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Going Mobile: A Q&A with Nicky Hockly

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.


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The iChild: Young learners and digital technologies

Girl sat at computer smilingNicky Hockly has been involved in EFL teaching and teacher training since 1987. She is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, an online teacher training and development consultancy. She is the prize-winning author of several books about language teaching and technology, most recently Focus on Learning Technologies (OUP, 2016). We look forward to hosting Nicky’s talk at this year’s IATEFL conference in Glasgow.

Children and teenagers today can mostly be found staring into screens. Mobile devices, PlayStations and Xboxs, even the occasional laptop… today’s youngsters spend a significant amount of their time interacting with and via a range of digital devices. And because of this, the argument goes, digital technologies should be increasingly present in the English language classroom. The general feeling is that teachers should be using these technologies to enhance their teaching and to increase their students’ motivation, both in and outside of class.  However, one essential question – Do digital technologies actually help students learn? – is not always asked. Arguably this is because the answer is less than clear.

Why is this? One reason is that it is very difficult to make comparisons across studies, when research is carried out in different contexts with very different groups of students, with different teachers, using different technologies and tools, and with widely differing aims and task types.

Sometimes studies on exactly the same area (such as using blogs to improve teenage EFL students’ writing skills) show differing results – in some cases blogs appear to be effective in doing this (1), while in other cases it doesn’t seem to make any difference (2). But it’s worth bearing in mind that research studies tend to be self-selective. Researchers will often only publish studies that show positive results – those that show negative or contradictory results may never make it to publication. And although researchers try to avoid it, they are inevitably biased towards positive outcomes in their own studies. All of this means that it’s difficult to make sweeping generalisations such as ‘Technology helps students learn English better’ or even more nuanced statements such as ‘Blogging helps adolescent EFL students improve their writing skills’.

Where does this leave us? For me, the important point is that we need to be critical users of digital technologies, and critical readers of research in the field. We need to be particularly wary of techno-centric views of technology that claim that the latest hardware/software/game/app/program will somehow magically help our students learn English ‘better’. In short, we need to be critically aware consumers of new technologies – both as users ourselves, and as teachers interested in using digital technologies with our own young learners and teenagers.

References

(1) Raith, T. (2009). The use of weblogs in education. In Thomas, M. (Ed.). Handbook of research on web 2.0 and second language learning (pp. 274-91). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

(2) Sercu, L. (2013). Weblogs in foreign language education: Real and promised benefits. Proceedings of INTED2013, 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference, Valencia, Spain, pp. 4355-66.


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8 tips to help implement technology use in your classroom

shutterstock_198926996Oliver has taught a wide variety of students at the kindergarten, primary, secondary and adult level and is now one of OUP’s Educational Services Managers. In his more than 20 years spent living and working in Asia, he has created and delivered Professional Development workshops and seminars for thousands of teachers in countries across the region.

Educators are often asking themselves, ‘why should we engage with technology in the classroom?’ One of the key reasons is that technology provides valuable learning opportunities for educators which can then be applied to ensure technology is adopted in a cost effective, pedagogically sound way that is more likely to lead to learning.

To help illustrate this, let me tell you a story.

“…and this is our language lab!” the English teacher said, as she opened the door.

I was ushered into a large room with TV monitors hanging from the ceiling, a stage, a giant screen, and a console with lots of buttons and switches. As a brand new teacher at a secondary school in Japan, this was my first exposure to a well-equipped language lab in my workplace.

It was also almost my last.

Over the next three years we used those facilities for classes only two to three times annually. Each class would be led into the room and shown part of an English language film for 20-40 minutes. I will never forget the initial excitement among the majority of the students when they first started watching the film, or the boredom or disappointment among some students that set in during the course of the lesson by the time they left. To my knowledge, the language department never used that room for any other purpose during my time there.

So, on reflection, what were the lessons from this?

  • Valuable, limited class time for language learning can be wasted on technology and activities with little impact.
  • Student enthusiasm can be wasted by misuse of technology.
  • Valuable financial resources that could be used better for other purposes can be wasted on hardware and software.

Even though that was the mid-1990’s and technology in education in much of the world has marched on from the “language lab” (most of us carry powerful multimedia computers in our pockets!), I feel that these lessons still hold true. Yet, as more policy makers, schools and teachers look to implement technology there needs to be more focus before decisions are made on what technology should be used and how. Technology has great potential as a tool for language learning, but that without adequate pre-planning, teacher education and educator-led testing and research this potential can be wasted.

With this in mind, I’d like to offer some approaches that schools or even individual educators should consider taking before school-wide adoption of technology in classrooms.

Before using widely:

  1. Have a clearly defined plan for introducing technology at the school and class level, reviewing its effectiveness over time, and evaluating whether it has been successful (or not) against the original goals.
  2. Identify everyone who will be affected by the technology. Consult with them to get buy in about the potential benefits of the technology, and what it can and cannot do. (The latter is particularly important). This includes IT departments, parents, students and school leadership.
  3. Plan for sustained teacher education and training, both on general pedagogical principles around technology use in class AND the actual tools that teachers are expected to use. This should be regular and ideally involve sharing between teachers in your school so it is practical and relevant to your specific situation.
  4. Double check you have the right infrastructure in place to use the intended technology. If there are going to be tablets with wireless connections, is your network reliable?

