Going social and mobile in Singapore

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

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
Singapore

[Continued from Day 1 blog post]

Sin1B

‘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
Singapore

[See also Day 2 blog post]

Sin4B

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.

Same themes, different themes

E-technology Seminar
25th – 27th September, 2013 
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok by night

Bangkok by night. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I’ve just spent three productive and enjoyable days running an E-technology Seminar at KMUTT in Bangkok, including consul- tations with staff, a workshop on web 2.0, and a forum on digital literacies and emerging trends. What’s always so interesting about these visits is to identify the common themes that appear in educational technology initiatives and conversations around the world, as well as the differences which are particular to regions or countries.

Many common global themes surfaced in discussions with participants over the three days: the need to give concrete direction to the official push to use technology in the classroom; the need for leadership and management training; the need for more teacher training, focused on pedagogy as much as technology; and the need for teachers to find a way of working with students whose technological skills in some cases exceed their own. But then there were differences as well, for example the need to bear in mind local laws and customs on the one hand, and on the other the freedom to use tools that are sometimes rejected in Western education systems, notably Facebook, and for teachers and students to interact freely on such platforms.

It’s been a wonderfully informative three days, and as always, I’m sure I’ve learned as much as any of the participants.

E-learning outcomes

eLearning Forum Asia
29th – 31st May, 2013 
Hong Kong

photo

鸭子, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2013. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The eLearning Forum Asia 2013 was held at Hong Kong Baptist University with a record-breaking number of attendees. It’s clear that digitally mediated learning is taking off in this part of the world. This conference will be one to watch as it grows in size over years to come.

Richard Armour, from the Hong Kong University Grants Committee (UGC), opened the conference with a discussion of Hong Kong’s “3+3+4” Curriculum and the opportunities for e-learning presented by the new 4-year undergraduate university curriculum. This change, he suggested, is contextualised by the shift towards a knowledge-based economy, enabling students to further develop their language abilities, knowledge base, critical thinking and independence. There is a core general curriculum, with more specialisation as students advance. The curriculum is designed to be more student-centric and allow for whole-person development. The UGC has acquired government funding to promote pedagogical change and innovation in areas such as blended learning, curriculum development, and learning environments. This funding will be project-based. Key questions are what e-learning can bring to the additional year, general education, the common core, sharing specialities across universities, or to achieve a paradigm shift.

Karl Engkvist from Pearson gave a keynote presentation entitled Preparing for the coming avalanche, making reference to the recent publication by Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly and Saad Rizvi. He mentioned that globalisation and technology are transforming education; there is greater competition for students and research funding; high-quality educational content is accessible online for free; and the functions of higher education are being supplied by non-academic providers. The 20th century university paradigm is under pressure: knowledge is ubiquitous and free, so it needs to be curated effectively; public funding is being replaced by private funding; students can shop globally for an education; the pace of workplace innovation is accelerating; and graduate unemployment is high, but employers can’t find qualified candidates. We need to more closely link education with future workplace needs. Students, as consumers, may come to expect more tangible outcomes from their education.

He listed a number of signs of change in the educational situation. MOOCs are disrupting education by giving huge numbers of students access to elite education. There are also non-university providers like StraighterLine 2U, alternatives like Thiel Fellowships, complementary options like General Assemb.ly, the Mozilla Foundation’s idea of badging, and the notion of third stage careers catered to, for example, by the Korean National Open University. He suggested that new models of education are improving quality, increasing market share and lowering cost – the way new competitors traditionally unseat complacent incumbents. Traditional universities, too, are being unbundled.  Cities are seeing higher education institutions as powerhouses of their economies. Faculty can teach from anywhere – and they don’t have to be academics. Students, too, can learn from anywhere. Curriculum has become a commodity. E-learning can offer much more flexibility in this space. Deep, radical, urgent transformation – not just incremental change – is necessary.

He went on to talk about The Learning Curve, a Pearson report and website that compare different educational systems around the world. Innovative systems have to value and fund stronger student outcomes; value accountability – setting clear goals and expectations; be future oriented – focusing on skills necessary for the future; and attract and continuously train good teachers. But there are big differences, too: the two most ‘successful’ educational systems, Korea and Finland, share almost nothing in common. In Korea, the top quartile outperforms everyone in the world, but the lowest quartile doesn’t do well at all; in Finland, the two middle quartiles outperform everyone in the world, but the top quartile doesn’t do as well comparatively. This raises philosophical questions about what you want to achieve through an educational system.

