Link to my article for the Mobile Learning journal I edited last year, for archive and CMALT accreditation purposes.
Category Archives: Mobile Learning
[Taken from my PhD thesis lit review]
Literature on online learning eulogizes distance education (or distributed learning) as a concrete affordance made available by way of trans-located communities mediated by real-time technologies. Much subject matter explores the potential for the MOOC (Massive Online Open Conference) to connect remote learners operating from globally dislocated places. There are contexts where this has more potential than others, for example in Higher Education, in individuals pursuing informal interests in their own time (www.futurelearn.com), or with geographically remote communities who may have an innate and intrinsic motivation to achieve (as Mitra shows). In the former case here, the MOOC has often become a means of transferring one-to-many lectures online, which may be questionable in terms of impact on low-motivated and low-ability students, or the ability to turn inert and passive discourse into more active practice. Anderson et al criticise the “big distance education models” (9: 2001) as unsuitable for some subjects where active participation is more necessary.
Nevertheless, a MOOC is one of the projects held up for mass online provision for Maths (‘Citizen Maths’, Learning Futures 32: 2014). This is a purely online form, quite distinct from traditional learning. Here, ‘traditional learning’ needs some definition. Because I am concerned with the English GCSE syllabus, traditional learning is used to mean the notion of meeting in a classroom for a specific unit of time for specific learning outcome-based purpose.
Blended learning is promoted as the combination of sporadic physical interpersonal meetings (cited as ‘traditional’) and the opportunities afforded by an online community of practice (whether that is structured learning, access to resources, communication within the group for various purposes). In this sense, the online aspects are not a substitute locus of activity, but augment the face-to-face activity.
Remote access (to an ecology of resources, to a teacher and to a community) may not always resonate with emotional and motivational factors in terms of student difficulties. An alternative is suggested: that of blended learning, explained as “the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches and technologies” (Garrison and Vaughan, 2008, 148: 2008). Driscoll defines blended learning (2002) as
- To combine or mix modes of web-based technology (e.g. live virtual classroom, self-paced instruction, collaborative learning, streaming video, audio, and text) to accomplish an educational goal.
- To combine various pedagogical approaches (e.g., constructivism, behaviourism, cognitivism) to produce an optimal learning outcome with or without instructional technology.
- To combine any form of instructional technology (e.g., videotape, CD-ROM, web-based training, film) with face-to-face instructor-led training.
- To mix or combine instructional technology with actual job tasks in order to create a harmonious effect of learning and working
There are various other descriptions of the form and detail of blended learning, as outlined by Oliver and Trigwell (2005), in a discussion of the problems of defining what the varying terms means. For the purpose of deployment in this study, the closest fit is supplied by Valiathan (2002):
- skill-driven learning, which combines self-paced learning with instructor or facilitator support to develop specific knowledge and skills;
- attitude-driven learning, which mixes various events and delivery media to develop specific behaviours; and
- competency-driven learning, which blends performance support tools with knowledge management resources and mentoring to develop workplace competencies.
The first notion importantly configures a consideration of the teacher presence as supportive to the interaction; the second pays heed to the behaviour, affective and attitudinal factors discussed earlier, and the third fits closely to the context of the FE sector and learner aspiration (vocational and work-based skill sets). Overall, the definition is relevant as it can be aligned to the purpose: promoting a Community of Inquiry, with its constituent domains of teacher presence, but focusing on the contextual sector. Oliver and Trigwell’s report seeks to avoid the conflation of arbitrary terms, such as online learning, or traditional delivery. Blending affords the opportunity to circumvent difficulties teachers may have in embedding technology holistically, for example in aspirations to flipped learning where content is accessed remotely, so that more meaningful activity (problem-solving, Sayer, 2007) can occur face-to-face. As seen already, students and teachers may not have the requisite skill sets for meaningful online provision, described as rudimentary in a study by the Pamoja Institute (No citation, ref. http://assets.cdnma.com/9136/assets/Research/IOE_research_overview.pdf )
Blending, then, is a way of integrating technologies to be more familiar for students.
Some learning activity at a superficial level (in terms of types of learner activity, producing the right level and type of work, meeting targets and deadlines, presenting work for assessment) may be shifted online without friction. Even a learner checking they are ‘right’, can be met with some basic assurances from a remote teacher or community. These are isolated parts of a student’s experience – what a student needs to do, but not specifically how it is done at a cognitive or prcoedural level. It is also unclear whether those processes of activity are optimal. As is shown in Point 2 above by Driscoll, blending may also include multi-faceted pedagogical approaches, so due consideration needs to be paid to this.
Blending learning may include provision and access to resources from remote points, such as Learning Management Systems or in-house college Virtual Learning Environments like Moodle.
