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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

Preparation
We decided on a negotiated syllabus which would allow interviews to be determined by the needs of the interviewees. In general the tasks were going to focus around the following typical exam tasks:
1) Introductions
2) Long turns
3) Role Play
4) Discussions

By this time we were piloting a new product called ‘Splendid Speaking’ which focussed on developing speaking strategies for advanced learners. Many of these strategies were used as the basis of the interviews. Example topics covered included:
- Memorable Introductions
- Active Listening
- Responding to Questions
- Making Spontaneous Talks
- Signposting Talks
- Describing Graphics
- Expressing and Justifying Opinions
- Reaching Agreement

In terms of the technology used, downloading and installing Skype was straightforward. The latest version weighs in at a modest 19MB and the installation was trouble-free. For those unfamiliar with Skype, there is a thorough help section on the website which will answer most questions. Our needs were quite modest and were covered by the free options in Skype, namely calling other Skype users one-to-one and through the conference facility for paired interviews.In order to record the interviews we purchased a third party product called Powergramo which, once downloaded and installed, appears within the Skype menu and works seamlessly. So, we had Skype, a Skype address and a means of recording the conversations. We already had experience in using Audacity for editing audio files and were happy to continue with this wonderful, free editing tool.

The next step was creating somewhere where the podcasts were to be hosted. Rather than do this on the dedicated Splendid Speaking website we chose to use a podcasting hosting service. As outlined above, we wanted to use something that teachers and students could adopt themselves. We also needed something reliable and which would allow us to track user statistics. Whilst Podomatic offers a free service, more than adequate for small scale use, we were expecting to reach 1,000 plus downloads a day within the timescale of the project so paid for the service’s ‘Pro’ account, which cost 90 dollars a year and could be upgraded if necessary. The account was set up and can be found at this address:
http://www.splendidspeaking.podomatic.com

Although hosted at Podomatic, we also wanted to embed the podcasts from within our own dedicated site. There are a number of Flash MP3 players available for download on the web. You simply add the code to your web page, add the link to your MP3 file on the external server and the podcast plays as if it’s on your own site. However, we encouraged comments from our users as well so decided to install Wordpress, an open source blog, along with the Podpress plugin, which allows the user to embed podcasts from within Wordpress.

Having set up the equipment we were ready to advertise to prospective interviewees. We invited learners who receive the weekly CAE and CPE newsletter from the Flo-Joe site, to take part in the project. A timetable for interviews was made available on the Splendid Speaking website and students were invited to select a time, to inform us of their chosen slot and to email us their Skype address. We quickly built up a series of interviews, sometimes with individuals, other times with two students at the same time, paired up on the basis of their target exam. Clearly, dealing with an international audience posed two problems: it was necessary to ensure everyone was able to calculate GMT correctly, something which sometimes caused a great deal of confusion. Also the times we were offering, which were late evening sessions twice a week, meant there were always going to be people unable to join the project due to time differences.

To make contact in Skype is pretty straightforward. You place the address into the Skype search box and when the name appears simply double clicking lets the person know you are trying to make contact with them. If they are happy to do this and accept your contact request their Skype name will appear in your list. As bookings were taken and contact made, we emailed or texted the person from within Skype to arrange a test call. This informal chat gave us the chance to ascertain the person’s reasons for studying English, their target examination if any and to get their permission to be recorded.

The Interviews
At the time of writing we have been interview students for approximately 4 months and can outline the process involved. Shortly before the interview, the student is emailed a task created by us or directed to an exam board website where they can download a specific sample practice question. Rather than simply treat the interview as a test, we often send the student appropriate strategies from the Splendid Speaking course and tell that this will be something we will focus on during feedback. At the given time we make contact with the interviewee either as an individual one-to-one call or through the conference facility if there is a paired interview arranged.

In the vast majority of cases the interviews are very successful. The sound quality is often as good as you would expect over the phone if not better and without fail, the students are able to perform their set tasks admirably as can be witnessed from the recorded podcasts. There is often a delay of up to two weeks before the recorded interview is published as a podcast and rather than keep the student waiting until then for feedback, the end of the interview is spent giving the person concerned general feedback on their performance. However, this is done confidentially and does not appear in the completed recording.

With the interview over the recording is saved to the PC through Powergramo, which you do simply by right-clicking the name of the recording and saving it to your chosen destination. The next stage involves editing the Powergramo generated .ogg file which can be done in Audacity and then recording and adding the introduction and feedback sections. We have opted to script these sections as we feel the points we are making about the interviewee’s performance need to be presented in a very structured way and as clearly as possible. Finally, the completed .ogg file is converted to an MP3 file. This can be done in Audacity with the addition of a freely available plugin. The file is then uploaded to Podomatic, which has always proved to be reasonably straightforward and trouble-free. As with any blog you are able to add written notes relating to each podcast and invite listeners to leave comments.

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