Technology focus in Taichung

International Computer Symposium
Taipei, Taiwan
12-14 December, 2014

Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Luce Memorial Chapel, Tunghai University, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The International Computer Symposium, composed of a number of workshop strands, took place at Tunghai University in Taichung from 12-14 December 2014. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the first two days as I was at the ICEduTech Conference in Taipei, but I arrived in time to attend the final day, when I also gave my own keynote in the Information Literacy, e-Learning, and Social Media workshop strand.

In his plenary, Social Media and Learning: The Way Forward, Sandy Li spoke about the ubiquity of social media platforms and how they affect the way we interact with each other, though some people may see their  invasion of our lives as creepy. Social media, he indicted, are increasingly used to support education, and there have been positive claims about the use of blogging, social neworking, social bookmarking and web co-authoring (including wikis, Google Docs, etc). However, it has been pointed out by some researchers that there is limited empirical research and it often relies on self-reported data or qualitative data. There is also some suggestion that there is a negative correlation between students’ use of social media and their GPA scores.

Li went on to report on a research study on the value of social annotation, focusing on the use of the social bookmarking/folksonomy tool Diigo to annotate online documents. The participants were 48 undergraduate students in a course on technology in education. Students were placed into groups and required to research a self-chosen authentic and ill-structured issue. They used Diigo to tag and share bookmarks, make annotations with sticky notes, and co-construct argumentation where appropriate.  They then wrote a report on their different views as well as the overall views of the group. Postings (whether a bookmark, a highlighted text, or a sticky note) were assigned quality scores based on accuracy and relevance. It was found that low-level cognitive, high-level cognitive and metacognitive activities were interwoven and correlated with each other. These strongly predicted the project scores. It was found that the average number of highlighted texts explained over 50% of group variance in project score, with the amount of social collaboration explaining over 70% of group variance. Collaboration, in short, was crucial in supporting metacognitive activities. Social annotation supports different levels of cognitive and metacognitive activities and, thus, quality learning. For students, this experience was very different from using a traditional VLE or LMS, which provides a much more teacher-centred structure – in fact, TMS, or ‘teaching management system’, would be a better term. There is a need to shift our designs to allow for more student-centred learning. Most of the social annotation platforms are commercial products, lacking a clear pedagogical design framework, so they require teachers to bring the necessary pedagogical insight.

In my own plenary, Mobile Literacy: Navigating New Learning Opportunities and Obligations, I spoke about the digital literacies which are taking on new importance and new inflections as we move into a mobile era: information literacy, multimodal literacy, network literacy, code literacy and critical mobile literacy. I argued that mobile learning presents us as educators with both the obligation and the opportunity to help students acquire these skills, which are essential in a world that is not only increasingly digital but increasingly mobile.

In her paper, Effectiveness of Constructing Information Literacy via Credited Information Literacy Program, Szu-Chia Lo spoke about the importance of information literacy in a digital era. She described a study of a library course which was run to develop students’ information literacy skills.  Preliminary results show students were familiar with internet surfing but lacked knowledge about identifying proper information resources, how to conduct search strategies, and how to evaluate information. However, it was found that after taking the course, students did begin to build their information literacy skills. It was also found that combining the course with other curriculum programmes led to better outcomes.

In his paper, Originality Assurance in Academic Publication, Kun-Huang Huarng outlined the issues with plagiarism in a digital era. He spoke about the need to educate students about plagiarism on an ongoing basis, and indicated that software like TurnItIn can play a helpful role in tertiary institutions.

In her paper, Design of Chinese Language Learning APP in the Context-Aware Learning Environment (co-written with Hsiao-Han Chiu), Hong-Ren Chen explained that through context-aware technology, mobile learning can detect the location of the learner and the surrounding learning environment to provide suitable learning content. She described a Chinese context-aware learning system with an English interface for learning vocabulary, pronunciation and conversation in everyday life. GPS is used for outdoor learning and QR codes are used for indoor learning. This allows for learning outside the spaces and times of classroom education.

In the paper, Interactive Augmented Reality System for Supporting Museum Guided Instruction (co-written with Kai-Yi Chin and Jim-Min Lin) Ko-Fong Lee indicated that virtual reality is expensive and it is difficult to create a complete and attractive context. Augmented reality, on the other hand, incorporates real feelings and sensations, with 3D virtual objects enhancing learning interest. Using QR codes with AR systems has advantages: QR codes allow larger and more flexible data storage options, they have high fault tolerance and low production costs, and the decoding capabilities already exist on many mobile devices. There is considerable potential in this combination of QR and AR, with QR increasing the popularity of AR systems in education.

Like the Taipei ICEduTech Conference, with which it overlapped, the ICS brought together a wide range of practitioners and researchers to shed light on current directions in educational technology development. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot happening right now in this area in Taiwan. This is a country to watch over the next 2-3 years.

Technology focus in Taipei

ICEduTech Conference
Taipei, Taiwan
10-12 December, 2014

Taipei 101, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Taipei 101, Taiwan. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

In mid-December I was able to spend 3 days at the ICEduTech Conference at Tamkang University in New Taipei City, Taiwan, which drew together educational technology specialists from around Asia and the world. A spread of expertise from a variety of areas ensured that a range of issues surfaced which went somewhat beyond those typically discussed at educational technology conferences.

In his opening plenary, Cloud Classroom: The Next Generation, Chun-Yen Chang pointed out that Taiwanese students do very well in international tests like PISA and TIMMS, but they do not have interest or confidence in science. On the other hand, the younger generation makes extensive use of mobile devices. Chang demonstrated the Cloud Classroom software, an HTML5 platform accessible on mobile devices ( It is designed to facilitate interaction between teachers and students in the form of polling exercises, where teachers can see all of the students’ responses – which, Chang suggested, is important in Chinese classrooms. Polls may require multiple choice or open-ended answers. The software can also facilitate group work, with students being grouped, for instance, according to their poll answers. Students can also take on the role of teachers and ask questions of other students. The software can be used to engage students in discussions about scientific issues such as climate change. Some research has been done on older clicker systems, but smartphone-based systems open up new possibilities for research. In a study conducted with the Cloud Classroom software, it has been found that students using the software can learn to better engage in argumentation and debate. The vision is to find a good fit between the teacher as facilitator, the technology, and the learner.

In the second plenary, From Slate to Tablet: The Development of New Media for Learning in Taiwan, David Tawei Ku outlined the history of engagement with new technologies in Taiwanese higher education. He spoke in some detail about Gartner’s predictions for the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015 as they apply to Taiwan specifically, as well as more generally:

  • Computing everywhere
  • The internet of things
  • 3D printing
  • Advanced, pervasive and invisible analytics
  • Context-rich systems
  • Smart machines
  • Cloud/client computing
  • Software-defined applications and infrastructure
  • Web-scale IT
  • Risk-based security and self-protection

He went on to point out that there is considerable overlap with the key trends accelerating higher education technology adoption as outlined in the 2014 Higher Education Horizon Report, and indeed in the 2012 and 2013 reports. Ultimately, he suggested, new technology trends build on, and represent new inflections of, developments which began long ago.

In the third plenary, Empathy, Empathic Information Systems and New Directions for Learning, Pedro Isaias spoke about empathic information systems which react to and can give feedback to users. He outlined the evolution from MDS (Mobile, Dexterous, Social) robots to DragonBots (see the video). The ultimate goal is a more organic relationship between humans and technology. He went on to describe the EU Empathic Products project, which ‘aims to achieve better user experience by applying affective computing technologies to understand and respond to user intentions and emotions’. The expected results (as detailed on the project website) include:

  • Methodology to create empathic (intentional , emotion enabled) applications and services
  • Toolbox of validated emotion & intention enabling technologies including UX measurement
  • A huge number of validated proofs of concept
  • New business models for exploiting intention and emotion awareness

Some of the project scenarios include conceptual e-learning projects like Emerge (involving the Umniverse platform) and the 3D World MOOC.

In her paper, Designing Participatory Learning, Henriikka Vartiainen reported on design principles drawn from her recently published dissertation. Outside the classroom, she suggested, knowledge has moved into networks. Older pedagogical practices have boundaries that make it difficult for learners to access knowledge networks and move across the learning landscape. Design-oriented pedagogy, anchored in Vygotsky’s sociocultural work, aims to build bridges between schools and environments outside schools. Students need a chance to participate in knowledge-creating activities and to become confident designers, where ‘design’ is defined as  participation in cultural practices by developing them. Students should engage in open, collaborative tasks within a design-oriented learning process. She concluded with a video example of work by Finnish students produced within such an approach.

In her paper, Assessing Critical Thinking Performance of Postgraduate Students in Threaded Discussions (co-written with Cheng-Lee Tan), Lee Luan Ng described the use of the Newman et al’s (1995) content analysis scheme to analyse students’ threaded online discussions. It was found that students engage somewhat in critical discussion, though one class (on language acquisition) did so more than another class (on research methodology). This may be because of the nature of the topics and students’ past experience with the topics. It seems that including relevant outside materials in the threaded discussions is crucial to support participants’ critical thinking. In short, critical thinking can be cultivated through threaded discussion; good task design and past experience of the topics are important.

In the paper, Training Pre-Service Chinese Language Teachers to Create Instructional Video to Enhance Classroom Instruction (co-authored with Ming-Chian Ken Wang), Lih-Ching Chen Wang spoke about the advantages of teachers creating their own video instructional materials for teaching Chinese in a multimodal format. She showed several examples of such videos created by her pre-service teachers.

In her paper, Using Project-Based Learning and Google Docs to Support Diversity, Amy Leh described a project-based learning approach to help the integration of international students with American students in a US university, using tools including: wikis for forming groups, Google Docs for paper construction, Google Forms for data collection, Skype for group discussions, tracked changes for editing, and discussion boards. When surveyed, students said they had increased knowledge and appreciation of other cultures, were better able to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds,  had greater confidence in working with people from different countries and, perhaps most interestingly, had a better appreciation of their own cultures and backgrounds.

In our own paper, Digital Storytelling Across Cultures: Connecting Chinese and Australian Schools (co-written with Cher Ping Lim, Xi Bei Xiong and Hanbing Yan), Grace Oakley and I described what we have learned from running a cross-cultural collaborative project, funded by the Australia-China Council, to enable Chinese and Australian students to learn more about each other’s language and culture through creating, exchanging and responding to each other’s digital stories.

