Guest Contribution by Sorcha de Brún.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Featured Image Source: Image by the author. Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 IE)
In this post:
The centrality of nuanced debate and the application of dialectics are challenging skills to teach in Irish language literature. Pre the Covid-19 era, this stage was heavily reliant on the physical presence of the lecturer, and the multi-modal approach which relied on the visual. A central element in the pedagogy, the disciplinary threshold concepts theory of Jan Meyer and Ray Land (2003) can be vital to student understanding of literature. The tools of literary analysis in this context are heavily dependent on class participation, discussion, and debate.
While I have developed a wide variety of innovations, tools, and strategies for teaching Irish language literature, ranging from novel mnemonics to concept maps, one of my recent innovations which has worked best for me in teaching Irish language literature online is that of repurposing the Likert Scale. The Likert Scale is a psychometric unidimensional scale, where respondents are asked to rate their attitudes to a given item, known as an anchor. Usually used in Social Science and elsewhere for the collection of data, this short blog explains some potential that the Likert Scale holds for the development of nuanced and inclusive debate in the Humanities, specifically in live online teaching in Second Language Acquisition (SLA).
Some points as to why I consider breakout rooms challenging for the effective synchronous teaching of 1st-year literature.
- An untimely additional administrative weight.
- Can be perceived by some students as being placed in a more closed (or hierarchical) setting.
- Breakouts can stifle the necessary flow of interaction and discussion necessary for debate.
- Can adversely affect the continuum of opinion.
- Students feeling thrust together before trust has truly developed amongst them.
In classes of 40 or more I clearly outline in week 1 of the module what the Likert Scale is, how we will use it for the literature we are studying, why it works, when we will use it, and how students also benefit from its use for their essay writing. I have found that students discussing Irish literature through Irish with their Irish language lecturer in an open online lecture is the optimal way for them to increase their confidence and knowledge in both essay writing and critical analysis.
In week 4, I invite all students to contribute anchors by writing out different statements about the literature. These items comprise characterization, plot, language, and style, and I provide students with examples, inviting them to imitate my approach initially. The students’ contribution to the design of these Likert Scales also mirrors Freeman’s observation (2018) about the importance of students contributing to the learning process. Using the principles of blended learning, these literature-centric versions of the Likert Scale are uploaded to Sulis prior to the lecture in Week 6, thereby affording students the opportunity to prepare for the live all-class discussion.
In Week 7, I inform students that I will correct errors and mistakes at the conclusion of the lecture only. I visually present the Likert Scale to the students via Screen Share, highlighting student contributions. I take each item and openly invite students to orally contribute – rather than only type in the chat – and to quantitatively rate each item.
Starting with the most strongly expressed opinions, I act as MC for the discussion, using that term to describe my role with the students. I complete the first example for the students, focusing on the emotional content of the statements. This serves as a distraction for the students in that they initially engage with the emotional weight of the items, which serves to pull them into the discussion. In addition, I show them how I can both support and counter these strongly expressed opinions, using argument, textual evidence, and knowledge of critical texts.
While emoderating has been well understood in an asynchronous context such as discussion boards, being MC here also requires improvisation to keep the flow going to allow students to fully explore these texts. I work through the Likert Scale, alternating between open invitations to the class to contribute, and direct questions to individual students. In this way, students are learning not only about how to develop nuance when analyzing literature; their oral contributions foster a relationship of trust and confidence in the context of the online class environment.
My experience with the use of the repurposed Likert Scale as a tool for teaching literature has seen student engagement and contributions increase exponentially in the live online environment. Research suggests that students achieve more when expectations of their performance are raised. Indeed, I have observed that in an atmosphere of trust, students are content for mistakes to be openly corrected by the lecturer. For me, online teaching has meant that the relationship between lecturer and student is more central than ever.
Discussions with the lecturer online using the Likert Scale as a focal tool in teaching the intricacies of synthesis in literary analysis provide an excellent means to do this. It also broadens their understanding of methodologies and research instruments not usually employed in Irish language literary criticism and has the added advantage of creating a visual and analytical focal point that encompasses both student engagement and directed online learning.
About the author
Dr. Sorcha de Brún is a Lecturer in Irish in the School of English, Irish and Communication and an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She has published widely on Irish language literature. Her poetry and prose features on the Séideán Sí Curriculum.
- Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2005). Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (2): Epistemological Considerations and a Conceptual Framework for Teaching and Learning. Higher Education, 49(3), 373-388. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from www.jstor.org/stable/25068074
- Here is a basic online example of a Likert scale: https://www.surveyking.com/help/likert-scale-example
- See the previous November 2020 excellent series of posts from Robert Dalton asking “How can pedagogical strategies and course design enhance social connectedness among participants in online courses?”
- Recent National Webinar on developing visuals for online teaching: Online Simple Techniques to Improve Visuals in Technology-Enhanced Learning
- List of tools for online teaching and learning by UL's Dr Darina Slattery
- ‘Traditional’ emoderating in asynchronous environments