Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Mobile phones as cognitive tools

An article by David Jonassen titled Technology as Cognitive Tools: Learners as Designers provided me with lots of ideas to think through. The paper presents the view point that the application of technologies (like using computers for teaching and learning) as instructional tools should be reconfigured. Technology, the hardware and software to create teaching / learning sessions, should instead be thought of as ‘cognitive learning tools’. Technology should be given to the learners, for them to use as tools for knowledge construction. Instead, technology is now mainly used by teachers, instructional designers etc as a media for disseminating content.

As quoted from the paper above, “cognitive tools are both mental and computational devises that help to support, guide and extend the thinking processes of users.” Jonassen’s argument is that we should be using the capabilities of computers in particular to enhance learning opportunities for students. Instead of just using computers to provide content, students should be using computers to create their own content.

George Siemen’s latest paper titled Connectivism:Learning as Network Creation also goes down a similar path. This paper is an extension on his previous work on the concept of ‘connectivism’ as an updated adjunct to theories of constructivist learning. The ability to form networks is part of how learners construct meaning for themselves. These networks are formed not only within the learner, but are now also more likely to be formed externally by the learner to various sources of information, expert blogs, wikis, creative commons resources / websites etc. The learner is also able to contribute more easily to the knowledge formation of others by posting their material on blogs, wikis, websites etc.

Both of the above articles focus on the use of computers that are based in an office or home. The wider use of mobile phones extends the implications of the above articles into a mass market. Whether or not mobile phone uses realise it or not, they are all contributing towards changing the way in which the mobile phone is being used along with opening up opportunities for connectivism. We in education need to be aware of these implications. As the mobile phone changes from being ‘just a communication device’ for voice, text & pictures, we need to think about ways to use the mobile phone as a ‘cognitive tool’ and how this use would impact on connectivism for learners. I intend to mull over these concepts, so more of this in the near future!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Games, education & mlearning

A blog by Greg Costikyan via the mobile-weblog brought into focus several important things that I needed to think through. I have always had an interest in the use of games in education. I was familiar with the work of Marc Prensky on the use of games for learning, well before attending his informative session and workshop at last year’s efest. Living with two teenages also means that I have been continually exposed to the evolution of PC based games, game consoles and multi-user game platforms.

Greg’s various
presentations and writings are an excellent resource for researchers into the field of game design. Of especial interest to educators, is a link to Chris Crawford’s seminal book on game design. Although written in 1982, the precepts of game design outlined in his book still hold true and many of the ideas and concepts he puts forward have great relevance to how educators could improve in their engagement of learners.

Greg’s most recent work has been in the development of mobile games. The main gist of his blog is about how mobile phones are (as yet) not designed for playing games on. We could say the same for education, mobile phones are firstly a mobile communication devise. All the other add-ons that current mobile phones are sold with, are basically accessories to the phone. What game designers and educators are trying to do, is to use the mobile phone as a tool for their own purposes. We are therefore trying to fit in the restrictions of mobile phones, rather than thinking about how mobile phones could be configured to help promote socially constructive learning /gaming.

The other thing Greg brought up was the multiple platforms (operating systems) that have multiplied with the number of brands and models of mobile phones. Google brought up thousands of sites to download mobile games. I did a quick check of a couple like
games loft and my phone games. All of them had specific phone models you clicked on to access the games that would be downloadable onto that specific phone. It does not bode well for anyone thinking about putting together interactive learning games for use on mobile phones.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Cogitive apprenticeships & mLearning

The gist of my paper presented at the NCVER conf. last month was how mlearning could be an opportunity to use the principles of teaching referred to as cognitive apprenticeships (CA). My interest in CA started at least 10 years ago during my studies toward my BEd. I found that my teaching methods aligned well with the teaching methods that were described / attributed to CA. I then made a conscious effort to plan my teaching sessions based on CA principles and to put into practice CA teaching methods. To date, I have found this to be a very worthwhile exercise. I find that I connect well with my students in face to face classes using CA and based the development of my online teaching content on CA as well.

mLearning does provide a rich resource for using CA with distance learners. Here is an excerpt from my paper where that conveys some of the possibilities for CA with mlearners.

Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland (2005) in chapter 5 of their book Online learning: Concepts, Strategies, and applications provide guidelines on how to use cognitive apprenticeship models in on-line learning, and I am going to reiterate these with an emphasis on the guidelines that are especially pertinent to mLearning application.
  • Promote mentoring and coaching:- building a mentoring and coaching relationship between tutor and apprentice learner is improved with the use of synchronous communication via the mobile phone.
  • Support modelling and explain expert performance:- these are again much easier to do synchronously over the phone then via asynchronous text based emails. The text based email may form a base from which more modelling and explaining can take place, but apprentices respond better to verbal instructions. Mobile phone technology also provides capabilities for pictures and short text to be transmitted synchronously during phone based support sessions. These are useful techniques for supplementing voice only communications.
  • Focus on mastery within the context of the knowledge domain:- competency at practical tasks and hints / tips for conducting simple ‘experiments’ can be conveyed via mobile phone using the phone’s camera or video function. These save time in not having to prepare long text or verbal explanations on what to do or how to complete practical tasks.
  • Support increasing complexity:- Text based content provided to learners provide initial anchors from which further scaffolds may be constructed to expand understanding and application of new knowledge and skills. Examples that help scaffold the apprentice from one activity to the next, are often better explained via pictures and voice coaching than through lengthy emails.
  • Encourage collaborative learning:- contact with peers becomes more informal and immediate when SMS and peer to peer networks are used. On the current elearning courses, apprentices have resisted using text based discussion boards despite concerted efforts to encourage posting.
  • Support articulation of understanding and reflection on performance:- Using mLearning tools to build up an eportfolio is one way to assist learners in reflecting on their skill acquisition and provides them with the opportunity to show case their work.
  • Promote enculturation of students into authentic practice through activity and social interaction:- mLearning provides flexible learning options for apprentices in their workplaces. mLearning tools can be used to enhance workplace learning by helping to built supportive relationships between tutor, apprentice, workplace trainer and employer. A phone call is many times more personal and immediate than a form letter.