This is a slideshow on mobile “stuff”, but I think the same could be said about any type of design these days for teaching and learning. Specifically, if you look at the last few slides – 90-93, we have to design for:
- personal time
- health/learning/quality of life
This certainly presents an interesting set of challenges, but just seeing these out there makes those who care, at least conscious of some of the things that they can’t take for granted anymore – namely the captive attention of an individual in a known location, who’s time is commanded by an authority figure and where the individuals’ prior experience and conditions are not relevant.
In my personal take, I’m thinking that when looking at any new or revised instructional design, we should take into account that the control is increasingly going to the student and that student is in an increasingly unknown environment. This makes assumptions dangerous.
But as so much of teaching/story telling/life sharing is based on assumption, where can we start from if we can’t assume some manner of common origin? I’m thinking, we work backward. If we know where we want the students to go, we can let the students fill in their own gaps between where we provide the information/resources and they provide their current understandings. Sounds familiar… doesn’t it?
I think it might just be the kicker we need to bring back objectives (learning and otherwise) to the design of out materials. That would seem to me to be the only way that we can reliably get everyone to the same level at the end of the experience. The caveat being of course, that in designing paths to reach these objectives, we can’t go around assuming things either, we need to provide all manner of templates for students to follow and understand that some of them may very well find their own way to the objective – and we have to be fine with that.
Jan Herrington, Anthony Herrington, Jessica Mantei, Ian Olney and Brian Ferry (Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong) have put together an eBook, New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning in higher education(2009, 138p. ISBN: 978-1-74128-169-9) that I think many people looking into mLearning might find useful with chapters that examine mobile device use across a range of subject areas. I haven’t looked into that deeply, but I’m sure some of the chapters can inspire mLearning ideas at other levels.
A new paper out of The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (Vol 11, No 1 (2010), ISSN: 1492-3831) by John-Harmen Valk, Ahmed T. Rashid, and Laurent Elder finds that mobile devices do indeed have an impact in the developing world by enabling increased access and flexibility that allow students to achieve results that are comparable to traditional methods. The study also finds that there are barriers in terms of cost, infrastructure and language in some environments.
Now even though this work was done in the developing world, is it really that hard to think that similar impacts wouldn’t be seen in the developed world where barriers to education also exist?
This interesting graphic brings to light a couple of really interesting points. The first is the fact that the key thing to remember about mobile is that you don’t need “everything”, you just need “enough”. That “enough” may be the ability to simply see content from an online source, other times you want to be able to edit or create that information when you are “out and about”. I think this is one of the ideas that was forgotten when the laptops first came out – they tried to do everything that the desktop system did and were not really successful for a while. One great thing the iPhone did was to break the paradigm of how people expected their mobile content to look. Apple made it “ok” to have a web version and a “full” version, but (and this is important), one that still looked good as opposed to the spartan wap versions that were available before iPhone brought webkit to the mobile environment.
The second thing this graphic reminds us about is that the phone is the best sensor/recorder that we have yet developed. It can collect the ambient data about just about anything and everything that we can detect with our own senses – and perhaps some we can’t. It does this well because it seems to be always with us (Google supposedly developed Latitude with the understanding that a phone is likely never -unless stolen or forgotten- more than a meter away from it’s user/owner). With that 1m radius, together with GPS, sensors that are not on the phone can relay information from other systems to the device, or that information can be cross referenced at a later date (making phone malware really quite dangerous).
So with these points, why is it again that education in North America seems to be ignoring mobile? Well, right now, I’m thinking it has something to do with the cost, but those costs are coming down (even in Canada) and usage is picking up as is speed, so the comfort level should also be on the upswing. Or is it that we haven’t really understood what the potential of this format is because we are trying to describe it in terms of other computing and communication devices rather than looking at is as a sensor.
Nora Young and Marie Bjerede have an interesting conversation (14min approx) on Spark. It starts with the “fears” that students may use the phone to distract themselves in the classroom. Now, this is a K-12 discussion, but I’ve heard the same thing in higher ed. To that I have a couple things to say. First, in classes with older students (teens and up), the instructor might want to look at their lecture/lesson and figure out why they are not able to keep the attention of the students. Instructors also need to consider that there are some students who will never pay attention – and if they are distracted with a phone or other device, at least they are quiet (isn’t that the holy grail of our Victorian era classroom?). Second, even then most connected kid only has a finite number of friends and a finite amount of attention for the News Feed and chat in Facebook. Eventually, they will be sated and return their attention to your lesson. The more we try to limit this, the more kids will try to do it. But back to the interview.
The project (Project K-Nect) that the interview is about sounds really quite interesting and it shows how tools can help shape communication. The phone proved to be an enabler – just as other computer mediated communication tools have been shown – for kids who were quiet, it proved to be a social tool (even notice how people chimp around phones?) as teachers started to develop collaborative assignments. The phone also enabled students to connect after school as well – just as they have for farmers, students and health workers in Africa. Nora brings this last point up in the middle of the interview which Marie jumps on right away.
A small cynic in me suggests that even though there is lots of promise, the “magic bullet” has been seen before – Radio, TV, Desktop computers, laptops… and now phones – and failed to kill the apathy and stagnation that seems to be present in the school system. The difference this time however is that the full functionality of the device/technology is present just about everywhere, so the novelty factor can potentially refreshed all the time, the device is personal and is carried in the pocket and the use of the device is ubiquitous in the “real world”. Finally one other difference is that unlike say educational television which “grows up” into a documentary, which is a niche market, kids using phone tools to track finances, record and report their world are doing the same thing that other, “real world” users are doing. You know – reading, writing, sharing, calculating, logging, analyzing… school like stuff and they are doing it all the time.
