Friday, February 23, 2007

MoLTA 2007

I attended and presented a paper with Nick Ford at the Mobile learning technology and applications conference at the Albany Campus of Massey University on Monday 19th Jan.

It was the first NZ mLearning conference and therefore attended by a select group of just under 30 people. There was a good mix of papers beginning with Kay Fielden from Unitec presenting an interesting paper on ‘cell phones in NZ secondary schools’. She wanted to find out why IT & in particular cell phone usage was not made more use of in a school setting. Many schools in NZ ban the use of cell phones within the school grounds. She used an interesting adaptation of Prensky’s digital natives / immigrants analogy to categorise principals & teachers. Her main finding was that there was the need for a person in power within the school hierarchy to support the use of cellphones within the school & that this person did not have to be very digitally savvy but would have a good educational background to understand the issues involved.

Kathryn MacCallum from Massey has been looking into the feasibility of mobile access to discussion boards. She covered a good range of design issues related to the use of mobile technology and provided a good list of the things that need to be taken into account when customising content to mobile delivery.

Hokyoung Ryu (one of the organisers of the conference) from Massey, Albany looked at answering the question “does mlearning lead to learning?” He described the Massey project that could lead to using mobile technology as a bridge between formal and informal learning. The project used mobile technology to help new students familiarise themselves to the campus and university life. A survey of students who had made use of the technology found the students found that the provision of the technology showed that the institution provided them with support and pastoral care.

Thomas Cochrane made used of multimedia to promote the use of Web 2.0 applications via mobile to be used in the delivery and assessment of learning. He introduced the concept of the use of a ‘technology stewart’ to help put an educational slant on to the use of technology for students as well as for teachers.

David Parsons (an other organiser of the conference) delved into the software architecture issues for mlearning. He presented four generic software architecture that could be applied to mlearning including non-adaptive, adaptive (for more than one type of browser), client side & smart client with server connectivity. A bit over my head but Nick saw great possibilities with non-adaptive architecture, Moodle and our mlearning project.

Nick & I then presented our session on integrating our eportfolio work using Web 2.0 applications on to Moodle. I did the introduction of the background to our work and the Web 2.0 tools we were using. Nick then followed on from how he had customised our Moodle course site to make it clean and lean for display on a mobile phone. He also provided the tip of using Firefox and Firebug to allow the Moodle code to be displayed so that the modifications could be made to the Moodle course site display.

Anna Wingkist from Vaxjo University in Sweden presented a research study conducted at Canterbury university. The research looked into the effectiveness of using podcasting to improve learning for year one computer science students. In general, podcasting was found to be an effective, low cost & low effort supplement to lectures.

Bev Mackay form Northtec then presented her work on supporting nursing students using SMS. Again, the technique was low cost, effective and time efficient. Students also appreciated the contact. M-support will be an important part of my mlearning programme, so it is good to see the students point of view on m-support.

Mustafa Man from Trengannu in Malaysia presented his work on using a system called Smartchecker to monitor student attendance and performance. It is a PDA based system that replaces a manual system used in Malaysian schools.

Eusebio Scronavacca from Victoria University then presented his mobile phone feedback system called text-2-lrn. He uses this to enhance student interaction with lectures that have over 300 students in them. With the system, students are able to text comments and questions to the lecturer during the lecture. Students are also able to feedback answers to questions posed to them by the lecturer while the lecture is in progress. An interesting concept that goes beyond the ‘clicker’ type of feedback system that is used overseas.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Evangelising mLearning or use of technology in learning

My work over the last couple of years as a elearning facilitator plus several opportunities for me to present my findings about mlearning to staff has taught me a couple of things. Caryl Oliver, from William Angliss TAFE has brought up some salient points about bringing mlearning into the culture of a training college.

From my perspective, people will only make the time and effort to engage with the use of technology if:-

  • They have to or have been told they have to. In this case, some people do the minimum to keep their heads above water. A few grasp the opportunity with open arms and thrive but many do the minimum to keep their managers happy.
  • They have some external motivating force that makes them look outside the square and using technology brings with it opportunities that do not exist if they just stick with the status quo. External motivating forces could be a decline in student numbers due to more competition in the market for students or an increase in international students who need more counselling and support.
  • They have an internal motivation to keep up with the play and to try out new ideas to improve learning for their students.
  • They are inherently geeky / techy and enjoy exploring new methods for delivery content .

Without at least one of the above happening, the teaching and learning process would continue the way in which it has always taken place. The teacher shows and tells & the student imitates, practices and perhaps learns. For me, external forces pushed me into looking into alternative modes of delivery as CPIT was geographically removed from where most bakery apprentices in NZ are employed. The journey first into elearning and then into mlearning triggered my internal motivation to try to find something that would work well for my students and also help CPIT retain student numbers. So, first there was a push, & then the pull into the challenge of working out how to make things work better.

Some of the above is resonating with my Phd research as well. The first year apprentices I interviewed in 2005 had all fallen into the trade. None of them had any inclination to take up baking before they found themselves signing up into an apprenticeship. Through the end of 2006 and into 2007, I have been working through another series of interviews. The year two apprentices are progressing well but what has been enlightening is that several have found a passion for the trade. It is making a noticeable difference to their performance at work and onblock course. They have become self motivated in their learning and practice. All of them have had sort of an epiphany, a realisation that there is something in baking that likes them. This ‘fit’ into the trade is powering their work ethics, encouraging them to make the most of learning opportunities at work and outside of work and bringing into their lives, whole new fields to look into. I feel very privileged to be witnessing this as part of my research project.

One way in which we can make use of mlearning is to make use of the opportunity to 'catch' the learner in the process of workplace learning. These 'support' session could be used to help motivate the learner further in their skill learning. This can be done by using the situated learning opportunities presented when contacting the learning while they are immersed in their practice and making use of these to enhance learning.