Editor’s Note: The previous issue’s Wired column gave you tips for bringing reluctant teachers into the world of educational technology; this month we provide some helpful apps to make using tablets in the classroom simple and productive. To learn more about using technology in language learning, consider joining JALT’s CALL SIG and check out the DMLL blog. Thank you for reading and keep your classes Wired in the coming fall semester!
In recent years, educational technologies have quickly evolved in innovative and exciting directions, allowing for greater flexibility and enthusiasm from educators. However, many are left bedazzled by the seemingly infinite possibilities of a tablet device, which may appear complicated at first glance. Within information and communication technologies (ICT), tablets offer greater portability and autonomy, which, along with proper hardware and software, make them the ideal multipurpose tool. Furthermore, students benefit from using tablets and other integrated technologies as it gives them access to digital content suitable to their needs and interests (Sekiguchi, 2011). As such, this article gives some practical tools for educators who wish to use iOS and Android tablets in the classroom and in their everyday duties as administrators.
Although Japan has a tech savvy reputation worldwide, schools and universities equipped with Wi-Fi and multimedia equipment are few and far between. For the purpose of this article and to describe the full educational potential of tablets, it is assumed that classrooms are equipped with audiovisual equipment and access to wireless Internet, however, the focus of the article will mostly remain on the features available without any connections.
Equipment and Preparation
In order to use the tablet as a classroom tool, it is important to connect the device to a projector. A speaker is also important, and a Bluetooth model allows for freedom of mobility around the classroom. Finally, when displaying tablet content on a projector, it is wise to close any applications which contain students’ private information or test material, as it may appear on the multitask bar.
Typical Integrated Use
Based on 2 years of experimenting with different set-ups, applications, and interactions, the following applications were found to be the most effective. Also, since most of the apps discussed below are free, they rely on advertisements for revenues. Turning off the Wi-Fi connection before opening the application may prevent ads from unexpectedly popping-up and distracting the students. Unless otherwise specified, all mentioned applications are available on iOS and Android devices.
Using the tablet as a whiteboard or document reader is by far the most frequent and simple use of the device. The teacher can write notes, show test corrections, and edit tables and graphs. When projected, the students will be able to clearly see the lesson notes as using the tablet removes handwriting confusion such as problems with legibility. Also, even while looking down at the device the teacher can still face the class, thus offering optimal discipline management. Applications such as iWork (iOS), Foxit MobilePDF and Microsoft 365 offer cloud-based file saving, and enhanced PC-to-tablets file compatibility.
Tablets truly shine as multimedia centers, rendering moot the use of CD and DVD players, but not all media players are equal. The media player VLC can read most audio-video formats, but most importantly, it allows the user to change the playback speed. This tool makes somewhat difficult activities more accessible to lower-level students, as listening comprehension and authentic materials become less daunting. Furthermore, VLC includes built-in video settings to improve visibility even in poor conditions such as a mediocre projector or strong backlight.
As most Japanese learners lack either the will or confidence to participate in class (Doyon, 2000), engaging them is often a challenge that EFL teachers have to deal with. In such cases, using the Random Number app along with student numbers is an effective way to ensure that students are engaged in an unpredictable pattern. However, as some may wait to be called upon instead of volunteering to answer, this can render the process counterproductive. In order to reinforce students’ motivation, combining the tablet’s camera and photo applications, educators may use the tablet as a portable overhead projector. Provided students agree, their work can be displayed, commented upon, and praised by other students. As a peer-tutoring technique, this kind of positive reinforcement should boost learners’ confidence (Bradford-Watts, 2011) and make students more willing to share their work.
Bridging the gap between one’s PC and tablet are file management applications, acting as file hubs to open, edit, and manage files. Most importantly, they allow the user to copy and open the files with other compatible applications, not unlike the Windows “open with” function. File managers such as Microsoft’s OneDrive and Google Drive offer convenient, unified file storage and management systems provided a wireless connection is available.
Lastly, iTeacherbook (iOS) is a classroom management app with multiple options and tools. It does seem imposing at first and may require some fiddling to import student’s lists from Excel files due to compatibility issues with the Japanese Unicode. In such a case, creating a .csv file using Google Docs will insure proper compatibility. Once mastered, the application is extremely useful as it combines a regular calendar (with Google Calendar syncing) along with all student rosters, grades, attendance, and lesson notes. Moreover, being able to add students’ pictures to their names greatly helps with memorizing them. Other applications, such as TeacherKit and Teacher Aide 2 (Android), offer similar functions and offer free versions.
With proper use, tablets can be powerful and versatile educational devices that successfully emulate many traditional classroom tools. Benefits for teachers and students alike are various. They allow users to centralize data such as documents, media files, schedules, and attendance. The useful applications mentioned above have proven to be true assets in the classroom. Finally, systematic training of all relevant teaching and technical staff is recommended to promote integrated technologies, fulfilling the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication’s (2007) hope that: “ICT will also transform society from one of uniformity and standardization to one that is creative and vigorous” (para. 4).
Bradford-Watts, K. (2011). Students teaching students? Peer teaching in the EFL classroom in Japan. The Language Teacher, 35(5), 31-35.
Doyon, P. (2000). Shyness in the Japanese EFL class: Why it is a problem, what it is, what causes it, and what to do about it? The Language Teacher, 24(1), 11.
Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. (2007). The U-Japan Concept. Retrieved from <http://www.soumu.go.jp/menu_seisaku/ict/u-japan_en/new_outline03.html>
Sekiguchi, S. (2011). Investigating effects of the iPad on Japanese EFL students’ self-regulated study. In Pixel (Eds.), ICT for Language Learning Conference Proceedings 2011: Vol. 4. Retrieved from < http://conference.pixel-online.net/ICT4LL2011/common/download/Paper_pdf/...