At the 60th annual TEFLIN Conference last week, I attended a talk given by Imroatul Muhsinah. Her talk was titled, Panacea for Low Proficiency Learners: Combined Exposure of Extensive Listening & Reading through Podcasts. What I found amazing about her presentation was that she is incorporating digital technology and podcasting into her lessons under situations that most of us wouldn’t dare attempt even with a full arsenal of digital resources at our disposal.
Imroatul – she told me her nickname is “I-im” (pronounced “Ee-eem”) – teaches at the Universitas Airlangga Indonesia. Her university, home to more than 24,000 students, is located in Surabaya, East Java. Surabaya, the capital of East Java, is the second-largest city in Indonesia. To Indonesians, Surabaya is known as “the city of heroes” due to a key battle during the fight for Indonesian independence in 1945. In the modern-day fight for decent, fair and well-funded education for the world’s impoverished, I-im is a hero in her own right.
I-im’s English classes typically contain anywhere from 40 to 65 students. That’s a lot of students for any class doing something other than rote lecturing and note-taking, and I-im is not lecturing. She realized that her students had very low proficiency in English listening skills, so she decided to try Extensive Listening activities using podcasts. Luckily, her students all have decent web access and laptops or tablets, and she herself was toting a well-used Windows tablet at the conference. Most of the podcast assignments are given as homework but some in-class work is done as well.
As with any web-based assignment we give our students, due to the massive amount of available content, it is important to organize the material and steer the students to the right sources. With this in mind, I-im created a Facebook group for her class to use as a landing page for directing students to podcast materials and notifying them of new audio content. To make the task easier she created a SoundCloud account, and uses this to amass and organize her podcast audio assignments. When a new podcast is added to her Cloud, she messages her students via Facebook and the work begins.
The bulk of her podcast downloads come from TuneIn, and she recognizes that due to her students’ limited listening skills, a large percentage of the audio files are too difficult. To overcome this problem I-im provides her students with pre-listening materials in the from of graded reading texts. She chooses texts that deal with similar content or topics as the podcasts she assigns, and uses class time to discuss the readings to ensure that her students have a fair amount of scaffolding in place before they tackle the podcast. There is only one problem: her school does not have a graded reader library, so she is forced to troll the web in search of appropriate readings, articles and texts. Once she finds a suitable text she makes 40+ copies to distribute, and repeats the whole process the following week.
I-im tells her students that extensive listening has many advantages; including user control of the pace, motivating and attractive selections, a wide range of topics, audio transcripts and the fact that they are portable, easy to use and easy to access. However, it occurred to me during her presentation that these materials would not at all be “easy to access” for her students if it wasn’t for the tireless work and dedication of the podcasting hero of East Java.