Daily Archives: October 6, 2009

Handheld Learning 2009, Day 2:Where Is the Handheld Learning? Part II


 Day 2 of Handheld Learning 2009 and the first day of the conference part featured a variety of speakers. Funny (or ironic) part, there wasn’t a whole lot of talk about mobile or handheld learning, as the session titles indicate (Reflections on Learning, Creativity and Innovation, Games for Learning, Social Media for Learning). Maybe a sign of things to come??

In the afternoon I saw parts of the Games for Learning and Creativity and Innovation sessions, while trying to follow what I was missing in the other rooms online. Talk about an information overload!!

Games for Learning

I attended this session before the break, which consisted of three presentations on mobile learning games. Best one of the three was the presentation by the Waag Society on their Games Atelier project, a logical progression of their Frequency 1550 project. In Games Atelier, the concept of Frequency 1550 is still present, but Games Atelier consists of a set of tools that can be used to create your own games that can then be played. As James Gee said in his speech earlier today, you learn even more from creating/modding games than playing them.  The presenters demoed the tools, which look good but unfortunately aren’t free. They also discussed a game played with students played in New York and Amsterdam in to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of the relationship between New York and Amsterdam, called the Island.

The work that’s being done by the Waag Society is some of the very best I’ve seen in mobile learning, as it takes advantage of the affordance of mobile technologies, while still being able to tie what students do on the go to classroom learning. In contrast, some handheld/mobile learning projects in which learners are stuck in the classroom with mobiles sometimes seems to be an oxymoron, as the devices aren’t even used to bring the outside world into the classroom.  

Creativity and Innovation

Phyllis Hillwig discussed Mobile Opportunities in the US. Having followed mobile learning in the US since 2001, I feel that I have a reasonably good grip on the field, and I was somewhat surprised by some of Phyllis’ statements. Most of what she said sounded very familiar to me, including the question of “how” we can be successful in the US, which is complicated because of where today’s content is created and resides, and how we pull together content, pedagogy, user experience, cognitive science (unloading working knowledge into long term), etc. I think this is a universal problem, not one that is unique to the US. In addition, she noted current trends in US education, including budget and achievement gaps, and mentioned the Koontz report, Pockets of Potential. The most surprising statement Hillwig made was that “mobile learning is not focused on much yet” in the US, despite the fact that there have been a substantial number of mobile learning projects in the US, going back to the Palm Education Pioneer Project in 2001. I do agree with her that the US can learn a lot from other countries in Europe (UK, EU countries) and Asia (e.g. Korea and Taiwan) with regards to a “mobile learning culture”. I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that term, but in the large scheme of things it seems to make sense.

Linda Hahner‘s focus was on the importance of application design that is educationally appropriate. She flew through a bunch of apps and discussed what was wrong with each of them. I wish she would have shown some examples of how things should be designed, other than pointing to her own site that, according to her, shows how things should be done. Now I’m no expert on visual design, but I do think her session could have been a little more balanced and not a “rip-the-ipod-app” diatribe.  

Naomi Norman: presented on two projects she is working on at Epic for the British Army that run on the Nintendo DS platform: one that addresses Entry Level 3 Numeracy basic skills for new recruits; the other, vehicle maintenance training for Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. While the first one, Numerika, seemed pretty basic drill and kill, Epic did a good job of researching their clientele and its needs ahead of time, providing math instruction within context, using a minimum of text (but just enough) and on a platform that makes sense for a variety of reasons (robust, portable, anywhere/anytime and opportunistic learning, motivation for repeat learning), especially when comparing it to the way math is taught currently using workbooks. The vehicle maintenance training looks like much more of a guided problem-solving tool, which is interesting because it can be used as a stand-alone or on the job.

Tony Vincent: discussed the use of iPod Touch apps to create comics (ComicTouch and Strip Designer), using images from the web (including Google Maps and Street View) and iPod Touch screenshots. For all of the details on how to do this, see Tony’s blog post. This was one of very few presentations I attended today that focused on mobile learning, and a good way to end the day. 

So what does the relative lack of focus on mobile learning at Handheld Learning 2009 mean? Maybe it’s a shift of focus in the conference itself, which makes me wonder what next year will bring. Will there be a Handheld Learning 2010 or will Learning Without Frontiers do something different, e.g. combine its three conferences into one. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it’s a sign that even those who are purely working in mobile learning need to broaden their thinking and focus more on learning with digital technologies in general. This shouldn’t be too difficult to do as there already is a tendency for mobile learning to be less self-contained on devices and more dependent on the web for content, communication, and collaboration. It all comes down to providing learners with the appropriate tools to meet their learning needs, whether these tools are mobile, web-based, or something else.

