Sharon's Third Report

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Contents

Field, Tenor and Mode Analysis of Talkshoe.com

Introduction

The various websites I have encountered that have been used for teaching how to use the media and internet have mostly paid attention to reading texts focusing on comprehension and vocabulary. In the quest for websites that try to engage students and promote all four areas of learning, I stumbled upon podcasting as a tool that could be used in a classroom situation. While researching different podcast websites, I chanced upon a website, www.talkshoe.com. This paper uses Halliday’s (1985) context of situation framework, focusing on field, tenor and mode, to analyze Talkshoe’s website.

Field

I found this to be an interesting website to analyze, as this is not just a place for people to interact via instant messaging or internet relay chats, but this site also includes a service that enables participants to listen to, create or even host interactive podcasts and audio-blogs. Here, there is no clear distinction between pod-casts and audio-blogs. However, the term “pod-cast” is a combination of two terms--namely, the brand name “Apple iPod” and “broadcast”. The term “audio-blogs” is similar, other than it is an MP3 blog with an MP3 formatting style. I believe these terms are used in order to cater to the visitors who are familiar with one or the other form of recording style. “Talkshoe” refers to a recorded podcast or audioblog session as a “TalkcastTM” session.

Visitors who sign in (without payment) to this website have access to live interactive software, conferencing, chat rooms, storage, advertisements, directory listings, and technical support, just to name a few examples. For those who sign up and pay a subscription fee, the full package is offered, which includes items mentioned above as well as the uploading of existing podcast episodes and unlimited recording hours. As hosts, they are able to earn money when other participants pay for downloading and participating in his or her talkcast sessions.

The website’s name, Talkshoe, has an interesting story behind it. "Talk" refers the company’s objective of allowing people to connect to others with common interests. "Shoe" came from watching the Ed Sullivan show where its host Ed Sullivan used to start off his program each week with the words "Tonight, we have a really big shoe," mispronouncing the word "show." Hence the name,Talk Shoe, a play on the mispronunciation of the word “show”.

Tenor

The participants on this website include the designers, managers, advertisers, talkcast hosts and the listeners/bloggers. Dave Nelsen is the founder and CEO of Talkshoe.com. As listed on the website, he has a small team to manage the website and even has someone to oversee product management. Among the management team and the various contributors to the website, the other participants that are involved are the listeners and the hosts of the web casts. They are the main users and, from what I can see, they are the biggest contributors to this website.

For a fee, users are able to participate in all the webcasts and are able to download recordings of the sessions. Talkshoe provides informational “talkcast” sessions to help the hosts and users maneuver through the site. They also provide strategies and advice to the hosts to help make the sessions more accessible to other users. A list of popular talkcasts is posted under the browse tab on the main page. Another tab on the main page takes the user to the website’s store, which lists a small number of products and books that can be purchased online.

Visitors to the website are able to listen in to talkcast sessions without giving any sort of information; however, if one would like to participate in the sessions then they will need to fill out some information and download the free software before they initiate any sort of interaction.

Talkcast sessions are automatically recorded, stored and made available to those who wish to listen to it again or to keep a record of the session. The hosts are in control of the talkcast sessions. They are given the tools to help with managing the sessions and have the ability to bar certain users from participating. The sessions, or what are referred to as “shows” on the website, are made available on other podcast directories and can also be accessed through the hosts’ personal websites or blogs. Off-line, users can retain and access the archived audio materials and even download them onto mobile devices such as i-Pods or mp3 players.

In terms of learner agency, the participants have control over the learning that takes place. The levels at which they participate in the talkcast are an indication of this. The participants are able to bring thoughts and experiences into the sessions and have the host provide some background or acknowledgement of the entries.

The level of interactivity on this website is quite high. Talkshoe.com takes podcasting a step further in that the user is not just a listener but has a choice to be a participant as well. As a participant, one is able to join in live talkcasts by contributing his or her thoughts and interacting with the host and other users who are taking part in the session at that time. The podcasts on this particular website can be in the form of audio talk shows, discussions, conversations and/or monologues.

Users are given the opportunity to host talkcast sessions. If users choose to host, they have the option of inviting people to a scheduled private session or making it open to the general public. What is interesting to note about this website is that the participants have the freedom to choose the level at which they would like to partake in the talkcast session. Hosts have additional controls including start/stop recording, muting, censoring, and request–to-talk queue management.

Mode

English is widely used throughout this website in both written and spoken channels. Judging from the ecclectic mix of topics and interests of the participants, there is a wide variety of registers and channels available for analysis. I will first present a general overview of the website in terms of mode and then go into further detail analyzing the mode structure (channel, register and discourse structure) by examining two different educational talkcast sessions.

On the home page, the top bar displays the company’s logo in the left-hand corner and the top right hand corner is devoted to information about the company by way of tab links. A search box is located just below the tab links. This top bar is consistent throughout the different levels. The main body of the home page is divided into three sections, with the top portion devoted to thumbnail icons that link to: (a) a “directory” icon which links to a database of the different talkcast sessions previously recorded, (b) a “live now” icon that links to a list of talkcast sessions that are going on live at the time, and (c) a “create” icon which links to a page that gives information on how to conduct a talkcast session. Users are able to access the same information either through a thumbnail image or text.