In her keynote presentation, Kathy Takayama spoke about Integrative paths in the social construction of understanding. She discussed the need to prepare students for total engagement, applying conceptual understanding, and diving into unfamiliar territory – which are difficult-to-measure outcomes. Metrics which show that teachers have been effective include students taking ownership of their own learning; applying themselves through incremental, experiential learning; being comfortable with uncertainty; integrating insights from across the disciplines to solve problems; and developing adaptive expertise. She went on to say that expert thinking, which involves chunking of information (a kind of pattern recognition based on long experience), sometimes gets in the way. This is one reason why there’s a pressing need for development of faculty, who are fixed on the ways that things have always worked. Interdisciplinary entry points are important.

Brown University is experimenting with blended courses and flipped classrooms. She described an economics course, where one third of the traditional 50-minute lectures have been replaced with 10-minute vodcasts; the rest were retained in order to maintain instructor presence, which is important for the student experience. Students then got together in a classroom where they worked on solving problems collaboratively, facilitated by teaching assistants. Students gave feedback on the microlectures to indicate whether they did or didn’t cover what they needed to know; their feedback also indicated that instructor presence is important. When thinking about e-learning, we have to bring students in as creative partners.

She went on to discuss what old brick-and-mortar institutions need to think about with respect to MOOCs. This requires thinking through the process of deconstruction and reconstruction. Compartmentalisation is an issue, because the material has to be broken up into 10-min chunks. It’s also important to consider how you make connections between all these materials. Students will in fact create their own learning environments through social media and other channels. So MOOCs must be a part of an overall shift in the direction of more social learning. We need to think about the pedagogies that support social learning, and how we might construct our courses differently.

In my own keynote presentation, which opened the second day of the conference, I spoke on Mobile outcomes: Improving language and literacy across Asia. I began by exploring both the affordability and affordances of mobile technologies for the teaching and learning of language and literacy, and looked at the kinds of learning contexts where mobile devices can play a role. I went on to consider the learning outcomes achieved with mobile devices. Assessment and feedback can both be enhanced by mobile devices. However, while there is considerable promise for the recording, monitoring and evaluation of learning in mobile projects, and especially for the deployment of learning analytics, this promise is often unrealised for a variety of practical and pedagogical reasons. On the one hand, we need to seek more hard data on improved learning outcomes in mobile projects; and on the other hand, we may need to consider the notion of outcomes more broadly, including soft outcomes like the acquisition of 21st century skills and digital literacies. I concluded by looking at three mini-case studies of mobile language and literacy interventions from Pakistan, China and Singapore, asking in each case what evidence we can see of improved hard and soft outcomes, and what we can learn for future projects.

In her plenary, Hart Wilson spoke about Moodle magic: Unleashing Moodle’s potential.  She outlined the many features of Moodle which, along with ease of integration with other software, can help support and organise teaching and learning. She suggested a number of useful activities, including getting students to send in questions ahead of class to shape a class (Online Text feature), or getting students to engage in peer review (Workshop feature). She suggested that Moodle’s tools allow us to think differently about teaching, and it serves as a platform to connect students to content, students to students, and students to instructors.  This paper was followed up by a half-day workshop the next day, where the uses of Moodle were explored in much more detail.

Jie Lu and Tianchong Wang, two graduate students working with Daniel Churchill, gave a paper called Exploring the educational affordances of the current mobile technologies: Case studies in university teachers’ and students’ perspectives. They spoke about two case studies. The first took as its starting point Daniel Churchill’s (2005) work on teachers’ private theories, six of which impact on their design and technology integration decisions. Key factors which positively influenced teachers’ use of technology were revealed to be: size (a smartphone screen may be too small; a laptop may be too heavy; but an iPad balances these points); mobile ergonomics; instant boot up; battery life; ease of use; touch sensitivity; apps; access to resources; and sharing and interaction to support a more student-centred teaching paradigm. Issues for teachers included: document format compatibility; connecting to a classroom projector; file management & syncing; inputting text on a touch screen; students’ ownership of tablets; and the idea of a “technology dance” (is the technology supporting teaching or a goal in itself?).

The second case study focused on students’ use and perceptions of mobile technologies as learning tools. Their use of mobile devices to support their learning was generally quite limited: tracking what was going on in online learning environments; keeping in contact with other group members; and reviewing learning materials uploaded by the teacher anywhere and anytime. Issues for students included: limited wifi coverage; inconvenient input options; lack of learning materials tailored for smartphones or tablets, and inability to play Flash materials.

Pao Ta Yu gave a plenary paper entitled How to design massive qualified digital contents both for online and classroom learnings. He spoke about MOOCs, indicating that they combine multimedia and cloud technology with lectures to create more energy around e-learning.  They may be combined with social networking and social media sites, using the latter as a content delivery area. Most students who enrol in MOOCs are currently professionals rather than college students, though this may shift as models are developed for integrating MOOCs into students’ educational pathways. The biggest short-term impact of MOOCs may in fact be legitimisation of online and hybrid learning.

