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Friday, 7 September 2007

Challenge of task design in VOIP tandem

Christine Appel from Universitat Oberta de Catalunya presented their new research project where they have introduced VoIP (Skype in this case) to their e-tandem courses. Christina emphasised the fact that it is important to focus on the task-design for a succesful exchange and language learning experience. The current research was about a pilot exchange between Japanese and American students who communicated with one another real-time. Compared to the previous asynchronous etandem experiences the issues were similar: personality and language skills had significant impact on language use. The real-time factor brought with it some new issues, like awkward moments in the conversations (nervousness, giggling etc.). Sound quality was sometimes a problem and the students had sometimes difficulties finding interesting conversation topics.

The exchange took place in a dedicated task-based environment with pedagogical goals that support reciprocity in the learning situation. The types of activities include "spot the differences", "draw and quess", and "giving instructions". In the future Christine and her colleagues plan to design more activities and develop the idea of task-design further.

Kent Andersen (Odense technical univeristy) in the audience raised the point of teacher control, as he felt that there still was a bit too much of that. Christine accepted the point but also said that the students seem to forget the teacher's presence very soon. Other points from the audience centred around the goals of this types of activities as they are more focused on imporving fluency than on improving accuracy.

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