Posted by Viela, Leslie and Lexie
Nowadays, when you walk onto any university campus in Japan, you will find a majority of students carrying mobile phones. Many will be silently tapping away, composing or reading e-mail, as they walk between classes. Japanese young people have been quick to adopt a mobile technology that allows them to email their friends and access the Web as they move through their daily schedule. Therefore, the exploration of to what extent mobile phones were being utilized for educational purposes among university students, and to measure students’ reactions to educational materials for foreign language learning developed specifically for mobile phones has been brought out for study.
Recent research concerning the brain and learning indicates that retention of a new word or concept depends on the quality and frequency of the information processing activities (Hulstijn 2001). However, in many educational institutions around the world, the amount of class time is still very limited. Thornton and Houser (2005) believe that mobile technology can help extend learner opportunities in meaningful ways. With that in mind, they surveyed students at the university to determine patterns of usage of mobile devices, the mobile phone functions they use, and the types of educational activities they consider useful for mobile phones to make the mobile phone’s function come into play.
In the study of Thornton and Houser (2005), they first polled 333 Japanese university students to investigate their utilization of mobile phone in order to know to what extent mobile phones are used for educational purposes. They then introduced two types of materials designed for EFL learners to use on their mobile phones, Learning on the Move (LOTM) and Vidioms. LOTM intends to improve students’ interval study by sending English materials to them at time intervals through mobile phone emails. While Vidioms, gives visual explanations of English idioms based on the multimedia capabilities of mobile phones. Some experiments were conducted to measure students’ reactions to these materials, designed for learning English on mobile phones.
The survey shows that every participant owned a mobile phone, and that the most frequently used activity was email. The researchers then compared mobile phone email with PC email, finding that mobile e-mail was used much more frequently than PC email, with 99% of participants reporting using mobile phone email and only 43% for PC email. Therefore, the researchers continued to investigate how these students use their mobile phone email for educational purposes and the kind of education functions that students want to have on their mobile phone. The survey results show that only a small number of students used mobile email for educational purposes. And it suggested that administrative tasks such as receiving notifications (class cancelation, room changes, etc.) were the most desired function for most of students (62%).
As for experiments based on the two educational materials designed for mobile phones, the results are generally positive. When they receive English vocabulary at timed intervals through mobile emails, students report that they learn more, compared with traditional materials on paper or on the web. And when English idioms are explained through multimedia, such as videos and animations, especially using video-capable mobile phone, students rate the experiment positively and rate its educational effectiveness highly.
The research conducted by Thornton and Houser suggests to us that a mobile phone can be a useful tool in English learning in the early stage of the smartphone. A majority of young adults in Japan, especially college students, owned one at the time of the study. They had adopted the mobile technology quickly. In the research, the mobile phone email was used as a medium, in which the teachers sent text materials to the students. Students went over the emails by using their mobile phones, in particular, on their way to home or school.
However, this research was done almost 10 years ago. Nowadays, the mobile technology is changing with each passing day. The mobile system has evolved from Java to android/IOS/windows. Various new applications spring up like mushrooms after the rain. Today, the idea, which uses email as the push media to enhance the language learning, is no longer prevalent. With the rise of social network sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Weibo, more and more teachers would like to post the learning materials in such sites. For example, in the Facebook, there is an account named “Learn English“. There are scores of text materials for English learning.
As for the other experiment in the research, students were asked to see the videos of English Idioms in their mobile phone and PDA. These Vidioms were in web form, which was viewed through the mobile website. Now, apps like “English Idioms Illustrated” can be installed to the mobile phone for language learning. The design of such app provides the learners a better learning experience.
Hence, we think that as technology progresses, teachers can make use of the new mobile technology to assist language learning. For example, though email is not that popular to be used as the tool to learn short pieces of English materials, teachers can still use it to send learners some extra information for English learning, such as a list of carefully selected English studying account in SNS.
Interestingly, we notice that the vocabulary items were sent repeatedly at time intervals through emails in the original study. This highlights the mobile function, which students can check at the time they received no matter where they are. We think that by sending the email according to times, students have chances to review the word again and again, which enhance the effect of memorizing the words. However, there are a great number of advanced apps that have similar function. For instance, the app “BAICIZHAN(百词斩)” is designed based on Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which will review the vocabulary repeatedly according to your memory of words. Also, it allows you to set alert at times based on your learning habits.
1. Can you think of any other way to use mobile phone for language teaching in the class?
2. From your (L2 student) perspective, will the integration of mobile technology applied to the language learning be effective or not? Why?