Mobile Access to Learning and Teaching at the University of Northampton

Workshop @ Durham Blackboard Usergroup

The MALT project was presented to an audience of academic and technical staff at the Blackboard Usergroup meeting in Durham on 6th January. The audience shared ideas on the potential of technology for supporting mobile learning and teaching – a big thankyou to all who contributed! Any further comments are welcome, and if you’d like to get involved in contributing further ideas and case studies to the blog, please get in touch.

Some of the ideas and questions shared at the session are summarised below – where posts added by attendees contained a lot of detail, I have left those in for future reference. The presentation can be accessed on Slideshare.

Suggestions for formal learning designs:

  • maximising the potential of the physical location – allowing learners on field trips to upload pictures and data collected at the scene to a shared web-based service (e.g. a blog or a wiki), to provide a resource for future collaborative and reflective activities.
  • overcoming limitations of infrastructure – using mobile devices in hospitals, where access to desktop computers can be limited by both IT infrastructure and time constraints. Learners can have data and demonstrations of practical skills ‘to hand’, which can help improve patient care.
  • making the most of flexible learning – enabling students to use “dead time” (e.g. travelling on buses or trains) for learning.
  • using QR codes on lecture slides to allow instant access to presentation materials (see separate post by UCS)

Suggestions for informal learning:

These mostly centred around looking up information on the move, and having access to ‘just-in-time’ answers to questions raised by the learner’s context. Examples included looking up unfamiliar terminology, including an unknown ingredient on a menu the previous evening! There were also some comments about informal social learning, for example sharing information and posting questions in environments like Facebook and Twitter.

Attendees seemed to be less confident about what constitutes informal learning, so this is something we may need to try to clarify. James Clay’s post on Designing Informal Learning is perhaps a good place to start with this discussion.


The discussion that followed raised a few points that are important for projects like this to consider. Some of these are noted below, please feel free to add a comment if you have more (and apologies where I haven’t added names, please feel free to claim your thoughts!).

  • What kind of learning is appropriate to the mobile context? it was noted that some studies have observed students choosing not to undertake complex tasks in a ‘mobile’ location, preferring instead to wait until they are in an environment where they have more control (see for example Sutton-Brady et al.). Designs for mobile learning should be aware of the possible constraints of being ‘on location’, and of competing demands for attention.
  • Scaffolding. It was suggested that formal and informal learning are two points on a continuum, rather than in opposition, and it was also noted that both learners and tutors might be intimidated by both the freedom and the range of approaches available for informal mobile learning. It was suggested that the amount of scaffolding or control of learner activities might be determined by the level of learner independence, and the desired learning outcomes of the task. Fred Garnett makes some good points on this with his comments on the PAH (Pedagogy Andragogy Heutagogy) Continuum.
  • Staff time & assessment. It was noted that supporting informal learning raises the possibility of introducing a wide range of approaches and resource formats into the learning process. This in turn has implications for staff time and training needs, and for consistent assessment standards. A clear framework is needed to ensure equality and scalability (thanks Anthony Doyle from Bb for this one).
  • Crossing between contexts and digital literacy. Questions were raised (both in our session, and later in Mike Cameron’s session on mobile learning) about how to make the informal learning that students are doing in other contexts, visible in the formal/institutional context for accreditation. It was generally agreed that learners do not always want to share their informal spaces, or use them for formal purposes, and it was suggested that educating students on digital literacy could help them to choose where and how to publish different types of information (thanks Bryony Bramer and Fiona Curtis for these points).


Points raised in the session included:

  • Lack of control. Effective mobile learning is often dependent on elements outside the tutor’s control, such as infrastructure (wireless / 3G connection), which is usually controlled by another department or external supplier.
  • Funding. FE funding often depends on students being physically present in the classrooms. Although this doesn’t exclude the use of mobile, it does limit the potential.
  • Screen size. It was also noted in a later session (Fiona Curtis presenting on the Dr Companion project) that some students found a small (3.7″) screen difficult for viewing detailed information like diagrams. The future of small-screen technology was suggested in Carl Smith’s keynote when he referred to Blaise Aguera’s TED demonstration, but in the meantime, the physical constraints of mobile devices (screen size, battery life etc) will continue to impact on their potential.

One final point relevant to this project was raised by John Traxler in his keynote, when he observed the potential pitfalls of learning from published case studies and projects, which inevitably tend to focus more on successes than on failures. We hope that tutors who are exploring mobile learning will continue to share their experiences with us in this (hopefully more informal) environment to counter this!

Thanks again to all who contributed and shared their thoughts with us.


