Conceptualising mobile learning

International Mobile Learning Festival
Hong Kong
22-23 May, 2015

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

I was only able to make it to second day of the International Mobile Learning Festival in Hong Kong, hosted by Hong Kong University at the Admiralty Centre, but it was great to take part in this dynamic event.

I opened the second day with my plenary, Mobile Design: 21st Century Approaches to Learning, where I discussed the importance of teachers seeing themselves as designers of student learning experiences which are aligned with transformative pedagogies and 21st century skills, while always remembering to take their own, and their students’, technological contexts as a starting point.

In his plenary, Designing, Modeling and Constructing: New Learning Paradigms, Michael Spector suggested that learning design must always be accompanied by evaluation at every stage. He went on to say that technologies change, contexts change, interests change, but learning does not change (when it is understood as a naturally occuring process inovlving changes in what a person knows and can do). It is the best and the worst of times at the moment: there are so many technologies available, but it is challenging for learning designers. He gave a detailed example of the work of the US National Technology Leadership Coalition in using 3D printing to support Next Generation Science Standards, with some positive results. He suggested that there is a whole hierarchy of components to support learning and instruction, as seen in the image below.


Designing, Modeling and Constructing (Spector, 2015)

It is important, he noted, not to over-promise on technology. The gains due to technology since 1950 are not that great. We must keep our focus on teaching and learning, with the technology in a supporting role.

In their paper, Authentic Mobile Learning, Kevin Burden and Matthew Kearney noted that we need to interrogate what is meant by ‘authenticity’ when it comes to mobile learning. Authenticity, they suggested, may not just be about the context (which ranges from simulated to participatory), but about planning and design (whether teachers pre-define the learning experience, or give students more agency and allow the learning to be emergent) and personal relevance (whether students are detached from the learning, or engaged in the learning).

In her presentation, Flipping the MOOC Global/Local Collaboration: Understanding the Visual and Verbal Metaphors, Yilin Chen spoke about fostering 21st century skills (like creativity and visual literacy) through a flipped course based on the work of Shakespeare. For example, when studying Romeo and Juliet, the students were asked to look at manga adapations. They were also asked to create visual representations of key images in soliloquys, before considering how these could be represented creatively on the stage. Students later did Skype auditions, following which scenes were rehearsed and staged.

In his presentation, Transforming Outdoor Learning with the Use of Location-based Technology and Rapid Authoring Tool: Singapore Experience, Png Bee Hin gave an update on the work being done by LDR on augmented reality learning trails in Singapore. He outlined the growth of location-based technologies, which are expanding particularly rapidly in the Asian region. Pocket Trips is LDR’s new web-based authoring platform that can allow users to create learning trails anywhere in the world using a variety of triggers (GPS, image recognition or Bluetooth smart technology based on beacons, which now have a battery life of up to 5 years); a simulator allows users to test the app on their mobile devices without going to the actual location.

All in all, I’m beginning to sense a shift in the themes of mobile learning conferences. While there are still plenty of (necessary) case studies being reported, more and more presenters are beginning to tackle conceptual issues. It’s an exciting time, and a sign of the coming-of-age of a field, when foundational theories start to take shape. This is a shift we should keep our eyes on over the next couple of years.

Technological moves in the South

Colombo Symposium
Bogotá, Colombia
14-15 May, 2015

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Mark Pegrum, 2015. May be reused under CC BY 3.0 licence.

The Colombo Symposium in Bogotá, Colombia, brought together English language educators from across South America and further afield under the theme of ‘Challenges to Educators’ Professional Growth’. It was interesting to note the extent to which digital technologies found their way into a considerable number of papers and presentations.

In my opening keynote, entitled Mobile Language Learning: Designing for New Pedagogies, Skills and Literacies, I spoke about the need for teachers to conceive of themselves as designers of learning experiences for their students. In a mobile digital era, Mishra and Kohler’s TPACK framework provides a good base for learning design, but that design must take place within a particular social context. Thus, we must firstly ask ourselves what mobile devices our students have access to, and what affordances those devices offer for learning, before moving on to our TPACK-based learning design.

In his plenary, Unleash Your Experience: Being a 21st Century Reflective Practitioner, Micah Risher spoke of the changing expectations of new generations of learners who have had regular exposure to new technologies, as well as the changing needs of contemporary workplaces which require employees with 21st century skills.

