Transitioning an Introductory Linguistics Course to a Fully Online Environment

Mahaliah Peddle

Below, you’ll find the full report written by 4th year student Mahaliah Peddle as part of an independent study project (Linguistics 4980) that investigated the steps involved in the change of delivery mode of a course from a face-to-face setting to an online instruction mode.

The project was supervised by Dr. Inge Genee’s, Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics.

December 17, 2018

  1. Introduction

Online university courses are steadily gaining popularity, but there are many factors to consider before moving a face-to-face course to an online environment. My task as a teaching assistant for Dr. Inge Genee’s Linguistics 2300 (LING 2300) introductory phonetics and phonology course at the University of Lethbridge was to research and implement strategies that will help the transition of this course into an online-only format. There is a “lack of both precedent and acknowledgement of pedagogical approaches to linguistic content online within existing scholarship” (Johnson and Palmer 34), meaning that we need to look at what other disciplines have done for their online course development and apply these techniques to the unique environment of an introductory linguistics course. This paper explores techniques tested by other researchers, and introduces creative solutions that I developed throughout the semester. Specifically, I will outline why an instructor might want to move a course to an online-only environment, previous online development done in LING 2300, and how I built upon those existing developments. Additionally, I will describe the issues that need to be resolved before LING 2300 can be taught fully online, new developments and ideas I executed this semester, and student feedback from this semester. I will provide specific suggestions for any instructors or TAs who develop this course in the future, as well as comment on the importance of quality assurance in an online course environment. All resources I mention will be listed in the final section of the paper.

  1. Motivation for the switch from face-to-face to online model for LING 2300

Percentages of students who have taken an online course vary across universities, but it is safe to say that online courses are growing in popularity, both smaller, independent university courses and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). But why move a course to an online environment?  Students view online courses as convenient, and this is often their primary reason for selecting an online version of a course (Johnson and Palmer 33). Being able to complete all components of a course online allows a student to learn if they are not in the same city as the university, if the time slot of a face-to-face class doesn’t fit their schedule, or if they cannot attend courses due to an illness or a new baby, for example. In this way, “online education has the potential to reach a wider audience, in a sense leveling the playing field for students usually at a disadvantage in access to education” (Dumford and Miller 454). Despite the fact that instructors have to “invest a lot of their private time” (Comas-Quinn 229) into online course development, the long-term benefits can eventually afford the instructor greater flexibility. The instructor, too, does not need to physically be on campus and does not have to adapt their schedule to a face-to-face timeslot. Through extensive development (that will often take years), an instructor can reduce their workload in an online environment by using machine evaluations (Moradi 4), peer teaching and peer assessment (Wang 456). The technological capabilities and the asynchronous nature of an online course can eventually allow an experienced instructor to spend less time marking, and more time engaging with the students in an online environment. Online environments frequently feature lecture slides, videos, websites, and interactive activities and quizzes. These all allow students to review material as many times as they need, without being limited by class time to write notes and ask questions. This is an opportunity for students to gain “control over their learning” (Soffer and Nachmias 535) and to complete a course at their own pace. Convenience, instructor flexibility, and the opportunity for self-paced study are all compelling reasons to make the switch to an online course.

  1. Previous online course development in LING 2300

Inge (LING 2300 professor), Amanda, and Brittany (former TAs for LING 2300) have made several important developments to help move LING 2300 to a fully online environment. Firstly, all course materials (PowerPoint slides, resources, quizzes and exams, transcription assignments) have been moved to Moodle, a popular learning management system. This enables students to review lecture slides, print any information they want, and complete all assessment activities online. The technical capabilities of the Moodle environment have allowed Inge to stop using a paper textbook for this course. Moodle has also become the home of a host of additional resources that explain concepts to students in different ways. Secondly, Inge developed weekly quizzes that serve two functions: assessment (the quizzes are worth 20% of a student’s final grade) and self-study (students can review their quizzes to prepare for larger exams). These integrated quizzes allow for immediate feedback. Receiving immediate feedback “helps students to build awareness of what they do and do not know and can prevent the persistence of misconceptions” (Moradi 4). Thirdly, the TAs from 2017, Brittany and Amanda, created Quizlet sets that provide students the opportunity to quiz themselves on course material. Quizlet sets for each topic in the course allow students to engage with course material and take responsibility for their learning.

