Living the Dream: What’s it like teaching a class where every student owns an iPad?

logo-1As a language teacher who loves to incorporate mobile technology into my lessons, I often find myself wondering how cool it would be to be able to teach a class where all students have the same mobile device. Such a situation would enable me to forget about compatibility issues between different platforms and manufacturers, and more importantly, if all students were experienced using the same device, students would be able to support and collaborate with each other more effectively.

At the Paperless learning conference last month, I met a teacher who was living my dream.

Meet, Renaud Davies, 0a lecturer from Hiroshima Bunkyo Women’s University (HBWU). In an effort to increase university enrollment and equip students with technical skills which they can use after graduation, the university started issuing iPad minis to all faculty members and students in April, 2013 (Runnels & Rutson-Griffiths, 2013).

The following are Renaud’s responses to a short interview I conducted via email.

Do the students have objections to using an iOS device? (e.g., they have an Android phone or tablet & they prefer to use that platform)

There have been no objections that I am aware of. Many students own Android phones and these tend to be the main tool for social networking, listening to music, etc. as they do not need to rely on a Wi-Fi network like they do with the iPad minis. To learn more about why we went with Apple iPad Mini, you can read this article written by two of my colleagues.

Is the iPad component being driven by another department and the EFL program jumped on board or is this iPad strategy being driven by the English language department?

The decision to introduce iPads to all incoming students was part of an information technology strategy created by the HBWU administration to raise competitiveness and enrollment. iPads were distributed to all faculty members and incoming students in an attempt to better prepare students for life after graduation and to support faculty in enhancing curricula. The Bunkyo English Communication Center (BECC) has been spearheading this with our paperless lessons.

Is the iPad study component formally included into your English curriculum? How?

At the BECC we create all of our curriculum in-house using Microsoft Word. So, it was relatively easy for us to format and then convert everything to PDF. We have been using an application called Notability which allows students to annotate lessons, embed pictures and web clips as well as record audio directly into their digital handouts. 

Are teachers being trained on how to incorporate the iPad into their lessons? Can you explain this training process?

The ICT committee has offered several workshops on how to use the iPad and our core applications. Arthur Rutson-Griffiths, one of our technology gurus, did an excellent job introducing teachers to the iPad mini and our core app, Notability. For ongoing support we have a wiki page for all things iPad related such as troubleshooting and app recommendations. As it was our first year using and incorporating the technology, we kept things simple. In terms of the SAMR model, we are still at the enhancement stage.0 For those endeavoring to incorporate mobile technologies into their curriculum, Puentedura`s SAMR model (2012) is an excellent reference. The model enables educators to classify technology used in teaching depending upon whether it Substitutes, Augments, Modifies or Redefines a task. Substitution and augmentation refer to technology which enhances the learning and modification and redefinition refer to technology which transforms the learning, in other words, tasks which would not be possible without the technology. The SAMR model can support teachers as they design, develop, and integrate activities using technology into their curriculum. It is our goal next year to modify and if possible, redefine language learning tasks so as to transform learning and further engage learners at the BECC.

What apps are you using in your classes now and for what purpose?

Notability– (Core Application) – As stated, all of our curriculum is created in-house using Microsoft Word. Notability is an excellent tool as we can easily convert all of our lesson handouts into PDF files which can then be quickly downloaded by students for annotation. Notability integrates handwriting, PDF annotation, typing, recording, and organizing all in one place.

Socrative– A student response system that empowers teachers to engage their students through a series of educational quizzes and games. Socrative is best used for formative assessment purposes during class. You can ask your students to respond to a short answer question, multiple choice, or true/false question on their iPad with the ability to remain anonymous.

Padlet – An interactive message board which allows students to communicate with other users through text, pictures, music and videos. It is a great tool for real time collaboration and asynchronized discussions.

Smart Seat – A seating chart app which allows teachers to record attendance by simply tapping on the student to mark Absent, Tardy, or Excused. The app also allows you to choose students at random for class participation and class discussion.

Keynote – A presentation tool for both teachers and students. Keynote has been used for final projects where students introduce their family, favorite music or a travel destination. The latest Keynote also allows for students to collaborate in the cloud on a project.

Of course, teachers are free to incorporate a variety of technology into their lessons and so the above is only a general list. For example, in my own classes I have also used VoiceThread to allow students to speak with my family in Canada, Splice to create short films, WordPress for student blogging and SpeakPipe to allow for voice commenting on my student website and blogs. Examples of how to utilize some of these tools can be seen here on my student website. For teachers who are a little tech-savvy, I highly recommend creating a mobile-friendly online space for students.

Which learning tasks on the iPad have been most successful?

Tasks which involve video have helped to stimulate students’ motivation to learn. In particular, video projects using Splice. We are looking forward to next year when all students will have iMovie installed on their iPads. We have also had success with using Keynote for creating presentations. In my own classes, using Voicethread to have students communicate with my family back in Canada as well as WireWAX, a free online taggable video service, have been exciting tools which have really engaged students and transformed language learning tasks.

