New devices, new spaces, and new games

eLearning Forum Asia
Shanghai, China
13-15 June, 2016

Zhujiajiao Old Town (朱家角), Shanghai, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Zhujiajiao Old Town (朱家角), Shanghai, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The annual eLFA conference moved this year to Shanghai, where as usual it brought together a mixed group of educators and technologists, especially from the Asian region but also from further afield. There was a strong emphasis this year on the need to make room for students’ use of multiple devices, especially mobile devices, for learning. There was considerable discussion of online learning platforms or spaces where students’ learning experiences can be gathered together; these ranged from traditional LMSs through online platforms like Google Classroom to the cutting-edge developments around MOOCs, learning analytics, and the use of xAPI to track, collate and derive insights from students’ various learning devices and platforms. Another key theme to emerge was gamification, including how it can be applied to platforms ranging from apps through to MOOCs.

In his presentation, Reimagining education, Yves Dehouck, the Vice President of Blackboard, listed six key educational trends of the future as identified by Blackboard:

  • Learner-centric education
  • Non-traditional learners
  • Big data
  • Consumer preferences
  • Education is truly global
  • Online and mobile everywhere

He went on to pick up on the last two points. By 2020, four in 10 of the world’s young graduates in higher education will be coming from China and India. This means a need to further develop the educational infrastructure in those countries, as well as opening up opportunities for the educational systems of the surrounding countries. These students will want to learn anytime, anywhere, on any device.

In her presentation, Pedagogical intelligence: A student lens for inquiry into informal digital learning practices, Caroline Steel, also from Blackboard, argued that it is critical for students to understand the impact that their informal digital learning can have on their formal learning. Digital literacies are now essential for students, along with soft skills like critical thinking and creativity. She explained that we need help our students develop pedagogical intelligence, so that they:

  • gain an understanding of learning and teaching theories
  • gain insights into how they learn and how others learn
  • are aware that teaching styles are as diverse as learning styles (and some may not suit them)
  • are empowered to navigate learning and teaching, by developing the capacity to self-teach and self-regulate their learning
  • are better informed as co-partners in education

She gave an example of a Learning Challenge class where she helped students to develop their understanding in this area. Students benefited in terms of making better use of informal learning and setting their own goals, and they appreciated the inbuilt gaming aspects. Looking towards the future, she suggested that elements of pedagogical intelligence could be foregrounded through some kind of wearable mobile device which offers learning analytics, with gamification and social aspects included.

In my keynote, Developing mobile literacy, which tied in with the theme of the move towards multiple mobile devices in education, I outlined a range of ways that we can deepen students’ learning and engagement as we help them to develop the mobile literacy (and the constituent digital literacies which feed into it) that is so crucial in a digitally enabled mobile world.

In her talk, Seeding learning innovations in continuing education and training in Singapore, Zan Chen spoke about the current context of more global demand for innovation, as product life cycles become shorter and shorter, while we are simultaneously seeing a convergence of technologies, and a need for multidisciplinary research. In this context, there is considerable scope for open innovation. She went on to describe iN.LAB, part of the Institute for Adult Learning in Singapore, which focuses on providing a space to foster collaboration around innovation. She described the half-yearly InnovPlus event, a funded competition designed to catalyse innovation by bringing together organisations facing training/learning challenges and potential solution providers, or teams of solution providers.

In his talk, Using Google Classroom and Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as a learning environment to deliver blended learning for a large cohort of students, Yik Sheng Lee reported on a Malaysian action research project involving a study of teachers’ use of Google Classroom and Apps. Despite teachers’ intentions, it was found that the technology was being used overwhelmingly for content delivery rather than to facilitate student collaboration. Drawing on Garrison & Anderson’s Community of Inquiry (CoI) model for online learning, Lee indicated that the affordances of the learning environment – to foster cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence – were thus not being fully utilised, with the current focus being on cognitive presence and students learning individually. This led to two types of interventions: more training, and sharing of teachers’ experiences. This has in turn led to greater adoption of the technology, and the next stage of the research will focus on whether the teachers are using the environment more fully and promoting interactivity.

In her talk, Self-paced learning through co-construction in MOOCs, Betty Hui from CUHK suggested that MOOCs offer a different learning opportunity from traditional classroom learning, with students choosing educators and what courses to take. MOOCs offer flexibility of learning in both self-paced and weekly content. Learning no longer happens in a set or individual context. The possibility for learning in tandem with other learners around the globe is unprecedented. There can be a real opportunity for co-constructing meaning through interactions with global peers.

In his plenary, Developing MOOC-enabled flipped learning courses, Jin-Hyouk Im from UNIST in South Korea suggested that to deal with falling income but higher demands in education, MOOCs and flipped learning are possible strategies worth adopting. He went on to discuss the nature of MOOCs (see figure below). One of the possible limitations of MOOCs is that students may learn passively; the pros include automation and instant feedback. MOOCs can also be used as SPOCs (small private online courses) for one class at a time; this would generally be a paid model, like paying for a textbook.

IMG_1198

Nature of MOOCs (Jin-Hyouk Im, 2016)

Traditionally, we have handled the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in class, and the higher levels in after-class activities; but flipped learning allows us to reverse this. Indeed, MOOCs could be used for the lower levels, and flipped learning for the higher levels, with the highest levels being addressed in class as part of an overall flipped approach; this is a kind of MOOC-enabled flipped learning. He gave the example of the Residential MITx programme as a way of realising this. A partly MOOC-based teaching approach can also offer students the advantage of being able to take some components of their courses from a range of international institutions.

In his presentation,  An analysis model and framework design for a MOOC platform, Nien-Lin Hsueh from Feng Chia University, Taiwan, spoke about the information that an instructor can gain from learning analytics regarding learners’ engagement, where difficulties have arisen, and learners’ performance. Researchers, for their part, can learn about behaviour in MOOCs, what is good video design, and behaviour vs performance. He concluded by emphasising the importance of a goal-driven approach to analysis, and a flexible architecture to tailor the analysis. However, data analysis alone, he said, is not enough.

