Student perceptions of mobile devices in ESL: two positive, one negative.

Here are shortened versions of transcripts of interviews we have conducted with our college students. They had used iPads in a paperless environment for 10 weeks at the time of the interviews. We have corrected their English grammar to make their interviews easy to understand. They have low level English. The interviews were recorded on my iPad using Sound Note.

Interview One:

T: Do you like studying with the iPad?

S1: I like studying with the iPad because it is easy to use and very fast. I can read a lot of information about the new grammar and vocabulary I am learning.  I store this information in all the programs as it is all good for me. I use Pages and Keynotes and iBooks.

T: Is it easy to use the iPad in class?

S1:I know how to use the iPad because before I used a laptop and I use my Blackberry and iPhone and so I can easily use the iPad.

T: On your iPad, you have not organized your documents into folders. Why not?

S 1: Because I do not know how to put information into folders, but I can learn and then I can do it to make it faster to find information.

T: So you have some information in Keynote, some in Pages, some in Neu Annotate. How do you know where to find things?

S1: I use the Spotlight Search.  I remember where I put things. I learn easy with the iPad.

T: So you do not need to have a folder for reading, one for writing, one for a topic like ‘the family?’

S1: No, I think this is for a teacher and it is not necessary for a student. I think is it a film, my book, a book you gave me and I go to the right place. And I study at home and in the office at lunch. I study too much and I know where things are.

T: What do you study?

S1: I open my iPad and first I read emails and after that I go to my programs and I read what I did in class again. I learn how to write the words, the spelling, the meaning. I do listening with the graded readers. I listen and read. I also listen to podcasts. I chat with friends in another country. I do not do essay writing in my home. The iPad and programs and the battery is good. I play the vocabulary games and the grammar games. I make the movies and presentations for class. It is good. It is fun.

T: How often do you study outside of class?

S1: May be three times, may be four times a week. I study twice. Before the class, I study in my office. After class, I study in my home. I listen to the stories and English songs in my car.

T: Do you think we waste time in class learning how to use new apps and downloading new apps?

No, I can use my iPad to learn and at work. It is good to know the apps. I can help my friends to learn the apps. Everyone wants to use them now. It is necessary for the iPhone, also.

Interview Two:

T: Do you like studying with the iPad?

S2: It is easy to write and it is easy to understand because it has pictures and music and people talking in You Tube, and it is easy to watch the teacher and the videos. I like the Spelling City games and the listening exercises. I listen to them many times. I listen and read the words together. This helps me. I learned many new words with listening and reading together. I learn the pronunciation. I write and the iPad says my words in a good English way. This is very good for the speaking exam.

T: On your iPad, you have not organized your documents into folders. Why not?

S2: No need, I think. I can find things. I can search. I can look at my friend’s iPad and say ‘which app?”

T: But what about when you are studying at home?

S2: I BBM my friends. They tell me. I ask on class Facebook. No problem.

T: What do you study outside class?

S2: I study vocabulary on Spelling City. This is my favourite because I play games and learn. I maybe read, I sometimes listen.  But I study 2000 words. I study words every day.

T: Do you study more now with the iPad than before you had an iPad?

S2: Definitely. Yes. Before I did not do homework.  At high school I did not like homework. It was boring.

T: What is your favourite app?

S2: Football games.

T: What do you not like about iPads?

S2: Sometimes it freezes or downloads slowly. Sometimes the other friends are on an app, but my iPad will not open that app. I forget my charge. The battery is too little. It is difficult to read big texts on an iPad. Too much moving up and down. I forget my questions. Sometimes, I do not know the programs. Some programs are easy, some are hard. It is easy to write because the auto-correct makes the wrong word right. I can work fast. I can understand the iPad symbols easily because I use it every day.

 Interview Three:

T: Do you like studying with the iPad?

S3: No. I hate iPads. I think they are boring and dangerous.

T: How are they dangerous?

S3: I always want to play games. I do not study because I play games. I check my telephone. Maybe, I check the Internet for a newspaper, a funny video.

T: Do you like the English language games?

S3: No, they are like baby games. They are easy and slow. The dolphin game is like the kindergarten games.  The images are too slow.

T: Do you read the online graded readers?

S3: Only because you give me homework and the badge in the chart. I do not like reading on the iPad. It is small. I get tired.

T: Do you read and listen at the same time?

S3: No, I like You Tube and some funny films and comics. I learn English from songs. I like the movies but I watch them on my television. I check Facebook. I chat with friends in BBM and Facebook.

T: Do you chat in English?

S3: No, Arabic. I like writing on paper.

T: But you do not take your paper with you. I always see you leave it on the desk.

S3: I remember it. I do not need it. When I write it with pencil, I remember it.


Conclusion: The last student is 18 years old. He is the youngest of the three whose interviews appear here. He found it very difficult to stay on task, either when working individually or in a group. Interestingly, he does not work part-time. The other two students work in banks part- time and have returned to education in their early twenties. They seem to appreciate the value of ubiquitous, interactive learning opportunities that come in bite-size portions and that can be fitted into lunch breaks etc.  Even though their English levels are low, no one feels that iPad specific lexis such as submit, tap, drag and drop etc. is problematic. The semiotics of iPad use seems to come easily to them all, even if student two commented on the frustration of experiencing technical glitches. Gamification and the multi-sensory affordances of the digital technology are appreciated the most by the students and this was echoed strongly in the other interviews we transcribed.






2 thoughts on “Student perceptions of mobile devices in ESL: two positive, one negative.

    • Thanks Srujan. I really agree with you about the games. I am doing my second round of interviews with new students now and will write up their comments in a couple of months time.

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