12 Learning Ideas by ESL Radio and TV
1 Listening for gist
2 Listening for detail
3 Make a weekly plan
5 Practice for short periods every day
6 Keep a vocabulary diary
10 Use the Internet to communicate with people
11 Memorize some songs or poems
12 Graded readers
ESL Radio: Innovations in the application of ICT to the
This paper outlines and discusses some of the issues and pedagogical implications of
a project that called upon ESL learners and teachers to work together towards a
multimedia publication on the Internet. The publication was in the form of an
audio-on-demand, online radio station, which can now be experienced at
www.eslradio.net. New powerful and user-friendly tools for website creation, and
the ever-increasing sophistication of affordable audio/ visual recording equipment,
means that ESL learner and teacher projects in a learner-centred, negotiated
curriculum can now take on a perspective never before possible.
Computer technology can be a great time-waster or a tool that creates new and exciting
possibilities. It can shape us or we can shape it (Kramsch, A'Ness & Lam 2000: 83). If we
wish to do the shaping we must look for ways technology can enhance current theory,
rather than being led simply by what it is possible to do. Bickerton argues that '... methods
inspired by constructivist cognitive principles, and the move from learning to acquisition, have
produced a looser, more open view of the application of multimedia materials to language
learning' (1999: 62).
This paper focuses on a project in which an attempt was made to enhance language learning
possibilities by exploiting the power of the Internet's potential as a publishing medium, in
the collaborative production of a multimedia web site that is itself a language learning
tool. In any serious multimedia project, a great deal of time, of necessity, goes into planning
and production of content. It is this kind of purposeful and 'real world' activity that I
have observed to hold great promise for 'negotiation of meaning' among groups of learners.
Theoretical Basis of the Project
Throughout the CALL literature, the focus seems to have been on the way computers can
be used by individual learners. There doesn't seem to have been much emphasis given to
how computer technology can be integrated with non-computer based activities by groups
of learners under the direction of a language teacher (Levy 1999: 86).
The use of computers and the Internet were a vital element of the ESL Radio project.
However much of the work by learners in preparing material for the project required little
or no use of computers, and consisted mostly of planning by groups of learners. It is this
communicative small-group planning, requiring the negotiation of meanings that many
studies suggest encourages learners to come to an inductive understanding of grammatical
rules and principles (Nunan 1995:151, McCarthy and Carter 1995: 214).
The production of a radio program involves many elements:
• Brainstorming ideas
• Setting and meeting deadlines
• Report writing etc.
Each of these elements in a language-learning environment can become a communicative
task for a group of learners. Nunan describes a communicative task as 'a piece of classroom
work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing and interacting
in the target language while their attention is principally focused on meaning rather than
form' (Kumaravadivelu, 1993: 71).
For this focus to be maintained over time however, the tasks must be highly involving and
motivational. For this to be the case the project goals and activities need to be the result of
negotiation between learners, or learners and the teacher (Levy 1999: 86), and they need
to have what Skehan calls a 'real world' relationship (Widdowson 1998: 328). The 'real
world' relationship in this case is the publication itself in the form of an online radio
One of the advantages of this approach is that it breaks away from an over-reliance on
textbooks. Both the teacher and the learners engage in the process of creating their own
teaching and learning opportunities. Richards argues that textbooks tend to trivialize the
role of the teacher. This then leads to de-skilling as teaching skills atrophy and teachers
become more and more reliant on managing learners through materials (1993: 7-9, also
Johnson 1989: 12). Littlejohn and Windeatt offer an example of a typical textbook activity,
which involves, 'reading texts in detail, attending to items of vocabulary, rules of grammar
and punctuation, and writing isolated sentences.' Activities of this type, they assert, 'require
reproduction of already presented linguistic facts with little in the way of personal creativity,
expression or interpretation' (1989: 163).
Outline of the project
Because the idea was to give as many tasks to the learners as possible, in order to maximise
their involvement and hence learning opportunities, the first consideration in a plan of
action was to define my role in the project. As well as being the multimedia programmer
and general technician (expertise gained through many years of research and
experimentation in this area, including sound production and engineering), I saw my role
as a coordinator, editor and facilitator of learning. That is, as White encapsulates, to
'elicit, clarify, encourage, summarize and to keep the group on target' (1988: 146).
Sequential order of project elements
The next step was to identify all of the elements of the project and devise a logical order in
which to undertake them:
• Audio program parameters
• Preparation for recording (lesson plans, learner guidelines etc.)
