Monday, 14 October 2013

Handbook of Mobile Learning

Zane L. Berg & Lin Y. Muilenburg (Eds.)
Handbook of Mobile Learning (Routledge, 2013)



The blurb on the back cover refers to the book as a "comprehensive compendium" on research into the field of mobile learning. It's a lot more that that. I would call a magnum opus of mobile learning. Coming in at over 600 pages and with 53 chapters covering a huge range of issues about m-learning this book should make it's way onto the bookshelves (or e-reader) of everybody who is interested and involved in mobile learning.

The issue of course is that will, in the very near future, be just about everybody involved in learning. Although reliable figures are hard to come by and even then should be taken with a certain amount of scepticism, there are about 300 million people with a tablet (either Android or IPad) and about one billion people with smartphones. There is obviously a great deal of overlap between these two figures but that is still a very large number of people with access to a mobile device that is used on a daily and habitual basis. 

The first part of the book explores the history and theory of m-learning. You would think that a history of m-learning would be a very short chapter indeed. However, as m-learning is placed within the context of distance, open and electronic learning then it has a longer ancestry. This is only the first two chapters of this section. The rest is a collection of writings of how the pedagogy of m-learning is developing.These chapters were fascinating in that it shows how educational theory is increasingly lagging behind a fast-changing technology. Various learning theories revolving around constructivist and connectivist approaches, activity theory, the ARCS model and the ideas of Jurgen Habermas are discussed. There is some agreement that the pedagogy that best fits m-learning is different from that revolves around e-learning which is itself still in it's infancy. The section concludes with some brave attempts to peer into the crystal ball and predict the future of m-learning. I say 'brave' because predicting the future of something as fast-moving and fluid as mobile learning is not that easy. It'll certainly grow from a qualitative point of view but from every other perspective - who knows?

Part two focuses on the needs of different groups of learners and how m-learning can support them. For those of you involved in open learning then this is one of the most useful sections of the book. Mobile learning allows for much greater independence and choices on the part of the learner; more engagement and interaction with the content and many more opportunities for communicating with tutors and with fellow learners.

The one thing that distinguishes mobile-learning from other kinds of leaning activity is the fact that it is mobile. This allows for learning that can take place anytime and anywhere. How this works in practice is the main part of this section. Chapters explore how mobiles have been used with medical education, cookery classes, universities, work-based learning and, most interestingly for me, a chapter on the use of mobiles in museums. 

The next part of the book shifts the focus from the learner to the teacher using mobile devices and explores the whole area of instructional design. Teachers using mobile devices will have to re-think many of the ways in which teachers teach their subjects and how they relate to their learners. There is an intriguing chapter on the concept of the 'flipped classroom' and how mobile technologies can transform the way in which our children learn in school. There is a return to an exploration of pedagogies in m-learning, especially how it fits in with instructional design. The last chapter is on how a MOOC was designed for use on mobile devices. I found this very interesting because the MOOCs that I have been involved can clearly be done on a mobile device but have not been designed for optimum mobile use. Futurelearn, the UK's new MOOC provider, has stated that the MOOCs that they will be offering will be mobile-friendly. At the time of writing, the first MOOCs through Futurelearn  have yet to be launched so how their design takes into account mobile-learning is currently not known.

Moving on from the learner and the teacher, the fourth part of the book explores the challenges of creating and implementing mobile learning. In a sense, the chapters in this section are simply stating the obvious. Don't even think about instituting mobile learning in schools, universities, libraries, museums or wherever without making sure that the proper administrative and management scaffolding is firmly in place. Yet the obvious does need to be stated in order to prevent a badly-planned rush to mobile learning. For instance, there is an excellent chapter on a university that distributed IPads to all of their students. This mass deployment created all sorts of challenges for the university and changed the relationship between the students and staff in ways that were not predicted. The most important chapter in this section is the one that introduces the Mobile Implementation Framework, which offers a way for implementing new technologies into institutions. It would be easy to skip over this section and to leave the administration and management of m-learning to others but you would do so at our peril.

And so to the last part of the book. This was the part of the book that I found the most fascinating. Over fifteen chapters the canvas is spread wide as case studies of mobile learning from around the world are explored. Again these case studies come from schools, community organizations, universities and many other kinds of learning bodies. The most inspiring chapters are on how mobile devices are helping people in the developing world access learning in a way that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. Malaysia is heavily investing in technology infrastructures and there are a couple of chapters on how educationalists in Malaysia are taking advantage of this through mobile-learning. Mobile devices are being used in India and sub-Saharan Africa to help children to access materials that were until recently out of reach.

Apologies for the big review but it's a big book on a big subject. It is difficult to imagine anybody involved in learning, including those in open learning, will not have to embrace (either whole-heartedly or reluctantly) mobile-learning. In the same way that printed books, radio, television and computers have revolutionised learning so mobile devices will do the same again. This book will help everybody to get ready.

If you want to buy either the hard copy or the ebook then here is the link.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Quick Hits for Teaching with Technology

Robin K. Morgan and Kimberley T. Olivares (Eds.)
Quick Hits for Teaching with Technology: 
Successful Strategies by Award-Winning Teachers 
(Indiana University Press, 2012)


For the 'digital immigrants' who are teaching in today's further and higher educational establishments technology has become an indispensable tool in delivering their courses. Understanding how to use new technologies has become much easier even as the choices of technologies have mushroomed. What is more difficult is how to use this new technology in a way that captures the interest and imaginations of students (both on campus and online); helps them learn better and at the same time allows tutors to develop the quality and effectiveness of their teaching.

This is where this book can prove useful for anybody involved in open and online teaching and is looking for creative and interesting ideas on how to engage with their students. The contributors are mainly Indiana University staff and they cut across different disciplines and departments, including maths, geography and medicine. Lots of the suggestions in the book are discipline-specific but most are not and even the ones that are can still be remodelled to fit in with a different subject.

