For some time now I've been looking into ways to create online speaking activities that allow test-takers to practice and develop their speaking ability without necessarily needing a teacher or expert there to ensure they are getting better. By the same token, I didn't want the usual stuff I see about the Net, like basic listen and repeat, or speak and compare to a model answer.
What I wanted was a guided approach that allowed a student to record an answer, then look at some specific tips and examples, and re-record it, in effect creating a comparison the student could see and learn from him/herself.
IBT Speaking Self-Trainer is my first major attempt at an alternative.
There's only one task set up so far, with application to the first part of the iBT speaking section. Basically, it allows a person to record 6 or more responses to a set question, following a series of guided steps, each of which is designed to bring something new to the answer - something to enhance or direct it in a new way. It works heavily on the principle that learners can and will reflect on and improve their performance on their own, if given the right kind of framework to do so.
We'll see how this first Beta version goes, and then look at enhancing and improving it based on the feedback and visitation patterns we get. If all goes well, we'll expand it for application to multiple tasks within each part of the speaking section of the IBT test. I also think it has some powerful potential for developing writing skills as well.
Note for teachers:
If you're a teacher that works from (or has access to work from) a computer lab with your students, the IBT Speaking Self-Trainer could become a very valuable tool. It allows you to get even large classes of students working independently on their speaking through a series of well-organized steps, and it also provides you with a chance to walk around and help individual students at different points of progress. I'd just advise that you stick to the central idea of this being self-training, with the student responsible for his/her own efforts as well as reflecting on how progress is or is not happening.
Let's hope this goes somewhere!