Mobile learning conference in the Asian Pacific: things I learnt in Singapore

View from the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, Singapore

View from the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, Singapore

A group of us from the Institute of Learning Innovation (Gráinne, visiting fellow Mark Childs, and I) have just attended MobiLearnAsia 2013 conference in Singapore. The conference was organised by Crimson Knowledge, a Singapore-based education company. This was the second year the conference has run; it was bigger this year, and covered new ground such as supplying iPads for every attendant at the pre- and post-conference workshops. Gráinne was a keynote speaker; Mark and I presented sessions, and together we delivered two days of pre-conference workshops.

The conference was attended by a mixture of corporations and educators from every level and sector, including military trainers and independent consultants, mostly from Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia, and Thailand, but also including China, the US, and the UK. At the academic conferences I have been been attending in recent years, corporations have been present but their sessions aren’t necessarily very well attended, possibly being seen as less learning, more commercial. While at this conference, I realised that it is really necessary for academics and corporations to communicate more, to be aware of the way the other views trends in learning and technology, and to help shape priorities of each sector. One really valuable corporate connection I made was with Kevin Chan, founder of Coursepad. Kevin let us use his app called Micepad to support our pre-conference workshops on the 7Cs of Learning Design, M-Pedagogy, and Augmented Reality/Virtual Worlds.  The app was well designed to form a support around the workshop, giving a central place for photos and notes to be gathered, a simple way for discussions to happen on the iPad (Mark acted as eModerator to keep an eye on questions/comments coming in on the app), and even just to have a quick profile of each attendant. The app also had a feature whereby you can email to yourself all the gathered discussions, for your own further review.

There were many ways in which I felt we in the UK are far behind countries such as Singapore and South Korea, who are really putting money into education and who are not afraid to bank on the side of technological innovation. Yet I felt we from the UK and USA brought good things to the table, especially in the form of research into learning innovation and a consideration of digital literacy, among other good things.

There were some impressive and successful case studies of mobile learning being implemented large-scale. One Australian university in attendance (University of Western Sydney) has distributed 11,000 iPads to its incoming students. They spoke of deploying learning designers to help instructors adapt their material and pedagogical approaches to the iPad. Designing learning for mobile is often thought of after the iPads are bought and paid for. I guess that’s ok, as long as the learning design happens at some point!

One  case study was presented in the graveyard shift of the first day and hence attended by only a handful of us, but it made a big impression on me.  A UNESCO programme to teach literacy to women in Pakistan did not seem to have much impact with traditional teaching methods, i.e. gathering the women every day at the literacy centre for 2 hours of lectures and teaching. At least half of the women dropped out after 3 months, and of the remainder, not many passed the final exams. But when they decided to hand out simple inexpensive mobile phones to each student, things changed. The women had never had mobile phones before. They received SMS messages which they dutifully copied into notebooks and studied for spelling and grammar. The message content was about hygiene and food preparation, so there was that to learn as well. Then once a week, the women gathered at the literacy centre to discuss what they learnt over the week and take the lessons further. Now there is much lower dropout rate and much higher exam pass rate. It is a simple use of simple mobile technology, which hit the right nerve to engage and empower these women.

One thing I considered during the conference was: for how many more years can we have a mobile learning conference? Five years? Fewer? I have no doubt that mobile learning is not only here to stay but will become the predominant technology mode in learning. The reason for this is the ubiquitous quality of mobile devices. They are always in our hands, pockets, or pocketbooks. And this is the reason why I’m not sure for how much longer we will refer to ‘mobile learning.’  It will just be learning. But for now, it is still necessary to think about the affordances of mobile devices and how they can fill gaps in tech needs for learning. It is still necessary to consider how to help students strategically use mobile devices for the flexible learning best suited to our 24/7 society. It is still necessary to consider what pedagogical approaches are well served by mobile devices. Until it all just becomes ‘learning.’

