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Using tablets in the EFL classroom: Why & How

tablet e-book english language classroomVerissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, joins us today to explore the benefits of using tablets in the language learning classroom.`

Whenever someone mentions using technology in the classroom, my first reaction is “Why?” And that was my recent reaction to using tablets. Why should students use tablets in the EFL classroom? How does it help them learn better? For me, the key is not the technology, it is learning.

Many teachers already use technology in the classroom. Many also use technology to take learning beyond the classroom. In this environment, I was curious about the role of the tablet in the EFL classroom. So, being a teacher trainer with Oxford University Press, I got some e-books, downloaded them onto my tablet and sat down to answer my own question: How do tablets help students learn better?

A few days and many hours later I had an answer; using a tablet can make learning more personal. The teacher can better appeal to the individual learner, to individual interests, individual learning styles, and individual difficulties.

So, knowing why, the next obvious question is “How?” There are many different activities. Here are two to introduce the use of tablets to your students:

  1. Writing their own notes

Students can add their own personal notes to different parts of the coursebook or the lesson. For vocabulary or grammar, each student can write their own sentence relating the language to their lives. 25 students in the classroom will have 25 different sentences. This will make the language relevant to each one, expanding on the work done in class. For a reading or listening text, students can write comments or ask questions, individually interacting with the text.

Classroom activity:

After reading a text, ask your students to use the note and write 5 – 10 important words from the text. One week later, ask them to look at the words in the note. Do they remember how the words relate to the topic? If they do, it confirms their reading ability (and memory). If not, they can go back to the text. They may choose to change some of the words, keeping the total to no more than 10.

Equally, students can write 5 – 10 questions about the text, or 5-10 True/False statements. One week later they can use these as a comprehension exercise as they re-read the text. For me, what is important here is that using a tablet, each student is focusing on their own words, their own sentences, their own questions. They are interacting with the language at their own level, based on their individual needs.

Students can also record comments. Instead of writing 5-10 words or sentences related to a text, students can record the words or sentences related to a picture. Later, they look at the picture and listen to their words/sentences. Since the picture is connected to the topic of a lesson, students learn when they choose the words or sentences, when they record them, and when they listen to them later.

  1. Using the pen tools

Students can use the pen tools to circle, underline, or highlight. In this way, they can focus on specific aspects of a text or language exercise. Again, 25 different students would focus on different words and sentences, personalising their work. For me, the pen tools help students bring out language patterns. Let me give you an example:

Students circle the subject and relate it to the verb, “George and I are”. By highlighting “going to”, students reinforce the “to”, which is something my students easily forget. They can then use another colour to highlight the verb, “throw”. Some students will use the pen to draw an arrow from the subject to the verb.

Classroom activity:

Ask students to do this with the grammatical structures they are learning. This will get them used to using the pen tools. Then, ask them to write sentences about themselves and their life using the structure they are learning. Having highlighted the form of the structure, students will probably make fewer mistakes.

Then, ask them to highlight the different parts in their sentences. This will lead students to notice any mistakes they have made and to be able to correct them.

Conclusion

These are only two activities to get you and your students started. There are many more you can explore as you and your students get used to using tablets in the classroom.

As your students use their tablets, they are personalizing their learning, adding to their lessons. Each student begins from the same starting point, but develops individually, adding their own content, and thus meeting their individual needs and learning preferences.

The key is to focus on learning, to help your students learn better with their


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White paper on Tablets and Apps in School

White paper: Tablets and Apps in SchoolThere is a growing interest in using tablets in the English language classroom. Teachers are interested in them for a number of reasons. Firstly, is their potential for the higher student engagement that comes with using a device that is interactive, intuitive and with scope to use a multitude of tools for personalised learning. Teachers also appreciate the benefit of having some course components that give instant feedback to students thus saving marking time. Another compelling reason is the ease with which teachers can create lessons for classes that are more targeted to individual needs.

If you are considering using tablets with your students, our new white paper Tablets and Apps in Your School is a great place to start your journey. It supports and guides decision-makers with the who, what, why, where, and how of implementing tablets.

Download your free copy of the white paper now.