In his talk, Using xAPI and learning analytics in education, Kin Chew Lim from SIM University, Singapore, spoke about the difficulties of the LMS-centric model: the LMS must always be connected to the internet; it can’t consolidate learning from different devices and social media; the teacher is still the knowledge dispenser and content organiser; the content is mostly text-based and linear; and the widely used multiple-choice questions always have single answers. He asked how, when students use many different types of devices and apps – from mobile devices to AR apps – it is possible to capture their learning.

xAPI has been developed to deal with this; the x stands for ‘experience’. SCORM, which is about packaging interoperable content and linking it into an LMS, is now 15 years old. People these days communicate and collaborate more with mobile devices, but they do not necessarily connect their devices to the internet 24 hours a day. People learn differently through texting, desktop learning, iPads or Android phones. Rustici Software was commissioned to come up with a new e-learning platform; this is xAPI, also commonly referred to as Tin Can API. It is a set of open specifications to track learning experiences, and is still evolving. It is commonly regarded as the next generation after SCORM. xAPI comes down to a noun-verb-object statement, e.g., ‘I watch a video on YouTube’, or ‘I practise yoga’, which can capture a learning experience. It uses JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) to specify the API statements. These records go into an LRS, or Learning Record Store; whether you play a game, do a simulation, write a blog, or watch a YouTube video, this can all be stored in the LRS.

In his plenary, Flipped class and xAPI learning data analysis, Lijie Chin from the Chinese e-Learning Association of Taiwan showed how xAPI has been used in the Taiwanese context. He emphasised the importance of problem-solving approaches and creativity. He spoke about using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy in the context of a flipped approach in such a way as to change the emphasis of learning in the classroom (see figure below).

Bloom's Taxonomy (Lijie Chin, 2016)

Bloom’s Taxonomy (Lijie Chin, 2016)

He then went on to discuss the value of gathering big data from students’ online learning experiences. He outlined the Taipei CooC-Cloud (Taipei CooC-Learning) system, which allows students to use multiple kinds of hardware to access software from diverse companies, all of which conforms to the same technological standard (xAPI) so that students’ learning data can be captured and analysed in a multi-platform database. Insights can be drawn together from all of a student’s learning activities, ranging from their actions in a MOOC to their interactions with an e-book.

Teachers can better understand students’ learning behaviour, allowing them to better support students and modify their teaching as appropriate. Students can also access their own records to gain insight into their learning strengths and weaknesses. More insight is thus available into students’ learning processes, not just the final results. He demonstrated some of the wide range of visualisations of student learning which are available. Students will be able to develop a cloud résumé that they can take away with them at the end of their studies.

In his keynote on Gamification for education, Ping-Cheng (Benson) Yeh from the National Taiwan University spoke about the value of gamification, which should have elements of competition, peer acknowledgement, and smart rules. He gave the example of a probability course where, rather than setting problems for the students, he had students create problems for each other; this meant the students had to understand the content well, and they were able to set complex, creative problems for each other. Students were highly engaged in setting and solving these problems. Gamification, he suggested, pushes students to their limit.

He went on to explain about a second gaming approach he developed, PaGamO, on the Coursera MOOC platform. Students had to complete problems in order to occupy land in a gaming environment, and could purchase monsters from a store to help safeguard the land they had taken over. A worldwide ranking board encouraged students to remain engaged in the game. It was found that there was a high correlation between students’ PaGamO scores and their Coursera grades. When surveyed, students agreed that they could now finish more challenging tasks. PaGamO is currently being used for K12 students in all subjects, for corporate training, and in higher education courses. A variation was also developed for students who, instead of engaging in competition, prefer to develop the land they have occupied in the game.

When it comes to flipped teaching, he suggested it is naïve to simply ask students to start watching lecture videos at home without preparation for this learning style. It is better to have them watch videos together in class to get them used to this kind of approach. When students are asked to watch videos at home, one possibility is to have a poll, for example on Facebook, so students can see that others are watching the videos; another possibility is to have a chat group on WeChat or a similar app where students can post messages as they finish watching the videos. It was found that this peer-to-peer approach increased the percentage of students viewing videos from around 60% to 90%. Those students who have not watched a video can be asked to watch the video at the back of the face-to-face class, while other students participate in the follow-up activities. With the majority of students carrying out these in-class activities, it becomes easy for the teacher to identify learning problems in the group.

MOOCs and gamification, he concluded, are here to stay. Gamification will soon be a must-have for education, and students may find it difficult to concentrate on anything that doesn’t have gaming elements. His ideas are outlined in his book Teach for the Future.

In his presentation, Gamified pedagogy: Examining how gamified educational apps coupled with effective pedagogy support learning, Ronnie Shroff talked about the importance of designing gaming apps in such a way that students can engage with them in a state of flow. Instructional design is important here: gamification should not be an excuse for simplistic learning designs. Points, levels, rewards, leaderboards, quests and customisation are good gamification elements to include. Feedback, including through elements like points and leaderboards, is also critical, and good game design builds in freedom to fail along the way.

In his bilingual presentation on the final day, Smarter education in China: Theoretical efforts and pedagogical practices, Zhiting Zhu from East China Normal University began by outlining international developments in smart learning environments in South Korea, Australia, and around the world. He went on to say that the Chinese translation of ‘smart’ is close to the idea of ‘wisdom’. He indicated that according to Confucius, wisdom can be gained in three ways: reflection (the noblest), imitation (the easiest), and experience (the bitterest). Zhu then gave his own definition of smarter education, which he said involves constructing technology-infused environments and creating a finer ecology of pedagogies, so that higher achievements of teaching, better experiences of learning, and personalised learning services can be enabled. Students should emerge with greater wisdom, including a better value orientation, higher thinking quality, stronger doing ability, and deeper potential for creativity. By contrast, ‘stupid education’ involves: not tailoring teaching strategies individually, solely emphasising book-based knowledge, severing history and culture instead of seeing them as a bridge connecting the past with the future, and countenancing higher costs but lower performance in developing educational informatisation in schools.

We need a technologically enabled smart environment combined with smarter pedagogy to lead to smarter talents. He suggested that the move we have seen from e-learning to m-learning to u-learning needs to proceed now to s-learning (‘smart learning’). He spoke about the importance of students having personal online learning spaces, and the role learning analytics might play in these, and he suggested that flipped classrooms can be a trigger for class-based smart learning. In smart classrooms, it should be possible to provide students with precise feedback based on their learning performance. He mentioned a range of ongoing initiatives, from multimodal e-books to physical makerspaces, and showed examples of school-based projects, from problem-based learning approaches to students acting as micro-learning designers.