In her paper, Building Better Discipline Strategies for Schools by Fuzzy Logic (co-written with Dian-Fu Chang and Ya-Yun Juan), Wen-Ching Chou explained the use of fuzzy logic to determine opinions about the acceptability and effectiveness of non-corporal discipline strategies in schools in Taiwan. There were six strategies perceived by teachers to have high acceptability and high effectiveness, most in the domain of positive discipline.

In the paper, Building of a Disaster Recovery Framework for E-learning Environment Using Private Cloud Collaboration (co-written with Kazuhide Kanenishi), Satoshi Togawa spoke about the centrality of learning and data systems to education, and the importance of disaster recovery procedures, for example in the situation of an earthquake. Specifically, he discussed a private cloud collaboration framework where live migration of data into the cloud is triggered by an earthquake alert.

One strand of the conference focused on new technologies in health and medicine, with a key theme being the importance of linking and making sense of data – a theme which has parallels in the work currently being carried out on learning analytics in the educational sector. In the presentation, Using Mobile Technologies to Carry Out Tertiary Medical Services in Central America and the Caribbean (co-written with Angela Cruciano, Eric Diep and Shikha Gupta), Ajay Gupta described a Medical Mission Data Tracking Software System created for developing countries. Patient information can be stored on a laptop  and later synchronised to the central system when an internet connection is available. Access to this information improves efficiency and co-ordination between patients, doctors and pharmacists. Data can also be mined to produce heat maps of diseases and monitor changing patterns. In the presentation, Augmented Reality-Assisted Rehabilitation of Activities of Daily Living, Mengyu Zhao, Soh Khim Ong and Andrew Nee described a two-phase training system where stroke patients begin by manipulating virtual objects – such as turning on a faucet or placing books on a bookshelf – before going on to manipulate real objects. Survey results indicated patients felt that the virtual object training phase helped them perform better in the real object training phase. In the presentation, Customer Service System of Advanced Physical Examination for Hospitals (co-written with Yung-Fu Chen and Hsuan-Hung Lin), Tserentogtokh Tselmegmaa explained an integrated system consisting of a patient native mobile app (which can allow push notifications) and hospital staff web application, allowing better co-ordination and management of health information. Patients can receive messages and results from the hospital, make reservations, and track their vital signs. In the presentation, The Importance of ICT in the Preparation of Telehealth Public Policy Regional Protocols in Latin America, Humberto Alves, presenting on behalf of a team of researchers, spoke of the sharing of experiences between Latin American countries in order to develop effective approaches to telehealth.

All in all, having access to such a broad range of topics and perspectives was a good way to enrich our understanding of the possibilities of e-learning and mobile learning.

Technology trending

English Australia Conference
18th – 19th September, 2014
Melbourne, Australia

The Yarra, Melbourne. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I’ve been away from the English Australia Conference for four years, so it was interesting to return to the conference this year in Melbourne. One trend that struck me was a definite upswing in the number of sessions focusing on educational technologies. While many of these adopted a practical orientation towards classroom tools, others investigated bigger themes related to the benefits and drawbacks of these technologies.

In his talk, Engaging Digital Learners, accompanied by a website, Paul Forster explored a range of interactive web- and app-based technologies that can be used by teachers in the classroom, including quiz tools like Kahoot, Padlet, Quizlet, annotation tools like EduCanon and Curriculet, and QR and AR tools like Aurasma and Plickers.

The session Digital Literacies for Teachers and Students: A Toolbox of Practical Ideas was delivered in the format of three pecha kucha presentations by Lachlan McKinnon, Lindsay Rattray and Thom Roker. Lachlan recommended screen capture video freeware including Camstudio (Windows only), Screencast-o-matic, Jing and Screen2exe (also Windows only). Lindsay suggested that instead of asking students to switch off mobile phones, we should ask them to set their phones to English. He went on to outline activities where students skim websites in response to trivia questions; video self-introductions using their mobile phones; and take part in jumbled dictations where they type the dictated sentences into their phones, then work together to compose the full text. Thom promoted the idea of a paperless classroom, suggesting this can be achieved by using many of the apps available through Google Drive . He also spoke of the educational potential of Google Classroom

In their presentation, MOOEC Showcase, Chris Evason, James O’Connor, Ken Trolland, Susannah McCallum and Cecile Baranx showed examples of effective ESL materials on the MOOEC platform. It was pointed out that there is an opportunity for teachers not only to consume existing materials, but to create their own materials for their students.

In their presentation, We’ll See You on the Flip Side: The Flipped Classroom Model in Practice, Adrian Smith, Olivia Cassar and Carol Aeschliman pointed out the advantages of a flipped approach in giving students more language practice, and allowing them to engage in collaboration and production activities in the classroom. There is a reduction in teacher talking time, and there is more time for personalised attention to students at the point of need. However, this may not involve so much of a paradigm shift in TESOL, since many of the active learning aspects of flipped classrooms have been employed for some time in English language teaching. Making materials available before class time turned out to be particularly empowering for the weaker students, who could spend extra time preparing before coming to class. Recommended web services and apps for creating flipped videos include Educreations, GoAnimatePreziTellagami and VideoScribe. Students can even learn to use apps like Tellagami to respond to flipped videos.

In my own session, Walking and Talking Around the World: A Snapshot of International Mobile English Learning, I outlined the trade-offs that educators, as learning designers, make when they are creating mobile learning experiences for their own students in their own contexts: balancing up affordability and affordances, deciding what types of mobile learning to promote or support, and making choices about which mobile agendas to align their designs with. I rounded off with four case studies of successful mobile English language learning projects, highlighting the different decisions made in varying contexts to create effective learning designs.

This was followed by a panel, Is Educational Technology the End of the World as We Know It?, chaired by Donna Cook. Along with Kyle Smith, Vesna Stevanof and Piedad Pena, I took part in responding to a wide range of questions about educational technologies (with our responses informed by questions previously submitted by the audience through Facebook and Twitter). It’s apparent that a lot of people are experimenting with new technologies in the classroom, and encountering a mixture of successes and challenges – and there’s a lot we can learn through sharing and discussing these experiences.

At the Learning Technologies breakfast on the second day, at which I was the special guest, attendees discussed the benefits and challenges of using new technologies. A competition to produce a digital overview of participants’ experiences of educational technologies in different ELT centres produced some informative multimedia entries using tools such as Knowmia, Tellagami and VideoScribe.

Technology was also a topic which surfaced in the context of presentations on other themes. In his plenary, English and Economic Development, David Graddol outlined his concerns over the economic rationalist basis for the English language development going on around the world. He pointed out that there are two narratives about the use of technology in the classroom – one is about empowering individual teachers to do more in the classroom; but the other is about big corporations convincing education ministries that students should be plugged into educational packages, which diminish the need for highly trained teachers. Corporations are now selling directly to parents as well.

Of course, not every presentation was about technology, but technology has become an increasingly present theme, mixed in – as it should be – with broader pedagogical, cultural and sociopolitical themes.

Tech discussions in the Middle East

14th Oman International ELT Conference
8th  9th May, 2014
Muscat, Oman

The Corniche, Muscat. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The 14th Oman International ELT Conference was held from 8-9 May at Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman, under the theme: ‘Bridging Traditions and Innovations in ELT’. A variety of papers and workshops contributed their perspectives on this theme over the two days of the conference.

In my opening plenary, Principles and Practices of Mobile Learning, I surveyed recent trends in mobile technologies before outlining three main types of mobile learning, and three agendas for mobile learning, which are seen around the world. I argued that all mobile learning involves a trade-off between affordability and affordances. I concluded with several case studies of mobile English language learning projects from different parts of the globe, showing how the mobile learning types and agendas are realised in practice – and how it is important to balance up affordability and affordances in order to design the optimal kind of mobile learning for our own learners in our own contexts. The practicalities of mobile learning were explored further in my workshop, Introducing Mobile Learning, which suggested a number of entry points into mobile learning for teachers and students with different levels of technological and pedagogical/educational experience and confidence.

In her plenary, Cohort-Based Learning, Susan Barduhn mentioned that the average completion rate in MOOCs is only 7-9%. One reason may be the lack of relationships between students and teachers, and students and their peers; there is little chance to co-construct understanding together. Cohort-based learning is about a whole programme through which students move together, and which they complete together. When students enrol at different times – e.g., in PhD programmes – they are often working alone and don’t have the support of peers. In cohort-based learning there are special administrative and instructional provisions, intense group identification, and powerful interpersonal relationships. The faculty are also a cohort. Learning, Susan suggested, is in the relationships between people; she quoted Earl Stevick: “Success or failure in a language course depends less on linguistic analysis and pedagogical techniques than on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom”.  In this kind of learning, there is a need for a common space where the members of the group can find each other – and that space may be online.

The conference was intensely discussion-based, more so than many other conferences I’ve attended: I was constantly invited to join conversations in the halls and corridors, covering a range of topics, but often in the form of extended discussions about the possibilities for the use of new technologies in a variety of contexts around Oman, the Gulf, and further afield. I also managed to catch some other interesting papers, reflecting on the use of new technologies in general ways or with reference to specific apps, platforms and websites; these included Peter Waters’ paper The Road Ahead: Reviewing the Past to Design the Future, which reminded the audience that a focus on the recent must not come at the expense of forgetting the past; Is’haq Al Naibi and Marwa Al Hadhrami’s paper,  Whatsapp: The Harbinger of Collaboration in Language Learning, where they outlined numerous ways of using WhatsApp groups for training both receptive skills (with students for example taking notes in the form of mind maps in and sending in photos of these) and productive skills (with students for example sending in voice recordings on set topics); Munira Al-Wahaibi and Asila Al-Maawali’s paper Facebook Fosters Autonomous Learning in ELT Classrooms, where they argued that a Facebook group can be a good platform to support English learning – through online discussion, a student question-and-answer section, and an audio/video corner – while simultaneously developing students’ IT skills as well as developing student autonomy (which they suggested is a relatively new concept in Omani educational culture); and Fatima Al Shihi’s workshop, Online Vocabulary Learning, where she illustrated the use of the ESL Lab website for teacher-led or self-directed access.

There’s clearly a lot of interest in new technologies, and mobile technologies especially, in Oman and the Gulf countries, and experimentation has begun with these tools in English language teaching. With the proliferation of smart devices in the region, the time is ripe for mobile learning to contribute in a major way to language education.

