People expect me to say “mobile learning”
a lot because I guess I’m one of the pioneers of mobile learning but I really try energetically
to avoid saying it. Because it looks like something that clever
people did in universities. It’s kind of quite an exclusive club, it’s a research project
or it’s a research agenda. And it was something that happened before 2008. You know, in 2008
the money ran out. You know, the world economic climate became very different. We couldn’t
just spend money doing cute things in universities for 50 students. We have to look at a very
different basis for sustainable learning with mobiles, and that’s part of saying that educators
need to look outside, not inside, and work with everyone else, not think that they can
work on behalf of everyone else. All of our experiments in mobile learning,
I think, 95 percent, have been done on the basis that we, the researchers, provide the
devices for the students. So we haven’t got a fundamental model that moves away from that.
And actually we haven’t got the money to continue doing it either. So if we want to make any
of the use of technology, especially a much broader portfolio of technology, if we want
to exploit that in education then we have to think about how is it going to be sustainable.
It’s going to be sustainable if we use the technology that our students bring with them.
So, OK, we’d like them to bring their own devices but actually they are the people in
control of their own devices. We used to be in control of the university computers but
we are not in control of our students’ mobiles or tablets. And so all of a sudden that alters
the dynamics in the classroom, it alters where the control is. You know, we used to have
regulations that say: This is what you can do on our computer. This is what you can do
through out network. But now it’s their network. It’s their tablet, it’s their laptop, it’s
their provider, their coverage. The first thing that students would do when
they leave university is stop using Moodle. You know, they will move into a world that
isn’t managed and contained like Moodle is or WebCT, it’s just chaos, chaos and abundance.
And id they are to be life-long learners they need to have the critical skills to know what
is good stuff and good people and what is bad stuff and lunatics, so they need what
we are now calling digital literacy. You know, critical digital literacy, so they can read,
comprehend, value, judge, valorize what they find in the outside world and learn from it
sensibly and critically, so they are not learning that the earth is flat or the sun goes round
the earth or who knows the earth was created in 7 days 4,000 years ago. So they got those
critical skills to know this is what we need to look for, so that we can find the good
stuff and contribute to the good stuff as well. So that probably answers several different
questions. What is the role of mobile? But actually, what is the role of teachers and
what is the role of education? The situation is still deeply problematic.
Actually I’m giving a very kind of futuristic utopian view of how education could evolve.
And so at the one hand you have maybe people like me or policy-makers in ministries saying
mobile technology is very good, and maybe head teachers in schools prohibit mobile technology
or confiscate mobile technology. And part of that maybe has to do with losing control
and losing authority or losing identity. You know, what am I now? But also there’s just
a kind of a lot of social issues about what is the etiquette in the classroom. You know,
if you say OK, mobiles have a function in learning how does that change the kind of
social behavior? Can we have an incoming calls, can everyone have their phone on the desk,
can the kids have their phone on the desk? Can they make calls? What is it they can look
at, you know, what websites can they go to? What websites can they not go to? All of that
is still the etiquette. All of that is still very problematic. And clearly there is still
for children what in England we would call a duty of care. You know, they are in the
legal protection of the school, so we can’t have them using mobile technology to access
pornography. And we could create blacklists for our computers on our network. But how
do we create blacklists for their phones with their providers? You know, that’s a kind of
technological way of looking at it in the context of a legal problem. But, you know,
there is a slightly bigger social Problem around that. The problem of the etiquette in the classroom
is actually just another manifestation of a wider social readjustment. So in our social
behavior if we were having a conversation face to face before the invention of the mobile
phone we know what to do. Now we have a mobile phone, I get an incoming call and I have to
learn or develop a set of social cues so that I’m trying to say: Yeah, this is important,
my conversation with you is important, so I need to kind of talk here, maintain eye-contact
with you. There is a whole new social repertoire around how our society and our social practices,
social relations work now that there is this extra thing in the room all the time. And
another aspect of that as I say is the idea of absent presence which is the fact that
we all might be physically co-located, you know, in a lounge, in a room. But actually
our technologies will be connecting us to other communities, activities, resources online
and disconnecting us from the people in front of us. So there is a lot of reasearch about
what exactly does that mean. You know, does it mean that we have lots more social relationships
but very, very shallow ones. You know, has Facebook turned friendship into stamp collecting?
You know, how many followers, how many friends, are social relations now just a kind of ticklist?
But it’s not that straightforward. One lot of research will say one thing about the impact
of mobile technology on social relations. Another piece of research will say something
completely different. Of course even if these pieces of research say the same thing today,
they probably say something different tomorow.