Virtual, Mobile Connections

The 2010 Horizon Report predicts a one year or less adoption of mobile computing in the higher ed arena. Of particular interest are references to actual classroom examples that show the varied ways faculty are exploring how mobile technologies could support and transform their pedagogical practice. An interview with Lonnie D. Harvel of Georgia Gwinnett College and Steve Kolowich’ article, The Mobile Campus, describes some of the tentative results from such projects while Malcolm Brown’s chapter in the Educause E-Book, Educating the Net Generation, expands on the traditional execution of learning spaces.

In a three part series Jonathan Gosier describes how mobile technologies are shaping the political, economic and social structures in Africa in ways that might presage their adoption elsewhere.

In an interesting counterpoint to the ban on cell phones in many classrooms here at UCONN and elsewhere, Spanish teacher Ariana Leonard shares how she takes advantage of those nearly ubiquitous student cell phones to engage students in learning Spanish, both inside and outside of class.

The Christmas gift of an iPhone one year ago led Travis Allen, currently a Kennesaw State University student, to create the iSchool Initiative in order to “advocate, support and implement technological advancement for students and educators in the 21st century”. We’ll have a chance to talk with Travis about his initiative and personal mobile learning experiences in our Friday Elluminate Live! session (scroll down to ‘Other’ and click on the ‘post-event’ link to access our recorded session).

Do mobile devices have a place in learning and teaching and if so, how, when and where?


12 Responses to “Virtual, Mobile Connections”

  1. kemen528 Says:

    I do believe that mobile devices have a place in learning. For those of us who took Prof. Manuela Wagner’s teaching methodology class, we were taught to incorporate the 5C’s in the classroom: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities. The use of mobile devices really does facilitate the use of these standards in the classroom. The students can communicate in oral form on their mobile devices, for example, I am using Google voice for oral exams and the students will have to use their phones to call in and speak. The use of texting can also be using for polling the class, as seen in Ariana Leonard’s blog, and for other communicative practices. From the readings, it seemed to me as if it is more likely for our students to own a cellphone than a phone computer. A cellphone may have access to the internet, in which case it can serve to build communities outside of the classroom, have access to different cultures, make connections, etc. As long as the use of mobile devices has set goals and objectives for the classroom by the instructor, I believe that it can be a powerful device. Just think of how much we use cellphones and how much we battle our students every now and then when they are texting away in the classroom. If we can incorporate this device effectively in the classroom, it can lead to multiple benefits.

    • sarahmelvine Says:

      Google voice is an interesting implementation of mobile technology. This, of course, can be done as outside work, and is not an organized, in-class, activity. I think that some of my resistance has to do with the fact that I teach literature courses, not grammar or composition, and I cannot find a suitable substitution to the face to face classroom exchange. I think that for learning languages I a lot of theses methods are more appropriate than for discussions which take place in a large group in the classroom. I generally do not divide my classes into small activities, so I find it hard to implement these ideas. However, I am glad to see that somebody has thought about how to use this stuff for enhancing education. I probably still have a lot to learn from that.

    • inasayyoub Says:

      I totally agree with Kemen’s point of using cellphones in teaching through set goals and objectives by the instructor. When this integration happens through careful planning that ensures that students are using this device at the moment to accomplish a task and not doing something else like using the time for texting. Students would realize the benefits they can get using their phones that they like and spend good amount of time playing around with them, so let this playing be organized and with a clear outcome.
      I also think that using phones will spare so much time in the classroom where students can get to work on tasks immediately and waiting for teachers to present that for them and it doesn’t have to take so much space in the classroom as compared when using laptops instead.
      Hope to witness this become a reality in here!

  2. christopherlaine Says:

    This mobile novel video is really scary. Using one’s phone as a notepad is one thing (what’s the difference between this and a notepad?)… but reading novels on such a device, I hope, has no future. Or if it does, these bear only a superficial relation to plain old book-novels. The author tells us that sentences must be kept short: this places a limit on mobile novels alien to book-novels. I imagine the mobile-novel could evolve into an art form in itself, but not a novelistic one. Something like mobile haiku? Even if this happens, if the point is to stay “linked to the culture highway,” I hope beyond hope that it fails. Celebration of this genre amounts to what Nietzsche called the idolatrous throwing oneself under the wheels of the modern cultural machinery. What is great about the great works of literature, especially in the modern era, is their resistance to this “cultural highway”—this very expression is a mockery of culture. The most perfect image of the cultural highway would be the installation of I-75 in the city of Detroit, which required the destruction of the cultural center of the city. Just as the highway system allows one to stay connected to the city without actually setting foot in it, this obsession with mobile phones assures that one can stay connected to everything except the place where one actually is. It is only logical then that they should be used for another form of diversion. I don’t see the difference between mobile-novels and any other game playable on these devices.

