Welcome. We are Aarón Alzola Romero and Elton Barker, from the Open University's Department of Classical Studies. This blog is part of a broader research project exploring the uses (and abuses) of mobile learning in the Arts. Our aim is to examine mobile learning applications, assess their strengths and weaknesses (in terms of user interaction, contribution to learning outcomes, cost and popularity), identify areas of opportunity and challenges in their future implementation and assess the impact that mobile learning solutions have on the delivery of Arts courses.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Learning to Mobile Learn

Hello, my name's Elton Barker and I'm Aaron's colleague not only on this project but also in the department of Classical Studies. In my day job I work on the literature and culture of ancient Greece - to be honest, at time of writing mobile learning really is all Greek to me. So, why am I interested in mobile learning and what do I hope we achieve?

I was keen to join Aaron on this project since, while I'm connected to the internet for the greater part of my working (and non-working) day, I haven't used mobile learning in any of my teaching. No doubt I could make the excuse that I've only recently come to the OU; beforehand I was teaching in Oxford, where mobile learning would be taking a walk with one's tutor around Christ Church meadows while discussing Plato's theory of forms. (BTW, this is a cheap joke at my former employers' expense: Oxford is at the forefront of much digital activity in the UK, not least in Classics: witness the recent 'DIY' papyrus reading tool, trailed no less on R4's Today programme: http://ancientlives.org/.)

So, my first interest is simply to find out what kind of ML activity is going on at the OU, which from its very beginning has been at the forefront of technological pedagogy. (Remember those mathematics programmes on BBC2 late at night in the 70s?) Digital-based research is being conducted across the university in different faculties, primarily in: KMi (the Knowledge Media Institute), semantic webby folk who are looking to develop killer apps; and IET (the Institute of Educational Technology - the OU does like its acronyms), a team of IT anthropologists who analyse the use of social media in academia over coffee.

However, I don't think that it's enough to find out what's going on around the university: we, in the Faculty of Arts, also need to consider what we can use, and how, and what consequences might follow both for delivering our teaching and generally for thinking about our subject. Here, I'll be on a steep learning curve, since I'm of the generation for whom word processed essays and email exchanges with lecturers were the new thing; ML has played no role in my own education. Hell, I don't even possess a smart phone! So, the key follow up question for me is a two-parter: (i) can I use the particular app in the first place (i.e. is it as intuitive as the ipad OS on which I'm writing this post); and (ii) can I see the value of it as a pedagogical tool (i.e. can I learn with it?).

Of course, that's only the beginning. Once I've had a play with the app myself and 'got it', a whole series of questions follow regarding its use in teaching. First, can I see the value of it in what I teach, and, if so, how can I embed it within the course? Second, can I communicate that value to my colleagues in Arts? Third, can we (Aaron and I) come up with a test case of a particular app that, having done our research, we can embed in a particular course?

We'll be using this blog to post the results of our enquiries and, hopefully, raise a whole bunch of issues that will be of interest to others. If you've had experience of using ML in teaching, or indeed of being taught with ML, we'd be delighted to hear from you!