Voicethread for Foreign Language Instruction in Introductory German II

My project took place in Introductory German II (GERM 002-02). Nine students were enrolled in the course and took part in the project. Over the course of the Spring 2015 semester, I asked students to use the iPad app “VoiceThread” to video record themselves practicing a “first draft” of three different speaking assignments. The students then shared these drafts among themselves and provided peer review of one another’s drafts. Following peer review, students had the opportunity to view and respond to the comments given by their peer reviewers before presenting the “final draft” of their speaking assignments in class. In prior semesters (and in other sections of the course during Spring 2015) students prepared for the in-class speaking assignments independently and did not use tablet technology to support a process-oriented approach.

While a process approach is now standard in teaching writing, the impermanence of speech has previously made this approach impractical; however, the video recording, playback, and annotation functions of tablets enable students to capture spoken language and then subject it to careful review and improvement. The goal of the project was therefore to investigate whether tablet technology can foster a process-oriented approach to completion of speaking assignments in a second-semester German class. In relation to this goal, I had several questions that guided my investigation:

  1. Does the use of tablet technology result in measurably better language production between drafts of speaking assignments?
  2. Do students who use tablet technology achieve measurably better results than students who do not use tablet technology?
  3. Are students able to give peer feedback that results in measurable improvement?
  4. Are students able to respond to peer feedback in a way that leads to measurable improvement?
  5. Is the technology robust enough to support the pedagogical goals of the project?

In order to assess the effectiveness of the pedagogical innovation, I collected oral production data and student perception data. Students in the experimental group completed first drafts of their speaking assignments using VoiceThread. I then downloaded and archived these recordings for later analysis. I also audio recorded the students in the experimental group as they presented the final drafts of their speaking assignments in class. Additionally, I recorded the in-class presentation of three other sections of the same course that did not use tablet technology in order to compare these data with the data from the experimental group. Finally, after concluding the pedagogical innovation, I conducted an electronic survey about the students’ perceptions of the technology and its impact on their learning.

Empirical analysis of the language produced by students in both experimental and comparison groups requires transcription of the audio data into written text. I have begun this process and have completed approximately one third of the necessary transcription. My goal is to complete the remaining transcription during Summer 2015, so that I am able to analyze these data and answer research questions 1-4. As regards research question 5 (student perceptions), 8 of 9 students responded to the survey. The overarching theme to emerge from the student survey responses is that they felt that technological impediments hampered their engagement with the project and ultimately their perception of its usefulness.