Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Week 5

I accidentally did the first five tasks of week 5 before I did week 4, so I’ve decided to combine the last parts of the course into a single post.

I watched the video about food before, and never asked for food from a deli while I was in Italy because I had no idea what to say. I should have worked through this section before I went! It’s taken me a long time to work up the courage to ask for food from counters, as it’s something I never did in the UK (and still haven’t I don’t think!) In Poland I had to learn that you ask for things in ‘deka’, or multiples of ten grams, so 200g is 20 deka. Apparently in Italy, you say ‘un etto’ for 100g, ‘due etti’ for 200g etc – interesting 🙂 The communication video also introduces the names of containers (tin, bottle etc), then asks you to name some containers in the discussion, but introduces ‘glasses’ which weren’t included in the list. Always check your controlled practice only has the target language in it, and nothing else… Made me wonder if I’d missed anything, but ‘glass’ is definitely not in the video!

The first quiz makes you put words into lines of a dialogue, which works well. The second asks you to categorise items as ‘food and drinks’, ‘quantities’ or ‘containers’. This is a good idea, but the three categories are always listed in both Italian and English. Perhaps the English could be removed in later questions to increase the challenge?

The second video is Mike cooking for Anna and Lisa, so it now makes sense that food is introduced after clothes (week 4) as it leads into this video. It’s a nice context for apologising, the topic of the next section. ‘Olive’, ‘spaghetti’ and ‘vegetariana’ are the words selected for pre-teaching, which seem a bit pointless really, since they’re all the same in English, the language of the course.

It leads in to vocabulary about the order of courses in Italy, something which confused me when I first arrived: I couldn’t understand the difference between a ‘primo’ and a ‘secondo’, but later learnt that the first is normally something with carbohydrates (rice, pasta etc), and the second is normally meat or fish with salad or vegetables. Mystery solved! The two quizzes to practise make use of matching functions on Quizlet, one to match courses to pictures, and the other to match sentence halves.

The grammar focus is on using ‘mi piace’/’mi piacciono’ to express likes, clearly showing how the verb structure is different in Italian as compared to English. There’s also a friendly reminder that everything gets easy with practice. It’s nice that they’re trying to reduce the pressure, but I feel like the challenge could be upped sometimes.

The cultural notes are about a couple of common expressions: I like how these are introduced as chunks within clear contexts. In this case, there’s something a bit tantalising: “However, they can vary from region to region within Italy.” Unfortunately, they don’t follow through by telling you if the three expressions introduced are peculiar to Siena, or used elsewhere too. Skipped the discussion point task again, for the sake of finishing the course (and because I can’t be bothered at this point…)

For the final section of this week, the focus is on discussing the weather, introduced through the video and both the communication and vocabulary sections. There’s a Quizlet quiz to help you practice the phrases, again with no capital letters in either Italian or English. Later, there’s an inline quiz and a LearningApps one – it’s good that they’re mixing up the ways you can practise the new language. I’m doing all of the inline and LearningApps quizzes as I still find them motivating, but can’t be bothered with Quizlet at this point. Grammar is the prepositions ‘a’ and ‘in’, with an inline quiz, and the exploring Italian section is about ways of expressing surprise. I like that at the end of each of these sections it emphasises that the words are only used in spoken Italian.

Week 6

The final week of the course begins with describing an apartment. The variety of set-ups for the videos makes them more interesting, with this one as a Skype conversation between Mike and Anna, including her using her phone to give Mike a tour of the apartment (something I’ve done with my friends many times!) Other ones have been set in a shop, a supermarket, on the cathedral steps, in a park etc. They feel a little more authentic that way, and production standards continue to be high. I also like the fact that there are little jokes in there linking back to previous videos, strengthening the idea that it’s a story, not just isolated scenes.

The comprehension quiz on the video is really difficult. It’s asking me to remember the relative positions of the rooms at one point, something I wasn’t paying any attention to while watching. This emphasises the importance of the ‘task before text’ dictum, as learners should know what to focus on before they listen to/watch something.

In the communication video, there are links back to previous units, showing how the same language is being reused in different situations. I’ve also just realised that communication is always prioritised over vocabulary, which is prioritised over grammar: very good in my opinion, as if you stop partway through the week, you’ve done the most important things first! There’s a quizlet set to practise, again with the typical mistake of translating ‘com’è’ as ‘how’ not ‘what’ in the question ‘What is the apartment like?’

The house vocabulary set is extended in the next video, which finishes with a picture quiz where you have to unscramble the words, something which has been used occasionally earlier in the course. As before, these are extra words, and they encourage you to use a dictionary to help you. I cheated and just looked at what other people had written in the comments. I also noticed I’m not the only person still completing the course – the last comment was written four hours before I looked, and there have been two or three comments most days since the course ended. The first quiz asks you to categorise items (rooms/other areas/objects), with the same lack of a push to understand the Italian by removing the English names for the categories as the quiz progresses. The second asks you to complete dialogues in which quite a few items are recycled from earlier in the course. These are only in Italian, so you have to understand what they say to choose the correct item.

Grammar is the Italian equivalents of ‘there is/are’, contextualised through the original video in the section, then extended by showing how they could be used to describe a photo of your family. It’s useful to see it used in two different contexts like this, and is also a bit of recycling from earlier in the course. The section is rounded off with a look at the different uses of  ‘tutto’, including one which is in spoken Italian only.

