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Written by Alja Sulčič Presented at the 4th International Slovenian MoodleMoot 2010 www.iAlja.com Abstract Mobile devices are becoming increasingly more powerful, better connected and are able to provide better user experience and new services based around location and context of users, which opens new possibilities for learning. The paper presents an overview of mobile learning and the efforts being made to provide better support for mobile devices and learning activities/resources in Moodle. In conclusion we also present some future trends in mobile computing that could also provide new ways of learning on the go. Keywords: mobile learning, ubiquitous learning, game-based learning, Moodle
If we want to stay connected with the internet and other people whenever we go, we now have a wide range of small, portable computers such as mobile phones, smart phones, tablet computers, netbooks, laptops and everything in between (Johnson et all, 2010a). Modern mobile devices in our pockets are turning into powerful location aware computers that we can use to build previously unimaginable services that allow us to interact with content and our environment in new ways. Used in education, mobile devices with internet connectivity can store reference materials and learning experiences, and provide various tools for field work (ibidem). The 2010 Horizon report predicts that mobile computing will enter mainstream use on campuses in one year or less (ibidem), and in K-12 schools in two to three years (Johnson et all, 2010b). There are already several successful case studies of using mobile devices in different educational settings (Johnson et all, 2010a, 2010b). Moodle, a popular open source Learning Management System (LMS), has become the central point for learning activities for many schools and organizations. We believe that adding a mobile, location aware component to Moodle could provide teachers with new tools that could increase student engagement and make Moodle more relevant to the increasingly mobile world we all live in. In this article we provide an overview of how mobile devices can support teaching and learning by taking a look at some examples of mobile, location-based and game-based learning delivered through mobile devices. Then we present some of existing technologies that are attempting to adapt Moodle to different mobile devices and discuss the potential future development of a mobile, context aware and fun Moodle that will enable us to learn anywhere at any time without being limited to desktop computers.
Learning on mobile devices
The advantage and limitations of mobile devices Mobile devices are not (yet) as capable as desktop computers, but have some distinct advantages that have the potential to make them more popular than desktop computers: - We can hold mobile devices in our hands, which opens up a lot of potential to experiment with new user experiences and interfaces, for instance a more intimate experience of the device through the touch interface. Additionally, mobile devices can have different sensors that are usually irrelevant on desktop computers, but which can provide a new layer of information - for instance, integrated GPS receivers, motion detectors, light sensors, accelerometers, etc. These sensors can make mobile devices location and context aware. - We can take mobile devices with us, wherever we go. With the increase in Wi-fi and high speed mobile networks that also means we have the option to connect to the internet and other devices always at hand. - They are less expensive than desktop computers and easier to maintain. There are more than 4 billion mobile subscribers in the world, with more than two thirds of them living in developing countries, where desktop computers with network access have a much lower penetration rate. Mobile devices can provide an easier and less expensive access to the internet for many people. So, modern mobile devices are location and context aware, portable and affordable small computers that can connect us to the internet almost anywhere in the world. It is therefore no surprise that some analysts have started predicting that in five years internet access on mobile devices will overtake classic desktop internet access (Ingram, 2010). With this is mind, we should certainly start exploring different ways of using the advantages of mobile devices to provide relevant, portable and affordable learning on the go. On the other hand, we should also be aware of limitations of mobile devices that often make the development of services for such devices a challenge. For instance, mobile devices usually have smaller screens, less comfortable input methods (for example, tiny mobile keyboards), are limited by battery life, have less powerful hardware (although cloud computing can provide a solution for that) and sometimes data transfer is still quite expensive on cellular networks (especially when roaming in cellular networks outside your country) or not available at all in some areas (which means that mobile devices should also be capable of working offline). That is also why simply providing access to services we use on our desktop computers (for example, the traditional Moodle website) does not always provide a good user experience on mobile devices and a lot of effort is being invested in designing native mobile applications that take into account the limitations of mobile devices and take advantage of the unique characteristics of mobile devices. Mobile and ubiquitous learning Mobile learning or m-learning can be defined in different ways. A simple technocentric definition is that mobile learning is learning using a mobile device (e.g. PDA, mobile phone, iPod etc.). Mobile learning can also be seen as an
extension of e-learning or as a way to augment formal, face-to-face teaching. And finally, a learner-centered perspective defines mobile learning as “any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies”. (Winters, 2006) Learning through mobile devices, also known as mobile learning or m-learning, is not a new idea. Dynabook, a Xerox Palo Alto Research Center project, was conceived in the early 1970s by Alan Kay and his team and represented the first attempt at creating a portable personal learning device (Sharples, 2002). In the 1990s, handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) appeared on the market, but never reached mainstream adoption and were soon replaced by the more popular mobile phones, which are being rapidly adopted all over the world. According to UN telecommunications agency predictions, the number of mobile subscriptions will increase to 5 billion this year, with mobile broadband subscriptions exceeding the 1 billion mark (CBS News, 2010). In addition to mobile phones (many of which are already powerful smart phones), many affordable laptops, netbooks and tablet computers are entering the market, ensuring we always have the internet at the reach of our hands and allowing us to interact with our environment. These devices can all create a ubiquitous learning environment, which can be defined as “any setting in which students can become totally immersed in the learning process”. A comparison of learning environments can be seen in Figure 1.
