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A Clear view and strong signal for mLearning PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bob Harrison on Monday, 14 November 2005
/mlearn2005logo.jpg mLearn 2005 proved to be another milestone in the development of a worldwide network of academics, researchers, practitioners and industry supporting the development of mobile and portable learning. The 4th mLearn conference in Cape town, SA, continued the tradition of exploring theoretical models, practical applications, and future pedagogical and technological developments which will impact on learning and teaching across the developing world. Delegates came from over 24 countries and over 60 papers and workshops were presented.

The “Godfather” of mlearning, Mike Sharples, University of Nottingham opened proceedings with a brief description of how the mLearn conference series began in 2002 with 68 delegates at the University of Birmingham.

It is a testimony to how fast the uptake of mobile and portable learning has been in that it is now a feature in the UK and many other countries and is being explored as a mechanism for reaching groups who are traditionally exclude from traditional models of learning.

mLearn 2005 attracted over 200 delegates and is one of a number “M” learning conferences across the world this year.

Key themes which emerged from the conference included;
  • The world is populated with an increasing number of “digital natives” and “homozapiens”
  • The need for an agreed definition of mobile learning,
  • Recognition that it is the learner that is mobile and the device is secondary
  • There is an enormous potential to address the digital divide by using mobile devices
  • Wireless technology is present and will be the future
  • There is enormous potential to use mobile and portable learning in developing countries
  • Lessons learned by early adopters can benefit later adopters
  • There are pockets of innovative and creative use of mobile and portable technologies
  • There is little evidence of embedded practice of mobile and portable learning
  • There is an urgent need for more research and high quality evaluation and a greater synergy between research, practice, pedagogy and technological developments.
  • The technology moves faster than the pedagogy
  • There is a need to develop more mobile capacity in teacher training institutes.

High Spots
Table Mountain not only provided breathtaking views but also a strong signal for delegate’s 3G/GPRS cards. Jill Attewell, from the LSDA, one of the pioneers of mlearning and a previous mlearn conference organiser (2003) had the opportunity of sharing the benefits of a 7 hour walk to the summit with her address book in her PDA but could also check on the time of the last cable car back down!

The predator tank of the Two Oceans Aquarium on the Victoria and Alfred waterfront was a paradoxical backcloth for the opening of a very co-operative, consensual (although some healthy challenge to the keynote speakers Desmond Keegan (IRE) and Stan Trollip (USA) came from the UK contingent who did not accept the rather negative perspective on the relative success of mobile learning suggested by the speakers) and constructive conference.

John Traxler, (Godfather 2?) Wolverhampton University, and Agnes Kukulka- Hulme, Open University, presented a series of papers and workshops and are the authors of a recent JISC report on mobile and learning www.jisc.ac.uk/learning_innovation.html and a new book:

/mlearningbook.jpgKukulska-Hulme, A. & Traxler. J. (2005) Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers

Open and Flexible Learning Series, Routledge, London

ISBN 0-415-35739-X (hbk) £75.00
ISBN 0-415-35740-3 (pbk) £24.99

Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Taylor & Francis Inc, New York.

Peter Twining and colleagues,including Agnes Kukulska-Hulme have also been part of a research team at the Open University which produced a very interesting evaluation and literature review of the use of tablet PCs in schools http://www.becta.org.uk/research/reports

Further information on the use of the Tablet PC  is signposted in the report here

Jocelyn Wisehart, University of Bristol, reported on her recent work in the use of PDA, s in Initial Teacher Training and then had to be assertive with the conference “techies” when she insisted in presenting from her PDA instead of at the lectern!

Dan Corlett and colleagues from the University of Birmingham reported on the continuation of the journey started by Mike Sharples using tablet pcs to “personalise” the student experience and Dan Sutch from NESTA Futurelab was awarded “best paper” prize (a free handheld device what else?) for his workshops on the exciting developments in PDA use pioneered at NESTA Futurelab. The NESTA Futurelab report 11, Literature review in Mobile Technologies and Learning is widely recognised as a pivotal piece of work in this fast developing field. http://www.nestafuturelab.org.

Other highlights included contributions from Mohamed Ally, Athabasca University, Canada (the hosts of Mlearn 2006) and Clare Bradley, Learning Technology Research Institute, LMU who reported on some interesting work on the user experience of adults with multi-media and PDAs.

MOOP-using mlearning in primary schools in Finland by Pasi Mattila and Timo Fordell Department of Education, Finland showed us how really young children can use mobile phones to analyse their surroundings and communicate with each other and the tutor.

Geoff Stead and his usual enthusiasm for the pioneering work and excellent mobile learning products from CTAD/Tribal demonstrated how we need to “Move mobile into mainstream” and particularly how mobile can engage learners excluded from mainstream learning provision. http://www.ctad.co.uk/

Laura Naismaith and the CAERUS project in Birmingham’s botanical gardens demonstrated how location based content can be used to enhance learning.

Unsurprisingly a rail journey on the Spier train into the wine lands for an evening of local food, culture and music was also a highlight for many of the delegates.

All of the papers can be seen on the Mlearn 2005 website  www.mlearn2005.org  ….. And Mlearn 2006,”Across generations and cultures” will be held on October 22-25 in Banff, Alberta, Canada  www.mlearn2006.org

There can be little doubt that the continuous advances in technology, the decreased costs and convergence of devices, improved digital content and increased demand for flexible learning opportunities mean this is an area which needs further exploration, research and development. The mLearning network in the UK has continued to grow and a book of the mLearn 2004 papers and presentations has just been edited by Jill Attewell and Carol Saville-Smith of the LSDA and can be obtained from the LSDA here.

Despite the reducing costs, increased capacity and mass ownership there is still a perceived reluctance within education for these portable, powerful devices with immense potential to be acknowledged as effective tools for learning.

Hopefully the work of the mobile pioneers will change this.

Going to the top of Table Mountain can give a really clear view, especially when the clouds disappear!

Bob Harrison is a learner and teacher who is Education Adviser to Toshiba Information Systems (UK) Ltd. He has presented at every mLearn conference to date and is presenting at the World Mobile Technology in Education Symposia in Tokushima, Japan later this year. He is a consultant with the National College for School Leadership and the Department for Education and Skills and supports a community of practice in wireless and portable technology in education called the Toshiba Ambassadors   www.freedomlearning.co.uk . He is also a school and college governor and can be contacted on www.setuk.co.uk


Comments from the forum:
A Clear view and strong signal for mLearning
Herman van der Merwe    November 15th, 2005 - 8:28 PM


Thanks Bob. It is always wonderful to read and hear of positive experiences, mLearn 2005 will forever be one of THE highlights in my life! I cherish all the talks, interactions and e-mails. The BEST is the life long friends we made. 

Maybe something worth mentioning for those who were so unfortunate to attend ... Although they can read the papers online, have a sneak peep at the photo's taken during the conference and feel sorry for themselves, they can also share in some of this success story by ordering the CD's with the video, audio and powerpoint of most of the presentations. Please feel free to contact me 4 more information. Herman van der Merwe (Chairperson: mLearn 2005) vdmerwe@netactive.co.za

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