Monday, September 14, 2020

Field Methods 2020: A Case Study in Remote Learning

In this post, I will discuss our Field Methods 2020 class, focusing on the issue of teaching remotely. I will give weekly updates.

September 23, 2020
We started tone today. We used the following technique that I outlined for tonal transcription in the following blog post:

September 16, 2020
Distractions: when you are running a Field Methods course online in Zoom, you need to be careful of distractions from e-mail and social media. Since you are by yourself in your office, it is easy for your attention to wander. The best strategy is simply to close your e-mail and social media accounts all together. 

September 14, 2020
More lexical elicitation building up to an assignment involving the phonetic inventory of Setswana. Once again it seems to me that consonant bursts are a little obscure with Zoom (e.g., aspiration, t vs. k, ejection). There should probably be a good phonetic reason for this.

One benefit of Zoom is the display of the consultant speaking is quite good. You can see his mouth produce the various consonants that that can sometimes compensate for the lower audio quality of Zoom.

We discussed methodology a bit today. The students got comfortable with questions like:

“Is the first vowel of X the same as the second vowel of Y?”
“Do the first and second syllables of the word have the same consonant sound?”

Both of the instructors (me and Gillian), noted that in the field lots of consultants would have problems with this kind of question. In the US, the kind of consultant that one often finds for a Field Methods course is young and very highly educated, meaning very meta-linguistically aware. So, it is possible to ask detailed linguistic questions of this nature. 

September 10, 2020
I had an epiphany. Zoom allows convenient video recording. So why not have an ELAN assignment. So, we distributed the following as an optional assignment:

ELAN Assignment
1. Download ELAN onto your computer.
2. Download video Setswana.mp4. 
This is a short video (16 seconds) of Seabelo giving greetings in Setswana. Seabelo made the video using Zoom.
3. Create a .wav file corresponding to the video file (you can do this is different ways, I used Adobe Premier Pro).
4. Open ELAN
5. Select New under File
6. Select Add Media File, and choose the video file.
7. Select Add Media File again, and choose the .wav file.
8. Press OK. You should see a video display and a waveform display in ELAN.
9. Under File, click Save As and give your file a name (e.g., Seabelo_Greetings).
10. Right click on the “default” tier under the waveform. Click on Change Attributes of Default.
11. Change the tier name to Setswana.
12. Go to the Type menu at the top of the display and choose Add New Tier Type.
13. Give the new tier type the name “Translation” and give it the stereotype “Symbolic Association” (you can experiment with other tier types later).
14. Click Add.
15. Go to the Tier menu at the top of the display and choose Add New Tier.
16. Give the new tier the name “English”, and make the parent tier Setswana.
17. Scroll to the beginning of the waveform and select the first word (“dumela”).
18. Right click on the Setswana tier (under the wavform) and choose New Annotation Here. In the Setswana box, write “dumela”. 
19. Left click on the English tier underneath “dumela” and write the English translation.
20. Repeat process until you have translated the whole waveform.
21. Save your work.
22. Send us your .eaf file and your audio file so we can check your work.

September 9, 2020
We had our second day of remote Field Methods today. The breakthrough came in the small group sessions. We taught the consultant how to use Praat to make recordings of words. He did not have a mic or an audio interface (e.g., a Zoom H4n), but the recordings on his Macbook Pro are pretty good. There is noise, but it does not ruin the recordings. Once he records a word, he can then send it to us by e-mail, or just display the waveform and spectrogram on his own computer.

September 2, 2020
Our first day of Field Methods at NYU in Fall 2020 using Zoom. It was also used last semester, but I was not there. We are going to go remote for the first few weeks, because several people (including me) are in quarantine and do not have access to the campus. We have a great consultant named Seabelo who is a native speaker of Setswana from Botswana. My co-instructor (Gillian) opened a Google Drive document to the whole class, and shared it on the screen. Then she elicited and transcribed directly into that document. It was a nice format in the sense that students could write their comments directly on the document during the class. Often the students would write a comment, and Gillian would follow up on it right away trying to clarify whatever issue the comment addressed. So, it is a nice format that is not available for in-person classes. Also, we now have a permanent record of those comments. 

A couple of things I noticed: First, the sound quality of Zoom is pretty good, but not perfect. So, it is hard to get 100% accurate transcriptions, especially for consonants. Second, at least we got to see the consultant speaking on the screen. If we were at NYU, we all would have to wear masks, and that would prevent us from seeing his mouth as he speaks (and would also muffle the sound, presumably). Third, one of the students had an internet problem in the middle the class, and they had to call in. But then they could only hear the sound, they could not see the consultant or see the transcription document. As in the past, we will also have small group sessions (immediately after class). For the first two weeks these will also be by Zoom. So, I will update you on how everything goes. Overall, given the circumstances, I think the set-up works.

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