There is a good reason for my 3 month blogging hiatus. Since January, work has taken me to Chile for 2 weeks, Egypt for a week, India for 3 weeks, and Moscow for a week. And then the TESOL US conference in Portland followed immediately by the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, UK – another 2 weeks of longhaul flights, international airports and jetlag. All of these trips have involved training and conference talks/plenaries on the topic of education and technology. And especially on the use of mobile devices in language teaching.
During my talk at the recent IATEFL Harrogate conference, called ‘Teaching with mobile devices: Choices and challenges’ (see the video recording here), the audience used their mobile devices to send in questions via Poll Everywere. There were several questions which I’m asked regularly by teachers. I’ve chosen 8 questions in total to answer here. Below are the first 4 questions, and my answers. (The next 4 questions and answers will be in the next blog post to avoid tl;dr )
If you don’t plan to let students use their mobile devices (constructively!) in class, you’re swimming against the tide. You will spend a lot of time and effort trying to ban or confiscate the devices, when you could be using them to your advantage. So much better to put an implementation plan in place, get your stakeholders on board (admin, school directors, other teachers, parents,…) , and have the devices support the learning aims in your classes through good task design and effective classroom management. Here’s a 10 step implementation plan suggested by my colleague Gavin Dudeney and I in our forthcoming book, Going Mobile:
[download a sample from the book]
Some schools invest in class sets of tablet computers to get around this issue. Some schools use a ‘hybrid’ model, where students can choose to use their own devices or to use a school-owned device if they prefer. Institutions that have tried this out find that students often prefer to use their own devices (such as a feature phone) even if these are less sophisticated than the school devices, because the sense of ownership is so strong with one’s own device. Of course, using a range of devices and operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry…) means ensuring that you use generic or cross-platform apps where necessary, and that task design takes this range of devices into account (see the links at the bottom of this post to activities that work with a range of devices and operating systems at the same time).
This is arguably the area that teachers feel most insecure about. There are a number of things to keep in mind here. There are the purely technical issues such as devices not working or not connecting to the school wifi. And there are also logistical issues involved is having class sets, such as who keeps the school’s class sets of devices charged up, or who chooses and downloads the apps onto the school devices. A few suggestions:
- Your school needs someone tech-savvy enough to deal with things like the wifi routers, or general tech issues.
- Some schools have students themselves acting as digital leaders, even at primary school level. Look at this inspiring example.
- Teachers need to be au fait and confident with the devices themselves. Schools that implement mobile devices well often have ongoing professional development for their teachers. For example, listen to Carla Arena in Brazil talking about how her school started using tablets in classes.
A good question. Probably THE question, in fact. It all depends on what we mean by benefits. And it also depends on what we get students to do with mobile devices and what we understand by mobile learning. For example: there is some solid research (via Paul Nation et al) that shows that the use of vocabulary apps such as flashcards can increase vocabulary retention and acquisition. But this is one very specific use of mobile devices, and most probably takes place outside of the classroom as self-study work. My own experience of using a BYOD (bring your own device) approach with students in the UK showed definite improvements in motivation- and one can argue that this is key to any learning. But given the number of factors involved in learning a language, it’s difficult to ‘prove’ that the use of a specific device improves learning. But benefits in terms of interest, motivation, and the opportunity to improve students’ mobile literacy (such as learning to use QR codes, or understanding geolocation or augmented reality) – yes.
Thanks again to those in the workshop who submitted questions – and if you have any questions yourself about using mobile devices in class, please add them to the Comment box below.
Mobile-based activities that work with a range of devices: