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Teaching with mobile devices: FAQs [part 1]

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 )

Question 1:


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]

Question 2:




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).

Question 3:




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.

Question 4:




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.

Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
April 2014

Mobile-based activities that work with a range of devices:


5 Cool things I learned about in 2013

Photo by Creativity103

Photo by Creativity103

Of course I learned a lot more than five things in 2013, but here are five that I especially like:

1 The quantified self movement

When a non-techy friend visiting me from London showed up wearing a FitBit earlier this year, it struck me that the self- quantified movement has gone mainstream. Gadgets that measure sports performance have been around for many years – my triathlete partner has been using a Garmin watch since I met him- but for the rest of us, these devices seemed irrelevant. But now you can track your eating habits, sleeping habits, how many steps you take a day, and even your moods, on a daily basis via your smartphone. I’ve been experimenting with the first three via a number of apps this year, which has been revealing. The main benefit is raising awareness of one’s habits, the first step in trying to change some of them (mine: eat less chocolate, do more regular exercise, sleep more). The downside concerns privacy (who has access to this data, and what can/will be done with it?).  More on the quantified self here, and here (includes recommended apps to try out).

2 Wearable technology (that I might actually wear)

Despite Diane von Furstenberg’s much-hyped 2012 New York Fashion Show with models wearing Google Glass, one wonders how much uptake this particular wearable technology will have. Apart from not coming cheap, Glass is still clunky-looking and potentially excessively intrusive. Do I really want my social media stream in front of my eyes all day long (yes, I know there’s an off button)? Do I want to be looking at a view and be able to name each of those hills via a Glass augmented reality overlay every time I take a hike? Well, not really, especially if I look like a Glasshole in the process (Wired magazine’s terminology, not mine), not to mention the privacy issues (again). Maybe if Glass was in the form of contact lenses… But more affordable and selling well is wearable technology like smart watches that mirror your smartphone screen, for example the crowd-funded Pebble. Yes please, Santa!

3 Japanese hologram pop stars

I’m a little late to the party on this one, and only heard about the Japanese virtual pop star Hatsune Miku via a Wired magazine article earlier this year. As in many things strange and technological, Japan is well ahead of the game, and Hatsune has been around since 2007. I was reminded of Hatsune again this week via Stephen Downes  linking to this Daily Mail article. Strange but true.

4 AR (augmented reality) markers

Although I’ve known about, used (and blogged about) augmented reality for a while, I still hadn’t got around to creating any AR myself. A recent AR experiment had me turning the cover of our 2013 book Digital Literacies (co-written with Gavin Dudeney and Mark Pegrum) into an AR marker, using Layar. See if the marker works for you (it should!) by doing the following:
  • Download Layar (free) to your tablet or smartphone
  • Grab your copy of Digital Literacies (what, you don’t have it? Ok, use the cover image on Amazon - first click on it to make it larger)
  • Open Layar on your mobile device and scan the cover
  • A video will pop up. Click the play button and watch the video
  • Voilà, now you know a bit more about digital literacies!
To come: a blog post on how to get your students creating AR markers for book reviews as part of a Book fair at your school.

Note: I used the free version of Layar to create this AR maker (it has ads). Another app that enables you to create AR markers is Junaio/Metaio.

5 The Fair list

And finally, a shout out for The Fair List, which encourages gender balance for speakers at English language teaching (ELT) events in the UK. Launched by colleague Tessa Woodward in April 2013, it aims to raise awareness of the often quite astounding gender imbalance in plenary speakers at ELT events, which frequently have many more male plenary or panel speakers than female. This is especially odd in a profession so overwhelmingly practised by women. As a regular speaker at conferences myself , I see that The Fair List could be applied to contexts beyond the UK. And they have their work cut out. Two days ago I attended a conference here in Spain – of the five plenary speakers, exactly none were women. Let’s see if the language teaching profession internationally can do better in 2014.


I hope you’ve all had a fruitful and fulfilling 2013, and please feel free to share anything you’ve learned about in 2013, in the Comments section below… Happy 2014!

Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
December 2013

Papers on mobile assisted language learning (MALL)

Photo by Milica Sekulic

Photo by Milica Sekulic

The International Research Foundation (TIRF) has recently published five papers on mobile assisted language learning (MALL), all freely available on the TIRF website.

Each of the papers is followed by a  discussion, which you can add to. Abstracts and links to the papers below – happy reading!



Beyond the Classroom: Mobile Learning the Wider World (Ken Beatty)

Mobile learning has extended opportunities for making teaching and learning available beyond the traditional classroom. Associated technologies, software programs, and internet access have enfranchised many students who previously had little access to quality teaching. However, a paradigm shift has occurred in which learners are turning to new mobile learning opportunities to supplant traditional teaching as virtual extensions of earlier self-help books, phrase books, and audio-based language learning programs. Audio translation apps, augmented reality, and just-in-time learning approaches are providing alternatives to those with neither access nor time to learn a language. This paper examines the theoretical underpinnings of a range of technologies and applications, contrasting them with the traditional classroom and imagining the future of mobile language teaching and learning and the impact it will have on policymakers, teachers, employers, and learners.

Re-skilling Language Learners for a Mobile World (Agnes Kukulska-Hulme)

Ubiquitous access to mobile phones and other portable devices means that language learning increasingly straddles classroom-based learning and learning outside the classroom, in virtual spaces and out in the world. We know from studies of emergent learner-led practices that foreign language study can be enriched through easy access to resources selected to suit individual interests or needs. Yet learners’ choices seem largely determined by what they happen to come across, rather than knowledge about which language skills are best improved through mobile learning. Existing mobile applications often fail to exploit connections between life and learning. This paper suggests which language skills can be enhanced through mobile learning and how learner-technology interaction supports that development, particularly opportunities for learners to extend or practice their communication with others. The paper also suggests that new skills may be required in relation to the next generation of wearable devices and increasingly instrumented, technology-rich surroundings where use of mobile technology integrates with other tools, resources, and social networks that continue to challenge traditional knowledge and skills.

Some Emerging Principles for Mobile-assisted Language Learning (Glenn Stockwell & Philip Hubbard)

The steadily increasing access to sophisticated but affordable portable technologies over the past several years has brought with it a body of research into using these technologies for learning in both formal and informal contexts. It is not surprising, then, that language teachers have also adopted mobile technologies into their individual teaching and learning contexts. This paper first examines recent studies from the mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) literature, exploring the issues that emerge from this body of research through a framework distinguishing physical, pedagogical, and psycho-social dimensions. Recognizing not only the contributions but also the limitations of existing MALL literature, it then identifies a number of findings from the closely allied fields of mobile learning (ML) and computer-assisted language learning (CALL) that can inform both research and practice in MALL. Drawing from all three sources (MALL, ML, and CALL), the paper proposes ten general principles to guide teachers, learners, administrators, employers, and other stakeholders in the challenge of effectively integrating mobile devices and tasks into language learning environments. The paper concludes with a case study showing how each of the principles described have been applied in an actual mobile language learning context.

Mobile Learning for Languages: Can the Past Speak to the Future? (John Traxler)

This paper explores the past decade of mobile learning projects, policies, research, and conceptualising and asks about its relevance to the future as it might apply to language learning. The paper provides a very broad categorization of mobile learning in order to identify pedagogic possibilities for language learning, but it moves on to ask about the changing nature and authority of language and learning. There are nevertheless practical lessons to be learnt.

And my own paper:
Designer Learning: The Teacher as Designer of Mobile-based Classroom Learning Experiences (Nicky Hockly)

This paper takes as its starting point Laurillard’s (2012) assertion that classroom practitioners need to become designers of effective learning experiences. It describes a small-scale classroom-based action research project carried out with two different levels of international EFL students studying in the UK, over a two-week period. Through the experience of implementing mobile-based communicative classroom tasks with these learners, six parameters for the effective design and sequencing of these tasks became apparent: (1) hardware, (2) mobility, (3) technological complexity, (4) linguistic/communicative competence, (5) type of MALL, and (6) educational /learning context. This paper describes the study and proposes these six parameters as key to designing effective mobile-based tasks for the communicative language classroom. It is hoped that these parameters may be applicable to other fields in education. Finally, areas of concern within the study are explored, suggestions are made for future classroom-based research, and the importance of teacher training is highlighted.

