And … action! Mobile learning in the classroom

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In our latest guest post, inspired by her Innovate ELT talk, Kat Robb tells us about using video and mobiles in her classes.

The exploitation of video in the classroom is nothing new, but the creation of video doesn’t take place as often as it could, mainly due to a lack of equipment and the knowledge of how to use it. There is a difference between a teacher with ten or twenty years’ experience, and one with one year’s experience repeated ten or twenty times. Using technology in the classroom is about being flexible within one’s own teaching practice and being prepared to experiment and learn.

Why use technology?

  • To meet learner expectations by going beyond the textbook and providing the next generation with 21st century skills development
  • To encourage learners to engage with technology for learning outside the classroom
  • To bring the outside world into the classroom
  • For professional development. Teaching is about learning, and this includes the teaching practitioners

At Innovate ELT, I spoke about using the video function of mobile devices, be it a tablet, a smartphone or an iPod touch. I am a keen advocate of using smartphones in the classroom because I think teachers should take advantage of incorporating technology to scaffold the learning process, especially technology that is readily available. Ask your students how many of them own a smartphone and they will all raise their hands. Ask them how many times a day they check their phones and they won’t be able to put a finger on the number.

What to do with it

Using the camera function of a smartphone is an easy way to personalise the learning experience for the students. The language focus is on emergent language, so it’s ‘real English’ that the learners are using in a genuine context.

Using photos the students already have on their phones is a good way to get them sharing and talking about what is important and meaningful to them. They simply select any photo from their phones, describe it, say when it was taken and why they decided to capture the moment and save it for future reference. Or ask them to take a photo of something they see on their way to class and talk about that in a similar way. Another alternative is that they take a photo of an everyday object and crop or zoom in on it to introduce it to their partner, lending a guessing element to the activity.

The recording function can be used in much the same way with students creating short videos. By doing this, the focus is on the path towards the creation of the video. Not only is language used to script the video, but there is interaction and collaboration between the students to reach the finished product. This could include an audio guide for a museum, monument, or capital city or an ‘About me’ video in which the students talk about a personal interest, how this interest came about and why it is so important to them. The fact that the students are filming themselves helps to build their confidence when speaking English and I have seen remarkable changes in volunteering to speak out in class as a result of the video activities we have done.

I have recently been working in all my teaching contexts with using self-created video footage for correction purposes. The students record themselves using their phones and the footage is viewed, analysed and evaluated. By using their personal devices students not only own the content, they are free to replay it an unlimited amount of times and can pause it where and when they like. The recordings also serve as a barometer of performance and can be used to compare against future performances.

My aim is that students will engage with the material inside and outside the classroom by making the most of the time they spend using their phones for less cognitive activities. Mobile learning has many advantages. The device itself is mobile which enables more learners to engage with content, so it is more convenient than CALL. The learners are mobile, so they are able to engage with content while on the move.  Lastly, the learning itself can be mobile, whereby learners can interact with the surrounding environment, rather like situational language learning. It ticks every box and gives the learners unlimited opportunities to engage with, and through, their own personal footage. Not only are the students bringing the outside world into the classroom by using their mobile devices, they are also being encouraged to become autonomous learners.

And … action (research)!

Many ELT authors have highlighted the importance of action research whereby teachers identify a problem or issue with their own teaching practice that they wish to change or improve. By keeping a teaching journal, peer observations and student feedback the teacher collects data regarding their teaching to analyse. Once the analysis has been realised the teacher is then able to implement changes for future practice.

Much has been written about action research for teachers (Harmer, Gebhard & Oprandy, Richards, Allwright & Bailey – more information available here) but surely it is equally as important for our learners to engage in their own action research, and to become self-aware of their performance, discovering features they would like to improve on or change. I have introduced my students to a reflective cycle whereby they record themselves speaking, the footage is viewed repeatedly so they become aware of the aspects to correct, and then they decide what action to take. Both metalinguistic (language) and paralinguistic (physical) features are taken into consideration, and students are recommended to focus on one feature at a time. Students become mindful of how they think they come across and compare it to how they really come across, because the camera never lies.

The results

I have already seen a noticeable difference in my students. They are more self-aware and have become conscious of the features of connected speech and body language because of watching themselves on video. Stretches of monotone discourse have transformed into chunked discourse with intonation and stress. Slouching over the table with crossed arms staring at a book whilst interacting has been replaced with full eye contact engagement, hand gestures and nodding.

There’s no excuse not to give this a go because we all have a smartphone or digital device with a video recording function. Go on, give it a whirl, and let me know how it goes!

Kat has been teaching for over 20 years and is currently a teacher and teacher trainer at Oxford TEFL, Barcelona. She creates digital learning content for a number of teaching contexts and has a special interest in the use of mobile technologies and video. She shares her ideas on her blog and via Twitter.
Feature image by: ARMLE via Compfight cc. Text added by ELTjam.

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1 thought on “And … action! Mobile learning in the classroom”

  1. I agree with you, Kat. Videos are powerful and I’d say they’re also changing the way people learning.
    I’ve started making videos for teachers and while I still see there’s some resistance, the feedback has been positive so far.


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