Podcasts are beneficial to language education in both supplementing limited class hours and providing students with enjoyable opportunities to immerse themselves in the target language. This is especially true at the tertiary level of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) education in Japan, where students are not given enough learning hours to improve their communicative skills in English. The writer has been involved in the development and delivery of original-content weekly EFL podcasts since 2008. Through the last five years of development and implementation of in-class, out-of-class, and blended learning activities using the podcasts, two major challenges have been identified. Firstly, providing fun and effective learning opportunities using podcasts could be the initial step to fostering autonomy in learning. Secondly, listening activities in the classroom should include more active learning activities, since traditional English listening classes too often tend to focus on individualized and receptive activities.
In this paper, in an attempt to address the challenges introduced above, a particular classroom practice is reported in which original EFL podcasts and Web-Based Training (WBT) were used for both integrating individulalized learning outside the class and promoting in-class cooperative learning activities. This practice was conducted for six weeks in two classes for first-year college students majoring in science, applied biology, and education at a national university in Japan. Outside of the class, students were requested to listen to podcast episodes and work on online dictation practices using the episodes and “KED System” － a WBT authoring system developed by the writer. With the KED System, students can improve their listening skills through repeated dictation practices, after which they receive prompt feedback that allows the students to check their answers as often as they want. In addition, part of the class hours were devoted to two paper-based activities: summarizing the episodes the students listened to, and working in pairs/groups on the dictogloss activities using parts of the podcasts.
The findings of the paper are as follows: (1) A statistically significant increase (p<.05) was found between the pre/post test scores; (2) Despite their high performance in out-of-class dictation tasks, the students did not find it helpful in grasping the overall meaning of the dialogs; (3) Positive comments were found on collaborative activities involving dictogloss, while there was still room for improvements in how pairing/grouping can be done; (4) Further improvements can be made when utilizing Hiroshima University’s English Podcast in classes for first-year students.