In a short International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE] article titled “Are Drill-and-Practice Apps an Appropriate Use of Educational Technology?”, the two authors, Grant and McLemore, take opposing stances (2013). McLemore argues for the usefulness of drill-and-practice apps, “as a way to reinforce previously learned content and acquire new information” (2013). On the other hand, Grant argues strenuously against these apps; stating, “technology should be a catalyst for change, or at the very least, a lens to re-examine teaching and learning” (2013). The article goes on to poll the readers and ends up with a near 50/50, yes/no divide on the topic. I think this article is instructive not for how it presents two view points on drill-and-practice apps but for how it encapsulates what I believe is the general response for using any kind of mobile technology in the classroom. You could ask any similar mobile technology question and you would get the same polarized yes/no response. However, that being said, I think that the proponents against mobile technology in the class are seriously mistaken and I will outline two reasons why I think mobile technology is a must have for the classroom and the future of education. In addition, I will also provide a list of best practice considerations as well as one proposed use of mobile technology for ESL instruction.
Why Use Mobile Technology?
The first reason for having mobile technology in your classroom is that it is a high order academic tool. What I mean by this is: for any open ended learning experience a student will have to collect new information. They will have to store, organize and manipulate that information. Finally, they will have to produce some sort of product to demonstrate their mastery of the concept. In the past students would have to go to many physical locations to do these tasks. Library to get information, perhaps other locations to ask questions of experts. They would physically store, manipulate, and organize with pen and paper. Finally they’d have to deliver their final product in a classroom or similar environment. Now with a mobile device and high speed internet a student has all three of these physical limitations removed. They can easily connect and retrieve information. Store it, clip it, cut and paste it and organize it on their device. In the end they can use the device to produce and deliver their final product. The increase in efficiency is astronomical and allows the student more time to work with concepts and information rather than moving around to different physical spaces.
Second, is that mobile technology can allow students to better learn about learning and more easily personalize their learning experience. Schaaff proposes a way for mobile technology to calibrate the learning experience to the affective arousal of the learner, thereby increasing the chances that learner will be in the “zone of proximal development” improving retention of material. If the goal of higher learning is metacognitive process, the conscious knowledge of ones thoughts and their processes, then mobile technology can provide invaluable feedback on how to to learn better.
Guidelines for Mobile Technology Use
Now by no means is mobile technology perfect and just like any other educational tool best practices must be followed to ensure it’s effectiveness. Global Citizen’s Foundation’s [GCF] white-paper titled “10 things you Should Know Before Starting a BYOD Program” offers a pretty comprehensive list of considerations for mobile technology use in the classroom. I’ll highlight a couple of their points here that I believe are especially salient. The most important and GCF’s number one reason is “A Clear Vision” (2015). I think too many classroom technology programs are just put together ad-hoc without any clear short or long term goals for how this technology will innovate or enhance the education program. Too often technology is viewed as something different and not part of content education, but this is a mistake. Another error is viewing technology as a means to deliver the same content in a different way. While this may improve learning outcomes it does not exploit the full potential of mobile technology. So, in my opinion a clear short and long term plan must be rigorously defined before any implementation of mobile technology. A fundamental element of this comprehensive plan should be what GCF calls, “A Global Digital Citizenship Program” (2015). This is very important and it is shocking to me that educators overlook this. Teachers for generations have been expected to show children how to behave in society. We teach traffic safety, conflict management and a host of other good citizen practices. So, why are we not educating students about online citizenship? This is fundamental for the success of a mobile technology program because without it the students will invariably fall prey to the darker side of technology, cyber bullying, illegal downloading and other damaging practices. To my mind this is key; just as when I was younger I was taught about traffic safety, academic honesty and to not talk to strangers, the next generation needs to be taught in the same manner to use mobile technology ethically and safely.
A Hypothetical Use of Mobile Technology in ESL Instruction
While there are many apps and ideas out there to use mobile technology for language instruction, like the aforementioned drill-and-practice apps, they feel to me like we are just using the technology to do the same old thing (flash card vocabulary practice) in a new way (flash card apps like quizlet or anki). However, I think that it is time to think bigger and broader. I think that an ongoing part of ESL instruction could be regular contact with actually speakers of English via mobile technology. Students could be assigned a language learning buddy and carry out an ongoing language exchange via video call software. A language exchange is when half of the conversation is done in one person’s native language and the other half of the conversation is done in the other student’s native language. They would meet at specified times for 60 minutes. The value is that both students get contact with a native speaker of the language they are studying. This will provide immediate context and feedback on actual language use. In addition the learners will be exposed to common language usage and proper pronunciation. These are all highly valued elements in second language instruction and people used to have to travel far to experience them. Now they can be stored in your pocket.
10 Things you Should Know Before Starting a BYOD Program. (2015). Global Digital Citizen’s Foundation. [PDF document] Retrieved May 25, 2017, from https://solutionfluency.com/en/downloadables/byod-ebook?__hstc=163937376.4ff703e4aec239be92c973d1ca48b713.1495631912728.1495631912728.1495631912728.1&__hssc=163937376.1.1495673960419&__hsfp=641409690&hsCtaTracking=41a93840-074d-40b2-908b-b924a439fcaa%7Cc4750b22-f2fb-4275-bda9-5af79a3fed04
Grant, K., & McLemore, C. (2013, June & July). Are Drill-and-Practice Apps an Appropriate Use of Educational Technology? International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE]. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from http://www.iste.org
Schaaff, K. (2013). Enhancing Mobile Working Memory Training by Using Affective Feedback. International Conference Mobile Learning, 269-273. Retrieved May 25, 2017.