#IATEFL 2016 - Forum on Mobile Learning

Having reviewed the forum on technology in the young learner classroom already, I have decided to stick with the "3-in-1" talk format with some thoughts and reflections on the forum on mobile learning. The teaching centre I work at has recently ordered a set of twenty iPads and as ICT Coordinator, it will be one of my major tasks throughout the remainder of this year to oversee their introduction to our programme and overall use. I am therefore looking forward to gaining some insights and picking up a few ideas for their use.

A different perspective on mob'le learning
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 CC0 Public Domain
Valentina Morgana - iPad in the EFL Classroom
The abstract promised a look into on-going research into student and teacher use of iPads and perceptions of mobile learning. 

  • Valentina begins with a depressingly familiar tale - she was handed a mobile device and wished good luck by her employers. In her case, she seized the opportunity to engage in research. However, I am sure that the majority of teachers would not know where to start. This is one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed with ICT in education - the often blind investment in hardware and software that is rarely backed up with investment in training.
  • The research project was designed to focus on how iPads are used in secondary schools. The deliberate selection of experienced and qualified teachers was an interesting one. As Valentina says, the issue is not whether or not the teacher is comfortable with using a mobile device but whether or not the teacher is comfortable with facilitating language learning.
  • After my mini rant above, it was encouraging to hear that the school where the research is taking place requested a limited pilot programme before taking the decision to purchase iPads for all students or not.
  • The 'wow' factor seems to be especially prevalent with iPads. I guess this is all to do with the evil powerful nature of Apple marketing. In my teaching centre for instance, there is a keen sense of anticipation about the arrival of the iPads. Strange then that a set of Surface Pro tablets has apparently spent the last 18 months here collecting dust...
  • Students expected iPads to be most useful for improving their listening and writing skills... Listening makes sense I suppose due to the easy access to digital media such as videos, podcasts and music. Writing puzzles me though - I have always seen mobile devices, even tablets, as cumbersome for writing anything other than short messages. Maybe I need to rethink that one.
  • The expectation that students would be creating content may explain the focus on writing. Tablets are essentially personal devices and students expect to be able to have options to edit the output to their own tastes.
  • A important point made by Valentina was that just because students use mobile devices regularly and with confidence in their daily lives, it does not mean they will be the same in the classroom. They need to relearn how to use iPads with educational goals in mind and this takes time and training.
  • Good to see the selection of apps was small and included pre-loaded ones. One issue with iPads in schools is that they often get overloaded with hundreds of apps with little thought given to how and how often they will actually be used.
  • Valentina reports that student engagement was high in lessons with the iPads but stresses again that this is not to do with the devices themselves. It is more to do with the experience and knowledge of the teachers in the classroom.
  • The multimodal affordances of tablets were also highlighted as students could easily access visuals, add audio clips to Evernote, and multimedia to Thinglink and do much more.
  • There was in the end a mismatch between student expectations and actual experiences of improving writing skills, showing that the idea of productive skills with iPads does need some further thought and development.
An interesting presentation of research that stands as a good example of how some time and thought devoted to training and implementation is a good thing. More training, less top-down purchasing please!

Kat Robb - Instant Messaging  with Learners
The subtitle of "chilled out chatroom or creepy treehouse?" certainly caught my attention! This raises the issue of considering how students feel about having their teacher pop up in their out-of-class life through class messaging groups.

  • We begin with the puzzles of Kat's context - pre-sessional university students who lack motivation for academic writing and a over-use of L1 which excluded some students from other nationalities.
  • An attempt was made to tap into the students' constant use of messaging services by setting up a group for the class on WeChat. Kat was keen to avoid being seen as infringing on her learners' social media space.
  • One sample activity was for her to send high frequency words from her students' writing to the chat group and have them find synonyms as quickly as they could - sounds like a fun gamified idea but it would be interesting to hear if this had a subsequent effect on their writing.
  • Moving into the more productive side of academic writing comes the idea of having groups produce and share a short summary of a lecture and sharing in through the chat group. Everybody could then read all the contributions and comment on them. This sounds good and student testimonials refer to increased engagement and a stronger feeling of belonging to a group.
  • Far from being a 'creepy treehouse' it seems the students felt more of a connection with the teacher through these activities.
  • Motivation, peer-to-peer interaction, personalised learning, an easily-accessible record of work - all examples of an effective application of technology rather than a flashy show of it.
For me, this talk emphasised the need to identify an area or areas in which an intervention is necessary and then forming a clear plan for tech use. When we just assume what students need and decide to use a device or app and "see how ıt goes," we won't get the desired results. Considered thought and decisions based on contextual and pedagogical principles is what tech needs to be what the students need.