The digital classroom

Research findings show that the use of tablets in GFL lessons is just as beneficial to the motivation of students as collaborative and project-based work. There is particular potential in the areas of speaking and listening – as long as the tablets are used correctly.

Portability, apps, microphones and integrated cameras: the technical benefits that some tablets offer compared with standard PCs are being recognised by more and more schools and other educational establishments. The trailblazer in Germany is the Kaiserin-Augusta-Schule (KAS), a grammar school in Cologne where tablets have been successfully used in class by André J. Spang, a music and theology teacher, since 2011. In Lower Saxony the use of tablets in lessons is being tested and evaluated at a total of 24 schools in a project entitled Mobile Learning with Tablet Computers, which runs until the end of the 2015 school year.

In the winter semester 2012/2013, the use of tablets in GFL lessons at the Goethe-Institut was put to the test for the first time as well, as part of a pilot project called Tablet-Klasse, which ran in Dublin, London and Amsterdam. The Institutes were each issued with one set of ten devices for a class. The pilot phase was scientifically evaluated. The result was extremely positive, and because of this tablets have been bought at more and more Goethe-Institutes since.


The benefits of tablets for cooperative work and students’ independent activity in GFL lessons are clear: with these devices, learners can work together on projects to develop their own multimedia products, which can then be presented to the rest of the group and discussed. At the same time the teacher takes a step back in his or her role, becoming a “coach” who supports the project, offers feedback or structures the discussion in class – and also encourages the students to persevere (Spang 2013:11). Working with QR codes means that material on the internet can easily be made accessible. Course participants do not have to spend a long time finding and entering complicated URLs. Furthermore, tablets promote mobility inside and outside the classroom. For instance the students can also use the devices away from the classroom for projects such as photo reportages.


Tablets in GFL lessons offer added educational value, especially where speaking and listening are concerned: tablets can be used to allow students to listen to and view audio clips or short films from the internet that are appropriate for their level and suit their individual learning speed – with the help of a splitter that allows two sets of headphones to be connected for two learners at the same time. The students must then agree on how many times they want to listen to each recording – or maybe even particularly difficult passages. Listening to audio clips at the student’s learning rate with tablets. Listening to audio clips at the student’s learning rate with tablets. | © DragonImages/

In the Tablet-Klasse project run by the Goethe-Institut, for instance, it was apparent that learners were more aware of their speech and accent in German, because they were correcting both of these in a playful way during the process of recording and listening. It was also easier for students to reflect on their language skills. In the listening comprehension category, evaluation of research findings so far showed a significantly greater increase in learning when tablets are used compared with a purely “analogue” lesson style.

And André J. Spang from the Kaiserin-Augusta-Schule in Cologne also suggests that “in modern foreign languages […] apps can be used effectively to practise, record, evaluate, improve and share speech using the simplest of means” (2013: 12).


Admittedly the assumption that tablets can be used in lessons for all areas and as an exclusive medium is not correct. The lack of keyboard poses particular problems for many learners (and teachers). As a result the trend – in the USA for instance – is shifting towards so-called Chromebooks, which have a keyboard to make writing and researching easier, and with which learning software can be loaded far more quickly from the “Cloud” compared with laptops (cf. Murphy 2014).

To enable tablets to be used practically in GFL teaching, their function should be dovetailed with traditional methods as part of a “blended learning” approach. Consequently it is possible to go for “an ‘as-well’ instead of an ‘either-or’ when it comes to the integration of mobile user devices into lessons” (Mayrberger 2013:5). The successful Trinity College iPad Program in Australia showed a similar outcome: here, tablets are specifically not used as a replacement for a PC, but are explicitly designated as a tool with which to improve traditional teaching (cf. Aufenanger 2013:54f.).

Within the Goethe-Institut project Tablet-Klasse care was also taken that tablet-based work was linked up with work using the textbook and the other lesson content. Neither learners nor teachers should feel that they have to keep switching between two types of teaching – “digital” and “analogue”. For example the audio files that accompany the textbook were made available on the tablets so that the potential of the devices described above could be exploited during listening comprehension exercises.


It is important that teaching staff receive in-depth training and an introduction to the devices if tablets are to be used successfully in GFL. But experience in the Tablet-Klasse project has shown that operating the tablets is always easily and intuitively learnt, even by people with less experience of technology. “It didn’t really take long for me to notice that the iPad gives me much more freedom in class.” This is how Frank Wittig, GFL teacher at the Goethe-Institut Dublin, summarises his experiences. “It was a great relief to me because I found the tablet very simple to use, even as a beginner.”

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Brief documentation on the use of tablets in foreign language lessons. Pilot project at the Goethe-Institutes in Amsterdam, Dublin and London.




In the Autumn semester 2012/2013, Kathrin Hahn piloted the use of iPads in GFL lessons in six Level B1.1 classes at the Goethe-Institutes in Dublin, London and Amsterdam as part of a dissertation project, and used language tests, lesson observations and questionnaires to evaluate the project scientifically. In order to identify the potential of the iPads in foreign language lessons, as well as to identify stumbling blocks, three iPad classes were compared with three “analogue” classes throughout the whole  semester. All materials used in the project had been developed in advance based on the textbooks used in each case.



Aufenanger, Stefan: „Internationale Projekte mit Tablets in Schulen.“ Computer und Unterricht 89/2013, 54-55.

Greb, Thorsten: „Projekt „Mobiles Lernen mit Tablet-Computern“ startet in den Regelbetrieb“. Magazin Digital Lernen. Das Online-Magazin zu digitalen Medien in Bildungseinrichtungen, 2012.

Ifenthaler, Dirk; Schweinbenz, Volker: “The acceptance of Tablet-PCs in classroom instruction: The teachers’ perspectives.” Computers in Human Behavior 29:3/2013, 525-534.

Ludwig, Luise; Mayrberger, Kerstin; Weidmann, Adrian: „Einsatz personalisierter iPads im Unterricht aus der Perspektive der Schülerinnen und Schüler.“ In: Friedrich, Steffen; Kienle, Andrea; Rohland, Holger (Hrsg.): DeLFI 2011: Die 9. e-Learning Fachtagung Informatik – Poster, Workshops, Kurzbeiträge. TUDpress, 2011, 7-17.

Mayrberger, Kerstin: „Unterwegs lernen? Mobile Endgeräte im Unterricht.“ Praxis Fremdsprachenunterricht. Basisheft (Themenheft Mobiles Lernen) 1/2013, 5-7.

Murphy, Megan E.: “Are iPads or Chromebooks better for schools?” The Hechinger Report. Independent Education News, 2014.

Spang, André: „Lernen 2.0: Mobiles Lehren und Lernen mit iPad und Cloud.“ Praxis Fremdsprachenunterricht. Basisheft (Themenheft Mobiles Lernen) 1/2013, 11-13.