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Vodcasts Help Students Understand Wide Variety of Spoken Norwegian

March 4, 2009 by Peggy Hager

Peggy Hager

In this article Peggy Hager, Senior Lecturer in Norwegian in the UW-Madison Department of Scandinavian Studies, explains how and why she developed vodcasts for use in her third semester Norwegian classes.

When I ask intermediate students what they find most difficult in Norwegian, the answer is nearly unanimous – understanding the huge variety in spoken language in Norway. This, coupled with the fact that teaching materials in our field are sorely lacking at this level, motivated me to introduce a vodcasting project in third semester Norwegian. In addition, with limited class time, I wanted a project that could be completed outside the classroom.

Vodcasting is similar to podcasting except that it involves video material rather than merely audio. A simple vodcast may involve an instructor who tapes a class lecture and then posts it for those students who were not in class. I have come to think of vodcasting as a way for me to present a variety of material (audio, video, visual, written) to my students.

Christine speaks about high school graduation in Norway.A summer grant allowed me to spend time in Norway in 2007 recording a variety of speakers. I tried to record a variety of dialects. In addition, I wanted to use the vodcasts to provide cultural information. For example, I asked my interviewees to talk about what it was like to be a Russ (traditions surrounding high school graduation in Norway) , how they view American culture and what their feelings are about language/dialect in Norway. I created about 12 vodcasts and questions to go with them. 

Although I needed to invest some time in the beginning, I was surprised to learn how technically easy and quick the process of creating a vodcast actually is. In addition to my computer, I needed a digital video camera and external microphone. An Enhanced Podcasting grant from UW-Madison’s Division of Information Technology (DoIT) allowed me to purchase this equipment and Learning Support Services provided technical assistance.

After creating my video clips, I uploaded them to my computer (I use a MacBook) and used my computer’s editing tool (iMovie). On a PC one could use Movie Maker or Photo Story. After editing (which can be as simple or as complicated as one wants) creating the final product is a one-function step on the Mac. This final step compresses the video material and creates the vodcast. 

Hanna talks about the language situation in Norway.Students accessed the weekly vodcast by going to our course homepage. All of the students used a desktop or laptop computer. They did not use iPods to complete their assignments, although they could have.

Nearly all work was done outside of the classroom.  Once students submitted their comprehension questions and they were graded and returned, I would often go through it in class. This would allow me to point out problem areas.

I viewed this project as one of my most successful. Interestingly, this is the project where I have met with the most resistance from students. The students found these weekly assignment to be challenging and grades on assignments were often much lower than on other daily homework. 

Teacher evaluation and feedback were key to the success of this project. Having students listen to the material in class or even assigning a vodcast as homework without feedback was futile. Accountability was crucial. Students were dismayed at how little they actually understood when they needed to respond to specific questions. I experimented with a variety of questions (true/false, short answer, summary writing). I often asked students to respond in English to avoid the activity being viewed as a dictation exercise. Finally, we worked on pre-listening skills. I would provide the students with a list of key words used by the speaker. They were to work with the vocabulary before they listened to the vodcast.

I enjoy experimenting with new technologies and some have been more successful than others. I am sensitive to the amount of class time used. If I need to spend a whole class period explaining in English how something works, another class period beginning the project and then class time dealing with problems, I question the value. This project involved virtually no class-time.

A wonderful spin-off to this technology is that I have discovered a quick, easy and convenient way to make video material available to my students. I videotape group projects or individual presentations so that students may view and reflect on themselves speaking Norwegian. The old way of doing this was to record on VHS tapes, put them in the audio lab and have students come in and view themselves. On a large campus like Madison, this is not very popular among students. I tried video streaming and putting clips on a website. This was a rather complicated process where many things could go wrong and usually did.

Now I am able to record students with my video camera, upload to my computer and, in one step, create video material which can be housed on my password protected website for students to view from home at their convenience. This is an excellent example of using technology in the most effective manner for instructor and student. 

I now plan to work on improving the vodcasts I have started, creating more of them from video material collected last summer, and experiment with narration and adding subtitles by using a free software tool called World Caption. Providing students with a captioned version of the vodcast after they have worked hard understanding authentic speech will give them that final sense of accomplishment. 

For a sample podcast see http://web.mac.com/pehager/iWeb/Peggy/About%20Me.html

Peggy Hager can be reached at pehager@wisc.edu.


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