Wednesday, 16 February 2011

How my students are using mobile learning in and out of the classroom

devices both inside and outside the classroom. My reasoning is that there are plenty of blogs, presentations and webinars on how you could use mobile learning with students, but very few reports or accounts of how people actually do use them. Probably something to do with the challenges of introducing mobile learning in the class - the diversity of devices, the financial restrictions, the institutional resistance to them, not to mention teachers themselves and their own lack of certainty about how they can be used. Despite endless reports about how mobile learning is the big, coming thing, I think what is lacking sometimes are actual descriptions of what teachers are doing with mobile devices with their students.

To that end, I wanted to give you one of my periodic updates about how we - me and my students - are using them. So, here we go:


As I outlined in a previous post, I’ve been encouraging students to post pictures directly from their mobile phones to our class blog (which you can see here). This has proven a rich source of discussion on a Monday morning as we review what kinds of things they’ve been up to over the weekends.

Using their mobile phones as dictaphones

This is probably our most consistent use of mobile phones both in and out of the classroom. I work a lot on speaking and pronunciation with my students, particularly preparation for the speaking section of exams such as IELTS. In class, I often get students to record themselves speaking either in pairs or groups and then get them to listen back, comment etc.

Outside the classroom, I also get them to both record themselves and other people to help with their language development. For example, the other day I started a new group and on our class website I got them to create a page of photographs AND an audio recording of themselves so they could introduce themselves to the class. It was a great way for them to get to know each other, but also really useful for me as I had a permanent recording of their speech as a baseline for their general speaking ability and as a way for planning future lessons on areas of pronunciation they have problems with.

As a reference and research tool

I do quite a lot of dictionary work with my ESL students, getting them to explore words and find out their meaning, usage, grammatical structure, collocations and example sentences. We do have class sets of paper dictionaries to use, but they can only give a partial picture of a word’s usage. It’s great if they could also have access to corpus data, such as the British National Corpus, where they can find lots of example sentences of the word in use. During class, I now encourage them to use  the school’s wifi  to access various collocation and concordance sites on their smartphones and add to their knowledge of words. Again, this is much more preferable than dragging them off to the computer room to spend a short amount of time accessing this information.

With some of my smaller classes I’ve also been handing round my Ipad so they can quickly look up data on these sites. I was a bit reluctant at first because...well, it’s my own device and I’m worried they might break it, but in fact they’ve been very gentle with it! The ease with which they have picked up how to use it - despite most of them never having used one before - and the ease with which they can share and look at the information on the device has given me a real glimpse into how these things could be used in the future. With a class set of tablets (or even just enough for one between a group) the opportunities for impromptu checking of vocabulary, looking up collocations and concordances, editing and contributing to class blogs/sites seem endless. And everything can take place in the classroom and there’s no need to go off to the computer room to do it. It feels so much more organic this way.

As an aside, our school is looking into getting a class set of tablets as a testing ground to see how they could be used in class. These won’t be Ipads - way too expensive to buy 12/13 of these for an experiment - but we plan to get some cheaper Android tablets and hopefully I’ll have a chance to use them with my students and get some feedback from them on the experience. Really looking forward to that.


  1. Agree with you thoroughly which is why I enjoy reading your blog.

    I also have a Posterous but I tend to use it to feed in things that came up in our classroom and feed these into our Ning.... (plus a Ning where I volunteer teach)... then my students talk about these on their own blogs or in our discussion forums.

    But it's not always a smooth process which is why I loathe all these presentations etc on how you could do this or that, especially by those not actually doing any of that with anyone(!) let alone with students... I trust you agree... theory = blah,blah...gimmmee the practice as it just ain't as straightforward as just "wanting to."

    Anyway, it never really occurred to me to get them involved in our Posterous! I'm going to look into this because it is so quick and simple (I love it!)

    Take care,

  2. p.s.
    Checking out your student Posterous, how do you feel about error correction? My students tend to ask for this a lot -we work on a Google Doc for these (I know it sounds tool intensive) but they don't like others seeing their errors so that's one of the problems with blogging publicly...

  3. thanks Karenne for your comments and totally with you on always wanting to hear how things actually work rather than how they could. As a working teacher, I want to know what the reality is, what the student/teacher might get confused by when using a website/mobile application. Simple things like how to register for a website have turned my meticulously planned computer lessons into a incoherent mess.

    Regarding your question about correction...with the stuff they post on Posterous I generally don't correct, simply because I am also teaching them writing in another class, so they get plenty of correction there. I want them to see Posterous as a place where they can enjoy and have fun with pictures/language and don't want to potentially dampen that enthusiasm with correction.

    However, I think if I didn't also teach them writing, I might at least want to some remedial work on some of the errors I saw there, but probably not at the same time as when we talk about the pictures.

    Thanks for commenting on my student's pictures. They will get a real kick out of having a real person look at their blog :-)

  4. I know what you mean about the iPad. Have been *thinking about offering to do some volunteering in a Kindergarten class with mine. I've collected some great apps for YL, but what if they aren't as gentle as my own little ones. If the Android tablet is as cool as my hubby's Android phone, I bet it will be awesome. Going to share this post on

  5. hey Tara, thanks for your comments. Yes, I would be concerned giving the ipad to Young Learners without pretty strict supervision. Luckily my students are adults so I didn't have to worry too much about them damaging it. Appreciate you sharing the post.

  6. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!


  7. I wrote an app for the iphone recently that may be helpful for ESL individuals.

    Scholar Reader is a reading assistant / personal dictionary. You paste an article in to the app and then when you read, if there is a word you don’t know, you double tap for the definition. This definition is then added to your personal dictionary which you can later reference or email to yourself to study offline.

    It costs $0.99, but if you or your students would like to give it a try I got 25 codes to download if for free. Email me I'll give you one of the codes.