• Recording and editing
• Listening Activities/ CALL content design
• Web site interface design
The objective of the ESL Radio project was to involve learners and teachers in the creation
a website that would be an entertaining, interactive CALL resource for ESL learners. Levy
suggests a number of useful heuristics for the design of CALL resources (1999: 100) and
these became constant reference points throughout the project:
• Know your audience
• Clarify the project goals and design space
• Know the strengths & limitations of existing CALL materials
• Review possible ways of approaching complex, multi-faceted design problems
e.g. levels of conceptualization
• Choose your theory base
• Link theoretical elements directly with specific design features
• Test, re-test and evaluate with users
Apart from normal classroom teaching resources this project did need some specialised
equipment, both hardware and software. On the hardware front a good quality portable
tape recorder and microphones were needed. It was necessary that these were of high
quality because the final audio used on the web site had to be greatly reduced in quality
(and hence file size), to stream reliability over the Internet. The audio equipment chosen
was: Tascam DA-P1 portable digital tape recorder and two AKG C 1000 S condenser
As regards software, a digital audio editing program to edit the recordings, as well as
several web authoring and multimedia tools to design the interface, were chosen. There
are a plethora of such programs, and deciding which to use was not easy. In fact the look
and feel of the project changed several times during its development, as some tools were
abandoned and others took prominence. The software chosen was: Steinberg Wavelab
and Macromedia Dreamweaver, Flash and Fireworks.
Radio program parameters
It was decided that some guidance was needed for both teachers and learners in the kind
of radio program that would maximise language learning opportunities. This included
both the learning opportunities of learners involved in production and the learning
opportunities for learners utilizing the resulting ESL Radio website. It was important that
the kind of programs chosen would be interesting for ESL learners, as well as giving
opportunities for learning in all of the macro-skills. The project began with the following
• ESL in Action: A documentary program about ESL courses or programs, from
a teachers' or learners' perspective, or both
• Music from around the world: learners present music from their own countries
• ESL Playhouse: A chance for learners (or teachers) to be creative. Plays, poems,
stories etc. The published program is a learner performance of a play specially
written for ESL Radio
• Face to Face: Interview program
• Monologue: A teacher or native speaker speaking on a topic of interest to ESL
• In Melbourne Today: An opportunity for learners to investigate and interact
with their local environment outside of the classroom. Particularly aimed at
• Oz Music: A chance for ESL learners to learn more about Australian culture
through an area of interest to most learners (music)
Preparation for recording
Preparing for the production of each of the different radio programs could have become a
project in itself. However, the aim of the project, as a whole, was to provide an opportunity
for whatever commitment teachers and learners wished to make. Some teachers put in
more effort than others did on lesson planning, and some learners were more motivated
than others were in the group planning sessions scheduled in class time. Several groups of
learners, it should be noted, decided of their own accord to regularly meet outside of class
time to continue working on their productions.
Recording and editing
Once the preparation was completed and the programs rehearsed, the recording became a
relatively simple matter. The editing however, required some thought and artistic judgment.
In this project, there was not time to involve learners in this stage, but if the project were
to be repeated or replicated, editing as a group-work activity, could become an additional
'real world' language learning opportunity, or even another project in itself.
Listening Activities/ CALL content design
It could be argued that the design of language learning activities is best left to experienced
teachers. However I believe that there is a good pedagogical reason to involve learners in
the creation of learning materials for other learners. As the Roman dictum states, 'Docendo
discimus' - we learn by teaching. Assinder claims to have had 'great success' in involving
learners in the teaching process using video based materials: it 'led to increased motivation
and greatly improved accuracy' (Nunan 1995: 145). Again, learners in this project were
not involved due to time constraints, however I have successfully engaged learners in the
production of learning materials (e.g. the creation of multiple choice questions), in a
previous project that involved groups of learners recording an interview with their teachers.
This project was titled 'Turning the Tables' and can be seen and heard online at http://
Web site interface design
The aim of this project was to make the user interface:
• Simple and intuitive to use
• Fast downloading over slower connections
• Easy to update
• Easy to modify
It was no simple matter to accommodate all of these criteria as some of them, (by today's
standards anyway) are almost mutually exclusive. The design was achieved solely using
Macromedia Flash 5 (there is no HTML, DHTML, XML etc.) and while it could be
argued that it meets the first three criteria above, Flash is notoriously difficult to program
and any updates or modifications are time consuming, as was the initial programming
itself. It is a 'trade off ' that I hope will diminish as software becomes more sophisticated
and user friendly over time. In fact the new MX version of Flash (not used in this project),
now offers reusable templates to speed up production.
Rea-Dickinson observes that 'it is now commonplace for most project evaluations to
make use of a rich methodological set ranging from tests and questionnaires to observation
and self-report' (1994: 83). I will confine this evaluation to my own observations and
learner and teacher feedback.
An important observation I and other teachers involved, made during this project was
how much it enhanced feelings of solidarity and the sense of communal striving in the
classroom. Marshall in a project involving learners in attempting to cure her of saying
'okay' all the time, observed the same phenomenon, 'it gave us a feeling of solidarity. We
were working together to achieve a classroom goal' (1998: 33). This kind of solidarity, and its
impact on motivation and involvement, can make a very positive contribution to the
Most of the learners involved reported that they had learned a great deal about
organization, cooperation, collaboration and meeting deadlines. It is almost as an
afterthought that they realized that they had also improved their ability to communicate
in a foreign language along the way. Another by-product of the positive experience of
successfully communicating ideas and opinions to achieve a common and tangible goal
was a noticeably increased level of self-confidence, which in turn led to increased
motivation (Norton Pierce 1995: 11).
