The Digital Media and Learning Initiative
Kids playing the Capital Game
Mobile Media Learning
This convening, a small event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on June 10, 2009, was led by Kurt Squire. It took place immediately preceding the Games+Learning+Society Conference 5.0. The multidisciplinary conversation focused on the state of the mobile media learning field and its next directions. Participants exchanged ideas about methodologies, discussed outcomes of current projects, and shared thoughts on what should happen next.
Themes in Research
Opinion converged around the idea that mobile media is in a unique position to cross traditional boundaries between home and school, and between informal and formal learning. The flexibility and ubiquity of mobile media—both of which will only increase with lower ownership and operating costs and more sophisticated device—make this technology an important component in helping young people learn how to build their identities across these boundaries, giving them space for low-risk exploration and experimentation. Particularly, mobile devices are ideal “interest amplifiers,” allowing young people easily to access applications and communities aligned with their interests.
In a related discussion, participants emphasized—and expressed curiosity about—variance among cultures in the use of mobile media, underlining that devices do not (over)determine use. Understanding these variances is important in designing applications that are appropriate for different contexts and communities and building awareness of multiple potential uses of the same device or application. It is also important for considering how to design projects that seek to understand digital media use.
Another major theme that emerged during the day: Mobile devices create new uses for and definitions of public and private space. While the topic requires more research, it is relevant, again, to application design. Participants agreed that the practices that emerge around mobile devices redefine how people use, interact with, and even think about space. This finding could also have important implications for learning theory. More research needs to be done on the psychological and other effects of context or place on learning, which should then inform how curricula are designed.
Challenges of Methodology
Designing research on mobile media use is not simple, however. Participants identified, as a particular challenge, the question of how to accurately capture information about mobile media use. Whether by giving a person a mobile device for a limited time, relying on self-reporting, or disentangling individual use from social influences, common research methods for assessing mobile media use are particularly subject to bias. Especially in projects that focus on emergent use and deliberately leave structures open for that, researchers have yet to find consistently good solutions. The most successful approaches shared were two-step diaries; “Wizard of Oz” solutions, in which researchers are on call to amplify usability and searchability (adding value to built-in features but also gathering data on usage); and random pinging.
Potential of Networks and Gaming
Still, participants expressed a strong sense that successful applications for mobile media learning are in sight. Some promising directions: The use of mobile media to create bridges among varying partner institutions, as in the NYC Learning Network; the extent to which mobile media bring emotionality into the learning process; and the ways in which mobile media can make users aware of space and place. (This last area, participants observed, could also be a drawback in certain situations. More research on the subject is needed, and designers must be more aware of it.)
There was also significant agreement that games will continue to be a good metaphor for thinking about learning, especially as mobile devices become more ubiquitous and can shape learning experiences in a game-like manner wherever the user may be. The parallels between gaming and mobile learning include these:
- The social aspect of both learning and games
- The experimental aspects of both
- A clear sense of feedback within each space
- The emergent aspect of meaning for both
- Both prompt players to ask “how can I interact,” and “how do I get good or improve”
- Both require careful crafting of the understanding of rules
- Both are fundamentally a stylized social interaction based on information exchange
- Both aim to create deep literacy
Participants located some holes in research that need to be addressed. These include the question of what young people do with mobile media when teachers are not looking; an understanding of differences between primary and secondary device usage (a problem in some studies that can only give participants temporary use); literacy of choice (that is, understanding how users inform their decisions about mobile applications and devices); credibility issues that are specific to mobile devices; and role identification around mobile use (new types of teams would emerge: technical, summary, social, search experts, and more). Many questions around context and learning also need to be addressed.
Some participants also expressed concern that, as this field gains more definition, experts need to be careful about how they define it. Because “mobile media” is an increasingly broad term, interested parties could easily talk at cross-purposes. Is “mobile media” primarily gaming? multi-situated learning? augmented reality? The group felt that the field should either narrow or splinter in order to bring some much-needed specificity to their projects.
Overall, participants believed that, as the field of mobile media learning grows, it is very important to continue to build conversation between disciplines and to continue collaborating within and across disciplines. Such conversations, they agreed, have the greatest potential for creating well-designed applications.
For more information on this convening, visit here.