If you were to guide another university in setting up an iPad program similar to your’s, what would be your first 5 guidelines?

1. Technology takes training

Both students and teachers should be trained in using the iPad and any core applications before classes begin. However, technology is always changing and so it is important to have ongoing training such as an online forum for teachers to help with trouble shooting or occasional mini-workshops to introduce new features and tools.

2. Start simple

Start simple to make the transition for both teachers and students as smooth as possible. The SAMR model is a great reference for integrating various tools. Begin with basic tools such as Notability, Keynote and Socrative. Once teachers are comfortable with the technology, they can begin to introduce tools at their own pace that will modify and if possible, redefine language learning tasks so as to transform learning and raise the level of student engagement.

3. Plan for problems

When it comes to technology you should always have a plan B. At the BECC we can always print off our lessons if there is a problem.

4. Paper has its place

Students do not need to be glued to their devices. Use paper for long passages of writing and for some activities to give them a digital break.

5. Make learning flexible

Make learning flexible for your students. Students should be able to take their iPad home with them to work on assignments and connect with teachers and other students outside of class. Doing so will help to engage and empower students while supporting autonomous language learning.

What evaluation have you done about the iPad component thus far? Could you share any research published on this issue?

For now, just this article, but there is more to come.

Renaud, thanks again for taking time to share your experiences with DMLL readers.


For those who are interested in learning more about Renaud and the iPad program at HBWU be sure to check out Renaud’s English Class website.



Puentedura, R. (2012). The SAMR Model: Six Examplars. Retrieved from

Runnels, J., & Rutson-Griffiths, A. (2013). Tablet PCs in a paperless classroom: Student and teacher perceptions on screen size. jaltcalljournal, 9(3), 275-285. Retrieved from



Practical Teaching Ideas

Teach pronunciation with this 5-step smartphone approach

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How do you teach pronunciation in your language classroom?

At a TED event a couple of years ago I caught myself turning-off whenever one of the presenters had a strong accent. This experience kicked me into gear to start looking for ways I could more effectively teach pronunciation in my language classroom.

This post shares an approach to teaching minimal pairs (MP) which incorporates student’s smartphones. You can find a more detailed description of my work on this component here.

Before you get started, students will have to download the free apps, Pronunciation Power (ProPower) and  Dragon Dictation.

Step 1: Share a list of about 10 minimal pairs. (e.g., rot & lot)

Minimal Pairs demo

Continue reading “Teach pronunciation with this 5-step smartphone approach”

Tech for Teach

What dictionary apps are your students using?

casio-ex-word-xd-d9800we-japanese-english-electronic-dictionaryRemember these?

Not too long ago, my students were forking out more than $300 for an electronic dictionary. Similar to digital cameras, these things are being made redundant by the dictionary applications available on smartphones and tablets. What is more, most reader apps such as Kindle and iBooks have built-in dictionaries, which enables readers to search for definitions or translations with one screen tap.

In late January, my DMLL co-contributors and I surveyed 374 language students at five private universities in Tokyo to gauge student perceptions of digital mobile language learning. In our questionnaire, one item asked students to list the dictionary apps they use.

The top 5 responses were,

5. 語語NAVI (pronounced “Go Go Navi” and this site is in Japanese)

What surprised me about this app being in the list was that even though most of my students loathe to spend money on learning apps, some students are happily parting with  ¥200 ($2 US) for GoGo Navi.


I must note that I need to get clarification on how students are using this app for dictionary use, because I cannot find a dictionary or translation function inside my LINE app. The best information I can provide is that the LINE company is pushing users to download the NAVER dictionary app. This app is only available on Android devices right now.

3. Weiblo (site is in Japanese)

2. Google Translate

I thought it would be nice to share what students are using and start a conversation on whether teachers need to be encouraging students to use this ubiquitous learning tool more effectively. If the majority of students are using Google Translate in lieu of a dictionary, and Google Translate posts a response like I have in this image (i.e., the word mobile means “mobile phone”, a noun in Japanese or “moveable” as an adjective) is this enough information for your average language learner?

1. ALC / 英辞郎(Eijiro) (site is in Japanese)

Eijiro is powered by the famous company ALC and its creation is very different from most dictionaries on the market. Eijiro is a database of vocabulary that is created in a similar vein to a wiki. What is also unique about Eijiro is that examples of a word are weighted on the same level as definitions. As my second screen shot here demonstrates, a short scroll down the page reveals a long list of ways a word can be used. It has been argued that this component enables learners learners to get a better understanding of a word’s specific nuances, something which cannot be understood from my Google translate search posted above. Furthermore, the wiki-like construct of Eijiro means that a much larger corpus of words can be searched.

To conclude this post, I want to note that I have no intention of putting forward a prescription for what dictionary app language students should be using, nor do I want to debate whether teachers should allow their students to use dictionaries in class. I do hope however, that I was able to present the dictionary apps language students are using and ask whether teachers should take more of an interest in the dictionary apps our students are using.