He went on to speak about flipped classrooms, whose advantage, he suggested, is to “take the snooze out of the classroom”. They can individualise classroom learning time for students, allow students to review lessons at their own pace, and break the regular classroom rhythm. Flipped materials should be simple, interesting, and meaningful, he suggested. He suggested that microvideos will be created by teachers to produce a lot of cloud digital content.  This process can integrate with the flipped classroom model.  Rapid design, high quality recordings, and easy uploading and downloading, will be important for future mobile learning.

Diana Laurillard wrapped up the conference with her closing keynote Teaching as a design science: Designing and assessing the effectiveness of the pedagogy in learning technologies. She spoke about government policies from around the world which stress that teachers need to design and deliver ICT-enhanced education, and to undertake professional development.  UNESCO is developing new post-2015 goals for education, including a full 9 years of basic education. Higher education demand is expected to double over coming years.  This will have major implications for teacher training. How can higher education nurture individual teachers while reducing the 25:1 student: staff ratio, i.e., beginning  to operate on a mass scale?

She explored MOOCs as one possible answer, using a Duke credit-bearing MOOC as an example. Many students already had educational qualifications and study experience. There was a very large attrition rate, and often in MOOCs there are only a couple of hundred people who complete a course – much like regular online teaching. While many MOOCs offer only peer support, the Duke MOOC included tutored discussions and assessment, which is time-consuming for support, and worked out at a student: staff ratio of around 20:1. If this kind of support is provided, the demands on staff time will increase as the number of students increases. Only a basic MOOC, without tutor support, can scale at no extra cost.

We need to understand the pedagogical benefits and teacher time costs for online HE. What are the new digital pedagogies that will address the 25:1 student support conundrum? Who will innovate, test, and build the evidence for what works online? It can only be teachers. It may be that we should revisit and rework some old approaches. Pedagogies for supporting large classes might include:

  • Concealed multiple choice questions (possible answers are revealed after students have written their own suggested responses);
  • The virtual Keller Plan (introduce content > self-paced practice > tutor-marked test > student becomes tutor for credit, until by the end half the class is tutoring the rest);
  • The vicarious master class (run a tutorial for 5 representative students; questions and guidance represent all students’ needs);
  • Pyramid discussion groups (240 individual students produce an answer to an open question, then there is a joint response from pairs, then groups of four, etc, until the teacher receives only six responses to comment on in detail).

Collecting big data in line with Laurillard’s Conversational Framework might allow us to better focus on exactly what to collect and how to apply learning analytics. We could consider what is accessed in what sequence, the questions asked, social interaction patterns, tracked group outputs, peer assessment, tracked inputs, reaction times, analysis of essay content, quiz scores, game scores, and accuracy of models.

Teachers as designers need the tools for innovation. She mentioned the PPC (Pedagogical Pattern Collector) browser where you can find pedagogical patterns created by others, tied to particular learning outcomes, and adapt them to your own context and needs. This system creates a way of sharing ideas between individual teachers, across disciplinary boundaries, and between institutions. To meet the upcoming demand, teachers need to work more like scientists who build on and refine each other’s work. The PPC gives them the tools to do this. This supports a cycle of professional collaboration.  As a computational model, it also allows us to work out the consequences in terms of the pedagogical benefits, and the comparative costs of teachers’ workloads, depending on the cost of initial setup and the cost of ongoing support. It also allows us to compare conventional and blended learning to see whether there is, for example, less emphasis on acquisition and more emphasis on discussion. It’s important to invest in teachers who can innovate in learning technologies.

The global demand for HE requires investment in pedagogic innovation to deliver high quality at scale. Technology-based pedagogical innovation must support students at a better than 25:1 student: staff ratio. Teachers need the tools to design, test, gather the evidence of what works, and model benefits and costs. Teachers are the engines of innovation – designing, testing, and sharing their best pedagogic ideas.

Overall, the quality of the papers, the quantity of attendees, and the general buzz around the conference are a sign that e-learning is very much coming of age in Asia.  Next year’s event in Taiwan will carry on the eLearning Forum tradition.

Mobile = social

January, 2013
Perth, Australia

I’m now two weeks into my sabbatical leave, which I’m spending writing a book on mobile language learning. The first fortnight, as is usually the case, has been spent reading through the piles of articles and books, electronic and paper-based, which I’ve amassed over the past few months.

Some key themes are emerging from this perusal of the literature in the young and still somewhat fragmented field of m-learning and, more specifically, mobile language and literacy learning. One of the major insights which resonates with me is the equation of social and mobile, which seem to go hand in hand in both our everyday lives and in the educational potential of the medium. Thinking along these lines led me into a conversation with Julian Stodd, who’s written up his own reflections on the convergence of mobile and social learning on his blog. It’s worth checking out what he has to say.