New ways of looking at learning

9th  10th April, 2014

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo by Mark Pegrum. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

From its opening, the iCTLT Conference set the stage for discussions of ICTs in education by integrating the work of Singa-porean students – which ranged from creating robots to creating animations – into the conference proceedings. Key themes which emerged over a range of plenaries, spotlight sessions and concurrent papers included the need for a shift of mindset to develop educational approaches relevant to students and their future in a rapidly changing economy and society; the need to focus less on standardised tests and to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship; and, of course, the need for educators and educational leaders to become, and remain, learners, in order for this to be achieved.

In the opening plenary, Never Send a Man to Do a Machine’s Job: The Role of ICT in Educational Transformation, Yong Zhao praised many aspects of Singapore’s education and economy, but suggested that there is room for improvement in areas like entrepreneurship and societal happiness. There is a negative correlation between high PISA scores and high entrepreneurship; likewise, there is a negative correlation between high TIMMS scores and high confidence and enjoyment. Contrary to the notion that US education is declining, he claimed that US education has always been in a bad state according to past reports and studies. However, the US is still here and still doing well, and has the most prosperous economy in the world; it scores higher on confidence and happiness than countries like Singapore which do well on standardised tests.

All curriculum materials, he suggested, are bets on what characteristics and qualities will be valuable in the future; you can get your bet right or wrong. We can start with the ‘Known Knowns’ that should be taken into account: Human nature – diversity, curiosity, creativity; The economy – changed; Information – everywhere; The world – Globalised. Schools do not only help people, they exclude people. If you are good at what a school wants, you are seen as gifted and talented; otherwise you will be seen as having special needs. Schools tend to funnel individual differences, multiple intelligences, cultural diversity, curiousity and passion into a defined set of skills seen as leading to employability.

But the economy is shifting dramatically, with many employees’ positions being lost to machines. Since the 1970s there has been growth in the service sector and the creative sector. The new world is going to be dominated by the creative class and the service class. Education has always been supposed to create the middle class; the new middle class is the creative class. But our schools, working on a sausage factory metaphor of producing employable skills, are not good at fostering creativity. Creativity only became widely discussed after the 1920s, prior to which time creative people were seen as troublemakers. Schools were and are designed to stifle creativity. Children come to school with high levels of creativity, but lose that over many years of schooling. We have gone from the age of necessity to the age of abundance. We consume choice – psychological, spiritual and cultural. Our schools can no longer discriminate against people; we need to accept that everyone can be useful in their own way.

There’s an interesting paradox – there are many graduating college students, but businesses are looking for talent they can’t find. The reason is that education has prepared employees; but what is needed is entrepreneurs. We need business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, policy entrepreneurs, and ‘intrapreneurs’. If you need to be managed, you will not be a good entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are good at seeing problems as opportunities; they are confident, passionate, and creative. Creativity, entrepreneurship, and unique talent are necessities. US schools are bad sausage-makers, which means that US schools kill creativity less successfully than Singaporean or other Asian schools.

We need to think about education not as something that fixes people’s deficits, but as something that enhances their strengths and their passion. We need to emphasise:

  • What: student autonomy;
  • How: Product-oriented learning;
  • Where: the global campus.

Schools, in brief, should present learning opportunities where students can carve out their own pathways.  ICTs in classrooms are often used for repetitive work that machines can do. Teachers will not be replaced by machines; we need to redefine our roles. Every child should be supported in developing their own strengths and becoming globally connected. Teachers should not be gateways, but rather curators of learning opportunities.

In his talk, Frameworks for Educational Technology: SAMR and the EdTech Quintet, Ruben Puentedura suggested that a first key question to ask is how our practice is changing as new technologies replace older technologies in the classroom, and a second is how the heart of what we are teaching changes with the new technologies. He outlined the 4 levels of the SAMR framework, indicating that as we progress towards higher levels, increasing improvement is possible in student outcomes. There is not so such thing as a bad level of SAMR, but there are greater opportunities at higher levels. Teachers can use a SAMR ladder to reach the higher levels.

He gave a detailed example of a SAMR ladder related to the development of vocabulary, drawing on the work of Bob Marzano, who recommended the following steps in learning vocabulary: Step 1: The teacher provides a description of the new terms; 2: Students restate them in their own way; 3: Students create nonlinguistic representations of the terms; 4: Students do activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms; 5: Students are asked to discuss the terms with one another; 6: Students are involved in games that allow them to play with the terms. This is how this process might look when related to the SAMR model:

  • Substitution level: Students enter their own description of a term on a wiki (this is straight substitution).
  • Augmentation level: Students use a visual dictionary/thesaurus which presents a concept map of the term (this is a functional improvement over the use of a traditional paper-based dictionary or thesaurus).
  • Modification level: Students can find images and link them to the concept map from the visual dictionary/thesaurus.
  • Redefinition: Students create a digital comic using the images they have collected to tell a story, which is shared with and commented on by other students (this fulfils the last 3 of Marzano’s steps – doing activities, discussing with each other, and engaging in a non-trivial ludic exercise).

Puentedura went on to relate the SAMR model to the TPACK framework, indicating that it is important for teachers to keep CK, PK and TK in balance; by starting with any one of these, you lock out some possibilities. The key areas are the overlapping areas, e.g., PCK covers how a given technology makes a given pedagogical practice possible, such as social writing on a wiki. The key area when it comes to moving up the SAMR levels, notably from Augmentation to Modification, is PCK, because it’s important to think deeply about the application of pedagogical approaches. At the centre, TPCK comes together to create maximally effective types of teaching and learning, and it is essential to moving up to Redefinition level.

Puentedura then focused on the area of literacy and, based on a number of research studies, showed a measurable increase in effect size on student outcomes as we move from Substitution to Redefinition of tasks: 0.029 – 0.264 – 0.600 – 1.563. These are fairly representative effect sizes moving across the SAMR levels. In another study involving Algebra, with a shift from Substitution to Augmentation, there was an effect size of 0.2; while in a study involving Earth Sciences, with a shift from Augmentation to Modification, there was an effect size of 0.6.

Using the Horizon Reports, Puentedura has classified new technologies into 5 categories – social, mobility, visualisation, storytelling and gaming tools. Social tools include bookmarking, discussions, blogging, telepresence, RSS feeds, microblogging, wikis and filesharing. Mobility tools include those that help overcome the classroom/homework divide, with students using devices any time and any place, accessing contextually relevant information, and sharing learning. Visualisation tools help to make abstract ideas more tangible; there are visualisations of space (maps), time (timelines), concept maps, numerical data (interactive), and textual data (such as Wordle). Digital storytelling is about bringing together multiple media to make meaning; it could refer to image assembly, sequential art, moving images, interactive media or interactive fiction. Digital gaming can help inform learning – games are rule-governed systems, with conflicts or problems to resolve, that lead to quantifiable outcomes (here, he drew on a definition by Salen & Zimmerman).

He went on to suggest that 21st century skills can be useful design principles as we create lessons that maximise learning opportunities on the SAMR model and TPACK framework. 

In his talk, The Networked Leader, George Couros started with David Weinberger’s notion that ‘the smartest person in the room, is the room’; we learn a great deal through the power of connection. Nowadays, if you don’t understand what a Twitter handle or hashtag is, you are becoming illiterate, he suggested. The biggest shift for educators using technology is not a skillset, he said, it’s mindset. We constantly ask kids to think differently and grow; teachers have to be prepared to do the same. What is important is not the technology per se; it’s about relationships and learning. But students who are engaged in creating with technology outside the classroom may find themselves constrained to paper and worksheets inside the classroom. He ran through a number of myths:

  • Kids are lazy. The reality, he suggested, is that they’re bored; we should be creating a culture of engagement and empowerment rather than a culture of compliance.
  • Technology dehumanises. But technology can actually bring us together to accomplish amazing things.
  • Kids are narcissistic. But it may be that kids are reaching out, looking for someone to listen, for someone who cares.
  • New technology will replace face-to-face interaction. But people didn’t interact when they used old technologies like newspapers on trains; at least with today’s devices, people are connecting through them.

School leaders, he said, need to model – learn – humanise. We need to model for kids how to use social media platforms in positive ways. If we don’t post our own materials, we leave our online reputation up to others. By the time students leave school, it should be possible to Google them and find positive instead of problematic materials. He showed a school hashtag which is used by leaders, teachers and students on Twitter, so that good use of the medium can be modelled; a blog, where teachers and students can comment on what they’ve learned each day; and a school Instagram account, where students can record the growth of plants in the classroom over time. These are ways of helping kids begin to develop a positive digital footprint.

We also need to learn – “The world only cares about what you can do with what you know”, as Thomas Friedman pointed out. He presented numerous examples from YouTube to demonstrate that online, everyone’s a teacher, and everyone’s a learner. We can learn from our students, and they can learn from anyone in the world. Christ Anderson has spoken of “crowd accelerated innovation”, which requires radical openness. Finally, he suggested, it is important to humanise our online presence. To make meaningful change, you have to connect to people’s hearts before you connect to their minds. Leaders need to show themselves as human beings, and model that for students.

Ultimately, he concluded, the biggest games changer in education is to get an educator to think of themselves as an innovator – and to begin to make things change.

In his opening plenary on the second day, To Flip or Not to Flip, Aaron Sams indicated that getting students to prepare at home before coming to class, and then interacting in class, is a Flipped Classroom 101 model – it’s a starting point, and it sets teachers and students on the way to student-centred teaching, but we shouldn’t stop there. It’s not all that new pedagogically; there have been many other pre-teaching models, but we’re leveraging new media to do it. This allows students to do the easy work at home, and the hard work in class. Sams found that when following this model, students didn’t need all their in-class time for their work, so there was time to do more work at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Class time became all about application, analysis, evaluation and creation. He realised that content isn’t as important as he had thought it was. Instead of having students coming to an educational institution to acquire content, we can have them come there to join a community of learning. The teacher’s role is not to deliver content, but to facilitate that community.

Video is a powerful way of delivering content, as shown by the amount of time we spend going to YouTube to learn how to do new things. It is possible to curate great content from the internet, but on the whole it is preferable for an individual teacher to create their own videos, because you have a connection, a social contract, with your students that no-one else has. You also understand their context much better. If all that mattered was content delivery, then yes, techers could be replaced by videos. However, there are other aspects of education: namely relationships and curiosity. If students watch your videos, you need to give them a reason to turn up to your class – you need to add value. It is important to balance content, relationships and curiosity.

