iPads in the future of language teaching

 

Language courses have rapidly started to make use of educational technology. Materials have been placed in Moodle and students have had some kind of mobile device at their disposal. Lightweight lap-tops, tablets and smart phones have changed the learning environment and this in turn has called for new ways of thinking about how such devices could be optimally used in learning. Group problem-solving and task resolution no longer depend entirely on teacher-prepared materials because students have the “live” possibility to access the amazing world of original articles, e-books, e-dictionaries, WordNet, databases and materials supplied by various professional services.

Mobile devices are especially important in activities where language and communication is central, as it is for example in the medical profession. For example, a combination of Moodle and iPad works effectively because they were originally designed as interactive tools, databases and search engines as well as for searching, shaping and sharing various forms of data. For this reason, iPads, other mobile devices and interactive tools are here to stay – as is the manner in which we keep in touch and learn languages in an environment that will become increasingly multimodal and multilingual in the future.

Nevertheless, practical challenges truly exist: students have a huge range of different devices, and material works better in some and worse in others. The teacher can never be quite sure in advance what will actually work. For example, file formats are not always completely compatible, or some materials may work only on certain devices. The Faculty of Medicine has resolved this problem by standardising the devices. They have obtained iPads for students and teachers, and developed more systematically compatible materials within a limited environment.

The use of iPads brings many useful features to studying and teaching. It increases mobility, which makes studying more open and flexible because students can make contact with the information network at any time.  Mobile devices enable experiential and authentic contact in study situations in the classroom. Interaction between students and with the teacher is also more flexible outside the classroom. Students can be interactive (using social media) when preparing for class, during class and outside the class when working independently. A multi-channel learning process becomes possible because the students can influence their own way of learning (Sariola, 2002, pp.77-79).

Along with their additional resources, iPads bring a new dimension to the teaching situation. The teaching itself can become multi-channeled and can be planned in an entirely new way combining different methods and materials. Currently, the course materials are made available in Moodle. In our teaching experiment in The Faculty of Medicine we have combined the flipped-classroom model, task-based language teaching (TBLT) and problem-based learning (PBL). In the flipped classroom model, teaching is delivered in the reverse way from normal. Students prepare for the following class, for example, by getting familiar in advance with the class material for by watching videos, reading articles and carrying out various tasks, such as an information search or introductions to the topic (Toto & Nguyen, 2009). Task-based learning is based on communicative tasks that are resolved by using language. The task may, for example, be a problem that needs solving, which is also the starting point in problem-based learning. In the field of medicine, for example, the task may be an actual patient case.  Mobile devices, such as iPads, are already included amongst the tools of the medical profession. They act as resource banks and as communicative aids with the patient.

In our own project, we decided to find out how the medical students use their iPads when studying Swedish and English or when using languages in solving problems. We used a questionnaire to collect the experiences of the students, and received 51 responses. More than half the respondents were first-year students, who had been given iPads by the Faculty. All in all, more than half of the respondents had iPads at their disposal.

iPads were felt to be clearly useful especially in various group discussions, when notes can be made for the whole group by one person, sources on the net are directly accessible and distributable wirelessly within the group, and each member can edit them further, or make their own additions to the group file. The students were positive about this kind of interactive learning.

The students especially wished for good tips about applications and about good websites and materials. In particular, they hoped for listening materials so that they could practise correct pronunciation independently. There was also a wish that tasks and exercises that are saved in Moodle could be more compatible with iPads.

All in all, on the basis of the Medical Faculty’s experiment, the iPad has proven to be useful for both teachers and students. There was, however, a clear difference in the responses between different generations. It is particularly the new generation of students who have related to the use of iPads positively and taken them into active use. Nevertheless, more development work is needed on their use in language learning. The current research and development project, iPad-SwEng, aims to survey and describe the students’ experiences and conceptions of the beneficial use of technology in language learning, with special regard to the study of Swedish and English.

 

References:

Richards, J.C., & Rodgers, T.S. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sariola, J. (2002). Missä ovat yliopisto-opetuksen rajat? – mobiiliopiskelu virtuaaliyliopiston kehittämisen strategisena valintana. Teoksessa P. Seppälä (Toim.) Mobiili opiskelu – joustavasti liikkeessä. (s. 72–81).Helsinki: Helsingin yliopisto.

Toto, R., & Nguyen, H. (2009). Flipping the work design in an industrial engineering course. 9th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference. 11.3.2015. Available: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.libproxy.helsinki.fi/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=5350529.