When first using in class:

  1. Try the technology in a limited way. What works well? What doesn’t? Does it fulfil your goals?
  2. Take a long term view to using technology successfully. Just as you would when trying any new activity, be prepared for challenges and failure, but see these as learning opportunities.
  3. Don’t assume a technology is “easy to use” for students. This can vary depending on the age of the learner, their personal experience and their language level. (You will have heard a lot about younger students being digital natives, but contrary to popular opinion, that doesn’t mean young students are automatically interested in technology, or know how to use it effectively or responsibly).
  4. Take a critical approach to the use of technology. This should be on both a strategic and daily basis. Ensure that there are clear benefits to using the technology over more traditional forms of media.

There is no doubt that technology has an exciting and influential role to play in language education both in and outside of the classroom. Therefore teachers, publishers and policy makers have an essential role to play in working together. We should ensure we maximize the opportunities for students to learn effectively, however and whatever technology they use, with as little wasted time, effort and resources as is possible.

Oliver will be presenting at Oxford ELTOC 2017 – our first ever online conference for teachers in Asia.

If you’re a teacher in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia you can find out more about the conference and register to attend here.

References:

Tablets and Apps in Your School, Best Practice for Implementation (Diana Bannister and Shaun Wilden)

Focus on Learning Technologies. Nicky Hockly, Oxford Key Concepts for The Language Learning Classroom (Oxford University Press)

Technology Enhanced Language Learning. Goodith White and Aisha Walker (Oxford University Press)


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Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges

teenagers-tablets-learningNicky Hockly is Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E. She is the author of several prize-winning methodology books about technology in EFL, and her most recent book is Focus on Learning Technologies (OUP, 2016). Today, she joins us to preview her webinar ‘Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges’, on March 15 and 16.

Using Mobile Devices with Students Effectively in the Classroom

Do you already use mobile devices with your students in the classroom? If not, would you like to? Perhaps your students use their devices regularly during your classes, or perhaps you’re just starting out – either way, there are several key things to keep in mind to make sure that things go smoothly.

Pedagogical considerations

First off, ask yourself why you’d like students to use mobile devices in your class. Answers might include: it adds variety to my class, in motivates my students, it enables us to do activities we couldn’t otherwise do in class, it supports their learning. It’s important to have a clear reason for mobile based tasks, and that these enhance the learning experience. You want to avoid using technology just for technology’s sake. Good, meaningful task design is key here, with mobile based activities supporting your syllabus and learning aims. You’ll find some examples of mobile based classroom activities on my blog here and here.

Good, meaningful task design is key… with mobile based activities supporting your syllabus and learning aims.

Logistical considerations

Of course, if you’d like your students to use mobile devices in your classroom, they will need access to devices! There are a couple of options. Mobile devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and whatever your teaching context, your students are likely to have a mobile phone. This may be a smart phone, or it may be a simpler ‘feature’ phone (e.g. with photo and audio capabilities). Your tasks will need to be designed around the devices your students have. For example, if your students have feature phones, you can design tasks in which they need to take photos (e.g. of examples of English that they find in signs/restaurant menus/billboards outside of the classroom), or audio recordings (e.g. of spoken pair work, interviews, etc.). Students using their own devices is known as BYOD (bring your own device). You can find one of my articles about BYOD for the language classroom, with some activity suggestions, here.

But perhaps you teach younger learners, who don’t have their own mobile phones. In this case, some schools invest in a ‘class set’ of devices – that is, a set of 10 or 15 tablets, which can be stored in the school. Teachers then book out the class set for their students to use in pairs during class. The class set option is also effective if you are concerned about some of your students having devices, and some not, or about some students having the latest most expensive devices and others not. Finally, there is a ‘hybrid’ option. Here students can choose whether to use their own devices, or one of the school’s class set devices.

Technical considerations

These include having a decent Wi-Fi connection for your students in your school/classroom, especially if you want them to do activities or use an app that requires an Internet connection. Also, if you’d like your students to use a specific app for an activity, and you are using a BYOD approach, you will need to ensure that your chosen app is ‘cross platform’ – that is, no matter what sort of operating system (OS) your students have (Apple, Android, Windows…), they can all use the same app. If the app is not available for all OS, then you need to recommend similar apps for each OS, so that students can carry out the task no matter what device they have.

Classroom considerations

Teacher are often concerned about classroom management with mobile devices. For example, how to ensure that students don’t get distracted by their mobile devices, and start messaging their friends, or checking Facebook, instead of doing the task you have set? Setting engaging tasks with a short time frame, and ensuring that students need to actually produce something with their devices, can help mitigate this. Another concern that teachers have, especially with learners under the age of 18, is the inappropriate use of devices. For example, teachers worry about cyber-bullying, or students accessing inappropriate content in class, or taking unsolicited photos of classmates or the teacher and publishing these online. These are legitimate concerns. If your school intends to use mobile devices with learners under 18, it’s important that a robust digital policy is put in place beforehand. Parental permission needs to be sought for the use of students’ own devices, and many schools include an acceptable use policy (AUP) as part of their schoolwide digital policy. The good news is that you don’t need to create your AUP from scratch. There are plenty of excellent examples available online that you can adapt – simply search for ‘acceptable use policy’.

