English Language Teaching Apps: Positioning Parents and Young Learners

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Dalhousie University]On: 04 October 2014, At: 06:59Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Changing English: Studies in Cultureand EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ccen20</p><p>English Language Teaching Apps:Positioning Parents and Young LearnersAlice Chikaa Department of English, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon,Hong KongPublished online: 04 Aug 2014.</p><p>To cite this article: Alice Chik (2014) English Language Teaching Apps: Positioning Parentsand Young Learners, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 21:3, 252-260, DOI:10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285</p><p>To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp;Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p><p>http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ccen20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p></li><li><p>English Language Teaching Apps: Positioning Parents and YoungLearners</p><p>Alice Chik*</p><p>Department of English, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong</p><p>Since the introduction of iPads in 2010, the sales of tablet computers and mobileapplications (apps) have grown exponentially. iPads and other tablets are mar-keted as learning tools, and many apps target learners as young as six monthsold. This article reports on a research project examining the unique features ofEnglish learning apps based on an analysis of 90 app descriptions. Findings sug-gest that most English learning apps are not designed for English as a ForeignLanguage learners, and do not encourage user interaction around the texts. Posi-tioning theory is adopted to show how app developers position themselves, par-ents and learners in the global discourse on technology and English teaching.The use of such apps as extensions or alternatives to classroom-based learningmay have a strong impact for the future of English teaching, and caveats areoffered.</p><p>Keywords: 36 technology; iPad; ESL young learners; parental engagement;ELT pedagogy</p><p>The introduction of the iPad in 2010 reconceptualised the adoption and use ofmobile handheld devices. For many families, iPads and tablet computers are nowessential home entertainment devices. The emerging popularity of touchscreen tabletcomputers has started a revolution in informal mobile-assisted language learning,especially for English Language Teaching (ELT) (Hockly 2013). Among the differ-ent types of tablets, iPad has been the market leader of tablet computers since itsintroduction. iPad has been marketed as a learning device, but an iPad cannot be alearning tool in itself without the support of application software (apps for short).In about three years, more than 900,000 iOS apps have been developed, and a goodportion are labelled educational. As advertised on the Apple App Store, educationapps for Language Development help English as a Second Language (ESL) learn-ers with reading, writing, speaking and vocabulary building (Apple 2013). Apps arethus marketed as easily available and accessible resources for techno-minded teach-ers and parents around the world, and many of these apps target learners as youngas six months old. Given the dramatic rise in the number of English language learn-ers around the world, this could mean that there are more English as a Foreign Lan-guage (EFL) learners using these apps in formal or informal learning contexts thannative speakers (Crystal 2008; Bolton and Graddol 2012). In particular, we focus onapps that target young EFL learners, a growing but under-researched sector in ELT(Banister 2010; Burnett 2010; Nunan 2013). This paper discusses the unique</p><p>*Email: alice.chik@cityu.edu.hk</p><p> 2014 The editors of Changing English</p><p>Changing English, 2014Vol. 21, No. 3, 252260, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Dal</p><p>hous</p><p>ie U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 06:</p><p>59 0</p><p>4 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p><p>mailto:alice.chik@cityu.edu.hkhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2014.929285</p></li><li><p>features of these ELT apps and, in extension, the changing discourses of Englishteaching as commercial products in the digital age.</p><p>ELT materials should be evaluated thoroughly before being used with learners,especially materials designed for young learners, and ELT apps should be no excep-tions. Apps are still a relatively new phenomenon in ELT classrooms, and there isno published research on the holistic evaluation of ELT apps as learning materials.For traditional print material evaluation, the first step is the examination of theauthors claims (Pinter 2006). For apps, the developers description, which is arequired piece of information on the Apple App Store, represents the authorsclaims. Littlejohn (2011) suggested three areas for material evaluation: the processof learning (how), the participation (with whom) and content (about what). By thesame token, this article examines the claims about learning, learners and content inELT apps to show how parents and young learners are positioned in learning apps,and in turn, suggests ways parents and teachers can counter and better understandapps as potential learning tools and commercial products.</p><p>Though there are several theories of child development, it is generally acceptedthat language learning, including second language (L2) learning, takes place in con-texts and through interactions with others (for a detailed discussion, see Pinter2011). Research on young ESL learners shows that vocabulary acquisition and dis-course ability acquired from social interaction are the starting points for L2 languagedevelopment (Cameron 2001). The acquisition of vocabulary is important because ithelps young learners to label abstract concepts to connect inner and physical worlds.The development of discourse ability, arising from social interaction with adults andpeers, is the basis for grammar learning. The earlier start in EFL learning stems fromparents beliefs that earlier is better, and the intuitive belief that children have a nat-ural flair for learning a foreign language (Cameron 2003; Pinter 2011). As moreEFL learners start learning English at a younger age, in addition to concerns aboutformal early childhood education, family practices should not be overlooked. Athome, everyday technology use is now spearheading the latest trends in learning(Plowman et al. 2012).</p><p>Published research on roles of technology within first language literacy hasdeveloped along the following three strands (Burnett 2010, 254):</p><p> Technology as deliverer of literacy. Technology as site for interaction around texts. Technology as medium for meaning making.