The teaching and learning of listening has become more practical and affordable with the support of Internet technology and the World Wide Web. English listening websites are growing exponentially and promise an authentic and interactive language learning experience. This allows learning to be conducted outside class in the form of web-based independent study. Although learners in general show positive attitudes towards web-based materials due to their novelty, convenience, authenticity, and rich cultural content, web-based language learning materials have been criticised because of their quality and the way they explore the medium. Because they contain unregulated materials, English listening websites need to be thoroughly evaluated to determine their effectiveness, but studies that have focused specifically on the listening components of English learning websites are lacking.
This study examined the benefits of using web-based listening materials in an independent study program to learners of English as a foreign language at university level. In order to do this, the judgmental and empirical evaluation framework proposed by Chapelle (2001) was adopted. This integrated approach has produced a comprehensive analysis of the characteristics of English listening websites and the use of these types of web-based listening materials in the independent study context. Seventy-eight English department students at a university in Indonesia participated voluntarily in the empirical evaluation. The study was conducted in three stages. In the first stage, the general, technical and pedagogical design features of English listening websites were evaluated using the Comprehensive Evaluation Criteria checklist for evaluating English learning websites developed by Yang and Chan (2008). In the second stage, the learning tasks were examined using a checklist adapted from the Task Appropriateness Criteria developed by Chapelle (2001) and the focus questions for selecting computer-based listening materials proposed by Chapelle and Jamieson (2008). For the empirical evaluation in the third stage of the study, quantitative and qualitative data from questionnaires, learning journals, group interviews, listening proficiency tests and course management system logs were analysed to describe not only learners’ perceptions of the web-based listening materials but also the benefits they gained and the challenges they experienced in using the materials in the independent study program.
The empirical evaluation findings confirm and supplement those of the judgmental evaluations. Although the participants found the web-based listening materials interesting, suitably varied in topics, tasks and accents, and useful for practising listening, the findings showed that improvements to the general, technical and pedagogical design of the evaluated English listening websites would make them generally more beneficial for independent study use. The findings suggest, therefore, that modifications to the general and technical design of English listening websites should focus on improving the usability of these websites, improving learners’ motivation, and minimising technical problems. Improvements to the pedagogical design should provide learners with 1) the appropriate scaffolding they need to comprehend aural texts and perform listening tasks independently; 2) sufficient control to promote learning confidence and independence; and 3) meaningful and relevant language learning experiences that highlight the listening process.
The present study indicates that the use of web-based listening materials in the independent study program can be used to supplement classroom listening because learners benefit from the materials and the control they have over how they use the materials. The web-based listening independent study experiences contributed to learners’ positive perceptions of web-based listening, improved listening proficiency and general knowledge, improved learning confidence and independence, and also improved electronic literacy. The learning experiences also provide learners with opportunities to use various learning strategies based on their individual needs and learning styles. However, the findings confirm that learners should be given adequate support in managing their independent study because it is difficult for them to maintain their focus and motivation in the program otherwise.
The study contributes to advancements in the teaching of listening, improving English listening websites, improving web-based independent listening study program design, and a refinement of English listening websites evaluation criteria. Future studies should be extended to cover different levels of listening proficiency, various types of English learning websites and web-based scaffolding features, different types of listening materials and approaches, as well as various integration models of web-based listening materials in listening syllabuses.