Crow at TALC 2020

In summer 2020, a group of Crow researchers attended Teaching and Language Corpora 2020 (TALC 2020). We hosted an online workshop and delivered several individual presentations. (More on the latter in a follow-up.) Here, we’ll offer a summary of the workshop, and share some thoughts about our preparation, too. 

The goal of our workshop, “Designing pedagogical materials using interactive data-driven learning (DDL) with multilingual learner corpora,” was introducing the Crow and MACAWS platforms, and demonstrating how both can facilitate what we call “interactive data-driven learning (iDDL).” We wanted to offer attendees a chance to work hands-on with our tools, ask questions, and get help as needed. So we assembled a big team: Ashley Velázquez, Shelley Staples, and Ola Swatek (for Crow), and Aleksey Novikov, Adriana Picoral, and Bruna Sommer-Farias (for MACAWS).

Slide from TALC presentation showing the Crow team members present and the logos of our sponsoring agencies.
Slide from TALC presentation showing the Crow team members present and the logos of our sponsoring agencies.

Crow and MACAWS both include learner corpora built from student texts at our partner universities. Crow focuses on composition in English, and MACAWS on written and oral assignments from Portuguese and Russian foreign language programs at the University of Arizona. Crow includes not only student texts, but a repository of the pedagogical artifacts that shaped them. We’ll be adding a repository to MACAWS in the future. 

What we shared at TALC

After introducing the Crow and MACAWS platforms, we introduced the concept of iDDL, which is our method for integrating concordance lines in a scrollbar format into online pedagogical materials. That allows snippets of Crow or MACAWS data to be embedded in online platforms like Google Sites or even learning management systems like Brightspace. 

We then asked attendees to pick one of three breakout rooms: English to work with Crow, or Portuguese or Russian for MACAWS. In the breakouts, we shared iDDL examples, then gave participants the opportunity to try activities they might use with their students. Participants then had time to build their own activities with help from Crow and MACAWS researchers. 

We’re quite pleased with the results. Thirty-eight people attended, representing at least 12 countries. Our platforms worked well, and in the breakout rooms, attendees were able to use Crow or MACAWS successfully. We got a lot of great feedback about design decisions we’ve made, and ways to tweak our iDDL implementation to make it more flexible and robust.

Preparing this workshop

Hosting online workshops is challenging! Our preparation was extensive: we met multiple times to develop the materials and plan activities. Even though we had hosted workshops before, and were able to draw on that work, we had to test our ideas carefully to ensure participants would have a smooth experience using Crow or MACAWS to work with student texts. 

With the help of other Crow and MACAWS researchers, we rehearsed the workshop and made revisions to both content and presentation—twice! Both times, we had to rethink some of our expectations for keeping things organized and on track. For example, actions which might seem easy — like asking for help — could actually be a challenge. We had to think about the ways participants would be switching between our examples, the videoconference channel, and Crow or MACAWS platforms.

Screencap from Zoom videoconference for TALC testing
Crow researchers help the TALC team test their approach to populating breakout rooms and assisting attendees during the workshop.

This led us to develop a detailed plan to ensure participants navigate the activities we planned. We assigned team members to different roles:

  • Presenting the content we wanted to share
  • Assigning and moving participants to breakout rooms
  • Facilitating activities in breakout rooms during the create-your-own-activity phase
  • Fielding any requests for help from participants
  • Keeping track of time in the introductory, breakout, and wrap-up sections of the workshop
  • Facilitating conversation throughout

We also carefully scoped activities. What seemed to us, at first, like a very small amount of content actually offered a rich and in-depth experience for our attendees, and we’re using what we learned as we get ready to host other online workshops this fall. 

Again, we thank the organizers for the terrific work they did to host TALC 2020. We hope to attend next year as well — hopefully in person this time!