Blog posts related to my TIRF paper:


November 2013

Future present


‘The past is always tense, the future perfect’ (Zadie Smith)

I’ve been thinking about the future a lot recently. Specifically about the future of education, and how it will be affected (or not) by technology. These musings were prompted by preparing a 20-minute ‘Insights’ session for last week’s online Reform Symposium Conference (RSCON 2013), combined with recently seeing the movie Elysium (see trailer). ‘The future’ often conjures up science-fiction images of technology, and dystopian – or utopian – societies. Elysium neatly captures this dystopian/utopian dichotomy, and the images in the film of a dystopian earth have impact. Not least because they are filmed in a part of the world that already exists, and then digitally enhanced with some scary-looking skyscrapers.

Source: http://goo.gl/DxlMnK

Source: http://goo.gl/DxlMnK

The title of this year’s RSCON was ‘The future of education’, and as a 20-minute curtain raiser for world-famous educator Sugata Mitra (yup, scary!), I wanted to come up with something connected to the theme. The dystopia image in Elysium kept coming back to me, so I decided to create a talk that included that. This led to remembering images from other futuristic Hollywood movies… and how education in the future might be related to those… and how many of the ‘futuristic’ technologies we see in these movies are in fact already present and being used in education today… and hence the title of my talk ‘Future Present’. Irresistible for a language teacher like me, as is Zadie Smith’s quote at the top of this post. Well, if you want to find out more about the talk, take look at the slides, and/or to listen to the talk recording.

  • The videos and articles/books mentioned in my talk are here

You’ll also find a number of ‘education and the future’ related resources below:

  • Sugata Mitra’s RSCON opening plenary ‘The future of education’ in which he describes several of his past projects and his current ‘school in the cloud’ initiative: recording
  • An excellent series of four blog posts from Steve Wheeler on the future of learning and technology
  • A blog post by Tony Wheeler discussing how online learning could affect classroom design
  • An interview with Stephen Downes on the future of mobile and online learning
  • An interview by the European Commission Futurium initiative with myself and my colleague Gavin Dudeney, with our thoughts on education – in 2050! (you need to register for free on the Futurium site here to access a number of ‘future’ interviews)
  • A video on the future of wearable technology (including some freaky-looking clothes)

Finally, I’d be interested to know what you think will be the future of education… Will technology change classrooms, change teachers’ roles, change assessment, and indeed change learning itself? Feel free to leave a comment in the section below.

Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
October 2013

Two free online conferences 11-13 October

Photo by rustysheriff

Photo by rustysheriff


Interested in learning how educators are using technology with their learners in a range of different contexts around the world? Read on.

There are a couple of free online conferences about using technology with English language learners next week (11-13 October), that you shouldn’t miss.

Here are the dates for your diary:

This entirely online conference kicks off on Friday 11th and runs over the whole weekend. The conference brings educators together online  from all over the globe, with 10 international keynote speakers, and over 100 presentations. Sugata Mitra is giving the opening plenary, and I’m giving a 20 minutes ‘Insights’ slot just before that on the Friday (gulp!). Make sure you don’t miss this unique online conference – you have a whole weekend of sessions to choose from! Find out more about the conference.

The IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG and TESOL CALL-IS are running a free one-day conference called ‘Using Technology in Teaching: Principles in Practice’ on Saturday 12 October. Speakers include Carol Chappelle, Shaun Wilden, Deborah Healey, Phil Hubbard, Sophie Ioannou-Georgiou, Paige Ware, Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Cristel Broady – plus my colleague Gavin Dudeney (on digital literacies) and myself (on mobile BYOD). Find out more about this one-day online event.

Hope to see you there!

Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
October 2013