With MOBIDIC to better English
The Jackstädt Foundation supports a Bergische Universität Wuppertal
Just recently a new device to aid the teaching and learning of English came onto the market, the portable electronic dictionary (PED). So far it has been introduced into only a few schools as no more than a small number of practitioners have yet heard of it. The development project carried out by Prof. Dr. Bärbel Diehr and Ralf Gießler (AR) has been supported to the tune of 100,000 euros by the Dr Werner Jackstädt Foundation. Professor Diehr and Ralf Giessler will trial the MOBIDIC (short for Mobile Dictionaries) in Wuppertal secondary and comprehensive schools. "We are especially keen to include low-achieving youngsters in the trials of this digital learning tool to investigate how they might use it to improve their English skills", says project leader Professor Diehr.
Portable electronic dictionaries have already been marketed by various manufacturers. More important than the appearance of these handy minicomputers is what is to be found inside them. Depending on the type of PED - there are quite a few differently configured models available - they place into the hands of the user not only monolingual and bilingual dictionaries (English-English and German-English, English-German), but also dictionaries of synonyms and collocations; many are also linked in with a Duden and reference materials for one or two further foreign languages (e.g. French, Latin or Spanish). Given the way modern young people make use of the new media, these electronic tools fit in much better with their habits than the conventional, book format dictionary. Learners of English all too often leave these books unused on the shelf or lying in their schoolbags, even when they have an urgent need of them in order independently to tackle English texts or to express themselves comprehensibly.
Early studies conducted in Asia show that after the introduction of PEDs students look words up more frequently and more quickly, thus encountering more language items and achieving a higher rate of language turnover. In order to learn how to access and exploit the numerous features of this new medium youngsters need training rooted in professional language teaching and educational psychology. In one of the pilot studies devised and supervised by Prof Diehr and carried out by Wuppertal student Jan Kassel in a Solingen grammar school, it was demonstrated that these dictionaries motivate ninth graders to undertake independent looking up and language learning, even outside school.
It became evident during the pilot studies that despite their receptiveness towards the new media the learners were not familiar with all the new dictionary functions and needed teacher support in order to find their way around the capabilities of their PEDs when undertaking vocabulary work. "Qualified teachers with PED-specific training will be needed to show the learners how to exploit the many possibilities of this conceptually innovative educational pocket computer", says project co-ordinator Ralf Gießler. To that end the initiators of the MOBIDIC project, in parallel with the evaluation of the PED’s learning potential, plan a programme of professional training for teachers and trainee teachers, this training to include several accompanying participative workshops. Thus, the development of the project, with the financial backing of the Dr Werner Jackstädt Foundation, offers a double benefit to Wuppertal schools while contributing to closer links between university and secondary schools as well as between theory and practice.