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Carvalho, Ana Amélia A. (Org.) (2009). Actas do Encontro sobre Podcasts. Braga: CIEd.

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Podcast – Enhancing Skills in the English Class

Célia Quintanilha de Menezes


E. B. I. de São Martinho do Campo
celiaquintanilhamenezes@gmail.com

Fernando Lopes Moreira


Universidade Portucalense Infante D. Henrique
fmoreira@uportu.pt

Resumo – É fundamental modernizar a Escola criando condições que promovam o


sucesso escolar dos alunos e que estes sejam dotados das competências essenciais para a
sua plena integração na Sociedade do Conhecimento. As Tecnologias da Informação e da
Comunicação (TIC) representam um recurso indispensável a ser utilizado em contexto
escolar nesta nova era. De forma a ultrapassar os constrangimentos ainda existentes na
Escola e de dar resposta à filosofia preconizada no Plano Tecnológico da Educação, as
ferramentas da Web 2.0 apresentam-se como alternativas excelentes para o
desenvolvimento das referidas competências. Sendo o podcast uma dessas ferramentas,
está a ser feito um estudo, onde esta está a ser utilizada com alunos do 7º ano de
escolaridade na aula de Inglês como complemento às suas aprendizagens e como forma de
promover actividades num modelo de aprendizagem móvel (m-learning), aproveitando o
facto de, hoje em dia, quase todos os alunos possuírem um telemóvel ou um Mp3.

Abstract – It is essential to update the school creating conditions that promote the success
of our students and the essential skills for their full integration into the Knowledge Society.
The Information Communication Technologies (ICT) is a vital resource in school in this new
era. In order to overcome the existing barriers in school and to answer to the philosophy
proclaimed in the Technological Plan of Education, Web 2.0 tools appear to be excellent
alternatives to the development of such skills. Being the podcast one of those tools, a study
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is being held in a Portuguese school. It is being used with 7 form students in the English
class as a model of mobile learning (m-learning), taking advantage of the fact that almost all
students have a mobile phone or an MP3.

Introduction
The Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have changed the overall
picture of the entire process of building knowledge in the current educational system. With the
Internet one can easily access to any area of interest. With this research tool searching, sharing
and collecting information are reachable with a simple mouse click. The widely available Web
2.0 tools, applications and sites allow Internet users to interact through blogs, collaborate
through wikis, publish podcasts, and build relationships through social networks (Warschauer &
Grimes, 2007). With the increasing need to apply different teaching methods and to monitor

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students, we are induced to seek alternative solutions. (Menezes, 2008) The enormous amount
and variety of existing applications allow us to solve part of this problem since it is a teaching
philosophy based on anytime, anywhere. Nowadays mobile devices, such as mobile phones
and Mp3 players, have been playing a major role in our students’ lives. Since these devices are
more ubiquitous than ever, they should be seen as potential learning tools when combined with
new pedagogical approaches and methodologies (Moreira & Paes, 2007).
In a globalized world where time is scarce, the podcast is an extremely powerful
alternative technology to be used in the process of teaching and learning either in the distance
mode (e-learning) or as a complement to teaching in presence (b-learning). Indeed, podcasting
allows the teacher to provide teaching materials and lectures, documentaries and interviews in
audio format that can be heard by students at any time of day and in any geographical area.
The student can access the information provided by the teacher and download it in his mobile
device (Junior & Coutinho, 2007) thus building an m-learning paradigm.
This paper is a reflection of the use of podcast as a tool for M-Learning, building a
shortcut to implement the policy underlined by the Technological Plan, where the Portuguese
are supposed to empower their skills and qualifications in this area, thus building the path to the
Knowledge Society.
This paper is divided into eight parts. In the introduction we contextualize the podcast
within the Knowledge Society. In the second we give some examples of podcasting in
Portuguese schools and its importance within language learning. In the third we introduce the
school where the study is being held and in the fourth we illustrate the study describing some of
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the experiences done so far with students of the 7 form in the English class. In the fifth we
witness how this innovative paradigm emphasizes the potential of the podcast as a tool that
enhances and develops skills and even as a new paradigm in the teacher/student relationship
and in the sixth we speak about some of the obstacles we have faced. In the seventh we reflect
about the students’ reactions and in the eight we point out some of the conclusions we came
until then.

