Case Study 1
Video conferencing (VC) continues to be a highly efficient way of inviting visitors into classrooms and for enabling learners to collaborate with each other at distance. In certain situations this can be one of the few methods available for exposing learners to native English speakers and for facilitating cultural exchanges.
VC can also bring specialist English teachers into classrooms for direct teaching as well as modelling good practice for the mainstream teacher.
Whilst excellent VC results can be achieved with professional equipment, great results can be obtained with a simple web camera, microphone and reliable internet connection. There are many free solutions available, such as Skype, ooVoo, iChat and FaceTime or Flash Meeting.
Developing spoken language skills and cultural understanding Recently, Japan has made the teaching of English compulsory in all its elementary schools. This has posed significant challenges for schools and teachers, not least because many teachers lack the necessary oral competency to deliver lessons through English as well as providing effective speaking models for their students.
At Mie University, Nagata Shigefumi, a researcher in the field of social studies and Hiroko Arao, a researcher in English education, formulated a four-year international school linking project to facilitate learning between local students and peers from schools in other countries.
In the pilot project, Year 6 children from Kitarissei Elementary School visited Mie University for video conferencing sessions with children in Australia. The focus of the work was to develop oral competency for the Japanese children as well as sharing cultural experiences.
In preparation, both classes researched a topic of interest to share with each other during the Polycom VC sessions; these included environmental and nutritional themes. Each session followed a similar pattern:
- Greetings and introductions from both schools.
- Japanese children did a presentation followed by a question and answer session.
- Australian presentation followed by a question and answer session.
Each class used the VC whiteboard facilities to show a PowerPoint, aiding the flow of their presentations.
During follow-up discussion, the Kitarissei children mostly communicated in Japanese – a Japanese interpreter present in the Australian classroom subsequently translated this during the sessions.
Evaluations that have been conducted so far show that the confidence and motivational level of the Kitarissei children rose from the experience of using authentic oral language with the native speakers from the Australian schools. Children also developed a keener interest in global issues, as well as stating a desire to find out more about Australia.
Interestingly, the children also reported that they needed to pay special attention to their oral presentations, ensuring that they were both clear and interesting to their peers.
Case Study 2
As part of a recent promotion of ‘picture book reading’ in Taiwan, Jane Chien at the National Taipei University of Education has been using video conferencing to support schools and teachers in their delivery of this initiative.
According to Jane, in Taiwan there has not always been a culture of high-quality English picture book sharing between parents and children, because, of course, home reading is mostly done in Mandarin.
Additionally, many teachers expressed their need to have a shared platform on which picture book reading activities and worksheets may be readily available to them and where more innovative teaching activities can be shared. This has obvious implications for younger children who are learning English.
Using a VC system called JoinNet, classes of 5th Grade children (11 years old) in Kelong district and in Taipei city were linked up with experienced primary teachers for a series of book readings.
Three texts were chosen;
An old lady who swallowed a fly, Joseph had a little overcoat and We’re going on a bear hunt.
Each book was delivered over three sessions. Each session was considered to be highly motivating for the children because they were able to experience a book reading led by an expressive English user synchronously, whilst at the same time viewing the page spreads on the computer screen. They were also able to interact with the reader by asking and answering questions in their own first language about the plot, characters and events in the story.
The teacher was able to specifically focus on English vocabulary, upload worksheets incorporating listening and spelling activities, such as cloze procedures, as well as utilizing the system’s polling function to elicit responses from the children.
Jane is clear that whilst the children gained a huge amount from these VC sessions, the major beneficiaries were the class teachers.
They were able to see an effective book reading modeled by a skilled English speaker and identify techniques for engaging the listener, as well as learning how to enable children to think and talk around a story in order to maximize comprehension.
This second case study focuses on the way that technical tools can serve a variety of functions, and links together the development of oral skills and reading and writing.
It also picks up on the theme that technology can provide effective teacher support where teachers lack confidence in their abilities with different aspects of the curriculum.