Follow-Up on Monday’s Meeting of the Mind with VoiceThread

Today I used VoiceThread with my advanced ESL group. I can’t say it was an overwhelming success, but it was a start.  The first issue I had to deal with was the diversity of the class.  The students in this class were from thirteen different countries, from having perfect attendance to  missing half of their classes, ranging from computer literate to il-, and from strong in English and well-educated in their own language to weak in English with little education in their own language. So, since there were so many challenges for the weaker half and for me who was trying to keep everyone on task and learning,  I decided that from here-on-in when beginning a new web tool, I will suggest that those students with little computer background (or poor attendance) partner with a more tech savvy student, and that they stay with this partner for the first two or three times we use the tool.  Those students will contribute to the content of the assignment, but they will mainly observe and take notes on using the technology.  If,  because they miss class they are not able to keep up,  they’ll either have to make an appointment with me for extra help, or they’ll just have to “sink or swim.”

Issue  number two: VoiceThread allows students to make their comments in several different ways, i.e., telephone, typing, webcam, or microphone.   Today I encouraged the students who had cell phones to use them to comment on the video so they could try a connection with the computer that they had never used before, and so I could focus on their oral language. (The class had previously used Twitter.)  Unfortunately, a few students mumbled into their phones in order to not disturb the rest of the class resulting in unintelligible garble, and others did not get good reception on their phones also resulting in garbled messages.  So, as far as this group of students was concerned, the cell phone+computer technology didn’t work very well, at least not in the school building.  As for practicing their English, they may have spoken the best English of their lives and no one will ever know it because it was lost.  I think we’ll just assume that it was perfect, and that they’ll have to give VoiceThread another chance to demonstrate it once again. Let’s turn those lemons into lemonade!

Issue number three: a previous problem resurfaced today, and that was the issue of publishing written work.  I want the students to get in the habit of composing their sentences in Microsoft Word in order to avail themselves of the spell and grammar checker before they copy and paste their writing into whatever tool they are using, be it the blog on Blackboard, Twitter, or now VoiceThread.  Today, the clock was against me, and we were running out of time, so most published their first draft.

Final issue: VoiceThread presented another challenge for me, that of grading and error correction.  I want to use this tool to present and discuss cultural issues as well as develop their English grammar and vocabulary.  I believe I will not do much error correction in these “free communication/conversation” exercises since I am aiming more for developing fluency, confidence, and cultural understanding.  However, I also plan to use VoiceThread for practicing structures, and those I will correct.

Today I gave everyone who got on the program successfully full credit to encourage their enthusiasm for learning to use the computer and this new web tool.  I will be less and less generous as time goes on and my expectations of their ability to use the computer and computer tools increase.  I will develop more lessons using VoiceThread so that the students will eventually use it easily and will, therefore, be able to concentrate more on the quality of the content that they produce and less on the actual step-by-step use of the technology.

Regardless of my “glitches” today, I still give this program a thumbs up.  I can see that my work is cut out for me in developing good, thorough lesson plans as well as better time management skills.  But, new ideas create new challenges and yes, more work for me initially. Why do it?  1) For the students – to present new challenges and creative opportunities for them to improve their abilities in the usage of both the English language and computer technologies; 2) and for me to maintain currency in my profession, continued excitement and love of my field of teaching, and my own love of learning new things and finding ways to use them creatively.  Now there’s a win-win situation!

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