Teach >> Articles

Topic: Splendid Speaking Case Study
Peter Travis gives a background to the Splendid Speaking podcast.
This is adapted from an article that first appeared in the IATEFL CALL Review April 2007.

Page 1: Summary, Background and Aims
Page 2: Preparation and Interviews
Page 3: Conclusion

Summary
This case study will outline the development of the Splendid Speaking podcasts, which feature recorded interviews with advanced learners of English carried out with Skype, the computer programme for making telephone calls over the Internet. The interviews demonstrate common ESOL speaking examination-type tasks whilst the recordings and transcripts are made available to students and English teachers worldwide for download. The paper will outline the background to and associated aims of this project, detailing the steps involved in both preparing for and carrying out the interviews as well as publishing the podcasts. This will include an overview of the syllabus for the interviews as well as an explanation of the choice of technology used.

Background
For six years I have been working with my colleague Fiona Joseph at Flo-Joe, the website for students and teachers preparing for Cambridge exams. The website has free and subscription materials to help learners with the various parts of the Cambridge FCE, CAE and CPE exams, with a particular focus on the writing, reading and grammar papers. The website is well-established, with some 80,000 unique visitors each month. We have always been keen to explore ways in which we can support teachers and learners in their exam preparation and with the emergence of podcasting, we started ‘Flo-Joe Radio’ in 2005, which supports students preparing for CAE and consists of repurposed material from our weekly newsletter. Flo-Joe Radio is still live and updated regularly and can be listened to at the following address:
http://www.splendid-learning.co.uk/podcast

Our early experiences of podcasting were extremely positive as was the feedback we were getting from teachers and learners. About this time we were also looking at ways we could offer support for the speaking papers of the Cambridge ESOL exams as we were receiving many requests from learners looking for advice and guidance in this area. Once again, technology seemed to offer a solution. Skype, a computer program for making free telephone calls over the Internet was also emerging as a popular form of communication amongst our target audience, with many students in our forum pages attempting to make contact with each other through Skype to practise their speaking skills. We had little experience of using Skype at the time but realised that combined with podcasting, the two technologies offered a way in which students could be supported in developing their speaking skills. This was the impetus for the Splendid Speaking Podcasts.

The Splendid Speaking Podcast: Project Aims
We decided that we would offer a series of recorded interviews with advanced level learners through Skype. The focus of these interviews would be on particular speaking skills and the context would be either any advanced level English exam the learner might be preparing for or work-based speaking situations such as giving presentations or making introductions. The recordings would be delivered as podcasts and have three components:
- an introduction to the skill and context
- the interview itself
- and feedback on the speaker’s performance.

Listeners would be supported with transcripts and listening tasks. With limited time to devote to the project we decided that interviews would be offered on a ‘first come -first served’ basis, with a maximum of four half-hour set sessions a week. To make this project worthwhile we obviously needed to reach as wide an audience as possible and whilst the Skype interviews would only benefit relatively small numbers of learners, recording these interviews as podcasts would enable us to disseminate to a far greater number of people. We planned to run the project over 26 weeks with the completed recordings and transcripts to remain available as a resource for teachers and learners visiting the Splendid Speaking website.

We wanted the podcasts to be as interactive as possible, so built into each recording would be questions which required the listener to evaluate the speaker’s performance, both in their ability to use the skill(s) in question as well as their use of English. There would also be comprehension questions included within the downloadable transcripts. Finally, we also wanted this project to be a springboard for future projects, namely connecting learners using web 2.0 technologies. We encouraged learners to make contact independently of us for speaking practice and then ultimately to have the confidence and ability to host their own podcasts as personal audio portfolios with peer feedback. Certainly in order for the latter aim to be realised the technology used would need to be very user-friendly. ‘Flo-Joe Radio’ is based on the DIY approach to podcasting. We developed the website to host the podcasts ourselves, published our own RSS feed and delivered the MP3 and Flash files using third party products. However, this was not a model we could disseminate to teachers and learners. Sites like Odeo and Podomatic were making the production of podcasts ever more accessible and we therefore decided to host our podcasts on Podomatic and to link to them from our own Splendid Speaking website.

Page 1: Summary, Background and Aims
Page 2: Preparation and Interviews
Page 3: Conclusion