29 November 2011

Our Mobile World

The new "e" is "m". We've moved on from "eLearning" to "mLearning" and nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the world of EFL. It seems that if you aren't downloading the latest mLearning app and learning something new every spare minute of the day, you've lost the plot. The edublogs telling us about Smartphone apps to help our students learn English "anytime anywhere". These apps, we are told, help you (or your students) to learn English quicker and better than anything else to help their dreams to come true (ie. get a job). Instant learning, and access to the world, literally at your fingertips.


All this sounds great - and I'm all for learning. In fact, I've been an active learner all my life. But I sometimes wonder where all this "m" availability of knowledge is taking us. I know that for myself, if I have 5 minutes to wait for the dentist (or the usual 30 minutes), I enjoy sitting and staring at a blank wall, or looking at the pictures of smiley people wishing my teeth were as brilliant white as theirs. I love the feeling of freedom of responsibility for my time that washes over me as I convince myself that there's nothing I can do. And I don't feel guilty about doing nothing - after all, it's not my fault the dentist is running late, is it?

Or, is it? Lately, I've started getting that niggly feeling that I should be doing something while I'm waiting in a queue, or sitting on a bus or even walking down the street. I've got a Smartphone therefore I've got access to knowledge therefore I should be using it. Shouldn't I?

Well...these are questions I ask myself daily. I've also been asking my teenage students these questions and I've had some interesting answers. The most common answer being they don't have this problem. Most of them either don't have Smartphones (and until very recently didn't know what one was) or don't have Internet access because it's too expensive. And those lucky enough to have a Smartphone (or more commonly a Blackberry) say they wouldn't "mLearn" anyway because they prefer chatting with friends on Facebook or Tuenti in their free time. Anyway, they've got so much homework from school and English academy that the last thing they want to do is get their phone out when they have 5 minutes and use it for even more learning!

So, I can relax a little, because where I am, mLearning isn't going to take off for the time being, and certainly not with my teens. Or maybe it isn't for teens - ever? In the meantime, I can look longingly at those amazing apps (and some of them truly are!)and I can hope that my students don't get left behind in a world that is surging ahead as far as technology is concerned. As far as people are concerned though, who knows where we really are.

20 November 2011

Qwiki.com

Qwiki.com is a video version of wikipaedia, and some people think it might eventually replace the word based version! Well.....maybe this is so but not for a while yet. It's a great website that puts together a topic related video presentation, complete with voice, relating to the word or phrase you type in the search box. At the moment it is still in Alpha version, which means it's newer than new, and there are a lot of inaccuracies and missing information. But the idea is great and it probably is the future of encyclopaedias. For now, though, you could still use it in class to introduce topics or as extra listening practice. Make sure students know it is still in the testing phase and get them to spot the mistakes! Or ask them what they would add to the video to improve it.

phonetizer.com

Phonetizer.com is a great website for converting text into the phonemic alphabet. It could be useful for students to help with pronunciation.

Shame I didn't know about it a few months ago - it could have saved me hours of transcribing text into phonemic script while I was doing the Delta!

Storify.com

Every now and then I find a site that really grabs my attention. Storify.com, that I saw on Nik's Learning Technology blog is one of those sites. It's a tool to collect materials from a range of websites, such as Twitter, Google, Facebook and Youtube, so that you can put together your own story, as well as add content from your own favourites. It's simple to use and easy to share by email or embedding in a blog.

Although intended to create stories, it's a great tool for studying because you can collect materials relating to a specific topic and store them in one place. Here are some ideas for using with students:

  • Encourage extensive listening/reading by collecting online content relating to a topic for students to read at home.
  • Collect content relating to a grammar point and give it to students for homework/revision.
  • Help students generate ideas for reading/speaking tasks by collecting further information for them and putting it in a story.
  • Use it in class to "present" online content - video and grammar explanations.
  • Get students to create their own and share with their classmates. Follow up with writing or speaking tasks discussing the most informative, interesting, etc.
Here is an example of a simple storify I have prepared to help my students review Present Perfect Simple.