Mobile and Wireless Technologies Review
A review of the literature on the use of mobile and wireless technologies for learning and teaching in UK further and higher education, from JISC (UK).
Author - Doug Belshaw
Publisher - JISC infoNet
Date - 2010
This review has been commissioned by JISC to review the literature on the use of mobile and wireless technologies for learning and teaching in UK further and higher education. It shall inform the development of a new ‘Innovative Practice’ publication to build upon earlier e-Learning publications (www.elearning.ac.uk/innoprac & www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/programmerelated/2006/pub_innovativepe).
Practice from the past three years, current practice, future trends and opportunities, and international comparisons make up the bulk of the review. Cost/benefit considerations are highlighted where appropriate.
Previous JISC publications and resources were used as a starting point for this review, in addition to interviews with leading researchers and practitioners in the field, performed via telephone, email and videoconference. These individuals recommended other publications and individuals with relevant experience, knowledge and insight. Most of the latter also agreed to be interviewed. The focus of the interviews and discussions was upon the past three years in the mobile and wireless technologies landscape, current good practice, and future affordances/inhibitors. Finally, those with experience of wider international trends were asked to reflect upon these in comparison with the UK. Where no date or page is given alongside an attributed quotation this has been gathered from these interviews and email conversations (with the author’s permission).
Publications by UK bodies and projects such as Becta, MoLeNET and ALT were then explored to provide a further evidence base for the review, with these in turn referencing publications by other organizations of relevance. The review has therefore grown organically in a ‘grounded theory’ approach with no pre-conceived agenda or assumptions made about the role of mobile learning in educational institutions.
Both interviewees and the literature reflected ‘silos’ of research and practice in the mobile and wireless technologies landscape. These can be defined, broadly, as:
- Technocentric (technology for technology’s sake)
- e-Learning related (mobile as part of the wider picture)
- Augmentation of formal processes
Whilst there is nominal referencing of academic literature by practitioners there is a reasonably clear demarcation between the two. It is clear that some projects have not learned from previous research and experience well-documented in the literature. In many cases, and much like conversations surrounding ‘digital literacy’ and ‘cloud computing’, discussion of mobile learning within and between institutions is used a proxy to consider the bigger picture of changes happening within education. With a greater focus on learners as customers and institutions being run very much as businesses, both publications and interviewees were at pains to point out how mobile learning can help improve retention, engagement and outcomes.
There may be nothing particularly ‘special’ about e-learning to many students, but ‘mlearning’ (as it is sometimes known) still retains some glamour and can inspire awe. Learners who know how to use mobile technologies for personal entertainment and communication do not necessarily know how to use the same technologies to aid their studies.
At the turn of the century Prensky’s ‘digital native/immigrant’ dichotomy caused many educators to advocate a ‘hands-off’ approach when it came to directing learners with technology. The theory was that ‘Millennials’ or the ‘Google Generation’ not only had access to more personally owned technology than any previous generation, but that they naturally knew what to do with it. This has been widely debunked in favour of a more nuanced ‘digital visitors/residents’ metaphor (White, 2008) that brings the experience and expertise of educators back into focus. Failing to place pedagogy at the heart of change management initiatives has led to many mobile learning failures.
Three things that learners do expect, however, are:
- To be able to use their own devices with corporately-owned IT infrastructure.
- For technology not to be used as a crutch for poor learning and teaching experiences.
- Unhampered digital communication with their peers, tutors and administrators.
In addition, it would appear that learners’ study habits are changing. They expect learning resources and relevant information to be available as and when required. Increasingly they are expecting to connect their social networks - through Facebook, Twitter and the like - to their studies. With social networking driving sales of smartphones a spectrum of ways exists in which institutions can embrace such functionalities, including altering filtering protocols and enabling sign-in to services through 3rd-party authentication system.
Although much is made of the ‘revolutionary’ nature of mobile learning, it is those institutions with a clear digital strategy that have been successful. For these institutions, the affordances of mobile learning allow an evolution towards a shared vision of a further or higher education institution in the twenty-first century.
There is, and never will be the ‘perfect’ mobile learning device. The fast-paced nature of change coupled with the business and/or entertainment focus of mobile devices means that education is likely only ever to be able to appropriate them for learning activities. So long as institutions place pedagogy first as part of a wider digital strategy, this should not
pose a barrier to adoption.