Challenges include the need for more research on big data; teacher competency requirements; and the need for systemic changes and innovations to build smart schools. Smart education needs to promote whole person development.

eLFA Banner, Shanghai, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

eLFA Banner, Shanghai, China. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2016. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Participants would certainly have come away from this conference with a clear sense of key directions of development in contemporary educational technologies, notably including MOOCs, xAPI-enabled learning analytics drawing together insights from students’ learning on multiple devices and platforms, and the growing role of gamification. It will be interesting to see how these themes have developed further when the conference reconvenes in Hong Kong in 2017.

Centre of the mobile world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

followed by three agendas for mobile learning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

MobiLearnAsia Conference
Singapore
24-26 October, 2012

[See also Day 2 blog post]

The inaugural MobiLearnAsia Conference in Singapore has brought a much-needed regional focus to the emerging field of mobile learning. As the global phone count goes up (see image below), m-learning will become an ever more important strand of education. This conference drew together some of the world’s foremost experts in the area and showcased many local and regional initiatives. In fact, because of the richness of the content, I’ve divided this blog post into Day 1 and Day 2. The third day was devoted to full-day workshops.

Screenshot of Phone Count tally, 25 October 2012 (http://phonecount.com)

In his opening keynote, Mobile Learning: Past, Present & Future, Gary Woodill noted that there are different histories that underpin mobile learning. Learning before classrooms was mobile and social, and people learned by watching and talking to others. The printing press allowed standardisation, which helped foster the rise of modern classrooms. In the 1770s in Prussia many modern schooling concepts were developed: the idea of sitting at desks; putting up your hand for questions; recess and detention. Students were immobilised behind desks.

Mobile learning restores the idea of being in context while you’re learning.  There is a long tradition of learning without classrooms, on field trips, excursions, in apprenticeship situations. Mobile learning taps into this tradition.

One of the first school level mobile projects was the Wireless Coyote Project, run by Apple in 1991. In 1998, the HANDLeR project was run at the University of Birmingham by Mike Sharples. Clark Quinn defined mobile learning in an article in LiNE Zine in 2000, and then a flurry of mobile learning articles followed. Initially people saw mobile learning as an extension of e-learning, but now the focus has changed to the learner being mobile. The first mLearn conference was held at the University of Birmingham in 2002. IAMLearn was launched in 2007.

Mobile learning, Woodill argued, is an ecosystem consisting of devices, networks, and so on.  We are just at the start of Stage 2 in the scheme below:

  • Stage 1 – New technology applied to old problems (including coursebook & textbook delivery online, and use of LMSs, which are an example of a classroom metaphor that has not left us yet)
  • Stage 2 – Variations and mashups – struggle for ‘dominant design’
  • Stage 3 – New uses, new improved technologies

Key affordances of mobile technologies include:

  • Mobility
  • Ubiquity
  • Accessibility
  • Connectivity
  • Context sensitivity
  • Individuality
  • plus more

New uses of mobile technologies, which come under Stage 3, include:

  1. Social networking (e.g., ordinary users of the net spreading news before journalists report  it; or users of InstantMe, the mobile version of PatientsLikeMe; there is a real sense of community and emotional connectedness)
  2. Data Collection (e.g., citizen science such as on a mobile app like HealthMap)
  3. Live Trend Tracking (e.g., improved responses to disasters and outbreaks, or data on traffic jams, often provided automatically by phones without user input)
  4. Just-in-Time Information (e.g., the Baby helpline on 511411 in the USA; QR codes and Google Goggles also fit in here)
  5. Augmented Reality (e.g., see the Medical training Augmented Reality video)
  6. Mobile Games (e.g., the How Healthy is Your Food? app)
  7. Location-Based Apps (e.g., the WikiMe app)
  8. Storytelling (can create records and put them together in specific ways)
  9. Lifecasting (allows you to learn by revisiting experiences at a later date)
  10. Performance Support (e.g., on-the-job support, medical support for post-operative patients – this is a trend towards DIY health)
  11. External Interactivity (e.g., the BBC Bird Flu billboard in New York, where the public could text in responses)
  12. Haptics (e.g., the hug shirt or the kiss phone)
  13. Self-Tracking (e.g., tracking your own exercise, heart rate, etc; see The Virtual Self by Nora Young; there is also a trend towards self-tracking of informal learning: for example using Tin Can API, an extension of SCORM, or an app like Tappestry)
  14. Co-ordination (e.g., for emergency services; ‘vote mobs’)
  15. Collaboration
  16. Collective Behaviour (as seen in the Arab Spring)

Woodill’s predictions for the near future (around 5 years) include the following:

  • Mobile becomes ubiquitous (‘MobiComp’) (as we move from mobile learning to context-aware u-learning, using sensor technologies, mobile devices, and wireless communications)
  • New mobile interfaces arrive (such as contact lenses which measure health from fluid in the eyes)
  • Mobile devices become embodied (see: Mobile Interface Theory by Jason Farman, e.g., on the use of brainwaves to control technology)
  • Mobile learning goes 3D
  • A new gesture control language (including ‘surface computing’,  where there are projections onto your hand or body)
  • Sensors become integrated (see: Body Sensor Networks edited by Guang-Zhong Yang)
  • Device shape shifting (see: The Shape-Shifting Future of the Mobile Phone by Fabian Hemmert on TED)

In summary, before classrooms, learning was social, contextual and mobile, but classroom learning immobilised learning. Web 2.0 led to networked social learning. Mobile devices have now led to mobile learning. Woodill suggested that using mobile devices only in the classroom is like only using your car radio while parked in the garage.

We’re already beginning to move beyond mobile learning. Education and training have become mobile, networked, cloud based, curated, open, social, informal, location-based, shared, contextual, ubiquitous, peer generated, learner generated, filtered, collaborative, gamified, and personalised.  What will we call this? It’s not just mobile. We don’t have a good metaphor for this yet.

He concluded by outlining the ongoing impact of mobile learning along the following lines:

  1. Continuous learning for all
  2. Everyone can be a learner, everyone can be a teacher
  3. Increased access for those lacking education
  4. Innovation can come from anywhere
  5. New generation of leadership in technology
  6. Organisational disruption

In their talk, Oceans of Innovation, Sir Michael Barber and Saad Rizvi gave important background and context to others’ presentations on mobile learning, as they discussed the content of their recent publication of the same name.

A thousand years ago, the centre of gravity of the global economy (measured by GDP) was in Asia, but there was a gradual shift of dominance towards Europe and America. From 1950 onwards, we saw Asian economies begin to rise again, and in the last 10 years we have seen the most dramatic shift in history towards Asia. This will continue in coming years.

