Last week our summer session ended, and I asked the students with whom I had been audioblogging to answer questions about their impressions of audioblogging. The first question dealt with rating audioblogging on a scale of 1(not a valuable experience) to 10 (very valuable experience). The question was "How much did you enjoy listening to idiom presentations and commenting on them on line"? Out of 10 responses 1 student rated it as 3, 1 as 6, 1 as 7, 2 as 8, 2 as 9, and 3 as 10. I was rather pleased with the ratings as most of the students had rated audioblogging above 6 (out of 10). The students who had rated it as 3 explained that because they did not have Internet access at home, it was difficult for them to access the class blog and participate in the activities on a regular basis. I was not surprised with the relatively high ratings as I had often noticed a lot of enthusiasm among my students whenever we talked about audioblogging. Also, many presenters received between 16 - 20 comments each (in a class of 14), which indicates that many students commented two or three times on one idiom presentation, or they commented once and then responded to another student's commentary making it similar to a threaded discussion.
My primarly goals of incorporating audioblogging into teaching ESL were to increase my students' awareness of their oral skills and to help them think consciously about their linguistic skills. I also wanted to create a learning environment that would be an extension of the classroom where students could interact with each other in meaningful ways. At the end of the session, with my own reflections on the extent to which these goals had been accomplished, I decided to ask my students for feedback.
In the first week of classes, when I explain to my students that they will tape and listen to their presentations, they always seem to be rather apprehensive, mostly, I think, because they have never done it before. I am never very surprised by their justified apprehension since I have often felt the same whenever I videotaped myself for teacher reflection purposes. Still, despite their initial feelings of apprehension, I impose this strategy on my students because I strongly believe that it helps to raise linguistic self-awareness. Yet, I also believe that one learns by listening to students and that's way the first question in the survey was, "How did you feel about taping your idiom presentations?" The responses were mixed:
"It's really good feedback."
"It was very useful! We can notice how we speak English."
"I feel good because I can know what is my problems in speaking."
"It really made me feel more nervous!"
"It was great because I could listen to my presentation after class. Then I could find my oral English was improving or not."
My other goal behind audioblogging was to create an environment where real communicative interaction would take place, an environment where students could receive valuable feedback on their linguistic skills not only from their teacher but also from their fellow classmates. I strongly believe that students should be made aware that their teacher is not the only source of valuable feedback. I also wanted my students to realize that they themselves are valuable evaluators and that they can help others with their linguistic skills by giving constructive feedback. This approach empowers students because they move away from the model of 'teacher the knower' to a model where 'others and I know.' This strategy also raises students' awareness of how much linguistic and metalinguistic knowledge they can generate. So, how did my students respond to the question, "How did you feel about commenting on other students' presentations?"
"It's a nice thing to let others know their mistakes."
"It is a useful way to learn something from others' presentations. I really enjoyed it."
"Commenting on other students' presentation is a good way for students to learn from others."
"Very convenient, and I can give my opinion directly to them."
"It was a good way to help them point out their drawbacks."
"They were very positive."
Yet, not surprising, several comments showed how difficult it is to give constructive criticism:
"I felt uncomfortable. It's hard to criticize."
"Commenting is not so good because we cannot say someone's weak points directly. We care about friendship too much."
"They are too polite to comment or correct my presentations."
This was not surprising. The class was predominantly Asian, and I have often found in the past that, because of their cultural norms and values, students from Asia often abstain from overt criticisms. I agree that many students were 'too polite', but I think that, as one of the comments shows, they mostly did not want to hurt one another. This, however, raises another issue - the need to teach ESL students how to be critical and respectful at the same time - a difficult skills for anyone.
Finally, I endorse the belief that the critical goal of second language acquisition is for learners to become autonomous, and I think the opportunity to develop that with audioblogging is extraordinary. The last question on my student survey was: "Do you think podcasting is useful in improving any of your English skills? Why or why not?" These were the answers:
"I could listen to my presentation again, so I could see what's wrong with my presentation."
"It's great especially when you listen to your presentation because this will tell you mistakes."
"I think it is useful, in particular, recording ourselves helps us very much."
Clearly, audioblogging allows students to go back and analyze their oral skills, something that is impossible while speaking as they are too stressed or nervous to be able to notice areas for improvement. They can also listen to the recording a couple of times and at their own pace.
Audioblogging also allows students to think consciously about their language skills and the commenting aspect of audioblogging increases their motivation to improve and thus makes them more autonomous as learners:
"Yes, I can see my pronunciation, so I can improve it."
"It was good to listen to my own voice so that I could realize how my English is. The comments from friends wasn't helpful so much; however, their comments gave me responsibility to prepare better presentations."
The goals that I had in mind when I decided to incorporate audioblogging into my language class aimed to increase students' linguistic self-awareness and make them think consciously about their own language skills. I didn't want to do it using the traditional model of 'teacher the knower' who gives exclusive feedback, but rather I wanted the students to become aware of the fact that there are other ways of learning, other ways that they can utilize once the session ends and they go back home. Although I cannot predict how many of them will attempt to record themselves again in the future, I can say for sure that they became active participants in their own learning and that their critical input into their own learning and that of their classmates had an extraordinary impact.