The authors, Diana Bannister, MBE and Shaun Wilden are familiar to many in the ELT world. Bannister works directly within the education sector, helping schools implement and develop learning technologies, and is working on two long-term projects focusing on the use of tablets in European schools. Wilden trains teachers in the use of new technologies, as well as writing blogs, conducting webinars, moderating the #eltchat group, and delivering talks worldwide.

Bannister and Wilden understand that, for a school leader, it’s not just a question of whether the technology will benefit the students or if the teachers want it; they also need a vision for how they will be implemented – from introduction to training to maintenance and on-going cost. In the paper, Bannister and Wilden look at the questions that leaders need to ask themselves before embarking on a tablet programme, including, “Is my school ready for tablets?” and “Which tablets do we buy?”. Importantly, they also address issues of e-safety and parental involvement.

As well as parents, teachers need to be on board and open to the idea of adjusting their classrooms for tablet use. Bannister and Wilden suggest steps to take to ensure teachers are comfortable with the new technology and outline the benefits of starting small.

Perhaps the key issue for teachers is the use of tablets and apps for good teaching and learning. How can they help students learn English better? In the final section of this paper, Bannister and Wilden address this issue by setting out some guidelines for best practice. Most importantly, they outline the key questions teachers need to ask about tablets to ensure their use fulfils learning outcomes, and give a rationale for how specific apps can fulfil specific aims.

One of the most convincing arguments for using tablets in the classroom is the possibility for students to then take that learning outside of the classroom – they can use the digital materials they are familiar with from class on their own devices at home.

Bannister and Wilden conclude that tablet use in education is moving into the mainstream, but that we are still in an evolutionary stage. They recommend that school leaders do their homework and carefully consider not just the technology, but the impact implementation will have overall.

To find out more, download the white paper now.


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Making the most of e-books for academic skills

Woman with e-book readerSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, talks about his experience of introducing tablets into the classroom. Sean will be hosting a webinar on the topic of making the most of e-books for academic skills on 14th and 19th November.

Over the last five years, the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in the United Arab Emirates have systematically introduced laptops into the teaching and learning environment. Now, all students are expected to have a laptop in class. In addition, last year, the use of iPads was introduced in the university preparatory programme. With all students having some form of computing device, it made sense to change from using paper-based books to e-books. So after trialing e-books last semester, this semester saw a full implementation of e-books across the system. All 19,000 students are using only e-books. In total, almost 150,000 e-books have been bought this semester.

I believe that this has been the biggest rollout of e-books anywhere in the world. As an educational technology coordinator at HCT, I have been responsible for making this e-book initiative go as smoothly as possible. With the e-books being delivered over eight different vendor platforms, and with so many titles involved, this has been quite a struggle at times.

So why put up with the struggle? What are the real benefits of using e-books?

Moving to a paperless learning environment is certainly one. And seeing my eleven-year-old daughter heaving an overloaded bag to school every day, it would definitely make sense to have all textbooks in digital format stored on lightweight, portable computing devices. After all, most students now need to use some form of computing device for their schoolwork. But, somewhat surprisingly, we have had a large number of students complain about their e-books. Surely this tech-savvy generation of students would prefer e-books; but, no, they want it on paper! I think the reason for this lies behind the quality of current e-books. They are difficult to read and even harder to annotate, particularly on less mobile computing devices.

However, there are some e-book platforms that are very exciting and interactive. Without doubt, the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf is one of these and is at the cutting edge of e-book technology; feedback from both instructors and students has been very positive. This video shows some of the great features:

Having been using and evaluating e-books for almost a year now, Oxford University Press have asked me to run two webinars on making the most of e-books for academic skills. In the webinar, I will start with a general discussion on e-books, outlining the reasons for using them and how they can enhance students’ learning. As part of this lead-in discussion, Puentedura’s (2006) SAMR model [Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition] will be introduced to show how technology in general, and e-books in particular, can be introduced into the teaching and learning environment to enhance students’ learning. Then, based on the SAMR model, you will be shown specific examples of how to use academic skills coursebooks from the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf with your students, including Q: Skills for Success, Effective Academic Writing and Inside Reading.

