What’s Research got to do with it? TEL research and emerging technology, part 2

Well I said I would follow-up and continue the discussion about what research can say that can help those developing and using emerging technologies. Coincidentally (or not) I was pointed to a blog post yesterday about the pace of change of technologies  and in particular to the comments. I noticed that one of the comments made the very point that:

“…can we afford to wait for thorough research on some of these issues? If we do wait 3 years for some further research to be done won’t it already be chronically out of date? The technological landscape evolves at a thrilling pace, is it making traditional research models and institutions look a little archaic?”

So clearly there is a need for us researcher folk to better communicate what research has to say that is relevant. I’ll try to pick up on some key things that research can tell us over the next few posts. Sometimes the research that has something to say has been done very recently, sometimes it is specific to a new technology, but actually much of the time there are some basic research findings about how people learn, sometimes from way back that are still very relevant to what technology can do to support learning. These research findings have the advantage of having been tried, tested and developed over many years. Sometime new technologies allow us to benefit from this fundamental research in ways that were not previously possible.

For example, research has demonstrated that learning an additional langauge is assisted by being able to experience the new language and its culture. Technology offers access to authentic linguistic and cultural content, through for example, online newspapers, video, and other digital media in the target language. These may be created for native speakers, but they may also come with enhanced  language input, such as access to simplification, explanations, multimedia, subtitles for video.

Effective feedback is important for learning and technology can help – it can offer swift, timely and constructive feedback for students and teachers across all education sectors through interactive tasks that can be automatically marked. It can also support humans to provide feedback to learners using text, sound, images and  without needing to be in the same physical place as the learner.

Thinking about and understanding more about what we want people to be able to do in order to learn and then thinking about how particular technologies can help us to achieve this can be just as valuable, if not more valuable, than looking at the specific things that a particular technology can do.

What’s Research got to do with it? TEL research and emerging technology

I was delighted yesterday evening to watch Jean Dujardin accept his Bafta award for best actor in the pure joy film ‘The Artist‘. I was particularly struck by his finishing touch with the endearingly gloomy Buster Keaton face. The wisdom of the past being recognized so beautifully in this gesture and indeed in the almost silent movie that blends the appeal of old technology with the wonder of the new. Is there a parallel to be drawn with TEL research much of which languishes without seeing the light of the non-journal publication day. Has it passed its prime as the world has moved on? What can research, that often takes a long time to bear fruit, say that is meaningful for technological innovations that move so quickly that some applications leap from the lab to the pocket with no time for proper evaluations of how they might or might not support learning? Actually, it can say a lot, but perhaps, unlike Michel Hazanavicius, we have not yet found quite the right way to get the message across… to be continued

Still off my trolley? Reflections on technology to refresh the parts other forms of learning cannot reach

After a few days of contemplation I remain convinced about the potential of Augmented Reality to support learning,  particularly when combined with a range of other technologies through mobile phones, and embedded devices, for example.

Our own research has demonstrated that AR has the potential to promote learning and to motivate children to engage with learning activities. There is evidence that specific skills can be improved, that learners are motivated and challenged through  interactive problem solving activities and that AR can offer many opportunities for collaboration. Previous research projects, some of them quite old now, have also shown the potential of AR to enhance the presentation of knowledge across a range of real-world settings and the creation of engaging ways of interacting with simulations: demonstrating the broad potential of this technology across a spectrum of learning activities. See for example, Ambient Wood, Savannah, Environmental Detectives and there are more general lessons to be learned from studies with Ubiquitous. Augmented.Reality User Interfaces.

It is clear that to be effective, developers of AR for learning will  need a rich skill set in order to create applications that offer the necessary learner control, challenging interactivity and experience coherence. As previously noted this seems like a perfect task for participatory design with young people being an integral part of designing their own current and future technology rich learning experiences.

Off my Trolley or Technology to refresh the parts other learning cannot reach?