And finally, the phrase coined for the day is John Davitt’s “struggleware”: apps that make students scratch their heads and think. I don’t think we have enough of those…

Handheld Learning 2009, Day 2:Where Is the Handheld Learning? Part I


Day 2 of Handheld Learning 2009 and the first day of the conference part featured lots of speakers. Funny (or ironic) part, there wasn’t a whole lot of talk about mobile or handheld learning, as the session titles indicate (Reflections on Learning, Creativity and Innovation, Games for Learning, Social Media for Learning). Maybe a sign of things to come??

Reflections on Learning

In any event, judging from the lively twitter feed, especially in the morning, opinions related to this trend were divided. Some people wanted to see more mobile learning stuff, others thought that the keynotes were provocative and forced the audience to think outside of the box. I would tend to agree with the latter, although at least some references to mobile learning would have been helpful (if you want to see any of the morning keynotes, please go here).

The keynotes kicked of with Zenna Atkins, the chair person of Ofsted, who talked about the current status of schools and technology in the UK to some extent and argued that change is needed and needs to be consumer-driven. She mentioned that mobile technologies are becoming increasingly important in schools, but not necessarily in ways intended. She mentioned that in some cases, camera phones were used by students to capture bad teaching. In addition, Like doctors, teachers will soon have pupils knowing more about outcomes/paths of their education, as some are looking up curriculum online and calling on teachers on not covering certain objectives. This consumer revolution in education will be about content, context, and how to get access. I still have some questions about what her vision would look like in reality and how it would be funded, as current educational structures and funding schemes most likely would not work.

Atkins was followed by Malcom McLaren, who admitted that he was speaking at a conference that was definitely not in his comfort zone, and proceeded by telling the audience his schooling/educational experiences, in rather colorful language. He talked about how Britain is broken, and its culture is failing many, by saying how too much of it supports the notion that it is cool to be stupid (karaoke culture), at least in the Anglo-Saxon world. In addition, he argued that failure and struggle are important to succeed. As far as the role of technology is concerned in all of this, McLaren said it was just a tool; don’t become a slave to it. Don’t let it replace experiencing the world.

Next up was Yvonne Roberts from the Young Foundation, who also talked (well, sort of rambled) about failure and grit, but said she sees Britain not as broken but as bursting with potential. She emphasized the importance of stories, and expressed the hope that testing and standards don’t drive out inquiry and children’s inquisitive nature. With regards to technology use for learning, Rogers disagreed with McLaren, calling it an ingredient, not a tool. She noted that research says that the best ratio of kids to computers is 2:1. She did not cite any research, but Yvonne Rogers made the same argument in Mobile technology for children: Designing for interaction and learning. How substantial the evidence is for this argument I do not know, but to some extent there is something to say for children collaborating face-to-face using digital tools, although I can think of plenty of examples where 1:1 ratios work well also. It all depends on the teacher and the pedagogy, not on the technology. Many in the audience disagreed with her arguments for 2:1 ratios.

The morning keynotes ended with a good talk by James Paul Gee, who discussed that video games have qualities to enhance learning that are based on solid educational research, and that formal education does not. He made the case that we learn by using experiences within which we can develop thoughts and understanding about concepts and ideas (situated meaning). He used the analogy that learning in school is like reading the manual to a video game without having seen the game, i.e. learning in school is learning devoid of context. Outside of school, kids are learning much more complicated things because something is at stake, e.g. when playing or modding video games or games like Yu-gi-oh. Gee emphasized the importance of passion and persistence. You learn if you’re passionate about something, but you can only become good at it if you put in the time (10,000 hours).

In sum, themes of the morning key notes seemed to be the importance of struggle and failure, and how current educational systems are not providing students with learning that is relevant, authentic, and motivating. Students need to be passionate and persistent about their learning, but it will not be easy to get to that point. In this regard, the key notes left some big questions unanswered;

  • Technology can motivate students to learn, but how do you turn motivation into passion? (and 10,000 hours of persistence?)
  • What are viable alternatives to current educational systems, what would they look like, and how would they be funded?
  • How would we prepare pre-service and in-service teachers for such a system?
  • What roles can mobile technologies play? For example, nobody, except maybe for Gee, discussed the role/importance of learning outside of school.

All in all, the morning was interesting and thought-provoking, and while not really providing concrete solutions, it left much food for thought.