March 7, 2021

A Tool for Authentic Speaking Activities with the World: Education

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

In Winter 2020, I published an article in Profweb explaining how to use, Let Your Students Do the Talking! Further development of the platform was made possible by additional funding granted by Entente Canada-Québec relative à l’enseignement dans la langue de la minorité et à l’enseignement des langues secondes.This article on the second phase of the project describes a teacher’s experience with the platform and includes testimonials from teachers and students.

The launch of a platform that fosters engagement

Since I first launched the platform there has been quite a bit of interest; so far, we have had:

  • 435 Registered users (with classrooms associated)
  • 110 Classrooms (in Vietnam, Costa Rica, Egypt and Canada)
  • 3160 Text messages sent
  • 221 Video chat sessions
  • 71 Teacher credentials
  • 67 Classroom Match Requests
  • 72 Student Matches

One of my colleagues, Warren Clarke, tested the platform for the first time in the fall of 2020. He realised how easy it was to set up a collaboration with a teacher halfway around the world in Vietnam. The process was very straight forward.

Warren adopted Education because it provided a unique experience for the students to be able to connect with someone in another part of the world, to get exposed to other cultures, trains of thoughts and a whole different way of life. As a second language teacher, he didn’t need to be convinced that the students would definitely improve their communication skills as they wouldn’t be able to communicate with the student in Vietnam unless they spoke English.

The activity engages students who get to use their second language, to learn, to meet new people and even to make friends in different countries.

Warren Clarke

The students’ conversations are automatically recorded by allowing Warren to grade his students on their exchanges. Before the students began, he handed out the evaluation grid with criteria such as pronunciation, vocabulary, organisation of ideas. From the platform, he downloaded the video of the students’ conversation and graded them asynchronously.

The students also had a writing assignment. They had to do a cultural blog. During every meeting, the students took notes and wrote a short summary of their conversation as well as a reflection.

Warren appreciated the fact that he was able to evaluate both their writing and their speaking with this activity.

To increase productivity, and make for an enjoyable experience:

  • Students have to learn to think in terms of time difference between Quebec and a foreign country when they try to set up meetings with their partners.
  • Beginner level students will need extra support as they may have difficulty understanding a foreign accent especially if the internet connection is weak.
  • Teachers should warn that awkward silences or moments of confusion can be expected during the first few conversations, so that the students are not put off.
  • Students still need guidance and to be kept on task even at the college level as this type of activity requires a lot of autonomy and responsibility.
  • Teachers should give weekly reminders and require a minimum number of meetings to have taken place before mid-session and then another minimum after.

Feedback from teachers and students

Warren Clarke is not the only teacher that definitely would use again. Tra, an ESL teacher from Vietnam was also pleased to offer a stimulating learning environment to her students.

Tra, an ESL teacher from Vietnam is a useful platform for my students to improve their language skills as well as for me to check my students’ progress. What I like most about is that I can watch my student’s recordings and see how they worked. Besides, the way to use is very simple and teachers around the world can easily find enthusiastic partner teachers and set up their own partnerships.

Tra, ESL teacher from Vietnam

Students from Quebec and Vietnam also expressed their appreciation.

Camille, student at Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles

I really liked the project because it allowed us to discover a culture different from our own. In addition, it allowed us to hear another accent. Sometimes it was difficult to understand each other, but that added an interesting challenge to the task! Overall, I really enjoyed my experience and my partner and I are still in contact via social network!

Camille, a student at Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles

Đat Nguyen, Vietnamese student

What I like about this project is that it helped me connect with new friends. This project has helped me get more confident in communicating in English and normal communication. Through this project, I’ve learned a lot of things – not only English, but also about Canada culture, animals that live there, and I made a new friend. I hope there will be more projects like this in the future so it can help people improve their English skills and help everyone understand each other’s cultures.

Đat Nguyen, Vietnamese student

Taking it a step further

In the second phase of the Education project my objective is not only to assist other teachers with their trial run, but also to enhance the platform with engaging and customizable components. Among others, here are some of the features I am currently adding:

  • Possibility to upload pictures in the chat
  • A vocabulary log
  • A checklist to help students organize
  • A dashboard allowing teachers to track their students’ progress
  • A teacher partnership finding service

Multidisciplinary possibilities

Authentic learning activities are an important component of any discipline as they ensure deep long-term learning. Education is a tool that allows teachers to create an authentic learning environment online where students can collaborate globally on projects across subjects. For instance, students in a sociology class at CEGEP could have a conversation about families with partners in India or Kenya, purposefully engaging students in a direct learning experience.

If you and your colleagues are interested in trying this type of learning option for your students, why not join me and teachers from around the world on Education.

About the author

Anne-Marie Lafortune

Anne-Marie Lafortune teaches English as a second language at Cégep de la Gaspésie et des îles. She has taught in France, South Korea and Australia. She has also done research on the cognitive approach at Lehman College in New York and is currently working on the impact of distance education and Community of Inquiry. She received the 2018 award from the Canadian Association for Teacher Education for her research in this field. In October 2019, thanks to Cégep International, she went to Finland to exchange on pedagogy with colleagues from the University of Helsinki. She has also obtained a grant for the implementation of an active learning class (CLAAC) at the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles in 2019-2020.

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