Saturday, 21 November 2009

Please turn on your mobile phones

For ESL teachers (and indeed teachers of all subjects) mobile phones have become a growing irritation in the classroom. The constant ringing, vibrating, chirping and tweeting. The student who has to just 'pop out' of the classroom to take that important phone call. The teenager who surreptitiously texts his friends with his phone tucked under the table and is dumb enough to think that you can't see... I'm sure when teachers see this video, they silently cheer that someone had the guts to do it..

And yet, and yet, aren't we missing something here? As educators we are constantly being asked to make our lessons 'interesting' 'appropriate' and 'relevant to our students' needs'. Clearly mobile phones are interesting and very much meeting their daily social needs. How can we exploit that?

Now, the purpose of this blog is not to say that students should be allowed to freely use mobile phones in class. I can think of nothing worse. But at the same time, it's clear that students find mobile phones engaging, often far more engaging than the lesson we're actually teaching! Maybe it's worth asking the question how we can use that technology and harness it for learning both inside and outside the classroom. I read an article that discussed this issue in relation to kids studying in impoverished neighbourhoods in New York and one comment after the article very neatly summed up my feelings.

It seems to me that it isn't a question of whether or not mobile phones are useful for learning, everything is 'useful' for learning, we are always learning, learning can't be turned off.

The question is more of pedagogy and of getting kids to learn the things we want them to. Cell phones are not useful in school when pedagogy does not use them to support the kind of learning wanted. While the kids in a class are 'distracted' by their phones, they are learning an enormous amount, just not what the teacher intends. The easy answer is to ban the technology, the more difficult but far richer answer is to develop pedagogy that exploits it.

Kids fluency and engagement with mobile devices should be viewed as a wonderful resource and indication of their engagement in things they want to learn, not as a distraction that has to be silenced to make lessons easier.

Another point worth considering is that mobile phones are becoming more ubiquitous and more powerful every day, to the point where the processing power of your 3-5 year old laptop is probably lagging behind some of today's higher end mobile phones. So why not make use of them? I find it oddly contradictory that teachers are actively encouraged to use multimedia with their students, doing stuff on computers or the internet is very much seen as being a good thing, whereas the mini computer that almost every student and teacher is carrying in their pocket is immediately switched off as soon as we enter the class.

In this blog I will give advice in the following areas:

  • How teachers can use mobile phones to prepare varied and interesting material for their students.
  • How mobile phones can actually be used in the lesson to help them learn English
  • Software that can be installed on your or your students' mobile phones to help them learn English
  • General guides for both teachers and students on how to get the most out of your mobile phone, which phone to buy and what accessories to buy for it.
Just to give you a sense of what this blog is about, in my next post I will give a very quick example of how mobile phones can be used to help create a live listening in class.

1 comment:

  1. How can we install software onto our students' mobile phones when the ELT material we use from publishing houses includes only book related work and / or even IWB software , for Greece, at least?????