Saturday, 31 January 2015

Online meetings pack | An update

Business publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and the Harvard Business Review have been covering the rise of internet-facilitated meetings for a number of years. Experts have alternately claimed that face-to-face meetings would disappear completely, or that the trend towards online would fade. The current situation is that a blend of face-to-face and web meetings has become standard practice for many business professionals.

Rob Szabó and I set ourselves the task of piloting some simple online meeting materials for use in-company before the IATEFL BESIG conference in Bonn. We envisioned these test resources forming the basis or model for a full online meetings training pack. We soon came to realise that we had underestimated the challenge ahead of us. We experimented with recording, downloading, editing and converting WebEx, Adobe Connect and Skype sessions, only to be confronted with numerous technical challenges (poor quality audio and video,separate audio and video files that had to be spliced together, propriety software controls, etc.) By February 2014 and after concerted efforts, we had a first video recording which was trialled with students. We transcribed about 2 minutes of video and created before, during and after listening exercises to go with the recording, focusing on skills and language that students would need for their own web meetings.

Our key claims are as follows:

The language, communication skills, and interaction patterns in web meetings are distinct from other forms of business discourse. Clive Shepherd and Phil Green refer to this in Online meetings: a Facilitator’s Guide, when they discuss the new communication patterns enabled by the public or private chat box feature. “We would probably feel uncomfortable if people seated around a table passed notes to each other during a meeting.” (Shepherd and Green. pg 28)

Authentic listening material is critical for relevant and effective training. Many studies support this assertion. For example, a 2014 Iranian study separated 60 learners into an experimental group that worked with authentic listening material and control group that did not. Listening comprehension in the experimental group was found to surpass that of the control group. This is arguably because “The language which is used in the classroom doesn’t reflect the real language which native speakers are used in their daily communications.” (Alijani et al. pg 152)

The various platforms available for online meetings (e.g. Cisco WebEx and Adobe Connect) provide the tools with which to generate and capture authentic audio and video. A number of software products exist for capturing audio and teachers have been using them for years. Vicky Saumell mentions a few on her blog on education technology, but makes no reference to Adobe or WebEx:

Naturalistic transcription is a learnable skill that business English trainers should look to develop. We believe that the mastery of at least basic transcription skills would allow trainers to assist students with an understanding of natural language production and how false starts, hesitation, ellipsis, reported speech, vague language and question tags (Thornbury, 2006, pg 211) are employed. There is a tendency, when first attempting to transcribe texts, to correct errors and to remove confusing or illogical elements. This is to be avoided. “Transcription practices can be thought of in terms of a continuum with two dominant modes: naturalism, in which every utterance is transcribed in as much detail as possible, and denaturalism, in which idiosyncratic elements of speech (e.g., stutters, pauses, nonverbals, involuntary vocalizations) are removed.” (Oliver et al. 2005, pg 1)

This is a work in progress. Since our November presentation in Bonn, we have continued to experiment with various platforms in order to develop our understanding of the genre, the available software and platforms, and their potential for creating useful business English resources. Our aim is to share the web meeting resources we create, and updates on our progress, via our blogs at.


Alijani, S, Maghsoudi, M and Madani, D. (2014) The Effect of Authentic vs. Non-authentic Materials on Iranian EFL Learners’ Listening Comprehension Ability. International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature Vol 3 No 3. accessed online 20/11/2014.

Green, P and Shepherd, C. (2011) Online meetings: a facilitator's guide. 28.

Oliver, D. G., Serovich, J. M., & Mason, T. L. (2005). Constraints and Opportunities with Interview Transcription: Towards Reflection in Qualitative Research. Social Forces; a Scientific Medium of Social Study and Interpretation, 84(2), pg 1273–1289.

Thornbury, S. (2006) An A-Z of ELT: A dictionary of terms and concepts used in English Language Teaching. MacMillan, pg 211.

(This post was primarily written by Rob Szabó.)

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