Podcasts and English-Language Learning: A Qualitative Investigation of Organizational, Instructional, and Learning Perspectives

Podcasts and English-Language Learning: A Qualitative Investigation of Organizational, Instructional, and Learning Perspectives

Yuping Mao (California State University – Long Beach, USA), Martin Guardado (University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada) and Kevin R. Meyer (Illinois State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJICTHD.2019010102

Abstract

There are three ways to use podcasts in education: accessing podcasts created by others, teacher-created podcasts, and student-created podcasts. This chapter focuses on the use of teacher-created and student-created podcasts in an English as a second language (ESL) class. Existing literature on the use of podcasts in learning primarily focuses on formal educational settings, while nontraditional students in freely available language programs provided by non-profit organizations (NPOs) remain unexplored. Thus, the authors examine how podcasting enhances immigrants' English language learning experience in an ESL course offered by an NPO that provides community services to immigrants in Canada. This chapter addresses pedagogical and organizational affordances and challenges of using podcasts in language learning and provides recommendations for their implementation in NPOs.
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Introduction

Podcasts are audio files that can be played on the computer or downloaded to other digital audio devices (Sprague & Pixley, 2008). This study focuses on the use of teacher- and student-created podcasts in an English as a second language (ESL) program. Existing literature on podcasts in learning mainly focuses on student experiences in formal educational settings, while questions related to nontraditional students in freely-available language programs provided by non-profit organizations (NPOs) remain unexplored. Thus, this research examines how podcasting enhances the English learning experiences of students in an ESL course offered by a NPO that provides community services to new Canadians.

The community service center examined in this study is a NPO with over 30 years’ history in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, serving thousands of immigrants annually, with the majority of their service recipients being Chinese immigrants, and providing a wide range of services that help immigrants integrate into Canadian society linguistically, culturally, and socially. English language training is a priority among the services provided by the organization. With newly acquired external funding, this organization was able to set up a computer lab for English language training. Podcasting, as an innovative pedagogical tool, was applied in two ESL courses with a focus on pronunciation. The first session of the pronunciation course consisted of low-level beginners, and was offered for four weeks, five days a week. The second session lasted for 11 weeks, meeting once or twice a week for two or three hours, and was made up of intermediate to high-level language learners. The two sessions, consisting of mostly Chinese students, shared the same instructor. The majority of students in the first session were senior citizens with limited educational background. Students in the second session were mainly in their 30s or 40s, and had a higher formal education level. The instructional objectives of the two sessions differed due to the different learning needs of students.

The NPO’s initial objective in designing this podcasting project was to address an identified need to support the development of speaking and reading skills in their ESL programs, and to promote autonomous learning by giving students a tool, podcasts, which they could take home and listen to at their leisure. Using Audacity software, the instructor recorded and uploaded the podcasts, after which the students downloaded, listened to, and re-recorded in their own voices using the instructor’s pronunciation as a model, which allowed clear comparison of their own pronunciation to the instructor’s. Class time was divided into two parts. In the first 90 minutes, the instructor introduced new material to students, and the students later practiced individually with Audacity software on the computer. The use of podcasts in language training in a NPO, such as the community service center examined in this study, holds the potential to improve instructional effectiveness in different ways and deserves greater research attention.

The article discusses instructional and organizational benefits as well as the challenges of applying podcasts in language training. By triangulating the experiences of the program coordinators, instructor, and students, we are able to assess the effectiveness of such a program and offer recommendations for similar programs in the future. This project adds to the body of literature on the use of computer and online technologies in language acquisition by providing a contextualized understanding of an accessible learning tool, podcasting, and investigating its pedagogical feasibility for increasing student participation and interaction.

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