    • Blanca Says:

      I share most of Chris’ concerns about mobile novels. I would not say the video is scary, but a little pretentious, especially when the “mobile novelist” says that “mobile phones can save the culture, in some sense”. Save culture…
      I do not think the problem is reading a novel in your cell phone, but the limitations Chris points out when it is written for that device: if you need to write short sentences so the “mobile novel” can be properly read, you could never read one of Saramago’s novels, for example (with his long sentences and crazy -lack of- punctuation).
      If my students read what they have to, I do not care how and where they do it. The question is that I do not think this video is only about cell phones as reading devices, but about a (let’s call it) new literary genre or art form that should find its own identity and not argue that Shakespeare would be a “mobile novelist” if he were alive if they want it to be taken seriously.

  3. kemen528 Says:

    Chris, while you make some very good points, I must disagree with your opinion of the mobile novel as “scary.” I do not understand how reading a novel in book form is different from reading a novel in digital form. Is the individual still not reading? Currently, it seems as if though the average student would rather get a root canal than have to read a book. If our objective is to get them to read the work, why does it make a difference if it comes from a book or their cellphone?

    In addition, why does the mobile phone seem like it is a dangerous medium for expressing one’s self to you? It seems as if though you have a certain resistance to cell phones as a mode of expression. Could it be because you consider them to be at the bottom of the “food chain,” if you will, when it comes to technological tools utilized in the production of art because of their popularity?

    Just some questions to think about, but I enjoyed your opinion. 🙂

    • christopherlaine Says:

      Maybe “scary” was an exaggeration, but the lifestyle validated by the video is frightening.
      I don’t buy this idea, though, Kemen, that getting students to read anything at all is necessarily much better than not reading at all (people say this about Harry Potter books too; in that case, some new forms, for example comic books, are actually much more thought-provoking). Like Blanca wrote, the limitations on length would make many novels impossible, so even if the mobile novel developed into anything, it’s still no equivalent replacement. And just because reading is more painful than a root canal is no reason to forget reading. I hated doing lab experiments in chemistry class, but they’re fundamental to understanding the material. Educators don’t need to abandon so many standards in order to engage the student—the student also needs to meet the educator. What Emmanuel said in class Monday seems very true to me: the point of education is a decentering of oneself, part of which is being open to new forms and genres.
      I do think mobile phones should be considered a dangerous form of self-expression. If the restrictions these devices put on our lives are not taken into account by the art produced on them, then they aren’t being used critically. Given what they were built as—basically business devices—it’s going to take a transformation on the scale of the birth of literature out of bureaucratic accounting or that of jazz out of military instrumentation to make mobile-novels anything of value.

  4. Blanca Says:

    I do also believe that mobile phones have a place in learning. However I do not think the situation is the same in every country. In the US, it seems that mobile service providers offer more competitive prices for calls, texting and internet connection. In this context, it makes sense integrating cell phones into the learning environment: you can take advantage of students’ interests in order to promote interaction and enhance the learning experience. When I think about my country, things are different (especially now, because of the recession). It is true that almost everybody, even 10-year-old children, has a cell phone. However, internet mobile connection is, in my opinion, extremely expensive yet. My point is that we should take advantage of the new technologies and use them to make the learning experience easier and more enjoyable, but we should not be blinded by those advances because sometimes things in the traditional way simply work.
    I confess that, when I read some of the articles we comment, I find in them a dogmatic tone that makes me uncomfortable. Some examples: talking about the Net Generation, “They have a preference for group activity and working in teams”; the students I know must be the exception, because they need often to be reminded that, to work in pairs or groups, they do actually need to speak to each other… Or when talking about memorization, it sounds like something evil that should never be done. Sorry, but in order to conjugate verbs in Spanish understanding the endings is not enough, you need to memorize them and recall them when you need to use them. I just think that nothing is completely right or completely wrong, and that something good can always be found both in every teaching method and every new technology.