</p><p>The three strands are good starting points for teachers and parents to evaluate theways ELT apps are designed. While there is a call for language teacher education tointegrate technology into ELT, there is no equivalent programme for parents (OHara2011; Dudeney and Hockly 2012; Goodwyn 2013). It has also been found thatyounger learners have more freedom to experiment and be creative with technologyat home than at school (OMara and Laidlaw 2011). When choosing apps, parentsare frequently left to their own devices to get advice from family, friends and themedia, or simply by trial and error. With an over-abundance of choices, looking forthe appropriate learning apps for their children can be overwhelming for parents. Asa result, parents may rely only on the product descriptions supplied by the appdevelopers, which as public information, give all parents access to evaluation.When an app makes a claim in the description, it projects a certain conception of</p><p>Changing English 253</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Dal</p><p>hous</p><p>ie U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 06:</p><p>59 0</p><p>4 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>technology and ELT, thus joining in the public discourse on the topic. FollowingLittlejohns (2011) suggestion on ELT material analysis, it is important to examinenot only the content, but also how learning and learners are represented in thedescription to understand the evolving public discourse. This evaluative frameworkalso aligns with empirical findings on technology and first language literacy (Burnett2010).</p><p>One way we can learn more about this public discourse is by using PositioningTheory. Positioning Theory explicates that in conversation, people position them-selves or are positioned to take up different roles to develop, unfold or maintain astoryline (Davies and Harr 1990). App developers make various claims to positionthemselves and their apps as learning partners in their app descriptions. Developersmay also other-position the parents and learners into certain roles prescribed in theapp descriptions (Davies and Harr 1990). Parents enter a conversation with theapp developers through the documentation of the apps when they read the appdescription (van Langenhove and Bertolink 1999). However, before the parentsdownload and use the apps, the conversation is one-way, with only the app develop-ers having the voice to convey their conceptions of technology and ELT. If the par-ents like what they read, they download and use the apps. By downloading andusing the apps, parents may also accept the prescribed roles positioned by develop-ers. In addition, underneath the label of education, an app is still a commercialproduct, and it should also be examined as such.</p><p>The study</p><p>The data for this study were a sample of descriptions of 90 apps downloaded fromthe Apple App Store, the exclusive online store for downloading Apple iPad-com-patible apps. Apple iPad-compatible apps are chosen because iPad has been the tab-let computer market leader and for the easy global access of apps through the AppleApp Store. Many of the apps analysed for this study are also available for Android-operated tablets. On the information page of an app on the App Store, app develop-ers are required to provide the following information: Category (e.g. Education,Business, Entertainment), Rating (age-related, e.g. 4+ for no objectionable material),Description, Whats New in this Version, Keywords, Support URL, and Screenshotsof the app in action. The Description section is a description of the app you areadding, detailing features and functionality, and the length is limited to 4000 char-acters (Apple 2013). A keyword search (English, learning and children) on AppStore was conducted to narrow down relevant app choices. Access to content andapps is country or region specific, so the search results represented the availablechoices from the Hong Kong App Store on 25 May 2013. Using the consumersprinciple of try before you buy, the apps examined in this study were all freelyavailable for download. Following Camerons (2001) notion that vocabulary and dis-course ability are the two building blocks to young learners language development,the criteria for app selection was vocabulary learning apps, which included wordrecognition, flashcard and spelling. A total of 90 free apps for vocabulary learninglabelled free, educational and Rated 4+ were selected. The length of Descrip-tion varied widely, from a 10-word sentence to a full-page detailed explanation. Theapp descriptions were downloaded and saved to create a small corpus of 23,359words for analysis. A basic concordancing program and manual coding ofselected features were used to analyse the data. The author started with an automated</p><p>254 A. Chik</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Dal</p><p>hous</p><p>ie U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 06:</p><p>59 0</p><p>4 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>searching for lexical items related to learning (e.g. educate, education, educational,educating) or pronouns (e.g. you, your). Manual coding was conducted to exploreclaims related to the process of learning, the learning partners and the content.</p><p>Findings</p><p>This application gives you a great opportunity for you and your child to enjoy thelearning process through the latest technologies Just turn your iPad into the learningtool and enjoy the process! (#72)</p><p>Statements like this promise exciting potential for both parents and young learners.Most of the apps were designed to help young learners to acquire the vocabulary ofnumbers, colours, animals, household items and other objects. Although there areprobably more EFL young learners than native English speakers (NES) learningEnglish (Crystal 2008), only 12 apps specifically mentioned EFL learning, usuallyby stating the app is also suitable for EFL learning, which indicated that the appswere originally designed for NES. The ways in which apps established expertise,represented learning and interaction, and promotion as commercial products will bepresented to illustrate how app developers position themselves, and in turn, how par-ents and learners are positioned.</p><p>Apps as commercial products</p><p>Free apps are not necessarily free. Many free apps are marketed on a freemiummodel: a user can access the basic content for free, but premium content oradvanced functionality must be paid for through In-App Purchase (IAP). With freeor freemium apps, there are two issues of concerns: advertisements and IAP. Lessthan half of the apps (39/90) mentioned the presence of advertisements and/or IAP.In dealing with advertisement, only four apps stated specifically that their apps weread-supported, meaning young learners will view third-party advertisements oradvertisements prompting learners to make IAP for premium contents. One app doesnot mention the presence of advertisement in the description, but included iAd(#37), promoted by Apple as a way to increase revenue by bringing engaging adsto the right users (Apple 2013), only in the Whats New section. Another app(#34) suggested Free, If you lik...</p></li></ul>