Sunday, 28 February 2010

How to involve more members in my mobile group?

In my previous post I described how I got my Twitter group off the ground and students were beginning to sign up and make their initial posts. I think now I've got 12 students signed up. To encourage students to respond I tried to post a steady stream of useful language learning links as well as put up a question of the day for them to answer.

Two of the students have really taken to it and they are following the links, responding to the questions, and it's great. But from the rest there doesn't seem to be the same level of interest and they haven't really posted at all.

I need to try to find out why the other students don't seem so engaged. Maybe they thought this group was going to be something different, maybe more SMS based, but I've been trying to avoid doing everything through SMS because of the potential cost to them of responding via text.

Maybe they just aren't reading the tweets! I'm not sure that every member has regular access to a computer, so today I wrote to all of them by SMS and explained how they could send and receive tweets via their mobile phone - as this is after all supposed to be a mobile phone group. Anyhow I think a short survey might be useful to find out what their expectations might be

This week I will continue with the Twitter feed but also try something else to see if it interests or involves more of them. Maybe something via text, a Word of The Day or something similar. Anyhow, I'll keep trying and see what interests/involves them..

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Growing Pains of my mobile ESL group

In my previous post I wrote that I had finally set up my group and was in the process of trying to get all the members signed up to a private twitter group. We're not quite there yet, but ten of them have now registered for Twitter and have successfully added at least one post to the timeline. Very impressed because I'm not sure I fully understand how it's all working...but it is. Anyhow, here's a snapshot of the Twitter page just to prove it.

It may look like I'm the only one posting but that's just the nature of a Twitter group, everything is via the group name and the individual is identified with the prefix 'via'.

I've written to all the group members to explain how the Twitter group will work. Every day I will post a question for them to respond to, and I will regularly post links for language learning sites and information/links for how to use their mobile phones for improving their English. I've also explained to them how to post to Twitter from their phones as I suspect most of them are using their computer at the moment. But that's ok, I think it will take time for them to get comfortable using their phones for things other than voice and text. Slowly, slowly.....

Sunday, 21 February 2010

My mobile group has started!

The poster campaign to get students to sign up didn't work, not one response and I suppose fittingly it was only when I sent out a block SMS to all the students at the school that I got some kind of response.

In fact, I've now got 12 students signed up and I expect at least a few more over the next few days. I've capped the group at 20, though I don't think I'll get that many.

Ok, now comes the tricky part working out how to structure it. My basic idea for the group is to set up one or two core streams of information and communication. Initially I thought about relying purely on SMS with members communicating with each other and me through texts. I abandoned that idea when I realised it might prove quite expensive for some of them. I'm on an unlimited text plan so it's not a problem for me, but I'm sure that's not true for most of them and sending out group texts might prove expensive. I really want to minimize as much as possible their costs for doing this.

So I did a bit of research and came up with the idea of using a private Twitter group as the main form of communication. The main benefits of this are: firstly, most phones (even lower end ones) have some kind of twitter client available to them, and secondly, it's possible to send and receive tweets from the group via SMS. This means that the students can send one SMS message and it will be received by all the members of the group, either via their twitter client or their SMS inbox. There may be better solutions available, but this seemed the best temporary way to get around the range of handsets and dataplans they have.

This of course is probably the biggest challenge of setting up a mobile group. Some of the students have the latest handsets with all the newest features (wifi, 3G, Bluetooth, GPS etc) and all you can eat dataplans. Others, however, are using minimal data on Pay As You Go and have basic handsets with only voice and text functions. While mobiles can be seen to democratize the learning process (available all the time), those with more money are still likely to get a richer experience. So, by using Twitter groups I'm hoping to level things out a little for the members of the group.

So, this week will be spent setting up a private Twitter group and then trying to explain to them how to sign up for it - a not inconsiderable task given the range of English levels and technical knowledge among them. I really want to do as much of it as possible via their phones, though to sign up for twitter some of them are clearly going to have to use a computer. By the end of this week I will be very happy if every member has posted just once to the group!

In the following weeks I will then experiment with a variety of mobile learning opportunities - IM chats, sending quizzes/materials via SMS, polls via SMS and others I've yet to research. But student feedback about these, any messages from me, indeed any random thought they want to share can be done through the Twitter group. We'll see how it goes, I'm genuinely very excited about this...

Friday, 19 February 2010

Augmented Reality in language learning

Ever heard of Augmented Reality? Well, it's going to be a big part of mobile phones and mobile learning over the next few years, and the immediate application to language learning should be obvious to everyone when you know what it is.

The best way to explain Augmented Reality (AR) is via films like Terminator and Robocop. You know how when the robot looks at something' loads of information (type of criminal, threat level, encyclopedia-type info about what he's seeing etc) pops up in front of his eyes. AR is a bit like that, but instead the information is received through a mobile phone's camera and displayed on its screen. The best way to show you this is through some videos. The first one is a demo of a program called Wikitude, which uses the phones camera and GPS to give you information about the place or building you are looking at. Although the info is in German, you can still get the basic idea:

This video shows Google Goggles, an application on your phone which recognises objects/text and then searches the web for information about it.

This one is very cool. This uses the phones GPS/camera to find info about real estate in the vicinity.

And this last one is particularly interesting as it has direct relevance to language learning. This program can take text in photos and translate it into whatever language you want:

I think these applications are going to be amazing for language learners. When they are out and about in foreign countries, they can take pictures of menus/instructions/adverts that confuse them and either get definitions or translations. It's a great way for them to research stuff in English (if that's the language they are learning) and learn more about the country they are in.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

PollEverywhere: a tool for conducting a survey on mobile phones

This survey tool is just something I've stumbled across but I can see it being an interesting way to get students' opinions via their mobile phones. Getting students to fill out questionnaires/surveys (particularly feedback on a course) can often be pretty painful so I'm thinking this alternative format might intrigue them enough to get involved. Plan to try this in the next few weeks so will report back on how successful it was.

Student diaries recorded on their mobile phones

Been a little too busy to post much over the last few weeks....ah, just basically been a bit lazy.

Anyhow, my attempts to create a mobile ESL group at my school are slowly progressing. The biggest difficulty - ironic given that the group is all about increasing and streamlining communication - is getting the word out about it. I've put posters up in classrooms and some teachers have told their students about it, but I don't think enough students know about it.

Still, we have now signed up to a service that will allow me to send an SMS to all the students in the school, so I'm hoping that will help me get the word out.

So, what was this post about? Ah yes, just a little thing I've been trying with my students - getting them to record their learning diaries as sound files on their phones and then send them to me. Normally they just do this as a text file in Blackboard, but not all of them seemed that enthusiastic about doing it, so I gave them the option to record it.

The results have been surprisingly good. Several of my students took up the option and the quality and quality of their diaries have improved dramatically. Clearly, they find it easier and more motivating to speak their diaries rather than write them.

Certainly it's something you might want to get your students doing, whether it's a learning diary or a short talk on a topic, and recording it on a phone is quick and easy.