This conference wasn’t big, nor full of headlining Big Names In The Field. It’s been a while since I’ve haven’t been to a conference where Big Names filled the rooms and where presenters, having travelled from afar, were feasted on like leftovers. I have to say that this is one of the things I appreciated the most about this conference, where every session I attended drew equal amounts of participants and everybody seemed to be on a level playing field in terms of what they had to offer. The attendance was incredibly globally diverse, and I couldn’t get enough of the diversity of contexts that we work in ranging from “our institution had an iPod program” to “in my country no institution has a hope in hell of having an iWhatever program, so what advice do you have for me?” It was one of the few conferences where at least one presenter didn’t have to be dragged off the stage because they were overtime but still had 10 critical slides left, and where every question and answer session was fairly engaging. I had expected a little more display of flashy gadgetry, but again, the mobile learning problems that presenters focussed on were real, and not really about the “look what we are doing with all our toys” variety. So my biggest takeaway is that stepping outside of your usual conference circuit and into the smaller, less headliner sphere can be really rewarding. And definitely for a topic like mobile learning, there is perhaps more to be learned from developing countries than from countries where gadgets know no boundaries.
One of the most relevant presentations for my institution was presented by a Finnish team describing a pedagogical m-learning model for decentralized tourism education. Tourism students resided in their place of learning for classes etc at a ski resort approx 50 km from the institution, but extended their learning within the environs of the ski resort. The institution was important to the model in providing ICT support, language teacher support, and school services, but the resort and the communities in the Lapland area were the real place of learning and made heavy use of mobile devices to gather information from the various locations. Again, in an applied learning context this model made total sense to me, where the institution really takes on a different role in supporting the learner, and the use of mobile devices in the actual place of learning is not just an add-on but an essential component. This model gave me a lot to think about in terms of when and why m-learning is so useful to applied education.
Ok, there were no less than 2 presentations that I attended that presented projects that attempted to create device neutral m-learning platforms. Some of these were pretty technical and challenged me, but the takeaway for me is that we are all facing the problem the incredible number of device options and how we address m-learning in that landscape.
The Poznan University of Economics (Poland) presented their work on something called the MILES interfaces, which even with my limited technical knowledge, appeared to be nothing short of brilliant. Basically, of some sort of backend interface (SOIL, service oriented interface language based on XML) it allows the appropriate “template” to be pulled up for the appropriate device, and adjusts media size etc according to the device. Basically, an “interface adaption system” that extends to Web 2.0 tools such as wikis or blogs. Sorry folks, that’s the best I can do.
The Moule project based in Italy seemed addressed the device issue in a different way, but the presentation was less about the technical and more about its application in higher ed. The technical is described here and makes heavy use of GPS, (and I believe QR codes but I could be mixing that up with another) as a way of extending the learning experience beyond the classroom and more embedded in the real world. This is a very tangible and valuable idea for me, and again has concrete relevance in the types of applied learning programs we do at the JIBC, which are so often embedded in workplaces and less in the classroom. The Unidroid project (also Italian) explored the same kind of institutional application of mobile learning by building on the compass, camera, accelerometer, and the GPS, in conjunction with QR codes, mainly around orienting students to the campus, schedule information, bibliographic management, and language lessons.
I’m pretty sure there was at least one more device neutral platform presentation that I either attended or missed, but the notes aren’t digging it up. That’s all for this topic.
I attended the IADIS M-learning conference in Avila, Spain, and after leaving a comment over on Miami Learning’s blog, who captures his impressions on the sessions, I feel like I need to expand on my own.
This was actually the first hotel-based conference I’ve been too where I had consistent access to the wifi (surprise!) and the first European conference where I was fed more than adequately in relation to the cost. Bottles of wine flowed at full- course sit down conference lunches, and conference dinner wasn’t chicken, but was nonetheless outshined by an unforgettably wonderful tapas dinner the night before. It was also the first conference where I closed the laptop, shut off twitter, and really focussed on listening. A little bit 5 years ago, but I truly felt like I got more out of the presentations–not every presentation is an obvious “wow” full of interesting twitterable takeaways, but by spending more time focussing on finding a gem in each presentation I felt like I got my money’s worth (which is a lot considering the 600 euro conference fee!).
Food aside, the conference opened up with a great keynote by Marcus Sprecht (@marcuspecht) from CELSTEC at the Open U of Netherlands. I’ve become accustomed to expecting great presentations on interesting things at the Open U in Netherlands, and this didn’t disappoint (I’ve now added the OUNL to my list of international dream jobs). Marcus’s presentation was really about innovation, as CELSTEC seems to really be pushing the envelope as far as m-learning applications go. Marcus talked about sensors in relation to augmented perception, mainly in the context of museum tours, but it wasn’t hard to see how this might be useful to health professionals with the introduction of bio sensors. In fact, Marcus made this kind of extension in relation to MetaMirror, an iPad app that detects what you are watching on TV and enhances the experience by providing additional information. He suggested that this type of experience could apply to medical equipment in hospitals and labs.
I hadn’t really paid much attention to augmented reality as a current must-explore elearning topic, but I left the presentation feeling like it had important relevance to the kinds of programs we deliver at my institution. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I would feel the same way if I was at a traditional university.
Marcus also put forward a few think-about-it questions regarding mobile learning in general, a few of which I captured.
1. is your content accessible by mobiles and by what devices, browsers, etc?
2. is there a link between your content and thereal world that suits your goals?
And a takeaway: think about contexts in terms of mobile situations vs. desktop situations.