Italian Steps is hosted on the BBC website and is a beginner's online, multi media, interactive course comprising six self-contained units organised in themes related to everyday life in Italy. Each theme has at least four subtopics with activities that can be explored either individually or with the tutor. Italian Steps is an excellent resource for language educators and students initiating their studies in the Italian language. The site has a link to the general objectives for each theme with brief explanations of the grammatical concepts.The syllabus matches the Common European Framework Level I, which is recognized across Europe as a benchmark for simple conversational language.
Speaking and writing skills
Target Student Population:
Italian Steps cater for a variety of adult groups such as beginning students of Italian at high school, Further or Higher Education and adults who have heard Italian spoken to them and wish to learn the basics of the language at their own speed through authentic examples and with a native speaker. Moreover, it can also be used by adults who already know some Italian as they can try the Fast Track - a quick journey through Italian Steps, and a way to check how much they already know or those who wish to revise and reinforce the key language covered in the various contexts. Above all, it is useful for those adults who complete the beginner's course in 12 weeks either individually or in a class, followed by an 'end of course' assessment to see how well the have done - they are awarded a BBC certificate for their motivation and efforts.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Basic IT skills to navigate the site, participate in the interactive exercises, download and use the Learning Log
Type of Material:
web-based, online, tutorial for drill and practice, self- or tutor-led formative assessment or quiz to test oral communication skills is specific contexts, assignment for building sentences using accurate grammar and vocabulary suitable not only for beginners but also for post-beginners wishing to check their learning or refresh their knowledge of the Italian language
Learners are recommended that they follow the Steps in sequence, though they can just dip into the individual topics, sub topics or other aspects such as grammar, vocabulary and fact files. The course has been devised to be used in short sessions that learners can fit around their own schedule, whenever and for however long it suits them as individuals. Frequent, short visits are recommended to help them fix the language in their memory.
Evaluation and Observation
Each theme has a clear purpose and has adequate depth to learn about the topics via their sub topics which include sufficient current, accurate and relevant material. The topics are self-contained (can be used without requiring an assignment or context)but may be re-purposed (can be used in several situations) and transferrable. Most importantly, the content is authentic with learning objects that transport the learner to Italy.
The grammar section is especially relevant to the topic being studied and the quiz section engages the learner
The Speak and Write section at the bottom of the screen could include the facility to record the learner's voice (since this resource claims to develop the writing skills) and the written answer which could later be checked for accuracy in pronunciation and content.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
Each theme in the Italian Steps course identifies learning objectives which enables the independent learner to design the course to meet their needs; for example, someone who is planning to visit Italy using public transport can learn to buying train tickets which is also linked to the Fact Files with further explanations about the italian railway system. Every slide show has an option to display the conversations in italian or with English translations to help learners build up their self-confidence.
The course is a useful teacher resource especially as it brings autheticity into the learning environment in an integrated curriculum. Furthermore, it is useful for differentiation purposes. The "What's happening now" section at the end of each slide shows develops creative thinking skills and advanced learners could be encouraged to apply their ideas and demonstrate their speaking and writing skills. Independent learners could also click on the tabs Vocabulary List and Grammar Tips to explore vocabulary and learn how to use them. Additional resources such as the BBC grammar book could be referred to for in depth study of certain aspects.
Overall, this module is every effective as a teaching tool
The Vocabulary, Build Sentences, Write and Speak exercises could be more learner-centred with explanations for incorrect answers. The red cross and the green tick are indications only; adult learners especially the independent learners perfer to discover the correct answer through reasoning and less so through trial and error.
The Learning Log could better achieve its purpose if hyperlinked to each of the listening, speaking and writng tasks in the individual themes instead of being available as a downloadable, printable Word file. The former would enable immediate recording of learning and highlight crucial points in the learning.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The user (tutors and learners) can use the User Guide and the Syllabus to explore the site making the visually appealing Italian Steps easy to use. Navigation is via the list on the left hand side of the screen displaying the themes, Vocabulary Lists, Grammar Tips, Fact Files and the Learning Log. Clear and consistent instructions facilitate access to entire themes. Within individual themes, further instructions in English, working hyperlinks and multimedia assist in advancing the learning.
Overall, the usability of this module is very high