Since the release of the first iPad to the market on April 3, 2010, its uses in the educational setting have grown exponentially. It created a whole new category of electronic gadget – the tablet computer. Apple’s first tablet computer was actually released in 1993, but it was not as popular as the new ones. Nowadays, not only are there four generations of iPads created by Apple (iPad, iPad 2, New iPad and iPad Mini), but also other competitor companies have released their own tablet computers: BlackBerry, Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia, Google, HP, to mention some of them. Each of those competitors runs a specific operational system and has its own app store. So, the first question here would be – which one to choose? I am not going to answer that question here. Since iOS and Android are the most popular versions, and the ones I actually use, I will focus on them, but all the tablets have pretty much the same functions. The two real questions on this page are: Why to use apps in the language classroom? What is out there for teachers, students and parents?
Barseghian (2012) wrote about the use of cell phones in the classroom. Cell phones differ from tablets in size, but some of them share the same functions and apps. She said that “In the most ideal class settings, mobile devices disappear into the background, like markers and whiteboards, pencil and paper – not because they’re not being used, but because they’re simply tools, a means to an end.” She tells the story of Ramsey Musallam, a Chemistry teacher, who keeps his students motivated due to anticipation of what he will do next class. He sends messages to his students, runs polls about exercises among students, posts class material real-time on the class’s blog, and records class instructions on his tablet, all of which students can access using their own tablets and mobile phones, no matter where they are. He uses mobile devices – tablet computers and smartphones – in the context of peer instruction, which in his opinion makes instruction more effective and meaningful. “It makes the classroom feel like a bigger place.” According to the author, James Sanders, a History teacher at Kipp San Francisco Bay Academy, uses tablets and smartphones for polls and short quizzes in the classroom. Sanders said that those technological resources empower the teacher and the results coming instantaneously from all students and processed by the electronic devices speed up the learning process. However, the Barseghian also recognizes that the use of hand held devices in the classroom is not a bed of roses. Many students use them inappropriately. The teacher must be prepared to teach students how to behave in the interactive world using the technology – that’s digital citizenship.
On this verge, Daccord (2012) wrote about five critical mistakes teachers (and schools) make with iPad. The author pointed out those mistakes and how to correct them in order to provide teachers a better experience with this rather new technology.
- “The most common mistake teachers make with iPads is focusing on subject-specific apps.” I agree with the author – it is better (and easier) to adjust the app to your need than to plan your work based on the app’s features. Don’t look just for Apps specifically focused on ESL/EFL; instead, look at more general Apps with critical eyes and ask yourself how it suits your needs in learning/teaching. There are thousands of Apps out there, be creative and adapt them to your projects.
- “One of the obvious mistakes is failing to provide teachers with adequate professional development.” Before taking a tablet to the classroom and requiring a student to use it, teachers must be appropriately trained. Using tablets in the classroom goes beyond finding a “good app”, it requires planning and understanding tools. The teacher must be intimate with the technology. Students rely on the teacher’s knowledge and expect them to know better.
- Some people treat tablet computers as if they were laptop computer when in fact they are complimentary gadgets. Such a comparison may cause frustration. The iPad allows mobility, kinesthetic connection with the work, creativity, active learning and interaction.
- Due to budgetary issues, some schools treat iPads as multi-users devices. The ideal ratio is 1:1. When two or more students are sharing the tablet, only one is actually interacting with the work.
- “Many initiatives face resistance from teachers, parents — and even students – who don’t understand why these devices are being introduced into their classrooms.” Teachers and administrators must be able to answer why they are using this technology. The author highlights the main reasons: “iPad supports essential skill areas — complex communication, new media literacy, creativity, and self-directed learning.” My addition – any other tablet is able to do so; it is just better that all the parts involved have the same kind of device to make sure everyone has access to the same tools. Daccord included some other advantages of using tablet computers:
- incredibly immersive and active learning environment;
- unprecedented opportunities to develop personalized, student-centered learning;
- beneficial consumption, curation, and creativity activities;
- student empowerment;
- improvement in teacher management of classroom time and space;
- incredible flexibility to vary learning activities at a moment’s notice;
- students have the world at their fingertips– anywhere they might be.
