Friday, July 14, 2006

Frivilous Friday...some serious fun using social web tools

We held a rather successful workshop today at CIT all about the Social Web.

The morning began with a provocative talk from our guest speaker Leigh Blackall, webcast from Dunedin in NZ, where he talked about teaching being dead (long live learning!) - well received by the 40 strong bunch of teachers who attended! Thanks Leigh, much appreciated!

We then moved into three workshops run concurrently on

All workshops were received with much enthusiasm by the participants who were keen to jump into the tools and give them a red hot go! Our central theme across all three workshops was food (being a key social activity in itself!).

Step 2 Swapping comments

Participants in the blogging workshop

We finished up with a quick few words from Vaughan Croucher, our Dean of Learning Services at CIT (thanks Vaughan!) and launched our new look PD website called Samson.

We also demonstrated the power of aggregation using a visual aggregator, Suprglu, that brought all the workshop activities together. Thanks again participants! It's only the social web when there are people coming together to use it!

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

...and then there were Four (or the Four R's of mobile learning)

Following on my previous post, I pick up on Leonard's idea of the three R's for mobile learning:

Leonard has reconsidered the three R's he posited earlier in a blog post and has included a fourth, and that is Reinterpret.

What I have conceived through a critique of Sharples' (Sharples 2005, para:3) well-considered conference paper (mLearn 2005) is his central elements for mobile learning include time, space and topical information and the simple fact that a theory of mobile learning takes as its central theme the learner's mobility.

When reframed this way, mobile devices are an aid to learning on the move, but not the focus of it; mobile learning is equally valid when accomplished with a pad of paper and a pen, as len pinted out, if that?s the appropriate resource for the learner 'in situ'. Thus, in accordance with Sharples thinking, we see the possibility of four avenues of learning activity. Defined from a learner-centric viewpoint, these are:

  • Record: The learner may use a portable device to record information. The information recorded may be in response to a prompt from the portable device itself; or in response to a stimulus from their situated learning environment or teacher. The information may be recorded to the portable device itself; or the portable device could serve as a conduit for storing the information remotely (e.g. weblog or database).

  • Recall: The learner may use a portable device to recall information, either stored on the portable device (e.g. iPod recording), or by using the device as a conduit to access information remotely (e.g. on the internet or a database).

  • Relate: The learner may use a portable device to communicate with other people ? for example, with another learner, or with a teacher (i.e. a learning relationship). The device may communicate directly and synchronously (e.g. mobile phone conversation), or may provide access to asynchronous communication services (e.g. web discussion board or collaborative weblog).

  • Reinterpret: The learner may use the portable device to process existing data so that it is transformed into new information, or restructured to include new learning.

In a reflection of the 'Three R's' of the essential pre-Net Generation skills (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic), these form the 'Four R's' of Net Generation learning (Prensky 2001a, 2001b) and reflect the sociocultural shifts in thinking and learning for the increasingly mobile twenty-first century.

So then, in terms of learning design, how might we use the four R's to develop engaging learning activities for our learners? Some practical examples can be seen through some Australian based projects like EngageMe, and New Practices 2004 project on using handheld devices in Horticulture, plus a range of mobile learning projects happening in Europe.

This extends teaching beyond the institution walls, into the everyday world around us and recognises the learner as the learning citizen (see the European commission funded projects for more).

So with this in mind, let's return to Sharples' summary of findings from a project called
. In this summary one can draw out ideas or strategies that can facilitate learning design. First, and most importantly, it is the learner who is mobile rather than the technology. This encourages a learner-centric focus from the outset when designing for learning. Interweaving learning into everyday practice extends our discussion on situated learning and also draws on networked learning which acknowledges a 'connectedness' supported by technology. It bodes well for engaging in workplace learning and draws fellow employees into the learning setting as both co-learners and supplementary guides or facilitators.

Distributed systems for managing the learning is preferenced in mobile learning approaches , so we need to consider carefully how institutions can support a distributed practice of administration and management wherever possible. This is a big challenge faced by institutions as they struggle with the fact that open systems and informal learning practices are increasingly valued in the workplace and our communities generally. This certainly challenges what it means to be a 'learning institution'. Sharples recognises that there is a conflict with formal education, as much as there is an opportunity to complement it (Sharples 2005, para:19).

Sharples also notes the increased importance of the context, not as a shell in which the learning occurs but as a contributor to the learning process or act itself (Sharples 2005, para:18). Context is dynamic and the space created becomes interactional, mediated by technology and the learning outcomes set. In this case, to think of the design is to engage the context as part of the learning, so that the learner and the teacher are both aware of the outcome(s) that can be generated from interacting in - and with - the context.

We should be acutely aware of the ethical issues that surround privacy and ownership (Sharples 2005, para:20). As learners are increasingly mobile, so too the learning settings themselves become mobile. The walls that once contained learning are melting into everyday settings. This means we need to be conscious of the ubiquitous nature of the technology and the invasive ways in which we can (mis)use the technology. Some teachers may voice concern over 'losing sight' of the learners and in a sense losing some level of power in the student-teacher relationship. If teachers are able to manage relinquishing of power to an extent where it is in itself freeing for them too, then there is more chance that modelling, or guiding learners in, safe and appropriate practices with technology can become the 'teaching' itself, thus developing the learning citizen, not simply the compliant student.

Learning is a social activity where learners engage with one another and with the context around them. It is a dynamic activity "framed by cultural constraints and historical practices" where the very process of learning is one of change, where our cultural and historical frames of reference grow and develop as we do (Sharples 2005, para:26).


EngageMe, NSW DET (n.d.) What is Moblogging? EngageMe Series 1.

