, but after that it just takes few keystrokes to insert. The quality of help I can give isn’t constrained by the length of time it takes to write. I can include as many examples as I think are useful, so students don’t need to go hunting through worksheets and textbooks. If I do choose direct correction (just giving the answer), it’s because I think that will work better, not because of how long a metalinguistic explanation would take. In short, I can give more helpful feedback, closer to the point of need, with less effort.
Which tool should I use?
Personally, I use aText on OSX (¥500: App Store version is cranky – download from developer). For Windows, PhraseExpress (freeware) comes recommended by a PC-using colleague. For an overview of other available tools/platforms try this search. Look for easy editing of codes, a fast response, and a system for syncing between devices. Unfortunately, users of iOS/Android currently seem to have a choice between the built-in keyboard shortcut systems (no formatting, awkward to add codes, strict length limits on Android), and sandboxed third-party apps (which can only insert text in a limited numbers of partner apps, maybe not including your favourite for commenting on assignments).
Three Final Tips
Firstly, don’t get carried away – just because you can give dozens of long, detailed comments in five minutes doesn’t mean you should. Secondly, as with any out-of-class feedback system, students need to be trained to ask questions and shown how (for example the Google Drive comment system or Word + email). Finally, remember that the system can store other things – I also use it with contact details, common emails (e.g. attachment missing), and to autocorrect my favourite typo (*recieve).