Tuesday, 28 July 2009

M-Learning Au Revoir.....(hopefully not for too long!)

Well I can’t believe how quickly nine months has come and gone. This week is the final week of my (official) m-learning research for LJMU and I must admit I’ll be sad to see it go…

Hopefully I will be able to continue with an element of m-learning research upon return to my substantive post. I will definitely continue writing my blog but on more official terms I have been put forward to complete a SEDA Accreditation in Supporting Learning with Technology so fingers crossed that I am able to see it through! Further to this, I have been asked to write a couple of short articles about the mobile roving pilot I have overseen here at LJMU over the past 3 months (Refer and MmIT – CILIP stuff!) so all being well I should be able to start disseminating the project to a wider audience.

So what have been the highlights over the past nine months?

*Starting a blog
*Overcoming the hurdle of my first non-LJMU presentation
*Overcoming the hurdle of my first non-LJMU presentation at an international conference
*Attending LILAC for the first time (and getting my first article published)
*Attending m-Libraries for the first time (and going all the way to Canada in the name of hard work – with the possibility of having a paper published in the next m-Libraries book)
*Graduating – MSc Information and Library

Over the course of the research I have developed professionally on a huge scale, I feel as though I have found my ‘niche’ in the library/educational technology world and would love to be able to follow the m-learning route in a library, learning and development setting. I have gained great confidence when delivering presentations and would love the opportunity to develop these skills in student support contexts also. I love keeping a blog and interacting with fellow ‘tweeters’ on Twitter also – tweeting at conferences is definitely something I have started to see the benefits in!!!

It’s such a shame all good things have to come to an end. Hopefully it won’t be for too long though…

Monday, 29 June 2009

M-Libraries 2009 – The Round-Up

Last week I was in Canada for the m-Libraries Conference 2009…so was the 13 hour travelling time worth it…was the jet-lag an okay price to pay…were the extensive call charges back to the UK worth their money…OF COURSE!! I have not been to many residential conferences but I would have to say that m-Libraries have really pulled it out of the bag. Previously I have had experiences of being ‘conference snubbed,’ that is, you begin talking to someone, when they find out you are not quite of the stature they had anticipated they hastily make their excuses to go and find someone that more suits their ‘mould.’ M-Libraries was not at all like this, other delegates were genuinely interested in hearing about my work and there was a sense of solidarity amongst delegates in their quest to adopting more mobile futures within their institutions. Everyone was keen to share knowledge and experience and that is something that will stay with me for a very long time.

The conference was organised yet laid-back. Let me explain. The registration desk staff were always extremely helpful in advising delegates on the UBC Campus, m-Libraries Conference or Vancouver itself. They knew what was happening and where and were always happy to help. There were tours to attend, an evening trip out to Granville Island and a Conference Banquet. There were bountiful breakfasts of baked goods (not good for the waistline!), plenty of fresh fruit and local produce and lots and lots of strong black coffee!! The days were packed with numerous sessions in which delegates were free to chose which path they would like to follow – you didn’t have to book into particular sessions, you could do as you pleased. There was a fun Twitter back channel tweeting the event – through which I met new Twitter friends, and actually got the chance to meet in person with a few ‘old-time’ tweeters that I’ve been in contact previously with. There was no mad rush for the dinner queue with elbows out as with some conferences, nor was there actually much of a wait time as everyone ambled along, talking to old friends and new.

I presented on the second day of the conference and was pleased to have attracted a friendly looking crowd – many of whom I’d sat with over breakfast, lunch or tea and already given insights into my research – it was lovely to have their support.

The sessions I attended were thought-provoking. During the conference I realised how well we’ve done at LJMU in actually trying to drive a more mobile agenda forwards…I would say we are now at the forefront of this m-learning group which is obviously brilliant for us as an institution. Furthermore, this gives us the opportunity to lead the way, rather than simply follow others. Already, I have several contacts who would like to read the project report and follow up bits and bobs from the conference. The second strand of the m-learning research (student support with mobile devices) has also really created a stir with a lot of people requesting access to the second report when it is finished.

The m-Libraries experience has really raised my confidence in my own ability. I had a lovely time, met some lovely people and hope to keep in touch with lots of them, helping to raise the profile of the m-learning project as much as possible.

The m-Libraries week was a funny old week. There I was half way across the world, in a brand new country, presenting at an International Conference, I had notification that I had been awarded a 1st for my MSc dissertation – I was on a mid week high. Then the following day whilst sat at the airport waiting to return home, the tragic news of Michael Jackson’s sudden passing flashed up on a TV screen. I think it would be imprudent to gloss over such a monumental moment in history, even though it does not directly relate to the m-Libraries Conference, I will never forget where I was when I found out Michael Jackson had died.

