Using mobile devices to open up the learning environment

Deborah Hobbs

Deborah Hobbs works in Bristol as a freelance author, instructional designer and also as an English language lecturer and teacher in higher and adult education. She is also co-author of Open World First. In this article, Deborah shares some tips and exercises you can try in class to integrate mobile devices into your teaching.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of classroom hours trying to stop my students from using their mobile phones in class. I saw them as either a distraction from what my students were supposed to be doing (mine regularly distracts me!), or the idea of using them in class was too complicated and time-consuming for me, as an educator, to get to grips with. Not something I had time to think about when I was busy lesson planning!

I’ve come to realise, however, that used as learning tools, and alongside my traditional teaching methods, mobile phones could effectively (and easily) be integrated into the classroom and enhance my students’ learning experience. They present excellent opportunities for students to work collaboratively, and being ‘mobile’, to continue learning outside the classroom. Importantly, they help bring the real world into class which is exactly what I’m preparing my students for: real-world communication.

I’m not suggesting we need to become experts, but here are a few technophobe-friendly ideas, taken from the Open World series, that you could try out, either for your general or exam English classes:

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Considerations [or tips] to help you successfully integrate mobile devices into your teaching:

– Set online research activities as pre-lesson warmers or follow up activities which consolidate learning.

– Come prepared with a few website ideas in case students get stuck with their online searches.

– Make connections to the real world and give students real tasks: write real reviews or comments on blog posts (knowing others will read their work also increases motivation).

– Accept that some social media distraction will take place and where possible incorporate this into learning, for example opening a closed Facebook page for learners to post exam tips.

– Take opportunities to encourage collaboration: get students to divide research tasks between them; comment on another student’s comments to a blog post; peer review exam tips before posting on social media.

– Increase motivation by focusing on grade-accessible language: lower-level learners, who have a limited range of vocabulary, could use train or bus websites/apps to look for ticket fares or timetables – a good add-on for a coursebook lesson about travel.

– Encourage students, higher levels especially, to change their phone settings to English. It’s surprising how quickly they’ll get used to it.

– Use student generated materials: for exam practice, students could compare and contrast similar themed photos on their phones. Better still, take them outside to take photographs which they can later compare and contrast in class.

– Ensure students always have a reason to do what you have asked them to do. How will it really benefit them?

These ideas are great for bringing the real-world into our classrooms and for opening up the learning environment. At the same time, they also help to remove the taboo of using mobile phones during lesson time. After all, most of our students have some sort of mobile device and if, like me, you’ve tried and failed, to get students to leave them in their bags for the duration of your lesson maybe you could give a few of these ideas a try. After all, it’s in the real world where our students will need to communicate.

Hear more from Deborah by registering for her webinar on 25th September at 3pm BST.  In the webinar, she will discuss how we build confidence for communication in a non-controlled, challenging environment.

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