Saturday, 18 February 2012

Livescribe Pen as a Feedback Tool

In a recent post over on Google Plus, I asked for advice on any tool that would allow me to record and send feedback to students on their spoken English quickly and easily. I was thinking of using some kind of app on my mobile phone but  Adrian Greig suggested using a Livescribe pen.

Basically, the pen allows you to record both handwritten text and audio at the same time using a built in dictaphone/processor on the pen and special dotted paper. It's difficult to summarize here all the things it can do - and there are many - but it's most basic function is to make handwritten notes when listening in a lecture/meeting and then being able to listen back to precise bits of audio later by pressing on the words you wrote at the time that audio was being recorded. It's all incredibly clever...

The Livescribe pen and special notebook

To be honest, the dictaphone capabilities are nice but not essential for me, which is good because while the dictaphone is reasonably senstive, it cannot help picking up the scratching sound of the pen at the same time. This means that you have to strain a bit to follow speech because of this annoying scratchy sound in the background. It doesn't make the speech inaudible, it's just an irritating presence whenever you listen. 

For me, more important is the fact that I can use the Livescribe to take handwritten notes in class, write a quick command on the paper (e.g. Google Docs, Email) and when I next connect it to the computer, it will automatically send it to whatever service I specified. This is great for being able to send error corrections to a shared Google Docs folder or emailing it to a specific student for review. The file is sent as a PDF, so nice and easy for anyone to open (here is an example of a couple of test pages I did)

I tried it in class last week with one group and it worked well. I could just walk round and make notes as I usually do on students' spoken performance, but then I was able to send those comments to them individually fairly quickly afterwards. Sending pages to individual emails is a bit of a faff, you have to scroll through a list of predetermined names/emails on the small pen screen and then select. This was ok with one small class, but it would become unwieldy with lots of classes/student email addresses to scroll through. Thinking about it now, the best way is to probably transfer the notes to Google docs and then share them with individual students. 

I've only tested this once, but I'm cautiously optimistic that it could prove a useful tool in the classroom. I've always felt that I don't provide enough individual feedback to students on their classroom performance, and time has always been my excuse. This might make it a bit easier to share individual comments with them.

The only other thing to be aware of is that you do need to buy special notepads that the pen can recognise and have the special commands built into them. They aren't too expensive - a pack of four A5 notebooks cost £10 - but you do need to go to specialist shops to get them or buy them online. 

The commands at the bottom of the notepads

If anyone has any questions about the Livescribe, feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

ESL Video reviews and Getting Started Guide

Over the last few weeks I've posted up a few video reviews of ESL apps on my Google+ page. First up is an excellent flashcard app for Android called Flashcard Buddy Pro:

There is a full demo version available if you want to try it out for a limited time. I also reviewed Karaoke4English (both iOS/Android), an interesting app that combine reading/audio versions of text and vocabulary revision.

I also reviewed Practice English Grammar 1 for Android.

I also made some suggestions for getting started with mobile learning at the beginning of term:

Suggestions for getting started with Mobile Learning

  • If your school/college/university has wireless, find out how to connect smartphones to it and go through it or print it out for students. This ensures that they are able to connect to the internet during the lesson. 
  • (suggested by Rob Lewis) To get students familiar using their phones in class, get them to note down homework/test dates etc on the calendar on their phones.
  • devote a section of a lesson to students looking at their own/each other’s mobile phones, exploring what functions they have (e.g. internet, radio, voice recorder) and discussing how they could be used to improve their English. 
  • encourage them to use dictionaries on their smartphones to quickly look up words. Here is a blog post I wrote about free dictionary apps for android (though many of them are also available for iphone) 
  • set up a Posterous blog for them to contribute to as a class. Add their email addresses so they can contribute and then they can send pictures/text directly from their mobile phone. Get them to tell you about their weekends for discussion on Monday morning.

I hope you enjoy these summary updates. Please circle my Google+ page if you want these as they are published.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Video Reviews of ESL Apps

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am now posting most of my ideas regarding mobile learning over on my Mobile ESL page at Google+. However, I did say that I would update this blog with anything I felt was worth cross-posting. Over the last few weeks I've started to do video reviews of various ESL apps and I've been adding them to my page, but I thought I could also add them here.

Review of Sounds: the Pronunciation App for Android/iOS

Review of three Mingoville Apps for Android

Review of IELTS Word Power for Android

I've also been compiling a list of the Best free ESL Apps available in a Google Doc/Presentation. If anyone would like to contribute to it, just let me know and I'll add you as an editor. 

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Regular posting on Google Plus

I've decided to temporarily shift over to Google Plus to continue my blog posts on mobile learning. I've got plenty I want to write and say about the topic, but I would prefer to write shorter posts and more regularly as this would fit in with my working life.

