In between teaching in the area of e-learning at UWA, Mark Pegrum has been researching the increasing integration of web 2.0 and mobile technologies into everyday life.
Two years ago he released Mobile Learning: Languages Literacies and Cultures, and has been working since then to further develop some of the ideas in the book, through presentations and journal articles.
“I suppose what I tried to do in the book is a survey of mobile learning worldwide, because there are very different types of mobile learning around the world and in the end what I was able to identify was three main types of mobile learning,” Pegrum tells TechnologyEd.
The first, the assistant professor says, is where the devices students are using are mobile, but there’s no other form of mobility involved.
“So a typical example there would be a connected classroom where, instead of investing in desktop computers or laptop computers, an institution might get in mobile devices, because they’re a lot cheaper,” Pegrum says.
“So, essentially it’s a kind of social justice argument. It’s about spreading educational opportunities but actually nothing very different is being done with the mobile devices compared to what you could do with a desktop or laptop computer.”
The second level is where learners become mobile, moving around the classroom, interacting and collaborating on projects.
“But the third level, which is the really interesting one, is where students go out into real world contexts, and the real world context becomes part of the learning,” Pegrum says.
“So, you’ve got the devices being mobile, the students being mobile, and the learning experience. This might be a scenario where students are asked to record elements of their surroundings, taking photos, creating videos or interviewing members of the public, for example.
“So that’s where you get the really educationally interesting stuff happening, but you need more sophisticated technology,” Pegrum says.
“So at the moment that kind of thing is mostly happening in highly developed contexts, so you’d be looking at Singapore, Hong Kong.
“I mean, there’s a bit going on in Australia, Europe and North America as well.”
According to Pegrum, educators should ultimately be aiming for the higher levels of mobile learning, which make for very rich learning experiences.
“…from an educational theory point of view it’s what we call ‘situated learning’, so in other words, students are learning in the real world context, where the learning applies.
“And what we know from a lot of research is that the learning is much better embedded and much better retained in the long term, because the problem with learning in a classroom is you then have to transfer the learning to the real world context where it applies, and we know that a lot gets lost in that transfer process.”
When it comes to mobile apps, Pegrum says there’s a big difference between those which are developed with education in mind, and others which are made for general use, but happen to be handy in the classroom.
Surprisingly, Pegrum prefers the latter.
“Most mobile educational apps are actually pedagogically very traditional, so, they’re about what we call ‘information transmission’ or ‘behaviourist approach’,” he explains.
“They might be technologically quite sophisticated, but as I say, pedagogically they’re quite old fashioned. And that would be the vast majority of educational apps.”
“The interesting ones are the ones which we call ‘generic apps’,” he says.
Pegrum lists digital storytelling apps such as Explain Everything and Creative Book Builder, along with iMovie as some of the most popular apps with teachers at the moment.
“With those sorts of apps, that’s where students can get much more actively involved in the creation of materials.
“They can collaborate with each other, they can make things which can get responses from a real audience.
“So I would suggest that some of the general digital storytelling and movie apps are the most promising ones for education.”
Another app which has caught Pegrum’s attention, and indeed the attention of people worldwide, is Pokémon Go.
“It’s really just exploded beyond what anyone expected. I think it is interesting and it has interesting implications for education,” Pegrum says.
The popular game has brought the term ‘augmented reality’ out of the realms of the tech nerd, and into everyday use.
“So, now when you say augmented reality, people get it.
“Going back even six months … people have been talking about it for quite a few years in education but, you always had to explain it.
“And now, suddenly people get it, they can see what’s possible, and I think that will open up the educational uses, because people now understand the concept,” Pegrum says.
The main implications for education, Pegrum says, lie with the fact that the Pokémon Go game offers information that’s relevant ‘right here, right now’.
When a mobile device knows where the user is, it can provide timely and location sensitive information.
“That has really important implications for gaming because it means you can play games in a real world environment, but also for education, because at that third level of learning I was talking about, that’s where students are going out into the real world, to learn from the real world environment.”
Despite exciting new developments in mobile technology, Pegrum says there’s reluctance among teachers worldwide, to really embrace mobile learning.
“Look, it’s patchy. We’ve got some people doing some really interesting things, but as a whole system, no, generally [mobile devices are] not being well exploited.”
One concern Pegrum has noticed among teachers, is around student safety, with the threat of cyber bullying and other online dangers.
“Beyond that I think teachers also fear the loss of control … we talk a lot in education about the need for learner-centered activities for active learning where students take control, but actually its often quite difficult for teachers, they’re quite hesitant to let students have full control, so, it’s kind of a mindset thing in many ways,” he says.
“We really need a shift of mindset on the part of the teachers, and if we’re talking about school students, on the part of the parents, before we can see more exploitation of mobile devices.”
Pegrum also says more teacher training could also go a long way towards a more mobile learning environment.
“I think one of the responsibilities that institutions have which do teacher training, is to indicate to teachers what the possibilities are, in these devices.
“So, it’s really about linking the technology with the pedagogy.”
“I think yes, definitely part of the change of mindset has got to come through the teacher-training programs.”