Using Technology to Engage Students in Spanish Conversations and Oral Presentations
By Chita Espino-Bravo
One of the hardest things to teach to American students who are trying to learn Spanish in a virtual course is oral conversational and presentational skills. I have been teaching Spanish for many years in the United States, and for the past eight years, I have taught virtual Spanish courses at Fort Hays State University (FHSU). In my experience, the oral component of the class is the hardest for students to master. It has always been hard for me to teach oral presentational skills in a virtual Spanish course where there is not a lot of face-to-face contact. Until very recently, students would turn in PowerPoint presentations with photos and audio or short films of themselves speaking in Spanish via e-mail, and I would make written corrections about their pronunciation and other mistakes. That was until I started using VoiceThread.
Our university adopted VoiceThread, a web-based application, a couple of years ago. One of the great things it can do is allow virtual students to interact with each other and with the instructor. Users can upload presentations with voice comments on them, record audio files, or even make short movies of themselves speaking in Spanish. Then, other users and the instructor can record audio messages, videos, or corrections on that user’s presentation. This tool allows students and instructors to interact face to face, without having to schedule a meeting, and it helps with learning and correcting conversational skills in a virtual language course.
The first thing I did with VoiceThread for my intermediate Spanish I and II courses was to create a brief video to introduce myself as the professor, let students know where I was from, and tell them bit about my job at FHSU. This allowed students to see and hear me, something that is normally missing in virtual language courses. I set it up so that the students were also able to introduce themselves to the other students enrolled in the course. With this simple activity, my students felt connected to their classmates and to me, and they felt like they belonged to a virtual community.
I also used VoiceThread to create oral assignments. I recorded myself talking about a specific topic in Spanish, gave them an example of what I needed them to do in Spanish, and asked them to talk about the topic for two minutes in Spanish. Students were supposed to write about the topic first and rehearse their presentation several times so that they would sound as natural as possible. Students needed to rehearse their conversations at the intermediate level, since they were not fluent yet. VoiceThread allowed them to practice their oral skills and improve their Spanish sounds and pronunciations.
It’s been exciting to incorporate this online tool because it allows me to engage orally with my virtual students to help improve their conversational skills—and we have fun while using it!
Chita Espino-Bravo, is an assistant professor of Spanish at Fort Hays State University.