Skype calls as assessment tools

Skype calls as assessment tools

During LLU#11 I mentioned to Jan the idea of using (recorded) Skype calls as assessment tools for language learning. I thought it might be helpful to give a couple of examples.

For my students final project (on a topic of their choosing) they were asked to post their research, questions, ideas in their blogs. They were also asked to have at least one conversation with a native speaker and post it to their blogs. After posting it, I asked them to write about it and explain what the convesration was about, how they thought it went, ect.

The next time I do this with students I am going to really work on getting them to use these conversations as a form of self-evaluation. Far too often, I found, they were looking for what I wanted vs what they actually thought about the recordings. It was also pretty obvious that they did not (always) listen to the conversation after completing it, they just posted their impressions…a fact that came out several times in the final oral interviews I had with them as a final step of their projects.

Listen, for example, to this conversation between Gigi (my student) and Rita (in Argentina). They had never met before, nor had they talked before. Gigi is interested in learning more about using technology in language teaching, particularly ESL teaching. Rita teaches ESL in Argentina (and her class had collaborated with us several times by exchanging podcasts…more on that later).

In this conversation it is clear that there is a give and a take, a sharing of information…and a conversation that evolves over time…not just a list of questions that need to be answered. Gigi then commented in her blog about the conversation and tried to both synthesize what she learned in the chat but also engage others in the conversation (feel free, by the way to add your comments if you are reading this and would care to do so…Gigi will still be notified when she receives a comment to her blog).

In this conversation, the endproduct was less positive, although it was illuminating. I am not certain if the student actually listened to the native speaker’s responses, be it during or after the conversation. Curiously, she thought it was a positive experience, but I think that was more because she was able to get it done having struggled for most of the semester to find someone from Granada. In her blog, she did not comment on the interaction… just the post m’am.

The conversation we had this student’s final interview was interesting, albeit too late in the term to really help her improve before she left for Spain. We went over the conversation and listened to sections together, she soon realized as had I that they were not communicating as much as they were talking. Subtle, but important differences.

I encouraged her to listen to this recording upon her return from Spain…or maybe even while there this next semester, and to add her comments to her own blog. I suggested this after remembering a similar experience after my first trip abroad. I found a book that I had thought –pre trip– was unreadable…too hard. Post language immersion, I could not believe how easy it was to read. I have a funny feeling my student (in about a month’s time in-country) will hear anosomething quite different. She will also realize how far she has come since then.

Part of my reasons for making my students post these conversations is to allow the brave ones, the ones who really want to hear the changes in their abilities, the opportunity to listen in again, and to feel the changes that are happening in their language prioficiency. To be able to assess their growth over time, using these sound files as snapshots of what they were able to do on X date.

What I need to do is to ask my students to take these snapshots more often and more regularly within the semester. The more they did them, the easier they became to create and the less intimidating they were for the creators. And the snapshots ~~~> each told an interesting and significant story about that learner’s ability at that particular moment and time.

I also need to work more on making my students comfortable with this task, helping them brave the sometimes uncomfortable and awkward task of listening to yourself speak another language…and make mistakes. So many of us are trained to be fearful of making mistakes, of seeming less than perfect… I want my students to embrace failure when it happens…but then try to avoid it the next time through, if they can.

Quantifiable/qualifiable assessment tools and social software…whodathunkit?

More soon.

Barbara has been working for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for about 15 years. In addition to teaching Spanish she runs a somewhat unconventional language center. Prior to this adventure in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and watch the Red Sox. Preferably not all at once, although that could be interesting. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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  1. Aaron · July 9, 2006 Reply

    Hey this is a great idea! I really like how you’ve taken Skype and made it into a really cool language learning/improving tool. What I really thought was useful was how you used it to provide assessment. I think I will try to find a way to borrow your idea.

    So…did you provide any sort of usual grade for this activity? That’s something I’m sorta facing with my students – every month I need to turn in those typical number grades to keep HR happy. Recently I started working on how my student’s blogs will be graded as part of their writing and reading development work…just wondering how you’ve been dancing with the number side of things.

    Great post, I think I’ll blog it.
    Aaron in Mexico

  2. Joe Dale · July 25, 2006 Reply

    I came across this site Gabcast the other day http://www.gabcast.com/ which allows you to record telephone conversations and then post them to your blog. Sounds interesting.

    Best wishes

    Joe

    Integrating ICT into the MFL classroom – http://www.joedale.typepad.com

  3. GenTech » Show #4: Voice over IP and instant messaging · July 28, 2006 Reply

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    […] GenTech #4: Voice over IP and instant messaging By Steve Whitaker Voice over IP (VoIP) and instant messaging (IM) are two popular communication methods with strong educational potential. In this show, we define VoIP and IM, and then talk about two categories of educational applications: bridging geographic distance and using the tools as new ways to facilitate traditional classroom experiences. Along the way, we mention a few links: William and Mary’s Electronic Emissary program Using Skype for assessment in language classrooms Articles on pen pals in education: one | two Jyve William Kelso Audio Hijack FreeCorder […]

  5. Joe Dale · August 8, 2006 Reply

    Have you heard of these sites Barbara for making online recordings?

    K7: record a message and pick it up as an email.
    http://www.k7.net/index.htm
    Vaestro: Take turns in recording parts of a conversation
    http://www.vaestro.com/index.php
    YackPack: Online voice messages
    http://www.yackpack.com/

    I particularly like the look of the k7 site for leaving voice messages as emails.

    I wonder if you could use the Office toolbar from Skype to call the number direct from an Office program such as MS Word?
    http://www.skype.com/download/skypeofficetoolbar/

    Would be worth trying.

    Best wishes

    Joe

    Integrating ICT into the MFL classroom – http://www.joedale.typepad.com

  6. Joe Dale · August 9, 2006 Reply

    Dear Barbara,

    I’ve just been trying out the K7.net service I mentioned previously which allows you to record a voice message by telephoning a specific number which can then be sent to your email address as a wav file. I found out about the site from the excellent website http://www.langwitches.org subtitled “Technology Integration in the Foreign Language and English Language Learner Classroom”. The site includes lots of useful information such as tutorials, a blog and downloadable podcasts. The first podcast has examples of voicemails that the webmistress, Silvia Tolisano has been sent by language teachers from all over the States. She has then edited them together using Audacity and uploaded the finished file as an mp3 to her site. One particularly good idea offered by a teacher is a song about être verbs in the passé compose. Worth a listen.

    This service could be very useful for language teachers for the following reasons:

    — exchanging ideas between colleagues
    — linking with a partner school as part of an e-Twinning project
    — setting speaking homework
    — making podcasts
    — creating a trip diary

    Silvia has kindly left a voice message on my blog for you to haven a listen. I’ve used the brilliant dew player again http://www.alsacreations.fr/?dewplayer to play the file which is on the left of the blog under Voice Messages http://www.joedale.typepad.com

    The telephone number is 0012063506411. This is a Seattle number. To telephone from the UK using BT it costs 1.25p per minute according to their website http://www.bt.com/btcommunicator/international. Feel free to try out the service. My plan is to upload future voicemails as they come in.

    Useful links:

    Listen to the first Langwitches podcast here
    http://www.langwitches.org/podcast/archive/episode-1.htm
    Check out the Langwitches blog here
    http://www.langwitches.org/blog/
    K7.net unified messaging service
    http://www.k7.net/index.htm

    To finish, I listened to an interesting podcast last night from The Gordon School in Aberdeenshire called ‘Bienvenue’. Here is the link: http://mfle.typepad.com/tgs2/

    Best wishes

    Joe

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