Level of embeddedness High Pervasive Learning Low Ubiquitous Learning High Level of mobility
Desktop Computer Assisted Learning Low
Figure 1: Comparison of learning environments (Ogata and Yano, 2004)
As we can see from Figure 1, ubiquitous learning (also known as u-learning) is mobile learning that is highly embedded into the environment and more aware of the learner’s context. In a broad definition of ubiquitous learning, mobile learning and pervasive learning (which includes computers able to gather information from the environment through various sensors) would be in the category of ubiquitous learning (ibidem). Yahya et al (2010) presented the differences between elearning, m-learning and u-learning as seen in Table 1.
Criteria Concept Permanency e-learning Learn at the right time. Learners can lose their work. m-learning Learn at the right place and time. Learners may lose their work. Changes in learning devices or learning in movement will interrupt learning activities. u-learning Learn the right thing at the right place and time in the right way. Learners can never lose their work.
Criteria Accessibility Immediacy
e-learning System access via computer network Learners cannot get information immediately. Learners’ interaction is limited.
m-learning System access networks. via wireless
u-learning System access technologies. via ubiquitous
Learners get information immediately in fixed environments specified mobile learning devices. Learners can interact with peers, teachers, and experts in specified learning environment. The system understands the learner’s situation by accessing the database.
Learners get information immediately.
Learners’ interaction with peers, teachers, and experts effectively through the interfaces of ulearning systems. The system can understand the learner’s environment via database and sensing the learner’s location, personal and environmental situations.
The system cannot sense the learner’s environment.
Table 1: Comparison of learning paradigms (Yahya et al, 2010).
In the paper we will discuss examples of both mobile and ubiquitous learning, as we believe that even what we now know as m-learning will eventually transform into u-learning, as ubiquitous learning environments become more commonplace with the development and adoption of various ubiquitous mobile devices. Regardless of whether we talk about m-learning or u-learning, the advantage of using mobile devices for learning is that mobile technologies can embed learning in authentic environments outside of traditional classroom (Huizenga, 2009), making learning seem more relevant to the “real world”, which can enhance leaners’ engagement. Game-based learning on mobile devices It is also worth noting that a lot of location-based learning also uses game mechanics, such as collecting points or unlocking achievements to make location services more fun and to encourage participation. After all, games provide a language that is easy to understand and that most people are already familiar with (and not just the younger generations). For instance, commercial location-based services like Foursqaure and Gowalla use game elements (collecting points by checking in to different locations, competing with friends, rewards) to encourage users to use the service regularly and visit different locations (Kiss, 2010). Research in the field of game-based learning (GBL), the use of (digital) games for learning, has shown mixed results in the past 20 years. However, it seems that given the right environment using games for learning certainly can improve skills, knowledge and attitudes and there are now several successful use cases of using location-aware games to improve learning. (Wastiau et all, 2009) For example, an interesting case study of using a mobile, location-aware game to improve learning outcomes was conducted in Amsterdam with a mobile city game called Frequency 1550. The game was developed by the Waag Society, a Dutch ICT research foundation, to teach students about medieval Amsterdam and was designed to be played during a single school day. Pupils start the game at the main location and have to attain a certain number of points through various game
