Why Use Mobile Technology in the Language Arts Classroom?

The principal mandate of a teacher is to create situations in which students learn the content required of them within the allocated time frame. Beyond this teachers hope their students will continue learning the subject and will cultivate a knowledge-seeking attitude in life. Modern teachers have the additional task of teaching students how to navigate the world of information at their fingertips. Regardless of the twenty-first century teacher’s additional role as a guide and facilitator rather than an expert in knowledge, it is undeniable that children worldwide are expected to have acquired certain fundamental concepts and knowledge at each age and level of education in line with agreed syllabi. (This is why we can compare the knowledge of say eighth graders in the U.S.A. with that of eighth graders in Korea and make judgements on whether the educational level in one country needs to be adjusted.) To claim to have learned content, a learner is expected to master the content such that they can call forth significant portions of it from memory and produce it in different formats at will. Furthermore, the learner is able to manipulate this content and apply the knowledge and principles to unfamiliar situations.

Teachers have always connected to their students by activating their students’ interests (e.g. music, movies). We all know intuitively that learning is easier when it is enjoyable. Use of technology and mobile devices could be thought of as just another way of making learning enjoyable. However the catch is that in order to take full advantage of technology as a teaching and learning tool, it must be fully integrated into teaching and learning. The result is that technology actually transforms how teaching and learning occur rather than just adding another dimension to existing methods of teaching.

That technology is ubiquitous or makes learning enjoyable are insufficient reasons in themselves to adopt its use in the classroom. However, if technology is capable of fulfilling the teacher’s mandate satisfactorily there is no reason not to use it in the classroom. To be truly worthwhile technology should:

  1. make learning easier and more efficient (concepts which may also take into consideration ‘enjoyment’) – i.e. the time taken to learn should be reduced
  2. be more effective in accomplishing learning goals by
    1. allowing permanent or long term retention of knowledge
    2. creating higher retention of content
    3. creating greater depth of knowledge and or improved quality of work produced
  3. If in addition to this technolog awakens a desire in the learner to
    1. continue learning outside class
    2. extend learning beyond the limits of the syllabus

then technology would have surpassed the basic requirements and indeed be a powerful tool for learning. These guidelines ensure that the principal goals of teaching are met.

In my opinion, the creation of “best practices” in education (or regarding technology use for education) should be avoided. Both education and technology use are meant to be creative endeavors. Nothing stifles creativity faster than having a set of arbitrary rules by which to abide or aim for in all situations. If we are to teach innovation, we should teach innovatively and that means thinking on our feet and adapting situations as needed, not getting caught up in corporate blindness and bureaucracy by using a rulebook. Of course, teachers should be properly trained to respond to different scenarios, but like the students we train, we know learning has taken place when they can apply their knowledge successfully to new situations they encounter. Teachers should be accorded similar respect and liberty in applying their knowledge to satisfy the needs of individual students and varied learning situations, rather than being expected to rote learn a list of practices or standards. Ermeling, Hiebert and Gallimore (2015) expound upon this point admirably in their article on why “best practice” is counterproductive for improving the teaching profession.

Certain types of technology such as the desktop computer (and other stationary apparatuses) seem to be more powerful educationally when used in small groups (Mitra, 2010). However mobile technology is quite the reverse. Mobile devices are things such as “smart” phones, advanced MP3 players, electronic tablets, etc. (Laptops are somewhat of a hybrid between stationery and mobile technology.) Mobile devices are designed for a single-user and as such are innately personal and portable. Their main purpose is for communication – something which is squarely within the domain of language arts. They are the twenty-first century person’s link to their community. Provided the technology is used responsibly and can be made to hit all the targets outlined above, mobile devices (with an internet connection) in particular should be used in the classroom because they are:

  • relatively inexpensive and common.
  • accessible to all. Their use transcends age, socioeconomic status, gender and ethnic origin. (Italian National Research Council – Institute for Educational Technology, 2015)
  • personal and practically inseparable from their owners. If mobile devices can be perceived as both play and learning tools, then educational material will follow students everywhere they go: from the classroom to the street to home and even on vacation. Useable educational opportunities will be numerous.
  • provide instant and nearly infinite examples of the topic being covered and thereby reinforce content.
  • connect students around the world fairly simply and easily, thereby expanding peer groups and allowing for greater consultation and collaboration.
  • allow students to showcase their work. It is known that students write better when they have an audience (Vicky Davis, 2015).
  • their apps span virtually every topic and theme ever conceived, with the only limitation being the amount of hard drive memory available.