This kind of project work, where learners are expected to 'learn the language by using it', as
opposed to 'learn now, use later' (Kumaravadivelu, 1993: 76-79), was initially quite an
alien idea for some of the learners. However, once the project was underway many learners
came to realise the value of such an approach. One learner wrote, 'At first I thought the
program was very difficult but now I think the program can help me [with] many parts of
English such as listening and speaking'.
In the 'Music from Around the World' program, learners were asked to introduce a piece
of music from their own countries. They were put into homogeneous L1 groups to discuss
what made their particular country's music distinctive from other countries. Many learners
initially protested that they didn't have any music from their own countries with them,
however after some group discussions and then some Internet research they were motivated
to procure examples, either borrowing tapes and CDs from other learners in other classes
or even having recordings sent from home. All of the learners involved reported that they
had enjoyed the exercise greatly. A common comment was that it had had a positive effect
on their self-esteem by re-affirming their cultural identity, which many felt had been lost
to some degree by their experience as a language learner in a foreign country.
A similar opportunity for affirmation of cultural identity can be found in the ESL Playhouse
program 'Food for Thought' where learners were required to translate into their L1 the part
of the play where they speak to their mother on the phone. Burke points out that learners
often find writing in English a frustrating experience and having the opportunity to write
in their own language demonstrates their competence as writers to their teachers and their
peers, which apart from being a cultural affirmation, can also increase self-confidence and
motivation to write in English (1990: 51). This program also gave learners the opportunity
to work on prosodic features of language such as pronunciation, inflection and intonation.
Many learners reported positively to me that, because the play was to be recorded and
published, they worked on this aspect of language and took it more seriously than they
would in other classroom situations, like pair-work role-play for example.
Another benefit reported by learners in all of the programs, was the opportunity to hear
themselves speaking in a contextualised and 'real-life' situation. Learners are often able to
record their voices through language lab work or with computers, however much of this
kind of work is simply the mechanical reproduction of stock phrases or sentences with the
focus being mainly on form as opposed to the communication required when producing
a radio program.
In this paper, I have reported on a project that asks language learners to produce finished
materials for a web-based language learning resource.
Is this Computer Assisted Language Learning? Not in a traditional sense - if we can use
the word 'tradition' in relation to a field that is only 40 years old. There is still a perception
among many teachers and learners that CALL means individual learners hunched over
computers accessing commercially produced CD ROMs. Bickerton suggests that this
kind of CALL is a 'placebo for language education' (1999: 67). He argues that while CD
ROMs may have value for other disciplines where a step-by-step approach to clear-cuttasks
is called for, they have questionable value for language acquisition (1999: 67, 73).
Montessori told the story of a child at the beach, filling a small bucket with stones. The
nanny, anxious to go home, began to help fill the bucket, whereupon the child began to
cry. The lesson was clear to Montessori, 'Let them fill their own buckets' (Faneslow 1997:
171) 'Ironically', says Faneslow, 'for some, by the time graduate school comes around and
professional preparation begins, help in filling buckets is still sought and expected. Aided
by program managers only too willing to fill buckets for them.'
I believe that this project is a CALL project, if we accept as necessary, a new definition of
CALL. As Levy hopefully speculates, language learning will become computer integrated
not merely computer assisted (1999: 137). We as teachers will be doing a disservice to our
learners if we use new technology to repeat the mistakes of the past by assuming that we
can 'fill their buckets' for them by inventing and reifying pre-packaged, over-priced, oversold,
'pseudo' solutions that offer only receptive, systematic instruction from a machine,
at the expense of creativity, spontaneity and most importantly, human communication.
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multimedia CALL'. In Cameron, K. (ed.) CALL Media Design & Applications: Swets &
Zeitlinger b.v., Lisse.
Burke, D. (1990). 'Students from non-English speaking background and writing across
the curriculum'. Workshop 6 in ESL in the Mainstream Teacher Development Course:
Adelaide, Newton Curriculum Centre
Fanselow, J. F. (1997). On Becoming a Language Educator: Personal Essays on Professional
Development. Casanave, C. P. and Schechter, S. R. (eds.) Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Johnson, R. K. (1989). The Second Language Curriculum. Johnson, R. K. (ed.).
Kramsch, C., A'Ness, F. and Lam, W. S. E. (2000). 'Authenticity and authorship in the
computer-mediated acquisition of L2 literacy'. Language Learning & Technology 4 (2),
Kumaravadivelu, B. (1993). Tasks in a Pedagogical Context. Crookes, G. and Gass, S. M.
(eds.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Levy, M. (1999). 'Design processes in CALL: integrating theory, research and
evaluation'. In Cameron, K. (ed.) CALL Media Design & Applications: Swets &
Zeitlinger b.v., Lisse.
Littlejohn, A. and Windeatt, S. (1989). 'Beyond language learning: perspectives on
materials design'. In Johnson, R. (ed.). The Second Language Curriculum. Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press.
Marshall, K. A. (1998). Teaching in Action: Case Studies from Second Language
Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Inc.
McCarthy, M. and Carter, R. (1995). Spoken grammar: what is it and how can we
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