DOWNLOAD:  Using Audio-conferencing
Using Audio-conferencing

A. What is audio-conferencing software?

Audio-conferencing software uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to allow two or more users to have a spoken conversation online in real time. Here are four examples of audio-conferencing tools which are free and easily accessible:

The features of different audio-conferencing tools vary, such as the maximum number of participants, video capabilities, or whether the sessions are recordable. Another important consideration is whether audio transmission is via half duplex, which only allows users to speak one at a time by means of a “push-to-talk” button (i.e., similar to a walkie-talkie), or full duplex, which permits two-way simultaneous communication (i.e., like a telephone conversation). A summary of these key characteristics is provided in Table 1.

Table 1: Comparison of some features of four freely available audio-conferencing tools
Audio-conferencing tool
Maximum no. participants
Audio technology
Video capabilities?
Sessions recordable?
Full duplex
yes (free for up to two participants; pay version required for conference calls)
yes (by means of call recording software)
Google Talk
Full duplex
Elluminate vRoom
Half duplex
Half duplex
yes (sessions automatically recorded)

Due to its widespread popularity and ease of use, in the rest of this activity we will concentrate specifically on Skype, although much of the general information is also relevant for the other audio-conferencing tools.

As we shall see, Skype sessions can be easily recorded using call recording software, thus enabling teachers and students to replay the conversations once the original speaking session has ended.

B. Why would I want to use audio-conferencing in my classroom?

One of the most obvious reasons for using audio conferencing in your classes is for a tandem speaking exchange to allow your learners to come into contact with native speakers of the language they are learning. If the native speakers are also learning the language of your students, the benefits for both groups could be reciprocal, with approximately half the time devoted to the language your students are learning and the other half to the language the others are studying. If you are interested in setting up such an exchange, the following sites are excellent sources of information:

Tandem exchanges, however, are not the only possible use for audio-conferencing. Students in the same class can also be asked to do pair or small group speaking tasks online outside of class as homework in order to practise their oral skills in the language they are learning. Whether used for tandem exchanges or between students in the same class, students can record Skype conferences using CallBurner (see next section) and send the file to their teacher for feedback and/or assessment. As part of the activity, students could be asked to listen to their recordings and reflect on their performance.

Please note: CallBurner is compatible ONLY with Windows 7, XP, Vista or 2000. Recorders available for other operating systems are:

Ecamm Call Recorder. The demo version is free for the first seven days. After that time a license must be purchased.

Linux: Skype Call Recorder. This is an open source application available completely free of charge.

This initiative is carried out within the framework of a cooperation agreement between the European Centre for Modern Languages and the European Commission, entitled INNOVATIVE METHODOLOGIES AND ASSESSMENT IN LANGUAGE LEARNING