Thursday, January 26, 2012

M-learning – be careful – a 7 point primer

Warning – market’s a mess
Anyone who says cross-platform, m-learning content development and delivery is easy, is lying. A wander round the Learning Technologies exhibition induced a rash of promises that were at best economical with the truth. Mobile leaning vendors seem addicted to the word ‘YES’ in answer to any question. It ain’t that simple. Walk into any mobile shop, such as Carphone Warehouse and witness a fragmented market. Latency, bandwidth, screen size, methods of display, methods of input and the lack of universally adopted or agreed standards – that’s your technical environment. A quick glance will reveal iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Symbian and Palm. It’s all a bit of a mess. So be careful about what’s phones are promised.
Learning limits
Early research on mobile learning showed something that is conveniently ignored by mobile learning evangelists. Attention and retention may be seriously affected by small screen size. Few watch movies, read entire e-books or perform long pieces of linear learning on their mobiles.More worrying is research by Nass & Reeves that shows that retention falls rapidly with screen size. This pushes m-learning towards performance support, recording performance and collaborative learning, rather than courses. So be careful about what type of learning you want to deliver.
Technical complexities
Most serious developers use a tool that creates core code then cross-compiles to create native apps across a range of platforms. This is not easy as these things are difficult to write but the apps will be fast. A variation is to use a VM (Virtual Machine) which may be a bit slower but gives you control and flexibility. Or, more commonly, they will create web applications as browsers increasingly cope with worldwide standards such as HTML 5, Javascript and CSS 3. So be sure that you understand the means of mobile production as it will affect speed and options.
Content complexity
How complex will your content be? The three letter word ‘app’ covers everything from a simple text feed to complex geo-location, camera integrated applications with serious internal logic, interactivity, games and media manipulation. This is not easy in web apps, so be clear about the exact functionality of the apps you want to deliver. You may end up with some very limited options.
Managing through LMS/VLE
You have to consider whether you want integration with your LMS/VLE such as Moodle, Totara or Blackboard? M-learning isolated from your LMS/VLE may be difficult to justify and participation in the LMS/VLE functionality may be desirable. Do you want SCORM compliance?
Performance portal
Do you want the device to control and record performance in more ‘learn by doing’ or vocational applications? This evidence may need to be fed into an e-portfolio. Do you want to use the camera or GPS as part of the learning experience?
Collaborative learning
Is collaborative learning required? Do you want to integrate social media into your app? Or does the device already do this through their normal phone activity?
Take these seven issues seriously and you’re in a position to make a serious decision about whether you want to enter the m-learning market. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is now happening and would encourage participation. But you have to think context as well as content. Mobile learning may be more suited to some target audiences than others, younger not older, mobile not static, vocational not academic. Go into this with your eyes wide open or mobile will simply mean they take your money and run.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lectures selling students short: evidence from 'Science'

Academics will go to any length to defend the lecture (see twitter feed on my Don't lecture me! talk). No matter how much evidence there is to show that it is poor pedagogic practice, they resist the change. Even worse are those on the technology side in HE who ignore the arguments. They’re like those creationist scientists who have to reconcile empirical evidence with blind faith. In any case, here’s another study (yawn) that proves the obvious – lectures are selling students short.

Lectures v research-based instruction
In this study ‘Improved Learning in a Large-enrollment Physics Class’ by Deslauriers, Schelew & Wieman, from the University of British Columbia, lectures were compared with research-based instruction. The study was well designed with two large groups (n=267 n=271), one taught using an “experienced, highly-trained instructor” who taught using lectures, the other by a “trained but inexperienced instructor” using research-based instruction, based on cognitive science. Both taught an undergraduate physics course on electromagnetic waves with clearly identified learning objectives.

Higher attention, attendance & attainment
The results were astounding. Not only higher engagement and increased student attendance in the non-lecture group but a massive difference in attainment. To be precise, the ‘lectured’ group scored 41% on the test, the ‘interactive’ group 74%. Pretty strong medicine.

The excuse is HE that ‘we’ve always done it this way’ but if other areas of human endeavour were to take this attitude "in medicine we would still be bloodletting, in physics we would be trying to reach the moon with very large rubber bands" says Wieman. The evidence is overwhelming from Bligh to Mazur – lectures don’t work. So let’s cut to the quick here, we have an entire profession ‘lecturers’ whose job title and practice are deeply flawed. Show me a Professor of Education, especially a Professor of E-learning, who lectures, and I’ll show you a hypocrite who doesn’t read the research.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