In his second year of flipping his classroom, Sams moved to a mastery approach, based on the idea that not all students have to be engaged in the same work at the same time. But some students found the idea of needing to achieve near perfect scores on tests before moving on to be extremely frustrating. Sams then moved to a more inquiry-based learning approach. He discovered that students could learn the content this way, but it took a lot of preparation on his part. Rather than front-loading with content, he front-loaded with questions and inquiry; the content was available as a support when necessary. Now, his class was no-longer content-driven.

He then moved on to UDL – Universal Design for Learning. Students were told what they needed to learn, but they had the choice of whether to look at the textbook, the videos, or any other relevant sources. Students also needed multiple ways to demonstrate their learning; they were able to create videos, write songs, or design graphic novels to show their understanding. His next step was to move to PBL, or project-based learning. Here, students start with a project, and learn what they need as they go. With a project, you can start with creation on Bloom’s Taxonomy, with students accessing content – moving down the levels of the taxonomy – when they need to learn things along the way.

Sometimes, he suggested, teachers get too hung up on terminology. In many ways flipped learning is not all that new. He has now come up with a definition of flipped instruction. The whole model is predicated on the fact that direct instruction still has a place in learning. A lot of teachers feel locked into and controlled by content and standards – this will remain so until policymakers change their approach – but you can put that material in a video archive, and spend classroom time in other ways. All in all, it took Sams 6 years to get to his current version of flipped learning. With this kind of educational innovation, it will always be a case of two steps forward, one step back. Change of this kind is always challenging to realise.

He noted, too, that it is also possible to flip professional development, or staff meetings – don’t bring everyone to one room to tell them about decisions that are already made. Those can be communicated by email or video. Staff meeting time can then be devoted to discussion.

In the Rockmoon presentation about cutting-edge augmented reality technology in education, What Interactive Learning Trails Will You Create Next?, emphasis was placed on self-directed learning, authentic and experiential learning, and 21st century skills. Teachers are able to create their own learning trails for their students using a web-based design toolkit, Trail Shuttle, which does not involve any programming knowledge. There is also a mobile app for students, and a monitoring mobile app for teachers. Using the monitoring app, teachers can track students, view their device screens, and chat with them, and can also make last-minute alterations to trails as necessary. At the end, the system generates a report about each student which is available through the toolkit.

In his talk, New Technologies Old Behaviours: Incorporating Research and Safety in the Online World, UK Intelligence Officer Alan Earl from the Avon and Somerset Police, UK, indicated that young people are starting to leave Facebook and spreading their behaviour across multiple apps, like Instagram, Kik, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Whisper and so on. This is a constantly moving environment, where children are the early adopters. Teachers find themselves trying to teach children about online safety without understanding the tools that children are using. The issues are bigger than a term like ‘e-safety’ sounds. It’s about online lives and reputations. The message has to be balanced between positives and negatives, risk and actual harm, and filtering and dialogue. Safety has to be embedded within digital literacy.

Earl reported on an initiative called Digital Literacy & Citizenship, created in conjunction with Commonsense Media and tailored somewhat to the UK context. This has resulted amongst other things in a set of learning descriptors for different age groups, attached to resources and lesson plans. There’s a need for a holistic approach, he suggested, with online safety being taught across the curriculum. He also described 360 Safe,  an e-safety self-review tool for schools, and Online Safety, a tool for assessing children and families, which can be used by social workers or educators. 

All in all, the conference was a wide-ranging exploration of the current state of technology use in education, with an emphasis less on the technology itself than on big picture issues of pedagogy, education and society. This, indeed, is a perspective, or set of perspectives, towards which more ed tech conferences should be shifting.

Centre of the mobile world

Mobile Learning Week
17th – 21st February, 2014
Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower across the Seine, Paris. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2014. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The third UNESCO Mobile Learning Week brought together a global spread of views and insights into mobile learning from a variety of locations, institutions and projects – making Paris the centre of the mobile learning world for a whole week. It began with a series of interactive workshops on Monday, followed by the Mobile Learning Symposium on Tuesday and Wednesday, which was opened by the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bokova.

In the first plenary, 21st Century Learning by design, Chen Keen Tan from Crescent Girls’ School in Singapore spoke about the role of technology in connecting people to each other, to ideas, and to innovation, and empowering young people to do more than to consume – namely to create. Technology, she suggested, promises personalisation, empowerment, anywhere anytime learning, and blended learning. But, she went on to say, the promise is not the problem – the problem is how to go about reform. We often underestimate implementation, impose it in a top-down way, and have insufficient leadership capacity building. This leads to a vision/reality disconnect. Teachers have to deal with the daily realities of classrooms and the concerns, constraints and challenges of teaching. We need to show teachers how to get from the promise to the expected student outcomes. Often there are one or two innovative teachers in every school, but the challenge is to empower all teachers in all schools to use technology effectively. Effective professional development involves active practice and collaboration. She recommended the use of the 21CLD framework, which identifies six dimensions for 21st century learning, and can be used by teachers when they are designing learning experiences for their students. Technology, she said, comes in at the end of the design process, not at the start. Ultimately, we should end with the promise of technology, which comes in naturally to support learning in the classroom. Elements that should change in 21st century design include:

  • Student engagement in knowledge building;
  • Student ownership of learning;
  • Student control vs teacher control (this, she suggested, is a kind of teacher ‘remote control’ – the students feel in control, but actually the teacher is in control through the design process);
  • Student empowerment.

In the second plenary, Mobiles for teacher development: Findings from UNESCO field projects in Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Senegal, David Atchoarena from UNESCO spoke about mobile phone-based teacher training projects in these four countries.  In Mexico, the focus was on enhancing the teaching practice of primary school Spanish language teachers working with students who speak an indigenous language at home – the approach involved the use of the Nokia Education Delivery (NED) platform and a mobile blog, where teachers shared videos of their lessons. In Nigeria, the focus was on supporting the pedagogical practice and content knowledge of primary school English language teachers – the approach involved the Nokia Life+ platform, where teachers received weekly tips. In Pakistan, the focus was on developing the professional practice of female early childhood education teachers working in rural areas – the approach involved the NED platform, where teachers received videos along with multiple choice questions. In Senegal, the focus was on improving the teaching of science and maths in primary schools – the approach involved the Nokia MoMath platform along with a Moodle-based administration platform; lessons designed by teachers were checked, then uploaded to the MoMath platform. A key finding across these projects was that in a resource-scarce setting, mobile enhances teachers’ access to relevant teaching content and develops their content knowledge. Another finding was that as an easier-to-use device, mobiles remove the barrier to teachers’ ICT skill development. It was also found that students are ready for the next generation of learning, while teachers and principals are more hesitant.

Lessons learnt included: the difficulty of initial teacher training should be toned down and its duration prolonged; ongoing support needs to be planned in advance and mobiles should be used for regular coaching; content development should not be under-invested and the development strategy should be assessed; large-screen phones are appropriate for teachers (and projection is necessary for students); and teachers should  be supported in connecting through multiple local networks.

In his talk, Faculty development, 2019: A futurism exercise, Kyle Dickson spoke about getting faculty to see themselves as digital creators and storytellers, rather than starting with the technological tools. He described a training programme at Abilene Christian University where faculty learned about digital photography and digital storytelling (which, at its essence, is about media literacy).  This kind of training can be entirely delivered on mobile devices in the field. He concluded by saying that great storytellers have something to teach us about faculty development – it’s not just about learning about the technology as fast as possible, but intrinsically motivating participation through the focus on narrative. Like great storytelling, education takes time, stress and tension, and is less about the student replicating the teacher than about finding his or her own voice.

In his talk, The culturally-aware curricular and technology intervention (CACTI) model, George Saltsmann discussed the importance of sensitivity when transplanting best practices with technology from one culture into another. It is important that educators do not inadvertently destroy the cultures they are setting out to assist and protect. UNESCO promotes the idea of ‘intangible cultural heritage’, which it is essential to safeguard. What does it mean when we bring the internet, with the dominance of English, to Africa through mobile devices? We need to ask questions about the local culture, what best design practices are, what existing local resources can be used, how we can work collaboratively and give all partners a voice, how we can adapt plans based on iterative feedback and partnership, how we can evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and how we can share successes with all stakeholders.

In their talk, Using SMS to support the professional development of school principals/headteachers in Ghana, Louis Major and Sue Swaffield spoke about the Leadership for Learning (LfL) Ghana programme, which has been running since 2009, and aims to improve school principals’ leadership capacity in order to enhance the quality of learning and teaching. SMS messaging has been identified as a way to sustain engagement and maintain fidelity to the LfL principles. It will take the form of group messaging, initially with 10 SMS groups, each consisting of 10 headteachers and moderated by a facilitator. Research will be conducted to reveal the effectiveness and implications of the use of this group SMS model. It could potentially be scaled up in the future, or used in other contexts, if it is successful. Sustainability will be a key issue, and will be considered from the outset.

In her talk, Mobilizing the middle kingdom: Teacher-led mobile learning in a Chinese high school, Na Liu spoke about mobile learning at Beijing Royal School (BRS). Mobile learning allows more collaborative work and more connections between subjects; DropBox serves as a hand-in folder, while WeChat allows constant teacher-student contact. Student learning has become more personalised, with students being able to study anywhere, and they have a sense of belonging to a global community of digital learners as they collaborate with students in South Africa. The school takes a flipped approach, with students able to download texts and videos before class, allowing more time in class for discussion and group work. All in all, mobile learning has been very empowering for students, who some of the time can teach each other as well as the teachers. Quantifiable successes have included the fact that BRS mobile learning students’ SAT reading and writing scores have gone up, and they are spending more than an hour a week reading in English.

In the plenary panel discussion, Teachers and mobile learning: Voices from the ground, moderated by Mar Camacho (Brazil), teachers from four countries – Na Liu (China), Nassirou Oumarou Maman (Niger), Erkan Taskaya (Turkey) and Emelie Ohm (Sweden) – discussed the use of mobile technologies in their varying locations, providing a range of insights into the potential of m-learning around the world.

On the second morning of the Symposium, in a plenary paper entitled Mobiles for reading: Findings from two soon to be published UNESCO reports, Mark West outlined recent research on mobile readers. There are still 774 million illiterates in the world, he noted. The key findings about the use of mobile readers included:

  • Most mobile readers are male;
  • Women spend far more time reading on mobiles than men;
  • Mobile reading positively impacts children (one in three survey participants said they read to children, so mobile reading has a ripple effect; many mobile readers are in fact teachers);
  • Mobile reading appeals to (and can benefit) neo-literate and semi-literate adults and adolescents;
  • Among the core barriers to mobile reading are a lack of relevant content and poor connectivity.

