(reviewed Fall 2008)
Reviewer: Minuta Botea
Recommendation: Recommended with Reservations
Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab Web site is designed for assisting ESL/ EFL students (and teachers) who are interested in focusing their attention on listening, but are also interested in integrating the other three skills (speaking, reading, and writing). Students are encouraged to use the material autonomously, in pairs/groups, or in classroom settings for the main purpose of discovering new ways to learn/practice English through easy-to-use activities and exercises. The users are invited to the ESL blog to make suggestions and bring fresh ideas to facilitate the usage and enhance the efficiency of the available materials. The Web site was created and financed by Randall Davis, an ESL instructor, who currently receives funds through targeted advertising to maintain and update the site. Apparently, Davis has taught ESL in Japan for eight years, has given lectures and workshops in many countries, including US, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Peru, and Saudi Arabia.
As its title indicates, Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab is centered on various listening activities that assist beginning, intermediate, and advanced learners in their studies, providing them with real-life topics. Rather than providing tedious and questionable grammatical explanations, Randall’s ESL Lab concentrates on presenting concrete and simple audio activities to assist the students in everyday life situations (doctor’s office, college life, job hunting, family relationships, car repair, cooking instructions, telephone messaging, and so on).
Although it contains various practical activities for students, I would recommend the Web site with reservation. Despite the fact that many students may find most of the material useful and fairly well organized, there are some pre-listening activities that don’t seem directly related to/connected with the recorded conversations/dialogues. For instance, the pre-listening material that is used to introduce material called “Online University Degrees through Distance Education” asks students to think of the steps in renting online movies. Another concern would be that the credentials of the author of this Web site are not available. In his autobiographical section, Randall Davis just briefly mentions his educational background. Also, he doesn’t clarify what is the institution he currently works for as an ESL instructor.
Some of the sponsors who advertise their products on the main page of the Web site promote must-have degrees, products, or materials that would enhance students’ efficiency. First of all, many of these products are sold for prices that are beyond most students’ budget/financial resources, as seen in the case of SANS (Software and Network Solutions), which advertises audio and video technology that promise to maximize sound quality for interactive learning solutions. Second, these products don’t seem necessary for most students unless they participate in online academic courses or conferences. There are also some ads by Google that invite the learners to pursue some interesting “ESL worksheets” or “ESL assessments,” but when following these links, they can find only invitations to pursue various credential/master programs or K-12 assessments for general education.
There is a small section of the Web site called “Hiking in Utah” where Davis, an aficionado of outdoor activities, posts detailed presentations and pictures of some spectacular scenery in his native state.
Finally, the author of the Web site provides some contact information and encourages both students and teachers to e-mail him their suggestions, comments, pieces of advice, and even corrections to specific activities/material.
Subject Headings: ESL students, listening practice