7 reasons why Facebook is front runner in social media learning

There’s a lot of talk about social media in learning but where’s the action? Well, something’s happening in social media and learning, and Facebook is looking like a front runner. I first noticed this through the work of Millie Watts at Richard Huish College (see previous post) and Dr Ray Blunco sums it up in his Social Media in HE’ blog, when he says that the studies he’s run and participated in show that “students will overwhelmingly use Facebook”. Twitter seems to be used less and therefore less relevant and people don’t normally hang out in formal discussion groups in Ning! This has been reinforced by chats with the Facebook folks, who seem to have some serious plans in this area.
1. Why Facebook? They’re all there.
Interestingly, students argue that they prefer Facebook in learning because they’re already there and it’s easy to use. Almost all students are on Facebook and they’re there all of the time receiving updates all day long, so you can tap into their daily flow and make learning a part of their life, not just a chore through talks, tasks and tests. In fact, many report that they already, informally, use Facebook to ask each other questions, make enquiries about assignments and generally catch –up. So it makes sense to amplify that behaviour.
2. Learning automatically mobile
The fact that students get updates on their mobiles, is of course, an obvious advantage. Learning through Facebook, means for most, automatically engaging in mobile learning. This is a big leap forward, as learners spend a lot of wasted time being on the move – walking to educational institutions, hanging around waiting and so on.
3. Facebook - Groups
Let’s dispel the first myth. You don’t have to be ‘friends’ with your students, or respond to their ‘friend’ requests. You simply become a participant in a separate group. So think Facebook groups (not Facebook pages). A formal Facebook group is a private, closed space where you can share, poll, ask questions, chat, share documents, share images and so on. No one else sees the posts. Of course, you also receive notifications of group updates.
4. Tools (apps)
In addition to the group dynamics, there’s a rack of practical tools learners can use, as they can be interested into Facebook, including: Blogger (do teacher and student blogs), Slideshare (share slides), YouTube (show videos), Flickr (share images), CITEME (citation tool that finds and formats citations absolutely brilliant) and so on. We can also expect to see a rack of apps appearing that will accelerate this process.  ‘Appsfor good’ is a charity that runs courses for students in building apps (check them out). This is relevant, entrepreneurial and way beyond what the normal dull ICT curriculum teaches.
5. Facebook for educators
A useful starting point is ‘Facebook for educators’, a well written introduction which explains the basics. It has a useful list of the 'Ways Educators Can Use Facebook':
Help develop and follow your school’s policy about Facebook. 
 Encourage students to follow Facebook’s guidelines. 
Stay up to date about safety and privacy settings on Facebook.
Promote good citizenship in the digital world. 
Use Facebook’s pages and groups features to communicate with students and parents.
Embrace the digital, social, mobile, and “always-on” learning styles of 21st Century students.
Use Facebook as a professional development resource.

6. Civil use of social media
The bottom line is that world class institutions, like Stanford, have Facebook policies and encourage its use on campus. In any case using Facebook in schools, colleges, Universities and workplaces allows us to get the message across about the safe use of the internet, how to report problems, understand privacy settings, being civil, how to deal with cyberbullying etc. Using Facebook kills two birds with one stone – the medium is the message, so use the medium to teach the safe and sensible message.
7. Facebook as professional development
Devote a portion of your next INSET/training day to setting up a Facebook teachers/lecturers/trainers group to share professional knowledge. Surely there’s no better way to learn about the use of social media in learning than to simply get on and use it!
Lastly a shout for some of the good folk who are working hard to bring you advice, examples and so from the world of social media and learning, like Jane Hart, Jane Bozarth and many others.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why learning in on-places changed my life

I’m a mobile learner. In fact, I’d say that of all the learning experiences in my life, learning on the move has been the most productive. How so? Learning is a habit (see previous post)and I’ve habitually learnt on the move, largely in what Marc Auge calls ‘non-places’ – trains, planes, automobiles, buses, hotels, airports, stations. I’m never without a book, magazine or mobile device for learning. 
Young people not driving
Isn’t it interesting that, according to the University of Michigan, the number of US 17 year olds with a driving licence has fallen from 69% in 1983 to 50% in 2011? Among the several explanations for this, is the rise of the internet. The explosion of communication through texting, chat, Facebook and email, has lessened the need for physical contact. Indeed, driving prevents you from being in the flow, as you can’t be online (legally) when you drive. Young people also choose to spend their money on small, electronic shiny devices, like smartphones, rather than large, hugely expensive, shiny, mechanical cars, which they may see as environmentally unsound. On top of this costs have soared, especially for fuel and insurance.
This caught my attention as I’ve never driven a car in my life. Don’t get me wrong it’s been more happenstance than moral stance. I’ve lived in cities such as Edinburgh, London and now Brighton, where a car is just not that useful. I’ve never really been stuck, in terms of getting anywhere, with just two exceptions; when I was a student on a campus University in the US and when I worked in Los Angeles. Other than that, my familiarity with public transport, has got me to some pretty obscure places around the world.
Learning time
By luck this has literally given me years of time to read and learn in the isolated and comfortable surroundings of buses, trains, planes and hotels. I actually look forward to travel, as I know I’ll be able to read and think, even write in peace (writing this now on a 6.5 hr flight from Middle East). Being locked away, uninterrupted in a comfortable environment is exactly what I need in terms of attention and reflection. I calculate that over the last 30 years, of not driving, I’ve given myself about 20 days a year study time, totalling 600 days, so I’m heading towards a couple of years of continuous learning.
It was the French anthropologist Marc Auge in his book Non-Places, who pointed out that many of us, especially heavy users of public transport, spend considerable amounts of time in railway stations, airports, hotels and other neutral, non-spaces, in transit to somewhere else. The good news is that these places have become havens for learning. I stock up on books, read in the lounge, browse magazines, buy newspapers, and generally see these places as opportunities for reading and refection. Witness the rise of airport bookshops and the commonplace appearance of a Kindle or laptop on trains and aeroplanes.
If you redefine m-learning, as learning on the move and get away from the idea that it’s just content delivered via mobiles, it becomes an important part of the learning landscape. So buy a Kindle, notepad or load up your phone with content. Or stick to books. The important thing is to get into the habit of learning on the move and see non-places as learning spaces.