And on that note, I must say a massive thank you for Sue Thompson for her continued support of the m-learning research, without her faith in the project and kindness I would never have been given such an amazing opportunity……

M-Libraries 2009 - The Concurrent Sessions (Day 2)

Day 2 was a day of interesting facts – good for those who enjoy a bit of trivia or like to partake in the odd pub quiz…

Parveen Babbar and Seema Chandlock from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), India
On the second day I attended a very interesting session delivered by Parveen Babbar and Seema Chandlock from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), India. Firstly think about this for an amazing statistic – IGNOU are the largest University in the world with 1.85 million students. Phew!

India is the 2nd largest mobile market in the world with approximately 10 million new subscribers per month. The mobile market benefits from information access, wherever, whenever and this limitless access provides unique opportunities for the education sector. Furthermore, the interactive capabilities of such devices offers up an interesting dynamic also.

Research at IGNOU indicates that their users want to be able to access a whole host of things via their mobile phone. They want to know (amongst others) their enrolment status (82%), exam times (82%), previous year question papers (90%), library OPAC (60%). They want to access services such as library databases, reference/enquiry help, mobile library circulation, moblogging and video conferencing. As you can see the scope for more mobile mediums is huge at IGNOU. This is even more advanced that the types of m-learning content/activities students at LJMU are asking for.

With all this in mind, IGNOU recognises that the small screen of a mobile phone can cause issues, therefore when adopting more mobile mediums institutions must be careful about visibility and presentation of content. A good example of this is the IGNOU mobile web site through which the following key points are accounted for:

*keep it simple
*test on various platforms
*keep customization on the desktop
*incorporate search
*remember usability
*clean up images
*create more mobile suitable content

The provision of mobile access at IGNOU strengthens the learning in distance education and improves the overall student experience. IGNOU have been successful in making steps to more mobile futures for their distance learners, similarly to the Open University in the UK and Athabasca University in Canada. Traditional universities have a lot to learn from their distance education counterparts.

Elizabeth C. Reade Fong from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji
The other session I was particularly excited about was that given by Elizabeth C. Reade Fong from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji. Now I must admit that my initial reasoning behind attending this session was as a result of sitting with Elizabeth during one of the pre-conference sessions, she was such an interesting and lovely lady I just had to go and support her work by attending her session. I was also intrigued to find out about the culture differences between the UK and that of Fiji with regards to mobile technologies in teaching and learning.

But next, the second interesting fact: the University of the South Pacific covers 33M sq km in 5 time zones (and 2 days)! Now THAT's distance learning if ever I saw it!!!

The University of the South Pacific are made up of a 44% distance and flexible learner mode, they have learning content delivered in a variety of formats such as video conferencing and audio lectures. A number of students were surveyed to ascertain opinion of a possible m-learning future, of those surveyed 94% owned some sort of mobile device with Nokia being the most common brand, there was a minimal 3% ownership of iPhone/PDAs. These finding parallel those here at LJMU as a result of the student surveys I performed earlier this year. Fijian students expressed a preference for 2 way communication (63%) also yet they do not want to pay for mobile learning, this is a major problem as connectivity in Fiji is very expensive. Major financial and management decisions would need to be made at the University of the South Pacific before any m-learning venture could be explored. Consideration would need to be made of a LMS upgrade or even a new LMS altogether to deal with the shift in service delivery and an overhaul of the technical infrastructure would need to be rolled-out also, furthermore there would need to be a revision of library policies. To be fair, up to this point there is not really any culture difference to note between Fiji and the UK with regards to a possible m-learning future, the next point that Elizabeth made however exposes the underlying cultural differences in that the Fijian students feel extremely strongly about the library being a quiet study space, enforcing such rules in due course (unlike many academic libraries in the UK in which you say students flouting the rules of quiet study areas). Fijian students can not get access to a quiet study space at home so it is imperative for them that they get this space whilst at the library.

So what next for the University of the South Pacific? Well ‘mobile learning’ is already in the library strategic plan, the next step is to get it into the university strategic plan in order that a more top-down, rather than bottom-up approach is maintained. The library service at the University of the South Pacific is definitely looking to go ahead with an m-learning environment – students are keen to explore this venture as are the library staff, echoing the findings here at LJMU also.

The second day of the conference made me realise that there are not as many cultural m-learning differences as I had initially thought; universities across the world are faced with similar challenges no matter of time and place. The issues of centring the learner at the forefront of developments, ensuring usability of content and services, and providing parity of access are all key issues for everyone striving to move into the m-learning domain. The sharing of experience at conferences such as m-Libraries is a key player in ensuring that we can draw on others experiences, preventing us from time and time again 'reinventing the wheel' and helping the transition to more mobile mediums be as smooth as possible.