In her presentation, A Teacher Training Blended Course in Pronunciation Pedagogy: A Case Study, Martha Ramírez described a flipped teacher training course on pronunciation with a weekly structure consisting of online preparation activities, a face-to-face tutorial, and autonomous follow-up activities; the last of these involved teachers making recordings of their own pronunciation (the learning component) and designing student activities (the teacher training component). She found that the flipped approach provided a baseline for situated learning to take place, because teachers came to face-to-face tutorials ready to put their learning into practice, and later put it into practice in their own classrooms. Working in a blended learning environment also allowed individual needs to be better addressed in a differentiated way.

In her presentation, Multi-Modal Feedback: Successfully Reinforcing Teaching Presence in the Online Environment, Carolina Rodríguez outlined the problems of online feedback, especially in the context of orally focused, interaction-based Latin cultures, including the possibility of misunderstandings in text-based feedback. In an online environment, she suggested, it is necessary to take into account flipped learning, effective practices of online learning (such as e-moderation), teaching presence, and screencasting and audio feedback. She found that screencasting and audio feedback led to students engaging better with the feedback, so that assignments became a springboard for conversation. She showed clips of her video feedback to demonstrate the role that facial expressions and voice can play in responding to students. Overall, students were more engaged in their learning, and responded well to the more personal nature of the feedback.

In her keynote, Revitalizing Your Classroom through Action Research, Anne Burns argued for a move away from top-down professional development and towards personal learning networks and action research. While not necessarily related to digital technologies, action research certainly provides an avenue for examining how digital tools can best be integrated into classroom processes. Action research is a democratising process, Anne suggested, because it puts ownership of change into the hands of the classroom practitioners who will carry it out. It is research with rather than on people, unlike much other research. Because the researcher is part of the action, learners can collaborate as co-researchers. It is highly localised and does not aim for generalisation. Finally, it can involve a range of qualitative and quantitative methods. She went on to say that teachers should share their action research where possible, because it is informative and motivating for teachers to learn about other teachers’ classroom experiences.

In his presentation, Reinventing the Teaching Profession: Dealing with Information and Communication Technology in Teacher Development Programs, Romero Ricardo suggested that changes in technology lead to changes in the world. He spoke about the changes brought about by text messaging and social media. He mentioned, and largely endorsed, key items extracted from a list of 21 things that will go obsolete in education by 2020 (based on an article in The Daily Riff on Dec. 10, 2010):

  • Language labs
  • Computers and CDs
  • Homework
  • The role of standardised tests for admission to college (replaced in part by e-portfolios)
  • Differentiated instruction as a sign of a distinguished teacher (as this will become a standard expectation)
  • Paperbacks
  • Centralised instruction
  • Organisation of educational services by grade
  • Parent-teacher face-to-face meetings (because teachers will be in constant contact with parents)
  • Paper

He went on to say that we need to move from a traditional model of education towards learner-centredness, student exploration, extended blocks of multidisciplinary instruction, active and interactive modes of instruction, collaborative/co-operative work, and teachers as guides. He suggested that when it comes to language teaching with digital technologies, we need to go beyond traditional conceptions of discourse competence to consider: Procedural competence – Socio-digital competence – Digital discourse competence – and Strategic competence. Yet at the end of the day, ICTs are just tools, that is, just a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. Teachers, he suggested, can empower students by becoming learners too, encouraging collaboration, enabling technologies, assessing students on their academic achievement and also on their effective use of ICTs, developing problem solving skills, developing media fluency, and promoting an interdisciplinary approach.

In my own workhshop in the closing session of the conference, Mobile Language Learning: Working Inside and Outside the Classroom, the participants and I workshopped several strategies for using mobile technologies to support English language teaching: using language learning apps as well as generic, productive apps; making multimedia recordings; and using QR codes to support situated learning. There was a real buzz generated in the lab as participants suggested and exchanged ideas on how to use mobile technologies in their own teaching. It seems clear to me that mobile learning is on the verge of going much more mainstream in English language education in Colombia!

All in all, it was fascinating to obtain a better sense of how mobile and other digital technologies are making inroads into education in Latin America, and to see that – as highlighted in other educational conferences worldwide – these technologies are becoming an integral part of our conversations around learning.

Building upon SAMR

Talk by Ruben Puentedura
PLC, Perth
14th September, 2012

It was great to have the opportunity to hear Ruben Puentedura speak about his SAMR model (see right) as well as a new model of technology use that builds upon his older work. Further details of his talk can be found in his slides.

He explained the need for technology models by suggesting that just because individual teachers are making big technological changes, and improving their classes, it doesn’t mean there is institutional change as a coherent whole. When a teacher leaves, their work often leaves with them. That’s because what individual teachers do is not necessarily integrated with the work of other teachers or with the institution as a whole.