There are major challenges ahead in the coming half century, which require global leadership. But there is no clear leadership at the moment.  Global leadership develops when there is innovation, which leads to economic growth, which leads to economic influence, which in turn leads to global leadership. As the centre of gravity shifts eastwards, the important leaders of coming years may well be from the Pacific region. More precisely, the future leaders will emerge from the education systems of this region. The PISA results and TIMSS results show that there are very effective education systems in the Pacific region. An average 15-year-old in Singapore is performing about 2 years ahead of an average 15-year-old in the UK or US. They even have a lead in English, though it is a second language for many.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that these students have other skills like entrepreneurial skills. In other words, is the education system as measured by PISA and TIMSS enough to generate the kind of innovation and leadership that is needed to address global issues? No – it’s a good foundation, but it’s not sufficient. Well-educated means: E ( K + T + L), i.e.,

  • E [Ethical Knowledge]
  • K [Knowledge, i.e., Know-What & Know-How]
  • T [Thinking = all teachers helping students to think in different ways, creatively or deductively, rapidly or reflectively]
  • L [Leadership = the ability to influence those around you, to be persuasive, to be empathetic and listen, to influence decisions on all levels).

Countries like Singapore are well-placed to develop this knowledge and these skills, and develop global leadership.

They suggested that we need to rethink 45-minute back-to-back lessons. Maybe students can use mobile technologies and learn outside the classroom. The flipped classroom model provides one option. We also have to find ways of using new technologies to assess and test the new skills in new ways. Students can acquire reading, writing, maths skills at the same time as they learn new skills.

Barber and Rizvi presented an Innovation Framework for future education, arguing for whole system reform as well as systemic innovation leading to whole system revolution. With the educational changes of recent years, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ontario, Finland  (they suggested that though it is a very unique society and its lessons are difficult to replicate, what we can learn from is Finland’s recruitment of the most talented people into education) and Australia (under Julia Gillard’s reforms) are among the countries and regions  which are best placed to get this set of changes right.  Technology and mobile learning will be an important part of this. They noted that an excessive deference – as is sometimes found in some Asia-Pacific nations – can limit innovation. Students have to learn to question, to challenge, to debate. Much of the world’s innovation comes from large, diverse cities, and Singapore is well-placed in this regard.

In his presentation, Technology Enabling Education, Suan Yeo, from Google Enterprise Education, gave an overview of current trends from Google’s perspective. He noted that the second billion smartphone users are now coming online around the world (see: The Second Billion Smartphone Users by Jon Evans).  How we learned is not how our students learn.

It was the case 20 years ago that students went to school to access sophisticated equipment; but now the equipment students have at home is often more sophisticated than what is at school. The kids growing up today are going to expect technology to just work; they don’t want to think about messy operating systems, upgrades, patches and so on. Some things students of the future won’t need to learn include how to use paper maps; how to use a mouse; or how to burn CDs or DVDs. Banning new technologies in class is not an answer; students find a way around bans. Instead, we need to teach students how to use technologies, about digital citizenship, and so on. Learning analytics is a current major trend.

He made a number of points related to the growing importance of mobile learning and, in particular, Google’s emphasis on the browser as the key platform of the future:

  • Mobile has become students’ first choice for internet access.
  • Technology has to enable learning outside the classroom. Many schools are shifting away from closed classrooms and moving to an open learning model.
  • Using the OLPC program, the next generation of users can leapfrog a generation.
  • Using open technology is crucial in education – through the Khan Academy, Udacity, Gooru, Coursera and so on.
  • It is important to give everyone open access to information. Whatever the platform or operating system, the one common factor is the browser.
  • Google is starting to view the web as a learning platform. Google is betting that the web is here to stay, and so delivers many services through the web. It believes that the browser (notably its own browser, Chrome) will become the desktop of the future. This allows a unified experience as you move between different devices, e.g., desktop computer, tablet, mobile phone.
  • Google’s tools like Gmail, Google Docs, and so on, are designed to allow you to access anything from anywhere.
  • Google Docs allows people to collaborate from anywhere.
  • YouTube is Google’s second most popular service after Google Search. YouTube is now the second largest search engine in the world. There are more than 700,000 educational videos on YouTube. YouTube is also a way of connecting with other people and crowdsourcing your learning.
  • Google’s Project Glass might allow people to get rid of phones eventually with wearable technology (see Project Glass on Google+ or the Project Glass: One Day … video on YouTube)

In his talk, Scaling Up Mobile Learning, Chee-Kit Looi asked what kind of curriculum we need to make use of the affordances of mobile technologies. While it may work in one classroom with one teacher, how can we make it work for the average teacher? Many countries are going 1:1, but what is a good pedagogical model that is sustainable? And how do we bridge informal and formal learning?

There are both planned and emergent learning spaces mediated by 1:1 mobile devices; some are outside class and some are in class:

  • Type I: Planned learning in class
  • Type II: Planned learning out of class (e.g., an excursion)
  • Type III: Emergent learning out of class (e.g., students use mobile phones to capture pictures)
  • Type IV: Emergent learning in class (when students inquire about some element of the lesson)

A smartphone can be a learning hub for all these types of learning, and it can be an essential part of the lessons. In comparing primary science classes, one of which worked with mobile devices integrated into their learning, there was improvement in student scores. Having students create animated sketches can help the teacher identify misunderstandings, for example. The teacher felt it deepened the students’ thinking and improved the quality of the questions they were asking.

There are advantages of scaling up this approach:

  • The research study showed gains in subject matter, positive attitudes to subject learning, new media literacy, and good learning habits – self-directed learning
  • There is more holistic learning with mobile devices as learning hubs to support seamless learning inside and outside the classroom
  • Teachers developed constructivist practices

Strategies for scaling up include:

  • Regular sharing at the TTTs
  • Teachers practise mock lessons
  • Lesson study through video-recorded classroom sessions
  • Customising lesson plans for high, middle and low achievers

Success with mobile devices is due to these factors:

  • Curriculum integration; the devices are not just an add-on
  • Mobile devices are personal to students and they have 24/7 access
  • Intensive PD
  • Strong leadership support

In summary, a mobilised curriculum can make a difference to students’ learning (engagement, self-directed learning, and collaborative learning).  It is important to find ways of scaling it within schools and across schools.

