by Larissa Webster
Finding out staff and student opinions – Questionnaire
Despite already having a direction in mind for the implementation of our project – digital aids to the oral/aural part of language-learning in DELC (see our project outline), I decided that it would still be useful, and of interest, to gather student and staff opinions on this topic. From an initial project discussion with the Head of Department (Olga Gomez-Cash), I knew that contact time for the oral/aural part of the courses had been an issue which was raised in the Lent-term student rep-staff meeting. So, I was aware that there were student voices to be heard regarding this issue.
I created two questionnaires which varied slightly, with one being designed specifically for student participation and the other for academic staff. They were both entitled ‘Evaluation of Oral and Aural Practices in DELC’ and included a mixture of open-ended and closed-ended questions in order to gather quantitative and qualitative data. I emailed the staff questionnaire to all the academics within the department and I submitted a link to the student questionnaire on a DELC 2016/2017 Facebook group page.
One of the most striking comparative results were the responses to the question regarding satisfaction with current allocated contact time for the oral/aural part of the courses (see Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). The unanimous student perception is that not enough contact time is timetabled into the course, whereas the majority of academic staff disagree. This opinion reflects the concerns raised in the student rep-staff meeting mentioned earlier.
The responses to the question regarding oral/aural abilities also demonstrated contrasting student and staff perceptions. All the students who answered the questionnaire ranked their speaking and listening skills as ‘worse’ than those of their reading and writing (see Fig. 3), whereas, the majority of the academic staff said that ‘every student is different’ (see Fig. 4). The opinion expressed by the student population supports their desire for more contact time where they can practise speaking and listening in their target language(s).
The question which asked the participants to describe how they believe independent learning could enhance their oral/aural skills gathered similar responses from both questionnaires. Students and staff seemed to agree primarily on the use of digital resources. Staff responses include: ‘By using online resources to practise listening and by talking to native speakersBy using online resources to practise listening and by talking to native speakers. By using online resources to practise listening and by talking to native speakersby using online resources to practise listening and talking to native speakers and peers to practise talking’, ‘practising with more online and digital resources e.g. news, movies, series, learner podcasts’, ‘listening and speaking in the target language at all times on a daily basis, not only during class’ and ‘more participation in digital forums and live chats’. Student responses include: ‘use of Skype’ and ‘listening to TV shows/podcasts can improve comprehension skills’. These responses suggest that both staff and students are aware of the array of digital resources which are accessible at home and at the university. There seems to be more knowledge of online/digital resources which can aid in the development of listening skills; Skype is the only tool mentioned as an alternative to meeting face-to-face with native speakers/language students to practise speaking skills (through independent learning).
When the participants were asked how they believe digital technologies could be integrated as part of the course itself, digital recordings were suggested by both staff and students. Student responses include: ‘we could record ourselves speaking in the target language and let the tutor assess it’, ‘use of internet for homework could be utilized more’ and ‘recording speech and having it assessed’. Staff responses include: ‘more use of the language lab software. Students to record themselves and correct themselves etc.’, ‘more lab sessions, more use of conversation simulation tools’ and ‘more homework that involves digital resources’. The focus on recording speech highlights the imbalance mentioned in the previous paragraph of digital tools which allow students to practise listening skills and those which allow them to practise their speaking skills. Students perceive themselves as requiring more speaking practice as part of their course, but, the need for correction and feedback from their teachers is also emphasised.
This leads on to the next point of analysis, whereby 66.7% of academic staff members said that, due to time constraints, they would be unable to review and assess weekly digital homework assignments (see Fig. 5). This reiterates one teacher’s view that ‘class should be limited to resolve doubts and concerns, as well as refining skills’, suggesting that the development and improvement of speaking and listening skills are down to the individual student through independent study and practice.Class should be limited to solve doubts and concerns, as well as refining skills.
From this analysis, it is evident that students would like more practice with their speaking and listening skills and that they are not completely satisfied with the current allotted oral/aural time on their courses. However, in the initial meeting for this digital project, the Head of Department (Olga Gomez-Cash) informed us that adding more contact time is not an option as current schedules are already operating at their maximum capacity. Therefore, the only possible solutions to the issue of student demand for more oral and aural practice are: independent learning and homework assignments. The latter would allow for correction and academic feedback (which is the element of contact time which students seem to value the most) whilst bypassing the obstacle of not being able to allot additional teaching hours onto the timetable. However, the issue of academic staff time constraints could be a hindrance to this motion. Finally, using Skype as a digital tool to practise oral skills through independent learning has been raised as a possibility by both staff and students.
