15 December 2013

After the Skype Session

You arranged for your class to Skype with a native speaker--maybe a whole class of native speakers--and to carry on a real live conversation in the target language. Your kids introduced themselves, nodded and said "gracias" like they should when their compañeros across the internet answered their questions. But you still have a feeling that they have almost no idea what just happened. Fortunately, you recorded the whole thing.

I explained previously my master plan for preparing conversational habits for the Skype call, including a semi-scripted booklet as a sort of cheat sheet to reinforce the routine. Now allow me to explain how I have students reflect on what they hear and demonstrate their comprehension.

I first experimented with post-Skype session processing with the one Spanish 3 class I've had when they chatted with a class in Argentina and then more after a very small group session with a former professor of mine. More recently, we used it to analyze what students in a rural school in Colombia needed.

Basically, I have students revisit the conversation and edit it to demonstrate they were able to get information they could use out of the whole affair.

When the call starts, I hit "Record" on Audacity when the conversation began, then stopped when we hung up, and exported the whole conversation as a .WAV or .MP3 file.

I have had limited success with Hangouts on Air during class, but being able to record with video (for free) allows you to maintain the context clues afforded by video. Somehow it seems easier to connect with people--and find out if they really are connected--with Skype, so I've just been recording with Audacity and exporting files as .WAV or .MP3 files and uploading them to Google Drive for kids to download and edit. If you can get Hangouts on Air to work, you could edit the video with Movie Maker or WeVideo online.

If I have time, I edit out long pauses, weird noises, and rogue L1 interference.With longer conversations, especially those that go on at least half an hour, I have to divide into smaller chunks. I try to stick to under 5 minutes for upload/download purposes, but I also look for a clean break between questions. I do try to include multiple question-answer sessions in a clip so I'm not predigesting the baby birds' food for them.

I upload the edited, chunked files to a Google Drive folder and share it with the students (having a list of every email to copy and paste really is handy). Students then listen to the recordings, seeking answers they believe will help them reach their goals, whether it is persuading students to study abroad or planning a scrapbook to send to Colombia. I like to number the chunks chronologically, so students who were paying attention to the order of the conversation have a better chance of finding what they're looking for without me handing it to them.

I give students two options as to how they will present their findings: video or glog. Either way, they are whittling down the recording to segments no shorter than 30 seconds and no longer than 90. They must 1) find the file they need, 2) cut out the nonessentials, and then 3) demonstrate visually that they know what is happening in their clips.

For the most part, students just transcribe the questions (usually that they came up with themselves beforehand) and then the answers they can discern. They could, however, also use images aligned with the answers to demonstrate their comprehension, flashing colors up at the point in the video when the Colombian kids list their favorites or surrounding the designated soundbite on their glog with clip art and images that show what a student should bring on a study abroad trip.

Looking ahead, I'd like to take the response a step further and have students explain how they intend to use the information they learned in their final product. It could be as simple as "Voy a usar marcadores morados" or "Necesito investigar el valor del dolar en diferentes paises".

It's always interesting to see what students don't catch in the clips they make, but it's more valuable to see what they do catch. I think the most important thing, especially at the novice level, is that they are able to pick out what does and does not help them. I generally give them credit for having the right number of questions and answers and adhering to the limits, but I think it's worth it, too, to acknowledge the appropriateness of what they selected for their purposes. The accuracy of their interpretations should factor in too, to the extent that they are not making things up and are able to understand the gist of what was actually said. At higher levels, completeness of the response might also be worth assessing, but at the novice level, a few words and phrases is literally all that's reasonable to expect.

I do hope to set up more Skypes next semester and to have students complete a reflection at least once a grading period. After a few rounds, maybe they can handle parsing their own interviews for their own interests!

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