ESOL and Mobile Learning
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9 April 2017
I was an ESOL teacher in a community setting which had been relatively technology-free. I suppose I was lucky to have an interactive whiteboard (which frequently did not work) connected to an extremely old laptop running XP.
The room in which I was teaching was spacious, with tables and chairs and only1 laptop, connected to the Interactive Smartboard. I planned my sessions for a class of about 10 students, however, due to changes in rules for childcare, only recruited 7 students.
I was not able to use most of the Internet sites and tools I wanted to as the browsers on the laptop could not be updated, except by the local council IT department, who had never responded to any requests for updating. In addition, certain sites, eg. YouTube, were blocked and access to the Internet was restricted by a convoluted process of applying for a temporary account, lasting 1 day.
My class had a module on the college VLE. However, the VLE was not very ESOL-friendly and so had not used it with the students. I hoped by using mobile-learning to find an alternative online space for the class.
I wanted to find an alternative way to use technology with the group, take advantage of existing mobile phone skills and develop digital literacy with tablets.
My learners came from diverse countries, including refugee and asylum-seeker populations and I was also aware of an existing digital divide. Fortunately, there was a small amount of money available to purchase some tablet computers. I investigated the possibility of using them by connecting to a portable wifi hotspot (initially borrowed from the technician). I hoped to address the digital divide by prioritising access to tablets for students without Smartphones. I also included a trip to the local library, encouraging students to join and use computers there.
1. I purchased 4 tablets, researched apps useful for teaching and learning English language and downloaded onto tablets.
2. Introduced tablets to the students and demonstrated some useful apps for spelling and grammar that they could download onto their smartphones. Students liked using the tablets and did so in pairs or groups of 3. Some students were able to download apps and use their own phones.
3, Experimented with mindmapping apps for vocabulary and planning presentations and writing on the tablets.
4. Presented sessions on Internet safety and creating strong passwords.
5. Set up an online virtual classroom space using the app Edmodo. This app is safe for the learners as it does not require them to supply any personal information or email addresses. First session with Edmodo, students introduced themselves and got used to sending messages to each other and teacher.I linked in some lesson objects I had created online for grammar and punctuation practice.
6. Also linked in a visual noticeboard (Lino) as a collaborative space for showing student work and building up links to videos and other resources around topics. Our first topic was Media-Cinema and Films.
7. Students used mindmapping to plan presentations, then created them using PowerPoint. (We were able to borrow a couple of ancient laptops which had PowerPoint 2003 and were just about able to surf the Internet for images).They also read film reviews, planned and wrote their own film review.
The students enjoyed using the tablets and got used to using Edmodo app on their phones. Edmodo has a similar look to Facebook and students used it between classes for communicating with me and each other.
However, the class had under-recruited and was stopped at the end of the autumn term so my experiment was rather short-lived.
For the purposes of getting students through the compulsory assessments, the tablets usefulness was limited, however. They were good for practising with apps, recording audio and video for role play, listening and pronunciation practice and surfing the Internet but a desktop in the main college was necessary for typing up writing and printing out research materials from the Internet, as we did not have access to a printer in the community centre.
There were some apps I really wanted to use in the classroom, such as Kahoot, but couldn't because of the dodgy browsers on the XP computer connected to the Smartboard.
I think that the experiment was a useful experience. It was quite frustrating at times with the unreliable wifi and it revealed many challenges to be overcome.
I believe that, if more money becomes available, more tablets and also new laptops should be invested in to help develop digital and employability skills in community settings.
At the time, I also took on the editing of the community ESOL magazine, which gave me the opportunity to visit other community ESOL classes and find out what teachers were doing with technology. I found that most classes also did not have access to computers, however, some enterprising students had taken the initiative and set up a WhatsApp group called ‘ESOL Mums’, which they used for sending photos and recipes to each other and messages about the class. They reported that they found this helpful for their writing skills.
Mobile learning has lots of potential for English language students and most students like talking about and using their phones for learning.