The use of mobiles in informal learning


In this paper, the authors surveyed a group of smartphone and PDA “enthusiasts” (users confident in using mobile technologies), to discover current learning practices that involve the use of mobile devices, and to identify potential learning activities made possible by the technology. The responses evidence a range of activities, supporting both intentional and opportunistic learning, from looking things up, to recording and taking notes, to (co-)constructing new knowledge.
The paper divides these learning applications into the following categorisations: referential, location aware, reflective, data collection, constructive and administrative, with the following qualifiers for each: individual, collaborative, situated, distributed and interactive.


There are no specific ingredients for this review, apart from a connected mobile device, but it might give you some ideas of the capabilities of the technologies, and the activities that your more technically confident learners might already be doing.


Clough, G., Jones, A. C., McAndrew, P. & Scanlon, E. (2007). Informal learning with PDAs and smartphones. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 24(5), pp. 359–371.
Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]

Mobiles for supporting language learning


This paper discusses the use of mobile devices to help language learners by supporting the learning process referred to as ‘noticing’ – that is, observing and recording points about the second language that aid the learning process. Mobile devices are particularly suited to this as they allow immediate, contextual recording in a range of formats (audio recording, text-based notes, pictures of written language e.g. posters, signs).
It also discusses how this data might be collected and organised, and used to inform teachers and researchers about models of language learning, and learner needs.

You will need:

  • A mobile device with recording capability, preferably including audio – this might be a smartphone, a dictaphone or a video camera
  • A ‘language diary’ environment where students can collate and reflect on their observations, e.g. a VLE or e-portfolio


Kukulska-Hulme, A. & Bull, S. (2009). Theory-based support for mobile language learning: noticing and recording. International Journal of Interactive Mobile Technologies 3(2), pp. 12–18.
Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]

Smartphones and mobile web 2.0


This paper reports on a range of pilot projects running at Unitec, NZ, from 2007 to 2009. The projects all focus on enabling students to use smartphones, along with familiar web 2.0 tools, to create, share and collaborate on resources across a range of contexts, and collect them in online e-portfolios for reflection and assessment.
The projects included:

  • a group project building a design for an international flower show (Diploma of Landscape Design), using blogs, photo and video sharing, and e-portfolios
  • groups working as product design teams for external manufacturers (BA Design), using communication tools, and blogs and e-portfolios shared with the companies
  • students testing and evaluating tools for music creation and delivery (Diploma of Contemporary Music), using audio and video sharing tools, and social networks
  • students on a field trip (Diploma of Landscape Design) recording and identifying findings, using photos and video and blogging tools

Findings include the importance of tailoring tasks to the affordances of the devices – both  the benefits (e.g. easy video recording and instant messaging/texting), and the challenges (small screens, slower text entry). Also the importance of scaffolding, as well as the possibilities for supporting informal or spontaneous learning, and an observed increase in peer collaboration and critique.
The papers also discuss the significance of Communities of Practice formed to help members of academic staff learn about the possibilities and share experiences with their peers, as well as time requirements, and scalability and funding issues.

You will need:

  • Wireless and/or 3G enabled mobile devices
  • Mobile enabled web tools

Tip: The great news is that many of these are already available (e.g.Youtube, Flickr, Google docs). The flipside is that because these services are provided by third parties, uptime/availability can’t be guaranteed, and there are potential data protection and security issues to address.


Cochrane, T. (2008). Mobile Web 2.0: The new frontier. In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008.
Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]

Cochrane, T. & Bateman, R. (2010) Smartphones give you wings: Pedagogical
affordances of mobile Web 2.0. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26 (1), 1-14.
Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]

Note: the second paper also includes links to a number of Youtube videos about the projects.

The use of mobile devices to create ‘augmented contexts’ in the field

Description: This report describes the CONTSENS project (using wireless technologies for context sensitive education and training). The project uses multimedia information, delivered on mobile devices, to supplement a field trip experience for Archaeology students visiting a site. The content included custom-built 3D visualisations of the architecture and multimedia descriptions, delivered in-context in various parts of the site, using the GPS on the mobile devices. The report suggests that the provision of this information extended the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) of the students, allowing them to increase their understanding through interaction with the content as well as with their peers.


You will need:

  • the visualisations and multimedia resources for this project were built using a custom development and player called Mediascape. You can see a similar tool on the Futurelab Create-a-Scape site.
  • Students on site will need access to a device that can display the resources, with GPS if you want them to be triggered by the student’s location.