    • Lay Says:

      Mobiles phones are everywhere. And, as Blanca says, mobile service providers in the US have an impressive array of offers: all-you-can-talk, pre-pay, all-included, even bundles! This is why having a cellphone is not a problem anymore. Actually, having a cellphone is considered a necessity. We all have one! (Some people have more…)
      However, as a teacher, I find mobiles phones somewhat distracting. It is very difficult to keep a conversation with someone who is more focused on his/her calls and text-messages than in what is being said. Even more in a classroom where interaction is expected: like in a languages class. Let me give a typical example:
      I am trying to teach them the different types of preterites in Spanish to a group of twenty and, at least, one of the students receives a call. His/her cellphone has one of those funny ringtones or a musical one. As soon as the music starts going, the other nineteen students will start looking at the one who is receiving the call. I get distracted. Everyone will loose focus. (I will not even talk about how disrespectful this situation is to everybody in the class.) In the end, the class becomes even harder than it is (the preterites are hard already).
      I know many of our readers will say: “well, you should have placed rules for the students at the beginning of the course”. My answer is: I did set up rules. Actually, the students are the ones who set up the rule of “NO PHONES IN CLASS” (interestingly enough). But do all of our students really want to be detached from their little connection to the rest of the world?
      So, in the end, I agree with Blanca. Not all technologies are “classroom friendly”. I would love to say that everything can be used as a tool for learning, and certainly cellphones are a great tool. However, before we apply it, students should be a required to take the Technology Ethics 101.

  5. sarahmelvine Says:

    If there is a place for mobile devices in the classroom, I have yet to see it successfully integrated into the curriculum. This is not to say that it cannot be done; in fact, I would be happy to see cell phones, blackberries and other handheld devices serve a role in the classroom outside of just being a distraction. However, believe that there might be a couple roadblocks in its systemic implementation. First, although mobile devices might seem ubiquitous on a college campus, an educator cannot assume of his or her students a certain level of economic prosperity or technological savvy. Especially when considering a career at a community college, this becomes an important question. With a heterogeneous student body such as at a community college, it is impossible to assume a standard familiarity with cell phones, blackberries, etc. Students who are not able to afford these devices will be at a disadvantage and there is no way (as of yet) to loan out these devices individually.
    Beyond a basic question of material means, is whether a classroom environment will be enhanced or detracted from in the free use of handheld technology. I am a bit incredulous about this possibility. As it is now, cell phones and blackberries are mainly used for texting and socializing with others. Often, someone just turning on a device automatically sends out an “available” status to all of his or her contacts. How would it be possible to guarantee that the students will not be distracted or attempting to “multi-task” in the classroom? When holding discussions I need my students’ full attention (unless prompted to do small group work) and I do not like the idea of having to fight for their focus. Often the problems we are trying to unpack are very complex and it takes concentration, not a multi-tasking mind, to be successful in this environment. For these reasons I am not certain about the overall usefulness of mobile devices in my pedagogy.

    • sondrus Says:

      I am really intrigued by mobile novels. I have heard of these before, that is stories consisting of 40 characters or such. To me this seems in line with the flash fiction tradition which includes the palm story, the smoke-long story and the postcard story. This genre of flash fiction evolved according to changes in our times and culture. Originally Poe said that the short story one could read in one sitting, apparently this was several hours. Now “a sitting” might be one metro stop! The change is incredible. While reading flash fiction (which can range from 150-2000 words) I often think what characterizes it are the gaps, gaps which resonate as poetry. It seems that one has to choose one’s words carefully, pack a punch with them.
      With mobile novels this brings me to consider the possibility of collectively reading something on a mobile with my students. How odd it would be to say “take out your phones” instead of “take out your books”! However, the old adage of “the dog ate my homework” really couldn’t be used as much with the phone, as these are carefully guarded.

      In response to Lay’s & Sarah’s mentioning rude students and distractions with phones I want to explore if this might be a change in culture. I was thinking of how I had read that about a hundred years ago saying “hi” was considered improper! One was supposed to say “hello” or “good day.” So, going on this train of thought, I wonder if the culture is changing. One day might it be acceptable to multi-task? Might a new mode of behavior develop, whereby for example looking at one’s phone, texting…would be as acceptable as one wiping one’s nose? I totally agree it seems like another reality, but could it be a possibility? What other examples are there of changing culture? And along with multi-tasking liberties/changes, might we find more enforcing of NOT doing this, as in the case of texting while driving?

  6. inasayyoub Says:

    As in my country mobile connection is kind of expensive , I believe that we are going to take a quit long time till we integrate such a tool in education. When thinking about teaching at Uconn, it seems like one of the best ideas ever proposed in teaching. Since students are so attached to their mobiles and so obsessed with texting even during the class, this mobile should be turned from the teacher’s first enemy into one of the things he/she can’t teach without.
    Many of my students have Arabic podcasts on their mobiles and sometimes use their phones to share it with others “before our Diigo group came to exist ” and that was the only time I tolerated seeing phones in the classroom. Since, using phones for a different purpose changed my view of them and was convenient a, using the mobiles in the classroom and in teaching should be the result of careful planning that reflects an effective and necessary one.

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