mLearning Using Smartphones in the EFL Classroom: It´s Possible!

Even though we live in the "mobile era", some educators are still reluctant to use mobile devices in the classroom. I cannot blame them: (fun) learning can happen without technology but, to be honest, I have never asked myself why I have to integrate some technology in my classes or if I will be competent enough to handle behavior while the students are logged in their devices, as I had already had my own personal experience back in 2001, when I had a Mac desktop computer in the classroom, a notebook provided by the district to exchange teachers, and my students had access to laptops either in the library or in a cart to take to our classroom. How can I not be aware that technology was there to stay, no matter the budget cuts or the change of administrators: language, science and even P.E. teachers used computers to teach back in those days!.

Since I came back to teach in my home country, I was told by my former american colleagues that those computers were left aside and replaced by Ipads, Chromebooks and/or Surface tablets pcs.

By 2009, my days in American classrooms were over so, since I re-started teaching in my home country, it did surprise me that the integration of tech tools in the English as a Foreign Language class was already explained in any Teacher´s Books in any coursebook at any level -CEFR A to C-, even though not many teachers knew how to do so or not doing anything at all. The truth is that they may know how to but Internet was not available in many places, and still is not. 

However, my innovative spirit told me to do something and that was in 2011 when I first asked my students to use their smartphones (mainly Blackberries) to look up for words in websites such as www.dictionary.com or practice any of the four skills in the Learn English British Council site, complete online quizzes for special days like April Fool´s Day or Halloween. It was obviously extra practice because we depended on the availability of the internet connection (3G data) at that time of day. 
Some smartphones´educational apps are not easy to spot unless you get to test them enough to be sure of what you will be doing or get instructed in the correct way. 
After some years of trying to do things right in my classes by taking every single course, attending several webinars, reading from the experts, having full control of my students´ work and behavior and support of my administrators,  I can say I am qualified to give some useful advice and recommend three of the many apps which made a big difference in students´ engagement in my classes. 

There were some students who obviously could not log in so easily, and that turned into one of the best moments. Students started to help each other, giving instructions in English and using the target language beyond the classroom context! Collaboration and willingness to help other was key to that success.

My most successful app for language and grammar practice is Socrative. You can either download easily on your phone or work on your computer. Socrative Teacher and Student are the two options. Once you create your log in user name, with the free version you can upload, create, re-create, build, re-build, copy any type of activity. I used to create them on my laptop and once they are finished under the Socrative Teacher website, you are given a code which you immediately change into a Classroom Name and Activity!. 
I got so used to it that I even added, deleted, reshaped, corrected most exercises on my phone app. 
Students download the Socrative Student app and log in with the Classroom Name and start solving the activity as easy as one, two, three. The great advantage here is that once they log in, you automatically see them in the "room" as well as their score and progress. 
You can even make them race with color rockets, which is an extremely fun activity!.

I am proud to say that these children responded wonderfully! Almost all of them worked hard all year and completed all of the activities in the class...if they could not do so due to high data usage, they would complete at home either with their phones or computers.

My second suggestion is Buncee which is  a fantastic free cloud-based tool to make amazing  presentations, tell and/or create stories or any other use like postcards or even posters with the possibility to add video, voice and many other features like stickers animated and non-animated stickers, labels, banners or whatever you may want or need. The app is only available for Apple phones, but it is still possible to use it on your smartphone if internet is available. Aww, Buncee!! You will love it!

Some of my favorite Buncees:






My third suggestion is Voki for computers or Android/IOS app, which helps shy or introvert students have a voice through an avatar customized by themselves. This is wonderful for language, grammar and fluency practice without talking in front of a camera.



A great way to compile all these wonderful works is my number one savior-tool which has been Padlet for many years now!. 


The app is as simple to use as the computer add on or the online version. I have completed many projects with teachers in the US and Canada using Padlet to upload Voxer messages. Amazing! The Voxer cultural exchange with Mrs Machala from Aurora Canada is all documented on a Padlet and in wonderful Jennifer Casa-Todd´s latest book "Social LEADIA" . 

Jennifer Casa-Todd presenting our Voxer work

The school I work at has its own website with protected username and passwords  for students, families and faculty for security reasons, so teachers are asked to share all online work through it. Teachers upload their work by sending it to the school´s facilitator who places it under the corresponding class and level. So this is my story for now, inspired by many amazing educators around the world.