Language teaching in general and English language teaching in particular has tremendously changed over the centuries. Language learning and teaching are dynamic, fluid, mutable processes, so there is nothing fixed about them unlike the teaching of other subjects. Language teaching especially throughout the twentieth century underwent numerous changes and innovations. Approximately, every decade a new approach or methodology comes into practice. Many major theories, events, trends and technologies which shaped English language teaching during the past decades suggest methodologies are as much a product of their times as educational systems, and rooted in the ideas of their time. Ideas may come into and go out of fashion. Many new approaches are rediscoveries of old methods neglected but re-illuminated.
English language teaching practitioners around the globe have been practising different trends suitable to their context, needs, availability of resources and practicality. Teachers have had a large amount of methods offered at different times. Obviously, some teachers stick on certain methodologies very sternly. Nonetheless, majority of the English language teachers instead of adhering to prescribed trends, follow different ones at different times applicable to their contexts. Besides, they practise different educational technologies to grow academically and professionally.
Educational technologies, especially computers and computer-related peripherals, have grown tremendously and have permeated all areas of our lives. It is incomprehensible that anyone today would argue that banks, hospitals, or any industry should use less technology. The Internet in particular is becoming an increasingly vital tool in our information society. More people are going online to conduct such day-to-day activities as education, business transactions, personal correspondence, research and information-gathering. Each year, being digitally connected becomes ever more critical to educational advancement.
From the beginning of the computer age, educational researchers and practitioners were sure for technology use to be widespread in schools and universities it needed to be closely tied to education. No doubt, teaching is changing and, in many ways, becoming a more difficult job because of increasingly numerous contradictory expectations, including the following:
We are living in an age of information overload with the expectation that students will learn high-level skills such as how to access, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize vast quantities of information. At the same time, teachers are evaluated by their ability to have students pass tests that often give no value to these abilities.
Teachers are expected to teach students to solve complex problems that require knowledge necessary across many subject areas even as they are held accountable for the teaching and learning of isolated skills and information.
Teachers are expected to meet the needs of all students and move them toward fulfillment of their individual potential even as they are pressured to prepare students for maximum performance on high-stakes assessment tests that are the primary measure of student and school success [5, p.5].
Information technologies in English language teaching can actually assist with some of these expectations and make teachers and their students be more successful. However, as the world becomes more complex year-to-year instead of the generation-to-generation pace of most of the last century, educational needs continue to shift from teaching and learning isolated skills and information within each content area, to teaching skills that enable students to solve complex problems across many areas. Educators must prepare for a technology-rich future and keep up with change by adopting effective strategies that infuse lessons with appropriate technologies. However, this is balanced by a significant observation: the benefit to students of using new technologies is greatly dependent, at least for the moment, on the technological skill of the teacher and the teacher’s attitude to the presence of the technology in teaching. The skill and this attitude in turn are largely dependent on the training staff have received in this area [5, p.7].
So the primary factor for enhancing the learning productivity of students is to have teachers who are competent and knowledgeable about appropriate and effective use of information technologies in English language teaching.
One key method linked to the growing interest in English teaching profession is podcasting (or podcasts).
'Podcast' has been declared Word of the Year 2005 by editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary. The word was chosen for its rising phenomenon in 2005 because anyone with a digital recording device and an Internet connection could produce a podcast. Podcasting is web service belonging to the Web 2.0 which has gained popularity with people all over the world the last years. The word “podcasting” is derived from a combination of "iPod"6 and "broadcasting". It refers to the concept in which online audio programs (such as talk shows or hosted music programs) in digital format are downloaded for listening at the user’s convenience . Podcasting also refers to the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet. These podcasts are usually automatically downloaded for playback on mobile devices or personal computers. A podcast can be created with any digital recording device. They are usually created in the mp3 file format for its compact file size but podcasts presented in other sound formats (e.g. wave, real-audio format) do exist.
When podcasts are downloaded by end users (i.e. students) they become more flexible in the way they are used. Modern rich resources can be used at times and in places defined by the student, and they can be used more than once. The terms 'time shifting' and 'space shifting' are often used to describe the behaviour of podcasters, and podcasting is regarded as a key technology amongst those interested in mobile gadgets [1, p.3].
By addressing the questions such as How often are the podcasts broadcast? What type of podcasts does the teacher use? or What format can they take? on the pedagogical and technical issues and relating them to learning theory the teacher is in a stronger position to assess whether the introduction of podcasts helps achieve the learning outcomes.
There are a variety of formats that can be used when producing a podcast. There is the simple talk/radio monologue, which requires variety in the pitch and inclination of the speaker. The listener should get the sense that they are being spoken to directly. The dialogue format can involve two or more presenters in a discussion which offers the listener variety compared to the single speaker. The interview takes the form of questions and answers and offers the opportunity to talk to an expert in the area of study or allow students to question each other on a particular issue. With any of these formats it is helpful to have an outline script to guide the participants, which may avoid large amounts of editing at the end. A good podcast has a clear structure with an introduction outlining the content, the presenters and the aims followed by the main section. The conclusion should highlight the key points and introduce the main aim of the next podcast in the series. If the author decides to produce a series of podcasts it is advisable to keep the structure the same throughout. Make it clear to the listeners when each podcast is created. The length of the podcast depends on the aims and can vary from the full one-hour lecture to the three-minute interview. It must be remembered that the listener has to be engaged and maintaining their interest may influence the duration of the podcast [6, p. 3].
