Example 15

Rationale for the web-based learning materials

The language learning materials on the website were designed for upper-intermediate to advanced level learners in a pre-sessional academic English language course before beginning a degree programme at a university. They are aimed at preparing students for the sophisticated requirements of academic listening with a focus on comprehension for note-taking skills. They are deemed particularly suitable for those students who are rather unfamiliar with the high level of academic English and have not had extensive experience of listening to extended stretches of monologic speech. Owing to the topic of the talk, future students of anthropology, linguistics and communication studies should find it particularly interesting and relevant. However, as the activities train learners in general strategies for academic listening, they are equally suitable for students from other fields in non-specific pre-sessional courses.

Extracts from an online talk show form the basis of the listening activities several related reasons. The speakers treat sophisticated subject matter in an academic manner employing an academic style and register at times. Yet, the talk can be understood without specialised knowledge of the subject area. The extracts are rather short and therefore suitable to introduce students to the language of a lecture without overloading their memory. Field (2011) suggests that longer presentations should be divided into shorter sections as immersions into a full lecture tend to be tedious for weaker students, making them lose motivation and confidence quickly. The talk includes a presenter, who introduces the questions posed by the audience. Listening research demonstrates that such preparatory questions scaffold the listening process, increasing learners' comprehension (Vandergrift 2004). Still, the actual delivery of information is done by one speaker and includes the presentation of theories as well as the development of arguments, typical types of discourse in a lecture. Owing to the nature of a talk show, the extracts include informal, interpersonal markers, which have also been reported to play a role in lecture discourse (Lynch 2011).

Although the use of videos for teaching listening remains debated, they are generally favoured over audiotapes in EAP courses. Vandegrift (2004) mentions the peril of distracting listener's attention away from the spoken input, whereas Benson and Benson (1994) argue that videos increase comprehension because they have an impact on the listener's affective filter. For EAP in particular, the inclusion of videos is suggested to be advantageous over audio-only materials such as CDs (Feak & Salehzadeh 2001). A study by MacDonald et al. demonstrates that listeners engage more in video recordings of lectures than in audio recordings. Most importantly, since all teaching interaction at university takes place face-to-face, visual input reflects the academic listening process more authentically, including gestures and facial expressions (Field 2011).

While the exercises are explicit enough for self-access by students, suggestions for the use of the activities in the classroom can be downloaded by teachers. They are based on the idea to increase the integration and normalisation of computers in the language classroom. Blended learning describes how face-to-face classroom teaching is complemented by the use of technology (Sharma & Barrett 2007). According to Sharma & Barrett (2007) blended learning labels both the structured inclusion of computer-based materials in the classroom and guided self-practice by the learner outside the classroom. The suggestions on the website presented here take a more structured approach in that the teacher assigns specific tasks. However, this method runs risk of undermining some of the most important advantages associated with CALL, as it can obstruct the students' autonomy to choose what they want to learn and to complete the exercises at their own pace. The teacher is required to carefully balance the time constraints of a lesson with the individual time needed by the students. In order to provide greater choice of learning, an alternative could be to teach two or more of the listening activities at the same time and ask students to form groups according to which video question they find most interesting. They could then do the pre- and post-listening activities in their groups.

The materials on the website focus on top-down processes that occur during lecture listening. They exclude exercises that train the correct perception of single words and instead train the comprehension of facts as a basis for note-taking. According to Flowerdew (1994), EAP students tend to have a fairly high level of proficiency, so that teaching should address higher level skills. As Field (2011) points out, the teaching of EAP should prepare students for the real-life demands of listening and should therefore focus on note-taking followed by reports about what students have understood. One exercise follows this approach and requires listeners to take notes, which they then use to complete a summary of the video.

Different pre-listening exercises are included in the materials as research has demonstrated how the use of advanced organisers aids in the teaching of listening as a process. Vandergrift (2004) mentions that increased attention for detail is made available if advanced organisers focus the listener on the main information. Similarly, the listeners in Chung's (2002) study benefitted most when comprehension tests were preceded by vocabulary preteaching and the previewing of the multiple choice questions they had to answer during listening. Two of the web-based activities include a pre-listening exercise that introduces key vocabulary before students watch the videos. As Chung (2002) points out the previewing of questions may have drawbacks in certain teaching contexts as it focuses attention on particular information, thus obstructing global listening. As the overall aim of the web materials is to teach lecture comprehension and filtering out relevant information, focussing the student's attention on specific key information would be counterproductive, so that questions are only included after the video. Instead, to scaffold the listening process, students are asked to think about or discuss the question of each video extract before listening to activate schematic knowledge. The crucial role of schemata has also been referred to for top-down processes in academic listening (Flowerdew 1994).

On-line summaries written by L2 listeners during lectures have been proposed as an efficient pedagogical instrument for teaching listening strategies (Rost 1994). In one exercise students complete a summary of the video extract by using their notes. As Rost (1994) points out, when listeners engage with a model summary, they can work out if they have understood the main ideas of a talk and its macrostructure. The teacher suggestions therefore include the writing of a short summary for the other video extracts in the post-listening phase, which will also provide the teacher with valuable insights into the comprehension processes of the students.