Wednesday 11 December 2013

Flipping phonetics

I am so sorry I've not posted for a while; it's been a hectic term!

One of the reasons it's been hectic is because I've been trying a different method of delivering some of my English phonetics and phonology classes and that - as always - entails preparation which takes TIME ... but time well spent which has been worth it.

I first heard about the flipped classroom from my friend and colleague Dr Patricia Ashby who is now an Emeritus Fellow of the University of Westminster. You may know Patricia from her excellent books Speech Sounds and Understanding Phonetics. She presented "Flipping Phonetics" at the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference at UCL in 2011; you can read the paper by clicking HERE, and will notice that the results for the topics Patricia "flipped" were very impressive.

The flipped classroom basically involves presenting what would normally be lecture content via vodcasts which the students watch ahead of the class, thus allowing more time in the actual class itself for practical work. This approach works well in the sciences where a lot of practical work is needed for students to progress, and Patricia had noticed how it was also suitable for phonetics, which also requires a lot of rehearsal of skills and time for class discussion of issues.

I had wanted to try this for a while as I have been becoming increasingly concerned that the growing number of students I have in my class meant that I had less time to spend with each of them and that it was difficult to support individual student needs. Thanks to a small grant from the University of Reading's "Partnerships in Learning and Teaching" (PLanT) pilot scheme, I was able to buy some software to do video capture of my desktop which enables me to record video and audio of me narrating my way through my lecture slides. I then post these on our virtual learning environment, Blackboard, for the students to view ahead of class.

The PLanT scheme also enabled me to work with students to produce materials for the post-exams period at Reading to scaffold first year students' learning in preparation for the English phonetics and phonology module in Year 2. You can read about this HERE and HERE (see p. 79).

One set of the vodcasts is on YouTube and I've posted them below if you'd like to take a look.  We follow Peter Roach's English Phonetics and Phonology on this course, and this class presents material from chapters 15-17. In it you will see some embedded YouTube clips and also the excellent programme RT pitch which is available for download from UCL's wonderful phonetics and speech resources.

I would value feedback on these videos (aside from the fact that I say "so" a lot!) either at the end of this message or on the YouTube pages themselves via my channel (be warned: also contains some videos of one of my bands, Crimson Sky).

Students' responses so far have been very positive. They mention how appreciative they are to have more time in the class to work on practical skills. They also indicate how presenting material this way aids independent learning and allows students to take notes at their own pace, and they can of course return to these videos when it comes to exam revision; our exams are in May/June so there is a lot of time to forget the content. One student has written a blog post of her own about this (lots of other good stuff on there!), and another comments: "Your delivery and humour makes them very interesting and engaging." They have asked for other tutors to adopt this method and I hope some of my staff will consider it.

Last year I was disappointed to see that the average overall marks among undergraduates for the dictation test we do at the end of term had dropped by around 11 percentage points. I usually expect the average to be in the mid-to-low 60s; the previous year's average had been around 66%.  I'm just about to mark the transcription tests this year and will report back on whether they have improved with an update to this post.

UPDATE #1: I've marked 20 out of 59 scripts and can report that the current average is **over 15 percentage points higher***. Watch this space ...

UPDATE #2: Having finished the marking, I can confirm that the average is up over 10 percentage points on last year's dictation test scores. Although not quite as impressive as 15%, it's still pretty darned good!


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  2. I've posted the first video directly from my pc as the YouTube one didn't appear. Let me know if there are any issues.

  3. What a beautiful, soothing style of speaking! (Broadcasters please take note).

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