Enhancing oral language learning using the Wimba Voice Tools

Date: 20 March, 2009
Location: Mansfield Cooper Building - Room 2.1, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester
Event type: Workshop

Event Report | Location map

students in class

It has been recently demonstrated that Wimba Voice Tools can provide opportunities for language students to practise their oral skills outside the classroom and receive feedback on their performance (see Orsini-Jones, M.). These tools are already available in the Blackboard VLE at the University of Manchester, but most language tutors are not aware of their potentials and do not know how to use them.

Guest speakers, Louise Mauborgne, Teaching Fellow (French Elective Modules, Language Centre), and Simon Davis, Learning Technologist (Staff and Departmental Development Unit) working at the University of Leeds, will demonstrate their use of the Wimba tools, evaluate their pedagogical applications and outline their plans for future development of learning materials using these tools.

After the presentation, participants will be prompted to discuss their ideas on how these tolls can enhance students’ learning at Manchester. The event includes hands-on activities using the Wimba tools.

Please email Dr Monica Facchinello at monica.facchinello@manchester.ac.uk to register and for further details.  This event is sponsored by the Subject Centre's guest speaker fund.

Event Report

By Monica Facchinello

The workshop opened with a presentation led by Mr Simon Davis in which he outlined some of the Wimba Voice Tools – Voice Recorder, Voice Board, Wimba Podcaster, Voice Presenter and Voice Email – that are most relevant to Language teaching. Mr Davis gave a detailed description of each tool, highlighting specific potentials and suggesting ways in which they can be used to enhance oral language learning. Voice Email, for instance, offers the opportunity for students to carry out role-play activities outside the classroom and allows the tutor to communicate privately with students to give instructions or feedback on their oral performance.

Mr Davis’s session was followed by Ms Mauborgne’s presentation of the Voice Tools Project developed at the University of Leeds Language Centre for French elective modules. Ms Mauborgne illustrated how the voice tools can provide a place of virtual encounter for language students to practise and improve their speaking skills outside the classroom, while archiving students’ work for self-assessment and formal assessment.

She went on to identify some problems that tutors are likely to encounter when using the tools, such as PCs’ incompatibility with Java, the lack of headsets with microphones, and motivation-related problems: how to persuade students to do the speaking activities as part of their independent learning.
Ms Mauborgne’s solution to the latter was to allow students to independently choose the activity to carry out according to their interests from an array of ideas and scenarios for conversation. The aim of the speaking activities, she pointed out, is not so much to learn new language as to consolidate students’ knowledge of the language topics taught in class, increase the students’ fluency and build up their confidence.

While the tutor has access to the each student’s body of conversation (log of speaking tasks), the focus of the project is on self-assessment. Students are encouraged to play back their conversation in order to identify areas of improvement and actively work on these in the following speaking activities. To help students effectively assess their work, Ms Mauborgne has created a questionnaire available on the VLE in which students are asked to assess specific aspects of their pronunciation, grammar and expression. Ms Mauborgne concluded her presentation with comments from students who have worked on the project and who have experienced a fast increase in their fluency and confidence when speaking the target language.

In a hands-on session led by Mr Davis, participants were given a chance to experiment with two Voice Tools available on the Wimba Products webpage. The hands-on session was followed by a brief demonstration of which voice tools are already embedded in the Blackboard VLE at the University of Manchester and how to access them.

The workshop concluded with a round-table Q&A session in which participants raised concerns, shared views about the voice tools and evaluated their pedagogical applications in oral language learning. The majority of participants were new to the tools and their potentials and found the workshop both informative and inspirational. Everybody agreed on the need of future events in which individual tutors can share their experience with the introduction of the Voice Tools to their teaching practice.