Space for discussion

1st International ELT Symposium
1st-2nd December, 2012
Istanbul, Turkey

The 1st International ELT Symposium at Yildiz Technical University, entitled Wired In or Out, focused on Web Technologies in ELT Classrooms.  It brought together an international group of language educators over two rich days in Istanbul at the start of December, 2012.

In his opening plenary, The Heart of Education, Chuck Sandy stressed the need to bring together communities of people using online social networking and other tools. He reminded the audience of the E.M. Forster quote, “Only connect”, and suggested it can be updated in the digital era of personal learning networks (PLNs). But it’s about more than connecting: it’s about connecting on very deep levels, and about asking yourself what you can contribute. When you mentor others, you can learn yourself in the process.

In his follow-up plenary, Blending, extending and bridging language learning in the digital age, Gary Motteram spoke about the importance of the ‘digital turn’ in education. Drawing on activity theory, he mentioned that there are many different people and factors (extending to parents and the wider community, as well as learners’ motivations and expectations) involved in the integration of new technologies into learning. Zeroing in on the role of teachers, he referred to Shulman’s work on pedagogical content knowledge, and highlighted the idea that teachers often see their subject matter differently from content specialists who are not teachers. There has been discussion for years about the  need to train teachers appropriately to use new technologies, but very frequently this still doesn’t happen.

The way teachers teach in the classroom is affected by numerous factors, including their beliefs about the interface between technology and learning, their beliefs about language learning itself (which may be different for different languages, with the communicative techniques typically used in English not always being suited to learning other languages, like Chinese), the institutional setting, and the expectations of learners and the institution.

In her talk, From curation to creation, Marisa Constantinides spoke about the need to deal with information overload through appropriate curation techniques. She defined curation as the process of selection, preservation, maintenance, collection and archiving of digital assets. She observed that the teacher is by nature a curator. She focused on a number of digital tools which can aid teachers in this process, including social networking sites like Facebook, social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Diigo and Scoop.it, and social sharing tools like Pinterest or YouTube channels, as well as blogs and wikis. She also mentioned new tools like LiveBinders, MentorMob and Learnist. Having a variety of platforms allows teachers to choose the most appropriate ones for collecting different kinds of content.

Traditionally, she suggested, curation has not been looked at as something very creative. In Bloom’s digital taxonomy, the activities of recognising, listing, describing, etc, are shown at the lowest level, Remembering. However, she argued, this is wrong, because curation can be a very creative process, especially in the digital era, and one that involves higher order thinking. If you have an idea and want to explore it, then curating content about it can be a good way to develop in-depth understanding. It can also bring in a social learning element. Part of creation, she concluded, is building on other people’s ideas.

In the final plenary on the opening day, entitled Give the test a rest, Luke Meddings made the argument that we rely too much on standardised testing, and that there is a whole testing economy based around it. As we focus on what can be tested, we develop funnel vision that reduces the areas that are covered. He suggested that we should vary what we do in the classroom, engage in more unplugged/Dogme style teaching, and make use of new technologies where appropriate. He used the metaphor of a railway and a river to suggest that, rather than working solely with a linear syllabus, we can follow the flow of learning – heading in the same direction but allowing more flexibility. Web 2.0 tools can complement the latter. They offer us new ways to achieve formative assessment. Evernote, for example, allows you to take snapshots of students’ learning on a regular basis, rather than just conducting periodic tests and sending out periodic report cards. Teachers need to talk to colleagues about how to find alternatives to standard testing regimes which aren’t helping students’ learning.

In the opening plenary of the second day, with the lengthy title of Technology is a useful tool if used to create and enhance comprehensible input, a derailment if used to overemphasize conscious learning, Stephen Krashen spoke of the war between two competing hypotheses about language. The comprehension hypothesis says that grammar and vocabulary are the result of language acquisition. The skill-building hypothesis says that the grammar and vocabulary come first, and then eventually you will be able to use the language. It’s about immediate versus delayed gratification. Krashen supports the former hypothesis, and outlined the research evidence for it, but observed that for politicians and the public, the latter hypothesis is an axiom.

He made some key points about comprehensible input:

  1. With enough comprehensible input, all the necessary structures are present, so the best input is non-targeted.
  2. Input should be interesting, or ideally, compelling. Reading should be self-selected. It makes it easier for students to enter into a state of flow.
  3. Narrow input is best.

If the computer is used in tune with comprehensible input, it can be very valuable. We haven’t come close to making use of what we already have available; there’s no need for new tools. According to studies, the amount of book reading children are doing has changed little from 1946 to 2010, but magazine and newspaper reading has declined. Website reading is on the increase.