  1. Fall 2018 updates

This semester, I have built upon a few of the existing resources in the LING 2300 online environment. I updated the glossary to ensure that it is complete and matches Inge’s updated PowerPoint slides. Based on Brittany’s suggestion, I organized the additional resources to appear under the relevant weekly section, so that students will be more likely to engage with these resources. According to the Open SUNY Course Quality Review Checklist (OSCQR), an online course should have a “logical, consistent, and uncluttered layout” because it helps students access what they need where they need it, and makes the course appear organized and functional. Now, the weekly sections on Moodle are predictably organized and include the same elements under each week. I also assisted with the repair of the IPA module in Moodle, beginning with an initial meeting with the Teaching Centre in September and concluding with a meeting with the developers in December. In 2017, the class had to stop using the IPA module due to it not working properly. Despite many issues we had with the IPA module for the first exam, we worked closely with the developers at the Teaching Centre to fix it before the final exam. Another important update came as a result of my work as a research assistant for Inge in the summer of 2018. My co-worker and I re-recorded and edited many audio files to be used for the transcription exercises and exams in LING 2300. Using these new audio files will eliminate the use of low quality audio files with loud clicks and background noise, as well as provide a more diverse group of speakers for the students to hear pronunciation variation.

  1. Specific issues that need to be addressed before LING 2300 can be fully online

There are four primary issues that need to be solved before LING 2300 can become an exclusively online course. The issues are: how to deal with office hours, how to handle lectures, how to continue having review sessions, and how to deal with exams.

5.1 Office hours

Amanda suggested that we use Google Hangouts to facilitate instructor-student interaction that would simulate in-person office hours. However, this is not possible because students at the U of L use Gmail, while professors use Microsoft Outlook. One suggestion is for the LING 2300 instructor to create a dedicated Gmail account to use for Google Hangouts. Another option is to use Zoom, a free videoconferencing software that allows instant messaging, scheduling meetings, audio/video meetings, and virtual whiteboard use. I attended a Zoom webinar that showed me all the details about how to use this software, and I think that it is the perfect solution to the office hour problem. It is simple and free for students to download, there is no time cap on one-to-one meetings, and the instructor has control of setting meeting times.

5.2 Lectures

Any online course must have high quality lectures. Lectures are critical to students’ learning, with most students reporting that they learn better in a face-to-face environment (Johnson and Palmer 42). This makes it crucial to maintain the quality of lectures while transitioning to an online environment. Building on Brittany’s suggestion to record the PowerPoint presentations with overlapping audio, I met with Joerdis Weilandt at the Teaching Centre to discuss options for recording lectures. She suggested using a software called Camtasia that allows you to record your computer screen and audio. After investigating Camtasia, I determined that it has all the capabilities we would need for recording the LING 2300 lectures. Camtasia is expensive, but quite user-friendly. Using a free trial of the software, I created a sample video that shows what a Camtasia-recorded lecture could look like.

5.3 Review sessions

Each semester, the TAs for LING 2300 hold review sessions to help students prepare for their exams. These are held in-person at the U of L on a date and time chosen by the TAs. In an online course, ideally there is no requirement to come to a physical campus. Amanda suggested that review sessions be recorded and posted, similarly to how we would handle lectures. This is a great idea, but the question remains if there would be an in-person review session that would be recorded, or if the TA would take questions by email and record themselves answering the questions. This will be up to Inge and future TAs to decide.

5.4 Exams

“Testing conditions…can vary considerably” (Johnson and Palmer 35) in online courses. Currently, students are required to complete all exams in the Moodle Testing Centre at the U of L. This is a proctored environment. If a student should be able to complete this course from anywhere, the exams may need to be handled differently. This depends on if the instructor wants this kind of flexibility for the students. Sometimes other universities, colleges, and libraries can proctor exams, but this would need to be investigated further. Another option is to eliminate closed-book exams and replace them with either open-book exams or more assignments. This is up to the discretion of the instructor and is simply an idea for future development.