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Podcast – First Steps towards 21 Century Skills
Podcast used as an m-learning tool is still taking its first steps in Portugal. Two known
podcasters are Moura & Carvalho (2006a), who became pioneers when they involved their
students in an exchanging E-Twinning project called “Correspondance Scolaire” (Moura, 2007).
Podcasting was used as a communication tool, thus developing specific skills in the second
language they used - French. These same authors have also used podcast as a learning tool in
the Portuguese Literature class (2006b). Indeed, podcast stands to provide Education a very
different dimension. Instead of being confined to a classroom, learning through podcast can
really happen at home, at school or anywhere else (King & Gura, 2007) and the different rates
of learning can be respected this way (Junior & Coutinho, 2007). Although teachers are strongly
anchored to traditional methods, they are becoming aware that Society has changed and so

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School must also change in order to shape the future citizens’ skills to answer to 21 century
demands.
More than ever, being able to communicate in a foreign language is essential for
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everyone who lives in the 21 century. The increased global contact brought in the new network
society through international tourism, business and scientific exchange places a premium on the
ability for communication in a “lingua franca”. This corresponds to the imperatives of the new
society in which English is seen as that “lingua franca” or as our own additional language of
communication rather than as a foreign or second language (Warschauer, 2000). In this
context, learning a second language is to make that students develop skills that enable them to
use it properly in a variety of situations. If we look at the increasing mobility of people and goods
within the European Community and the fact that English is considered to be the “lingua franca”,
as Warschauer (2000) says, the development of a range of knowledge and essential skills in
this area is strategic (Portal da Educação).
In this scenario, podcast can empower students in the process of learning English
thanks to its portability and versatility since it is a recorded word product with obvious
connections to language learning. The podcast can be integrated in the curriculum, promoting
activities such as homework, interviews, poetry activities, as a support tool to language learning
with grammar episodes – imagination is the border (King & Gura, 2007). As Moura & Carvalho
(2006) stated, the potentialities that a tool like the podcast allow in the classroom are
innumerous if the teacher is motivated and willing to face the new challenges brought by this
technology. According to the same authors, this tool has both pedagogical and motivational
potential since it is a technology that is in the pocket of our students. Taking advantage of this
fact, they pursued their experience with podcast as a shift to motivation and promotion of the
success of their students.

The School
The Vertical Group of São Martinho has its headquarters in Escola Básica de São
Martinho (fig. 1), which is situated in São Martinho do Campo, Santo Tirso, district of Porto. The
local environment is based in the textile industry and a very reasonable part of the population
economically depends on it. The difficulties that the textile sector has been facing with the
globalization of the economy and the competition from the countries with a cheap workforce
have been contributing to high rates of unemployment in this population. Our students reflect
this conjuncture since it directly affects the familiar economy. Beyond economical difficulties, or
as a consequence of them, many of our students show little interest for school and they don’t
really show any kind of social ambitions (Projecto Educativo, 2007).

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Figure 1 - Escola Básica


Integrada de São Martinho.

Despite all the schools in the country are officially covered by the Technological Plan, it
is still far from being real in many Portuguese schools. The constraints to use the Internet and to
carry out ICT activities in class are enormous. Our school has only two computer labs which are
frequently busy with ICT classes or with other teachers’ classes who “arrived first”. The wireless
network is only confined to a restrict area of the school so, only a few classrooms have wireless
connection to the Internet. Some of existing hardware provides slow and low performances.
These are some of the obstacles that can transform a simple research task into a frustrating
one.
In this context, podcast appears to have great potential if we want to work with ICT.
With this study we want to acknowledge how ICT impacts on learning English, highlighting the
potential of the podcast as an m-learning tool as a complement to instruction. We are working
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with 97 students who attend the 7 form. As part of this innovative use of podcast to
complement instruction, we created audio content integrated in the curriculum believing that it
fosters and enhances skills addressed in class.

