Using Mobile Technologies to Create a Language Lab?

Just thought I would share some really cool stuff I am learning, and thinking about…

French Immersion students experience challenges on all fronts:

1. in this context, they are not fully immersed
2. French is an incredibly complex language to read and write
3. even if students know what to say, they often can’t pronounce it so that they can be effectively understood…

When the oral final exam comes in grade 12, they are faced with a huge challenge: getting a stranger to understand what they are trying to say… A task largely based on pronunciation competencies given that the person evaluating them has no idea, prior experience with the student’s accent, or visual clues as to what students are talking about… It wasn’t until this year, my first year teaching FRAL 12, that I realized what a handicap pronunciation will be in their final and most important summative evaluation….

Wanting to help students work on pronunciation in preparation for this major hurdle, I created a series of assignments that would force students to speak using proper syntax, and encourage them to pronounce words correctly… I learned a lot from this experience. I loved that students could complete this task using new technologies of their choosing… Of all ‘homework’ assigned, this was the most likely piece to be handed in. In the screen shot, you can see that students are in fact using a variety of tools from iPhones, to Blackberries, to iPods to complete their homework… One student reported that she completed her homework while at work, another, while waiting to play in a volleyball tournament. Some students are using iPods that belong to the French Immersion department, but most are using their own devices. At the onset, they supported each other to figure out how to complete their homework, after a couple of assignments, they all knew what to do… without any support from me. (I like that… and this is important in that we can deduce that educators need not know all there is to know about new technologies to use them).

Another thing I learned was that, by listening really closely to my students (evaluating their homework), I became even more aware of the difficulties they are facing… (Picture yourself answering a 10 minute call from a person in Beijing, or Croatia, or Brazil or the Philippines… trying to understand what the person is saying without any visual clues… Imagine that this person is not at all fluent and often makes mistakes in their lexical, syntactic or idiomatic expression choices… Give that person a score based on the information that you understood.)

In the next few months I am hoping to use our iPads to connect students from our school to other schools, with a focus on pronunciation. In my opinion, the reason why we are not as unsuccessful as we’d like to in this area, is that, because our students communicate ONLY face-2-face with other students (and teachers) they know REALLY well and are able to be understood without ever correcting themselves or being corrected. One the evils of teaching a language in this context is that, we don’t want to correct speech since it would discourage it, thus exacerbating the frequency issues we are already experiencing…

By connecting students with different accents and skill levels on a regular basis, I am hoping that achievement levels will be greatly enhanced by this missing piece in their language learning path. In essence, I believe that we can use FACETIME or the likes, to create a new kind of language lab experience…

The task here will be to develop lessons, and support materials to facilitate this experience… But we do have the technology… And I hope that we can put it to good use.

Should iPod Touch be Allowed in the Classroom?

Almost all our students own a mobile device with which they can access the Internet. The question is: should they be allowed to use it anytime, during class time? What are the implications of free use of mobile technologies in the classroom?

Presque tous les élèves possèdent un appareil tel l’iPod Touch, un appareil qui donne accès à l’Internet. La question: devrait-on permettre aux élèves d’utiliser cette technologie en classe quand bon leur semble? Quels défis cela pourrait-il poser? Quels avantages pourrait-on en tirer?

Letting go, and getting more with iPod Touch

So… everyday I find new uses for iPod Touch in the classroom.

This week, my Français langue 11 students had to brainstorm ideas and make a list of controversial topics. After about 5 minutes, I could see that we’d hit a brick wall as many groups had the same topics and seemed to be out of ideas…

I took out the tub of iPod Touch, plugged in the wireless router, and all of the sudden, the discussion started to get fueled up again. By the end of the 20 minute session, most groups had gone above and beyond the required number of topics, and most of the ideas were original. We put up the chart papers on the wall, and bam! All of the sudden, there were literally about 100 topics to choose from…

Did some kids use the iPod to check their email? Undoubtedly. Was that allowed? Nope. But in retrospect, the good by far outweighed the bad… And how bad is that anyway?

The thing is, empowering students means loosing some of the control teachers are used to having… I was sure impressed with the results, as were the students…

Classroom Debates with iPod Touch and Facebook

Challenges:

By definition, formal debates limit participation because only 1 person at a time may speak. The idea was to use hand-held devices (iPod Touch) to provide more participants an opportunity to participate, critique, review, and argue.

The Debate:

As expected, access to hand-held devices boosted participation. Out of approximately 45 participants (2 groups back to back), our Facebook debate page showed that over 137 online communications (complete sentences discussing the topic at hand) were made possible because of this device. Given our time constraints, this clearly would not have been possible in a conventional classroom debate. Out of these contributions, about 1/4 were formulated after class time since students were told that they could continue to contribute for an additional 48 hours after the event.

Debriefing:

An overwhelming number of students described the experience as ‘great’, ‘engaging’, ‘fun’, and ‘so cool’. Many expressed that it was extremely beneficial to them to be able to say what they wanted to say when they wanted to say it. Some also said that they would not have participate as much or at all if they had to speak up in class. Many noted that using technology to debate allowed them to think before they expressed their thoughts.

Some drawbacks were mostly related to the application used (Facebook). While the application allowed us to debate simultaneously, it is not designed for this type of discussion. One of the reasons why is it was chosen was because many students were not allowed to join ‘Twitter’ but already were Facebook subscribers. Another problem that caused some frustration was that our initial access router could not support more than 10 devices so we had to install a more powerful router. This caused some frustration on the part of the students. Some students also expressed that those who were technologically challenged felt that they could not compete; as they attempted to type their thoughts someone faster would trump them.

Conclusion:

Overall, this tool was extremely beneficial to both students and myself. They allowed everyone to participate simultaneously and to continue adding even after class had ended. The device promoted the use of the target language created an intensely engaging environment in which students could express themselves freely. Having access to the discussion transcripts at my own convenience allowed me to conduct a more thourough assessment of student contributions.

Recommendations:

  • hand out devices only once all instructions have been given
  • provide access in the classroom on a regular basis so that all students may acquire the desired skills (typing with thumbs / interface familiarity)
  • use a more ‘discussion’ oriented application that will refresh instantly when students contribute
  • FOR THE SECONDARY CLASSROOM, IT WOULD BE USEFUL TO HAVE A ROUTER THAT CAN EASILY BLOCK ACCESS, FOR EXAMPLE, IF IN-CLASS ATTENTION IS REQUIRED