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Going Mobile: A Q&A with Nicky Hockly

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Girl in park with tablet computerNicky Hockly is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E. She has worked in ELT since 1987 with teachers all over the world. She has also written several prize-winning methodology books about new technologies in language teaching. Her latest book is Focus on Learning Technologies

During my recent webinar Going Mobile, I described activities that use mobile devices in the classroom, and that I have used with my own EFL students. This included two QR code activities, which generated quite a few questions from the audience! QR (Quick Response) codes can be read by mobile phones, and can deliver a text message to students’ mobile phone screens (among other things). If you are unfamiliar with QR codes, you could take a look at this post on my blog: A dummies guide to QR codes.

The two activities I described in my webinar are also described in detail on my blog. Both were carried out with a beginner (A1 level) class of EFL students in the UK. The first activity involved four QR codes, each of which (when ‘read’ by students with their mobile phones), gave them a question reviewing recent vocabulary and grammar. You can read about how the activity worked in practice here: Intro to QR codes.

The second activity was a treasure hunt, in which QR codes were placed in various locations around the school. The students went in pairs and threes to each location, read the code with their mobile phones, and carried out a task that was delivered in text message format via the QR code in each place. The tasks included looking for information and taking notes, taking photos, interviewing people in the school (two receptionists, the Director of Studies, and myself), and audio recording two of these interviews. You can read about how the activity worked in practice on my blog here: QR codes: A treasure hunt.

Based on these two activities, here are some of the questions that the audience asked:

What didn’t you give them these questions on a paper [instead of using QR codes]? Why all that time-consuming work? 

This is a great question, and probably the first one that needs to be asked! I could certainly have given students the questions on pieces of paper stuck on the wall. There are a number of reasons I decided to use QR codes instead. Firstly, although most of the students in the class had seen QR codes before, it turned out that not a single one had a QR code reader on their phones, or knew how to read QR codes. So by getting them to download a free QR code reader app (using the school Wi-Fi), and showing them how QR codes work, they gained an additional digital skill. But more importantly, using QR codes had a direct and visible impact on the students’ motivation and engagement in the lesson. It got them up and moving, it provided variety, it was something new, and there was the element of ‘cracking a code’ – you don’t know what a QR code says until you actually decipher it via a QR code reader app on your mobile device. But the important point to make here is that the two lessons were not about QR codes. The QR codes were simply a means through which to deliver the task instructions. The tasks were where the students really had to work, by answering questions, by the interviewing people, by finding information. Some of the tasks (like carrying out and recording two audio interviews with native speakers) were very demanding for A1 level students, and they worked hard at it. This is where real learning took place.

The second question is also an excellent one. Creating QR codes is not particularly time-consuming, but the great thing is that you can reuse these activities with different classes. Also, if various teachers in your school are creating different QR code activities, the codes can be put on cardboard or laminated, and then used by different teachers with a range of their classes. Creating any new materials for your class (handouts, slides, tests, etc.) will require you to invest a little bit of time, but if the materials are effective, they can be reused.

Did you design the QR codes yourself? Or did you use them from a coursebook? Which QR code generator do you use? 

I designed the QR codes myself, because I wanted the QR code messages to review recent vocabulary and grammar that my students had studied in class. I’m not aware of any adult EFL coursebooks that integrate QR codes as part of language review activities (which is what my two activities did). To create the QR codes before class, I used a QR code generator called Kaywa. But another very good one is QR code generator, which both reads and creates QR codes, and is easier to use than Kaywa. The students in my class were using their own mobile phones, so we had a range of mobile platforms (iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry). For them to be able to read the QR codes, I asked them to download a cross-platform QR code reader called i-nigma, which I’ve found to be excellent. ‘Cross-platform’ means that the same app works on different mobile operating systems.

 I’ve got 40 students in my classes. Do you think I can still do the QR activities?

Good question! I was lucky to have very small classes, with around 12 students per class. So when my students were moving around the school in the treasure hunt activity (in separate pairs and threes), there was very little disruption for the school. With large classes (and assuming your school Director gave permission for students to be moving around the school!) you could include more QR codes with tasks (say 20 in total) and have them in lots of different areas of the school, with pairs of students working with different QR codes in different locations at the same time. Essentially this is a question of logistics, and it’s going to depend on the size of your school, the age (and noisiness!) of your students. You’d need to make sure that there is enough space in the school for this activity to take place without everyone crowding into the same place at same time!

Can I do this with elementary school students? What about primary students? Do you think these activities are more suitable for teenagers?

My students were a mixture of teenagers and adults (aged 16 – 45), and activities were definitely suitable for both age groups. Essentially, we’re talking about using QR codes as a prompt to a language activity, remember. I can see this working with younger students as well (primary and elementary school), assuming your students have access to mobile devices. In the case of younger learners, they are unlikely to have their own mobile phones. But if your school invests in a ‘class set’ of mobile devices (for example, low cost Android tablets) students could use one tablet per pair to read QR codes which give them tasks suitable to their age and language level. For example, for primary school students, imagine they’ve been learning vocabulary for colours, simple adjective or shapes in class. You could have QR codes asking them to use the mobile device to take photos of things of different colours, sizes or shapes. Each QR code task might say something like: ‘Take a photo of something red’, ‘Take a photo of something small’, ‘Take a photo of something square’, etc.

Thanks to everyone who came to the webinar! And good luck if you decide to try out any of the webinar mobile activities with your own students!

If you missed the webinar and want to catch up, feel free to visit our Webinar Library, for this session and previous recordings.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

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