Tablet computers in the ESL classroom: Unlimited possibilities 大学英語教育におけるタブレット型コンピュータ:無限の可能性

Jared Angel, Kobe Shoin Women’s University

In all of my experience in higher education, which totals up to almost fifty years, I’ve never seen anything change the landscape the way this has. The iPad has transformed the way our faculty is looking at learning and how they transmit knowledge.
- Joanne Boyle, President, Seton Hill University (Learning with iPad)
Tablet computers offer ESL university classrooms limitless possibilities from assisting instructors in making dynamic lessons to being an exciting alternative to clunky laptops and hard-to-see overheads to an interactive learning tool for students. The iPad has already transformed ESL lessons at Seton Hill University in the United States and has been an excellent resource for its language students. In addition to the iPad, other available tablets include those using the Android operating system such as the Galaxy S and Iconia.
Dynamic lessons and alternative technology
Instructors who expand their lesson plans beyond textbooks use a variety of tools including laptop computers, CDs, videos, overhead projectors, and photographs. A tablet computer can be a substitute for all of these tools and assist instructors in lesson planning and organization.
Laptops can be heavy and cumbersome when instructors have books and folders to carry. For classroom presentations, instructors may become glued behind a laptop and find the mouse and keyboard difficult to manipulate. A tablet adds little to an instructor’s bag. It can perform every presentation function a laptop can and be held easily with one hand. An instructor can more actively engage a class during presentations and only needs a single finger to control it.
Tablets can play MP3s, replacing CDs and CD players for any audio activity. The headphone jack easily connects to classroom audio systems. A connector allows output to a TV or screen to show videos, presentation documents, and Internet content. Displaying a tablet’s content on a screen also can replace overhead projectors.
Interactive learning tool and ESL
For students, buying new costly textbooks every year not only takes up a lot of space, but is also bad for the environment (paper, ink, printing, and shipping). Ultimately, many ESL textbooks can be distributed digitally, which would eliminate waste and be extremely convenient as students would only need to carry one lightweight device (between 400 and 800 grams). A digital textbook has an incredible range of functions. Students can highlight text and make notes by typing. Students can immediately check answers to in-class assignments and homework. They can even email work to instructors. They can easily erase their work and try again. Digital textbooks can directly embed videos and listening exercises so students can watch and listen simply by tapping a link on the screen.
Tablets have built-in microphones making it possible for students to record lectures and their own voices. Since most new tablet computers also come with video cameras, students can do video chats for free. Instructors can take advantage of this function by incorporating live video chats between themselves and students in their classes, students in other classes, or even students at other universities anywhere in the world.
Seton Hill University
Starting in September 2010, Seton Hill University provided all 340 of its new students with an iPad. Seton Hill is attempting to move away from paper textbooks or to supplement them with iPad applications. In the Spanish department, Professor Judith Garcia-Quismondo (personal communication, June 22, 2011) was initially worried that students would use the iPad to play games, surf the internet, or check email during class, but has been pleasantly surprised at how well students have stayed on task, only using it to study Spanish. While Professor Garcia-Quismondo (personal communication, June 22, 2011) doubts that the iPad will ever fully replace paper textbooks, it has been an amazing resource for her students and has actively engaged them in the lessons. The applications they used included dictionaries, research and educational tools, and voice recording.
Obstacles and future publishing
Obstacles that currently limit use of tablets in ESL classrooms include a lack of technology support in both facilities and training, inadequate or overly expensive connection options, and minimal availability of applications and digital textbooks. The majority of universities in Japan are currently not prepared to give instructors full support in maximizing the potential of tablet computers for ESL education.
As of July 2011, I have not been able to confirm the existence of any ESL digital textbooks available in Japan, but Oxford University Press has produced some readers based on public domain books, including Alice in Wonderland and Sherlock Holmes(Y. Hashimoto, personal communication, June 6, 2011).Heinle Cengage Learning is in the process of making a graded reader application that will be available for preview in September. Steve King (personal communication, June 6, 2011), Cengage’s International Marketing Manager, sees an exciting and promising future in digital textbooks. Not only are the education possibilities endless, but digital textbooks are cheaper and faster to produce. Traditional paper textbooks can take up to two years to publish and must be printed and shipped. And, as every publisher has experienced, mistakes are not fixable until a textbook’s next edition. According to King (personal communication, June 6, 2011), digital textbooks can be produced in as little as four months–a huge plus for textbook writers. Without printing and shipping costs involved, publishers can offer much cheaper prices to students. Since updates to digital applications only require a short download by users, corrections to textbooks with mistakes or improvements can be made almost instantaneously.
Tablet computers open an immense range of possibilities for learning. In addition to the benefits of being green technology and digital textbooks being faster and cheaper to produce, they can eliminate the need for other single-purpose machines. With the right technical support, tablets are fairly easy to learn how to use and can be a valuable tool in lesson preparation and presentation. Most importantly, they can enhance students’ ESL experiences.
Personally, I started using my iPad in classes in April 2011. At first, I was not convinced that it was going to make that much of a difference, but now I cannot imagine teaching without it. Being able to stand and walk around while using PowerPoint© instead of being glued behind a laptop has made my lectures more dynamic. I no longer have to carry around several different listening CDs for each class and can access video content online in two simple steps. When teaching new vocabulary or talking about famous places, I can push two buttons on my iPad screen and show students a visual reference. For a free conversation class I lead, my students and I have played games, read books, and watched videos on it. I have also already started imagining how I will be able to enrich my students’ education once they too have a tablet computer.
Learning with iPad [Video file]. Apple Incorporated. Retrieved May 26, 2011 from <>.
Jared Angel currently teaches at four universities in Kobe, Japan and has taught ESL for 13 years. He is the author of the upcoming fantasy series, Endless War of the Gods, to be published December 2011 by Silver Leaf Books.