And what we cover in our Technology-Enhanced Learning module in our MSc in Learning Innovation will now need to be altered & widened to include the view from Singapore.

Many heartfelt thanks to Crimson Knowledge — Patrick and Vivian particularly — for inviting us and looking after us, and for allowing us to join in the picture of mobile learning in the Asian Pacific.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist & SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

Designing learning for mobile: Theatre for a Change

7Cs of Learning Design Workshop with Theatre for a Change

7Cs of Learning Design Workshop with Theatre for a Change

Theatre for a Change (TFAC) is a London-based charity engaged in training teachers to give instruction to middle- and high-school age students about reproductive health issues. TFAC is active in African countries including Malawi and Ghana. Their courses have taken various forms including theatre workshops, art, and radio programmes. After reading about our work to help deploy our Criminology’s MSc in Security, Conflict and International Development with its iPad and app model, TFAC contacted us to help them extend their reach to students in more remote areas by transforming to a mobile learning model.

We held a 7Cs of Learning Design workshop with TFAC in May 2013, and helped them to storyboard a new ‘mobile’ version of the course. I recall at the time the above photo was taken, the group was discussing how to ‘chunk’ each learning unit in a way suitable for mobile phones, how to refer students to audio-recorded material, and how to include feedback and discussion through mobile methods. Since that workshop, I have helped with transforming the material into mobile-ready formats, and working on using social media as a simple virtual learning environment / learning management system.

This project is a great opportunity to create a different kind of mobile learning model, and we are very much figuring it out as we go along. It was great also to think about designing for mobile learning, from the beginning. Designing the learning for mobile, from the beginning, has got to be the key to mobile learning success. I plan to update this blog as the project rolls out, so stay tuned!

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

Mobile learning in the Asian-Pacific

Gráinne and I are preparing, along with Mark Childs, to jointly conduct a 2-day workshop and to deliver individual presentations at MobiLearn Asia 2013 Conference, 2-3 October in Singapore.

Airport information workers with iPads at Singapore airport

Airport information workers with iPads at Singapore airport

This will be my second time at this conference; MobiLearn Asia 2012 was the maiden voyage of this conference series, and I was privileged to present two days of workshops and 3 presentations last year. I took the photos in this post during that trip. The airport photos show where Singapore is at in terms of understanding the benefits of mobile and smart devices in cases where ‘situated’ is everything. It makes perfect sense to give iPads to information assistants in the airport, so they can have up-to-the-second correct information to share. It makes perfect sense, if you want to collect feedback on the state of the airport loos, to put up a screen by which you can register your opinion with a single touch.

Loo feedback screen in Singapore airport

Loo feedback screen in Singapore airport

What about mobile devices in learning? When I was there last year, I heard the Singapore government was planning a major rollout of mobile devices in schools. I attended an engaging session in which school teachers demonstrated augmented-reality-enhanced field trips to Thailand’s historical sites. I compared this to our high school scene in the UK and in the USA, where mobile devices are often banned or only very carefully being allowed into the classroom, although we do have a growing number of one-iPad-per-child schemes at the primary school level. This conference is therefore a good forum to exchange ideas, stories, and plans across cultural divides.

Serampore Skyscrapers

Serampore Skyscrapers

Our pre-conference workshop applies the 7Cs of Learning Design and e-pedagogies to mobile learning, resulting in the notion of m-pedagogies, and adding a focus on augmented reality in learning.  Have a look at the workshop and materials here.

I will deliver two presentations: ‘BYOD in UK Schools – Premise, Promise & Precaution’ and ‘Mobile and Social Media: The Power of the Learning Network and Digital Literacy’ . Gráinne will be delivering a keynote: Disruptive Learning: Fostering Creativity and Innovation through Disruptive Technologies. Mark will deliver a presentation on Perceptual and Psychological Immersion: Making Sense of Virtual Worlds and Augmented Reality.