When it comes to blogging, I prefer to write more in-depth posts but this is not always possible given my work commitments. So, I have created a brand page on Google Plus for this blog which you can find here. I've already added a couple of short posts there (reviews of ESL idiom apps) and I'll try to update it on a much more regular basis than I've been able to do here.

I chose Google Plus because it does allow longer posts than Twitter and I'd also like to take advantage of things like the Hangouts feature later on to hold informal webinars/discussions on the topic of mobile learning.

I do have my own Google Plus page, but that's for many other links/thoughts not connected to mobile learning so I wanted to create a dedicated page where I could just focus on that topic. This is very much an experiment, but I'm fascinated to see how well it works.

I haven't completely abandoned this blog. When I have something more substantial to say and I have the time to sit down and write it, I'll post it here. And I'll also try to compile a summary of my Google Plus posts here every few weeks.

So please, come on over to this page, put me in a circle and I'll give regular updates on the use of mobile learning in ESL.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A subtle change in mobile use in the classroom

I haven't had a chance to blog over the last month or so. The start of term, an online course I was taking and an impending British Council inspection at our centre all conspired against me.

And I haven't had much time to try any mobile stuff out in class - however, what I have noticed is a very subtle but noticeable change in the way that teachers and students use their mobile devices for learning. First off, from an, institutional perspective, there seems a lot more tolerance towards students using their phones in class. In fact, we are no longer buying paper dictionaries at school since the management realized that students tend to either use their phones or electronic dictionaries in class. This is very heartening.

Second, students seem much more at home using these devices in class and there's considerably less frivolous use of them. In the past I felt I had to monitor them a little more to make sure they weren't playing games, sending text messages to friends, but this seems to happen less and less now. Students seem much more responsible in their use of them. They also seem much more aware of what their devices can do. In the past - even those who owned iphones or android phones - were often unaware that you could download apps for them. Now it seems they are very aware of the apps available for them and many of them have found a range of apps - such as dictionaries, note-taking apps - that can help them with their English learning.

This was brought home the other day when I wanted them to record themselves giving a short presentation about their hometown using the voice recorder app on their phone. In the past I've needed to spend time in class helping them find the app, going through how to use it and then send the audio file to themselves so they can upload it to our class website later. This time there was very little guidance needed, one student needed a colleague to help him find the function on the phone, but the rest found it immediately, recorded themselves and uploaded it with little fuss.

And this is nothing to do with any training I might have given students in the past. These are all new students at the school but they’ve adapted very quickly to using their mobile devices in the classroom. And it’s also noticeable just how many of them now have smartphones. Last year, about 60-70% of the class had smartphones, this year I would say it’s closer to 90%. This has made it a lot easier to recommend apps during class.

I think smartphones and mobile devices are slowly becoming part of the furniture in the classroom, just as the computer did before it. I think this year will be a great opportunity to see how far I can push students to use their own devices both inside and outside the classroom.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Greatest (and Cheapest) Mobile Gadget - the Post-It Note

It struck me the other day that while I am somewhat obsessive about technology in the classroom, my favourite mobile device is something decidedly low-tech: the post-it note. While I'm quite happy to go in to my lessons without my mobile phone, my laptop or my tablet, I would never go into my class without a small stack of post-it notes. This blog post is a short hymn of praise to the cheapest and most versatile gadget available. 

How can the post-it note be used in class? Well, here are some of the ways I use them on a daily basis....

I use them to.... 

....write my lesson plans on. I'm not a big one for writing lesson plans down these days, but my memory is so flakey that I do need to write down a few notes of the things we need to do in class. A post-it note is perfect for that, and it's doubly useful because I can stick it somewhere I might actually see it, such as on the edge of my computer monitor or smartboard.

I use them to.... students. Either by writing down numbers on them and then getting them to find the person/people with the same number or by using different colored post-it notes and they have to find the people with the same color. Or combine the two (if you have large groups), where they have to find people with the same color AND number

I use them to....

....give feedback during the lesson. When students are engaged in speaking tasks/discussions, if I hear something that needs to be corrected, I will often write it down on a post-it note and then stick it on the desk of the person it applies to. They really appreciate that personal attention and it also doesn't disrupt the conversation they are having. I also use it for noting down mistakes/interesting things heard during monitoring for later discussion/feedback.

I use them to....

...Give students choice about whether they want feedback or not. So I will give them a couple of post-it notes, they put either a cross or tick on it, then they choose one of them to stick on the desk and that decides whether they want the teacher to intervene and correct or not when they are speaking in groups.

I use them to...

... Play a variety of warm-up activities. Such as Snowball, when students write some personal information on a post-it note, screw it up and then throw it around the class. They then pick one up, read it out and people have to guess who it is.

I use them to....

