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Friday, 7 September 2007

"All the better to hear you with…” - online listening, the big bad wolf of linguistic abilities or what do students think is going on when listening

Matthew Absalom and Andrea Rizzi from the University of Melbourne, Australia, reported on their small pilot study (24 students) in which the raised questions were: What are the students doing when they listen online? What processes are employed?

The students were given three different on-line listening tasks in Italian with authentic material from the radio (short, ca. two-minute dialogues). In the first task, the students had no transcription of the dialogue, in the second, they had a partial transcription and in the third one, a full transcription.

After finishing the tasks, the students received 5-6 multiple choice questions and evaluative questions on what they did during the task. It was a kind of "think aloud protocol".

From the students' answers it was evident that they had very pragmatic ways of doing the tasks. Anything extraneous seemed to be distracting for them, and these are some of the things they did for making the listening easier: they read questions first; they tried to reduce distractions and noise; they used headphones; they turned up the volume. It was very important for them that they knew what they were supposed to do (importance of clarity). The tasks were done asynchronously, which made students feel more confidend because they could control the audio file very easily (importance of agency).

Having a transcript or not showed no real differences reported by the students in relation to how many times they listened the clip. There were more correct answers in task 3 with the full transcript but task 2 (partial transcript) showed least correct answers, which implies that listening plus another activity like dealing with partial transcription interferes with comprehension of text. Listeners also consulted a dictionary much more when they only had a partial transcription.

From the experiences of this pilot project and the students' answers, here are the best practices for creating listening tasks:
- clear task design
- either no transcription or full transcription to support listening
- built-in student control
- deploy task asynchronously (rather than in lab)
- rudimentary, plain, stripped down material (nothing to distract)

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