MLearn: Mobile Devices and Coursework

MLearn: Mobile Devices and Coursework

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on two very interesting presentations I attended yesterday; one about museums and coursework by Mike Sharples from the UK Open University, and another by Maria Parks & Mark Dransfield from York St John University in the UK about occupational therapy students blogging from mobiles. I wanted to hear the presentation about museums because I figured many of the issues present in “the one-off museum visit” are similar to the ones faced by librarians. I was definitely right in part, though the museums have a few advantages we don’t quite have as librarians.

He started by explaining that museum visits by classrooms are often isolated from coursework. Teachers spend a lot of time working out the logistics of getting students to the museum and when their lunch break will be, but less time connecting the visit back to curriculum. He had some interesting ideas around how to link these two locations up through technology.

The term of the moment: “enquiry-led museum learning”. Of course my ears perked right up, as I’ve been hearing a lot of conflicting ideas about what “inquiry-based learning” meant. He expressed a definition much like the one that resonated most with me; a structured experience with a specific question to answer, where the way to the answer is what the student determines for him or herself. In the example he showed us, the students were prepared with a question about D-Day; was it a success or a failure? They were given mobile phones that could take pictures and were connected to a piece of software that would organize and post the pictures they took and the comments they had. So they students were set free in the museum to find evidence to support whatever conclusion they came to. Since the museum is a very visual place, the photographs made sense as evidence.

When I thought about this class project, and tried to imagine it in a library context, I realized that he was using photographs where we already use print and digital resources; while we rarely frame academic work as a journey toward an evidenced-based result, that’s exactly what it is. It would be harder to use photographs to prove a point in a library. What are the copyright implications of taking photographs of images in books, after all? A library activity even close to this one would be mostly spent, not running through the stacks, but sitting in front of a computer linking up digital resources or creating a bibliography. Not quite so exciting, really.

Though you could do fun library school assignments like this, taking photographs of the funny bits of LC (where socialists sit next to criminals, for instance).

The mo-blogging presentation was somewhat similar (but very different). The occupational therapy students were given cell phones hooked up to flickr and blogger. So they blogged from the phone, could take pictures and blog those (but not of broken legs and such like they wanted to, that went against the ethics board). It was a very interesting presentation, and definitely exactly the kind of reflective learning that we’re talking about at UTM, so I was paying close attention.

One of the other themes of this conference (which is very very excited about cell phones, let me tell you) is that the cell phone interface is preferable to “today’s kids”. I’ve heard repeated versions of what I think is the same story about a kid in South Africa who would rather type out his essay on his cell phone rather than sit at a computer with a keyboard. I’m fairly sure the stories I kept hearing like this are all about the same kid. The presentation from York absolutely underscored this; half of the occupational therapy students had a full-sized bluetooth keyboard to connect to their cell phones, while the other half did not. Maria Parks shows us examples of the blog posts written by the students with keyboards; they had pictures, and tons and tons and tons of reflective text. And then she showed us examples of blog posts by the students with no keyboards; one line. Pictures, basically no text. The feedback they got: “I wanted to write more, but the phone was so annoying!” Maria said it was a good thing their assessment was based on other things, because the difference between the two groups was so extreme. How can you assess reflection based on one line every few days or so? And what that one line contained: some basic description of things that happened, or things they needed to do: “Hypersensitivity must control pain”. Versus the paragraphs of text from the other students.

It’s just a strange thing how the over all feeling of what was “right” and true was so different from the projects on the ground running.

But also, the difference from country to country; in a place where computers and internet connections prohibitively expensive, but cellphones are cheap, it makes sense that people would feel more at home with the cell phones. But that’s really not the way work here.

I came to this conference to figure out how I felt about mobile devices in education at my own school; I’m still not quite sure yet. It will take a bit more reflection to sort through it all.

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