Cook, J. (2010) Mobile phones as mediating tools within augmented contexts for development. In Brown, E. (ed.). Education in the Wild: contextual and location-based mobile learning in action. A report from the STELLAR Alpine Rendez-Vous workshop series. University of Nottingham: Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI). Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]

The pedagogy discussed in this report is expanded in: Cook, J. (2010). Mobile phones as mediating tools within augmented contexts for development. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, 2(3), 1-12.
Available from: [Accessed December 2010]

Mobile simulations


This paper reviews the use of mobile devices to run simulation activities – authentic scenarios that require learners to respond to information provided, and make judgements and decisions in real time. These scenarios create a “virtual context” where the simulated events take place, independent of physical location and social surroundings. The paper focuses on a flood disaster simulation, which used SMS (text messaging) to communicate with students. Students responded with decisions which altered the virtual environment, and then reviewed their decisions in a written assessment.
The project was evaluated using questionnaires and a small number of interviews. Responses indicated a high level of engagement, and an appreciation of the authenticity of the tasks.

You will need:


Cornelius, S. & Marston, P. (2009) Towards an understanding of the virtual context in mobile learning. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology 17 (3), 161-72.
Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]

Mobile learning for teachers


This paper discusses the use of mobile devices by teachers to support their professional development. It reviews practices such as recording in the classroom and sharing mobile-created artefacts for collaborative reflection (although it doesn’t elaborate on how this was achieved). It also notes the value of mobile learning for the school environment, where teachers are required to move between (often isolated) teaching locations on a regular basis, and gives examples of using mobile devices to create resources which can be used with learners in the classroom, to provide feedback and celebrate achievement.
The paper also discusses the ethics of both recording and sharing, for teachers and for pupils.

You will need:

  • a mobile device with a camera (video or still), and/or audio recording functionality. This could be a mobile phone, a handheld device like an iPod touch, a camera, or a dictaphone.
  • Tool(s) for sharing. The possibilities here will depend on the availability of an internet connection. You could upload resources to a shared web space, preferably access-controlled (e.g. in the VLE), send them phone-to-phone via MMS, connect your device to a projector to present in class, record audio files to CD, or print images out on paper.


Aubusson, P., Schuck, S., & Burden, K. (2009) Mobile learning for teacher professional learning: benefits, obstacles and issues. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology 17 (3), 233-47.
Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]

Short-form podcasts to support assessment


Lecturers on undergrad and postgrad Commerce programmes recorded a series of short podcast episodes (10-20 minutes long), covering requirements and guidance for assessments. These recordings were supplementary to the existing teaching materials, and the short format was deliberately chosen to allow a more flexible mode of consumption.
The project was evaluated using surveys, focus groups and interviews with staff. Most students used the recordings to revise and reinforce information, and there is evidence to suggest that it was useful for the large numbers of students for whom English is not their first language. It is interesting to note though that most students preferred to listen to the podcasts at home (rather than using a mobile device), where they had more control over their learning environment and could “concentrate” better.

You will need:

  • audio recording equipment (microphone, headphones) and software (e.g. Audacity)
  • a podcasting tool/web server to host your recordings (you can do this in the VLE)
  • your students will need either a portable mp3 player, or access to a desktop PC with a sound card, and speakers or headphones.


Sutton-Brady, C., Scott, K.M., Taylor, L., Carabetta, G., & Clark, S. (2009) The value of using short-form podcasts to enhance learning and teaching. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology 17 (3), 219-32.
Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]

Field trip support: dynamic visualisations for understanding biodiversity


Students on a field trip to the sea were provided with mobile video devices (portable DVD players) with multimedia information about fish species. One group were provided with a DVD of dynamic visualisations, while another group used static ones.
The project was evaluated at three levels: micro (the usability of the devices in the context of the learning activity); meso (the impact on learning); and macro (practicability of including this type of activity into a course). Students were tested on their ability to identify species before and after the activity.
The students found the devices easy to use, and there is some evidence that having access to support materials in the field was both motivational and beneficial to students’ learning.

You will need:

  • Video content (develop your own, or check for existing clips you can re-use)
  • Mobile devices to play back the video (this could be handheld devices like iPods, or portable DVD players if you plan to supply the clips on DVD.

Tip: don’t rely on your students having access to the internet (e.g. to watch clips on Youtube or the video streaming server). Wifi and 3G connections can be unreliable and expensive in fieldwork situations.



Pfeiffer, V.D.I., Gemballa, S., Jarodzka, H., Scheiter, K., & Gerjets, P. (2009) Situated learning in the mobile age: mobile devices on a field trip to the sea. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology 17 (3), 187-99.
Available online at: [Accessed Jan 2011]


Welcome to the MALT Project resource for mobile learning.

If you have an example of mobile learning to share, please email the team at

Examples of mobile learning are collected here for the benefit of other academic staff, so please include any information that may help others to replicate or improve on your experiences – successes, challenges, modifications, alternatives/redundancies, technology and training requirements, and evaluation methods and data are all helpful!