While the jury is out on social networking, Krashen believes that kids are reading and writing more than ever before thanks to Facebook, which is good for their literacy skills. Studies show that the more kids are online, the more they read in print. Several studies show that more internet use leads to more literacy. Krashen suggested that free, voluntary net surfing might well lead to improved language, along the lines of narrow, self-selected input.

He outlined the potential for narrow personalised viewing (including of stories created by children themselves):

  1. Comprehensible stories (aural and visual)
  2. Comprehensible discussions
  3. Series books > TV or movie series

There is so much we can do with storytelling, without any new technology, and without anything fancy. He gave the example of ESL Pod, a simple and straightforward approach involving stories, with materials being given away for free. He suggested, indeed, that it’s important for educators and academics to give away work as much as possible, to stop the rising costs of accessing materials and research. We can be part of a cultural change, he observed, by giving things away.

He concluded by running through what he called ‘bogus uses’ of technology, including many commercial language learning systems which make exaggerated claims but involve very traditional pedagogical approaches. These are skill-based schemes based on the public’s view of language learning.

In her plenary, Facebook nation: Social networks & ELT, Nicky Hockly started off with some facts and figures about Facebook, including the fact that 250 million people access Facebook on mobile devices, and mobile users are twice as active as non-mobile users.  She noted that Facebook already contains public language sites, educator sites and institutional sites. She then focused on setting up class group pages and using them to provide feedback on students’ content and language, and allowing students to read and respond to each other’s work. She mentioned a number of issues that can occur with Facebook, and gave recommendations on how to deal with them:

  1. Teacher privacy: teachers can have two separate profiles, or use group pages
  2. Inappropriate use: teachers can set clear user guidelines, linked to official institutional policies
  3. Facebook as big business: teachers can suggest alternatives such as My Fake Wall, Pikifriends, and Edmodo.

There is little research on Facebook in language education to date. One study found that students preferred closed groups, but another study found that students liked the authentic communication in open groups. Hockly suggested that students could have both at the same time. Feedback was seen as particularly important by students; she recommended organising peer feedback, amongst other things. One study found that Facebook’s enhancement of the community feeling of a class can lead to increased motivation and performance. The research is listed on Delicious under http://delicious.com/nickyhockly/yildiz.

Mobile technologies, as always in conferences these days, made an appearance in numerous talks, and formed the main focus of several.  Within a year or two, it will certainly be normal for conferences in the area of new technologies to focus as much on mobile apps and the mobile web as they do on the original web – and that trend was in evidence at this event.

In her talk, MLearning: More than an illusion of illumination, Işil Boy pointed out that mobile learning is about more than apps. If e-learning is beyond classroom walls, she suggested, then m-learning is beyond computer screens. She suggested that the Affective Context Model helps explain the value of mobile learning with its anywhere/anytime aspects, and its push and pull features. When integrating mobile technologies into our teaching, we need to prioritise the learning objectives and consider the ‘teacherware’, that is, ensuring that teachers are well trained.

After mentioning a search engine for apps, Quixey, she went on to recommend a number of apps:

  • Speaking: TripAdvisor (project work, talking about holidays, planning a holiday); Dragon Dictation (dictation software); Audioboo (voice recording and adding pictures)
  • Writing: Skitch (pictures with annotation – speaking, basic writing and vocabulary development); Google Docs (writing, presentations, etc); Lino (online stickies service)
  • Listening: Stitcher Radio (radio shows, live stations and podcasts); Learning English Elementary (English learning podcasts with exercises)
  • Reading: Zite (a personalised magazine that learns what you like); The Poetry App (over 100 poems with video and audio narrations)

After illustrating QR codes as a recent trend, she went on to highlight AR (augmented reality) as the new trend in mobile educational technologies, one which allows students to participate interactively with computer generated simulations. She also spoke about mobile storytelling as a new iteration of digital storytelling, illustrating the possibilities with a multimedia app called Storykit. Mobile storytelling and AR can come together with a simulated 3D app like ZooBurst, where you can create AR markers that allow you to use the simulations in a real-world environment like the classroom.

In my own presentation, From start to finish: Mobile technologies and language learning, I surveyed the terrain of mobile technologies in the teaching of language, beginning with simpler uses, many of which are oriented towards content consumption or behaviourist drills, and leading up to those which are more learner-centred, innovative and creative. The tools and techniques covered included podcasting, apps, polling, multimedia recording, QR codes, geosocial networking, and augmented reality.

