This chapter reports on an ongoing project conducted at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. A mixed group of seven advanced EFL learners produced weekly cell phone video diaries that were then delivered online via blip.tv. Participants completed this task as an independent learning project. Using the video recording feature of their cell phones, participants produced videos between 15 and 30 seconds long. As a piece of preliminary research, the aim was not to gather evidence about the linguistic gains that such technology affords, but rather to assess whether or not such a learning approach was feasible and suitable for students. The findings revealed that while the majority of the students found merit in this project, some had reservations. The outcome of this project demonstrates how Web 2.0 is redefining the Internet as a platform for individual content delivery, especially in terms of audio and visual productions.
The literature on cell phone education is developing quickly. While some assert that cell phones can be integrated in the Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) classroom (Levy & Kennedy, 2005; Thornton & Houser, 2005), others argue that technological limitations render such a teaching method inappropriate for the enhancement of language learning development (Wang & Higgins, 2006). Given this ambivalence, the aim of this chapter is to assess the feasibility of integrating cell phone video recording devices in the language learning classroom and to evaluate students’ opinions about such a project and learning approach. Since this is an ongoing project, the objective of this specific research is not to assess students’ linguistic development gains, but rather to explore and document the teaching approach and the learning outcome from this project.
The significance of this type of research provides invaluable reflections on the meaning of the term Web 2.0 and its influence in the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom. O’Reilly (2005) defines Web 2.0 as a transformation from a corporate structure to a subscriber platform, whereby services are provided for the emancipation of free knowledge delivery. Such a transformation allows anyone with access to the Internet free services which empower them to deliver content in either a text, audio or audio-visual format. It empowers subscribers to share and exchange opinions, to link and comment on Internet searches, and thus reshapes how individuals interpret information. Grossman (2006) defines Web 2.0 as “a massive social experiment” (p. 23). That is to say, Web 2.0 is a convolution between subscribers who are willing to interact independently online to develop projects voluntarily, not for the benefit of the greater good, but for the simple joy of network socializing with other subscribers who share a common interest. In this way, Web 2.0 is defined by the horizons of the user’s imagination. The implication for teachers is that students no longer need to be passive consumers of third party productions. Language learners are now able to create audio-visual files of authentic speaking materials and access them directly from sites such as youtube.com or blip.tv. These can then be downloaded on personal portable devices and utilized as resources in order to improve the pronunciation of a target language of interest to students (Gromik, 2007a). Compared to computers, handhelds and cell phones are compact, light and filled with a wide variety of features such as text, audio listening, photo and video recording. The presence of cell phone technology and usage is growing, for example in Japan the ratio of cell phone subscribers is 84 per 100 people (Economist Intelligent Unit, 2008, p. 120). Based on this context, this chapter demonstrates how to combine cell phones with Web 2.0 technology to develop student-centered, project-based activities.
The chapter begins with a review of the literature to explain the rationale for investigating cell phone video recording by Japanese EFL learners. The second section positions the research within sociocultural theory. The third section describes the participants as well as the project. This section evidences the in-class experimentation to ensure that students could undertake this project independently, and reports on the observations gathered from students’ cell phone video productions. The fourth section details students’ feedback collected via the end of term examination. Since this project is ongoing, the discussion section attempts to elucidate the findings in the hope of improving future research.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Student-centered Learning: A working environment in which learners collaborate, experiment, discuss, and create knowledge based on interaction and discussion within a group. Learners organize themselves and define the roles which they are willing to play within that working environment.
Zone of Proximal Development: Deriving from the work of Lev Vygotsky describing the cognitive development of children, the ZPD refers to the area between what a child (or learner) can potentially achieve with and without external guidance from adults or peers.
Cell Phone-Based Education: Technologies which engage learners to explore their surroundings in order to report and record text/audio/visual information based on their observations. Such technology could enhance learning by encouraging learners to become critical reflectors of their environment and the subjects they study.
Cell Phone Technology: Compact portable devices which include texting and voice telecommunication, provide access to music, television, and video, and allow photo, audio and video recording features. Also it includes the opportunities to download software or access educational resources provided on SD memory cards.
Blip.tv: This refers to free video site which allows users to upload video from podcasts or blogs to share with others. As opposed to networked and scheduled television, Blip.tv promotes a highly diverse range of videos from professionals and amateurs on demand.
Authentic Communicative Learning: The opportunity for a learner to express his/her opinion in a safe environment in which mistakes are allowed in order to place focus on the personal expression of content. Thus enhancing the learner’s opportunity to share and contribute to the development of peers’ knowledge and experiences.
Video-Based Education: The use of audio-visual recording technology that enables learners to explore and expand their knowledge while at the same time expressing their opinion in the target language.