However, despite these e-books providing students and instructors with an exciting learning experience, there is still room to do more, especially at the modification and redefinition stages of the SAMR model. In the final part of the webinar, I will make suggestions of how to not only improve the actual learning activities in the e-books, but also look at ways in which the content can be used as a springboard into more constructivist, collaborative activities.

Please join me for the webinars on either 14th or 19th November.

References

Puentedura, R. (2006). Transformatiom, Technology, and Education. Presentation given August 18, 2006 as part of the Strengthening Your District Through Technology workshops, Maine, US.
Puentedura, R. (2011): Thinking About Change in Learning and Technology. Presentation given September 25, 2012 at the 1st Global Mobile Learning Conference, Al Ain, UAE.


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Apple, Android or Windows? What’s best in ELT?

TabletsHas the time arrived for you to take a step into mobile learning to see what it offers you and your students? Matt Steele takes a look.

Whether you want to embark on creating, running, or teaching a wholly tablet based course, with no hard copy books in the classroom or at home, or you are simply interested in experimenting with a single tablet device in the classroom as a teaching aid, it will pay you to take a look at the technologies available.

New tablets are coming onto the market on an almost daily basis, and any recommendation for a particular device for a particular purpose can very soon become out of date.

However the Operating System (OS) battle has now largely been decided. Apple’s iOS (its tablet and phone OS) and Google’s Android OS enjoy by far the largest share of the market between them, with Microsoft, Blackberry and the rest taking the remainder.

So, while there is an enormous range of tablets to choose from, the choice of OS is limited to an absolute maximum of three (or four, depending on whether you consider Windows 8 and Windows RT as a single candidate). But which one to go with?

According to data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, and reported on bgr.com, while growth of tablet shipments slowed overall in the second quarter of 2013, Android and iOS based tablet market share has effectively flipped compared to their positions only a year ago, with Apple’s iPad experiencing a 14% drop in sales to 17 million units, and Android enjoying a huge surge in sales from 10.7 million to 28.2 million, an increase of around 163%.

This reflects Samsung’s (whose tablets use Android) position as second only to Apple in tablet hardware sales. Amazon (whose Kindle Fire uses Amazon’s own version of Android), Lenovo and Acer make up the rest of that list, along with the myriad other tablet makers, who also use Android.

In the same way that the popularity of the Windows PC OS in the nineties caused Intel to become the largest chip manufacturer in the world, so Samsung and Amazon’s Kindle Fire have reaped the benefit of the success of Android.

The choice of OS, however, is bound up with a number of other issues – how do the respective app stores rate? To what extent can you make use of your school’s existing technologies (email, interoperability with a school LAN etc)? What other software is available to help you with the management of classroom based tablet devices?

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10 things ESL students can do with Evernote on their tablets

Tablet in handsMohamed El-Ashiry takes a look at how Evernote can be used in the classroom

Portfolio assessment in the ESL classroom offers many benefits. On the Prince George’s County Public Schools’ website, a portfolio is defined as ‘a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas of the curriculum’. Brown & Hudson (1998) have also described portfolios as a ‘family of assessments’. Some of the benefits of using portfolios, as described by Brown & Hudson (1998) include: (1) focusing student attention on learning processes; and (2) increasing student involvement in the learning processes. I have always been a fan of such ‘alternatives in assessment‘ because of the fact that they focus a lot more on the ‘process of learning’ as opposed to the ‘product of learning’ (Brown & Hudson, 1998).

Now that iPads and tablets are spreading into many educational institutions, I believe it’s important to think about the ways these devices can facilitate assessment in the classroom. Evernote is a great platform for students to collect evidence of their learning, and to share that with their teacher/s, and their families. Here are some of the many things my students do with Evernote on their tablets:

  1. Write text: Writing is a very important productive skill in any language classroom. The most obvious thing students can do with Evernote is write text, and writing is used extensively in the ESL classroom: essays, reports, observations, answers to questions etc…
  2. Gather screenshots of work done on online forms/quizzes: I often use Google Forms to prepare short quizzes and tests for students. I also prepare Google Forms for self-assessment and peer-assessment checklists/rubrics. The great thing about iPads/tablets is that students can take screenshots. I always remind my students to keep screenshots of their filled-in forms before they click ‘Submit’, and this can be added as evidence to their Evernote portfolios. Continue reading