Practical Teaching Ideas

Smartphone documentaries in the language classroom

Norwegian alpine skier Aksel Lund Svindal being interviewed with an iPhone

Smartphones are playing a larger and larger role in media coverage, in some cases functioning where traditional technology has failed. The serendipitous interview above, for instance, was conducted by a journalist during the Sochi Winter Olympics–using only his iPhone.

So, how about student use?

An article in Media Shift investigated smartphone use in university level documentary filmmaking courses. A quote from that article summarizes the reasoning behind the use of such devices. “They are light, unobtrusive and non-threatening for folks not used to media attention,” (MacPhail, 2010).

So, how about the Language Classroom?

In 2013, I designed a course for Tokai University which used documentary filmmaking as a tool to engage native Japanese students with international students on campus. The students in my course were encouraged to use whatever technology was available to them.

The following mini documentary was filmed by some of those students–entirely on an iPhone.

If you are interested in learning more about this course, and perhaps even trying it out, you can find lots of downloadable materials–including a 15 week project guide–at

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