Mobile language learning

Yesterday we had an online meeting with members of the ITAS network in a Yahoo Messenger voice chat. The topic of the discussion was “Mobile technology in Language Education”, and we had invited Agnes Kukulska-Hulme from the Open University to take part and share some of her thoughts on this topic, one of her areas of expertise. In one of the articles that the participants were asked to read as a preparation, Jozef Colpaert contemplates why we have not yet seen a mobile learning hype among educators and argues that in order for there to be a period of hype there also has to be amateur development. Agnes made an interesting point claiming that while we do see amateur development also in this area, the students are the ones leading the way here, and since most teachers are lagging behind there’s also no hype among this group. This lead to an interesting discussion on whether the potentials for mobility that students often do take advantage of in educational situations will ever be integrated in the rest of the educational system or whether these two learning environments will continue to develop as separate phenomena. 

The other article that we read for the meeting is written by Bryan Alexander, who among other things discusses how also research changes with mobile technology, and as an example of this he mentions the Moblogging Jokkmokk Project which we carried out last year. The advantages with this use of mobile technology are manifold, and in our discussion we came up with a few different ideas for how something like this could be done with language learning in focus. For instance, a group of students (or teachers) could go to a country in which the target language is spoken and via mobile technology they could report back to the rest of the class. Students back home could also interact with them through the same technology and steer them in their investigations. This should result in an authentic task based language learning experience. 

Returning briefly to the issue of non-hype, this state of affairs became very clear when I tried to find suitable preparation literature for this meeting. I had problems finding anything with specific examples from mobile technology in language learning. For instance, browsing through the abstracts from the last EUROCALL conferences I only found a few examples even including the word ‘mobile’, although I suspect this year’s conference will have more such contributions. Agnes did refer to a successful case from Australia in which students had practiced vocabulary via text messages in cell phones. I hope to be able to hear more about this at the Language Education and Information Technology conference that will take place here in HUMlab in May, in which Agnes will give a presentation. Looking forward to that!

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