In the closing plenary, A technological disaster (references at: http://atechnologicaldisaster.pen.io/) Lindsay Clandfield pointed out that a lot of current technology use involves traditional pedagogical approaches and strategies that simply incorporate new technology, but there has been little fundamental change. Teachers are sometimes blamed for this, and the digital native/immigrant distinction plays into this.  Teachers do ask themselves questions about whether the technology fits with everything else they are having to do; whether the net will undermine their authority; whether the technology will work on the day in the classroom; and whether technology will add to rather than reduce time pressure. From a pedagogical point of view, the technology seems to lend itself to a behaviourist approach. Sometimes technological solutions are imported but not localised. Assessment still remains stubbornly resistant to the innovations and developments in the wider field of digital education.

There is a broader question about whether technology works: does it lead to better learning? One issue here is what we mean by learning. The No Significant Difference website documents 350 research reports which show that there is not much of a difference between technology-enhanced education and what we were doing before. There has been some suggestion that technology may deprofessionalise teachers. It may be that new teacher and learner roles are culturally bound; online learning may be in line with the American view of individualism and autonomy. Teachers, too, may be very restricted by the systems in which they teach.

There is also a larger ideological debate about deschooling society. For some, the end of schools could mean free education for all, with no barriers. For others, it may mean removing state control and repositioning education within the private sector. Another issue is the e-waste produced by the move in a digital direction. Yet another question is whether what is economically good for technology companies is always good for technology users. The NESTA Report says that the huge investment in digital technologies in UK schools over recent years has produced little measurable change, because these efforts have put technology above teaching, and excitement above evidence.

In short, there has to be space for educators to discuss with each other the issues and challenges of working with new technologies, as well as the benefits. A symposium like this one has provided space to do just that.

Fair sailing

Apps Fair
Perth
8 November, 2012

The inaugural Apps Fair, held at the University Club at The University of Western Australia, took place on 8 November. The programme brought together seasoned presenters, experienced in the use of iPads and other mobile handheld devices, with around 120 teachers whose schools are embarking on the mobile learning pathway.

After an opening presentation by the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Helen Wildy, my colleagues Grace Oakley, Robert Faulkner and I spoke about our recently published AISWA report, Exploring the Pedagogical Applications of Mobile Technologies for Teaching Literacy, highlighting nine key considerations for teachers using iPads. Jan Clarke, the ICT Integration Consultant at AISWA, followed with an overview of AISWA iPad projects, including the use of these devices in a CARE school context and in a remote Aboriginal community school.

Stephen Atherton from Apple spoke twice, firstly on “Educational Technology: What the Future Brings” and secondly on “iPads in Education” (references available here). These talks gave an overview of the present context as well as future developments anticipated by Apple. Dave Belson, the Technology Integrator from St Stephens School, offered a well-received Mac Lab workshop on how to make e-books.

During the day, there were two 1-hour sets of 20-minute table rotations, where participants experienced a total of 6 apps, explained to them by teachers (including our pre-service teachers) with experience of using them in the classroom. They had a chance to try out the apps, ask questions, and make suggestions. The level of noise in the room was testament to teachers’ engagement in this process, and participants came away with many useful ideas.

Later in the day, four highly experienced school practitioners – three of them Apple Distinguished Educators – shared their insights with teachers. Noburo Hagwara, Director of Innovation at Kolbe Catholic College, began with an overview of his journey using mobile technologies, leading from the iPod Touch to the iPad. Ben Beaton, Information Learning Technology Curriculum Manager at Scotch College, gave a talk with the title: “Teaching For Tomorrow: How Mobility and E-learning Can Extend Learning Beyond the Classroom”. Anna Hu, Director of Information and Learning Technologies at PLC and Scotch, and Jeremy Hetebry, ILT Curriculum Manager at PLC, rounded off these presentations with a talk entitled “Using Mobile Technology and Apps within K-12 Curriculum: Current Trends and Research and the PLC and Scotch Experience”.

All in all, it was a busy but exciting day, bringing together old and new users of mobile technologies in a productive discussion forum. It has real potential to become an annual event.

M-learning comes of age in SE Asia (II)

MobiLearnAsia Conference
Singapore
24-26 October, 2012

[Continued from Day 1 blog post]

In his plenary which opened the second day, Harnessing Magic: The Mlearning Opportunity, Clark Quinn suggested that it is time to find new uses for mobile technologies. Past technologies have successfully augmented our bodies; the question now is how we might augment our brains. Of course, we do have a history of using technology to augment our brains. Books are one example. This has limitations if the knowledge changes and the books don’t. He quoted Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. The limitations on how we use new technologies, he suggested, are between our ears.

Learning in the past was social, but as the volume of knowledge increased, we moved into a transmission model. In the 2009 US Dept of Education study of e-learning, which found that it was superior to face-to-face learning, the researchers suggested that the improvement was not due to the medium but the chance to step back and think about how we do education. Formal learning methods are important for novices; they become less important vis-à-vis informal learning for practitioners; and for experts, informal learning is much more important.

