“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T.S.Eliot
(For case study, scroll to bottom of page. Theoretical preamble precedes…)
Mobile learning has become a vogue term, often misappropriated as the use of devices in classroom settings. This is the premise of Jocelyn Wishart’s article for the Mobile Learning journal I edited across the last year with Dr. Ben Bachmair of Kassel University. Jocelyn proposes mobility on the grounds of Sharples (2007), who conceived of it as closer to a verb – mobile, as in activities in the field.
I tend to agree. According to Ben’s 2010 forecast of its potential (written with Norbert Pachler and John Cook) mobile learning is the interrelationship of artefacts accessed and produced by mobile devices that is not necessarily derivative of formal education, but of cultural practice. This positions mobile learning in line with Sharples (2007) view: the assimilation of informal learning contexts negotiated through cultural reference points.
To my understanding and hopes, mobile learning is active and in the field; the classroom is a static residence where reflection can be constructed. The mobile device is a communication vehicle between and within sociocultural systems and structures.
All very high-falluting, but yielding greater potential to what can be done with devices when considering Situated Cognition (Seely Brown), which is based around real-world contexts as more authentic ways to learn than being stuck in a classroom – which is, I’d argue, really quite ‘ersatz’. I for one recall endlessly staring out of the window, distracted. This served to inform several years of travel in my twenties, in erudite hunger for meaningful experiences in the real world, rather than seeing it out in some office. I suspect many students want the same. Maybe mobile learning, in FE/HE, can support one’s assimilation to the world, after so many years of institutionalisation.
A firm understanding of pedagogical theory can support practice (as praxis).
Collaborating with Ben, we devised a template for presenting Mobile Learning scenarios based on Activity Theory, with a practical focus on purpose (object), ecology (real world context), agency and meaning-making (human capacity to act on the world) and technology needed to orchaestrate activity. In the counterpoints to culture, I consider the use of other figures, as relevant to learners recreational mobile uses: in short, ‘experts’ (not necessarily teachers) in the field.
I wonder about the final one: is there a gimmick-value to technology? It should probably only be used when it allows for extra affordances, which can be numerous. Further, it may replicate real-world use, particuarly for skills training, like in FE.
Cochrane has critiqued the straight transference of classroom learning pedagogies to mobile devices, which seems a little harsh. Keith Turvey presents a new paper exploring some of the emergent difficulties and questions regarding the Mobile Complex. Importantly, he draws on research from the Higher Education Academy and how schools negotiate the ever-changing world around us. The problems (opportunities) are:
- learner empowerment;
- future-facing education;
- decolonizing education;
- transformative capabilities;
- crossing boundaries; and
- social learning.
It will be of importance that new teacher training fits or reflects the possibilities afforded by mobility as the most ubiquitous tool of this era. Some evidence tells us that we teach others in similar ways to the way we learned to teach ourselves, so it is no bad thing, surely, to train others (as FurtherEdagogy has recently done, among others) to become au fait with mobility. Whatever the definition, mobility is here.
I think FE is strengthened in the UK by some freedom afforded it to embrace more innovation, which is encouraging as a sector. All of the above may seem quite high-minded (and just skims the surface of my research) acadamese, but these ideas are ripe for simple translation.
I finish by presenting a short description of my own mobile learning scenario with AS English FE students, using the template Ben and I designed:
(1) Headline and date –
Global influences on evolution of English Language mobile investigation, 17th June, 2014
Cultural agency, Smart Phone Data collection, (digital) literacy
(3) Author/s, copyright holder, facilitators (e.g. ‘teacher’), participating institutions (school, university, company etc)
(Left intentionally blank here)
(4) Time and place of realisation
Liverpool docklands and Museums
(5) Leading education ideas and plot of scenario
Inquiry-based approach with a talk (conducted as filmed interview following prepared questions by students) with museum curator discussing the changing regional accent.
Students then explored the museums recording photographs of curious language use throughout from the archives in the exhibitions and around the ports and docks. As records these artfacts were brought back to the institution later and uploaded to the class social network for discussion and further exploration in subsequent lessons and in discussion threads online.
(6) Learning aims and objectives achieved
This was a two-fold approach, consisting of preparation for A2 English language coursework choices, so was preliminary information-gathering. Content deriving from the trip (interview segments with the curator; photographic evidence from the museum) could be incoroprated into the subsequent research projects of the unit, which may explore Language Change or Regional Divergence.
It gave the students an insight into practical research methods and tools that can be used for these (phones as dictaphones, video cameras, cameras embedded into them, as memo-recording devices), as well as user-generated content they could drill further into, regarding etymology of the words and the influence of the docks on the English language.
(7) Target group and its views regarding the scenario
AS English group – all keen, naturally, having a sparkling, inspirational teacher! Lost notes from the day now, but their input was impressive, working without direction and stimulated by the visit (as many had never visited the city – despite its proximity).
(8) Institution of learning and curricular context
FE tertiary English
(9) Mobile devices or other technology deployed
(10) Cost and men/ women power, steps and necessary time for realisation
No cost for the museums, small costs for the travel, 1-day for the trip – extra time needed to disseminate results and construct further activity.
(11) Main results of realisation with main positives and negatives
Collaborative problem-solving between members over uses of equipment, curatorship of knowledge and communicating ideas, details of the talk and recollected vignettes of things they saw to the social network; project-based ideas stemmed from it in terms of research ideas for the coursework. An interesting result was the increased activity within the social network we use, as domain of activity. Beforehand, students waited for the teacher to post first, but this lead to some ownership and responsibility on their behalf and an increased sense of engagement and community of practice through the group. This was a shy group and they became emancipated and enagaging on the trip, asking the curator questions confidently and trying Sushi for the first time.
There may be some doubt regarding the ‘real-world context’ and ‘meaning-making’, but if compared to textbooks, videos in the classroom of guest speakers (at best), then I think this form was preferable to the students. Is a museum a more authentic representation of the real-world than a classroom? Regardless of obsessions with history and tacky souvenirs, I would have to say ‘yes.’
As Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” A conscious action necessary to learning is reflection; not best activated in the same environment day -after-day. Wherein the physical trip, situated in the memory and online in the network via their mobile artefcats, helps to contextualise the experience and stimulate reflection to events and conversations, beginning on the bus home and stretching to classroom-based discourse, if you like, or don’t bother if you didnae.
(12) Available report and artefacts (photos, videos, texts, images)
Not available here. Somewhere in the (mobile) cloud…!
“All that is mobile, melts into ether.” – Me.