Monday, 31 January 2011

Blogging from a mobile: one way to use Posterous with your ESL group

Posterous is a really quick way for you and your students to create blog posts or share videos/photos/audio with each other. The beauty of posterous is that you don’t need to go to the website to create the blog post, instead all you have to do is to email your text and/or photo to a designated email address and the website does the rest and creates the blog post for you. It's likely that most students should be able to do this directly from their mobile phones.

The best use I’ve found for it is as a way for my students to quickly send their photos from their mobile phones to a place where they can be seen by everyone in the class. My students often do interesting things at the weekend, travel to different cities, try different cultural experiences here in England and I thought this would be a great Monday morning warmer for students to share their experiences through the pictures they take. For example, one of my students today sent a picture of a international table tennis tournament she went to at the weekend

The other students were curious about this and asked her lots of questions, loads of interesting vocabulary came up (competition, winner, rounds, final/semi-final etc) and it was just a great 10 minutes of spontaneous chat and vocabulary generation at the start of the lesson. Every Monday I try to do this with at least one or two students and it really kicks off the week nicely.

Depending on the pictures, you can do different things. If it’s something unclear/obscure, you can ask the student not to say what it is and where it is and the other students have to guess. Or they can spend a few minutes creating questions they would like to ask the student about their picture.

Setting it up so students can post to the blog is not difficult at all. You just add their email addresses as Contributors in the Settings page and once they have the email of the site (which is usually an email version of the website name), they can send any pictures/text/audio recording via email and in a few minutes it will immediately pop up on the site as its own blog post.

Although I use it mainly for photographs, the fact that you can send text, audio and video means that it could be a great way for students to be really creative in documenting their lives and experiences and sharing them with the class via their mobile phones.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Cloudbank: sharing words via mobile phones

I recently went to a presentation about an interesting project called CloudBank, which is an Android app developed by the Interactive Technologies research group at the University of Brighton. It is essentially a crowd-sourced learner’s dictionary for Advanced ESL students. A member of the research group, Dr Lyn Pemberton, explained that it was designed to encourage higher level learners to collect, collate and share new words, expressions, and idioms that they came across.

The app on the phone is linked to a website and a widget. This widget is basically a virtual representation of the mobile app on a webpage that is updated in real time as students upload words to the shared list. This widget can be embedded in webpages the same way a You Tube video can be embedded on a page and I’ve included it below for you to look at. Use the mouse to click on the buttons on the screen to look around the app.

You can actually try this out here and now if you have an Android phone. Go to this page and download the app. Because this app is not available on the Android Market, you need to make sure your phone can install non-market applications. To do this, go to Setting > Applications > Unknown Sources and checkmark ‘enable installation of non-market applications’.

On your phone you can then click the ‘Add’ button and add a word/expression using the boxes provided. You then click the save button and - assuming you are connected to the internet via 3G or wireless - it will immediately be uploaded to see on the widget or on a phone. Here is my expression - ticked off - being entered on the phone.

There are also some other neat things you can do with the app. You can filter the word list to show either all the words or just the ones you have uploaded. You can favourite particular words and there is a search function that will do a Google search of the word/expression you are currently looking at. You can also upload a photo to accompany the word and do an audio recording of the pronunciation.

Applications for the ESL classroom

I love the idea of a mobile app being linked to an embedded widget and I can see students taking to this very quickly. Imagine being able to embed this widget on your class or school website and then students contributing words outside of class that could then be looked at inside the class as a group. There are some similarities to the British Council’s My Word Book app for the iphone that I discussed in a previous post but the crucial added element here is the social aspect of sharing your words with others. Although this project is only in its development phase, it would be great if the app and widget could be scaled or personalised to a particular class or school. I use Google Sites to create personalised websites/blogs for all my classes and it would be fantastic to be able to embed the widget on the site for easy access and reference.

At this stage there are obvious limitations to the project. Notably, the app can only be run on phones with the Android operating system but I imagine there would be plans to expand this across different platforms so it would run on iphones, Symbian phones, Blackberries etc. If we could get to the stage where this was available on the phones of almost all the students in the class, then I think we have a very powerful mobile learning tool for ESL.

I strongly urge you to go to the website and take a look and if you have an Android phone, download the app and try it out. Also, talk to your students and if they have an android phone, help them to download it and get them to try it out. Since this project is still in development, they are very open to feedback from users to help them improve it in the future.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Motorola Atrix: a taste of things to come for mobile learning?

Of late I've been wondering how much more mobile phones could develop and offer more functionality to the learner. Over the last six months the leap in technology seems to have been incremental at best with only small differences in the raft of devices released. However, the Motorola Atrix - just announced and demonstrated at CES in Las Vegas - has me very excited about how the mobile phone could be the sole device that students could use for their learning. This video gives an overview of how it can interact with various devices to be used as both a full computer and a multimedia device:

There is a much longer demo here on Engadget showing in more detail how it can interact with a monitor and the latop accessory but I couldn't find a way to embed this on the page. However, it is definitely worth watching through to get a real sense how this can be used.

I love the idea of having one device that can be used for all your computing and multimedia needs. I can see a time in the not too distant future where schools no longer have computers in their classrooms or computer rooms but instead a series of dumb terminals/laptops where students can just dock their phone and have all their content immediately available to them. None of this worrying where that document is or whether they've put that Powerpoint presentation onto their USB stick. Instead, everything is stored on their phone or in the cloud and can be instantly available on a larger screen simply by dropping it into a dock.

What might this mean in the language classroom? Well, imagine a student want to share some photos/videos they've taken with their phone camera and to talk about them. They no longer have to transfer them over to a computer or upload them to You Tube or anything like that, they could simply show them immediately on a large screen TV/monitor/projector in class. As a teacher you could use your phone to record students' discussions/presentations and have them immediately available for whole class analysis. I'm sure there are many other scenarios that could be imagined..

This is going to be an exciting year for mobile devices. More and more tablets like the iPad are coming to market and they are going to be much more affordable for students. Mobile phones are going to get more and more powerful to the point where they will be able to do 90-95% of the computing tasks (email, web-browsing, document editing etc) that people do. As teachers we would be foolish to ignore these wonderful devices and how they can be used to create rich and meaningful lessons for our students.