A Review of Teaching EFL Through iPads at the end of the Third Week of Teaching
In order to review our progress so far, we have taken our list of main areas of concern, developed in June 2012, as our organizational framework.
Delivering content material to students in an organized, easily retrievable system.
Three systems of delivery have been used in the first three weeks of teaching:
eBackpack (provided and paid for by Sevhan. See her account of eBackpack in App of the Week)
A shared Yahoo email address (Free, set up by Denise)
IFiles/webdav/Ydrive (provided and paid for by the institution and used by both Denise and Sevhan)
Reflections on Administrative Issues
A Transient Classroom Community
The nature of our institution is that there is an initial ‘add/drop’ period of course enrollment during which class members may be in flux. Whilst this is unsettling at first, it ensures that students continue their studies at the right level and in harmony with their other timetabling needs. This has been a real challenge now that all students need to have the platforms and App organization patterns in line with the classes they enter, in order to engage fully in that particular classrooms learning environment. When a newcomer arrives the teacher has the option of:
- Setting up an activity and then aligning the newcomer’s iPad, leaving the bulk of the class to continue working on their own.
- Asking the newcomer to shadow the work of other students until their iPad is aligned during the next break.
- Asking a competent Student iPad Champion to set up the newcomer’s iPad, thus preventing the iPad Champion from taking part in the educational task.
Whilst Denise tried all three approaches with the class shared Yahoo email address and iFiles/Webdav/Ydrive platforms, Sevhan found that the speed, with which she was able to add new students to eBackpack, enabled her to use mainly the first option. However, students did need to download the free App first and establish a Webdav connection.
The need to photograph key documents containing email passwords and Apple IDs
If an IT or student services department provide students with their institutional email addresses and passwords, plus their institutional Apple iD and Password, then these need to be photographed and stored on the camera roll as soon as students enter class, for if they forget this information on subsequent days, they cannot participate in the purchasing of new Apps etc.
Efficacy of the Approach
The number of steps to setting up the system
Setting up eBackpack requires the teacher to enter a student’s first name, surname, password e.g. student 1, student 2, and class into a class list provided by eBackpack on their website, using a laptop or desktop computer. Students then download the App and …
Setting up an ifiles connection requires a server address, which is not easily memorable and is thus better placed in a PDF or Keynote set of instructions. When initially instructing the whole class to do this in lockstep, instructions can be projected onto the board, however, if the process needs to be repeated for individuals who join the class, it is better to provide a printed version, so that your iPad can still provide guidance for the majority of the class via Apple TV, whilst you work with individuals.
Setting up a class email account is easy to remember and can be done by other students in class. Go to Settings, Mail, contacts, calendars, Add an account, select a Provider, and fill in the information provided by the teacher. Denise had already set up a yahoo account e.g. SectionD@yahoo.com, password English, which was easy for everyone to recall. The only issue experienced was that some students were asked for a CALDAV password. The solution was for the teacher to go to WWW. Yahoo. Com and unlink the calendar from the email address, under settings.
The number of steps to a file destination
eBackpack has an easy folder hierarchy interface, specific to the English class only and this allows students to access documents efficiently, without many steps e.g. Vocabulary, file unit 5 vocabulary list .
Ifiles / ydrive has the same folder hierarchy, but because the system is institution wide and so students have much greater number of folders to select before reaching their destination e.g. Foundations Programme, General English, Level One, Teachers’ Folders, Denise, Vocabulary, Unit 5, file unit five vocabulary list. The class email address places all incoming mail in a single column and students take time to scan through email subject titles and find the correct one, or count up five mails from the bottom. Having students type in the email subject title into the email search bar and pressing All, can be faster. However, this did not work if lower level students misspelt what they were copying. Incorrect emails are often opened up, losing classroom time as the teacher constantly has to check that everyone has the correct document open. If students get lost, it is easy to re-track steps with a folder hierarchy approach, but not with emails. Email subject titles were made as simple as possible such as ‘1 Wednesday Daily Routine OPEN IN PAGES’ but the linear text column still proved to be too text dense for most students to cope with.
Open in options
Students need to be informed of the programme in which they should open up a document. This needs to be stated either on the board or on the document title itself e.g. Unit 5 Vocabulary List, OPEN IN NUMBERS; Describing Your Best Friend Writing Assignment, OPEN IN PAGES OR NOTES.
Time spent waiting for documents to download and open up
The shared class email address loses marks here. After approximately 20 students try to access the same email simultaneously, the system slows down markedly. Hence, students with early access are able to start their work up to 10 minutes before student 20 and above. Trouble shooting at such times requires the teacher’s attention, meaning they are unable to answer language enquiries etc. We feel that in the first three weeks, we have given more attention to developing digital literacy and technical glitches, than to language teaching. In addition, new classroom management issues are arising including what short preparatory task to give to students waiting for downloads to become functional. One solution has been to encourage students to bring small notebooks with them in which they can jot down rogue words that have come up in class, or brainstorm what language or ideas they will use when they are able to commence the target activity. Fast finisher activities such as language work in a vocabulary App, or students preparing to be the teacher and lead the feedback stage or set up the next activity, also needs to be at hand to further engage those students who did start early.