activities such as creating or selecting photos, creating videos, answering questions etc. to gain citizenship in the medieval city of Amsterdam. (Huizenga et all, 2009) Results from a pilot project with the historical mobile game showed that despite some technical problems with the game, secondary school pupils who played the game gained significantly more knowledge about medieval Amsterdam than their peers who received regular project-based instruction. The authors suggest this was due to the fact that the information in the mobile game was presented in a realistic and meaningful way and the pupils had the opportunity to actively work with the learning content. (ibidem) Another interesting case study was done with MobiMission, a location-aware mobile phone game prototype. The game centered around creating and responding to Missions on a mobile phone. Missions could consist of images and text and could be linked to a certain location. When a player found a Mission in a certain location, she could respond to it with images or text and other players could later pick up the solution. The game also featured a website component, where players could check the status of their Missions. All action in the game were rewarded with points. While the size of the pilot group testing this game was relatively small, it provides a good example of mobile learning that could also be done in schools. For instance, the authors suggests this system could be used for school field trips, where a school could gradually build a database of activities tied to a location could be built over time, and this knowledge could also be exchanged with other schools. (Grant et al, 2007)
A location and context aware LMS
Making Moodle mobile As already said, research shows that using mobile devices in education can be effective and engaging. But the big challenge is moving beyond small pilot projects like the ones we briefly described and create tools that could be universally used for different learning activities. And that is why we believe it is important to think about how we could connect our mobile devices to existing learning tools, such as Moodle, to the increasing number of smart mobile devices we all own to enhance learning in schools. Broadly speaking there are two main areas that we can focus on: - making Moodle easier to use on mobile devices (for example, Moodle websites aren’t optimized for small screen devices or touch screens) and - creating new Moodle modules with a connection to mobile devices and bring location and context data into Moodle to provide more engaging resources and activities. Existing projects and tools Most of the projects related to making Moodle mobile focus on making Moodle more user friendly on mobile devices. There are several approaches on doing this. One way is to focus on the Moodle server and add additional scripts or applications to the installation. For example, Moodbile (http://code.google.com/p/moodbile/) is a PHP application that plugs into Moodle web-service connectors and adjusts the look of Moodle to fit small screen devices, such as mobile phones. An interesting
project also being developed as an iPhone/iPod Touch web application is Moodle4iPhone (http://iphone.moodle.com.au), and similar versions for Google Android and Windows Mobile are also being developed by the wider Moodle community (Parmar, 2010). Another approach is to create mobile specific applications that are capable of displaying a modified version of any Moodle website without the need to modify the server code. mTouch (http://www.pragmasql.com/home/moodletouch.aspx) is currently available as a paid application in the iPhone/iPod Touch App Store that can connect to any Moodle website.
Figure 2: Moodle4iPhone in Safari browser and mTouch, a native application on iPod Touch
While these applications make it easier to access Moodle on mobile devices, they mostly provide access to the same features we use on our desktop computers and don’t really take advantage of the specifics of mobile devices. One of the best known projects that also provides new mobile specific modules to Moodle is MLE-Moodle (http://mle.sourceforge.net/). MLE-Moodle is an open source plugin for Moodle that adds the functionality of a mobile learning environment (MLE) to Moodle. End-users can access MLE-Moodle either on their built-in mobile browsers or through a special mobile phone application (a JAVA based mobile client). (MLE-Moodle, 2009)
Figure 3: Accessing standard Moodle features on a mobile screen (source: MLE-Moodle, 2009)
In addition to providing access to existing Moodle activities and resources on mobile devices (Figure 3), MLE-Moodle also introduces two mobile-specific types of activities that teachers can add to their Moodle courses: - Mobile Learning Objects (MLOs): MLOs are learning objects that are designed especially for mobile learning and can include different types of questions. MLOs can be stored on the mobile device and used even where there is no internet connection available (unlike standard Moodle activities). - Mobile tags / Location based services: The Mobile Tagging module allows the creation of visual tags (Figure 4) that can be scanned with mobile phones simply by taking a picture of the tag. MLE-Moodle supports different types of tags that can link to webpages, Moodle courses or activities or locations. These visual tags can be printed out and placed in different locations. When students find them, they scan them and access the linked content (e.g. a Moodle quiz related to that location).
