My Favorite MindTap Feature: Bongo for Speaking Assessments

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Jennifer Rogers is the Foreign Language Coordinator and an instructor of Spanish at Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, MO


I am a longtime user of MindTap for World Languages. As new features and functionalities are added to the platform, I’m always excited to try them in my classes. One of my favorite tools within the MindTap platform is the Bongo app. This app is designed for listening and speaking activities. It can also be used for group projects, writing projects (with a file upload), and video activities. In my classes, I use Bongo primarily for formative and summative speaking assessments. I’ll share how I use this app in MindTap to get valuable time back in my schedule, increase student engagement, and improve student oral proficiency.

“I don’t have time in my schedule to do as many speaking assessments as I would like.”

I hear this so often from other faculty members, and I often felt this way in the past. For example, conducting one-on-one oral interviews with students took up two full class periods. Each interview lasted approximately 5-7 minutes per student and with 25-28 students per class, that took two full days of class. Since implementing Bongo for formative speaking assessments and summative assessments, I can now use those days for other enriching content such as culture or authentic readings. Every instructor has felt the “pinch” at different times during the semester when we feel we must rush through content to stay on track with the syllabus. Bongo has given me back two days, and I couldn’t be happier!


Bongo for formative speaking assessments

For a formative speaking assessment, the goal in second-language acquisition is to increase students’ time on tasks. The more times we can get students to practice speaking, the better. It isn’t always easy (and in some cases such as online learning), to get students to practice speaking in an authentic manner. The challenge we face is getting students to submit authentic work that they created without the help of any outside translation tools.

With the Individual Assignment feature in Bongo, I typically give students a prompt that I want them to discuss, describe, or narrate. With this type of assignment, the student can spend time preparing their submission by reviewing key words or phrases they want to use in their submission. They can prepare themselves and take their time in doing so. When they are ready, students hit “record” and the video recording begins. When they finish their recording, students can watch themselves and if they aren’t satisfied with their recording, they can delete and re-record as many times as they would like. Knowing they have unlimited chances to create their best recording, students often record and re-record many times!


Bongo for summative speaking assessments

As I previously mentioned, one of the summative assessments I conduct in my classes is the oral interview. I ask a question and students answer the question. It’s one way to mimic “real life” communication in a conversation format. Using the Question & Answer assignment type on  Bongo has been fantastic. One of the greatest frustrations I have experienced in recent years is the pervasive use of tools such as Google Translate. Students submit work that is obviously not their own, but it can be difficult to impose any corrective action because it’s not typically something where I can catch them “in the act.”

The Question & Answer assignment feature is the solution. This allows me to ask a question of students (either in written question format or video format) and they do not have time to stop, do a quick Google Translate, and then answer the question. I can set the time limit before the recording automatically begins. Students see a video of me asking them a question, a countdown from 10 seconds begins, when the timer gets to zero, it automatically starts recording the student. Since this is a summative assessment, students get one chance and can’t delete and re-record.

For best practice, I tell my students if they realize they’ve made a mistake in their response and want to start over to simply say “scratch that! I’m starting over,” and then begin again without stopping the recording. In the assignment creation process you can determine how long you want the countdown to be. You can also set the minimum and maximum recording time, and record the student’s screen.


Why is Bongo effective in the world language classroom?

Eighty-eight percent of students report that their reason for taking a language class is to be able to communicate in the target language. Not because it’s required, not because their advisor told them to, but because they wanted to be able to communicate in another language. The more opportunities we give students to speak in the target language, the better. In classes of 25+ students, this is often a challenge. Bongo is a wonderful tool to give students opportunities to practice speaking in a low-stakes environment using the Individual Assignment. The Question & Answer Assignments give instructors more in-class time and help eliminate academic dishonesty in oral speaking assessments.


Tips and best practices

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of giving students ample opportunities to practice speaking in the target language. The Individual Assignment feature in Bongo is perfect for students to have a low-stakes, low-stress opportunity to record themselves. The sooner you assign these activities, the better. Getting them accustomed to speaking in the target language as quickly as possible leads to increased engagement in all speaking activities.

For the Question & Answer Assignments, I’ve found that it’s important to assign one or two as practice or as a low-stakes assignment. That way, students can familiarize themselves with how the activity works. I created this video that I post in my MindTap learning path before the Bongo assignment. It walks them through how Bongo works and helps them understand what to expect.

The first few semesters I used the Question & Answer activity for a summative oral interview, I did not prepare students in advance, and it didn’t go well. I realized that it wasn’t necessarily going poorly due to students’ lack of ability but rather due to their lack of understanding of how the assignment would go (with the countdown to the automatic recording, etc.). Once I realized this, I began assigning a few Question & Answer assignments early on so they could get the hang of it. Adding the video that shows them exactly what to expect made the results even better. Students are always extremely nervous about oral exams, so lowering that affective filter is so important.

As a Cengage Faculty Partner, I often hear instructors tell me, “I don’t think my students would be ready to do a speaking activity/assessment as early in the semester as you are describing.” I always share that any opportunity you can give students to practice speaking is time well spent. In over-filled classes, it is difficult for each student to have the opportunity to speak and receive feedback. This is where Bongo is the answer.

The more times a student attempts the same speaking activity, the more proficient they become. With increased proficiency comes increased confidence followed by increased participation. Increased participation leads to communication and as the statistics show, that’s the goal of most language learners. I can’t wait for you to try Bongo in your class. I would love to collaborate with you on topics or speaking prompts!


Join Jennifer for a walkthrough of the Bongo MindApp in this tutorial video: