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.


  1. Hi David,

    My first post on here,

    I was just wondering what your take of conceptualising the mobile device as an 'exercise' book for an online language learning community where you could also have the option of doing your work online, but choose not to for convenience purposes. The results would be synced between the device and your account and you could 'compete' (healthily) with other members of the community and post your results on your social network as well as in the learning community. Right now where's Busuu, but they are not educators.

    Looking forward to getting a dialogue going,

    Jamie, uSpeak

  2. hi Jamie, thanks for your comment. I think this idea of a mobile device as an exercise book is an excellent one, the ability to share your word lists across websites/platforms brings in a whole social/interactive element that has been missing. It doesn't necessarily have to be CloudBank, it could be Busuu, Quizlet or just any site that allows note-taking, sharing or syncing like Evernote, Google Docs, Catch or numerous others out there.

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