Sunday, 16 February 2014

Tablets in the EFL classroom?

Personally, I have my doubts about the value of having class sets of tablets in the 'foreign language' classroom for adults at intermediate levels, which is where all my recent experience lies. So, I'm always on the look out for anything about other people's experiences with using tablets of any kind in 'foreign language' classes.

Here's an extract from a post I read today:
In a small French class with only five or six students, the teacher helped her students familiarize themselves with their new iPads by screen casting a vocabulary exercise on the board. As students responded to the prompt, their answers popped up on the screen. The teacher could instantly see who understood her question – asked in French – and who was confused. Students also got immediate feedback on their answers and the class could discuss common mistakes.
Later, the teacher asked students to draw iPad sketches of the scene she described in French. Students were able to share their drawing with one another through the screencast, an especially useful too if the class had been bigger."
I know it is early days for this teacher, this school and these students, but this seems a very small return for the investment in ipads, in this case, and all the tech support involved. My own take is that I would prefer to rely on BYOD to ensure all my students have access to the incredibly useful apps that are available.
I'm not really interested in apps that drill for use in class, although if some students think these will help them out of class, I am prepared to accept that they may be right. However, in class I only really want apps that are to do with the production of language and spoken language at that. This means apps for recording my students' speaking and it's a question of each student taking responsibility for recording their own spoken work and storing it on-line, where they and I can listen to it.
"I liked your article, which I read because I use smart phones in my classes with adults every day, too.
We use ipadio and audioboo apps, which are both available for iPhones and Android phones. Students record themselves speaking using the ipadio app for retelling stories or interviews and the audioboo app for pronunciation, repetition, reading aloud. The idea is that they set up their ipadio and audioboo accounts to automatically post to their e-portfolios on WordPress, where they post their corrected writing, too.
I really recommend teachers to experiment with recording students on smart phones and to overcome obstacles to the use of smartphones in class. It is also important to get the school to install wi-fi and allow students to connect to it."
"I use:
All have free apps for Android and iPhone
I teach English as a Foreign Language to Adults"
The ones marked with * are the ones my students use
I posted replies here, too:
"I give my students a questionnaire at the start of each course and 'Speaking' is always the top priority for my intermediate and lower-intermediate students. So it is not only the most difficult, but also the most important. This is why my energy and experimentation goes mostly on speaking.
I feel I am in general successful in helping develop effective speakers although some teachers might be appalled by the number of mistakes many of my students make. However, they are usually quite fluent.
My students record themselves on their mobile phones a number of times every class using apps like ipadio, audioboo or sometimes just voice recorder. The two apps are great as they make it possible to create a portfolio of their speaking, and I can use Feedly to follow my students and listen to a lot of their recordings while I'm travelling on public transport. I think recording themselves and hopefully listening to themselves is one of the keys to their fluency as it gives more importance and permanence  to their speaking.
I have constant doubts about the value of giving feedback on errors I have noted down using Google Drive on my mobile phone to the whole class and the very brief feedback to individuals I listen to while on the move and the detailed feedback on errors I give to individuals on their assessed recording every two weeks. I feel it is very worthy and it is very time-consuming, but I have doubts about whether it is a good way to spend class time or a good way to spend my out of class time, but, all the same, I continue to do it.
Ideally, I would like my students to develop more pride in their portfolio and to be assiduous in listening to themselves and if necessary re-recording themselves out of class. I haven't asked them to listen to each other, but I am starting to point them to the portfolios of the students who are taking the trouble to create something they can take pride in.  The best by far is Carlos Matallana, who has given me permission to share his e-portfolio:
"Usually half the students (up to 7) are speaking at a time, but I invite them to go outside to the corridor if they think the sound will be better there. Often there have been 6 pairs in the room with one retelling a story that the other hasn't read or heard.
Here is an example recorded live in class by Carlos
He re-recorded many of the conversations at home.
By holding the phone as a phone, that is with the microphone near the mouth or by holding it in front of your mouth with the microphone nearest your mouth you can get a good enough sound to be able to hear perfectly well despite the hum of background conversations of up to 6 other students."
What do tablets offer students and teachers in the classroom that cannot be achieved using smart phones?
  • Writing is easier on tablet than on a smart phone, but I don't do much writing in class and tablets are not THAT easy to use for writing, anyway.
  • Searching for information about course content may work in content based learning, but language is primarily skills based
  • Recording audio and/or video is possible on both tablets and smartphones
  • If students don't have smartphones, class sets of smartphones or tablets might help, but ipadio can be used on even the simplest phones in many countries, and any phone that can record for a few minutes can be used and the files produced uploaded to audioboo
  • Electronic book versions of coursebooks are still as expensive as or more expensive than printed books, but are lighter and have added audio-visual features, but I don't use 'the physical books' much in class as I have an IWB with the coursebook software.