By Bob Harrison
John TraxlerJohn TraxlerThe "out of control" nature of mobile technology threatens to make education institutions like schools and colleges "irrelevant", a top academic warned this week.

Speaking at the first Learnhigher M-Posium event, hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University and Liverpool Hope University's Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, John Traxler, from the Learning Lab at the University of Wolverhampton, suggested that there is “a growing dichotomy and a growing problem “ as mobile learning is “out of control”.

"On the one hand schools, colleges and universities prescribe, procure, provide, and control institutional technology and hence in many respects constrain and define the nature of education and the interpretation of learning," he said. “On the other hand, the majority of learners choose, use, own and understand a vast, but diverse range of personal technologies that allow them to create, store, and transmit information, images, resources and knowledge, and to connect to communities and each other and hence, to engage in learning.

“There is a risk that schools, colleges and universities will become irrelevant.”

While most commentators might not go quite so far, this issue has profound effects for schools, colleges and universities in general and new-build and re-modelled schools and colleges in particular. If John Traxler’s theories are correct, the whole approach to capital projects and the design of learning spaces needs to be re-examined, and his book, Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers (Open & Flexible Learning), written with Agnes Kukulska-Hulme from the Open University, makes for an interesting read.

The M-Posium was a powerhouse of mobile minds in Manchester, and it transcended the different sectors of schools, colleges and universities. Some of the best researchers, policy makers, practitioners and academics gathered to share perspectives on the potential of mobile learning in education.

Andy BlackAndy BlackAndy Black, technology research manager at Becta, the government's ICT quango, introduced delegates to the new Becta Emerging Technologies website, and he shared some of the key issues emerging from the evaluation of some mobile learning projects, including Wolverhampton's Learning2go and the Bristol handhelds project currently being evaluated by Professor Angela McFarlane and Pat Trigg from the University of Bristol.



Angela McFarlaneAngela McFarlaneThe final report is due soon, and it is expected to suggest that mobile learning does not have a particularly significant effect for all learners when measured against traditional assessment. “The suggestion has been put to me that we are measuring the wrong things in terms of showing any benefit from 1:1 devices," said Andy Black. "But that may be down to the testing regime we have and, importantly, how we assess learner achievement,” he added in a diplomatic Becta response.


Other issues emerging include;

  • correlation between in school and out of school learning;
  • family and friends support learning with the device;
  • teachers need to be confident with the use of the device;
  • progress in secondary schools has been more challenging due to a full curriculum and the short length of lessons;
  • little evidence of effective systems for moving work between teachers and learners;
  • tension between device usage and run-up to KS2/KS4 tests;
  • linkage to iteration, transformation and motivation;
  • 1:1 benefits in school outweigh mobility benefits;
  • massive implications for workforce development and need for peer-to-peer support;
  • teacher intervention is key;
  • assessment of material on devices is an issue;
  • gains may be more around longer term learning skills than key stage outcomes.

The final Bristol report should illuminate a lot of the key questions and challenges that face the implementation of mobile learning if it is to move from exciting pockets of innovation to wide-scale adoption and use in mainstream education, especially when David Julian at Project Tomorrow suggested recently that: “Over 50 per cent of learners were excited about the potential of using mobile devices for learning but only 15 per cent of school leaders supported the idea.”

Dave WhyleyDave WhyleyWolverhampton had a strong presence at M-Posium. Translating the theory into real, practical learning in schools has been the main focus of Professor Dave Whyley’s world famous Wolverhampton Learn2Go project. “It is not for the faint hearted, as many challenges remain,” warned Dave Whyley. And he went on to highlight the key issues of classroom organisation, pedagogy, staff and learner development that will require solutions if the lessons of research can underpin a large-scale initiative in schools.

“Our children in Wolverhampton have been learning with mobile devices for several years now and their expectations are they will be using it in further and higher education. It is essentially about the people and not the technology and there are 4 levels of engagement:
1. low-level participation such as text messages reminders
2. learning as consumers. such as downloading content
3. co-creation, collaborating and co-construction with other learners.
4. the integration of all of the above."

'Innovation Prevention Departments' - IT services

Jon TrinderJon TrinderIn an overview of mobile learning past, present and future Jon Trinder from the Centre for Technological Education at the University of Glasgow, identified what has been learned from early experiences of mobile learning and went on to explore the potential for providing interaction between mobile devices and virtual worlds such as Second Life and OpenSim and issued a humourous but relevant warning about the “Innovation Prevention Departments”, ie IT services!



John CookJohn CookAnother John (Cook), from London Metropolitan University, shared his research into using mobile learning with trainee teachers in formal and informal educational contexts where 91 per cent of learners said the mobile device had enhanced their learning and one student had said: “It gave a wider perspective for learning. It wasn’t just standing looking at buildings; it gave you more information from the past with narration and images.” And several students commented that they were more active in the learning process because of the mobile device. You can discover more about his work at his blog or follow him on Twitter.

Stephen HaganStephen HaganDr Stephen Hagan reported on a recent study, at the University of Ulster, which had looked at the barriers to the adoption of mobile technologies and the tutor views and identified barriers such as: hardware related; software related; institution related; social issues.

Nevertheless the summary of the student response was very positive: "...The system developed enabled students to participate in a different way to the ways they had previously participated in learning, so whilst there are barriers, students were responsive to the potential for m-learning technology in the classroom of the future.”

Bob HarrisonBob Harrison is an education consultant who works with the National College for School Leadership, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency and Toshiba UK
His blog is on the Futurelab Flux website

More information

Learnhigher M-Posium
M-Posium Twitter tag #mposium
Andy Black’s personal blog

Becta's Emerging Technologies website
Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers (Open & Flexible Learning)
byJohn Traxler and Agnes Kukulska-Hulme
Wolverhampton Learn2Go project

John Cook blog
John Cook on Twitter
'Don't take the Ps out of PDAs' article by Jon Trinder
Dr Stephen Hagan This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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