The book is divided into four sections each of which deal with different ways in which new technologies can be best used in teaching. The first chapter has suggestions on how technology can assist in promoting student engagement. The second part explores how technology can be used to improve access to learning for those who may find the traditional college setting less feasible. Chapter three looks at imaginative ways for using technology in the evaluation of both learning and teaching. The last chapter helps with the problem that all of us are facing today, namely how to do more with less. The contributions to this chapter give examples of how technology can make teaching more efficient.

There are far too many (just under one hundred at a rough count) contributions for any examples to be detailed in this review. However, the use (in both consuming and producing terms) of blogs, wikis, clicker, podcasts as well as using websites such as YouTube and Prezi appears several times throughout the book. There are suggestions in the book that surprised me and surprised me in a good way and it will certainly influence my future practice. I can see tutors in open and online learning reaching for this book for inspiration again and again.

For readers of this review outside of North America, the distributors of this book have offered a very generous 20% discount off the price of the book if it is bought through their website. You can find details here and the discount code to use is CS0613QHTT.



Thursday, 6 June 2013

Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age

Helen Beethem and Rhona Sharpe (eds.) 
Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing for 21st Learning (Routledge, 2013)



This is a new edition of a book that was first published in 2007. In the six years since the first edition of this book the online and open learning world has moved on considerably. The development of OERs, that were in their infancy in 2007, has continued to grow and develop. MOOCs (for many the antithesis of OERs - as highlighted by the current debate over FutureLearn's Terms and Conditions) did not exist in any form that we would recognise today and the learning potential of social media platforms was only just beginning to be recognised.

The thrust of the book is that pedagogic theory cannot be created in a vacuum. Social, economic and cultural values have moved on since 2007 and the technology that is available has changed quite a lot as well. All of that means that we need to search for a new pedagogy as we move from an emphasis on teaching to one of learning.

The first part of the book explores the concept of "design for learning" in which the creators of open learning materials need to take into account a new way of learning when the materials are put together. In a sense, these learning theories have been around for some time but are being repurposed to take account of societal and technological change. Of the three broad learning theories covered in the book (associative, cognitive and situative) it is obvious that situated learning theory is coming to dominate discussions about open learning. 

The second section moves from the theoretical to the practical with case studies of learning design being discussed within the framework of learning theory. The case studies include perspectives from those who work in the field of arts and humanities teaching; a 'Student as Producer' project at the University of Lincoln in the UK and the development of the LAMS (Learning Activity Management System) design tool.

The theoretical discussions in the book about learning theory and how it applies to "design for learning" is an extremely useful section for those who are unfamiliar with the whole area of learning theory and design for learning. I suspect that this may include many teachers in the post-compulsory education field who are, to use what might be a controversial phrase, "digital immigrants" and are faced with students who have grown up with learning in an entirely new way. Understanding the theory by itself in not enough. You can read instructions (or watch a video) on how to swim or ride a bike but in the end you have to go ahead and start putting that theory into practice. So the last section of the book is also extremely useful as a way for reflective practitioners to see how others have added practical flesh to their theoretical bones.

The book can be ordered through the Routledge website. (Please do not use Amazon until they fess up over their tax affairs)





Monday, 13 May 2013

Supporting Students for Success in Online and Distance Education

Ormond Simpson Supporting Students for Success in Online and Distance Education (Open and Flexible Learning Series) ) (Routledge 2012)

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Strictly speaking, this is not a new book but is an amalgam of two previous titles by Ormond Simpson which explores how to support and retain students in open and distance learning.

I want to explore this book from the perspective of supporting students studying MOOCs. There is only a brief mention of MOOCs in this title yet I feel that there are many parts of this book that will help those who are running, or are considering, running MOOCs.

In essence, the book tackles the problem of a 20% completion rate amongst students on open courses. This is a better statistic than for MOOC completion. According to Sir John Daniel's "Making Sense of MOOCs" (2012) when MIT offered a course called Circuits and Electronics about 155,000 people from 160 countries registered to start the course. Of the 155,000 people, 23,000 got as far attempting the first problem set, half-way through the course there were 9000 students left and only 7000 saw the course through from beginning to end.

This extremely high drop-out rate has led to some criticisms of MOOCs. However, during a "Google Hang-Out", George Siemens, one of the original MOOC creators, questioned whether completing a course should be regarded as a sign of success and non-completion as an indicator of failure.

Simpson refers to this accepting approach to an extremely high drop-out rate as a Passendale view of education in which thousands are sent over the top in the knowledge that only a few will reach the end and that that is somehow okay. Surely the greater the completion rate then the more successful the MOOC. It shows that the course was well-structured and reveals a greater relevance to the needs of the students.

The book first tackles the reasons why people drop out of open courses. This is clearly important because if the reasons for drop-outs are known then it will be easier to find solutions. As far as I am aware, there have been no studies into why people drop out of MOOCs but again it's probably comparable. As way of a confession, I have dropped out of two MOOCs. Both were concious decisions and were based on a recognition that one course did not fit my needs and the other coincided with a sudden increase in my professional work.

The next part of the book then goes on to explore how students could be retained on open courses. If any MOOC organisers are concerned about keeping as many students as possible on their courses then this part of the book should be a must-read. Some of the recommendations in the book talks about retaining students through personal contact. This is clearly impossible when there are tens of thousands of students. However, it seems to me that the weekly instructional e-mail could also contain an element of encouragement for students that might be struggling. Students using peer-to-peer support through discussion boards and other social media could also be used to encourage retention.

To accompany the book Ormond Simpson has an excellent website with some excellent resources on open learning. The book can be ordered through the Routledge website.