Mobile Access to Learning and Teaching at the University of Northampton

Category Archives: Interaction

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]

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]