  1. New tools and strategies used in fall 2018

This semester, I focused on experimenting with and improving the review sessions. I tried out several different formats for the review sessions: an open Q&A, an informal drop-in, a guided review, and a review game session. These were all successful in their own ways. For the open Q&A session, I created a survey on Moodle for people to submit their questions in advance. This allowed me to prepare examples and explanations. Most people did not submit to this survey, but came prepared with excellent questions for the review session. The informal drop-in session was held in a library group room instead of a classroom, which made the atmosphere feel relaxed and informal. Several students came by individually to ask me questions, and they all reported that they found this helpful. During the guided review session, I showed videos and worked through phonology problems and transcriptions, as well as opening the floor to additional questions and playing a short review game. I think that people found this session the least helpful, as they were less engaged in the learning process. However, people seemed to find the review game helpful, which is why I chose to run my final review session in this format. I used Kahoot!, which is a website that allows educators to create interactive quizzes for students to play in real-time. This self-directed, interactive game lets students to monitor their comprehension, which is a key factor that promotes successful learning, especially for kinesthetic learners (Adams). Another program similar to Kahoot! is PINGO, a website that lets users create live polls. I found Kahoot! to be simpler to use and to have a more engaging interface, but either would be a useful tool in review sessions and lectures alike.

  1. Student feedback from fall 2018

We gathered student feedback from an interim evaluation on Moodle that Inge asks students to complete each year. Unfortunately, the response rate was very low, but we did receive some quality responses. 89% of students found the PowerPoint slides very useful or useful. 93% of students found the weekly quizzes very useful or useful. 96% of students said the transcription exercises were very useful or useful. 82% said that the online Moodle environment was great. This data is supportive of all the online activities we currently have implemented in LING 2300, and the students’ positive responses are encouraging as we continue to develop the online components of this course. Some suggestions for improvement included: posting keys for the transcription questions and improving the quality of the audio clips. I also gathered my own data from the final review session, where I played the Kahoot! game with a group of six students. This is a small group, but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with 100% of students saying they found the Kahoot! game very helpful, 100% saying they would recommend using Kahoot! in future review sessions, and 100% reporting that they found the review sessions in general to be very helpful. For this reason, I would strongly suggest using Kahoot! in LING 2300 in the future.

  1. Suggestions for future development

8.1 Audio/video

As previously mentioned, Camtasia will be a useful software to record course lectures. Additionally, Camtasia can be used for course introductions and instructions (Young and Hoerig 446). These kinds of video lectures can be used as preparation, repetition, or extension of a course (Montrieux et. al 172). Moradi et. al suggest creating “instructional modules for fundamental concepts” (1) in your discipline. These instructional modules can contain a pre-test, a short instructional video, and a post-test that enables comprehension monitoring and immediate feedback. These modules would align with the “segmenting principle, in which a course designer breaks a lesson into segments or chunks” (Baldwin and Ching 7). These short, clear, interactive video lessons allow students to learn difficult course material in manageable chunks, without losing interest or feeling overwhelmed by an hour-long video lecture. When studying phonetics and phonology, we are faced with the issue of transcribing words using the International Phonetic Alphabet. To facilitate this in an online environment, a whiteboard recording software such as Explain Everything can be used to show the instructor writing out the transcriptions. These could be integrated into a Camtasia video lecture. I went through the PowerPoint slides and identified three areas that students had difficulty with this semester: articulatory processes (week 6), phonology (week 7) and sound change processes (week 12). These topics would make a good starting point for a future TA to begin recording these segmented video lessons.

  8.2 Resources

There are some specific resources that could assist with the learning experience in LING 2300. Most importantly, there is a new open-access introductory linguistics textbook called Essentials of Linguistics by Catherine Anderson. This online textbook covers essentially the same content as LING 2300, specifically in chapters one to four. I recommend using this textbook, that features video lessons, integrated review questions and summaries, for future LING 2300 courses. These existing video lessons will also reduce some of the need for creating our own video lessons for LING 2300. In Brittany’s research paper, she suggested integrating videos from YouTube channels such as “Virtual Linguistics Campus” or “NativLang” into the LING 2300 online environment. I would add to this list the YouTube channel “The Ling Space”. Some videos from these channels could be posted under the “additional resources” section in Moodle, or even assigned as required viewing for certain topics in the course. Additionally, Brittany recommended upgrading the LING2300 Quizlet account to a Quizlet plus account. This would enable the creation of advanced diagrams (specifically useful for phonology problems), and the ability to record audio (useful for learning the sounds associated with IPA symbols).