In the presentation, Lessons learned from an open multimedia professional development programme to support interactive teaching using mobile technology in sub-Saharan Africa Sara Hennessy and Bjoern Hassler spoke about teacher development in Zambia. It is important, they suggested, to focus on three key elements: interactive pedagogy, open educational resources, and digital technology. They noted that connected/disconnected is a false dichotomy, since the reality is variable connectivity everywhere, whether in Europe or Africa.

In my own talk, How can we balance affordability and affordances in the design of mobile pedagogy?, I discussed three types of mobile learning:

  • when the devices are mobile;
  • when the devices and the learners are both mobile;
  • when the devices, the learners and the learning experience are all mobile;

followed by three agendas for mobile learning:

  • transforming teaching & learning;
  • developing 21st century skills/digital literacies;
  • social justice.

I argued that depending on the type of mobile learning, and the agenda for mobile learning, there will be different levels of affordability of the devices, connected to different levels of affordances for learning. For the most part, affordability and affordances are inversely related. Designing the optimal kind of mobile learning for our students in our own context always involves carefully balancing up affordability and affordances.

In the talk, The digital learning transition MOOC for educators: Exploring a personalized and scalable approach to professional development (co-authored with Mary Ann Wolf), Glenn Kleinmann argued that personalised, accessible, effective, scalable PD is necessary for educators, and asked whether educational MOOCs (termed MOOC-Eds) can be used for this purpose. He described such a MOOC-Ed which is oriented around the principles of:

  • self-directed learning;
  • peer-supported learning;
  • case studies and authentic projects;
  • blended learning.

In the paper, Changing the role of teachers by integrating mobile technology in a rural school in Zimbabwe: A reflection in light of UNESCO policy guidelines, Urs Grohbiel and Christoph Pimmer discussed an iPad project in a secondary school in rural Zimbabwe, designed to address a lack of teaching materials and qualified teachers. They examined the project in light of UNESCO’s mobile policy guidelines, which they suggested are a very useful framework for thinking about the implementation of mobile learning projects.

In her paper, The mEducation Alliance: Scaling technology in education investments through international collaboration, Cecilia Martins indicated that investment in technologies for education must involve: learning from our failures, considering the impact on learning outcomes, and considering whether it is cost-effective, sustainable and replicable. The mEducation Alliance brings together a wide range of organisations working in the educational technology space. It is important that different organisations work together and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes, but that projects can still be tailored to local conditions and contexts. She went on to discuss key elements of a collective agenda:

  • Community engagement;
  • Respectful partnership;
  • Sharing challenges and opportunities;
  • Access to quality education for all;
  • Strategic rationale for policy makers;
  • Promoting social inclusion for economic growth.

mAlliance activity highlights include convening multi-stakeholder partnerships, catalysing research, catalysing partnerships, and sharing knowledge and learning. Future aims include setting up an ICT4E Evaluation Fund to conduct rigorous evaluation of projects.

In the paper Promoting 21st century citizenship for and with ICT: Current initiatives from Bangkok (co-authored with Ichiro Miyazawa), Jonghwi Park outlined two important initiatives from UNESCO Bangkok, which serves 49 countries in the Asian region. The first initiative involves fostering digital citizenship through safe and responsible use of ICTs, and the second takes the form of a mobile app for disaster risk reduction education. There is a big digital divide among the ASEAN countries when it comes to computers, but not so much when it comes to mobile devices. Opportunities and risks for children go hand-in-hand. Thus it is important to educate children about the dangers of overuse of ICTs; risks inlcude cyberbullying, health/addiction, unethical use, and so on. Among ASEAN countries, only Singapore and Malaysia have systematic programmes in this area, hence the need for the first initiative on fostering digital citizenship.  The second initiative has produced ‘Sai Fah’ (‘The Flood Fighter’ in Thai), a mobile app on flood risk reduction, which is available to download. It takes the form of a game with before/during/after flood stages.

In the final plenary session of the Mobile Learning Symposium, entitled Emerging trends and new technology, an international panel talked about current and future developments in mobile education. The feeling was that education is already being transformed by new technologies, but that there is much more to come. It was suggested, both by panel and audience members, that there is a need for more teacher training, within a more holistic approach drawing in all stakeholders. At the end, panel members were asked to identify one or two key trends of coming years; the themes mentioned included: increasing use of mobile devices in combination with other technologies; social learning; comprehensive pre-service and in-service professional development for teachers; and necessary policies for guiding electronic content and analytics. The symposium was then closed by Francesc Pedro, Chief of Section, UNESCO.

The Mobile Learning Week concluded on the Friday with a Research Track chaired by John Traxler, where a series of moderated panels addressed key issues in mobile learning research:

  • Pilots, Projects and their Data (moderated by myself);
  • The Role of Research and of Researchers (moderated by David Parsons);
  • From Evidence to Priorities (moderated by Helen Keegan);
  • Participants, Stakeholders and Ethics (moderated by Alex Tyers);
  • Research-informed Research Priorities (moderated by Nicole Kendall);
  • Programmes, Monitoring and Evaluation (moderated by Dan Wagner);
  • Dissemination, Publication and Symposia (moderated by Purna Shrestha).

Unfortunately I had to skip the final two panels in order to get to the airport in time for my flight back to Australia, but I’m looking forward to catching up on what I missed in the summary publication which will appear in due course.

While it is difficult to pull out a clear set of key themes from reports of so many diverse projects and practices over the course of a whole week, it’s clear that there is a great deal of vitality in mobile learning around the world. Mobile teaching and learning practices are continuing to develop rapidly, along with an emerging body of research disseminating findings about successes and challenges encountered to date, and sketching out elements of best practice. UNESCO fulfils a very important role in providing a unified global platform for beginning to integrate our insights into mobile learning.

Going social and mobile in Singapore

6th Financial Literacy Conference
National Institute of Education
29th November, 2013

Orchard Road at Xmas. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Orchard Road at Xmas. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I was invited to give the opening keynote plenary at the recent Financial Literacy Conference, organised by the National Institute of Education at The Pod, a stunning conference space within the National Library of Singapore.

At the request of the conference organisers, I spoke primarily about social media, mobile technologies and their place in education. My paper was entitled The New Normal? When Learning Goes Social and Mobile. I traced the history of recent technological and pedagogical developments, asking whether and how they may complement each other. I began by examining the changing network, changing hardware and changing software. I then considered the consequences of combining a rapidly expanding internet, rapidly growing social media channels, and rapidly spreading mobile devices, both for society in general and for education in particular. I went on to talk about the way that pedagogy has changed over recent decades, and to highlight points of complementarity between new technologies and new kinds of learning. I concluded by highlighting the need for the normalisation of new technologies in education, and suggesting that Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR framework provides a good starting point for teachers.

Due to other commitments, I couldn’t stay for the rest of the conference, but the speakers who followed me were all talking about the importance of social media. It seems that in Singapore, web 2.0 and mobile technologies are well on their way to becoming the new normal – and also are on their way to becoming normalised in everyday teaching practices.

Mobile convergence in the Middle East

MobiLearn Asia 2013
22nd-24th October, 2013
Doha, Qatar

Doha Skyline from The Corniche. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Doha Skyline from The Corniche. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

This year saw the inter-national mLearn Conference come to the Middle East. People travelled from around the world to present and discuss mobile learning and research at the College of the North Atlantic in Doha, Qatar. The full conference proceedings are available online.

In the opening keynote, Mobile Technologies Enable … But ONLY When …, Cathlene Norris and Elliot Soloway reported on their longitudinal research with Singaporean primary students using mobile devices. This has led them to the following conclusions about the kinds of transformations that mobile devices allow:

  • Transformation 1: Pedagogy and curriculum can shift in an inquiry-based direction.
  • Transformation 2: Technology can be available 1:1, 24/7, and always ready-at-hand. (They suggested a litmus test for what counts as a mobile device is whether a child walking home from school can see something relevant to their education, pull out their device, capture it, then continue on their way.)
  • Transformation 3: Students can become self-directed and collaborative learners. (Students can work both collaboratively and independently, as appropriate.)
  • Transformation 4: Parents’ attitudes can shift.
  • Transformation 5: Teachers’ attitudes can shift and they can find teaching to be more enjoyable.

In terms of the impact on student achievement, it was found that the students who used smartphones in an inquiry model did as well as the students using worksheets when it came to tests involving content questions.  But when it came to open-ended and oral questions, the students using smartphones in the inquiry model did better than other students. Similarly, the former did much better on self-directed and collaborative learning (though this is not yet tested, and evidence is based on teachers’ observations).

Norris and Soloway went on to say that mobile devices don’t cause this transformation, but they enable it. Further information is available about their work.

In his welcome keynote, Micro and the Future of Mobile Learning, Peter Bruck, the CEO of Research Studios Austria, discussed how mobile devices can be used to support knowledge build-up in organisations, where staff require ongoing development and training. He spoke about MicroLearning, which involves:

  • breaking content into small units which you can access as and when you need them. We need large knowledge maps, but we also need to drill down into learning the language of specific subject matter. It is essential for people to speak the same language if they are to collaborate;
  • reducing the range of learning objectives and focusing on one objective. Mobile devices may be better than a teacher or a book for repetition-based memorisation of content. Personalised repetition on the go can be supported by the Leitner algorithm, with knowledge cards being pushed to learners based on what they don’t know. This gets around the issue of group learning where some students are bored because they know a lot, and others can’t keep up because they don’t know enough. The combination of push + algorithm + what you don’t know is effective;
  • reducing the learning time and allowing for short activities;
  • reducing the centrality of the teacher – the clock, the classroom and the curriculum are less central – and allowing for self-directed learning. The clock is not a good indicator of accomplishment; nor is presence in a classroom.

He suggested that MicroLearning may be more appropriate for knowledge implementation and maintenance than initial knowledge acquisition. In summary, he said, MicroLearning is about reducing: content; time required; and teacher-centredness. Current and future research involves semi-automatic text extraction for improved content authoring; contextualisation; learning analytics for improved personalisation; and visualisation of knowledge maps. Further information is available on MicroLearning, and on the KnowledgePulse system which has been developed.