Birch (2011) wrote about the benefits of apps and online tools in ESL instruction. More specifically, he focused on students with limited resources who can benefit from free resources. “ESL students can play games and complete exercises online while learning… even if they are far away from a real teacher or school.” There are thousands of options of free activities online. Online resources allow students to learn slangs, idioms and other terms not included in dictionaries. Podcasts provide information not only related to the language itself, but also to culture. On YouTube students can listen to native speakers from all over the world speaking – that’s authentic unabridged material. ESL focused apps are like pocket sized lessons which students can access anytime from anywhere. Students are free to learn much more than what is provided in the classroom. Language learners are usually described as visual and verbal, active and reflective. “To maximize a student’s ability (at diverse learning styles) to absorb new information, it is important to subject them to a variety of learning styles.”
However, not all researchers think the same way about the use of apps and mobile devices in education. Murray and Olcese (2011) wrote their article aimed at “whether or not the iPad and its software environment allowed users to do things in educational settings that they could not otherwise do.” At that point they found that iPads would not revolutionize education. A year and so later, based on Daccord (2012), I disagree with their statement that “the categories (of apps) offered by Apple are of little use to educators (…) as many of the more useful application exist outside the education category.” As mentioned above, even non-education-specific apps can be adapted to language learners. Murray and Olcese (2011) contradicted the articles mentioned above, saying that whatever was made on the iPad could have been done on other devices, and that such emergent technology played against the 21st century skills. On the other hand, in that same year, Enriquez (2010) affirmed that “tablet PCs have the potential to change the dynamics of classroom interaction.” His research showed positive student perception about the impact of tablet apps classroom interaction.
Still in 2010, Fons (2010) wrote his article about how he spent a year without paper in his classroom. The author – a physics teacher in the undergraduate level – described how he managed labs, homework, exams, surveys and classroom instruction relying on electronic copies and tablet apps instead of paper. The project was highly approved and supported by the students, whose feedback indicated that they felt more motivated by the use of technology and that the tablets apps helped them learn more about the class content.
More recent research performed by Parnell and Bartlett (2012) came across those issues of relevance and showed how mobile apps have been productively used to document preschool and primary classrooms. Using a photo app the teacher documents what has been done in class, and in a few minutes afterwards she writes a blog entry to a password-protected website using the same electronic gadget, and parents have updated access to what their children have been learning. When the authors described such use of apps, they were not thinking of education-specific apps, but on basic resources adapted to the teacher’s needs. Having all the tools on the same device saves time and a lot of work. This entire article is worthy reading, since it brings powerful information and ideas about documenting classroom activity. The authors concluded by saying that “mobile devices and the documentation that they enable have the potential to change the way we assess students of all ages, expanding current testing practices into a more open-ended, child-driven, and sophisticated method of assessing and communicating learning.”
Talking more about preschoolers, Couse and Chen (2010) case studied a total of 41 three- to six-year old children and found that those young learners acclimatized quickly to the new technology, their engagement significantly increased, and frustration reduced. The authors did not rely on education based apps, but on apps that allowed students to draw, improving their fine motor skills required on handwriting and other tasks. They reported that “today, the question that educators ask is no longer about whether and to what extent technology should be used with young children in the classroom, but rather how it should be used.” The authors highlighted that the use of tablet apps is aligned with relevant standards including: creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making, digital citizenship, as well as technology operations and concepts.
Felvegi and Matthew (2012) wrote about the use of eBooks (available for all sorts of tablets, e-Readers and for some smartphones – sometimes for free) in the K-12 setting aimed at literacy. According to the authors, “eBooks brought about changes in how students learn to read, and in how they read to learn (and they) had a profound impact on reading pedagogy in K–12 classrooms.” They recommended more research in this are so that educators can be better prepared to use that technology.
