As a novice teacher in North Africa in the early 90s, I remember clearly dissecting English language newspapers and magazines and scouring the local shops for bootlegged English language audio cassettes to find interesting content to base activities on for my students.
I also remember carrying around a bag of audio cassettes which my students would use to record their learning diary entries on and which I would take home to listen to before recording my reply and taking them back for them the next lesson. I guess this is why I find it baffling when I hear about schools or classrooms where students are being asked to turn off or not bring their mobile phones and devices.
I understand that competing with the screen can be a challenge. The apps that students use on these devices have been designed by people who have researched just how to distract and grab people’s attention, but I feel that the best way to grab their attention back is to start training students how to use the devices in a ways that will enhance their learning both in and out of class. One of the first things that we could do as teachers is help students take control of their devices, by turning off notifications for example (at least during lessons). Removing screen notifications as well as noises and vibrations will help prevent unwanted distractions.
Next, we need to help them put their mobile device to good use.
We can use a backchannel to connect our students and enable us to share and exchange digital materials with students during the class. A backchannel could be a simple chatroom that all students can enter. We can paste hyperlinks to articles, videos, audios, activities and worksheets into this room and then students can instantly access the content without having to type in long URLs or search Google. I use http://backchannelchat.com/ for all of my classes. They have a browser version as well as a mobile app that students can download for free. The app has been adapted for educational use, and as a teacher, I can easily control the chatroom by moderating messages and pinning tasks to the top of the room.
At the end of a lesson, students can download notes from the backchannel and save any useful links, comments, new vocabulary or documents.
We can use apps like Mentimeter to make our lessons more interactive. This is just one of many classroom response apps that enables teachers to deliver quizzes, polls Q&A sessions and even brainstorming tasks to students’ devices during the lesson. It also gives instant feedback that teachers can display on the whiteboard. I’ve used Mentimeter to get students brainstorming vocabulary into an interactive word cloud. This is great as they can see the word cloud changing as they add their words. We can also use it to do comprehension and concept checking and know exactly how many of our students are getting the answers right.
We can also start building multimedia lessons that are rich in graphics and images and which link directly to web-based resources. https://www.genial.ly is just one of many tools that we can use to create visually engaging materials that students can access on their digital devices. This is an example of a lesson I built for a group of students to get them to plan a fictional trip to Cambridge. They have a range of resources that they need to explore and which help them to find images, locations on a map, weather information, and interesting places and events. As they explore these resources, they can use the information they gather to plan a three-day trip together. Using the QR code at the beginning of the lesson, they can scan the materials directly onto their mobile device and access all of the links and instructions directly.
These are just a few of the many ways students can use their devices in the classroom to enhance their learning. In my upcoming webinar, we will be looking at many more and also investigating some of the apps they can use outside the classroom too. We’re running multiple sessions from the 22nd to the 23rd October 2019. I hope to see you there!
Nik Peachey has worked all over the world as a language teacher, teacher trainer, technology trainer, and educational technology consultant. He is an award-winning course designer, materials writer, and author