Mike Sharples - Hero Innovator PDF Print E-mail
Written by Graham Brown-Martin on Friday, 11 July 2008

mike sharplesIt's impossible to spend any length of time in the world of mobile learning without coming across Professor Mike Sharples. Some have even suggested that he is the "Godfather of Mobile Learning". Certainly he is an innovator in a league practically of his own. Where some have been satisfied with the vision thing he has also, for the past 30 years, been at the "doing" things, proving that ideas are one thing, execution is another.

Mike is currently Professor of Learning Sciences and Director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI) at the University of Nottingham. On my visit to their extensive facilities I must confess to feeling more than a twinge of envy of those working and researching there. The focus of the Institute is to explore theories and practices of learning and to design and evaluate novel learning technologies and environments.

Well this is pretty much what their web site says but I was very much taken by the real sense of adventure within the research being conducted there and the practical realisation of the work. I’ve had the benefit of listening to lots of ideas and reading pages of research that emerge to support them yet the real evidence is when something is made and used, because naturally people rarely use things in the way they were first intended which is where innovation comes about. It felt to me that LSRI was a place where things happen and where innovation is germinated, nurtured and set free.

Mike explained the background of LSRI:

Mike’s inspiration for the mobility of learning goes way back to the late 60’s when American computer scientist Alan Kay whilst working at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) conceived of an idea he called the “Dynabook”. Effectively a mobile computing and communications device for every learner. Inspired by this idea Mike chose to make a career out of making it a reality.

Of course, over recent years the interest and developments in the field of mobile learning has grown exponentially and Mike is quick to point out these developments and the achievements of others:

While talking with Mike and thinking about the world in which many young people operate I was wondering whether the term “Mobile Learning” had reached its “sell-by” date. After all since when did learning actually stop being mobile? Was it when we decided that learning was something done to people at schools and university?

Mike had understandable concerns about current thinking along the lines of proposed schemes such as the Home Access Initiative expected to be announced formally by the next Handheld Learning Conference. He doesn’t believe that extending schools into the home is the right approach as there is a risk of denying the very rich learning that is already happening out of the school with the technology learners already use.

Beyond mobile devices, Mike and the LSRI are also recognising the enormous impact that Web 2.0 technologies such as social networking, media sharing and informal collaborative learning are having at home. What they’ve found is that there are very few examples of these technologies being used well in schools where the majority are using 90’s Web 1.0 technology such as VLE’s:

As mentioned at the start of this article, the LSRI is a hive of activity. Mike was keen to give me a flavour of some of the exciting projects taking place under his watch:

I had the benefit some demonstrations of some of the projects being conducted by some of those working within LSRI. First up was Jitti Niramitranon who has been developing a mobile learning system based around the SRI developed GroupScribbles technology:

Yinjuan (Peggy) Shao has been working on a mobile blogging system targeting foreign students specifically those from China in the case of her project. In her study a group of newly-arrived Chinese students were recruited to participate in moblogging about their experiences of a new culture. The results indicated that students preferred to contribute images rather than text due to usability problems and shifted from Chinese to English in their comments as they became more familiar with the language and culture:

Finally, Dr Stamatina Anastopoulou demonstrated the work she had been conducting using mobile technologies in secondary school science with innovative sensors as part of the “Personal Inquiry” project that is a joint research activity with the Open University. PI: is intended to be a learning experience where children are engaged in a scientific process of gathering and assessing evidence, conducting experiments, visualising rich information then engaging in informed debate:

There were so many other activities happening at LSRI that I could have easily camped there for a week and would still have hardly scratched the surface. I’m very thankful for Mike and his colleagues time and look forward to my next visit to catch up with some more hero innovators!

Visit LSRI

Mike Sharples and some of his colleagues will be presenting at the Handheld Learning Conference in October

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Last Updated ( Friday, 18 July 2008 )
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