In her presentation, Mummies, War Zones, and Pompeii: The Use of Tablet Computers in Situated and On-the-Go Learning, Terese Bird outlined three projects involving mobile technologies:

  1. Mummies: Windows tablets were used by Museum Studies Masters students (not 1:1). This involved a cleverly designed PowerPoint presentation which had the feel of an app, and included information and videos from British Museum staff. It was used to support students on museum trips. At the same time, students could make their own multimedia recordings. They had to email in their multimedia-rich reflections by 10am the next day, which led to a much richer learning experience.
  2.  War Zones: iPads were used by MSc in Security, Conflict and International Development students on a 1:1 basis. The iPads contained a tailored app, SCID, designed by KuKuApps of Leicester, including key learning resources like e-books and OERs which could be accessed even without an internet connection. Many of the students were located in conflict zones and could not always access the internet.
  3.  Pompeii : archaeology researchers in Pompeii used iPads to superimpose archaeological data on photos. This supported note-taking, and data was synchronised wirelessly with a central database.

Thus, on Day 1 of the conference, a wide range of devices and platforms was presented, with presentations cohering around the value of mobile learning both in enhancing the classroom and in fostering contextual learning outside the classroom.

New media, new spaces

1st ICODEL Conference
Manila, Philippines
23-24 February, 2012

The first International Conference on Open and Distance E-learning (ICODEL), was held at the Century Park Hotel in Manila from 23-24 February 2012, with the pre-conference workshops having taken place on 22 February. It was great to be back in the Philippines only months after the GloCALL Conference was held here in October last year – a sign, it seems, of increased interest in the field of e-learning in this country.

In her opening plenary, entitled The State of the Art in Open and Distance E-learning, Denise Kirkpatrick spoke about the 2012 Horizon Report, mentioning currently influential technologies such as mobile computing, electronic books, and Open Education Resources, and indicating the future potential of augmented reality, game-based learning, learning analytics, and gesture-based computing. Major contemporary challenges, she suggested, include:

  • Digital literacies
  • Metrics of evaluation for new forms of publishing
  • New forms of education and competition (universities’ roles are changing in view of competition from other institutions, and in face of the need to prepare students for lives in an increasingly complex world)
  • Keeping up

Open and Distance Learning, she suggested, must be about:

  • Connectedness
  • Community
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Convenience
  • Connections

Today’s students are mobile and connected socially and technologically.  Social media platforms are becoming an important part of learners’ lives and we need to think about how we can leverage them in the service of education.

Schools and universities, she argued, need to be learner-centric digital environments. There should be a focus on problem-solving and helping students to think creatively.  Collaborative learning is important, involving students in formal learning in teams and projects, informal learning with buddies and mentors, and multiple learning environments. Collaboration is also important for educators, who are increasingly engaging in interdisciplinary and cross faculty learning, and internationally distributed research.

She gave examples of current uses of augmented reality, e-books, virtual worlds like Second Life, and social networking sites like Facebook. There can be a link, she observed, between social networking sites and open educational resources, with the latter becoming much more powerful when we focus on the social interaction around them. It’s important to enhance the power of the social and investigate ways of learning together.

Learning analytics is an area that will grow quickly, she predicted, as a way of increasing the quality of student learning and achievement, thanks to interventions derived from looking at the learning analytics. This will also allow us to personalise learning materials to a greater extent, and help students take control of their learning by allowing them to visualise their own learning.

In short, she suggested, we are in a period of major change and growth in the provision of education.

In his talk, Integrating Media and Information Literacy in Open and Distance E-learning, Jose Algaran described the importance of providing guidelines to students on the use and value of materials in multiple media and on multiple platforms. Media and information literacy competencies are an important indicator of students’ readiness to take courses online, and should also inform instructional design. Given that the media and the internet are the key sources of information in the contemporary world, media and information literacy are absolutely crucial skills and are essential to enabling lifelong learning.

In his talk, An International Survey on Media Use for Learning, Michael Grosch opened with a reminder that books are in fact a form of media. Text, he suggested, will still be the most essential medium for learning in the future, even if it is presented in electronic formats.

He went on to say that learners don’t accept all media equally, and that the media offered by teachers are often rejected by learners. External, self-searched and web 2.0 media are becoming more and more important for learning.

Inspired by the ECAR surveys, he developed his own survey instrument to get an overview of students’ use of 48 different media services (print, online, web 2.0, e-learning). Surveys were conducted at about 15 universities, predominantly in Germany and Thailand. Wikipedia, Google and email, he found, were the three most used media services by students, with some commonly discussed web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis and Twitter being ranked relatively low. Teachers, he found, read more books than students, while they use social media on a very low level.

He concluded that students use a broad variety of media for learning, but this is self-controlled, with students making up their own minds about which media to use, rather than doing what teachers tell them to do. Text media, he reiterated, play a key role in the learning environment, with electronic texts set to become very important in the future. Interestingly, his data suggest that the most intense media users may also be the better students.

In his talk, Open-source and Free Software for In-class Online Surveys and Data Analysis, Enrique Frio spoke about the value of conducting surveys online, recommending the use of free software such as Kwiksurveys and PSPP (a free alternative to the proprietary SPSS). This cuts down enormously on many of the manual aspects of survey writing, data collection, and data analysis and display.

The second plenary involved three speakers addressing the topic of Issues, Challenges, Reforms and Solutions in Open and Distance E-learning. The first speaker, Tian Belawati, Rector of Universitas Terbuka, Indonesia, spoke about the role of the Universitas Terbuka (Open University) in bringing opportunities for equal access to higher education to the whole of Indonesia. Its student base shows that it is having success in “reaching the un-reached”. Because of the lack of penetration of the internet in parts of the country, the UT works through 37 regional centres. The UT is currently in the process of developing tablet-based materials, and, given a mobile phone penetration of around 73% in Indonesia, it is exploring the use of mobile phones in education, including the use of personalised SMS messaging.

The second speaker, Grace Javier Alfonso, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University, talked about the different domains of distance learning (where teachers and students are physically separated), open learning (which focuses on access for all), and ODL, or open and distance learning (which fuses both concepts). She indicated that e-learning (teaching with new technologies) shares common ground with ODL, but is not the same, since much ODL delivery worldwide still makes little use of new technologies. ODEL, or open and distance e-learning, fuses all three notions.

