| Syntax Trees


At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, educational contexts were required to change rapidly to abide by distancing recommendations and health regulation. Within Higher Education settings, this occur as the Spring semester was well underway. During this time, I taught syntax (i.e., the structure of words, phrases, clauses and sentences) to undergraduate students of linguistics. Effective teaching of this topic benefits from training in problem-solving and pattern-finding, often through visual assistance. However, the requirement to immediately pivot to online instruction meant that face-to-face techniques could not be used.


I needed to modify my content to allow students to grasp how syntax works without being physically co-present. In addition, as a ‘live online classroom’ application was yet to be procured, students would need to access something interaction in a self-paced, heutagogic way. The content would also need to be created rapidly, given that the teaching semester was on-going.


I adapted my lecture resources into online content, using the H5P Agamotto activity as a basis. Learners could scrub forwards and backwards through a set of slides that I had aligned via Adobe Photoshop to ‘fade’ into one another seamlessly, with accompanying instructions. This allowed learners to go through examples at their own pace, watching and reviewing how syntactic structures were analysed and visualised. The seamless alignment and overlaying of each step was core to this process because, following the principles of spatial contiguity and coherence, greater understanding could be achieved alongside reduced extraneous processing (when compared to, for example, a set of developing static images place side-by-side).


Learners were able to combine their prior in-class learning with new content, delivered at their own pace and via a simple-to-use interface. All members of the cohort passed the final syntax assessment, and these materials are still in use today. I used similar techniques to create a full 12-week course on syntax that can be taken at the learner's own pace, and I have also adapted this technique for digital learning content in further contexts (e.g., demonstrating cellular development over time).

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