Oral and Aural Practices: Project Outline
After considering the student and staff questionnaire responses, I have decided to split the project into manageable parts.
The aim of the project as a whole is to:
- Integrate digital recording assignments into the oral/aural schedule (in class time and for homework/independent study),
- Use this technology to revolutionise the way in which assessed oral presentations are carried out and commented on,
- Create user-friendly links on Moodle between the digital recording assignments and Liam Canning’s Moodle grammar quizzes,
- Encourage the use of Skype as an independent way of conversing with native speakers.
These 4 aims are identified in more detail below.
Recorded Video Assignments
Tasks set by tutors can be recorded by students using devices they already possess, whether it be a smartphone, a laptop or a tablet. The recordings can then be uploaded to Lancaster University’s Panopto server for tutor/peer review. On this education tailored video platform, timestamped notes within the video player can be added to each student video by peers and tutors and then made available for author viewing, if desired. Tutors have the ability to go one-step further and record oral feedback which would give students additional aural practice. This method, for the tutors, could be less time-consuming than annotating each video.
This section of my DELC digital project offers a flexible tool which can be used with varying levels of intensity, dependent on time/course constraints. Although it is not a solution to student’s demands for more physical contact time, it does offer a practical way to practise and improve oral and aural skills which can be monitored and reviewed by peers and tutors. For students, feedback and correction are the desirable components of physical contact time (see questionnaire responses) and this digital aid to language learning can provide this.
One Panopto blog post suggests using this method and asking students to upload and review others’ tasks before the next class so that they can be given time ‘to think critically about the feedback they are about to offer’. Part of class time could be used for discussion and feedback and tutors can raise highlight common grammatical mistakes which they noticed and class time can be utilized to practise these structures.
The steps to implement recorded video assignments are:
- Investigate the leverage of Lancaster University’s current Panopto agreement and find out if it includes a video management system which can be accessed by all students and where they can upload their own videos to.
- Once this video management system has been established, I will investigate: how to upload videos, how to view others’ videos, how to add timestamped notes, how to record feedback and how to make feedback visible to the authors. Then, I will create succinct ‘how-to’ guides for staff and students.
- Add a user-friendly link to the video management system on all oral/aural course Moodle pages.
- Discuss with staff the possibility of setting a trial homework task with an oral/aural seminar group.
- Review the trial. Assess how students felt about peer and tutor feedback and whether they believe it was beneficial to their oral and aural development.
Revolutionising Assessed Oral Presentations
Using Panopto to record student presentations and for them to be reviewed and marked digitally would allow for more clear and useful feedback. This part of the project can begin upon successful completion of the previous section which focuses on non-assessed work. The steps to revolutionise assessed oral presentations are:
- Investigate the leverage of Lancaster University’s current Panopto agreement and find out if it offers a system for capturing student recordings.
- Investigate if there are any copyright issues with video recording assessed student work and sending it back to them with digital (annotated) feedback.
- Discuss with academic staff any concerns they may have, for example, time constraints.
- If there are no outstanding issues, become familiar with the system and create ‘how-to guides’ for staff and students.
- Trial student presentations.
- Review trials.
Links to Moodle Grammar Quizzes
Tutors could suggest Liam Canning’s (Student Digital Ambassador) grammar quizzes for students to complete before attempting their recorded video assignment if they pre-empt the use of particular grammar structures, by adding the relevant links to the homework task on Moodle. Additionally, if they notice any common mistakes after the submission of the recorded task, they can make students aware of other grammar quizzes which address those issues.
Encouraging the use of Skype to converse with native speakers allows students to practise their speaking and listening skills in a more natural setting. DELC has links with several universities in the target language countries so a system could be set up to ‘pair’ language students with ‘Skype Buddies’.
- DELC could contact the partner institutions and find out if they would be interested in this initiative.
- Students from the institutions would volunteer for their skype addresses to be added to a database.
- This database could be shared on a Moodle page and it could be renewed each term.
 Unlocking Student Presentations for Everyday Assignments. 05.05.2015. https://www.panopto.com/blog/unlocking-student-presentations-for-everyday-assignments/