On Thursday I attended Mobile Learning: Telling Tales (#mimasmob09), a one day MIMAS event on mobile devices in education. This was an interesting day - lots of frustration but flashes of genius. There are many interesting developments in the field, but few of them are sustainable.
Graham Brown-Martin was very engaging. I always warm to people with a foot in many camps - he's very much the entrepeneur, but also a self described geek with an arty side who ran off to join the circus!
Graham gave a clear explanation of the importance of gaming in learning, as a way to engage learners and experience learning. I've been dismissive of this in the past, as I couldn't see past all the hype over Second Life. I'm still convinced Second Life in particular has little value but Graham's demonstrations of games / virtual worlds for young children were fantastic. I have no idea how we could apply this in a HE context though, and it looks fantastically expensive.
Graham was also very clear in his condemnation of closed VLEs such as Blackboard, and believes that in future the educational technology market will be dominated by consumer industries rather than educational-specific providers. He had a moving anecdote to demonstrate that unless your VLE is accessible on home devices you a disenfranchising vulnerable parts of society.
John Traxler had the wisest words of the session - that we should "stop funding good projects in the hope that they become sustainable, and instead fund sustainable projects in the hope that they become good". Mobile learning currently has two many amateur enthusiasts. It's difficult to scale stuff up. Few if any projects evaluate their pedagogical impact.
We are teetering on the edge of allowing users to provide their own mobile devices, and designing learning around that. This is difficult with mobile platforms in flux. There is no stable infrastructure to build on. [Perhaps the mobile web - HTML - is the best we have?]
Geoff Butters referenced the Demos report Their Space in his explanation of how young people learn [I must read it]. He then described the EU funded Emapps project. This was interestingly conceived, but by the time it was implemented the project was already out of date. Much of the money was spent on devices and mobile data bills. Sadly an example of the unsustainable approach to mobile learning.
Hilary Smith had a very different approach- using childrens' own mobile phones and free tools such as Youtube, blogs and wikis for Key Stage 3 science. I like the approach, but there were huge practical barriers. Too much time was needed to install third-party software no childrens own mobiles. More fundamentally, almost all schools ban children owning mobiles! Many also block sites such as Youtube. The willingness of teachers to cede control or comfort using technology which may let them down was also an issue.
I missed my ex-colleague Andy Ramsden's presentation on QR codes, as I was in a parallel session. I remain to be convinced that QR codes are the right solution to any real problems - the readers aren't built-in to mainstream mobiles, and they are just a bit too geeky! I hope they get leapfrogged by some other technology.
I also missed Stuart Smith's presentation on the hairdressing.ac.uk mobile website, but I like it as a very practical example of the real-world benefits of mobile learning - taking education out of the classroom and into the salon.
Gary Priestnall's presentation on the SPLINT project was fascinating. This used PDAs on geography field trips. I saw for the first time how augmented reality - display additional data overlaying the real world - can be of educational value. I also now understand why Apple have a digital compass in the iPhone 3GS.
James Clay of Gloucestershire College wrapped up the event and gave the best presentation of the day. He is passionate about learning, understands technology, and is an excellent speaker. His presentation really deserves a blog post of its own - but better still watch The Future of Learning on his own blog.
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