Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Mobile to the limit

Does mobile learning work?

An interesting question. Having spent the last week in Thailand on a Geography field studies trip with 70 students and their teachers I can give a qualified 'YES'.

Mike Sharples and colleagues from the University of Nottingham have argued that all learning involves some element of mobility - location (where), temporal (when) and developmental (age and/ or need).

On this trip, students used notebook computers and smart phones to undertake a range of activities, in the field (smart phones) and in the classroom once once they had returned to their accommodation. Did it all work?

The use of the smart phones was driven by a myriad of factors, including:
  • teacher perceptions of the use of using a smart phone (was it encouraged or discouraged);
  • students attitudes and confidence in using technology for non-social activities (in this case, collecting data); and
  • availability of the devices (only 1 between 4 students).
One of the strongest determinants was the teacher attitude, which was surprising given the nature of some of the tasks. Teacher encouragement (to use a smart phone rather than paper) was actually quite important. The second major element indentified was the utilitarian nature of the process - in the words of one student 'if the number of steps (usage) was more than just a few, it is just too much trouble'. This ment that the iCount tool was perceived as having high levels of utility. It required a single click to open the working file, allowed a single tap to record an item, and finally the file could be saved as a .cvs file for further analysis on a notebook computer using Excel later.

The presence of a mobile local area network for communication between devices, file sharing and obtaining files created by teachers was also considered 'adding value' to the learning.

The mobile LAN demonstrated for the first time on this trip proved to be extremely robust and reliable with fast upload and download times for both smart phone files and notebook computers. A number of small bugs were identified (e.g., file name length) but overall the system was seen as supporting the communication and learning - not limiting it.

More soon.

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