Thursday, 18 March 2010

A Word a Day via SMS

In a previous post I talked about some of the teething problems of getting my mobile group off the ground and the members engaged and involved. Of the sixteen or so who originally signed up, only maybe 4 or 5 are posting (semi) regularly to the Twitter group. There are two who have wholeheartedly embraced it and who post very regularly and respond to my questions etc, but the majority have dropped away.

One thing however that seems to have revived their interest was me sending them a word or expression a day via SMS with an example and then getting them to try to explain the meaning. So for example, today I sent them this via SMS:

Expression of the day: dire straits. E.g. the company is in dire straits because of some bad investments they made and they might have to close. What does it mean?

On average I'm getting six or seven responses a day to these SMSes, students seem genuinely interested to find out the meaning. I send the message through SMS but also send it by SMS to the Twitter page so they can answer there if so wish (and some do). By the way, if anyone is interested how to Twitter via mobile phone, this page is a great help.

I suppose the question is why do students respond better to this kind of content than the daily discussion questions I sent them. My own thought is that for them it seems more concrete and probably more what they expected from this group. Students are hungry for new language (one of the most common complaints I have from students in classes - including mine - is that they don't learn enough words) and so this kind of content delivery is reassuring and interesting for them. I think this shows that while the method of delivery is cutting edge, what they want delivered is quite traditional.

I'm thinking of ways how such content could be delivered more efficiently to the students than me typing in a word a day every morning and then selecting all the people to send it to. This post describes a mobile phone app that would make your own mobile phone work as a server and students could send a fixed message to you via SMS and automatically receive - for example - a daily/weekly list of vocabulary for them to learn. I wanted to try this out but unfortunately the software mentioned in the post isn't available for my phone and I can't seem to find any suitable alternative. Still, I think this would be a great service to be able to offer the students, particularly if they are students in your own group and the list of vocabulary is tied into what they are studying in class.

A commenter on one of my posts (thanks Robert Gadd) pointed me to a more developed but similar kind of initiative in the USA where high school students were sent SAT (university entrance exam) word lists via SMS, and apparently this led to quite a dramatic increase in their scores on vocabulary quizzes. Anyhow, you can read more about this here.

I will continue to post more about mobile learning in the coming weeks though my mobile group will shut down for a month or so while my students go on holiday. I would like to continue the group through the holiday period as I think this very much puts the 'mobile' in 'mobile learning', but many of my students are heading home to Saudi Arabia, China and South America and my mobile phone plan doesn't include text messages to these countries. Still, I will keep the Twitter page open and I'll see how many of the students keep posting.

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