...Help with pronunciation practice. One common activity I do is to put the stress pattern of the word on one post-it notes, the word on another. Do this with a lot of words, give out the post-it notes randomly then students have to walk round the classroom either saying their word or humming the stress pattern. They have to find their partner in the class.

I use them to....

….Help remember names in the first few lessons. Quick and easy way to help remember names, get them to stick them on their chest with a post-it note and gradually remove them as you remember them!

I use them to....

…..Check understanding of the lesson/training session. Sometimes I give students/trainees several colored post-it notes and when giving a presentation or some information to them, they can hold up different colors depending on whether they understand or not (e.g. blue means I understand, green means I don't understand, red means I have a question to ask. 

I am looking forward to a paperless future in the classroom, but I don't plan on giving up my post-it notes anytime soon.

Friday, 5 August 2011

QR Codes in the ESL Classroom

Over the last few weeks I've been training a group of Korean teachers here in the UK as part of a development programme organised by their Ministry of Education. As it's been recently announced that Korean schools will be completely digital by the year 2015 and all textbooks will be replaced by tablets or laptops, I've been exposing them to a variety of different technologies and web 2.0 tools to help them see how they might apply them in their own classroom context.

Among the tools we've used are Posterous Groups as a way for them to share pictures and experiences; Google Docs as a way of sharing materials and handouts; we've also discussed the value of digital storytelling via various web 2.0 tools and they all created a Voicethread in one of the sessions.

In the classroom I've been actively encouraging them to use their mobile devices, either smartphones, tablets or laptops as a means of checking words or as a way of finding information out about the topic we're discussing.

One thing I decided to try on this course was the use of QR Codes as a form of peripheral learning. These are basically barcodes that can be read by mobile phones and contain embedded information that the phone can decode. It can be a link to a webpage, a chunk of text, an SMS message, a calendar event, pretty much anything you can think of. Most mobile phones have free QR code reader apps available for them. For example on Android, you can download QR Droid (my personal favourite), QuickMark BarCode Scanner or  BeeTag QR Reader. On iPhone there is QR Reader, QR Scanner and numerous others. To actually create a QR Code there are various websites, my personal favourite for ease of use is QR Droid. it took my a matter of seconds to create the QR Code below, which contains a link to this blog.
I'd never really been impressed by the idea of QR Codes, I'd read a lot of things on the web about them but it always seemed quite a complicated procedure to extract a fairly simple piece of information such as a weblink or a calendar event. The old proverb about using a hammer to crack a nut came to mind.

However, after reading this excellent article by Kimberley Hogg explaining how she used QR Codes to create a direction-based treasure hunt with her ESL students I decided to give them a go. By  the way, the advice she gives in her article about how to accustom students to using these codes is really fantastic, I strongly recommend you read the article to find out more.

I decided against preparing a structured activity with the teachers, instead I decided to just put lots of codes around on the wall with different information embedded in them. For example, some of them were links to instructional You Tube videos about teaching, some linked to our online course documents and others were part of a quiz on Britain I'd created for them. I put ten questions on different QR Codes around the room and they had to use their phone to decode it and find the question. Once they'd done that, they had to find the answer, then send the correct answers to our group blog. Below is one example of what they saw on the wall.

Most of them were not familiar with QR Codes, so I helped them download the relevant app and then explained how they could read them. On each paper on the wall I included some information about the app they needed to download.

I wasn't really expecting much interest from the teachers, but I was pleasantly surprised just how many actually downloaded an app and read the codes. In fact, when one of the quiz questions was removed from the wall (by mistake I think), several of them came up to me and asked me to print it out again and put it back up. When I asked them why they liked doing the tasks with the QR Codes, they said things like, 'it's different', 'mysterious', 'a puzzle'.

And really, that is the appeal of them I think. In the end all I'd created on the wall was a series of normal quiz questions but the QR Codes made the process much more appealing to the teachers. How long the novelty will last is difficult to tell, but it definitely is still a novelty for most students so we might as well exploit that while we can!

Possible uses in the ESL Classroom 

Here are some ways that I think QR Codes could be used in the classroom:

  • As I did with my group, posting up questions to answer. These could be language questions on vocabulary/grammar etc, general knowledge questions or discussion questions. Students could be encouraged to create their own QR Code questions as well. 
  • Posting up answers to homework
  • Creating a treasure or scavenger hunt. Students are sent to one QR Code, they are provided a clue which then takes them to another. The individual or group that finishes first is the winner. This would be particular good for practising things like direction language. 
  • Embedding links in QR Codes to useful websites for students to visit to improve their English. 
  • Posting up calendar events that are taking place in the school. 

I think there are many other possibilities, these are just a few that spring to mind. In researching about QR Codes, I found a few online resources very helpful. 

I plan to use them a lot more in the coming term and get feedback from students as to how interesting/useful they find them. I would love to hear from any ESL teachers who are using them to learn more about how they can be used to enhance language learning.