In regard to channel, this variety in semiotic resources helps to address the different learning styles of the learners that use this website. The lower portion of the homepage is further separated into two sections. On the left, there is a list of featured “talkcasts” and some live sessions taking place and in the section on the right, there are tabs linking to demos on the use of the website, making money from hosting and further resources. Here the sections are clearly distinctive from each other by means of two different colors used in each section, which is a preface to multimodality. Demos offered by the website are accessible through video, further showing the multimodal aspect of this website.

As another characteristic of multimodality, each talkcast session starts out with a short jingle. Sessions are conducted by both male and female hosts. Depending on the type of show, there could be a single talk show host or a team of hosts. In one particular talkcast session, I noticed the host had focused on and permitted one participant to use his voice-over IP while the other participants contributed via typed text blog. Learners that may use this website have autonomy at the level and channel (text or spoken) in which they choose to participate.

Each talkcast session has a thumbnail image accompanied by a short text description of the program. Ratings for talkcast sessions are also provided. Ratings are categorized as follows: “A” for all udience, “PC” for parental ontrol, and ”EX” for explicit. A search box is located in the top left corner of each screen page. Here, learners have the opportunity to type in his or her topic of interest and decide if he or she is interested in a session after reading the short description.

When “Spanish” was typed into the search box, a few sessions were listed. On “La Gringa”, the ten-minute lesson, which explicitly states in the description that there is no grammar in any lesson, is conducted in English. Those who participate in this session will need to access another website. The image that accompanies this title is a thumbnail of a Spanish flamenco dancer. On either sides of the thumbnail, the words “Spanish in 10 minutes” and “No Grammar” are displayed, invoking interest with the ease of learning another language. The host of this talkcast session is talking through a specific website outside of the Talkshoe website. However, access to that website is restricted to those who have not paid. The multimodality aspect is featured, as not only do the participants take part in the talkcast session, but they also follow a lesson on another site. Here, we see that the spoken and written channels are utilized. The host is using more of a translation method of teaching Spanish, telling the listeners the target words or sentences and repeating them, then translating it to English and again repeating the target words. When the Spanish language is used, the discourse is conversational, catering to a beginner-level Spanish learner. English language speakers who are learning Spanish through this talkcast are exposed to a discourse type that is instructional in nature yet posessing an informal feel. Furthermore, the host’s discourse slows down when stating the target words for that lesson.

The second educational talkcast that I looked into is intended for English language learners. This show is entitled “Cultural Soup” and is conducted by an ESL teacher from Alberta, Canada. It is, ‘‘an informative and fun look at culture, language, customs and trends that make up our global village.’’ In addition to the talkcast session, the host posts blogs of the sessions on another website, www.blogspot.com. Learners are able to review what was done during the session through a summary posted by the host, carrying through the learning experience by means of another channel. When I looked at some of the blog postings, I noted that there were no comments.. The discourse style is teacher-talk in nature with some informal types of speech used on occasion when the host provides some news for that day, she makes personal references to those that have joined in the talkcast session.

A number of discourse styles can be found in other talkcast sessions. Some sessions were more technical in nature, for example focusing on computer language, while others were informal. The main website in general is instructional and informational. A sample of this website can be found under the “frequently asked questions” section. A more dialogic discourse style is used within the talkcast sessions, whether the discourse is spoken or typed.

To take a look at a sample Screenshot of a “talkcast” session (scroll to the middle of the page). Here we see that discussions are conducted through an online forum. Participants/learners are able to respond by posting his or her comments to the host or other users who are participating in the session. The postings are non-traditional in that threads are placed in a horizontal manner as opposed to the vertical threads found in most other online chat forums.

Conclusion

As a learning tool, this website provides the opportunity for users to participate and contribute at a level that they are comfortable in. If used in a classroom setting, the students could take turns hosting a session with the teacher as the initial host and the students following suit. The communicative aspect is also considered in that the authenticity of the material, whether written or spoken, is taken into account. However, in other sessions the level of discourse may not be suitable for the beginner or intermediate levels.

The pedagogical implication to this is that learners are able to not just read and type their thoughts but rather they are able to listen to authentic speech and interact with other users, thus focusing on all four learning competencies.

Bibliography

Halliday, M.A.K. (1985) Language, context and text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective. London: Oxford University Press.

TalkShoe interactive podcasting and audioblogging. Retrieved June 7, 2007, from http://www.talkshoe.com

Cultural Soup. Retrieved June 21, 2007, from http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/talkCast.jsp?masterId=20085&cmd=tc

Cultural Soup Blog. Retrieved June 21, 2007, from http://eslteacherlynn.blogspot.com

La Gringa. Retrieved June 21, 2007, from http://www.talkshoe.com/talkshoe/web/talkCast.jsp?masterId=35650&cmd=tc

Wikipedia. Retrieved June 7, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcasting

Wikipedia. Retrieved June 7, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/audioblog

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