European Commission (2002-2005) MOBIlearn: the wings of learning, MOBIlearn project consortium, Europe, Israel, Switzerland, USA and Australia.

Low, L (2006) The fourth R..., weblog post Mobile Learning

-- (2006) The three R's: building blocks for mlearning, weblog post Mobile Learning

Prensky, M (2001a) Digital Natives, Digitial Immigrants - Part 1, paper republished from On the Horizon, Vol 9, No 5, October 2001, NBC University Press. Retrieved 10 July 2006.

-- (2001b) Digital Natives, Digitial Immigrants - Part 2, paper republished from On the Horizon, Vol 9, No 6, December 2001, NBC University Press. Retrieved 10 July 2006.

Sharples, M. (2005) Towards a theory of mobile learning, paper presented at mLearn 2005, Capetown South Africa. Retrieved July 10 2006.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Mobile learning as networked and situated learning

My colleague Leonard and I are putting together a paper for the upcoming OLT conference at QUT, I thought I'd put down some thoughts around the use of mobile devices in teaching and learning. :o)

Not everyone is convinced of the merits of using mobile devices for teaching and learning and it seems many have yet to witness the apparent benefits of mobile learning approaches, through tried and tested working examples. that's fair enough isn't it? But I guess when we don't know what we don't know (and some of us do!) we should give it a go!

Situating strengths and weaknesses of mobile devices

Leonard discusses some strengths and weaknesses of mobile devices for learning over at his blog and some of his points really resonated with me in terms of situated and distributed (or networked) learning.

We can begin to understand the nuances of mobile learning when we consider it within a situated learning framework. Lave and Wenger are key authors in the area of learning cultures and situated cognition, as are Brown, Collins & Duguid (1989). Couple this with the notion of distributed or networked learning and you have a strong case for mobile learning!

Team this up with the three Rs of mobile learning activity (i.e. record, recall and relate) and you not only have learning that is embedded in the real activities of daily living (Stein 1998), but also a process for learning that is well-framed to support both the learner and the teacher in making sense of the learning that occurs in these everyday settings.

To situate learning is to

create the conditions in whichparticipants will experience the complexity and ambiguity of learning in the realworld. Participants will create their own knowledge out of the raw materials ofexperience, i.e., the relationships with other participants, the activities,the environment cues, and the social organization that the community developsand maintains (Stein 1998, para:2).

If we are to design for such experiences how might it look using mobile devices? We should first consider the need to integrate four key elements in designing mobile learning strategies, that of content, context, community and participation in order to do so.

Learner centredness and distributed experience

When we consider that adult learners are generally richly endowed with life experience, the potential to share their stories in learning settings can, as Stein says, transform a traditional learning setting where knowledge is merely transferred byt he teacher to seeing learners as a "resource for interpreting, challenging, and creating new knowledge" (Stein 1998, para:14). And of course, for seeing learners (and teachers) as people! Personalised learning is often discussed in the same breath as mobile learning - owning a mobile phone is quite a personal affair (what's your ring tone?!). But let's move beyond this and rather than have people ask about ring tones to denote thier individualism, let's try encouraging learners to ask themselves how they can maximise their use of such technology AND of the world around them to develop and hone their skills for learning.

So what of the learning experience if we are to centre on the learner? This next when I look more closely at:

Brown, Collins and Duguid are well known for their work on situated cognition (Educational Researcher 18(1), 1989, pp. 32-41), and

Young's article in Educational Technology Research and Development on "Instructional design for situated learning" (Vol 41 No 1, 1993, pp.43-58).

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Learning how to learn - making connections

Jo McLeay and Marica Sevelj have got something in common with me and that is reading Stephen Brookfield's book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (1995). A decade down the track and it remains a highly relevant read.

Jo notes Brookfield's application of some critically reflective incidents, where he describes

... a method he uses to find out from his students (admittedly adults, while mine are adolescents) how they are experiencing their learning and your teaching. It does sound interesting. He does this questionnaire with classes once a week with five questions asking them about specific incidents that were engaging or distancing, affriming and helpful or puzzling or confusing and what was most surprising. The comments are anonymous and students have a carbon copy of their responses. They can keep them and have a record of their responses on an ongoing basis. I must admit there is a lot in this book that gives food for thought.

I'd also like to take Brookfield's applications and see them applied to the wider 'informal learning' setting and see learners take up more responsibility for their learning and development - this is to me a true reflection on becomng critical - in the natural world.

As an aside, I also liked her comment about the overuse of PowerPoint for presenting ideas; "most of them did not enhance the presentations, and it almost seemed as if they were compulsory" - totally agree with you Jo! :o)

We have a seminar coming up and powerpoint hasn't been mentioned once! Mind you it's all about the Social Web, so the talk - and preparation - is centred around tagging, wikis and moblogging - a refreshing change don't you think!

In reading Brookfield for myself, I'm drawn to his notion of 'making our thinking public'. It is this notion I hope will premise an article I am currently co-authoring with some educational design colleagues of mine. Obviously developing the critically reflective teacher should also encourage (and model) the critically reflective learner. And if teaching is dead, according to Leigh Blackall, the surely we can develop teachers to be critically reflective learners in themselves and guide and coach other learners to develop these qualities, thus dissolving the separation between teacher and learner!

Marica, in her Amazon booklist, also points to another book by Jennifer Moon called Reflection in Learning and Professional Development that looks like a good read for our co-authored article.

It's like browsing a library bookshelf and along with the book you initially search for, you find many others that relate to your topic! :o) ...the difference is you get some review and thoughtful comments to boot ...thank you ladies!

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