A.M. Tomaino, C.I. Agosti

Macquarie University (AUSTRALIA)
Although much has been written about the advantages of using technology not only in education in general but also in the acquisition of additional languages (Cabot, 2001; García, 1991;González-Bueno, 1998;Higgins, 1988; Johns, 1991;Valverde, 2004), there is a paucity of research on the concept of student engagement in relation to the use of technology to enhance the overall language acquisition process and oral communication in particular. This paper presents the use of technology, more precisely a synchronous communication voice tool, as a means to enhance undergraduate student engagement in the process of Spanish language acquisition in an Australian university. The paper analyses the essence of engagement and the pivotal role that it plays in student achievement of learning outcomes (Biggs, 2003; Bowen, 2005; Markwell, 2007; Solomonides, 2008). The paper then considers why, given the current Australian Higher education context with its diverse student population stemming from the push for social inclusion and internationalization, engagement has become a particularly important teaching strategy. The paper goes on to discuss how, after initial guidance from the tutors, the voice tool promoted students’ taking responsibility of their own learning. It also discusses the effect that this tool had in optimizing the development of all facets of oral communication skills (i.e. phonemic, supra-segmental and lexico-grammatical) and how it enabled tutors to provide personalized feedback on issues related to pronunciation, intonation and stress patterns without resulting in loss of face for students. Advantages and shortcomings of this tool as well as of those of other tools available on the market are also addressed. This paper also presents students’ answers to a questionnaire which sought to uncover their perceptions regarding the effect that the use of the voice tool had on their engagement with the language course as well as on the development of their oral skills.