Students filing content material and their own work in an organized easily retrievable system.
Automatic saving, but a title is still needed
Luckily, student work is automatically saved and so there is not the danger of students losing it, however, in order for them to identify their work, they need to give it a meaningful title, otherwise they end up with ten pages documents called blank one, blank two etc. Student work is also dispersed amongst the various Apps or programmes it was created in: written documents in Pages, vocabulary worksheets in Numbers etc. If all material connected to a unit of the course book or a specific skill or learning point is prefaced with key terms, students can easily call it up using the Search Spotlight. E.g. Describing People, Simple Present, Reading; Describing People, Simple Present, Writing.
Folders can be organized in many Apps such as Pages, Key Note, Camera Roll and Numbers e.g. Unit One, Unit Two, Writing about Places and new documents added to these once created. Some Apps call documents up according to tags, so in Neu Annotate PDF documents are given a route finding title and are tagged e.g. Listening Worksheet, KET. All work to which a tag has been attached can be pulled up simultaneously.
Students sharing material with their teachers and peers.
Emailing in order to give and receive feedback
In our institution, students cannot save on to iFiles as yet and Black Board Learn is not fully in operation. Denise has had students email work to her, but processing this work is time consuming as it takes too many steps. Documents need to be opened in an email, opened in Pages, and then saved to a folder. Denise has written comments on the work in Pages and returned it via email to a student, who has then opened it up in email, opened it in Pages and saved it to the correct folder again, before being able to make appropriate changes. Another colleague has also written comments on the work in Neu Annotate and saved it as a photo. She has collected all of the photos into one album in Camera Roll and dropped them into DropBox. Students access the DropBox and select their photographed feedback which they embed in a Pages document, before starting to make the changes. Sevhan has avoided multi steps to sharing work by using eBackpack which has an assignment submission folder.
Substitution not redefinition
In the SAMR approach to educational change, Dr. Reuben Puentedura, Founder and President of Hippasus, suggests that e-learning devices actually transform and redefine education, rather than merely being a substitute for a traditional way of doing something. At present, our way of providing students with feedback on written work, remains at the substitution phase. We need to employ digital alternatives such as Camtasia to respond to student work. Sadly, it does not appear possible to add a voice over to a Pages document. We need to experiment with Sound Note or Ever Note. The Screen Chomp App looked hopeful, but it seems to stop working after more than 5 recordings are made.
Using Apps and files students can interact with i.e. write answers down on, record answers orally on etc.
Another form of straight substitution ( SAMR) rather than redefinition, has been the practice of students filling in PDF worksheets using Neu Annotate or Explain Everything. This is time consuming, even though students are getting more versed with the Apps. Many teachers in the institution feel that we are progressing through the syllabus at a slower rate than when using pen on paper course books. One positive aspect of this is that students really are developing their digital literacies in tandem with their English. However, the downside is that we will have to adjust language based learning outcomes for the present. Thus, new ways of offering form focused and controlled communicative focused activities need to be found. Interactive Apps such as Spelling City, Tense Buster and Headway Online Tools are already achieving this. They provide narrow focused repetitive learning opportunities in which users have to make decisions as to what constitutes correct language use, within a gaming framework. More such Apps and websites need to replace static PDF worksheets.
E-learning enhances the presentation of new language and communicative activities
The iPad adds value to the teaching and learning experience with lower language levels EFL learners whilst new language is being presented. Presentations can take the form of videos from the web which include rap singers repeating key language patterns, cartoon presentations, 3D mini diaglogues etc.These use Dr. Reuben Puentedura”s learning criteria based on social, visual, storytelling and even gaming elements into the introduction of new language. The same is also true of the freer practice or more communicative phase of the lesson, in which students are message and outcome focused. They can use forms of multimedia and interactive opportunities to use language for real purposes and to produce polished products, they feel proud of. Having these products available for public consumption encourages students to invest more in the making of the product and sharing these products with a wider audience often allows students to participate in an additional communicative opportunity. In both lesson phases, the iPad moves pedagogical innovation beyond the substitution phase, enabling deeper learning. E-based activities tend to take longer to carry out than more traditional pen and paper EFL activities, prompting the question as to whether students are actually learning a smaller amount of language more deeply, or whether they are learning a smaller amount of language at the same level as before, but learning about technology as well?
In conclusion, it seems that a lack of digital literacy and suitable interactive online multimedia activities which are geared to enhancing learning skills such as keeping up it the speaker’s voice, scanning texts for information and text pattern recognition are hindering work, but creative productivity is enhancing it.
Tips for file sharing and saving procedures
- Have a printed version of platform enrollment procedures, as well as an electronic copy.
- Name files: Pedagogic Name, Programme in which it is to be opened.
- Recommend a title for student work that facilitates easy retrieval
- Where possible have a class tagging system for easy retrieval.
- Ask students to bring a small notebook and pencil to class, so that they can brainstorm or recap ideas, structures and vocabulary whilst waiting for documents to download and open.
- Think of new ways of giving student feedback on their work which makes use of the multi-media available to us. Redefine feedback, rather than substituting electronically saved written feedback for pen on paper feedback.