M-Libraries 2009 - The Concurrent Sessions (Day 1)

The concurrent sessions at m-Libraries this year were split into 6 streams:

*Mobile Technologies
*New Mobile Services
*Mobile Libraries for Learning
*Mobile Users
*Mobile Technologies Supporting Development
*Mobile Services For Distance Learners

I attended 3 sessions within the mobile users bracket, 2 sessions within the mobile services for distance learners bracket, 1 session within the mobile libraries for learning bracket (in which I also presented my own paper in this stream) and the final session I attended was in the mobile technologies stream.

The concurrent sessions were diverse in subject matter – from roving reference with iPods in America to changing m-learning models in Spain – everyone that presented was passionate about their ‘mobile’ area.

I have identified a few key sessions from each of the conference days…

Day 1

Faye Jackson and Phil Cheeseman from Roehampton University, UK
One of the most unique sessions I attended was that presented by Faye Jackson and Phil Cheeseman from Roehampton University, UK who presented on a social learning space for faculty staff called the Green Room. This was the first time I’d heard of a university library providing a social space for ‘staff only’ in order that faculty staff can engage and experiment with educational and mobile technologies. Furthermore it allows faculty staff members to share ideas about how best to use such devices in academic arenas (over a cup of coffee in relaxing, chilled surroundings of course…!)

A key aspect of the sustainability of such a space is that the library initially ‘buys in’ specific technologies for staff to experiment with and trial, then, if the faculty staff see its educational value, they ask their faculty to buy in their own batch of useful devices rather than having to use the libraries. Furthermore, the success of the Green Room is as a result of faculty staff recognising the value of mobile technologies from their colleagues, which is more than the library staff could engender if they tried to run the Green Room as a direct service solely from library staff to faculty staff. The unique aspect of collaboration and sharing amongst faculties colleagues resonates well with this group of people.

Of note, the Roehampton team turned to the university learners of tomorrow (school children) to discover the ‘ideal’ learning space…this quote from one imaginative young soul is definitely worth a mention…

“We’ve got the MyPod, it’s like your bed, you fall asleep in it and in your sleep learning flows into your brain and its only £15,000,000!!”

I really enjoyed Faye and Phil’s session and genuinely feel such a venture would definitely be worth considering at LJMU, either instigated here within L&SS, or maybe even by the LDU…??

Fred Rowland and Adam Shambaugh from Temple University, USA
Perhaps most pertinent to my work at present was the session delivered by Fred Rowland and Adam Shambaugh from Temple University, USA who presented on their roving reference initiative. The results of a LibQual survey were a driver for this trial project which registered that there was a distinct dissatisfaction amongst their student body with regards to the library service provisions, furthermore changing user needs and expectations needed to be addressed. At Temple, the student shelver’s were asked thousands of questions a month and it was felt that such questions would be better answered by professional librarian. The guys at Temple had a set timetable for roving (4 hours per day, Tues-Thurs) which followed a specified route and would be facilitated by an iPod Touch device. Unfortunately the trial period produced extremely low statistics, and Fred and Adam made some very broad claims about how students don’t like being approached and that out on the library floor was a student occupied territory, they highlighted that very little browsing was evident and that the use of the library space very directed and intentional. I would have to say that I disagree with the fact that students do not like being approached, having roved here at LJMU I can honestly say that students really appreciate library help at their point-of-need, especially during assignment deadline and exam times, the key is to recognising which students need your help and which do not. I feel that it was maybe a lack of roving training in identifying tell-tale signs of puzzlement and readjusting your body language to show the students you are available to be approached without being overbearing…

I got the distinct impression that the guys at Temple viewed their trial period as a bit of a failure which is a shame as I have seen first hand here at LJMU how effective roving can be if it is done correctly.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

M-Libraries 2009 - The Plenary Sessions

There were four plenary sessions after Lorcan Dempsey’s keynote at m-Libraries 2009. First up was Ken Banks who spoke about the role of mobile phones in the developing world. Ken was followed by Carie Page who focused on engaging the 21st century learner through mobile technologies. Next up was Paul Nelson who highlighted some initiatives in which the NHS have been involved aiming to improve people’s health via the use of mobile devices. The final plenary for the morning was Joan Lippincott who made steps towards realising more innovative libraries through the utilisation of mobility.

My favourite plenary session was that delivered by Ken Banks. Ken gave an extremely inspiring talk about how mobile phones are being used to transform and even save lives in developing countries, such as in Africa. FrontlineSMS is the means to achieving such amazing feats. Ken, did however, keep his session grounded, enforcing that even thought it’s very easy to get carried away with the technology in a mobile environment, helping the people in the developing countries always remains at the heart of his work . This is something that I think we also need to continually reiterate when we look to explore the possibilities posed y technology in education – the learner must always come first – not the technology.