ODL has been affected by a number of factors in recent years:

  • Transnational education (possibly leading to a need for international accreditation)
  • Quality assurance (which does not yet exist for ODL in the same way as face-to-face education)
  • Digitization of distance education (which is quite varied across institutions)
  • Changing profile of students (with a greater range of students wanting to update their qualifications)
  • Open Educational Resources (with more and more institutions openly sharing their resources at no cost)

The University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) was established in 1995 as the fifth component institution of the University of the Philippines (UP), with the aim of opening up education to all those who are unable to access it in traditional ways. It is currently exploring ways of integrating ODL with e-learning. Because its inception coincided with the inception of the internet in the Philippines, the UPOU did not invest very much in older ODL infrastructure. The rapid increase in internet usage in the Philippines bodes well for e-learning.

ODEL, she concluded, is a world view and an expression of values.  It is a construction of how DL, OL, and EL are enacted in the context of the ‘Universitas’.  The interweaving of these components can bring about social transformation, but there are some issues here:

  • There is a need for a plurality of ideas, which should come from the developing as well as the developed world.
  • There is a need for academics to disseminate knowledge in multimedia formats to reach audiences more familiar with the grammars of audio-visual language.
  • There is a need to recognise the non-linearity of the medium, with hypermedia allowing for the expansion of the democratic space.
  • There is a need to instil the ‘Universitas’ ethos, which is traditionally propagated in physical spaces, in the electronic environment, and to consider how, for example, social networking services can function as scholarly platforms.
  • There is a need to consider the digital divide to avoid the marginalization of the disadvantaged, perhaps by combining EL with more traditional ODL technologies (like television and radio).

The third speaker, Eing-Ming Wu, President of the Open University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, argued that we are living in the time of the city defining the nation, advancing the state, and enriching the citizens. Lifelong learning, he suggested, enables urban life.  The city should become the most resourceful lifelong learning platform, and public schools (at all levels) should become the most accessible lifelong learning centres. Learning, he suggested, enables a better quality of “living, loving and earning”. Drawing on the EU definition of a learning city, he suggested it should promote “city prosperity”, “society security” and “individual fulfilment”.

The Kaohsiung Open University is the only Taiwanese open university founded by a city. Its key characteristics are that the learning it provides is affordable, accessible, achievable and amplifying. The city, he said, becomes the campus of the university – and the university becomes the city’s universe.

Although I had to leave the conference early to get to the CamTESOL Conference in Cambodia, it was clear from the first day that there are many interesting developments occurring in ODEL, both in the Philippines and the wider region. No doubt there will be many future conferences expanding on the themes broached in the 1st ICODEL Conference in Manila.

Visions of the future

ICELF11: The International Conference on E-learning Futures
Auckland, New Zealand
30 November – 1 December, 2011

The key themes to emerge from the inaugural International Conference on E-learning Futures at Unitec in Auckland, New Zealand, were linked to mobile technologies – particularly smart, context-aware tools – and the associated personalisation of learning.

Trends in Technology & Education

In his opening keynote, Learning generations: Looking forwards, looking back, Steve Wheeler quoted Arthur C. Clarke’s comment that: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. New technologies are appearing everywhere, he observed, but educators don’t know how to use them; we still see them as magic. Technology won’t impress students, he went on to say, but good pedagogy and inspiration will.  Education is so important that if we get it wrong, we leave a very poor legacy for coming generations.  We need to find ways to use technology appropriately to support pedagogy, but there are many vested interests resisting it.

One issue is that: “For the first time we are preparing learners for a future we cannot clearly describe” (David Warlick). Declarative knowledge is becoming less important than procedural knowledge; it’s less about knowing that, than knowing how. New literacies are therefore important; they go much deeper than skills, because they allow real engagement. Connectivism, he suggested, is a useful approach: students need to learn how to connect with others as they build their PLNs.

Wheeler went on to list key characteristics of the future of education as follows:

  • Open: we will have to share more.
  • Social: people are already sharing. (Quadblogging is a good example of the application of this idea in education.)
  • Personal: homogenised learning is no longer effective, as we move out of the industrial age. (A lot of past educational technologies were teacher-centric, but contemporary technologies are more personalised.)
  • Augmented: Augmented reality is becoming more important, enhancing what we see through the naked eye. Context-awareness is key. It’s about “web meets world” (Tim O’Reilly & John Battelle).
  • Non-touch:  gesture-based technologies will become more central.

In his presentation The new new things: Emerging trends in technology and education, Derek Wenmoth outlined key trends towards:

  • mobility/portability
  • miniaturisation
  • convergence of technologies into a single device
  • personalisation
  • openness (the OER University is an example of this)
  • gamification
  • data visualisation
  • contextualisation/location-awareness

These will impact dramatically on our behaviour as information gatherers and learners. We will need to consider how ‘desire pathways’ will take shape, and how we might use services like Yahoo Pipes and ifttt to personalise our information consumption.  Location is now an important characteristic of you as a learner – we see this, for example, with Twitter, iPad apps, or Al Gore’s “Our Choice” app. In the follow-up questions, Wenmoth quoted Neil Postman’s comment: “Technological change is not additive; it is ecological.”

In his IBM keynote, Education for a smarter nation: Changing business priorities and trends in education, Dougal Watt discussed five signposts for the future:

  • technology immersion
  • personalised learning paths
  • knowledge skills
  • global integration
  • economic alignment

These trends, he argued, form an educational continuum, or single view of learning, skills development, and workforce training.  This has implications for the traditional boundaries between academic segments, educational providers, and economic development initiatives.

In her keynote, Digital ecosystems: mobile, portable, embedded and conventional devices, Judy Kay outlined emerging technologies with educational applications, including:

  • surface computing: multi-user touch-sensitive tabletops
  • data mining/visualisation: using digital footprints to improve learning through data visualisation, e.g., in an activity radar system which shows at a glance the amount of work done by students on a wiki

This keynote, which rounded off the conference, provided a snapshot of current and future trends in educational technology, leaving delegates a lot to think about.

In her keynote, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme outlined current mobile learning projects at the Open University, UK, before going on to talk about self-directed learning, which she argued is a natural approach to lifelong learning. She reported on the results of survey and interview-based studies which aimed to determine emerging trends in the use of mobile technologies in education, and to find out what learners’ wishes are with respect to mobile learning.