It’s a challenge to present in a conference with so many industry leaders and speakers at the cutting edge of technology-enhanced learning. Other keynotes include John Traxler and Daphne Koller who co-founded Coursera. it will be worth rising to the challenge if I can gain insights helpful to the educational requirements I tend to right here in Leicester.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

New Institute of Learning Innovation papers at ALT-C 2013

The Institute of Learning Innovation will be well-represented at ALT-C 2013 conference: Building new cultures for learning.

Brenda Padilla’s full paper was accepted, with the title ‘Student engagement with a content-based learning design.’ Brenda summarises her paper: ‘While learning is commonly conceptualised as a social, collaborative process, in corporate organisations, online courses often provide limited opportunities for communication between people. How do students engage with content-based courses? How do they find answers to their questions? How do they achieve the learning outcomes? This paper aims to answer these questions by focusing on students’ experiences in an online content-based course delivered in a large Mexican organisation.’

A short paper by Terese Bird was accepted with the title ‘China is harvesting your
iTunes U – and other findings from researching how overseas students engage
with open learning materials.’ This paper will share findings from the HEA-funded iTunesUReach project in which the use of open educational resources (OER) by overseas students was researched. This project was represented at OER13 with the poster below.

A short paper by Ming Nie was accepted with the title ‘iPads in distance learning:
learning design, digital literacy, transformation.’ This paper will share findings from the JISC-funded Places project which is evaluating the use of iPads in two University of Leicester distance learning Masters courses.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

Please can we stop e-learning…

I tried a little experiment as I walked back from the Beyond Distance Research Alliance to the Department of Engineering the other day.  You could try it for yourself.

Walk around the university campus – or shopping centre – or another public place and count the number of people using mobile devices. Estimate the proportion of people using mobile devices – iPods, phones, whatever. Of the 48 people I counted, 20 were using mobile devices (most of them phones) – so about 40%.

Now try the same experiment at home. My wife, my son and I were sitting down supposedly watching television last night.  However, my wife was playing scrabble on her iPod with my son on his iPhone (in between both text messaging.)  I was emailing and generally browsing on my laptop.  So that’s more than 100%. And of course we were interacting in the real world too (if you count Eastenders as the real world …)

Slightly changing the subject – I’ve just acquired an iPhone – having had more conventional PDAs for as long as I can remember – certainly 20 years.  Of course it’s not a phone really.  Indeed, I’m not really sure how to make phone calls on it but I’m sure it’s quite easy if ever the need arises.  I use it for emails, social networking, running apps to tell me the tides in Teddington, entertaining my granddaughter …

I “attended” the Follow the Sun conference just before Easter.  I say “attended” as I was attending another conference in Canterbury at the time.  But I joined in and found myself talking to my laptop in a crowded junior common room – utilising the free WiFi there.  Ten years ago, people would have stopped and stared.  I don’t think anyone batted an eye lid – there’s nothing more usual than talking to your computer.

So can we really talk about the “virtual worlds” – about “online learning” – as if they’re something different to reality?  This is the world in which we live.  One which is densely interconnected. One in which the physical world that you observe is just one of several windows on the real world that you interact with.

So I hope we can stop talking about e-learning soon.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking about it – and I like writing about it and being a part of BDRA.  But I hope that we’ll just take it for granted that this is normal – why would we want to teach and learn in any other way?

Professor John Fothergill

Head of Engineering, University of Leicester

iPad: change or coalition?

It always amuses me; whenever “they” bring out a “cool” device, everybody immediately has to have one. Ok, not everybody, but enough people I know do want a new iPad to cause me major puzzlement.

Now, don’t let’s start with the wrong impression, I love good, useful, effective technology. But I love if for what it does, not what it is. The thing with computers is, they are intrinsically useless. It’s the software that’s useful – the device just supports the software. So, for example, I only bought a new computer when I wanted to run Second Life. Yes, it was state-of-the-art and all that, but I just stuck it under the table and actually looked at the new software it supported.