It is important to note that simply engaging in an activity is not the same as acquisition of skills. Just because students participate in project-based learning or mobile-learning does not mean they are actually acquiring twenty-first century skills. As I learned from my teacher interviews on their use of technology, the questions teachers ask and the way they structure their lesson has greater impact than technology use itself in activating twenty-first century skills. So, if students are not acquiring twenty-first century skills, technology is not to blame per se, rather it is the teaching. Any technological gadget can be adapted to facilitate knowledge-building, self-regulation and assessment, collaboration, skilled communication, problem-solving and innovation, and global awareness. It is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure this activation occurs.

Generally speaking technology allows the content to be manipulated in many different ways. The more information is manipulated and the more senses involved in that process, the more likely it will become embedded into long-term memory and be retrievable on demand. Technology allows us to make and annotate presentations, videos and audio recordings, take or find photographs that represent an idea visually, compose text, post it all on the internet, convert things from two dimensions into three dimensions, highlight and share relevant parts of passages, create electronic portfolios showing what was learned (also serving as a great revision tool), interact with the information, obtain rapid feedback and make instant corrections. A teacher who marks paper essays and distributes them to students cannot be sure students have truly assimilated that feedback. It would be quite onerous to require students correct and resubmit entire handwritten papers, yet with electronic essays this is accomplished instantaneously.

From this simple comparison and preceding examples it is evident that traditional teaching of language arts could never hope to create the same number and variety of situations and opportunities for manipulation of content as can be obtained through using technology. When interactive apps that correct users’ reading and speech are also thrown into the mix the contrast between teaching that integrates technology and that without it is even more stark. Technology wins hands down on point 2 of accomplishing learning goals more effectively. We already know students love to use technology. If they start doing educational exercises on their smart phone or tablet outside class then point 3 will be satisfied and technology will have motivated the learner to expand their learning. Unfortunately, until technology is seamlessly integrated into education, it will be difficult for it to gain the forefront on point 1 of reducing the time spent to learn concepts. Currently, set-up time, bugs, lack of platform consistency across devices, inadequate technical assistance, the learning curve for device use and more, cause technological learning exercises to take longer than traditional learning. Nevertheless, these are growing pains that will soon disappear. At that point teaching that integrates technology will overtake the traditional teaching model on all points.


Buckley, Lauren. (2013). Technology in Our Schools: The Social Studies & History Classroom. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_QRIVBGf8s

Davis, Vicky (“Cool Cat Teacher”). (2015, May). 50+ Ways to Use Technology in the Classroom. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj7QQM-ZMWc

Ermeling, Bradley; Hiebert, James & Gallimore, Ronald. (2015, May). Teaching with Mobile Tech – Special Topic: “Best Practice”, the Enemy of Better Teaching. Educational Leadership, 72(8), p. 48-53. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may15/vol72/num08/%C2%A3Best-Practice%C2%A3%E2%80%94The-Enemy-of-Better-Teaching.aspx

Italian National Research Council – Institute for Educational Technology. (2015). MOTILL: Mobile Technologies in Lifelong Learning / Best Practices. http://www.motill.edu

Mathis, Meghan. (n.d.) Technology in the Classroom: 5 Undeniable Reasons to Embrace It. TeachHub.com Retrieved from http://www.teachhub.com/5-undeniable-reasons-why-educators-should-embrace-technology-classroom

Mitra, Sugata. (2010). Sugata Mitra’s new experiments in self-teaching. (“Hole in the Wall” Experiment) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk60sYrU2RU

Sabia, Joe. (2011). Joe Sabia: The technology of storytelling. TED Talks. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/joe_sabia_the_technology_of_storytelling?language=en

Stern, Ben. (2012). Because You Asked: How Tech Can Transform English/Language Arts Class from Good to Great? EdSurge.com Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/n/because-you-asked-how-tech-can-transform-english-language-arts-class-from-good-to-great

Volkswagen. (2009). The Fun Theory. Retrieved from http://www.thefuntheory.com/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s