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Using iPads to help young learners design their own MALL activities

IPads can alter the dynamics of classrooms for the better: enabling routine engagement in a wider range of learning activities; encouraging exploration of alternative forms of homework, assessment and feedback; increasing opportunities for collaboration and creative expression (Burden, et al., 2012). However, while students generally feel iPads enhance the learning experience, using iPads does not necessarily lead to better learning outcomes (Nguyen et al., 2014). There is widespread recognition that Tablets and iPads have potential, but teachers and learners need time and support to develop effective practices (Kaganer et al., 2013).
Key challenges in our teaching centre are engaging and sustaining student interest and helping young learners take on greater responsibility for their own learning. Many of our students find using new technology motivating. Yet, despite being digital natives they rarely use technology effectively to support their own learning, beyond asking peers what the homework was on Whatsapp. We recently acquired a class set of iPads; these offer opportunities to help students better understand how they can use technology to support their learning.

Design challenge
Our aim is to use iPads in class to help learners design, enact and adopt more effective technology-enhanced language learning experiences.

As Cuban (cited in Hu, 2011) notes: “iPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning”. To counteract this novelty effect we have used iPads in class regularly for over four months. Like Chen (2013, we guide students’ exploration of the learning affordances of iPads before involving them in design. In various iPad activities we have prompted learners to reflect on what they feel they have learnt and how the activities might be improved. We are now entering a design phase. Over three months a class of 13-15 year old English language learners (B2 CEFR) will use design thinking, “a structured approach to generating and developing ideas” (p15 IDEO, 2012), to design their own iPad learning activities. Groups will then try out each other’s ideas and suggest improvements.

So far, students have engaged enthusiastically with iPad activities and in particular we note that easy audio/video-recording is particularly useful for creative and collaborative speaking and listening activities, for example: read and listen to a story; extract new language; re-tell and record your own version; share. At conference we will:
- Discuss students’ learning designs and their effectiveness.

- Reflect on our design research process.

- Share organizational strategies and other practical advice around classroom use of iPads with young learners.

Burden, K., Hopkins, P., Male, T., Martin, S., & Trala, C. (2012). iPad Scotland Evaluation Final report. University of Hull. Retrieved from
Chen, X. (2013). Tablets for informal language learning: student usage and attitudes. Language Learning & Technology, 17(1), 20–36. Retrieved from
Hu, W. (2011). Math That Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad. NYTimes. Retrieved from
IDEO (2012). Design Thinking for Educators. Retrieved from
Kaganer, E., Giordano, G. A., Brion, S., & Tortoriello, M. (2013). Media tablets for mobile learning. Communications of the ACM, 56(11), 68–75.
Nguyen, L., Barton, S. M., & Nguyen, L. T. (2014). iPads in higher education-Hype and hope. BJET, doi:10.1111/bjet.12137


Joshua Underwood    
Teaching Centre, Bilbao
British Council

Josh is a teacher at the British Council in Bilbao and a visiting researcher at the LKL (Institute of Education, London). He is particularly interested in developing learner autonomy and learner-centred approaches and is involved in teacher training. He is expert in learner-centred design methods and co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Design in Educational Technology 2013.


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