   8.3 Social learning

An important component of any university course is the ability to interact with your professor and your peers. Students need to feel that they belong to a community of learners and that they are engaged with the learning process. However, the “asynchronous nature of online courses…has the potential to create a lack of a sense of community” (Johnson and Palmer 44). There are several ways to combat potential feelings of isolation in an online environment. As Amanda suggested, it is important for the instructor to post a photo and a bio at the beginning of the course. Depending on the size of the class, students could be encouraged to do the same. This can have the effect of reducing anonymity and making students feel like they are not alone, but rather that they are sharing this learning experience with many other like-minded individuals. In order for students to actively participate in their own learning, Raspopovic et. al suggest that an online course be organized in such a way that enables students to engage in discovery learning (143). Discovery learning requires students to process problems themselves in order to draw conclusions, instead of passively listening to a lecture. Two great programs that can facilitate discovery learning are VoiceThread and FlipGrid. Both programs allow students to post videos centered around a discussion topic, promoting collaborative learning and original thought. These have the added social benefit of acting like a seminar-style discussion in a face-to-face setting. VoiceThread or FlipGrid discussions could become a graded component of a LING 2300 course. Another idea is to create a WikiBook assignment, where groups of students “have to co-author a chapter of a student-authored academic book entitled ‘Introduction to Linguistics’ based on the topics introduced in [the] course” (Wang 454). This type of assignment encourages students to learn from each other and to tackle difficult concepts by working as a group. A WikiBook assignment could be adapted to an online environment by using Zoom for meetings, a Google doc for working on the chapter as a group, and by posting the chapters to a blog forum (such as the one available in Moodle) so that other students and the instructor can give feedback about the chapter.

  1. Quality assurance of the online learning environment

Online courses “seem to be more exposed to quality-related suspicion” (Vlachopolous 188) than other course formats. This is why it is crucial for the instructor of an online course to ensure consistency and quality of the learning platform, the assignments, and the evaluations in an online environment. The first aspect to consider is the introduction of an online course. Students need to know where to find materials, how to submit assignments, what technology they need, how to contact the instructor, and much more. U of L professor Dr. Marlo Steed’s ED 4760 course introduction (see references) is a great example of an online syllabus that is organized, detailed, and user-friendly. Students view the “instructor’s organization of schedule and course materials [as] a key factor in a successful online course” (Johnson and Palmer 42), so a lot of time and care should be put into this component of the course. As an instructor develops an online course, it is important to use quality assurance checklists, such as the Open SUNY Course Quality Review Checklist (OSCQR), to “evaluate their course design” (Baldwin and Ching 2). There are many such checklists available, but the OSCQR is thorough and detailed, and takes into account technology, layout, content, interaction, and assessment. Another aspect to consider is the “consistency in course structure” (Soffer and Nachmias 535), both within the course itself and between other online courses offered by the same university. This is why Stevens suggests that teamwork and collaboration is important for online development (4). Working with and learning from other instructors, instructional designers, and even students will lead to a consistent, effective, and dynamic online environment for all involved.

  1. Conclusion/ Specific suggestions for any future instructor of an online LING 2300

I have outlined many ideas for moving LING 2300 into an online environment. Because I carefully considered issues that were brought up last year, and researched creative new ways to enrich the online environment, I feel that the transition of LING 2300 from a blended to a fully online environment should be smooth. I will now offer specific suggestions that will assist any future instructor of this course. Firstly, I would encourage communicating with the instructors that already run an online introductory linguistics course at the University of Alberta, as well as instructors at the U of L that run online courses in other disciplines. Secondly, it could be beneficial to participate in the U of L Teaching Centre’s upcoming course (April 2019) entitled (Re-)Evaluate your Online/Blended Teaching. Thirdly, I suggest giving students bonus marks (0.5-1%) for completing any surveys (such as the interim evaluation) that provide feedback about the online environment. Since “elements of a course which are not compulsory…will not be used by many learners” (Comas-Quinn 226), this type of incentive could allow the instructor to get better data that will help with the improvement and development of LING 2300. The prospect of moving a course to an online environment is both exciting and challenging. I hope that my suggestions help pave the digital road to a successful online environment that benefits both the instructor and the students in future LING 2300 online courses.

