Sunday, November 29, 2009

5.3.5: Special edition of ALT-J; Mobile finding its place

The latest ALT-J (17, 3 November 2009) is a special issue on Mobile and contextual learning, edited by Agnes Kukulska-Hume and Mike Sharples. It is good to see the concepts of 'mobile-learning' and 'contextual-learning' side by side.

The articles have much in common; it seems now that m-learning has found its niche:
...the unique characteristics of mobile learning... include orchestrating shared learning with personal devices across formal and informal settings, providing immediately useful information, offering timely revision and reflection, connecting real and virtual locations, and enriching field trips and cultural visits (p.159, editorial).
None of the case studies in the issue are about courses making sole use of mobile technologies, and one even makes use of portable DVD players.

The first paper, "Towards an understanding of the virtual context in mobile learning" by Cornelius & Marston, introduces the concept of 'disruption' from the physical world by mobile devices, taking learners from a physical to a virtual context. The simulation described in the article is not immediately transferable to all sorts of courses, but the underlying concept raised (the potential for 'disruption') is a very interesting one.

The case study "Situated learning in the mobile age: mobile devices on a field trip to the sea" by Pfeiffer et al shows how mobile DVD players increased student performance on fish species knowledge, a novel (in my reading) approach to mobile technologies which again highlights the diversity beneath the 'm-learning' banner. In the case study, learning was found to be more 'efficient' and more effective through the use of DVD media on location. However the use of video over still graphics did not increase student outcomes to any significant degree.

One interesting finding in the paper, "How can mobile SMS communication support and enhance a first year undergraduate learning environment?" by Jones et al is that students tend to use their mobile phones for basic SMS and voice calls - even if their mobile has addiitonal features such as camera, Bluetooth, calendars etc built-in. the case study itself focues on the use of targeted SMS messages reminding students of upcoming deadlines and for course notices. Students valued these notices, whcih often served as gentle prods for them to continue with their course-related tasks. While the autors caution that they cannot prove any causality, student engagement with the course seemed to improve. The authors also caution that while some found the texts beneficial, others found them 'disruptive', with the interpretation of texts and the 160 character limitation proving additionally problematic. While the authors maintain their approach is a beneficial one, I can't help personally thinking that it may have been more trouble than it was worth based on the actual outcomes... still, the authors do suggest that the approach could be of real benefit to 'vulnerable' students getting to grips with the demands of tertiary study. Samples of actual texts confirm that the level of interaction was concerned with matter sof definition and recall.

The study by Sutton-Brady et al, "The value of using short-format podcasts to enhance learning and teaching", confirms that most students making use of podcasts listen to them through their home computers, rather than on mobile devices. The authors findings also suggest that short, assessment-relevant podcasts ("short-term, supplementary") are those that prove most useful. The real value of podcasts, then, may lie in their supplemental use with lectures, rather than being recordings of lectures.

Curiously, two of the studies note that their findings run counter to Prensky's notion of digital immigrants and digital natives - again underscoring the value of primary research findings over 'common sense' speculation!

The issue is a vaulable one for the ongoing research into m-learning, which seems to get ever broader but not much deeper in terms of its overall impact.

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