There are four Cs of mobile learning: content, compute, communicate and capture. The first three are not unique to mobile, but the last is. It’s about capturing in context. We’re beginning to see ways in which virtual worlds connect to mobile technologies. System-generated content is also becoming important as we move towards web 3.0. Web 2.0 was about user-generated content; web 3.0 is about system-generated content, where content is pulled together on the fly. This allows us to customise the online experience and online learning. Thanks to sensors of different kinds, the technology can work with the context.

He concluded by asking what’s on the horizon. Games will be important – learning should be ‘hard fun’. Social media will be important. So will augmented reality, where information relevant to the learner can be presented in a visual interface. The fact that a device knows ‘when’ we are (as well as ‘where’) means that key information can be provided before and during a performance, and then afterwards learners can be prompted to reflect, thereby turning real-world performance into a learning opportunity. Personalisation will be increasingly possible; different people need different information flowing to them in real-world contexts. He suggested, finally, that we should consider moving away from an event-based model of learning towards slow learning. We need to develop people at the rate their brains can handle.

In the panel discussion on the second morning, a number of key points were made. Gary Woodill noted that e-learning is just the classroom placed on the screen, whereas m-learning is about learning in context. Clark Quinn suggested that there is a need for teachers to show students 21st century skills so students can learn to search for themselves and, to some extent, bypass educational institutions. We’re not yet very good at delivering chunked, distributed content. He also suggested that mobile learning designers should be asking: “What is the least assistance I can provide?” though, as Woodill pointed out, the assistance must be sufficient to help the learner achieve learning goals. Gary noted, further, that we need a design science of mobile learning.

Woodill suggested that there is a subtle shift underway from competency-based to task-based education. What matters is not what you know (there’s just too much to know nowadays) but whether you can do a task. Mobile may be about learning something quickly when you need it, and then forgetting it and moving on to the next thing. Jawahar Kanjilal asked a very important question about learners in less privileged situations: what if you don’t have a teacher, but you have a mobile phone? It becomes your teacher. Gary suggested that a mobile device can be like a faucet which filters the firehose of the internet, bringing you what you need, when you need it. The next ten years, he argued, will be the age of the algorithm, to sort out all this information. Predictive analysis will be important (e.g., see: Recorded Future, Sweden).

In his presentation, Mobile Learning Case Studies: Examples of Effective Mobile Learning, Gary Woodill outlined a number of case studies of mobile learning solutions. The audience was then asked to analyse these in terms of the design patterns. One strategy for instructional designers may be to take case studies and reverse engineer them. On design patterns, he recommended the books: Technology-Enhanced Learning edited by Peter Goodyear and Symeon Retalis, and Diana Laurillard’s Teaching as a Design Science. He also recommended the Float Mobile Learning Primer app, which contains 63 case studies.

Singapore River Trail from LDR (http://www.ldr.sg/trail_catalog.html)

In his presentation, Create the Future of Mobile Learning, Png Bee Hin explained that the future will see a big shift from ‘e’ to ‘m’-learning. He described the development of interactive trails by LDR using the LOTM authoring tool, which allows multimedia content and interactive activities to be delivered to smartphones (Android or iOS) using location-based technologies and a geofencing approach. The delivery of materials can be triggered using GPS, IR (image recognition) and Bluetooth. To date, they have created 42 location-based mobile trails for Singapore. The Battle for Singapore app, set up as a game, is available as a free download.

Working with the MOE, they have created trails where teachers can track students’ progress, location, activity results, and multimedia submissions (which typically include photos and videos, but can also include oral interviews and even re-enactments of historical events). It can work like a treasure hunt; students are instructed to take pictures using an IR camera at some points, and a code is pushed to them so that they can complete part of a puzzle. Students can be of all levels from primary upwards. The Singapore River Trail (see above), which was originally in English, has now been converted into Mandarin as well.

Teachers can keep track of their students, and communicate with them, from a central location. Teachers are essential to the learning process: they need to re-enter their students’ learning spaces at the appropriate moments to guide their learning. They can also create customised trails for their students, by dragging/dropping and cutting/pasting within the LOTM tool, without any need for programming knowledge. Teachers and students have even worked together to create mobile trails that map their own environment.

He concluded that location-based technologies (GPS, IR, AR) have great potential to enhance field-based learning. Having an authoring tool simplifies and speeds up deployment. The most exciting result of all, he suggested, is the finding that user-generated trails are possible.