The next clip is about arranging to do something in your free time, like going to the cinema. This leads into a set of functional language for making and responding to suggestions for arrangements. The first quiz only has two options for each question, so you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right by just guessing – not particularly challenging. There’s a LearningApps quiz to follow up, with a longer dialogue to complete. Again, only two options per space. It’s good that this uses the characters from the video, Mike and Lisa, so you feel like you know the characters, who you’ve built up a store of knowledge about over the course. There’s also another little joke at the end of the dialogue, raising a smile – bits of humour help.

The vocabulary video introduces more free time activities, and you’re encouraged to write a couple of the activities that you like to do in the discussion. I did bother this time 😉 There’s a bit more processing required in the quiz, as you have to choose the correct word order from four different options – this is more motivating for me than choosing between two words to fill a gap. There’s also more revision, as it uses a variety of different conjugations and pronouns, testing your understanding of them. The second quiz also has some level of challenge: you read a sentence about things you can do and choose the correct location from a list of six. Much better quizzes this time round.

Grammar is negation this time round. Although this is a pretty easy grammar point which could have been introduced earlier in the course, I suspect they saved it until now to highlight other uses of the word ‘non’, like in the suggestion ‘Perché non…’ The quiz involves putting words into the correct order, but again, frustratingly, none of sentences in the multiple choice are punctuated. There’s also a question which tests something that wasn’t covered explicitly in the video – the use of ‘non’ with a reflexive verb. Examples were given, but the rule wasn’t highlighted and I clearly didn’t take it in as I got the answer wrong. One good thing is that alternative correct answers for structures with ‘mi piace’ are offered in the comment when you submit a correct answer.

‘Allora’, another word which I heard all the time in Italy but didn’t really understand, is the subject of the article at the end of this section. Nice to have this cleared up!

I really don’t get why the discussion points are 2/3 of the way through each week: “In this step, you have a chance to practise what you have learned so far and what you will learn by the end of the week.” How can you practise something you haven’t learnt yet?! I suspect this is one of the reasons why I’ve been so reluctant to do them.

The final clip of the course is Mike finally starting the language course he came to Sienna for, though he probably doesn’t need it, since he apparently hasn’t made a mistake in any of the videos so far! It’s nice to see that Mike’s teacher is Sabrina, who’s been presenting all of the functional videos and some of the grammar ones during the course. A few of the students in the class introduce themselves and give their reasons for studying Italian: it’s good to see a range of nationalities and reasons. It’s all in open class, which is great for the sound quality on the video, but doesn’t strike me as hugely communicative! Mike’s final line is another little in-joke from previous videos.

‘Expressing motivations’ is the functional language for this section, practised through a two-option multiple choice quiz. I was rushing to finish so didn’t read all of the questions properly and got 6/7. Oops! There’s also an extra LearningApps quiz, matching sentences about motivations to pictures – nice idea. Vocabulary extends this by adding more possible reasons for studying Italian, and you’re invited to share your reasons in the discussion thread. After the inline quiz, there’s a Quizlet set requiring you to match sentence halves. It’s good to see richer sentences being used by this point in the course, testing your understanding more and pulling lots of things together. Again, I actually bothered with this, playing Scatter(my favourite function) for about five minutes, and ending up in second place on the leaderboard. 🙂

The last grammar focus looks at ‘dovere’ and ‘volere’, two very important irregular verbs. There’s also some revision of ‘potere’, and all three are covered in the quiz.

The course input closes off with a focus on ways to express your likes and dislikes, but because it’s the ‘Exploring Italian’ article, there’s no practice to follow up on it, although some people have used the comments to do this. This is a shame, as it’s very useful language, arguably more so than some of the other language chosen for focuses during the course.

All of the presenter-fronted videos in this section have ended with them saying goodbye, a nice touch, and with an invitation for you to study Italian in Siena. I wonder how many students actually go from studying this online course to doing a full-time paid one at the university. It’s certainly a good advert for the city and the university, though it’s a lot of work too!

Anna and Mike in Siena

Anna and Mike in Siena

To encourage participants, there’s a discount of up to 20% on the course fees if you’ve completed the FutureLearn course, and you can register your interest through the final page. Finally, you can pay for a certificate of completion if you’ve marked at least 90% of the steps complete, or a certificate of participation if you’ve marked 50% of them complete. Needless to say, I won’t be doing this for this course, but I may consider it for another course at some point. Sorry FutureLearn!

Overall

Despite the many holes I’ve picked in this course, no MOOC is ever going to be perfect, especially considering that it’s all being offered for free (unless you want to pay for the certificate at the end).

As a taster course, I think this worked pretty well, though the lack of productive practice is frustrating. I know you can use the discussion, but there’s no real communicative purpose to this, and there’s no production at all within the controlled practice exercises. It’s good to see the creators responding to comments from students each week – they clearly read and respond the comments while the course is running.

The FutureLearn interface is very easy to find your way around and you can see your progress clearly in a variety of places, including a to do list, a progress wheel (with more of the wheel completed as you go through the course), as well as the number of the step you’re on and how many more in that week as you work through the activities. It’s definitely something I’ll do again, and I already have a management course waiting for me (though I’ve completely missed the four-week window it was run in), as well as the rest of the ‘Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching‘ course which I did one and a half weeks of a while ago before being overwhelmed by work, then getting distracted by this Italian course! I’d definitely recommend exploring their list of courses and registering for ones you’re interested in, even if there are no dates at the moment. They email you when the course is coming up, which is what I did with the dyslexia course – I think I was doing the third iteration of it.

And now that I’ve finished the course, I’m off to complete the post-course survey, then voglio mangiare pasta al pesto. 🙂

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