One of the world's biggest handheld learning projects is pulling together the evidence for its final report, due at the end of May. The UK's MoLeNET (Mobile Learning Network) Project has used an investment of some £16 million from the Learning Skills Council to set up further education projects that have engaged some 7,000 teaching staff, 1,000 technicians and more than 70,000 learners – all over three years.
While most press coverage of handheld learning projects in schools has focused on schools, MoLeNET has been operating in the "Cinderella" area of further education colleges and promises to give feedback on a huge range of activities, from using handheld sensors to ascertain levels of decay in trees, to recording sounds of bat life in leafy Enfield.
All the projects have centred on learning and teaching and the range is impressive. For example, the final year of £3.5m funding produced 63 proposals and eventually 22 projects and 20 micro projects were approved. This generated engagement with 2,154 teaching staff, hundreds of technicians and more than 18,000 learners.
So what is the feedback so far? Has it made any difference? According to project director Jill Attewell (below), there is plenty of positive evidence: “We are still gathering and analysing the impact evidence but early indications from the data from years 1 and 2 show there has been a significant and positive impact on achievement levels for learners involved in MoLeNET projects.
"There are also some key messages from this project which suggest that mobile technologies can help with assessment, increase learner motivation and engagement, support individual learning needs and increase learner confidence and self-esteem."
'Leaving a capacity legacy which should benefit all future learners in FE colleges'
And it's not just the existing learners who will benefit, adds Jill Attewell. “We are leaving a capacity legacy which should benefit all future learners in FE colleges," she says. "And that includes the 'MoLeNET Academies', centres of excellence for mobile learning, continuing professional development, MoleTV [a streaming and video conversion service], Moleshare, [a resource library of case studies,lesson plans and documents], and a very rich data set of lessons learned and what works.”
The devices used by college learners cover the whole range of mobile devices that most educators familiar with ICT would expect: smartphones, iPods, iPhones, netbooks, games consoles, digital recorders, digital cameras. But there are also many that have been developed for particular activities, such as using Sony PSPs for plumbing at Bridgewater College and for sports at St Helen's College, Nintendo Wiis for physiotherapy at Trafford College and the Nintendo DS was used at Ashton Under Lyne Sixth Form College to improve short-term memory skills for learners with special needs.
Training for the teachers was provided via the MoLeNET website and onsite provision, but the Learning Skills Network also provided mentoring and peer support and knowledge and resource sharing which the colleges bought from their own resources.
“This model of investing capital money in technology but linking it to the buy-back of staff training and support has worked really well,“ says Jill Attewell. “We think other sectors would benefit from the lessons of MoLeNET and we are very happy to share.”
The learners' experiences have been predominantly positive according to Sheena Palmer, head of ICT at Trafford College who ran a MoLeNET 2 project working with hairdressing students and using mobile devices. “There is no doubt that the students were motivated by the technology” she said, “and we hope to transfer some of the lessons learned into the new Trafford Academy which Trafford College is sponsoring and which opens next year.”
James Clay, ILT and learning resources manager has been pleased by the benefits of the project. "MoLeNET funding has allowed Gloucestershire College to embrace and start to embed mobile learning across the curriculum," he says. "With three successful projects behind us, learners are now able to utilise mobile devices and technologies to enhance and enrich their learning experience.
"The Glossy project allowed us to put in the infrastructure for the use of mobile technologies, with a robust and scaleable wireless network, video and audio capture and tools for creating mobile resources and content. The Shiny project’s focus was on providing mobile assessment opportunities using video cameras for capturing evidence and learner response systems. The Sparkly project allowed the college to share their expertise and experiences with two partners, Stroud College and Royal Forest of Dean College who were able to fast-track their mobile learning journey.
'A more engaging, interactive and enjoyable learning experience'
"MoLeNET has had a positive impact on the college and enabled learners to use mobile devices and technologies for a more engaging, interactive and enjoyable learning experience."
The LSN will be disseminating the full findings of their experiences in a report at the end of May and is planning a one-day conference in September so the colleges can demonstrate and share what they have learned about mobile learning.
Bob Harrison (right), education adviser for Toshiba and a school and college governor has been a member of the MoLeNET advisory board for the three years of the project. "The board has different perspectives including those of academics, hardware manufacturers, mobile phone companies and teachers, and in the early days of the project there was a lot of challenge to the LSN about how the project would develop. However the final evaluations and the report could not be coming at a more appropriate time.
"There can be little doubt from the MoLeNET evidence base that the effective use of mobile technology, with appropriate and relevant staff development, can have a really positive influence on learning outcomes. And while this project was in post-16 education I hope that the Department of Education will recognise the potential for schools."