Back to the iPad then. Is it a sea-change in computer use, or just a coalition of old features? What new functionality does it support? Thus far, I haven’t heard of anything at all, let alone something that I will want to use. So to me, it’s useless. Ok, I could buy one in order to see if it’s useful, but isn’t that a bit like buying a new music download without listening to it first on the off-chance I would like it? (only much more expensive!)

It must be this kind of “sensible scepticism” that slows the adoption of technologies that do have clear benefits. Take Podcasting for example. Beyond Distance has plenty of evidence for its efficacy, and many people are beginning to use it, but there’s no stampede of new Podcasting academics. Getting the message across  is as important as having a good message.

For the iPad, either there’s no good message, or it has yet to reach me.

Time will tell . . .

Paul Rudman
Research Associate, SWIFT

Mobile Learning, Handheld Learning

Whilst on the train returning from ALT-C 2009, I read John Traxler’s excellent thought piece “Students and mobile devices: choosing which dream”. John describes the conundrum of using mobile devices such as mp3 players and mobile phones for learning: so many students have them that it seems obvious that we should include them as learning technology. However, not all students have them, and students don’t all have devices with the same capability, and students may not wish to use their own mobile devices as learning tools. To quote, “Student devices unlock the dreams of agency, control, ownership and choice amongst students but put the dreams of equity, access and participation at risk. Universities cannot afford, procure, provide nor control these devices but they cannot ignore them either. Clearly such a stark choice is an over-simplification; there is no simple question and no simple answer.”

I am not so sure I agree, however, that universities cannot afford or procure these devices. Fifteen or so years ago we were discussing whether universities could afford the numbers of computers needed for students to be assured computer access. Today many universities offer students the free use of laptops, cameras and digital camcorders in addition to fixed desktop computers.

Today I discovered the website for the Handheld Learning Conference. Apple appears to be taking the lead on the conference this year, which seems only to be expected given the iPhone and iPod derivatives (as well as the rumoured iTablet). The development first of iStanford (by which Stanford students can check grades, registration, and the whereabouts of the campus shuttle bus on their iPhones), and now of MobilEdu with Blackboard elevate the handheld device to the status of a VLE. At the same time, Sony has just released its updated models of e-book reader, and new eReaders from IREX and CoolReaders will surely appeal to students looking for a way to consolidate required readings into one digital package.

The Burnt Oak Junior School in Kent recently gave out iPod Touches to 32 8-year-old students for general school use. A short film describing the project can be seen here. Whilst watching it, I was reminded that it was only a few short years ago we were first hearing about schools buying fleets of laptops for uses not unlike this school’s use of the iPod Touch — but the iPod costs a fraction of the price of a laptop. Schools and universities are indeed investing in handheld-learning hardware as well as software. Students will begin to consider an iPhone or whatever handheld of choice to be as much a required purchase as a rucksack.

Terese Bird

Mobile thoughts

I was astonished when I read in the Commonwealth of Learning’s ‘Connections’ news sheet that “two-thirds of mobile phone subscribers live in the developing world, with subscriptions in Africa growing fastest.” What immense opportunities for socialisation and mobile learning! I’m sure you agree, Dick Ng’ambi (at the University of Cape Town).

Then I noticed that the Learning Lab at Wolverhampton University is holding a symposium in Telford, Oct 14-15, for those just starting to do research in mobile learning (Mobile Learning Early Researcher Symposium <>). Yes, we do need more research into what is feasible in using mobile phones in this way.

Learning by ear

An older technology still offers much to learners who are mobile: a distance-education programme delivered by radio, Learning by Ear <>, is reaching out to a potential African audience of more than 33 million people. The productions are based around ten key themes, including: globalisation in Africa, environment, women and girls in Africa, health issues, political participation, and computer and Internet technology. The programme’s popularity lies in its broadcasts of true-to-life stories on these themes, whether as features, interviews or even soaps.

New for old?

