Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Mobile learning: where are the bluetooth apps?

In a previous post I noted that using bluetooth in the classroom might be a cheap and easy way for students to connect with each other through their mobile phones. In case you are not familiar with bluetooth, it's a technology that most mobile phones have (even very cheap ones nowadays) that allows the sending of files from one phone to another at distances of up to 100 metres. For example, if I want to send a photo or file from my phone to another person's phone, we both enable it on our phones, establish a connection and then the file/photo can be sent. The advantages of this technology are that:

- it is flexible: you can normally send a variety of files (notes, photos, video/audio files) and to different kinds of device (phone/laptop/desktop) assuming they all have bluetooth.
- it is secure: normally you have to establish a secure connection between the phones with a password to make sure only those two phones are communicating.
- it is instantaneous: once the file is sent, it appears immediately on the other person's phone
- Most importantly, it is FREE. Unlike, say, SMS or an internet connection, Bluetooth doesn't require a network or wireless connection and so doesn't use up any data/voice/text minutes the user might have.

At the same time, there are some obvious disadvantages:

- distance limitations: the two phones have to be in relatively close proximity for the transfer to take place, so the students/teacher would have to be in the same room.
- lack of familiarity: in my experience, people seldom use bluetooth on their phones and computer and may not know how to enable it or how to send files using it. There would have to be a period of familiarisation if using it with students, though no more than teaching them to use other features on their phones.

Clearly it's not really a technology that can be used OUTSIDE the classroom, but for those occasions when mobile devices are being used inside the classroom, I think it would be a great alternative to using wireless connections, 3G or SMS. Some possible ways I think it could be used in the ESL classroom are/would be:

- students sending messages to each other and/or the teacher during lesson. This would be similar to this idea of backchannelling I discussed in a previous post.
- Students recording their voices on their phones (either for pronunciation or other purposes) and then sharing them with their peers to compare/critique).
- Students sharing pictures about themselves or their families/places they've visited with their peers for discussion or for some form of getting to know you activity at the start of term.
- students are sent out on some kind of scavenger/treasure hunt, they take pictures to prove where they've been and then they send them to a computer in class for viewing on the board or via a projector.
- students do quizzes/tasks on their phone and then compare answers to them by sending them to each other.

These are just some initial, fairly vague thoughts on this, but I think this technology could really be exploited, especially in classes that don't have wireless connections. However, looking round the web I could find very few examples of where bluetooth has been used in mobile learning situations.

Next month I will be trying to implement a more structured use of mobile devices with one of my classes and I'm going to see what is possible using bluetooth. If anyone has any suggestions or personal experiences of using this technology in class or know of any any apps that have been developed that use bluetooth for learning purposes, I would be very interested in hearing about it.

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