  1. Resources mentioned in this paper (listed alphabetically)

Anderson, Catherine. Essentials of Linguistics:


Explain Everything:



Ling Space:




(Re-)Evaluate your Online/Blended Teaching registration link:

Virtual Linguistics Campus:


U of A Linguistics Online Courses:

Zoom videoconferencing software:

Works Cited

Adams, Dave. Personal interview. 20 Nov 2018.

Baldwin, Sally, and Yu-Hui Ching. “An online course design checklist: development and users’ perceptions.” Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 2018, pp.1-17. DOI:10.1007/s12528-018-9199-8

Comas-Quinn, Anna. “Learning to Teach Online or Learning to Become an Online Teacher: An Exploration of Teachers’ Experiences in a Blended Learning Course.” ReCALL: The Journal of EUROCALL, vol. 23, no. 3, 2011, pp. 218-32 DOI:10.1017/S0958344011000152

Dumford, Amber D., and Angie L. Miller. “Online learning in higher education: exploring advantages and disadvantages for engagement.” Journal of Computing in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 3, 2018, pp. 452-65. DOI: 10.1007/s12528-018-9179-z

Johnson, David, and Chris C. Palmer. “Comparing Student Assessment and Perceptions of Online and Face-to-Face Versions of an Introductory Linguistics Course.” Online Learning, vol. 19, no. 2, 2015, pp. 33-50. DOI:10.24059/olj.v19i2.449

Montrieux, Hannelore, et al. “Blending Face-to-Face Higher Education with Web-Based Lectures: Comparing Different Didactical Application Scenarios.” Journal of Educational Technology & Society, vol. 18, no. 1, 2015, pp. 170-82.

Moradi, Moein, et. al. “Enhancing Teaching-Learning Effectiveness by Creating Online Interactive Instructional Module for Fundamental Concepts of Physics and Mathematics.” Education Sciences, vol. 8, no. 3, 2018, pp. 1-14. DOI:10.3390/educsci8030109

Online Learning Consortium, Inc. OSCQR-Open SUNY Course Quality Review Rubric. New York State University,

Raspopovic, Miroslava, et al. “The Effects of Integrating Social Learning Environment with Online Learning.” International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 18, no. 1, 2017, pp. 141-60. https://search-proquest-

Scherer, Amanda. “Creating Successful Social Interactions in an Online Linguistics Course.” Final paper for LING 3980 at the University of Lethbridge, 2017.

Soffer, Tal, and Rafi Nachmias. “Effectiveness of learning in online academic courses compared with face-to-face courses in higher education.” Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol. 34, no. 5, 2018, pp. 534-43. DOI: 10.1111/jcal.12258

Steed, Marlo. Ed 4760: Comm Tech in the Curriculum. University of Lethbridge, 2017, Accessed 16 Dec 2018.

Stevens, Karl B. “Contributing Factors to a Successful Online Course Development Process.” The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, vol. 61, no. 1, 2013, pp. 2-11. DOI: 10.1080/07377363.2013.758554

Vlachopoulos, Dimitrios. “Assuring Quality in E-Learning Course Design: The Roadmap.”  International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 17, no. 6, 2016, 183-205.


Wang, Lixun. “Employing Wikibook Project in a Linguistics Course to Promote Peer Teaching and Learning.” Education and Information Technologies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2016, pp. 453-70. DOI 10.1007/s10639-014-9332-x

Wichers, Brittany. “Considering the Transition of Linguistics 2300 into an Online Course.” Final paper for LING 3980 at the University of Lethbridge, 2017.

Weilandt, Joerdis. Personal interview. 23 Oct 2018.

Young, Andria, and Beverley Hoerig. “Utilizing Student Feedback to Inform Faculty

Development Activities for Online Course Development and Delivery.” International Journal on E-Learning, vol. 12, no. 4, pp.439-53.


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Digital Teaching and Learning at the UofL Copyright © by Mahaliah Peddle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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