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Mobile Learning in a User-Led Environment

The next session at Mobile Media 2007 starts with my paper, co-authored with Rachel Cobcroft, Jude Smith, and Stephen Towers (PDF available here, Powerpoint here).

Kathleen Cumiskey is the next speaker. She notes that there is significant research on the actual use of mobile phones, but less on the meanings users themselves ascribe to such use; her research focusses on such use stories, instead. The use of mobile phones during face-to-face interaction renders remote others present, while denying the presence of those physically present. This is related to the psychological idea of 'mattering': in the process of mobile phone use, remote participants are identified as mattering, while physically present participants are shown to matter less.

Kathleen conducted a thematic apperception test using a couple of slightly different pictures (one with, one without mobile phones) in order to elicit participants' views of mobile phone use. Responses without mobile phone were significantly more positive overall; where mobile phones were present, rendering a third party absent was perceived as mainly negative, rendering the remote party present as mainly positive, as was connecting the remote party and the third party which is physically present. The hidden meaning of public mobile phone use may therefore reflect our basic insecurities and distrust of others' attitudes towards us.

The last speaker in this session is Henk Huijser from the University of Southern Queensland, a key distance learning provider in Australia. His interest is especially in the use of mobile media in education. Mobile technologies have a large uptake, of course, but that uptake (and technological literacy) is very unevenly distributed at this point - should education attempt a proactive or a reactive approach, then? (A combination of both approaches may be most appropriate, in fact.)

Henk notes Oblinger & Oblinger's work on the 'net generation' of learners, and highlights their specific learning needs - this may allow for the design of independent and collaborative learning activities based on social interactivity, enable informal and personalised learning, allow for the provision of just-in-time support, offer portable and situated learning (in relevant contexts), and help to reduce the digital divide (especially in the context of distance learning and in developing nations).

Amongst the considerations for m-learning are the urgency of the learning need, the type of knowledge acquisition intended, the mobility of the learning setting, the interactivity of the learning process, the situatedness of instructional activities, the integration of instructional content, questions of technical (accessibility, reliability) against pedagogical usability (learner control, feedback, motivation). Challenges are the age and ability of teachers, the cost of devices, the slow rate of change in institutions, and the fast changes in technology and the skill sets required.

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