Reflecting on Our Own Ideas
I’m preparing for two events in the next two weeks right now and I always find this “prep” time valuable for me, as it gives me time to reflect and make deeper connections. 

This coming week, I’m presenting Teaching Without Walls at the DET/CHE Conference in San Diego.  The presentation will be brief at just thirty minutes but will be a lightning fast overview of one of my own teaching experiments at Sierra College in Rocklin, CA.  I took a new approach to teaching my traditional lecture-based Women in Art class in an effort to make the time I spent with my students entirely focused on active learning, rather than passive delivery of information.  What came out of my experiment was a realization of how effective web-based “delivery” tools (like podcasting, YouTube videos, etc.) are for delivering lectures.  And once I was able to shift lecturing online, it opened up the precious face-to-face time I had with students to be spent on fostering higher level learning skills like evaluation, application and synthesis. 

The second most valuable learning experience I took away from this experiment was how much students embraced this new model, as it sculpted more opportunities for purposeful, relevant learning in class that was directly tied to learning objectives, making the purpose of all of our activities very clear. I invite you to listen to the 20-minute student interview if you’d like to hear from a few students about their experiences in our class.

On December 9th, I’ll be facilitating the Mobile Learning Think Tank at Pasadena City College, an event coordinated by Rachel Fermi and the Digital Media Center at PCC.  This workshop has been designed to be a collaborative event.  It will be an opportunity for many educators to come together and share their own teaching activities that integrate social media and/or a mobile device in some way.  Those who present will be rewarded with a $50 iTunes Gift Card! We’ve added an option for virtual attendance through the integration of an Elluminate webinar too, in an effort to create a workshop without walls!  If you’d like to register, here is the link — the workshop is free!

The Sharing of Ideas Stimulates Innovation
What I’m taking away from my preparations for these two events is the importance of sharing ideas to foster innovations across the board in higher education.  Too often, we still are pressured by the need to be an “expert” before we present and, by no means, do I consider my instructional model I’ll be sharing at DET/CHE as the only approach or even a truly refined approach to 21st century learning.  But it is an approach and I do hope it encourages audience members to think about new ways to integrate web-based technologies and mobile learning experiences in ways that truly transform our students’ learning.  Sharing doesn’t always feel as natural as it should — and we need to work together to change this.

What is Mobile Learning?
I also see the connections between both workshops more intimately right now than I did a few weeks ago.  The term “Mobile Learning” is widely used through ed-tech circles these days but I haven’t seen many thorough discussions about what the term means. I’ve found that many people assume that mobile learning is learning that is enhanced through the use of a mobile phone/smart phone/iPad/iTouch.  But I don’t think that’s necessarily true.  I think what we need to focus on is the broader effect that using a mobile device or web-based tool (from a desktop or laptop) has on learning.  And that is, ultimately, untethering learning from occurring during the face-to-face time we spend with our students.  Learning that can occur from anywhere at any time is mobile learning.

“Untethered learning” is a phrase I first heard used by Julie Evans of Project Tomorrow.  Untethered learning experiences are in demand by our K12 students … and I think college leaders and educators need to be listening and learning from these voices and brainstorming about how to best meet their interests.


4 Comments to “Untethering College Learning”

  1. Thanks for these thoughts about your upcoming presentations and about the nature of mobile learning. You write of mobile learning as "untethering learning from occurring during the face-to-face time we spend with our students." However, mobile devices (smart phones, laptops, tablets, and such) can also be used *in the classroom* during that face-to-face time in productive ways. I'd like the in-class use of mobile devices to fall under the umbrella of "mobile learning."

    For a few ideas on in-class uses and a couple of more thoughts about the definition of "mobile learning," see my Five Types of Mobile Learning blog post.

  2. Derek, thanks for writing and helping me think through this topic more explicitly.

    It's funny, I'm preparing a presentation that I'll be delivering tomorrow about a teaching experiment of mine in which I made my lectures mobile, freeing class time for active learning. One of the things my students did in this learning environment (in class) was use their phones to call and interview friends about historical topics and seek out content from the web about artists (while other students referenced printed textbooks — this led to a great discussion about media literacy as the students found discrepancies between sources).

    If we mean "using mobile devices in the classroom for learning" when we use the term "mobile learning," then I think the term "mobile learning" is too broad for this definition. As professors today continue teach face-to-face, hybrid, and online, don't you think we need to be thinking about learning more holistically? This definition excludes fully online classes which now comprise more than 30% of higher ed enrollments in the US.

    Here's the rub for me — to embrace the use of mobile devices in a classroom, an instructor must be engaging students in active learning. If you just say, "use your laptop or phone," students will go to Facebook and mingle. If you give students an activity that directly aligns with the course learning objectives, that's active learning (as opposed to passive, lecture-based learning).

    So maybe we need to frame these uses of mobile devices in the classroom within the conversation of "strategies for active learning in the college classroom."

    Thanks again for visiting and for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed your own blog post and plan to explore it more deeply in the coming week.


  3. I guess I see the "mobile" in "mobile learning" as referring to the device. A mobile device can be used during class or outside of class, so I see "mobile learning" as referring to the use of mobile devices for learning during or outside of class.

    If you see the "mobile" in "mobile learning" as referring to the student, then "mobile learning" would refer to the use of mobile devices for learning only outside of class and not inside class.

    I prefer the bigger umbrella for "mobile learning," but on some level it's just semantics. There's great potential for mobile devices in learning both during and outside of class, so it's all worth exploring!

    Of course, the during-class and outside-of-class uses are sometimes very different. I wouldn't ask my students to watch a video of me lecturing on their smart phones during class, but that activity can have real value outside of class. Conversely, polling (ala clickers) can be very engaging in synchronous environments (in the classroom or online) but isn't nearly so exciting in asynchronous environments.

    I think the emphasis should be on active learning regardless of context and also on making good use of scarce resources like face-to-face time in the classroom, much like you did in the class you're talking about in your presentation today!

    I think you'll find my blog post from yesterday pretty interesting, too. I had students (via laptops) collaboratively build a debate map using Prezi Meeting. They found it very engaging!

  4. Ben

    Hi Michelle,

    Great article. I think you're right about mobile learning. It really should not be limited to just cell phones, PDA's and tablets. I agree that it should include netbooks and laptops as well as they are the most versatile as far as engaging the student is concerned. Check out – Top Hat Monocle, we have created a new generation of technology that functions as a more comprehensive version of "clickers" and uses devices that are either WiFi or mobile enabled.


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