She suggested that the following areas need strengthening, specifically in foreign language curricula:

  • connection with learners by supporting real needs and performance in situ
  • tools and strategies for navigating and exploiting the new (increasingly mobile) ecology of digital learning resources and networks of support
  • personal management of language learning across place and time

Next generation designs, she suggested, should take into account time, place, and activity.  She also noted that language use will change; “Find coffee near me” is a perfectly logical statement to a personal assistant like Apple’s Siri, though we wouldn’t say this to a friend. She concluded that:

  • we need ongoing research with learners, as mobile practices and technologies evolve
  • language curricula will be increasingly intertwined with ways to learn and interact with technology
  • the design of learning activities will need to recognise learners’ emerging patterns and preferences regarding:
    • different types of travel
    • short periods of time
    • individual and social learning
    • ways to combine formal and informal learning

In their talk, Making the ‘case’ for the iPad, James Oldfield and Dawn Duncan described a business programme and a law programme in which students were given iPads. Students used these for a variety of pedagogically traditional activities but also for creative and collaborative web-based activities, including tasks on blogging and wiki platforms. The more creative apps used by students included iMovie, Keynote and Prezi. Collaborative tools included Dropbox, Google Docs, Mindmeister, Posterous, Twitter and WordPress. Further details of this work with iPads can be found at http://ipadnzeducation.wordpress.com/.

Language Teaching & Learning

My own paper, Tailoring language learning to a world of screens, sought to build a bridge between the broader field of educational technology and the more specific field of CALL. It outlined 4 key trends associated with the shift towards a world of screens:

  • multimedia
  • networking
  • mobility
  • customisation

It then went on to examine the implications of each of these trends for language teaching and learning. A more detailed summary and links are available.

In her presentation, A distinctive blend: Seamless integration of e-learning tools with classroom delivery in a blended learning oral skills language course, Katherine Danaher talked about the importance of redesigning a course to incorporate new technologies, rather than pasting new technologies over the top of an existing design. In the redesign process, it’s important to:

  • Know your pedagogy
  • Know your learning outcomes
  • Know your e-learning  tools (amongst other things, declutter your course, and start small but think ahead to avoid getting painted into a corner later)
  • Know the practicalities and pitfalls; issues to consider include:
    • teacher and learner training
    • teacher (and student) workload
    • too much content (it may be better to design only 70% of a course and leave the rest as whitespace, so you can work with what students bring to the course)
    • failure to integrate successfully
    • seduction by the wow factor

It’s valuable to remember that curriculum design is an iterative process; courses don’t have to be fully designed from the start, but will grow and morph over time. To integrate new technologies into a blended course, it’s essential to refer to the online tools regularly in class; to maintain a strong online presence; and to develop scaffolded activities that include both face-to-face and online components.

Danaher finished by quoting Harasim et al (2007): “Online you get to know your students’ minds, not just their faces.”

In her talk, Task implementation in CMC: How does it influence language learning opportunities?, Rebecca Adams focused on the introduction of SCMC (synchronous CMC) into a language course.  Research suggests that synchronous text chat can:

  • encourage meaning negotiation
  • produce a focus on form
  • enhance accuracy
  • foster active learning
  • develop oral communicative competence (which can transfer to face-to-face contexts)

In the project on which she reported, it was found that reducing a task’s cognitive demands on students freed up cognitive space for them to focus more on grammar and form.  More complex tasks resulted in less focus on form. Not only does synchronous chat have language learning benefits, but using it in class helps prepare students for its use in real-world contexts.

So all in all …

Taken as an ensemble, the keynotes and papers at this conference distilled a clear sense of the emerging trends to watch over coming years. While predicting the future is never a safe bet, on current indications it will be all about mobility and personalisation. No doubt the next ICELF conference will give us a chance to see how these trends have progressed …

The global meets the local – again/still!

GloCALL 2011: Globalization and Localization in Computer-Assisted Language Learning
Manila, Philippines
27-29 October, 2011

As always, this GloCALL Conference focused on the intersection of the global and the local in teaching language(s).

Technology and language

A number of talks focused on the use of technology in teaching language, with a heavy emphasis – as is usual these days – on web 2.0 tools.

In the talk The use of wikis in collaborative learning, Long Nguyen and Hoa Phan argued there is a continuum between product-oriented and process-oriented CMC, with blogs and wikis fitting around the middle of the spectrum. They cited the work of Lee (2010), who  stated that wikis increase satisfaction and motivation, as well as fostering creativity and encouraging attention to form, but noted that students may feel insecure and uncomfortable in correcting each other’s work.  They also referred to Arnold, Ducate and Kost (2009), who concluded that wikis are effective educational tools, foster collaborative writing and revision behaviours, solve equal contribution issues, and combine the writing process and final product.

They reported on a Vietnamese study where students were asked to do a peer review of each other’s writing, one group using paper, and one using a wiki.  It was found that on average students wrote more than double the number of words on the wiki, and made more than double the number of comments.  The paper group focused more exclusively on the task, but the number of task-related comments by the wiki group was much higher overall.  Students’ feedback on the wiki peer editing process was generally positive, but they noted that it could be fatiguing and inconvenient to read on the screen and to have to go to an internet café for access.

In her talk A new learning space between the course forum and the ‘walls’ of Facebook: A case study of a community of learners of Italian, Marie-Noëlle Lamy reported on a group of learners of Italian at the OU, who created a Facebook group as a way of keeping in touch and continuing to practise language between courses.  Their public Facebook group was observed over a period of 4 months, with a particular focus on the 9 participants who made use of both the institutional Moodle forum set up for the course as well as the Facebook group. Students generally used the target language a far greater proportion of the time on Facebook.

Their posts were analysed using Selwyn’s 2009 ‘Faceworking’ method for analysing text on Facebook, and were found to fall into 6 main categories (e.g., reflections on the course, exchange of practical information, use of humour, etc).  Most categories of communication appeared on both the institutional forum and Facebook, though there was a tendency to exchange more general cultural information on Facebook.

Lamy hypothesised that students might be more wary of publishing in the target language on the institutional forum because they felt monitored by the institution there (though the Facebook group was in fact open to the public). She also wondered whether the anti-/pro-FB polarisation which occurred when the FB group was first set up might have promoted more group solidarity amongst those in the FB group, in turn encouraging risk-taking in the target language. The data are still being investigated as part of an ongoing study.

In my own talk, Language learning in a world of screens:  Customising online spaces, I identified 4 key trends linked to the world of screens in which we now find ourselves, and examined their implications for language teaching and learning:

  • a trend towards multimedia, which allows teachers to tailor materials to students’ varying learning styles, as well as helping students enhance their own language production through judicious use of appropriate media;
  • a trend towards networking, and to the building of personal learning networks, in which there are great opportunities for language practice, especially if students are encouraged to network across linguistic and cultural boundaries;
  • a trend towards mobility of smart devices, which allows just about any real-world context to be turned into a learning environment;
  • a macro-trend towards customisation, which builds on the first three trends.