The Podcasts
English is Fun
We created the podcast “English is Fun” (fig. 2) to accomplish the goals of our study.
This podcast can be accessed at http://englishisfun.podomatic.com/. So far, different types of
episodes have been made with different purposes. In the first episode the English teacher
introduces herself. After downloading the episode, the students had to listen to it and then they
had to write a similar text about themselves. They made some interviews to some of their
classmates, as well. Afterwards they were able to make their first experiences with these texts.
With these activities they worked out their oral/writing skills, learnt how to work with Audacity,
the application we used to record the episodes, learned to post their “voice”, although the
management of the podcast is restricted to the teacher and learned how to download the
episodes to their mobile devices. The students showed great interest during the activities and
frequently made questions to know more about it.

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Carvalho, Ana Amélia A. (Org.) (2009). Actas do Encontro sobre Podcasts. Braga: CIEd.

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Figure 2 - English is Fun podcast.

Some grammar episodes have been made as well. These episodes have been made in
Portuguese with examples in English because their language knowledge is not mature enough
to understand grammar explanations. These episodes are extremely important to support the
students’ individual work at home. It is as if they were with the teacher, as they say.
Another experience we made was a listening comprehension worksheet. The students
downloaded an episode. They had to listen to it without the support of the written text format.
Then they did comprehension exercises about it. The results were very satisfactory. About 35%
had very good, 18% had good, 23% had fair enough and 24% had a not satisfactory result. The
worst results were expected because the students didn’t believe this type of worksheet could
happen, as they confessed later; other students thought they were going to have the text on the
worksheet and so they didn´t bother to listen to it.
In this school year the English group teachers decided to develop extensive reading
activities during the second term and so we chose “Fruit Tree Island” by Sue Arengo. At the
beginning of the school year we anticipated some difficulties. The extensive reading is optional
and so the purchase of these books represents an extra cost for families. Besides when
students are confronted with the fact that they have to read a book, this activity is seen as
something boring at once. To overcome these obstacles, the podcast appeared to be an answer
with the advantage of having no additional costs for families and the fact that it was something
new.
K12 English Poetry
Our school organized the activity “The Week of Poetry” within the National Plan of
Reading. During this week there was a day dedicated to English poetry and rhymes. As a way
of an innovative involvement, we built the podcast “K12 English Poetry” (fig.3) and it can be
accessed at http://k12-englishpoetry.podomatic.com/. The poems and rhymes were selected
and recorded during classes. On the “Day of English Poetry”, the episodes were broadcast on

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the school radio "Onda Aberta".


This activity proved to be of particular importance for some students who have very
particular characteristics, being some of them "visible" when we listen to the episodes. One of
these examples is a student who suffers from almost total deafness – he can hear thanks to the
devices he wears. Obviously, the difficulty that this student has to listen is reflected in his orality.
The exercises involved in the construction of his episode led him to remember and repeat
sounds and words. These exercises have contributed much to improve the performance of this
particular student at various levels, especially in developing and enhancing his specific skill of
orality.

Figure 3 - K12 English Poetry podcast.

A small group of students have severe difficulties at the cognitive level, which also leads
to little orality. Like the previous example, these exercises also have proved to be helpful in
fostering and enhancing their skills and to discipline their cognitive organization, as well.
Another group of students, who are very shy, accepted without hesitation to take part in this
activity when it was suggested that they could do it at home, unlike the majority that recorded in
class. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to get a word out of them.
On the day of the activity, their reaction was somewhat interesting. Since it was the first
time they listened to themselves on the radio, they were very proud of their work. The passing
by students were curious and made questions about what they were listening to. During the
production of the podcast, the students showed much commitment and there were moments of
true fun and relaxation with the selected poems and of great complicity with the teacher.