McGarr in her article “A review of podcasting in higher education: its influence on the traditional lecture” discussed the relationship between traditional lectures and podcasting in case of passive receivers of information (i.e., consumer of information) and active creators of knowledge (i.e., producers of information). In addition, McGarr distinguished three strategies for podcasting: substitutional, supplementary, and creative. Teachers can give students audio podcasts and thereby provide substitutes for lectures; however, this approach ensures students are passive receivers of information. In addition, teachers can use supplementary strategies that tend toward either greater passivity (e.g., teacher summarizes lectures or course content) or greater activity (e.g., students explore additional learning materials). Finally, teachers can adopt a creative strategy in which students produce and distribute podcasts to classmates and other learners [2, p.171].
Most articles about student learning and affective outcomes focus on author-produced podcasts, but some discuss student-produced podcasts. However, Blaine F. Peden and Benjamin Z. Domask explored that it is hard to find an article evaluating use of podcasts produced by individuals external to a course [2, p.173]. The researchers who study the question of using podcasts seldom identify any desired student learning outcomes; however, they implicitly endeavor to develop the knowledge base for the discipline. The most common use of a podcast is as a direct substitute for a lecture or other source of information such as an article. The methodological question is whether the most appropriate comparison is between the presence and absence of a podcast or between different formats for the presentation of the same information (i.e., reframed material).
Teachers who consider producing their own podcasts, using podcasts by others, or assigning podcasting projects to students should focus on student learning outcomes that they desire to promote. It is recommended to begin with reviewing the student learning outcomes pertinent to disciplinary knowledge, skills, and values. Then, explore numerous instructional resources ranging from articles and books to websites on digital story telling (e.g. englishclub.com or learn-english-today.com). For ideas about creative podcasts produced by teachers in the process of studying we can suggest weekly discussions, review sessions for tests, answering frequently asked questions, and even creating community in online courses. There can also be presented such ideas for student podcasts as summaries of course lectures (for distribution to the class), public service announcements, real world applications, movie reviews. The last step for teachers is to devise and systematically assess instructional use of podcasts in higher education.
Podcasting remains a simple and inexpensive technology available to both teachers and students. One more benefit of podcasts includes the ability to develop social networking and collaborative learning. Students can choose where and when they want to learn and those whose first language is Russian find podcasts particularly useful. Evidently, key skills including communication, time management, problem solving and critical thinking are developed during the process of teaching with podcasts.
However some researchers highlight the dangers of simply using podcasts because they are ‘new’. They state that learning is unlikely to be improved by the mere application of a new technology. The others report that students need to know not only what they are supposed to do, but why they are expected to do it and how it will enhance their learning if they are to engage with new mobile technologies. It is thus crucial for practitioners who are preparing to include podcasts in their teaching to ensure that the learning outcome desired is best achieved by the use of a podcast [6, p.4].
Nevertheless, a teacher can hardly find podcasts as a primary trend in English language teaching. The future of technologies being involved in the process of teaching is quite uncertain. Pondering on the existing trends and a wave of change, one can make a sensible guess that innovations in educational approaches and methods are moving from simplicity to complexity, from uniformity to diversity, from oneness to pluralism, from customary to embryonic ways of doing things, more towards flexibility, practicality and towards refinement of current practices in order to make a difference.
It is safe to say, there is no single most excellent way of teaching foreign languages. The successful language teacher does not confine himself or herself to only a single method. [3, p.65] A method which is appropriate with one class on one occasion does not necessarily suit to the same class at another time. Likewise, a method which is suitable for one language teacher while teaching a particular language item may not be applicable for other teacher in the same or similar context. There has been a gradual shift from a literature based foreign language to equipping learners with communicative skills for interaction globally.
A large number of researches and conference talks are devoted today to exploring current trends in English language teaching. Nonetheless, English language teachers do not remain reliant on fixed prescribed and imposed practices. Instead, they put into practice a great deal of diverse activities to keep themselves up-to-date and enhance their practices one of which has been dealt above.
Andrew Middleton. 100 great ideas for educational podcasting. – Sheffield Hallam University, 2008.
Blaine F. Peden, Benjamin Z. Domask. Do podcasts engage and educate college students? – University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 2010.
Sajan Kumar Karn. Current trends in ELT around the globe// Journal of NELTA. – 2007. – No. 1 & 2.
Tim Barry. Strategy for Using Podcasts for Teaching and Learning in the Biosciences// http://www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/ftp/tdf/barrystrategy.pdf .