In his presentation, Jam Today: Embedding BYOD into Classroom Practice (paper available here),David Parsons argued that the BYOD revolution is changing the nature of teaching and learning, and disrupting the traditional roles of teachers and students. He reported on a study conducted at the first New Zealand state school which required parents to provide devices – the iPad 2 – for their children.

Infrastructure investment has moved away from specialist computer labs, lease of computers, tech support and maintenance, towards ultrafast broadband and wireless, teacher devices, PD, and management software. It’s important to have a common vision of teaching and learning, a willingness to embrace change, stakeholder support, and a good pastoral system (covering software, contracts and sanctions). Key teaching and learning concepts which can underpin the use of mobile devices include flipped classrooms; project-based learning; flexible physical spaces; Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model; and Scott Morris’s Learning Spaces model. Some of these may be lightweight ideas, he suggested, but they are useful because of their ready applicability to teaching.

In terms of generic findings across subject areas, it became apparent that digital media and multiple literacies could be used to enhance learning (e.g., through watching cooking videos or looking at science experiment pictures) or transform learning (e.g., through student-created videos of demonstrations, or students’ project-based learning). Challenges have included internet connectivity; students who are not prepared for the flipped classroom (the same ones who didn’t do their homework previously); students who lack digital skills; and finding the right apps. Questions include what to do if not everyone has an iPad, whether you should abandon digital resources on the wrong platform, and what digital literacies actually matter?

There are also subject-specific uses of BYOD: games for maths; performance analysis for physical education; slow motion video analysis for dance; videoing and analysing role plays in language; mind maps and storyboards for English and drama; the idea that Wikipedia is ‘not enough’ in sociology; and composition with virtual instruments in music.

In summary, BYOD changes the following:

  • student activities;
  • how work is presented;
  • how teachers provide feedback;
  • how work is showcased to the world;
  • how students collaborate;
  • how staff collaborate;
  • the role and nature of home learning.

Lessons learned include the following:

  • there’s a new normal (1:1 devices have become normal);
  • some boundaries are clearer (when to use the device, and when not);
  • some boundaries are more blurred (tools from life, and tools from school);
  • it’s not just about flipped classrooms (it’s about a more fluid model of teaching).

Parsons also mentioned that there is an issue around learning programming; while we don’t need computer labs for word processing any more, we still need sophisticated equipment to teach programming skills. We may not be teaching enough of this.

In the talk, AnswerPro: Designing to Motivate Interaction (paper available here), Balsam AlSugair, Gail Hopkins, Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Tim Brailsford described a proptype system called AnswerPro. Gail Hopkins, who presented the talk, explained that the aim was to combine mobility, social communication, and learning, while ensuring that students were motivated. There is some debate about whether extrinsic motivation may take away from intrinsic motivation, or whether it can feed into it. Three elements are particularly important to intrinsic motivation, namely relatedness/relationships within a known, connected society of learners; competence, meaning an increased perception of one’s own competence in relation to others; and autonomy, that is, having a sense of control. These were taken into account in the AnswerPro system. Essentially, AnswerPro is a web-based mobile academic peer support system which serves as a common interaction platform to encourage self-help. Following a pilot which identified some issues to be addressed, a full study of the new system is being conducted.

In her talk, Preparing Mobile Learning Strategy for your Institution (paper available here), Agnieszka Palalas explained that the purpose of a mobile learning strategy is to provide a clear path to implementing and sustaining mobile learning in an institution, including making a strong business case. Based on her experience, she mentioned that challenges in developing such a strategy can include:

  • fragmentation;
  • limited resources;
  • lack of buy-in;
  • limited understanding of mobile learning;
  • limited wireless access.

It is important to:

  • identify existing expertise;
  • connect fragmented m-learning efforts;
  • construct m-learning tasks to get immediate, measurable results;
  • win the support of faculty and management;
  • raise awareness and understanding of m-learning.

She suggested that there are at least six phases necessary to developing a mobile learning strategy:

  1. needs assessment (including involving all stakeholders);
  2. feedback and evidence gathering (including running pilot projects);
  3. feedback exchange and communication;
  4. appraisal of infrastructure and enterprise systems;
  5. training and professional development;
  6. producing an m-learning strategy document.

In the panel discussion on the final morning, Alexander Stien, Virginia Jones, Cheri MacLeod, Mohamed Ally, Christina Gitsaki and Giovanni Farias spoke on Lessons Learned from Tablet Deployment Initiatives in K12 and Higher Education. The first issue raised was the challenge of inequity in a BYOD model. Farias suggested that the shift from native apps to HTML5 will help reduce inequality. Ally noted that the hardware is getting cheaper and can lead to savings on textbooks; the real inequality, he observed, is in connectivity.

When it came to the issue of barriers to adoption, Ally suggested that the biggest challenge is people, notably at management and leadership level; we need successful projects to demonstrate the positive potential. Farias agreed that the human factor is the key barrier, because other issues can be solved with investment, whereas a change of mindset is needed for people to make good use of technology for learning. This takes time, he said, and time cannot simply be bought. What is more, said Ally, we are repurposing commercial devices for education and need to consider building our own. Gitsaki noted that it is important to have the infrastructure and resources in place, as well as to provide PD for teachers. Assessment is also an issue. Ally suggested, finally, that there is a physiology divide, with young people with good senses able to use small screens and keyboards much more easily; this issue may be solved with new technological developments like virtual keyboards.

On the question of which device is best, Stien suggested that the answer is whichever device is best for you; this will vary from person to person. The overall consensus on the panel was that the move is away from Apple devices and towards Android devices. The panel agreed that the pedagogical or methodological paradigm shift – towards student-centredness, accessibility, interaction and collaboration – is more important than the device itself. Gitsaki commented that we’re no longer at a stage where we can choose or not choose to use digital devices, because students are already used to them; the challenge for educators is to find the best ways of employing these devices to enhance learning.

In the presentation, Post Web 2.0 Media: Mobile Social Media (paper available here), Thomas Cochrane and Laurent Antonczak discussed a study of mobile social media used as a catalyst for new pedagogies. Antonczak, who gave the paper, showed how staff shifted their attitudes to mobile devices and new software in a relatively short period of time. Students are able to record evidence of their progress in different formats and teachers can view and evaluate it. Lecturers and students can communicate about the recorded material through Google Hangouts or Twitter, which saves time travelling to face-to-face meetings and helps students overcome reticence to express their opinions. Colleagues can support and mentor each other online, as well as acting as resources for each other’s students, for example by recording YouTube videos in their areas of expertise.

Mobile language learning

There was a considerable focus on mobile language learning at the conference. In the talk, Integrating mLearning Language Applications into University Course Content (paper available here), Olga Viberg and Åke Grönlund discussed second language learning in the context of distance education. Viberg, who presented the paper, spoke of taking a design science approach, and described a prototype for a cross-platform mobile language learning app developed at Dalarna University in Sweden.

In their paper, Improving Student Literacy in Adult Education through an Immediate Feedback Tool (paper available here), Martie Geertsema and Chris Campbell discussed the use of the Dragon Dictation app for improving students’ English pronunciation. Campbell, who presented the paper, noted that a regular audio recording app like Audacity still requires the teacher to check students’ pronunciation later, while a potential benefit of speech-to-text programmes like Dragon Dictation is that learners are immediately able to see their mistakes themselves. The visual feedback is standardised and does not depend on the teacher’s skill and experience. The teacher also gets feedback on the effectiveness of his or her teaching.

In a 10-day trial with a group of students ,it was found that after a few days, students started to independently check their own pronunciation, and then began to identify their need to practise other sounds. Improvement was found for all students, whether they had access to the app on their own phones or not, but improvement was greater for students who had apps on their own devices. (The app is currently only available for iOS devices.)

In her opening keynote on Day 2, An Overview of Mobile Learning Research and Practice in the United Arab Emirates, Christina Gitsaki spoke about the rollout of mobile learning, and an accompanying iPads initiative in the Higher Colleges of Technology, in the UAE. In the iPads initiative, teachers’ concerns decreased over time. Two major concerns remained after the first academic year: the amount of time teachers needed to spend solving problems in the classroom; and how the use of iPads impacts students’ learning. Amongst other things, teachers expressed a need for:

  • just-in-time PD;
  • input on how to use the iPads for teaching English (with PD delivered by English/ESL experts rather than IT experts);
  • collaboration with colleagues.

Generally, teachers’ perceptions of the impact of the iPads on students’ learning were rather moderate. They felt vocabulary improved most, and reading least. The most popular apps among teachers were productivity apps rather than English-specific apps.

Students were very positive about the use of iPads, finding them motivating. Students preferred low-complexity tasks like taking photos, rather than high-complexity tasks like creating websites. Unlike the teachers, who had moderate views about the impact of the iPads on learning, the students were extremely positive about the impact of the iPads on their learning of all language areas.

In summary, the study at the Higher Colleges of Technology found that:

  • the iPads had an impact on teaching;
  • the iPads increased student engagement and motivation;
  • the frequency of iPad use, and the types of activities in and out of class, had an impact on students’ language development.

Critical issues for the future include the following:

  • there is a need to provide teachers with high-quality ongoing PD, and to determine how students learn best with iPads;
  • the resources need to be interactive and take advantage of the affordances of the iPad;
  • there is a need to help teachers to design their own resources, and to create a repository for sharing these resources;
  • there is a need to evaluate learning with iPads, as current assessments may not measure the full extent of their impact.

The iPads initiative is now in its second year, and will continue to be monitored. The aim is to conduct a more rigorous examination of the impact of iPads on student learning, to quantify iPad use, and try different assessment models.

In his plenary presentation, One to One Digital English Projects, Michael Carrier, from Cambridge English Language Assessment, spoke of the desire for English learning around the world. He stressed the need to put the learner and the learning device (whatever it may be) at the centre of the learning process. There are various models of  mobile learning, including traditional communicative activities using apps, creative use of handheld devices, the flipped classroom, and one-to-one and personalised learning. One-to-one learning can democratise learning and empower learners. It is not about the technology but about the methodology. This approach may add to time on task, increasing the number of study hours in the week (whether in class or out of class). The main drivers of 1:1 approaches to English language teaching include:

  • policymakers (governments and ministries are under pressure to improve exam scores, but they may invest in technology before considering pedagogy);
  • teachers (they are faced with curriculum deficits, and are caught between traditional assessments and a desire to teach in a communicative way);
  • society (with a wish to improve 21st century skills).

