Back in November, Elizabeth Fitzgerald of the Institute of Educational Technology, gave a coffee-morning presentation on the subject of “Location-based Learning: Education in the Wild”. Using her experience from various Mobile Learning projects in which she’s been involved, she explored the possibilities of augmenting human activity in context and adding value to locations or places with appropriate tools and materials. Two of the case studies were:
1. Students on location
This project assessed a variety of digital resources for supporting student learning about geographical landforms in the field. The resources ranged from the basic (computer-generated acetate) to the sci-fi-esque (a virtual reality head-mounted device). All suffered to various degrees with functionality issues: the acetate helpfully traced out landscapes but blew about in the wind; students could access information from the web through hand-held devices like mobile phones and tablet PCs, but not without screen visibility problems, poor connectivity and failing batteries; the head-mounted display offered the greatest potential for augmentation, but was technically complex, heavy, and not particularly hardened to the elements. The central point to have come across was the need for flexible, lightweight technologies that were easy to use. Even tech-savvy students didn’t have time for complex mapping apps.
2. Hidden Histories Tour of Nottingham
Taking a specific case study—the 1831 Nottingham Reform Riot (content was created by a local history group)—this project aimed to investigate how smart audio could be used to provide opportunities for learning in a public context. It involved a comparison of user experiences, between those on a tour led by a guide and those using only technology. This latter group had access to pre-prepared audio clips of relevant information that would be triggered when the user entered a particular zone. The findings indicate that users preferred the ‘human’ experience of a tour. It was not only the case that the technology (again) suffered from functionality issues (trigger regions often require the user to ‘hit’ a precise spot to activate the device); using the technology fundamentally changed the group dynamic. The users found themselves listening to their own mobile device rather than interacting among themselves, as frequently happens with a human tour-guide.
(For more information about the broader local history project, see: For more information, see http://peopleshistreh.wordpress.com/)
In both cases, ML technology can’t replace ‘being there’. Therefore, we need to find ways of getting the technology to offer something different without making it an individual sterile experience. In what ways can ML technology be used to encourage interaction and teamwork?