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Send your students to the BEACH!

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 Kathy  BrysonHere’s a little something fun to finish off your Halloween week – a mash up of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven with The Black Crowes.

Then, in this installment of the 2010 – 2011 Grant Recipients review, Kathy Bryson (Communications, Seminole) shares her experience and results creating the BEACH Online Interactive Writing Tutorials.

Describe your project. Did the project end up being significantly different then the original plan and why?

The BEACH is a set of 10 tutorials on Basic Errors And Common Hurdles in grammar and punctuation. It’s a self-directing, self-grading module that can be inserted into any Angel shell. The idea came from working in the Learning Support Commons with students whose papers had good content, but bad grammar. They were frustrated and their teachers were frustrated because their writing was holding them back. Students would say “Just show me what’s wrong and I’ll fix it,” hence this checklist for common grammar errors: apostrophes, commas, commonly confused words, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, and verb and pronoun agreement errors.

The original plan was to show students what to look for in PowerPoints and then provide practice questions, something OWL at Purdue doesn’t always have. Nancy Munce was instrumental in setting up the BEACH and showing me how to use HTML instead of PowerPoint. I highly recommend contacting your IDT if you’re building anything in Angel!

The original plan quickly grew. Setting the tutorials up with new practice questions on every attempt meant data-entering most of the summer. Despite multiple reviews by multiple proofreaders, students still happily found typos the 1st semester. After getting initial feedback and scores, we modified and tested a simpler layout in the 2nd semester.

What was the chief accomplishment of your project? What problem did you solve?

Adding the BEACH Tutorials to all my classes lets me provide direct instruction in grammar without taking class time away from core content. This is particularly helpful for my sophomore Mass Communications classes that focus on news and media with the assumption that students can already write. A pre-test directs students to as much or as little practices as they need to successfully master “finding and fixing” their common grammar problems. Since the BEACH is built in Angel, student efforts can count towards their grade for extra incentive.

What were the results? Did you see a numeric increase, a qualitative improvement?

Initial before and after test scores showed consistent improvement in all areas. I also get consistently cleaner papers whether from clarification or a strong reminder about proofreading.

Apostrophes Commas Confused Words Pronouns Verbs Run-ons Fragments
17% 40% 3% 29% 8% 39% 8%

One unexpected, but very welcomed, benefit is that students can assume more control over their grade. Students who miss an assignment due to illness, work, family, or another emergency can bring up their grade up at any time with this independent practice.

Did YOU learn anything from the project? Did you make any changes to your teaching style or content?

I learned a lot about how to present information clearly so students can learn independently. I also learned a lot about how to use technology to advantage and how to evaluate results to make sure the technology is working. I ended up adding the BEACH to all my classes, as additional practice or tests to my Writing classes and as one more professional polish for my Mass Communication classes.

Can another teacher use your project? How could they implement your learning?

The BEACH tutorials are available to all teachers in Angel to use as additional practice, assigned remediation, stand-alone quizzes, or extra credit. The instructor can assign one or all practices and set time limits and number of attempts. The BEACH can also be hooked directly into the gradebook for automatic grading.

To add the BEACH to your class, click on Lessons > Add Content > Import from Learning Object Repository. Then click on the BEACH Tutorials to see and select the BEACH folder. Finally, click on Copy Items on the right-hand side.

Do you have plans for a follow-up project/additional research? If you did a grant again, what would you do differently?

The original BEACH was followed by a 2nd version in the SPC Library for practice outside of Angel. The exercises there come from all over the Web and include quotes, capitals, semi-colons, and how to proofread. Both versions require regular maintenance, so there’s plenty of follow-up to the existing project. Time for maintenance is something I would plan on in future grants, along with adding extra time for the workload of everyone you work with.

If you have questions about uploading or using BEACH, feel free to contact Kathy. She would love to hear your experience. For more on Reusable Learning Objects, see the WITS tutorial and visit the Critical Thinking Library as well. And if you have a suggestion or strategy for promoting better writing from your students, please share it here!

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