At the other end of the technology scale, but in a project with enormous potential to make a difference around the world, Jawahar Kanjilal and Bhanu Potta gave a presentation entitled Mobile-Based Lifelong Learning for the Millions: Nokia Life.  In it, they looked at how mobile learning can reach under-served populations in emerging markets.  This is a mobile-only paradigm for those who do not have access to the internet. Only a minority of people in the world have data connected smartphones; then there are feature phones which are data connectable; and then finally feature phones with no data, and SMS only. The projection for 2015 is that 2 billion people will have data connected smartphones; 3 billion will have feature phones (with or without data); and 2 billion will have no phone.

For many people who have mobile phones in emerging markets, it is their first phone, their first camera, and so on. They expect it can deliver many things. Information can be a great leveller for those who currently have no access to it. At every life stage there is an opportunity for informal learning. It is possible to provide content about education, health and agriculture, for example. It can’t be something which is broadcast to everyone, because it needs to be relevant to individuals and should ideally be local, even hyperlocal (how to you start saving in India as opposed to Indonesia?); it needs to be personalised.

The philosophy behind Nokia Life is: “Inform. Involve. Empower” (see: Life Tools is Now Nokia Life on YouTube). It is about “designing for personalization at scales of millions”. Emerging markets have the largest number of first generation school attendees. Parents who have a small income can pay for this service to support their children’s education. The messages can be a trigger for further offline learning. There are currently nearly 80 million users across India, Indonesia, China and Nigeria. Around 40% of subscribers overall are teachers rather than students, so teachers can use the messages as a resource in their classrooms. More than 10 million unique updates are sent out on a daily basis. SMS is used as the vehicle. It is embedded in the menu of the phone, rather than being a downloadable app. The creators considered voice at the beginning, but they were told the written word is more powerful. The users can refer to and show the written words to others.

The biggest problem was to get the content in the right format to distribute through the mobile system. Curation of content and knowledge was a major task. There are four categeories: Education (including Life Skills, Learn English, Exam Tips, General Knowledge,  Dictionary), Health, Agriculture, and Entertainment. Potta gave the example of the Learn English service in China, set up with the collaboration of the British Council, where a word of the day might be given, with pronunciation, an example, and a translation. In some messages, there is a button to call a hotline for more information. Since it is too early in these markets for user-generated content, which might conflict with users’ sense of the credibility of the information, the social – or web 2.0 – aspect involves a call button, a polling function, and/or a share function.

There is a variation of Nokia Life called Nokia Life+, a web app which is designed for those who have smartphones, or feature phones with data connectability. This may be the direction in which things evolve in the future. It’s a scalable platform to reach and engage the next billion. All in all, it’s about developing an ecosystem of partners: governments, NGOs, knowledge creators. The ecosystem is beginning to build up. Nokia Life can directly support six of the eight UN Millennium Goals.

In his presentation, Cross-Platform App Development: Going Native the Easy Way, Graeme Salter listed a number of reasons for setting up educational apps, including the following:

  • Improve learning outcomes
  • Improve student satisfaction (e.g., convenience)
  • Improve student or teacher productivity

There are, however, alternatives to having an app. One is to have a mobile optimised website (m.domainname.com). As a business, you can tap into existing apps and have your company advertised there. Another alternative is an iBook. If, on the other hand, you need an app, you should ask yourself whether it needs to be a native app. Android apps are catching up very quickly to iOS apps. Native apps have these advantages:

  • Operate fast
  • Can access all device features
  • Don’t necessarily require an internet connection
  • Have access to global marketplaces (including direct sales, in-app purchases, and advertising revenue)

On the negative side are these factors:

  • Royalty fee to marketplaces
  • Marketplace controls the customer information (for this reason, the Financial Times changed to a web app)
  • Approval delays (even for modifications)
  • Complexity of development

He suggested some solutions to these problems:

  • Step 1: Create a web app
    • Outsource development (e.g., Kenotopia – design an app in PowerPoint or Keynote, then outsource the coding to someone else; fiverr – will design an icon for $5; a company like oDesk or Vworker will do the whole thing. The big rewards are for ideas, not development.)
    • Use tools that don’t need coding (e.g., Tumult Hype, which allows you to write HMTL5 with no coding required; you can then use JQuery Mobile, Wink, etc, to add a mobile framework so you have mobile functionality like touch, swipe, and gestures)
    • Write in HTML5 (make some simple modifications to old HTML – there are few differences)
  • Step 2: Convert to a native app (e.g., with PhoneGap, Appcelerator, PhoneGapBuild – you can create native apps for multiple OSs)

For an inaugural conference, MobiLearnAsia 2012 did a superb job of pulling together a great deal of national, regional and international expertise, and provided a rich forum for interactions between participants from a wide range of countries. It has also filled a gap in bringing an annual m-learning conference to the Asia-Pacific region. I look forward to seeing how things have developed when the second MobiLearnAsia conference takes place in October, 2013.