‘Blending’ is not a learning theory, as such, but a strategic instructional design that ensures students have access to an assistive ecology of online resources for a range of activities, combined with face-to-face context modes. Educational Design Research – or design based research – is the development of practical principles for curriculum redesign. Given its supportive nature in readying teacher’s for online learning pedagogical models, blended learning affords a scale towards multimodal literacies and Web 2.0 affordances in both classroom and remote contexts. An issue still remains what emergent pedagogies consist of – and how they ensure inclusion at the rate of support needed by all students.
Here is my contribution to the call from Chrissi Nerantzi for images of a tapestry of digital learning and teaching. I present an image metaphor from Black Crag in Cumbria of my niece in the moment of capture, the winds blades circumventing change around her fixed geographical point. If it looks akward, well I never said I was an artist (and I almost added a graphic from fitbit) and my fiddling around with layers is problematic, to say the least, as seen.
How symbolic is the concept of layers! I usually retreat to nature to escape the fugue that social contexts contain us within. When we scaled the small fell of Black Crag and reached the trig point, a strong gale ensued. Not daunted, we all felt we had to capture our triumphant endeavour with – variously – cameras, iPads, SmartPhones. My own original shots seemed to absorb the brunt of the winds in an image, as all came out distorted by its power revealing dales that appear to undulate. Layers start to be constructed as soon as we emerge into the raw purity of nature. I’ll try to explain what I mean by that.
There are so many metaphors in nature: maps, orientation, being present in a moment but elsewhere simulataneously. I’m discontent with metaphors, sometimes, because in my research I want to get to the core meaning, rather than wrap ideas with further labels. Metaphors are though, I suppose, helpful tools to make the abstract in language more tangible.
I often take my research with me on hikes, as the obfuscation becomes less obscure and I can focus and think in transcendent footsteps, almost to literally clear my head. I mean ‘intrapersonally’. I discovered this powerfully when I walked 700 km along the Camino de Santiago, years ago – the Field of Stars. Walking is a profound method of situating ourselves to landscapes and, well, our selves.
In nature, we are omnipresent: we’re social and in solitude; we exist in a moment, but may be elsewhere in our thoughts; more often than not these days, we take our devices with us to capture the liminal moments we uncover. Some use images, some use words and some use numbers to represent what they find. Our tools let us have it all ways.
This is what I conceive of as psychogeography and a metaphor for the real essence of mobile learning.
This may go against the grain of those versed in dialogues and rhetoric based on classical systems, but debating – as far as I can see it – is dependent on the ability of people to frame contributions synchronously. A huge affordance of Technologies for Learning is the asynchonous: being able to self-edit and convey exactly what we want to communicate carefully. This is helpful, since it saves time and tangents in discourse, where others deviate by leaping on mistakes made by some in articulating points succinctly.
Discussion threads, such as wall posts, around VLEs or MOOCS or on Twitter, tend to be asynchonous, people can return to them and they are continuous. This helps let people in who cannot think on their feet and who may be shy to contribute in oral discussions. Threads can have impact on inclusive practice via mobile dialogue sustained over time in continuous dialogues through social media. A theoretical formula for online discussion threads aimed towards learning goals follows that arises originally from Habermas Theory of Commuicative Actions (1981), which categorised communciation types in how we negotiate the social world.
Warren and Wakefield‘s Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions builds on Habermas’ original premises:
- Normative actions – best understood as ‘norms’ or regulated behaviours, conduct, or what a teacher outlines for correct procedure and expectation, i.e. ‘no swearing in the thread, keep contributions focused and/or responsive to others comments, challenge but justify providing further information where possible, etc.’. A contract of obligation and agreement is established; though fairly standard, if negotiated with students, this can have empowering and equalising functions.
- Strategic actions – directions of what to do phrased as imperatives (i.e. ‘submit proposal by Friday’) from teacher to student group. According to Warren and Wakefield, they are framed with two resulting options: Accept/Reject. These actions reinforce the authority of the instructor in a sense, since if the imperative is accepted, then the student recognises it as ‘useful’ to their objects. In my analysis of social networks for learning, these are the primary responsibilities of a teacher, but more advanced students can support the context, activity and peers by issuing clarification, reminder notifications, or tips to others on how best to be organised or complete work.
- Constative actions – this is where dialogue forms into discussion threads, with members posting ‘claims to truth’ which can lead to rejection and counter-claims, aimed at realising the negotiation and constructive critique of theoretical understanding between agents in challenging validity and providing evidence or further discourse. An instructor should have a discrete presence, acting as mediator as required and helping to summarise or seek clarification; this is probably served best where an instructor begins by posing truth claims, i.e. ‘Romeo and Juliet are responsible for all the subsequent violence in the play’.
