Ok, so this blog is exclusively focussed on the use of mobile phones in learning (specifically ESL), but I'm still not sure I have a clear idea in my head of what Mobile Learning actually is. But I think that's fine because reading around the internet I'm not sure anyone really has a fully defined idea since it's very much a field under development and also constantly changing as new technology is introduced and new ways of using old technology are invented.
That's pretty vague I admit, so let's be a little more concrete. I was talking to a teacher from my school the other day about my mobile group and she was fairly upfront about her dislike of the concept - at least for her - and this largely stemmed from her experiences with students and mobile phones in class. You know, the furtive glancing at them under the desk, the phone ringing at an inopportune moment, all those things we hate about mobile phones as teachers. I think she felt that any kind of mobile learning would involve students messing around with mobile phones in class or her being sent lots of unwelcome SMSes from her students at strange times of day.
I didn't really disabuse her of this concept as I think she had already decided she wasn't that keen on the idea of mobile learning, but it did get me thinking about exactly what I thought I meant when I talked about mobile learning and I realised my own views were pretty shakey. However, it's important for me to start to develop a clearer concept of mobile learning if I am going to work out ways to implement it to help my students.
So, will mobile learning involve students 'messing around with cellphones in class'? I don't think so, or at least that should not be the primary conception behind mobile learning, though I can see some times when mobiles CAN be used in a focussed way in class or a lecture.
For example, I'm quite happy for my students to use the dictionaries on their phones to look up words and sometimes check pieces of information on the internet. Most teachers would be quite happy for students to look up things in physical dictionaries or encyclopedias in class and I see no major difference in the physical media they use to do that.
I can also see the use of mobile phones in lectures for students to provide feedback/comments to the lecturer in a comfortable environment. In previous posts I discussed the use of PollEverywhere as a means of conducting feedback or a questionnaire during a class/lecture and can see that as a great interactive tool. I also think that Twitter could be used quite effectively in lectures as a way of collecting questions or getting feedback from the students about the content/quality of the lecture. This video shows an example of this from the University of Texas.
But for me, these uses are secondary, largely because they are not really examples of mobile learning. They are still very much rooted in the classroom. My conception of mobile learning is something that takes place outside the classroom, when the student is on the bus, walking down the street,lying on their bed, having a coffee in Starbucks, sat in a dentist's waiting room. If I could define mobile learning it would be in a form of a little description of a learning moment for a student:
A student walks down the street and a sees an advert for something in English that contains words he's interested in but doesn't know. He takes a snapshot of the poster using the camera on his phone and then uses Google Goggles (see this post for how this works) to find out more info about the words, maybe getting a translation in the process. He then shares this picture or word via a private Twitter group with the other members of the class. The other members of the class (wherever they may be) share any further knowledge they have on this word/expression and add it to the Twitter thread. The teacher picks up on the thread, pulls up the Twitter page in the next lesson and then comments on the words or designs a short lesson based on it.
For me, mobile learning takes place outside the classroom but then is naturally fed back inside the classroom. It is also a social phenomenon, the wonderful thing about phones is that they are always on and (many) are always connected, so it's possible to share with others wherever you are and whatever you are doing.
Mobile Learning's greatest role is to encourage and motivate students to understand that learning doesn't stop when they leave the classroom and there are many ways they can exploit their phones and other mobile technologies to learn on the go and share their learning with their peers and teacher.
I'm still very much in the process of learning how to do this as a teacher, I'm not even sure I've really begun to do this, but it's what I'm working towards. The next step for me is to convince one of my actual classes to take part in my mobile experiments and see how what they learn on their devices outside the classroom can feed back into it. I'm hoping to do this next term...