In their talk Digital natives or mobile natives?, Peter Gobel and Makimi Kano summarised the argument of Prensky, Tapscott, and others that there is a distinct generation of ‘digital natives’, or a ‘net generation’. They noted that numerous studies dispute the existence of such a homogenous generation.

Japan is a highly wired society, with the highest mobile phone ownership in the world.  Gobel and Kano conducted a survey of the technology use of Japanese students to find out to what extent they were in fact ‘digital natives’.  Most described their level of technological competence as ‘fair’, suggesting they were not overly confident about their skills.  Most used their phone rather than a computer to access the internet, and it was found that over half preferred to store pictures on their phones rather than computers, while many others simply stored them on their digital cameras – suggesting the photos never leave the devices on which they were taken, and that students are generally not manipulating digital media at all.  Many students made extensive use of Mixi, Google, Yahoo and YouTube, but there was little awareness of Facebook (though this has changed a little due to the recent movie), MySpace, Flickr and Twitter, or of Moviemaker, iMovie or even GoogleDocs.

Overall, the data collected support Helsper & Enyon’s (2010) conclusion that the Prensky model  is flawed, which suggests that we do in fact need to rethink digital native assumptions.  Indeed, suggested Gobel and Kano, many of today’s learners, at least in Japan, might seen as ‘mobile natives’, because of the extensive use they make of mobile phones. As pointed out during the follow-up questions, phones are actually simpler tools to use as they don’t require or offer the more complex understandings that come with operating a computer.

In her plenary, Technological advances towards enhancement of language learning, Rachel Roxas argued that language teachers should adapt to the technological and multimedia orientation of their students. She outlined recent advances in automated natural language processing software, including Popsicle, MesCH, and Picture Books, highlighting its value for the language learning of the younger generation. There is a need, she suggested, to integrate new technologies into curricula and course materials, as well as to train in-service teachers in particular.

In her plenary, Challenges of establishing virtual communities of practice for teacher professional development in a variety of contexts, Siew Ming Thang spoke about the value of CoPs (communities of practice) for teacher PD. Virtual CoPs have the advantage of not being bound by time and space. She listed the following factors which influence the success of a VCoP:

  • There should be a common goal or purpose;
  • There must be enough time;
  • Ideally, it should be blended with face-to-face interaction;
  • A traditional national or organisational culture may inhibit the flow of knowledge;
  • Valuable information and knowledge must be provided (tacit knowledge, practical experience, hands on solutions – Hinkel 2003);
  • Technology must be readily available.

She reported on a case study where limitations on the success of a VCoP were due to:

  • Lack of trust and rapport (with other CoP members);
  • Concern with suitability;
  • Concern with correctness;
  • Lack of time (especially if the PD does not seem of real value);
  • Problems with technology;
  • Lack of trust (fear of monitoring by managers & institutions).

Amongst the challenges which need to be addressed, she mentioned that there is a conflict between a designed and an emergent community – communities typically form naturally, but some degree of facilitation is vital in a CoP.  She noted, too, that because online communication is mostly text-based, the lack of paralinguistic cues can make it more difficult to build trust between community members. She suggested, finally, that teachers must be willing to engage in change, and that it is important for them to be fully involved in this process.

Technology and culture

In her plenary, Developing intercultural communicative competence through online exchanges: Focus on Asian and Pacific languages, Dorothy Chun explained the adaptations of the Cultura model for exchanges involving Asian and Pacific languages.  The original Cultura project involved French and US students comparing word associations in an online forum. The same principle has now been applied in projects involving languages like Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Samoan.  In many cases it was found that students did become very reflective about their own and other cultures. However, there are numerous challenges in such projects.  Sometimes, for example, there may be a mismatch between teachers’ pedagogical goals and students’ desire to socialise and make new friends. Large groups may be difficult to manage, and factors like low reading comprehension levels may limit benefits for some.  It can be useful to include audio-visual materials as stimuli for discussion, perhaps particularly among students of high school age.

In summary, Chun listed the following commonalities between the three exchange projects she had described:

  • Students found the experience enjoyable and were motivated to continue studying the L2.
  • Students felt part of a larger language learning community beyond their classrooms.
  • Students were the experts in their own culture, and the multiplicity of voices and knowledge surpassed what a teacher could provide.
  • Students gained new knowledge and understandings.
  • Students were able to discover culture through exploration, moving beyond study into intercultural communication.
  • Students and teachers believed that making the exchange a more integral part of the curriculum would be desirable.

She concluded that the exchanges were authentic (and invaluable) intercultural learning experiences. Teachers were no longer the cultural authorities, but their role was to facilitate communication, promote reflection, and follow up on misunderstandings.  She added that careful planning is necessary to anticipate and manage technological issues, institutional issues, linguistic proficiency discrepancies between groups, comparable participation between groups, and the use of other technologies such as video-conferencing.  She suggested that we should strongly consider making a Cultura-based exchange the primary (if not sole) component of the language curriculum, with task-based interactive activities enhancing both linguistic skills and intercultural communicative competence.

In her plenary, CALL and sociocultural language learning: A reality check, Marie-Noëlle Lamy discussed reasons for the failure of online collaboration projects involving CALL tools.  She noted that early studies of the reasons for such failures focused on cultural factors. However, she went on to argue that we also need to take into account sociopolitical factors and, in particular, power relationships. She suggested that in order to empower students, there must be both explicitness and flexibility on the following three levels:

  • Learning design approach
  • Distributed learning environment
  • Institutional policy

She presented three case studies to demonstrate how the presence or absence of explicitness and flexibility on these levels can affect the degree of empowerment experienced by students.

She also noted that when cultural differences are examined in educational courses, it is not just a case of challenging expectations, but ensuring that participants have the agency to act on what they learn. This is part of the sociopolitical dimension of courses.

In his talk, Intercultural usability of language learning websites, Jeong-Bae Son argued there are at least four kinds of usability to consider in CALL websites: general usability, pedagogical usability, technical usability, and intercultural usability. He observed there has been little research done to date on the intercultural usability of such websites. User interface design of such sites should consider:

  • The source of cultural input & an effective means of interaction;
  • An interface design that facilitates user interactions;
  • Components of the user interface – metaphors, mental models, etc;
  • Cross-cultural issues in the process of website development.

He is currently working on a set of guidelines for designing intercultural language learning websites; an example website can be seen at http://ceklser.org (a Korean resource site).

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