The Reading Matrix
Vol. 3, No. 3, November 2003

EASE (Essential Academic Skills in English) Volume 1: Listening to Lectures
Reviewed by Nicholas Peachey


EASE (Essential Academic Skills in English) Volume 1: Listening to Lectures


The University of Warwick


Windows 98, ME, 2000, NT, XP. EASE is not recommended for Windows 95 users.

Minimum hardware requirements: for PC

PC: Pentium Processor 486 or better, Minimum
32 megabytes RAM
Software resizes itself to suit screen resolution
Recommended 16-bit colour display driver or better.

Minimum hardware requirements: for Macintosh

At present there is no Mac disc but this is under consideration.

Technical Support:

Users should in the first instance email with their query. Any known issues are dealt with via a website , where users can download any fixes. As this is the third version of ease we're confident it is pretty stable. Institutional Disc users / users with site-licenses can call for telephone support especially regarding particular networking requirements.

EASE (Essential Academic Skills in English) Volume 1 'Listening to Lectures' is a CD-ROM based course aimed at developing the ability of Intermediate level EAP students studying or wishing to study in a higher level English language educational environment.

This particular disc, one in a series of three, aims to develop students' abilities to listen to, follow, identify key information and arguments and take notes during lectures.

I found that running the program even on a machine that met only the minimum requirement of the software, it still remained stable and was able to function at a reasonable speed.

The course is designed around 89 high quality video clips from authentic lectures given on a wide range of subjects by various practising lecturers at Warwick University . The video material is exploited through a range of interactive exercise types which include matching, multiple choice, ordering, clicking on hotspots, cloze text and free text writing.

Pedagogical Approach
The instructional material, which is divided into six units, is approached in a very 'top down' manner building the users understanding of the way the overall lecture is structured and how to identify important phrases that separate key stages. It then goes into more detail about content and how arguments are developed and supported, whilst building on vocabulary and developing the users' ability to take accurate notes of key information.

(Fig. 1 EASE contents menu)

User Interface
Once installed the software has been designed to operate within what looks very much like a Windows Explorer interface. Users can click on the arrows in the top left of the browser to move between pages and click on the folder icons to go to different sections of the material. This should help to make the environment more familiar and so more intuitive.

(Fig.2 EASE browser interface)

The 'browser' menu bar has a number of very useful built in functions. Access to a built in dictionary and a user note pad 'scrap book' for keeping notes are both very valuable study tools and well integrated with each other. You can easily copy from the dictionary to the 'scrap book' and, by clicking on a hotword, also access the particular part of a video clip where words from the dictionary were used, to hear them in context.

The help feature seems very comprehensive and gives description accompanied by pictures of how each of the exercise types work as well as how to use the various study features. The average user with a basic level of IT literacy should have little problem operating this software independently.

All the exercises offer the user feedback of some kind, varying from correct or incorrect, prompts with clues to try again and comparison with model answers. Detailed feedback is usually presented in a pop up window which includes links to specific places in the video clips that relate to that answer so that users can either try again or reinforce their understanding.

(Fig. 3 media player accessed by clicking on link from dictionary)

The floating media player can be resized either bigger or smaller and by clicking an icon the user can have access to a written transcription of the lecture. This transcription also contains words that can be clicked on to get glossary definitions.

The materials although very well designed on the level of instruction have some weaknesses in terms screen design. The media player at times obscures the exercises and I found I had to constantly be resizing it or moving it around the screen in order to access buttons and text for the exercises. I felt it would have been better to embed the media player and design the screens around this, although this would have made resizing the text and the media player impossible.

Some pages are poorly laid out with rather long scrolling text rubrics despite wide empty spaces on other parts of the page. Generally it's better to avoid scrolling text where possible as users have a tendency no to notice the scroll bars.

(Fig. 4 scrolling text rubric)

Some of the icons used, particularly those for the dictionary, scrapbook and submit buttons give little indication as to the function of the button, although there are clear tool tips when the mouse floats over them.

(Fig. 5 browser buttons)

Aiming the material at an intermediate level I think is also very optimistic as the content and wide ranging subject matter of the lectures in many cases demands a great deal of specialist knowledge and high level vocabulary, as does in some cases the rubric that accompanies the exercises.

One feature that I particularly liked was that the text introduction at the beginning of each of the six units also had audio accompaniment. I felt that this was something that could have been continued through out the disc, especially considering the length of some of the rubrics.

Despite these few criticisms EASE is a thoroughly designed and well thought out product which would, I believe, be very effective in achieving its learning goals for a strong intermediate or advanced level student. It makes very good use of the medium, being a truly multimedia product which exposes users to a wide range of accents and also provides a high degree of interactivity and structured skill development. The excellently designed feedback facility would make it ideally suited to users working at home or in a self access centre without teacher support and the built in study skills features give the user the opportunity to develop sound computer based study habits.































Nicholas Peachey has worked as an ELT Teacher, Teacher Trainer and ICT trainer for both British Council and International House in schools around the world. He is also a materials writer and has worked on a number of CD-ROM projects for British Council and Longman ELT and contributed both teaching and training materials to a number of websites including: and .