John Battelle has an interesting take on what is mobile in a recent post of his. He says:
Mobile is not a singular use case. Mobile is related to an ecosystem of local (where I am), realtime (what I’m doing right now), and social (who I’m with, who I want to tell about what I’m doing, etc.).
If we take these three points and adapt them to the learning context it seems that mobile flies completely in the face of what traditional education is all about. Where – in a desk, what – listening or reading and social – alone, is how most students would report. But ideally if we want students to engage, even in a school, we could do little things like encouraging group work and sharing of results through mobile devices. I’m sure even those ancient “laptops” could come in handy for this sort of engagement. We can change the locations within a school, or even within a room – think centers/lab stations to allow the student to take some initiative with respect to their own learning. But wait a minute, you say that things like this are already being done? Why do we need to add another gadget into the mix just to say that we can or have?
Why? Because we have to think beyond the walls of the classroom or the bounds of the school. We’ve been talking for years about extending the classroom into the lives of the student to make things that are addressed in the classroom relevant outside the classroom. Mobile devices, with their recording and sharing abilities are great tools to do just that. If we do, the where might become “at the mall, by the water park”, what might then be “watching how larger waves carry people further back” and social might be “with my brother and Jay who both think that it might be interesting to see what would happen if there was a large pillar in the middle of the pool to mess up the wave”. The kicker – kids could hand in this “assignment” right away, eliminating that most dreaded “I forgot my homework” line.
People have long talked about their Crackberry, and many iPhone users have known that a similar addictions to the “insta-stim” data stream that can be provided by their device, but now there is proof. Respondents used their device to replace their watches, they reported that they were more likely to forget their wallet than their iPhone and they called the devices “doorways to the world”. Personally, I have been a Crackberry user and now I’m ‘droid – never leaving home without my brain, but regardless of the platform, the ability to have your information in one location combined with the ability to get more information is certainly addicting in this information based world. But the thought of bringing into the educational sphere something that is addicting is somewhat problematic – do we really want your students to become addicted to gathering, storing and making use of information in a context specific manner? I don’t know, but I’m sure someone will tell me one day.
I missed the first day of this session because I was home sick, but I did take away some important confirmations from the second day. The first is that the University is falling behind, but it’s not alone, and it’s not too late to start moving things forward. mLearning is not about delivering everything about a course or other resource through a small screen, it is about what is important when people are on the move and wanting “just enough information”. But in order to understand what “just enough information is”, people have to experience it for themselves. This brings up the second point – if we want to start moving forward, we need the instructors to start using mobile technologies to their own ends, in their own lives so they can better understand how they might use them, design for them and otherwise understand them.
Moving beyond standard unidirectional content delivery, Standford, with it’s iStanford app, and ACU with http://m.acu.edu are certainly leading the pack with their developments (as is iusask in Canada) that feature mobile interactivity. This delivers content that is relevant to the user and allows them to further engage with the content, extending the conversation of the classroom beyond the room and the traditional computer lab and extending the resources of the institution to places where the users more naturally find themselves on and off campus.
These apps and sites are however quite the investment, but to get going, you need only a mobile friendly website – WordPress and WordPress MultiUser have plugins that make sites mobile friendly and content that can be accessed and updated on the fly – and a design ethos that suggest that less is more. Putting only the content that one would be able able to access in a short span online (saving time/bandwidth for the student). Branching out from there, podcasts (but not talking heads!) can be added, SMS gateways can be developed and custom apps and sites can be developed. Beyond the website, the development of additional systems should be guided by the users who will indicate what makes sense for them. If most of the users are accessing mobile content while on transit, they are going to have different connectivity/time on screen requirements compared to users accessing from residence or on campus in common space. Mobile is about short access with tools that make sense for that access time. So these developments certainly do not need to be full featured.
This wasn’t the only bit on mlearning this week = I also spotted this (Cell Phones R 4 More Than Texting) over twitter as well as this (Using mobile phones to improve educational outcomes: An analysis of evidence from Asia John-Harmen Valk, Ahmed T. Rashid, Laurent Elder) through Google Reader.
Administrators always want to look at metrics to decide if it is “worth” investing resources into a “new” technology or paradigm. One of these “new” technologies/paradigms in higher ed is mobile content delivery. Citing that there is no way to know if students are going to make use of mobile friendly resources, they will often defer action on resourcing those projects until it is too late. Of course there are some that see the writing on the wall and jump ahead and get great feedback from students, but the vast majority are content to sit back and wait… the typically conservative “it’s been this way for a hundred years” mentality.
But now thanks to mobile data being so expensive and companies like Opera routing data through their servers to compress that data, we have some data. TechCrunch’s article on Opera reports :
Last month, more than 35.6 million people used Opera Mini (which is now serving over 500 million pageviews per day on average on a wide range of mobile devices), up 11.5% compared to August 2009 and more than 150% compared to September 2008. The Norway software developer also claims more than 2 petabytes of data is now processed by its servers on a monthly basis. That’d be 2,000 terabytes.
Opera (State of the Mobile Web) is not alone in the “compress first” browser biz, there is also the newcomer Bolt (rendering 1.4M pages/day – assuming 32kb/page that comes to 5.34 GB per day) and the old stalwart RIM. All that data moving through central servers certainly does suggest that the Mobile Web is here it stay and should be at least given the time of day by higher ed.
Canadian numbers are also suggesting that there is an increase in mobile data:
Interestingly, there has also been a rise in the last 18 months of an ‘other’ category – widely suspected to be Mobile Broadband Sticks, Netbooks and Smartphone users.