Cheong, Bruno, and Cheong (2012) pointed out how passively engaged students can be in the lecture environment. They discussed that in some cases instructors are able to make lessons more interactive with the use of little resources. However, with the advent of tablet computers, the authors designed of a mobile-app-based collaborative learning system to achieve collaborative learning and to encourage higher-order thinking in learners.
A quick search on Edutopia.com brought me more than 300 articles about the use of apps in education. The same sort of search on ASCD.org found more than 200 articles linking English Language Learners and Apps. Rayan (2011) stated on the British Council’s blog that “those who possess Android phones can download over 200,000 different applications (apps) including English language related apps such as dictionaries, thesauri, crossword puzzles, interactive error correction quizzes, reading comprehension exercises, pronunciation practice and news stories (texts and audio).” The blog iPad English recommends innumerous iPad apps that can be used by ELLs. Some of those apps are also available for Android. Cambridge has its own set of apps for ESL/EFL running on iOS and Android – very few of them are free, though. Oxford has its own set as well, including graded readers and picture dictionaries; however most of them only run on iOS. MacMillan also offers apps aimed at English learners (look at that site’s top menu to find them) – I highly recommend OneStopEnglish and Sounds – both of which have free components. Longman offers dictionaries for iPhone, some of them are also available for Android devices but you will want to look for them on GooglePlay Store. BTW, GooglePlay Store and AppStore are the places from where you will download those apps into your mobile devices. I won’t rewrite what is already there. Instead, I suggest you explore those sites link above and find what is suitable for your needs.
Other than that, click on the Apps categories on the side bar to find my personal recommendations – apps I actually use or have seen teachers and students using. Leave a comment below if this article was helpful for you or if you recommend any app to be used in English language learning. I am sure there is much more out there than I have been able to find. The possibilities are overwhelming. Thanks for visiting this page.
Barseghian, T. (2012). How Teachers Make Cell Phones Work in the Classroom. Retrieved from: http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/05/how-teachers-make-cell-phones-work-in-the-classroom/
Birch, J. (2011). How using apps and online resources benefits ESL students with limited resources. Retrieved from: http://oupeltglobalblog.com/2011/09/22/how-using-apps-and-online-resources-benefits-esl-students-with-limited-resources/
Cheong, C., Bruno, V., & Cheong, F. (2012). Designing a Mobile-App-Based Collaborative Learning System. Journal Of Information Technology Education: Innovations In Practice, 1197-119.
Couse, L. J., & Chen, D. W. (2010). A Tablet Computer for Young Children? Exploring Its Viability for Early Childhood Education. Journal Of Research On Technology In Education, 43(1), 75-98.
Daccord, T. (2012). 5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make With iPads (And How To Correct Them). Retrieved from: http://edudemic.com/2012/09/5-critical-mistakes-schools-ipads-and-correct-them/
Enriquez, A. G. (2010). Enhancing Student Performance Using Tablet Computers. College Teaching, 58(3), 77-84.
Felvegi, E., & Matthew, K. I. (2012). Ebooks and Literacy in K-12 Schools. Computers In The Schools, 29(1-2), 40-52.
Fons, J. (2010). A Year without Paper: Tablet Computers in the Classroom. Physics Teacher, 48(7), 481-483.
Murray, O. T., & Olcese, N. R. (2011). Teaching and learning with iPads, ready or not?. Techtrends: Linking Research And Practice To Improve Learning, 55(6), 42-48.
Parnell, W., & Bartlett, J. (2012). iDocument: How Smartphones and Tablets Are Changing Documentation in Preschool and Primary Classrooms. Young Children, 67(3), 50-57.
Rayan, A.P. (2012). Using Mobile Apps in the ESL Class. Retrieved from: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2012/forum/using-mobile-apps-esl-class