In last month’s post, we looked at overcoming perceived barriers to accessing research relevant to our teaching contexts. That may mean finding articles related to our specific teaching context, reading up on an area we wish to learn more about and experiment with, or refreshing our ideas through the research and findings of fellow classroom practitioners. In this blog, I will refer to two articles from the pages of MET that I have made use of recently when focusing on utilising mobile devices with my teenage classes.

As ICT Coordinator in my teaching centre, I take a particular interest in articles relating to digital technology. Reading up on this area ensures I stay up to date with new ideas and current trends while also acting as a reminder of established best practice. Over the last year, as we have introduced iPads in our centre, I have looked at articles specifically related to both mobile devices in the YL classroom and considerations when using ICT with children. The first article I looked at, Lou McLaughlin’s ‘Technology in the Classroom: What do young learners think?’ (published in the January 2015 edition and available to MET subscribers here), provided plenty of food for thought for my context.

In the article, McLaughlin reports on a survey conducted with children of different age groups in an EAL context focusing on their own use of technology in their daily lives and their attitudes to ICT in the classroom. Although my context of EFL in a language school is different, there were several useful reminders that informed my own approach.

First of all, the valid point is made that often ‘the main focus is on the teacher and the technology, not the learner.’ The survey attempted to address this by seeking the learners’ opinions, which made me think I should do the same thing. Instead of simply assuming our YLs are comfortable and confident with technology and use it for almost everything, we should ask them. We should ask them what devices they use and what for. We should ask them how they use tech and home and at school. We should find out what they are familiar with and what they would like to know more about.

McLaughlin found that the children were familiar with social media tools, especially as they got older, but they did not use blogs or wikis regularly. I found similar findings with my own class of 13-15 year-olds, which highlighted a need for training when using less familiar platforms to help increase student engagement. Another parallel finding was that students often do not know how to conduct anything other than basic searches on Google and again need advice on how to conduct targeted searches.

Another finding of McLaughin’s was that while students liked to use ICT in class, they did not enjoy it when used in a teacher-centred way such as lecturing from PowerPoint slides. They also did not want nor expect to use technology all the time, seeing value in non-digital activities and materials as well. I received similar responses from my teen class. They were interested in engaging and interesting activities whether they were tech-centred or not.

The article reminded me of the importance of involving learners when making decisions about what to include in our classes, learning about their interests and preferences, and also focusing on what they want to know more about. Conducting my own survey helped me to confirm McLaughlin’s findings and adapt them to my own context.

Although we have iPads available in my centre, we also need to make use of the students’ own devices at times. The iPad sets may all be booked out or we may only need to go digital for a short activity such as a Kahoot quiz or to look something up. For those reasons, I have also been reading articles recently to learn more about Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD). One such article was featured in the January 2017 edition of MET – ‘Keeping Teens on their Toes with BYOD’ by James Styring (available to MET subscribers here).

Styring relates how he started off as wary of students’ devices before citing studies from the UK and US showing that banning them is counter-productive. Instead, he discovered they could be an efficient way to bring technology into class when limited digital resources are available. In my centre, we are lucky enough to have IWBs, iPads, and classroom Wi-Fi but, as noted above, it is not possible to use these all the time so there were still useful ideas for me to explore here.

Having not used a BYOD system before (I previously worked in school settings where students’ own devices were not allowed in class), I was particularly interested in Styring’s advice for getting started. He recommends establishing ground rules, discussing with the class (and if necessary the school management) the benefits of using phones and when we should not use them in class.

I have also made extensive use of his ideas for focusing on the basic features of a smartphone in the language classroom. The built-in mic can be used for speaking practice and the camera feature is a great way to capture vocabulary. Video can be utilised for role-plays and presentations (with students often more willing to self-edit and talk at length on camera than in person), and all of the above can be sued to capture language outside class and bring it into the lesson. Reading about another teacher’s experiences with BYOD gave me ideas and confidence for getting my students using their own devices to support their learning as well. Of course, many of these ideas can also be put into practice with the centre’s iPads as well (just not the homework ones obviously!) – a reminder that we can always find ways to adapt the research and classroom experiences we read about to our context.

So, when you receive your next copy of MET challenge yourself to adapt some of the research findings and best practice examples you come across to your own classrooms. Find something that will interest you and your learners and experiment with it. Seek feedback from your students and add your own reflections to make the research come alive. Perhaps you will end up with ideas of your own to share in a future edition – and that will be the focus of next month’s blog.

Please also share your own experiences of being inspired by articles you have read and adapting the ideas to your own context in the comments below.