Figure 4: A mobile tag; if you scan this barcode with a QR Code Reader, such as the free i-nigma (http://www.i-nigma.com), your mobile browser will open the URL associated with this code
The use of mobile tags is especially interesting for education, as they are easy to setup (we can just print them out on paper) and most modern mobile phones with a camera that students already have will be able to decode this images and open content associated with a certain tag. For example, when preparing printed materials for a class, a teacher can include mobile tags in QR (Quick Response) format that include links to resources or quizzes stored in Moodle. When students go through the printed material, they can simply point their cell phone cameras to the included QR codes and the linked resource or activity will open up in their mobile browser. (Ramsden, 2008) Future Moodle: mobile, location and context aware From the brief overview of existing approaches to making Moodle Mobile, it is clear that there is still a lot that could be done. While providing unique mobile user interfaces is important, it should be just the first step towards the future of a mobile, ubiquitous Moodle. One thing Moodle could support is geolocation information (information about realworld geographic location) for different types of submitted content (e.g. forum and blogs posts), which would allow students to browse content by location either on their desktops or mobile devices. For instance, when visiting a museum, you could search the location for any resources or activities belonging to that specific
location that any course participants left at that place, a “Show Nearby Content” filter. Another interesting new module for a future Moodle might also be able to connect to augmented reality browsers, such as Wikitude (http://www.wikitude.org) or Layar (http://www.layar.com). Augmented reality browsers run on powerful smart phones and add digital information to the physical world. An example could be seen in Figure 5.
Figure 5: Augmented reality browser Wikitude displaying information about nearby landmarks (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wikitude.jpg)
An Augmented Reality browser in Moodle could enable teachers to add location specific information that students could access to while on a school field trip. Or, students could create their own knowledge base of local landmarks - as some sort of location based wiki. To make learning even more engaging and fun, Moodle could also provide better support for the creation of mobile games. For instance, Moodle has been already used as a platform for Tower of Babel (http://arg.paisley.ac.uk), a EU sponsored alternate reality game (ARG) to promote language learning, but more could be done to provide support for game mechanics inside Moodle (tracking progress, achievements, score based on activity, student created groups etc.). ARG, games that combine real-world objects and locations with clues and puzzles hidden online to create an engaging, collective experience for players (Educause, 2009), are an especially interesting subset of game-based learning that can be supported by mobile devices and that should be made easier to create and manage within Moodle. And finally, Moodle could also support the creation of more interactive learning resources that react to physical feedback provided by different sensors on mobile devices. For instance, resources or activities could react to device shaking, change in lighting, respond to surrounding physics etc.. A good example of what could be achieved is the Alice for the iPad (http://www.atomicantelope.com/alice/) e-book for Apple’s new tablet device, which responds to device movements. While development of such materials is still an expensive and complex process nowadays, we can imagine a future where defining physical feedback could be as easy as adding a text feedback to a Quiz question.
While we can already see many different use cases for a truly mobile and contextaware Moodle, the field of user friendly mobile application is still under development. Today, commercial services like Foursquare and Layar are leading the way and showing us future potential that could also be used in formal education, but it will take a while before we develop tools that can provide the needed support to established educational systems like Moodle. We will also need open standards that will be able to connect new mobile learning applications with existing LMS like Moodle (Alier et al, 2009). And finally, it will also take a few years before smart phones become commonplace and available to most students like standard mobile phones are today. Even though we still have long way to go, we believe that now is the right time to start imagining the future of a mobile Moodle. For this purpose we provided a general overview of mobile learning concepts and related fields, presented some of the existing projects that are attempting to take Moodle outside of the classroom into the real world. We hope this paper can encourage teachers to imagine new types of activities and resources that could be created in a ubiquitous learning environment of the future, where learning is truly accessible anywhere, anytime, in a fun way that will engage learners of all ages in a more authentic way.
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