Thursday, April 14, 2011

Language Instruction via Mobile Device

A lot of interesting discussion going on now about mobile learning. What's the difference between c-learning, e-learning, and m-learning? One quote I read from John Eyles described classroom learning as a well-balanced meal, e-learning or online learning as a sumptuous buffet, and m-learning via cell phone or other mobile device as a power snack. And there are a lot of times when you could really use a power snack!

My interest was piqued by a presentation at the CATESOL Conference by Voxy, a start-up delivering language instruction to Spanish speakers using shortened news stories. You can choose from three different story sets - headline news, pop culture or sports. (Personally, I could skip sports, but that's just me.) You download the iPhone app (Droid app coming soon), and then select the headline of the story you want to read (headlines in Spanish), read the story, select vocabulary to see definitions and add to your list to study later, and answer some comprehension questions. There isn't much instruction here, and there doesn't seem to be any organization in terms of grammar, language functions, or vocabulary. But the exciting thing is the experimentation they are doing with the mobile space.

There are several features that I think aren't functioning yet, but they're working on them. One is location-based content. Walk by a bank, and banking phrases in English become available if you click on the icon of the bank. Same for a restaurant or movie theater. This could be a fun homework assignment for students with iPhones.

Another one was item recognition through the camera. The presenter (and CEO), Paul Gollash, took a picture of my shoe. The app identified it as "black leather shoe." How did it do that?? This could be such a useful language app. Although the company wants the app to be an instructional tool, not a utility, the ability to identify items in another language instantly is pretty intriguing.

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