Enhancing Skills
The carried out activities have been done collaboratively between the students and the
teacher. The podcast has allowed to integrate in a structured and systematic way ICT in the
classroom and to take advantage of their potential in enhancing and fostering writing and oral
skills in English learning. Before recording their texts, they must write them, they must be
corrected and only then they are able to record them. When they are recording, they make
mistakes, and so they have to do it again. Repetition here is important in learning a second
language, especially for students with difficulties. The linguistic and communicative domains are

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essential and the podcast has been leading the students to improve them, empowering them in
their writing and oral skills.
One of the goals for the creation of the podcasts was to create a space for sharing
contents also made by the students, thus working their technical knowhow, as well. During
classes several tasks have been suggested to the students and this way they have become
content producers, as well. These activities have been showing to be very interesting since their
motivation and commitment have been relevant.
However, one of the most amazing things for this tool is to make students with some
disabilities engaged in the activities. The final result is not perfect, but they show real
enthusiasm to take part in this adventure and, like other students, they work their oral and
writing skills. As we mentioned before, one of the students is almost deaf and the podcast has
an extreme importance as a supporting learning tool, as a tool to study and as a way to repeat
words and sentences aloud. There is also a student that has serious problems in speaking to
the class due to her shyness. When she was told that she could create the episodes at home,
she became one of the best assiduous podcast listeners. Now, she has been participating orally
in class more frequently and to interact with the teacher. Her attitude has clearly changed and
we discovered a new student. There are also a few students with severe cognitive difficulties
and they look at the English subject as a burden. When they got in touch with podcasting and
started to have their first experiences with it, they showed they wanted to take part. They may
not have done it perfectly, but the most important is that they felt motivated and were engaged
in the tasks and English is not such a heavy burden to them.
By using the podcast and the students’ mobile devices, we have been promoting an
innovating learning environment where the students are responding quite well.

Obstacles
One of the major obstacles we have faced was the lack of students’ Internet connection
at home. Only 46 of the 97 students had Internet connection. However, a great part of them had
a computer, 78 students.
As we mentioned before, the school also lacks the ideal conditions to carry out ICT
activities in the classroom. However, almost all the students have a mobile device which
appeared to be ideal to the implementation of our m-learning model using the podcast. To
overcome these difficulties, we had to let the students download the episodes during the
classes directly from the teacher’s computer which seemed to be a reasonable solution.

Students’ reactions
Although the obstacles, the students are reacting rather well to the podcast activities.
They usually make comments about the episodes in class. They don’t leave a comment on the
application, because they fear to do anything wrong in spite of all the teacher’s instructions to
do so. One of the students’ criticisms is that the voice “speaks” too fast, but it is a reason to play

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the episodes again and again. The students say that is something different, original and that
ICT is not just going to Google to do some research about a certain issue – it is much more than
this. It is making good use of the small portable devices.
Another important aspect of this experience is the relationship created between
teacher/student. They say that the teacher is sometimes at home with them and never gets
bothered of explaining the contents again and again. This creates ties of complicity, contributing
to develop a good relationship with the students. The parents also look at the mobiles in a
different way since their children don’t use them just to send sms’s.
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A similar experience had already been done with another Web 2.0 tool, the blog, with 9
form students in this school. The students’ reactions were similar and the blog appeared to be a
strategic element in the students’ involvement, motivation and scores (Menezes, 2008).

Conclusion
The podcast has been accepted by the great majority of the students. Using podcast to
support learning has already begun to belong to some of the good teaching practices in
Portuguese schools. The creation of the episodes allowed a diverse set of activities which went
through the production of written texts and the expressive reading of them. These activities
have proved also to be very fruitful in enabling students to practise correct pronunciation when
listening to the episodes. This way, it was possible to lead the students to enhance language
and communicative skills as well as writing and oral skills.
The students’ reactions are rewarding and this encourages us to go on. The podcast
fosters a good and new relationship with the students. Our imagination is the limit for the
creation and for the different uses of the podcast. Podcast is not the miraculous heal for weak
school scores. However, it can complement teaching and learning enriching the quality of
learning, creating personalized learning environments since it is a resource that respects the
different rates of learning. It can also encourage students with some disabilities to be engaged
in English learning.
Although this study is not completed yet, the reactions we have witnessed so far, lead
us to believe that the signs are going in a positive direction in what concerns the integration of
the podcast in educational practices in learning a foreign language.

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