Lady on a TrainI am normally sluggish in the morning at first and then after a while my body and mind warms up and by the time I get on the train I am fit for a flurry of activity. I notice that many people are busily occupied in the morning in contrast to our sleepy souls on the evening trip back home. I suspect that my little burst of energy is something of an irritation to some of my work colleagues as my emails come flooding in as a large ungainly lump. This morning I was mid sentence when something caught my eye on the drinks trolley – it was a set of adverts appearing on a small video screen at the back of the cart. Adverts designed to entice people to buy the coffee that will burst open their day, and can be enjoyed any way, the water fresh from the spring to give them a zing or, rather less suitably for this hour, the Californian Merlot that costs a bit more dough. This distraction set me thinking and I mused to the rhythm of my neighbour’s mp3 player. I wondered if I had a trolley to entice people to engage with a particular brand of technology to support their learning what would my little adverts say and depict? I can’t promise to offer a definitive decision in a single blog post and reserve the right to come back this distraction again.

So, what would I want my trolley to advertise?… First, I think I would go for something where technology ‘refreshes the parts other forms of learning cannot reach’. There has been a proliferation of powerful and sophisticated digital technologies that are embedded in the environment; and built into small personal devices, televisions and personal computers. These technologies enable the augmentation of our environment through accessing physically tagged data, which can be retrieved and viewed from multiple perspectives. This puts a whole new meaning to the idea of ‘letting your fingers do the walking

The digital augmentation of reality (AR) can enable people to see the world around them differently, to share their own perceptions and to view the perceptions of others through stored information. AR has been shown to have the potential to support learning, engage learners and has been predicted to gain widespread usage within the next 2-5 years (2011 Horizon Report). Augmentation is not restricted to the visual layering of representations on a physical reality, it also manifests itself as audio augmentation. watch movie

Neither is it restricted to the physical reality of a person’s context: popular locations based applications, such as foursquare, situate and integrate location and social media.

There have been few evaluations of the impact of AR technologies on learning, and yet the speed of its development for mobile phones has resulted in its migration from the research lab to teenager’s pockets – people are ‘just doing it’. As researchers, we don’t have a clear understanding of the impact of AR upon learning, attitude or behaviour change. We can only look and learn as this technology and our relationship to it evolves. It is a fascinating space where the boundaries between producers and consumers blur and the essence of participatory design is wonderfully and ‘curiously strong’. This might just be everyone’s very own personal ‘greatest show on earth’. greates show on earth

Heads in the Cloud

At a quick glance one might think that the title of this post means that I am thinking about the 2004 romantic drama with  Charlize Theron and Penélope Cruz

…and I do love films, as anyone who knows me will be aware.

However this post is about ‘Heads in the Cloud’ as opposed to ‘Head in the Clouds‘ and refers to the technological cloud that lets us connect with resources, people and applications from almost anywhere, without having to lug loads of technology around with us. Not that long ago, the idea of being able to access sophisticated computation and almost limitless information without needing to know where all this stuff is would have been nothing more than a romantic glint in the eyes of computer scientists and engineers. Now it is a reality: an important reality for learning. The implications of the cloud were the subject of a panel organised by Brightwave at the Learning Technologies exhibition.

When thinking about the panel it struck me that there are some useful things that research can tell us about how people think and learn that might help us make the best use of the cloud.

Firstly, technology driving learning closer to the workplace means that we can help learners to transfer and apply what they learn to their work.  We know that learning through a variety of real world experiences can help people to use their learning flexibly and effectively. The cloud enables learning across a variety of these all important real world contexts.

Secondly, there are important generational differences in the way that people use technology in their everyday lives. Young people in particular are early adopters of new and emerging technologies. These technologies can increase engagement and empower people with a feeling of control. We can therefore use the cloud to recognise and benefit from the expectations and skills that younger people bring to learning and the workplace. The cloud can be used to support on demand learning for example.

And thirdly, theories of socially distributed cognition show us that people can learn effectively in groups and that people can offload some of their thinking through tools, such as technology, and through other people. The cloud can help us to bring people and technologies together to make the most of these collaborative learning opportunities that can help people to learn in this distributed manner.

The panel audience thought that cloud technologies could be used to create a knowledge environment that encourages sharing and that learning designers would need to focus upon continuous learning. However there were also concerns that it would be difficult to prove what knowledge had been acquired, which suggests that new forms of continuous assessment, and self-assessment, might also be needed.

So the cloud for learning is about multiple heads in the integrated and single cloud, working together to solve increasingly complex problems and learning whilst they do so, using the technology to capture evidence of that learning. This is not a romantic notion, rather it is an achievable and desirable vision.