But what if some kids swap their iPod or MP3 player for an old Walkman <>?  Thirteen-year-old Scott Campbell swapped for a week, discovering: “As I boarded the school bus, I was greeted with laughter”; “I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was used to switch between different types of cassette”; and “It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape.”

The Tablet, not the Pill

Is Steve Jobs about to launch the Apple Tablet (The Independent, August 26, 2009)? If so, will it be able to serve mobile learners as a phone, a radio and an MP3 or MP4 player? As well as doing everything else we wish for in mobile learning? What an opportunity for creativity!

David Hawkridge

Handheld devices for herdboys in Lesotho

In the Guardian (May 2) Ed Pilkington wrote about Ray Kurzweil, futurist and head of Google’s new Singularity University, which is housed at the headquarters of NASA in Silicon Valley and opening for students in July. To quote, this university will ‘bring together some of the biggest names in frontier disciplines such as bio- and nano-technology, neuroscience and artificial intelligence.’ The first cohort of 40 students will work together for nine weeks trying to come up with new ideas for tackling problems such as climate change, world poverty and hunger.

As Pilkington tells us, Kurzweil has an amazing record of inventions. In the 1970s he wrote programs to enable computers to read text and synthesise speech. By 1984 he had perfected electronic music synthesisers; by 1987 he had developed speech-to-text.

What particularly caught my eye was Kurzweil’s new idea of using the explosion of cellphones across Africa as an opportunity to write ‘software that would easily diagnose and provide remedial directions for leading local diseases’, as Pilkington wrote. Users of iPhones know how many applications (apps) they can already obtain: Kurzweil’s proposed app would give cellphone owners and their families a valuable source of advice regarding preventive medicine, presumably in their own language.

Mobile phones didn’t exist when I first wrote about information technology and education. Nor did the Internet. My own idea of what might happen in Africa was that the herdboys of Lesotho, looking after the cattle, would have a handheld device from which they could learn to read in their own language.

Herdboys in Lesotho still don’t have devices like that and perhaps they never will. But tens of millions of people in Africa do have mobile phones now, and before long they will be able to use them for far more than business deals and social chat. BDRA’s friend, Dick Ng’ambi at the University of Cape Town, is among the foremost African researchers in this field. See also, kindly provided by Gabi Witthaus, this interesting description:  


*Hawkridge, David (1983, reprinted 1985) New information technology in education. London and Baltimore: Croom Helm and Johns Hopkins University Press.

Learning transition; purpose, processes and promises

Initiation rites are performed in many societies of the world to mark the passing from one phase of life unto another. Whilst they vary in their purposes, processes and activities, the central objective is the celebration of the end of one phase of life and transition into a new phase. Initiation rites thus acknowledge maturity, development, transformation and change as an ongoing process. Such transition provides the link between discontinuity and continuity, ending and new beginning, the past and the future following prescribed social rules, norms, and conventions. The occasion provides the individuals involved with the necessary instructions, support and guidance to discover and fulfil their personal ambitions and to live purposeful lives.

The rite of adulthood is perhaps the most important of the many sets of initiation rites. In western culture the status of adulthood is characterised by the 18th birthday which is the age at which most young people make the transition from secondary school or college into Higher Education. The event is marked by matriculation ceremonies in some institutions to both welcome and induct new learners into their respective HE community.

Academic discourse on learning transition (from FE to HE) has been the focus of much writing aimed at addressing concerns of learners in terms of adjusting into their new learning environment. Issues which have engaged the attention of most writers include, but are not limited to the factors influencing student retention, the impact of socio-cultural backgrounds on learner transition, student expectation of HE learning environments, information behavior of students preparing for transition, and type of support provided by institutions to help students make successful transition.

The question to be asked is, with the increasing move by most higher educational institutions to “online learning” and “learning across locations”, what new challenges will learner transitions bring and how do we reconceptualise learning support to make learning transition both meaningful and engaging? The IMPALA4T project provides a lot of food for thought.

Samuel Nikoi (12 May 2009)

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