From theory to practice

Welcome back to my blog - a run-up to a live seminar on mobile learning tomorrow. The event itself is now almost full, but you can watch it online by registering here: British Council Seminar on Mobile Learning

In this third blog post I thought I'd take a look at implementation. So far we've considered some basic myths and misconceptions about mLearning, and looked at our own gadgets. But where do teachers get started, what are the first steps to be taken, and what might go wrong?

The first thing to do is examine your infrastructure: the most important thing you're going to need is good wireless access for all those devices, whether you're going for a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach, or providing class sets of tablets or phones. If you're going with class sets, you'll need somewhere secure to store them and charge them overnight. You may also need to examine your insurance for breakages and theft, amongst other things. There are also all sorts of logistical issues to be solved, so ensure that someone is responsible for booking them out and back in, charging them overnight in a safe place, ensuring they are all up-to-date and have the same apps, cleaning, backing up and everything else that this kind of technology implementation calls for.

Secondly, spend time developing an 'acceptable use' policy, both for teachers and learners. Both of these will ideally be negotiated with each party, but they should cover the types of resources that should be accessed during class, fair use of the bandwidth, what happens to artefacts that are produced (presentations, videos, photos, etc.), how the devices are looked after, charged and kept in good working order and anything else relevant to your institution.

It may be confusing for learners to suddenly be asked to use mobile phones or tablets in class (especially if your institution has had a strict 'turn them off' policy in class for some time), so it is worth having this conversation, explaining why you are doing so, what you will be doing with them and what the learners can expect to get from the experience. It's less likely that you'll need to teach them much about the gadgets themselves (especially if you opt for a BYOD approach), but be aware that everyone will be at a slightly different skill level.

Teachers may also be confused in the beginning, though there's a good chance that this will be more to do with actually using the gadgets and applying them in class. Be prepared to spend some time sharing projects you know of online, and teaching a few simple tips and tricks  - this may include real basics such as turning them on and off, getting to particular applications, sharing artefacts, etc. I've found that this needs to be done in short bursts, rather than longer workshops. Try showing them how to make a presentation in one session, how to use the camera in another, how to edit video in a third, etc. Don't go too quickly or overload teachers; give them what they need, when they need it.

Making sure that all this is done before the tablets go out into class is incredibly valuable. If you have the time, allow teachers to take one home for a week or so and let them play with it and find out what it does. With technologies it's all about comfort levels as far as teachers are concerned. try to help each teacher find a personal use for the tablet, so that they can see the advantages - it may be something simple like checking sports scores on the move, writing up notes from a class, reading a newspaper. If teachers can appreciate how the tablet can be useful to them, they are more likely to see how they might be useful to their learners.

Once your teachers are comfortable with the devices, the infrastructure is robust and the acceptable use policies are in place you'll be able to move on to getting them into classes. The final question in this post is, rightly, about content...

As I said in an earlier post, the ELT industry at the moment is more 'reactive' than 'transformational'. You'll find a lot of ELT apps available for both Android and iOS, but the large majority tend to repurpose old content for the new medium: grammar exercises, vocabulary books, exam practice and dictionaries are the order of the day, though I do hope we can expect more creative uses in time. In the meantime, look for apps that allow for some creativity, and try to think laterally about the affordances of the devices.

The digital camera is a great way of recording language, either in the form of a picture dictionary or phrase book - look around any city and you'll see good and bad examples of language, and these are a great source of discussion and learning. The video camera is a superb way of recording people speaking, chatting, presenting or interviewing and the subsequent language analysis can be invaluable. If you work in professional contexts, take a look at presentation software. Encourage your learners to subscribe to blogs that interest them (professionally or personally), or even to produce a blog. Investigate social networks for learners, interesting websites, videos from YouTube... The list of free applications is endless, you don't have to spend a fortune on apps to get the most out of one of these devices.

I'll be sharing a few ideas in the seminar tomorrow. For the time being I'll leave you with some further reading about implementation, and I hope to see you tomorrow, either in person or online. We're all looking forward to this first live streaming experiment tomorrow - fingers crossed the technology behaves!




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