"Tomorrow is Already Here." It's a Stereolab song, that, on one level, is about the inverted relationship between institutions and society. Who serves whom? Meditate on that thought for too long and everything feels trite and futile. It's the anxiety of any futurist with a heart. (But if you're a Stereolab fan, it's "bob up and down tastic!")
In a very real way, tomorrow is always already here. In the realm of emerging learning technologies, we're constantly searching for the most telling signals of how the teaching landscape is morphing, knowing that we're already in the midst of that change. For the past six years, the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) have published a forward-looking research paper that tries to take snapshots of the future. The Horizon Report tries to bundle its vision into one-, three-, and five-years-to-adoption scenarios. One of the current significant trends they identified was "access to - and portability of - content [that] is increasing as smaller, more powerful devices are introduced." We refer to these collectively as mobile learning technologies.
In his review article, D. Christopher Brooks begins to look not only at the state of mobile technologies on the University of Minnesota campus, but also at the research questions this new emphasis will bring to the fore. If we can see that tools like podcasts, vodcasts, iTunes U, smartphones, laptops, and other personal portable devices are going to change the learning environment, we can begin to plan how we might study their impact.
J.D. Walker and Aimee Whiteside continue this exploration as they begin to research new classroom spaces designed for greater collaboration and team-based learning. These so called active learning classrooms - implemented by Steve Fitzgerald and the Office of Classroom Management - have small circular tables around which students can gather in groups, work on computers, and then transmit their results to overhead LCDs. The rooms are enveloped in large glass writing boards on which to brainstorm and report group findings. These highly designed spaces seem almost the flipside of those created by most mobile technologies, which have the capacity to be disruptive. When we begin to juxtapose these learning conditions, we begin to see the kinds of new tensions that are emerging as we adopt an increasingly diverse set of learning technologies.
"What do we want our students to learn?" That was the question with which Arlene Carney, vice provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, began the first issue of Transform. Since we ran that article in 2006, the Faculty Senate on the Twin Cities campus officially adopted the undergraduate student learning outcomes. Today we revisit that complex effort in a conversation with Cynthia Murdoch, the coordinator for Student Learning Assessment. We're at a midpoint in that initiative where many colleges have made quite a lot of progress, but there is still much work to accomplish before the University's next accreditation self-study begins in 2013.
In his memoir, Professor Mike White describes his passion for Italian food, culture, and the connections among family, pasta, Venice, and teaching. Mike's autobiography was written as part of the Center for Teaching and Learning's "Making Meaning of a Life in Teaching" program. Currently, a cohort of faculty writers are investing themselves in a new memoir program called "This I Have Learned." Look for excerpts from that program in future issues of Transform and please consider joining that writing group.
In addition to our calendar and the usual review of upcoming conferences, we are once again showcasing a pair of article reviews. Paul Ching examines the evidence of two new studies. One experiment examines the surprising importance of seat location in lecture courses. A second project looks at the common practice of instructor-sanctioned "cheat sheets."
You'll note several authors in this issue are from the Office of Information Technology's (OIT) Digital Media Center (DMC). We want to thank OIT and the DMC for co-sponsoring this issue of Transform. When we seek to view the horizon of SoTL, it would be difficult to imagine it without the research agendas that emerging technologies and new learning environments present.
The concept of Mobile Learning is new enough that its definitions are still contested. Should it be defined by the pedagogy it affords, by the technology it deploys, the social discourse it enables? We might be able to describe some of its characteristics - that it provides learning opportunities independently of time and place. We could also perhaps gain a sense of "mLearning" by analyzing a list of some of the tools of which it makes use: iPods, ebooks, smart phones, GPS handhelds, PDAs, etc. But at this stage in its evolution, it would be difficult to encapsulate what seems to literally be a moving target. We thought it might be useful, though, to provide Transform readers with a starting point into the new research on podcasting as a manifestation of the greater inquiry into mobile learning.
McKinney, D., Dyck, J. L., & Luber, E. S. (in press). "iTunes University and the classroom: Can podcasts replace professors?" Computers and Education.
In this quasi-experimental design study of an introductory psychology course, the students who were given access to a podcast of a recorded lecture, but did not attend the lecture itself, scored significantly higher on exams than those who had attended lecture but had only PowerPoint notes of the same lecture. The authors are quick to say that this study in no way indicates the value of replacing live instruction with recorded lectures. They were interested in supplemental instruction, and particularly the conditions when a student might miss an occasional lecture and had access to either another student's notes or the actual recorded lecture. They assert that "the advantage the students in our study received was only when the student took notes as they would do during a lecture, and when they listened to the lecture more than once." This study was limited by many factors, including a novelty effect and the disciplinary-specific nature of the content, but it provides us with an early study of the value of podcasting in a higher education setting.
Lee, M. J. W., McLoughlin, C., & Chan A. (2008). Talk the talk: Learner-generated podcasts as catalysts for knowledge creation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(3), 501-521.
As the title suggests, Lee et al. examine the educational value of learner-generated podcasts in graduate and undergraduate courses in Australia. The authors wanted to explore the potential for mobile learning that went beyond recorded lectures. Focus groups and content analysis were used to measure results. Using a knowledge-building framework devised by Scardamalia, the authors examined principles such as "improvable ideas," "epistemic agency," and "constructive uses of authoritative sources," etc. Through an analysis of the student scriptwriting, production, and editing, the authors found "a high proportion of the student-producers' discourse contained evidence of knowledge-building principles." They conclude: "While the products of their activity (podcast scripts and recordings) were indicators of success for the student producers, the actual dialogic and social processes that resulted in knowledge creation were the focus of the research inquiry. The authors believe that without the articulation of common goals and the commitment to producing tangible objects of shared activity, the student-producers may not have been as actively engaged in these collaborative processes."
Evans, C. (2008). The effectiveness of m-learning in the form of podcast revision lectures in higher education. Computers & Education, 50, 491-498.
This British study examined instructor-generated podcasts as a review tool after a lecture but before an exam. They found evidence to support three hypotheses. First, they found that students believed that listening and re-listening to the podcasts was a quicker method to review exam material than going over their own class notes. Second, students found the podcasts a more effective studying tool than reviewing the assigned text. Third, students were more receptive to a review podcast than to a review lecture. A fourth hypothesis - that students found it easier to relate to a lecturer in a podcast than one giving a live review lecture - was rejected. Taken collectively, the authors conclude that students believe that review podcasts enhance their learning process. These findings are consistent with earlier findings. One interesting research possibility that has emerged from this study is the chance that podcasts might be particularly efficacious for ESL and international students who might have difficulty comprehending a lecture with just a single exposure; the ability to replay a lecture or a review lecture might help these students even more than native language students.