… set engaging tasks with a short timeframe, and ensure students need to actually produce something…

These are just some of the areas that teachers need to keep in mind when using mobile devices with their learners. Come along to my webinar ‘Going Mobile: Choices and Challenges’ on the 15th or 16th of March, where we will discuss these and other issues in more depth. We’ll also look at some more activities that you can do with mobile devices in class!

webinar_register3


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Do learning technologies actually help students learn?


shutterstock_198926996Do learning technologies actually help students learn? Nicky Hockly’s latest book,
Focus on Learning Technologies, takes a look at research that has been carried out with primary and secondary school learners using technology, and weighs up the evidence.

Although digital technologies in the field of EFL may feel like a recent thing, they have been around for a while. We have a rich research tradition in CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) going back several decades, and teachers and researchers have been trying to find out whether technology actually supports learning for some time. However, although we are mostly in agreement upon the question – Do learning technologies actually help students learn? – the answer is less clear.

The short answer is ‘it depends’. It depends, because it is very difficult to make comparisons across studies, when research is carried out in different contexts with very different groups of students, with different teachers, using different technologies and tools, and with widely differing aims and task types.

For example, imagine a US study carried out with a group of primary students that examines whether using blogs improves their literacy and writing skills (1). Imagine a study in Iran that examines whether a group of university students learn academic vocabulary better through regular SMS texts rather than with dictionaries (2). And imagine a research project in China and Scotland based on a computer game that provides adolescent students with oral prompts in order to develop their speaking skills (3). These are all real research projects, and they have widely different aims, tools, and research methodologies. They take place in very different teaching and learning contexts with very different students and teachers. Some seem to show technology supporting learning but others don’t. At the same time, trying to generalise results from what can be very small-scale, one-off action research projects that may be underpinned by more or less robust research methods, is questionable.

Each of the three studies described above had very different objectives, followed different research procedures, and yielded different results. The blog project used a case study methodology to look at the writing skills development of one English language learner in a class of elementary students in the USA. The researchers found that the blogging curriculum developed her writing skills, increased her confidence as a writer, and improved her written language. So a positive result (for one student) overall.

In the Iranian SMS vocabulary study, a class of 28 EAP students received 10 words and example sentences twice a week via SMS, and were exposed to a total of 320 new words. A control group studied the same vocabulary using a dictionary. Post-test scores showed an improvement in vocabulary learning for all students, but there was no significant difference between the two groups. But a later test showed that the SMS group were able to recall more vocabulary than the dictionary group. So a partly positive result, although one wonders how much vocabulary the two groups would remember a couple of months later.

The study in China and Scotland compared the uptake and response of two separate groups of teenage students to specially-designed game software for speaking practice. The two groups showed different levels of motivation. The group of Chinese EFL students reported increased positive attitudes, whereas the Scottish students learning French reported increased anxiety levels and decreasing positive attitudes during the study. A follow-up study (4) highlighted important limitations in the software. So mixed results overall in this study.

Sometimes studies on exactly the same area (such as learning vocabulary via SMS) show differing results – in some cases it appears to be effective, while in others it doesn’t seem to make any difference. But it’s worth bearing in mind that research studies tend to be self-selective. Researchers will often only publish studies that show positive results – those that show negative or contradictory results may never make it to publication. And although researchers try to avoid it, they are inevitably biased towards positive outcomes in their own studies. All of this means that it’s difficult to make sweeping generalisations such as ‘technology helps students learn English better’ or even ‘regular SMS texts help university students learn academic vocabulary better’.

Where does this leave us? For me, the important point is that we need to be critical users of digital technologies, and critical readers of research in the field. We need to be particularly wary of techno-centric views of technology that claim that the latest hardware/software/game/app/program will somehow magically help our students learn English ‘better’. In short, we need to be critically aware consumers of new technologies – both as users ourselves, and as teachers interested in using digital technologies with our own learners.

References

(1) Gebhard, M., Shin, D. S., & Seger, W. (2011). Blogging and emergent L2 literacy development in urban elementary school: A functional perspective. CALICO Journal, 28, 2, 278-307.
(2) Alemi, M., Sarab, M., & Lari, Z. (2012). Successful learning of academic word list via MALL: Mobile assisted language learning. International Education Studies, 5, 6, 99–109.
(3) Morton, H., & Jack, M. (2010). Speech interactive computer-assisted language learning: A cross-cultural evaluation. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23, 4, 295-319.
(4) Morton, H., Gunson, N., & Jack, M. (2012). Interactive language learning through speech-enabled virtual scenarios. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction. Available at http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ahci/2012/389523/