There is also corporate pressure on governments and ministries to adopt technology in education. More and more governments, ministries and institutions will move to a 1:1 model anyway, given these drivers, whether pedagogical experts are involved or not. Consequently, educators and teacher trainers need to get involved. Carrier suggested that in general we should be device-agnostic, and focus instead on content and pedagogy which can be conveyed through today’s or tomorrow’s devices, whatever these may be. Intensive development of teacher competencies is very important. Teachers need personal development (user training) and input on lesson planning, classroom management, classroom management online, and awareness of digital tools and media.

He summarised the overall value of one-to-one learning in English as follows:

  • anytime, any place;
  • time on task;
  • personalised learning;
  • self-paced learning;
  • automonous learning;
  • motivation;
  • authenticity;
  • credibility.

A key question for the future is how we will handle technologies other than smartphones and tablets, as for example smartwatches and augmented reality glasses become available. Carrier stressed again that we need to be device-agnostic; focused on teacher skills; and focused on pedagogy, content and curriculum. However the technology develops, we need to be ready to handle it.

Although a couple of Bangladeshi presenters were unable to attend, their work on the English in Action project in Bangladesh was outlined on their behalf. The relevant papers can be accessed in the conference proceedings; these are Challenges against the Successes of mLearn in Bangladesh by Shahanaj Parvin (available here) and M-learn Lessons Learnt: Bangladesh Perspective by Zaki Imam (available here).

In our own talk, An Ecology of Mobile Screens: iPads meet XOs in a Desert School (paper available here), Grace Oakley, Jan Clarke, Jim Sligar and I spoke about a mobile learning ecology in a remote desert school in Western Australia. Here, a largely Indigenous population learning English as an Additional Language uses a combination of XO laptops and iPads, as appropriate, for different types of literacy activities. Our argument was that different mobile (and indeed portable and fixed) technologies are not necessarily in competition, but can complement each other in a learning ecology.

Augmented reality & location-based technologies

Augmented reality and related technologies for fostering learning in real-world environments loomed large at the conference. In their presentation, Mobilogue – A Tool for Creating and Conducting Mobile Supported Field Trips (paper available here), Adam Giemza and Ulrich Hoppe discussed learning in a museum context. Hoppe, who presented the paper, observed that mobile apps provided by museums extend exhibitions and/or provide audio guides, but usually leave learners in the position of information consumers. The question is how to make mobile learning more active. Mobilogue is a tool which allows flexible authoring of field trips; other tools in the same area, with different combinations of features, include MuseumScrabble with QR Codes; Treasure-HIT; StoryTec; Wild Knowledge – Wild Map; GoMo Learning; and Fresh AiR.

The Mobilogue system was created with indoor learning experiences in institutions like museums in mind. Recognition of location is possible using a range of technologies including GPS (only outdoors), wifi, object recognition, RFID tags, or QR codes. The last of these is used by Mobilogue, which is very convenient for schools and has wide applicability. Students can also author tours using Mobilogue, without programming or technical knowledge.

In her presentation, The Augmented Reality Project: An Experiment in Teacher Engagement (paper available here), Jan Clarke discussed an augmented reality (AR) learning trail created to get teachers involved in use of AR. AR, she suggested, adds value to real objects, places and experiences. Content can include instructions, text, animations, audio, video, images, co-ordinate tracking, and so on. Students develop their skills in ‘reading’ multimodal texts.

For the tour she created, which operated in the Swan River area in Perth, Western Australia, she used the Fresh AiR app, which lets students know when they have approached an AR  marker. Once they click on the relevant symbol, they may receive instructions, media files, quizzes, and rewards. The tour was tried out by teachers working in many different subject areas, from history, politics and Aboriginal studies to IT (where students focused on app design). It may be necessary to upskill the teachers at the same time as the students, and to have the teachers learn about the technology alongside the students.

In their talk, Creating Coherent Incidental Learning Journeys on Mobile Devices through Feedback and Progress Indicators (paper available here), Mark Gaved, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Ann Jones, Eileen Scanlon, Ian Dunwell, Petros Lameras and Oula Akiki discussed the European MASELTOV project and its emphasis on social inclusion. Kukulska-Hulme, who gave the paper, posed the question of whether and how smart technologies can help overcome exclusion. The MASELTOV app works at the informal end of the learning spectrum and integrates language and cultural learning into everyday life.  The project focuses on information and assistance; learning; and community building.

Journeys around cities create learning opportunities, including just-in-time preparation for communication; making contact with mentors and volunteers; noticing and recording of language in use; and reflecting on what has been learned and achieved. This allows for incidental learning, which can be unplanned learning. It can include event-driven learning. This learning can be structured in some ways while remaining informal. Peer-based teaching and learning become very relevant. MASELTOV brings together a series of tools which are arranged along a continuum on different dimensions:

  • some are more opportunistic and some require more planning;
  • some are quick to use and others are used in a more sustained way;
  • some allow discrete learning and others more cumulative learning;
  • some are about problem-solving and others about learning.

The challenge is, while not ignoring the left-hand categories, to place more emphasis on the right-hand categories, helping people to engage in a more sustained way with the tools and promote their learning.

Feedback and progress indicators are also important.  Some questions which have been posed to the developers of the tools, in light of what is known about effective learning, include:

  • Does the software allow the user to set a goal for its use?
  • Does the software record successful achievement of tasks, and how is this presented?
  • Does the software offer feedback on how well the participant has carried out a task, and does it allow feedback from other users?
  • Does the software prompt reflection?
  • Does the software allow social engagement?

Incidental mobile learning can consist of isolated, fragmentary episodes on apparently unconnected apps. The key question now is how these can be reconceived by users as elements of a more coherent, longer term learning journey.

Some recommendations include:

  • All tools should report to a usage dashboard seen by users and mentors;
  • Notification indicators should prompt reflection and action;
  • There should be periodic requests for feedback from learners;
  • There should be badges and points/currency earned across MASELTOV;
  • Custom journeys should be able to be assembled by learners.

In the paper, About the Contextualization of Learning Objects in Mobile Learning Settings (paper available here), Jalisa Sotsenko, Marc Jansen and Marcelo Milrad discussed the importance of devices being able to recognise the context of the learner, including the:

  • environment context;
  • device context;
  • personal context.

Marc Jansen, who delivered the paper, explained that it is possible to develop a mathematical model to determine the best fitting learning in a multidimensional vector space, which takes into account many different aspects of the context.

Doha Skyline seen from the Museum of Islamic Art. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Doha Skyline seen from the Museum of Islamic Art. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

All in all, the mLearn 2013 conference allowed a rich exchange of ideas and insights from around the world. Many people will be looking forward to the next update at mLearn 2014.

Spreading mobile learning in Asia (II)

MobiLearn Asia 2013
2nd-3rd October, 2013

[Continued from Day 1 blog post]


‘Planet’ by Marc Quinn, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

In his keynote on the second day, Mobile Learning in South Asia: Perceptions of Progress, Possibil-ities and Potential, John Traxler suggested that mobile learning has shifted from being the concern of the e-learning research community to being a universal given because of the wide ownership of mobile devices. The early, short-term mobile projects run by enthusiasts in the past don’t necessarily tell us much about the future, where there will be large-scale, widespread usage. However, there are lessons to be learned if we look critically at the past.

Traxler suggested we have achieved at least four things with mobile learning:

  • We have managed to extend the reach of education to underserved communities. A lot can be achieved with older, simpler technologies. However, we can’t make assumptions about how young people, or any other group of constituents, want to use mobile tools. We have also extended the reach of education to those with small chunks of downtime in everyday life, who can spend that dead time learning; to non-traditional learners, who don’t have experience of formal education; to nomadic learners, such as gypsies and travellers; and to those with disabilities and special needs. Inserting ‘our’ education into these other communities is however problematic in some ways.
  • We have managed to promote different kinds of learning, involving collecting data in the real world, or augmenting our learning with AR and similar technologies. When people use their own devices, the latter can learn about their owners’ histories and past educational experiences.
  • We have created far more opportunity for a wide range of people to produce educational materials outside conventional learning institutions. However, this may require users to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources and triangulate offerings, which may be challenging without a solid academic background.
  • We have moved on from seeing m-learning as a kind of e-learning on small computers. We should be careful of seeing learning as being about content, and treating mobile phones as USBs into which we stuff as much content as possible. We also need to be aware of the danger of scaling up projects by simply replicating the same content across multiple contexts. Access to particular content, and particular languages, comes at the expense of access to other content and other languages.

In her talk, A Future-Back Look at the Use of Mobile Devices for Enhancing Learning, Katrina Reynen from Optus argued that the integration of ICTs into the curriculum is one of the most challenging tasks facing schools. We need to figure out what content should be in the curriculum, what pedagogy is appropriate, and how students can best learn with technology. It’s important, she suggested, that we don’t start with aims like getting students to make Prezis or write blogs, but rather with aims like raising awareness or helping students to ask critical questions. Exemplary learning environments have technology available for learning, rather than being technology-focused.

In the second panel discussion, Disruptive Learning and Open Education Resources (OERs) – Promises and Challenges, Geoff Stead (Qualcomm), Grainne Connole, John Traxler and Gerald Cai (Samsung) discussed the role of disruption and openness in contemporary education. John Traxler asked whether the disruption is just minor and can be incorporated into education, or whether we are talking about something much larger, such as a paradigm shift. If we say that mobility is central to our society, that potentially puts institutional learning at the edge, where it may become partly irrelevant and unable to keep up. Geoff Stead suggested that because mobile devices are small, they are typically seen as just one component of education, rather than people assuming that they can replace the whole of education as was sometimes assumed with computers and e-learning.

Grainne Connole suggested that openness itself is disruptive, as in providing open access to educational resources. This may lead to a pedagogy of abundance, which is a major shift, and it may be associated with some disaggregation of education. Gerald Cai commented that mobility which unchains the student from the classroom is very disruptive. John Traxler suggested that anything that changes existing power relations in society is disruptive; open access to educational resources could be one example. Geoff Stead pointed out that there is a danger that the resources being shared emanate primarily from North America and Europe; while this has the advantage of providing resources to underserved communities, the resources may not be best suited to the needs of those communities. Grainne Connole observed that most MOOCs aren’t really accessed by the masses, but by those who already have qualifications and the skillset to make use of MOOCs.