He also spent some time differentiating portable from mobile technology. Portable technology, he observed, can be used at Point A, closed down, transported to Point B, then opened up again there. Mobile technology, on the other hand, can be used at Point A and Point B and everywhere in between, without stopping.  A student is therefore not confined to learning in the domain of school OR the domain of home.  Now learning can take place truly continuously if we design appropriate experiences, and indeed, we need to construct learning experiences for students that leverage this. In other words, we need to construct a continuum of learning spaces that the students inhabit all day long.

Puentedura went on to explain that with the SAMR model, you get progressively improved student outcomes as you go up the levels.  He gave the example of a traditional task where students read a book and write an essay about it, and showed how technology could be added at the four levels of the framework:

  • Substitution: an e-book is used instead of a paper book, with no change in the task or how it is accomplished. This may have benefits: it may be more convenient (e.g., because of the inbuilt dictionary function), may save money on textbooks, and may improve students’ health because they don’t have to carry piles of heavy books around. However, none of these impact student outcomes.
  • Augmentation: students are asked to export their e-book annotations to an integrated text file, which gives them a coherent overview of their notes, which they can then build essays on. At this level there are small but noticeable improvements in student outcomes, perhaps by a fraction of a grade.
  • Modification: the heart of the task remains the same but a social component is introduced to both the (individual) reading and (individual) essay writing tasks. Students can be asked to share their integrated notes files. When they have access to other students’ ideas, they begin to think differently about the text, by seeing the trace of their classmates’ thoughts. In terms of formative assessment, students learn more about how to analyse their own thinking. Then, instead of handing in essays to the teacher, students can be asked to post their essays on a blog and engage in discussion on others’ essays and, as they respond to each other’s comments, they can modify and improve their own essays. Here, there can be significant changes in student outcomes – up to a full letter grade.
  • Redefinition: the heart of the task is changed, for example by varying the mode of response. Students could respond not with an essay, but with, say, a digital video. Students can use the sequencing of images, video, build in sound, etc. It’s not about just adding a new task, but replacing the original task with another. There can also be a true edit and comment cycle. Students could share their videos online, and harvest a broader set of feedback. This anticipated public response will drive them to perform at a higher level. At this level, there can be dramatic improvements in student outcomes – up to two letter grades. Struggling students can become average; average students can achieve highly.

The SAMR model also gives teachers a guide to how they can progress through the different levels.  Teachers can start at the lower levels, where they become comfortable with use of technology while not detracting from their work.  Over 2.5 to 3 years, teachers can progress to the highest level of the SAMR model.

In a brief discussion of Mishra and Koehler’s TPACK model, Puentedura pointed out that the problem with teachers starting by thinking about pedagogy and content before they think about technology is that they can lock themselves into old approaches. In the TPACK model, technology is not accidental or incidental, but a peer with pedagogy and content. According to Puentedura, Mishra and Koehler’s view is that the most effective teachers consider all three knowledge areas together, but this is difficult to do. Puentedura himself suggests that it may be almost as effective to start with content, then shift quickly to pedagogy, then shift to technology. In other words, teachers can cycle through the three knowledge areas rather than actually thinking about all of them at once. This gives good results, often  indistinguishable from those achieved by teachers who do consider all three knowledge areas at the same time.

He then introduced a third model, finalised this year, which is entitled The First 200,000 Years of Educational Technology (see above). This model flags up different categories of technologies, rather than having teachers just reach into a grab bag of technologies. The five categories were determined by an analysis of the technologies included in the annual Horizon Reports.

Puentedura concluded by showing Mishra and Koehler’s model of 21st century learning, where they have pulled together the common elements from many different accounts of 21st century skills, and organised them into three macrocategories, as follows:

Foundational knowledge

  • Core content knowledge
  • Cross-disciplinary knowledge/synthesis
  • Information literacy

Meta knowledge

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Problem solving and critical thinking
  • Communication & collaboration

Humanistic knowledge

  • Life & job skills
  • Ethical & emotional awareness
  • Cultural competence

Finally, he commented that using national educational standards – no matter what country they come from – as the sole guide will not take teachers to the top of the SAMR ladder. He suggested that such standards should be seen as a floor, not a ceiling, and pointed the audience to the Guide: P21 Common Core Toolkit: A Guide to Aligning the Common Core Standards with the Framework for 21st Century Skills.

The kinds of models presented by Puentedura are certainly useful in scaffolding educators’ thinking about how best to incorporate new technologies into education. The conversation, I suspect, is far from over, but all of these models have an important role in informing and supporting our discussions.

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