Technology has become ubiquitous in today’s classrooms. Regardless of whether or not an academic environment is outfitted with the latest technological equipment, students are likely to be carrying cell phones, a fact that is often the bane of many a teacher’s classroom experience. Few educators can report that they have never been frustrated by the sight of a student engrossed in the screen of his or her cell phone during class time. Teachers can put rules in place to mitigate students’ screen time, but said rules are often only temporarily effective. Teachers tire of the vigilance required to maintain a no-cell-phone zone, and the devices eventually migrate back into the waiting hands of their young owners.
Thus, since technology is here to stay, an excellent approach that an educator can take in order to stay relevant to his or her students is that of making technology in general, and cell phones in particular, part of the learning environment. To that end, there are literally countless digital applications (“apps,” for short), that have been designed specifically with classroom learning in mind, with greater or lesser degrees of student autonomy, depending on the focus of the lesson.
One such app that has great utility for ESL students in Speaking and Listening classrooms is called Aurasma. Aurasma is an augmented-reality app; any surface or object can effectively “come alive” for users when scanned with a cell phone camera, the technology being similar to that of a QR reader. Listening and Speaking students in the Intensive English Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) experienced exciting results when they used Aurasma during recent poster session presentations.
People who were present to view students’ posters were instructed to download Aurasma. Then, using this app as they went around the room, they could point their phones at an image on each student’s poster and a video (that had been created by each presenter and linked to the image) would appear on the viewer’s phone. The videos featured the student presenters speaking in greater detail about their subjects, which were in each student’s field of interest or study. The only downside of the activity was that the level of noise in the room made it occasionally difficult to hear student’s recorded videos, but that problem could easily have been solved had each attendee used headphones with their device. In spite of this, the experience was a great success and was both rewarding and educational for everyone involved.
For other ideas of how to use Aurasma in the classroom, read this Teq blog post.
Another app used by a number of the lecturers in UNL’s Programs in English as a Second Language (PIESL) department is called Kahoot. Kahoot is an online assessment tool in which all students in a classroom use their phones to answer test questions that have been previously chosen by the teacher. The app allows students to instantly see whether they’ve answered correctly or not. Furthermore, students can also see how other students in the class have answered (no names are shown, only totals). Points are given to the students who answer correctly, and still more points are given for speed of answering.
The program keeps a running total of student points, so students can see who’s in the lead. This can easily be modified so that students play in teams if there is concern about competitiveness, although many teachers have found that their students seem to enjoy the competitive component. Having said that, this app is perhaps best used for low-stakes activities (vocabulary review sessions come to mind) so that students are able to relax and enjoy the activity without stress.
In sum, both of the aforementioned apps have the potential to add dimension to the classroom and facilitate student involvement. They are also fairly easy to use, even for novices. These apps, and many others like them, allow students to use their phones and simultaneously stay engaged in the learning process, and thus they represent a link
that educators in today’s classrooms often so greatly need.
Natalie Baskin is a lecturer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Programs in English as a Second Language (PIESL). She has been teaching ESL since 1998, when she was a volunteer with the Lincoln Literacy Council. She has taught ESL in the Lincoln Public Schools and has also done extensive private tutoring, both in Nebraska and in Costa Rica. Natalie is interested intercultural communication and community engagement, and believes strongly in the merits of service learning.