In my own talk, Mobile Pedagogy: Between Affordability and Affordances, I focused on both the affordability and affordances of mobile technologies for teaching and learning, and looked at three main kinds of learning scenarios where mobile devices can play a role: where the devices are mobile but the learners and the learning are not; where the devices and the learners are mobile but the learning is not; and where the devices, the learners and the learning are all mobile. Building on this tripartite division, I briefly discussed three main agendas for incorporating mobile technologies into education: the transformation of teaching and learning; the development of 21st century skills; and social justice. I wrapped up by examining a number of mini-case studies of mobile language and literacy interventions from around Asia and the rest of the world, looking at how each one balances affordability and affordances to serve its own target audience.

On the second day there were also more talks on the Singaporean interactive learning trails developed using LDR’s LOTM tool. In his presentation, Implementing a Mobile Freshman Orientation Program @ Nanyang Polytechnic, Adrian Chua talked about developing an orientation trail. Students received different information at different locations and were set tasks involving a variety of actions, interactions and media. It was a bonding exercise for the students. In 4 hours, the freshman cohort produced 397 pictures and 144 videos; thus, the orientation was not only enjoyable but extremely well-documented.

In his talk, Transforming Outdoors Learning for Schools Using Location-Based Technologies, Png Bee Hin (CEO of LDR) talked about the shift in global learning trends from e-learning to m-learning. For young people, mobile phones are not just communications devices but entertainment devices and also mini-computers. He showed how the LOTM tool works, making it easy for teachers with no programming knowledge to create GPS-enabled learning trails. As students move along the trails, information in multiple media can be pushed to them; students can be asked to do activities and play games; and they can be asked open-ended questions. When students are on the trails, teachers can track their locations; their video inputs; their submissions in the form of pictures or audio interviews; and their activity scores. This allows the teacher to intervene as appropriate. The trails allow learning which is inquiry-based, collaborative and creative, and can encourage leadership development (for example, if the trails are run in Amazing Race form). To date, 92 interactive mobile trails have been created; many focus on the history of Singapore, and some emphasise the multicultural nature of the country. Tourists can even do a trail at Changi Airport. Thirty-nine trails have been created specifically for education, backed by the MOE. Of particular interest is the growing number of school-created trails.

All in all, the second MobiLearn Asia Conference showcased the wide variety of promising mobile teaching, learning and research taking place around the region and around the world. This is a conference that is likely to grow in size and stature in years to come.

Spreading mobile learning in Asia (I)

MobiLearn Asia 2013
2nd-3rd October, 2013

[See also Day 2 blog post]


Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The second MobiLearn Asia conference has built on the success of the first, increasing the number of speakers and attendees gathering to discuss the rapidly growing field of mobile learning.

In their Day 1 keynote, Future of Learning: Dreaming and Preparing for 2020, Geoff Stead and Tamar Elkeles from Qualcomm suggested that the time has come to use everyday devices to transform lives, creating a mobile life cycle. Phones are no longer as much for voice; they’re more for data. People communicate nowadays via data and social media. User-generated content has become critically important.

BYOD, they suggested, is already here. In 2012, 50% of workers brought their own personal devices to work. It is anticipated that by 2015, more than 300 million pre-K-12 students will be carrying mobile devices, opening up huge educational potential.

In the workplace, it may not be about learning in the sense of classes or courses. In its internal Employee Apps Store, Qualcomm works with the concept of an app store as a less structured way to provide necessary information and learning to employees. There’s a whole mixture of web, Android and iOS apps, constituting an open ecosystem.

The combination of mobile and web provides a truly global platform. Whether we’re taking about html or native apps may not really matter because they all interconnect. Unlike what happened with PCs, the hardware is if anything diversifying. There is a hugely vibrant ecosystem of technologies. Beyond mobile devices, we’re now seeing wearable and wave-able (gesture-based) devices emerging. These devices are all connected and all talk to each other. In the next few years, augmented reality technology will be an important way of linking together the real, the digital and the virtual.

In his keynote by web conference, The Online Revolution: Education for Everyone, Andrew Ng from Stanford University, a Coursera co-founder, spoke about the way that MOOC platforms like Coursera change the economics of higher education and make it possible to offer courses for free online. With 87 partners and 4.9 million students to date, Coursera is the largest MOOC platform in the world.

Coursera is currently putting a lot of work into captioning and subtitling, to make video lectures available to a wide range of people of different language backgrounds. Lecturers are encouraged to break lectures down into bite-sized chunks, with optional as well as core material. Interactive videos contain in-video quizzes on which every student gets immediate feedback on their responses; in this way, a website can be more interactive than a face-to-face class. There are also more demanding homework exercises attached to courses, which may take many hours to complete. Students may make multiple attempts at pieces of work, giving them multiple chances to succeed before moving on to the next set of material.

There is also peer grading of open-ended work. There is strong evidence that peer grading correlates well with teacher grading, and self-grading is even better. Peer grading allows marking at scale. Coursera students are given instructions on how to grade others’ work. Students have to demonstrate proficiency in grading by giving similar grades to those awarded by teachers on sample homework. Students might then be asked to grade five other students’ work. An instructor would not normally grade the work. Thus, auto-grading combined with peer grading allows large-scale courses to be offered.

It is also possible to have students answer each other’s questions in discussion forums. Often students can answer each other very quickly. This allows a community to build up around the material, with many students helping each other.

There is a programme called Signature Track which allows Coursera to verify students’ identities at scale. A combination of webcam photos and your typing rhythm allows verification of identity, meaning that certificates can be issued on completion of a course to a high level.

At the moment, about 15% of Coursera’s traffic comes from mobile devices, and Coursera is currently working on a mobile app, initially for iOS, to be followed by an Android app.

Having such large numbers of students allows lecturers to collect an enormous amount of data about courses, students and their learning. The volume and detail of student data is unprecedented in history. This gives a new window into human learning. For example, it is possible to see if large numbers of students are making the same kind of error, allowing the creation of customised feedback messages. Ironically, then, in order to achieve personalisation – e.g., a custom error message – what may be needed is to teach a class of 100,000.

Having content material available online also allows lecturers to work in a flipped mode in face-to-face contexts. Classroom time can be used for small-group problem solving, so it is much more lively and interactive. This gives a much better education to those students who do attend face-to-face. In other words, Coursera serves two different audiences: those who would never have access to a Stanford education; and those who attend Stanford and who can now benefit from a flipped approach. MOOCs can bring a great education to everyone.

In the plenary discussion, Emerging Technologies and New Paradigms and How They Will Shape Future Learning, Pascal van den Nieuwendijk (Microsoft), Geoff Stead (Qualcomm), Chris Ting (Singtel) and Andrew Ng (Coursera) discussed how new technologies might be better integrated into the education system. Andrew Ng suggested that MOOCs free teachers from the more routine aspects of their jobs and allow them to provide more personal attention to more students. Geoff Stead suggested that the app model, where users put together a personalised collection of apps from a huge selection, is in tension with the older publisher model based on the idea of one large system that incorporates multiple functions.

In his talk, Jailbreaking Education with Mobile Learning (slides available here), Ashley Tan spoke about 21st century learners being taught by 20th century teachers in 19th century classrooms. Jailbreaking education, he suggested, is the answer. Mobility challenges authority, he went on to say. Teachers need to be designers of unGoogleable questions. Teachers need to jailbreak their own teacher OS and become facilitators. Moreover, the classroom is not the only learning environment. In a traditional classroom, students typically have an audience of one – if they use social media, they have an audience of many. What schools call cheating, he added, the rest of the world calls collaborating. Today’s assessments are inadequate and do not measure the things that employers are looking for. In conclusion, he suggested that it is time for us to jailbreak education, especially schooling, and to bring it back to where it belongs – to the learners. Eventually the efforts of jailbreakers and troublemakers can make their way into mainstream education. Some institutions value their troublemakers, while others do not – you have to know how best to operate in your own context.

Social media and social learning formed a key theme of several presentations. In her presentation, Mobile and Social Media: The Power of the Learning Network and Digital Literacy, Terese Bird suggested that keeping social media out of learning would be like speaking only in Latin. Social media skills are an important part of academic digital literacy,  and are necessary to communicate widely, to establish a reputation online, and to recognise and use the benefits of social media for one’s own development.

In his talk, Exploring the World of Social Learning: A Practical Guide, Julian Stodd argued that in the social age, traditional models of power and authority are subverted by reputation and agility. In particular, reputation-based authority is starting to subvert authority based on positionality or longevity. A formal hierarchy is no longer enough to give a business an edge. There is a need for creativity and innovation, facilitated by agile and collaborative social technology. It used to be the case that companies could define their own story and their own brand, but now the story and brand are shared by individuals, and meaning is co-created by individuals and communities. He proposed a model of social leadership training known as the NET Model (see below).

NET (Stodd)

The NET Model of Social Leadership (Stodd, 2013).

Gaming and augmented reality were major themes at the conference. In her presentation, Getting Innovative with M-learning, Brenda Enders illustrated a range of games, from low-end text- and email-based games to high-end virtual world games, employed by companies around the world. Gaming can motivate learning, automate learning of basic content, and refresh learning, freeing up face-to-face training time for more complex training. Augmented reality apps have particular promise when it comes to applying learning in the real world.

In his talk, Making Sense of Virtual Worlds and Augmented Reality, Mark Childs argued that key aspects of the technology include immediacy and immersion (which depends amongst other things on suspension of disbelief, motivation to engage, experience, personalisation, design of content, and ability to feel embodied). In many ways the distinction between perceptual immersion (which is more about immediacy) and psychological immersion is very important. Adding labels and tags in augmented reality can sometimes decrease perceptual immersion (if there is too much content or information) but can increase the sense of psychological immersion. It is the psychological immersion which is more important and can underpin improved learning experiences.

In her presentation, Implementation of a Mobile Heritage Trail for Clementi Town Sec School, Phyllis Pham described GPS-/IR-enabled mobile learning trails created with the LOTM tool developed by LDR. In addition to receiving information preloaded by teachers as they visit different locations, students are required to answer quiz or test questions on which they receive immediate feedback, and to create their own multimedia materials. The pedagogical aim is to create authentic learning experiences where students collect data, interpret it, and make meaning and connections.

On the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve trail, students have to collect enough data to support their conclusion to maintain or level the reserve, presented in a small skit. On the Clementi Neighbourhood Mobile Trail students visit key places (e.g., food centre, fire station, Buddhist temple) which play a role in ‘social defence’, answering key questions about them. These questions cannot be answered by searching online; they involve the students in interacting with and interviewing people in the various locations. The overall aim is to get students thinking and questioning.

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