- Dramaturgical communicative actions – individualised expressions of what Habermas labelled Lifeworld: the internal realities of member agents. In Warren and Stein’s (2008) view, these may take shape as creative materials arising reflectively from the dialogue, framed around subjective experience but integrating and applying what has been discussed into multimodal literacies (posters, poems, art works). We may possibly see these as User Generated Content in other formats and prgrammes, or as assessable objects arising from Activity.
Much of this is based on classroom practice and the actions appear limited. I would add to this by recommending a Problem-based real world communicative actions approach, particularly in FE, vocational or HE, so scenarios become the context for discussion, i.e. for teacher training ‘the use of social media enables greater differentiation with summative assessment of programmes of study’ as a truth claim, but accompanied by a list of profiles of learners with tangible difficulties, such as students with dyslexia, second-language learners, students wishing to personalise assignments, those who have difficulty with attendance, etc.
Further, inclusivity to this could be enhanced through applying the Thinking Circles restorative practices, particularly in early stages with the promotion of all members to make a formal greeting, response , contribution or by acknowledging the presence of all members, in line with the first stage of Gilly Salmon‘s model of e-learning, so that discussions don’t become galleries of disrespect, like the House of Commons (based very much on the Oxbridge models of ‘He who scoffs loudest to the shrillest jeers’). This can enable curation of discussions by members themselves, rather than the teacher, and encourage the confidence of lurkers or ‘legitimate peripheral participants‘ who, in an oral classroom discursive context, may become frozen as spectators to others dominance.
Wakefield and Warren – Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions: Social Media as Educational Tool, from Using Social Media Effectively in the Classroom, 2013, by Kay Kyeong-ju Seo (Routledge).
“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.
My la-de-daa article on Mobile Learning has been published!! This is a wonderful achievement. A groundbreaking tome. A pot-boiling, kettle-watching, mixed metaphor of an essay, worthy of a Nobel prize.
Actually, since I also edited the journal for the last twelve months, it’s not that fanciful – though I still went through a rigorous examination and re-editing process (thanks to the publisher and co-editor).
Academic writing (“academese”) is a strange fish, indeed. This was my first article, but I’ve been honed in the tone after three years work on my doctorate. In my first year I was advised, “you have to write at doctorate level”. Good advice. Hmm, How?
“Well, it’s like Masters level writing, but you add another layer on.” (Imagine dishing out such wisdom to A-Level students).
Supervision over three years has been a process of hammering certain, perfectly-everyday-understood words into definition, pruning “gnomic statements” and tautology off the page, removing any sense of identity, personal voice, charm or humour from each phoneme, exorcising Oxford commas, and generally dulling-down the language ’til it sounds, as one of my GCSE students said to me, as if I’d “swallowed a dictionary” (‘Professor Words’ was how his mates referred to him during the course, apparently).
This is challenging and a bit compromising when you try to do doctorate research that addresses a common problem (namely the re-sit English GCSE problem) with a solution, because you try to keep everything grounded in reality and operational to your professional peers. Simultaneously, you have to address the conceptual in an attempt to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and back to ordinary again (perceptibly, at least).That tends to happen anyway when we study, investigate or meditate on something for a prolonged period: it changes its definition and properties, subtly, perhaps, but something happens. It’s what researchers sometimes call the Russian Dolls approach of unpacking something, finding what’s inside, taking that apart, finding what’s inside, etc…eventually, data saturation happens, and you may stop. Or go nuts. You then put it back together, adding bits of theory like sticking plaster. Finally, it looks less like a Russian doll and more like a Barbie Doll, clothed in weird words and strange ciphers.
An apology, then.
My article is representative of that, since I am outlining a micro-case study of a pedagogical design informed by theory. I have to write like I’m sending myself up, but I also want it to be clear, pragmatic and understood. With complex learning theory (which is actually often not complex, but communicated as complex), the more you aim for practice, the more you translate it to the everyday. That’s praxis.
What’s increasingly difficult – and I might argue ‘pointless’ – is the case for measurement of learning’ . We measure when we want to transfer, but all contexts are different. And education, I would argue, is a social science that is highly contextual. Unlike the natural sciences, human beings are not so predictable. But that’s another post.
The article I’ve written, then, is not prescriptive of use, but does reflect that we are, in FE, at a point in a wave turning back in on itself. Something new needs to emerge from the surf: a new culture, because I think that the old models of practice are becoming less and less relevant. Self-directed action by students at this halfway house in worlds between school and work needs to become a default setting as expectation. The case study is not the best example, because its population is with the GCSE re-sit demographic, whose abilities may not be attuned to this sense of self-responsibility, but it’s meant to demonstrate how we can activate and support those processes, with informed, conducive theory.
Article and editorial: