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Aural Oral and Textual competition in learning

This is my first post here.......and I thought I'd post some ideas I've had about educational approaches to using technology.

I recently read a study about Microsoft Powerpoint, and how apparently it fails as a communication strategy - the listeners pay attention to the visuals, and ignore the accompanying speech, and the one set of information probably interferes with the other. The psychologists who carried out the study suggested that in most cases, the visuals should be much more sparingly used, and in many cases were superfluous and obstructive.

This set me off thinking....how much current educational technology based practice has actually been studied from an evidential perspective? It might appear from a reasoned perspective that x or y should enhance learning, but we're not in the middle ages anymore - practice needs to be evidence based. What might appear on the face of it to be a good idea, might actually hinder progress, not advance it, or might have no significant effect at all, yet be resource and time-intensive to produce and administer.

Technologies can be useful, I think, when they act to simplify the information load the student needs to process at any one point in time.

I have noticed myself, when learning, that keeping information streams separate, seems to help. i.e. when
listening, NOT to have the text in front of me. The one seems to possibly compete with the other.

For example, is it really usful to listen to a text, while looking at the text on a screen, say with a flash presentation, with each word highlighted as it is read aloud? Can the brain actually effectively process these different (and competing) information streams? Personally, I doubt it - certainly, it would merit some research.

Insofar as to how this might inform language teaching strategy - maybe the aural/speaking component should be done without any textbooks or written material available for the student to look at while listening/learning, with the amount of competing sensory information limited....???

Processing a written text is possibly a different skill set to processing aural and oral information.......


Views: 33

Comment by Laura Gibbs on July 5, 2007 at 10:01am
hi Publius, welcome to the ning! I'm very interested in the interaction between oral and written inputs for students, and I guess my experience is different from what you have described here. Instead of competition, I see students as being caught up in dependence, even OVER-dependence, on the written form of language. This is an artifact of our formal schooling where for more than ten years (by the time I get them in college), students have had 95% of their efforts focused on the processing of written information, with almost no attention to oral and aural skills. We do not practice oral recitation in English anymore (which used to be a major component of education), tests are almost written rather than oral, the work students do at home is almost always text-driven, etc.

Now, in their personal lives, students are much more oral/aural - listening to music, watching and listening to videos, talking on the phone, etc. There is also written stuff, too, but not in the traditional text-only form (instant messages, the mix of text and images on the Internet, etc.).

So, the real problem I see is the out-of-balance relationship between what we do in school (heavily heavily text-dependent) and what students do outside of school (relatively little text processing). This conflict is HUGE and causes students a lot of problems in school. School feels very inauthentic, frustrating, etc.

The problem is that you cannot just tell them "let's be oral" in school - you have got a decade or more worth of training NOT to be oral in school. In college, I get students whose reading/writing skills in Latin and/or Greek are passable, and whose aural/oral skills are almost entirely deficient.

As a result, when I teach Latin and Greek orally, I find students are at least initially VERY disoriented by not having the text to support their oral work, since they are so used to focusing their "school self" in the world of texts.

So I think combining text and audio is the gradual way to get them to move towards a complete audio experience. What you need is something FLEXIBLE: I like the way the Internet lets you present audio together with the text and THEN, after they are getting comfortable with the audio, students can then NOT look at the screen, and "just listen."

So, repurposing audio for multiple uses is my goal: audio to support reading, audio to support writing (i.e. dictation skills) and audio to support oral and aural skills. The digital presentation of audio with/without text makes this very easy to do.

ALL of these dimensions are important (reading, writing, speaking, listening), and because of students being very text-dependent in school, combining audio and text can be a very confidence-building experience for them, at least in my experience teaching. It allows the written text to come "alive" with an oral component, making it more authentic to the students who, outside of school, live very oral lives.

Comment by Seumas Macdonald on August 5, 2007 at 10:13pm
My experience points me to draw two separate conclusions. Often knowing the written form of a word helps me to hear it more distinctly and process it better. So, for one reason, having access to a transcript, or perhaps better - knowing the vocabulary of a reading beforehand, enhances my ability to comprehend it.

On the other hand, I am of the opinion and experience that reading a text simultaneously while listening to an audio focuses the mind on one or the other, and for myself text before sound - not good for developing aural skills.

Perhaps it depends on the students themselves, but I hypothesise that making text-forms of audio material available before a listening exercise, even simply the vocabulary to be used (especially new vocabulary), but not having that material in front of students when listening, might facilitate better comprehension and learning.


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