Monday, June 8, 2009

5.*: Mobile learning in higher education

An eBook, "New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning in higher education", is available online from the University of Wollongong. The introduction explains that
While mobile technologies such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and digital music players (mp3 players) have permeated popular culture, they have not found widespread acceptance as pedagogical tools in higher education.

The eBook contains various exemplars associated with the use of PDAs and MP3 players in higher education, based on a project at the University. The project case studies aim to demonstrate how 'ubiquitous' mobile devices can be "legitimately" used in higher education. The project provides the following recommendations for using mobile devices in higher education:

  1. Real world relevance: Use mobile learning in authentic contexts
  2. Mobile contexts: Use mobile learning in contexts where learners are mobile
  3. Explore: Provide time for exploration of mobile technologies
  4. Blended: Blend mobile and non mobile technologies
  5. Whenever: Use mobile learning spontaneously
  6. Wherever: Use mobile learning in non traditional learning spaces
  7. Whomsoever: Use mobile learning both individually and collaboratively
  8. Affordances: Exploit the affordances of mobile technologies
  9. Personalise: Employ the learners’ own mobile devices
  10. Mediation: Use mobile learning to mediate knowledge construction.
  11. Produse: Use mobile learning to produce and consume knowledge.
I'm not certain of the absolute value of the principles however in my view the report is a good summary of where m-learning is 'at'. I have difficulty in leaping from 'mobile devices are ubiquitous' through to PDAs being used as the basis for experimentation and case study; this highlights one of the difficulties with m-learning, that of diversity of device. A standard mobile phone is a far cry from a fully featured PDA, and it is the latter that tends to be the backbone for most m-learning case studies. So the ubiquity argument does not, in my view, provide a sound reason for using m-devices in higher education. Many of the educational benefits are also somewhat marginal, which, for me, reveals a tension between wanting to use the devices and needing to use them for educational purposes.

So, the report is a good contribution to m-learning... but the concept is still, in my view, mired by a need to honestly answer the question, so what? Evaluations of (yet more) case studies are not what is needed; objective, control-comparison research is what is most needed in the field of m-learning. There is plenty of enthusiasm and creativity already at play. Where is the research focussing on comparative learning outcomes, rather than student experiences? Until m-learning advocates are able to take a more objective, more self-critical, less exploratory and longer-term approach to m-learning, I trust that little real progress will be made for others to sit up and take notice of. For a start I suggest a change in methodology, away from the case studies and action research projects that dominate this field, more toward large-scale and cognitively comparable results.

Most of the cases I have reviewed for the next E-Primer have student samples of about ten, with provided PDA devices... hardly a representative or transferable set of studies. This is a real problem, one that will hinder the serious uptake of mobile devices in further education.

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