Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (XIII). Social and Ethical Issues in Education Technologies

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development, held in Casa Asia, Barcelona, Spain, on October 6-7, 2010. More notes on this event: eLChair10.

Round Table: Social and Ethical Issues in Education Technologies
Jill Attewell, Steve Vosoo, Matthew Kam & John Traxler. Moderates: Manuel Castells, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3, UOC)

Social entrepreneurship?

Eva de Lera: What about social entrepreneurship?

John Trexler: there does not seem to be a lot of activity in social entrepreneurship in the field of learning. Maybe other models, like free schools in the UK would be a better option if we are talking about education.

Matthew Kam: it depends on the definition of social entrepreneurship. If entrepreneurship is doing something that benefits your community, we may find some. And some of this deliver pretty good education.

New colonialism?

Emma Kiselyova: Can we do more wrong than good?

Jill Attewell: I’d rather use technology enhanced learning, not e-learning. This way, what we are doing is not creating something new from scratch, but enhancing something that already existed.

Steve Vosloo: how carefully is too careful? Sometimes going “too” carefully may imply losing lots of opportunities.

John Trexler: It is OK to go as quick as possible. The problem is that reflections need their own pace, and we sometimes take decisions on flawed reflections.


Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol: What are the conflicts between formal and informal education? What is the role of motivation in this apparent dichotomy? Does it have to be informal to motivate? Is that good or bad?

John Trexler: It depends on what we understand by motivation. Motivation has sometimes been “triggered” by just pouring money or free devices in the users’ hands.

Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol: Indeed, motivation should come from other channels rather than — or added to — technological ones, like organizational change, institutions, etc.

[I personally wonder whether we might be “crowding out” formal education for too much focusing in informal education].

Success and failure

César Córcoles: How do we know which projects are successful and which a failure? And which ones are more likely to succeed and which others to fail? What is the tolerance to failure?

Matthew Kam: One of the problems is that most of the projects do not count as scholarly research, which means that many resources (especially human) are automatically kept away from being applied in many projects. On the other hand, most funding goes to successful projects, even if some failures may imply interesting lessons learnt that could be applied to following projects.

What infrastructure

Carlos Fernández: What about one-cellphone-for-all (the style of OLPC)?

Manuel Castells: the matter is that almost everyone already has a mobile device, and thus is why many projects address mobile phones.

John Traxler: this is the story again of the ideology behind the technology.

Jill Attewell: people in poor areas want the same devices as everyone else and they want the same features.

Julià Minguillón: the OLPC project failed because it never was an educational project. It never had the educational community in its design, teachers were not trained, contents were not created, etc.

Educational institutions

Ismael Peña-López: if industrialization — with its flaws — brought education to everyone, why do most educational projects keep on circumventing educational institutions instead of strengthening them? Why so much focus in informal education?

Matthew Kam: agreed. Nevertheless, there are many aspects of informal education, gaming, etc. that could contribute a lot to improve and bring a wind of change to institutions [which I in turn agree too].

Manuel Castells: indeed, most schools are not about education and empowering the kids, but about politics. Nevertheless, if change is to be made, institutions definitely have to be an important part of it.


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (2010)

Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (I). Jill Attewell: Mobilising technology for learning — lessons from MoLeNET

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development, held in Casa Asia, Barcelona, Spain, on October 6-7, 2010. More notes on this event: eLChair10.

Mobilising technology for learning – lessons from MoLeNET
Jill Attewell, LSN Research Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning, UK

MoLeNET is a deliberate attempt to move mobile learning from research and development and small scale pilots to major implementation. MoLeNET has sponsored 104 projects with 40,000 learners.

A definition of mobile learning: The exploitation of ubiquitous handheld technologies, together with wireless and mobile phone networks, to facilitate, support, enhance and extend the reach of teaching and learning. So, it’s not only about mobile phones, or small PCs, but a much broader concept. And it is not also about improving teaching, but also about improving learning, learning outcomes, the learning experience itself.

The project was mainly addressed to adult learners, which have it difficult to be trained at the workspace (money and time costs, availability of courses, etc.) but have a dire need to be trained. Mobile learning could provide better access to technology at work, quicker completion of theory elements, a more enjoyable assessment, better tutor/learner communication, higher levels of student engagement, etc.

Another main target of the project was young people, with high unemployment rates, dropped out of the educational system, NEET (not in education, employment and training). Potentially, mobile technologies are mastered by youngsters and can thus be a tool to help approachability to NEETs. Indeed, learners feel better supported and more part of a community, though this would not mean overcoming the worse attitudes towards learning.

Measuring impact

The project performed several assessments in order to gather evidence on impact: practitioner-led action research, project manager reports, surveys, etc.

Mobile learning can improve:

  • Attendance, retention and achievement.
  • Teaching and learning and assessment processes.
  • Flexibility, relevance, realism, personalization.
  • Learner engagement, quantity and quality of work.
  • Support of work-based learners.
  • Support of learners with disabilities and/or learning difficulties.
  • Encourages self and peer assessment.
  • Improve and maintain focus and attention.
  • Anywhere, anytime.
  • Just in time, just what I want.
  • Quick reference to check information on the net, to access online applications.
  • Individual and collaborative learning.
  • Creating, sharing and using multimedia.

Impact on teaching

  • Learners work more together.
  • Learners are more independent.
  • More learners led activities (and less teacher led activities).
  • Visual and aural learning becomes more important.
  • Kinaesthetic learning becomes more important.
  • More learning outside of the classroom.
  • More learning outside of the college building.
  • Deeper learning.

What made the programme successful?

  • Capital investment.
  • Shared cost funding.
  • Online knowledge and resource sharing.
  • Staff development.
  • Mentoring.
  • Practitioner led action research.
  • Supported project.
  • Local champions, that work along with the teachers.


Steve Vosloo: How can the project work without the local champions? What if the project is rolled out top-down? A: Information and support for the teachers is crucial. It is also very important that people (i.e. teachers) have resources (not only money, but also time and other kind of resources) to experiment, to try things, to do things “wrong”, etc. Teacher education is crucial for m-learning adoption.

Q: Was it easy to engage big telcos? A: No, it was not. Big mobile operators did not seem to share neither the approach nor the “thrill” of the programme. They may like it, but they would not get involved. Maybe because of the failure to see how to monetize the project. This may be changing though.

Ismael Peña-López: We have been presented many positive impacts of m-learning. I wonder what is the marginal contribution of the m- over the e-(learning). All things equal, what is the difference between m- and e-learning? A: Flexibility and immediacy, not being rooted in the place, are doubtless the most important ones.. The student can respond to situations very quickly. Indeed, desktop technologies do not fit very well in some specific workplaces (e.g. a fast-food restaurant, a mine). And it is not only about responding, but about acting too: sometimes taking a snapshot or a short video footage may be part of an assignment and this can be done just-in-time with mobile technologies, and much more easily than with desktop technologies.

Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol: What are the best topics that can be used in m-learning? A: Mobile devices track everything and everywhere. Any educational methodology that implies recording, taping, gathering data all around is one that will make an intensive usage of mobile technologies and thus leverage all the (specific, singular) possibilities of the device.


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning VII International Seminar: Mobile Technologies for Learning and Development (2010)