I would have to admit that after an engaging start, Carie Page lost a bit of respect from her audience (reflected in the Twitter backchannel) through her overly focused stance on the “digital native” concept, over-egging the fact that young people are so self-assured and fluent with technology compared to the older generations. I think in a very general sense, the digital native concept does hold some weight, however it is important also to acknowledge that there are many other factors that effect people’s uptake of technology. It would’ve have been nice to have heard something new from Carie Page, rather than just a reiteration of a common concept. I felt it was a shame that she didn’t expand the topic, taking it somewhere new, as she was a very engaging and enthusiastic speaker and I feel that she didn’t quite do herself justice…

I think that Joan Lippincott fell into a similar trap – she didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know. Joan spoke about how libraries now need to try and meet the challenge delivering digital information to a mobile phone, expanding on ways in which libraries can make steps to overcome such a challenge.

Maybe the lack of depth to the plenary sessions was a result of the short time slots that the speakers received, each only having 30 minutes to get their point across – maybe if they had had more time, they could’ve dived a little deeper into the subject area?? I must admit I was hoping for a little more from the plenary sessions, I just hope that for the 3rd m-Libraries Conference, they reassess the time slots in order that their speakers can do themselves justice. I could’ve listened to Ken Banks all morning after all!!

M-Libraries 2009 - The Opening Keynote

Lorcan Dempsey gave the opening keynote for this year’s mLibraries Conference 2009 – ‘Concentration, Connection, Diffusion: Mobilizing Library Services.’ Lorcan eased us into his session through the ‘Obama’ gates starting off with a picture of a dead fly…on a more serious note, Lorcan began by highlighting how the 08/09 presidential election was a watershed for the power that social networking can harness. A result of such high profile acknowledgement is that, now, people can truly understand such technology’s (i.e. web 2.0) potential to communicate and connect people in a way unheard off prior to its rise into the ‘mainstream.’

Lorcan highlighted three key drivers for more mobile and technology-enhanced delivery within education…

Expectations – students and faculty staff have increased expectations in this field as a direct result of consumer/personal experiences with mobile technology
Consumer switch – entertainment/leisure experiences of technology are growing at a rapid rate, now overtaking those experiences in the work environment and education sector, through a greater investment and innovation
Workflow switch – ‘you need to fit into my workflow. I won’t fit into yours’ – users now expect to have delivery of learning in terms that suit their needs, not that of the education provider, including library services.

This leads one to ask, but how do our library services fit into people’s workflows? At the moment, not very well I would have to say. Furthermore, there is now a growing tension between the provisions of technology that the education sector provides and the unprecedented access people now have to technology in their personal lives. The web 2.0 boom and cheaper availability of hardware is becoming a serious issue for education as students increasingly can provide themselves with better equipment and resources than that of their institutions.

Lorcan continued by invoking that mobile communications is more about communications than about mobility. This is interesting as during the m-learning focus groups that I conducted, the students placed a massive emphasis on communication and collaboration in teaching and learning – on par with the importance of convenience and flexibility, with regards to learning, for their 21st century lifestyles. In the last few years, mobile communications has been the fastest diffusing technology ever whilst mobile technology has a resonance with the ways in which young people want to communicate. If this isn’t a huge indication of how education can cater for these learners in relevant formats, I don’t know what is…

Lorcan then moved on to discuss ‘clouds and crowds, concentration and diffusion’ or in ‘plain English’ a 21st century network, connecting people via web 2.0 tools and mobile technologies, allowing them to not only connect, but to collaborate, share, store, develop, create, publish and rework. Interestingly within this mix, Lorcan highlighted the importance of acknowledging that different mobile devices are optimised for different purposes, particularly pertinent for m-learning in education I would say!

Next, the trusty institutional web site came under fire. Lorcan spoke of how the means that an exclusive focus on the institutional web site as the primary delivery mechanism and the browser as the primary consumption environment is increasingly partial in the current technologically rich climate. Lorcan elaborated upon this point in terms of the ‘networks’ that are ever-present in the 21st century learner’s life. Atomization, attention, action-orient and aggregate are the four key characteristics of today’s learners with relation to their information seeking habits:

Atomization – they want small snippets of information, delivered to a place suitable to their needs (an RSS aggregator for example). Furthermore the ‘skimming’ culture that is on the rise across education (including faculty members) has led to metadata being viewed as an important element, as are abstracts.
Attention – they want to be able to rank and recommend, find relevant information quickly.
Action-oriented – they want to be able to find things quickly, retrieve and share sources.
Aggregate – and they want to be able to utilise multiple platforms as necessary

I think what Lorcan was trying to demonstrate was the ways in which networks have changed how we coordinate our resources to reach our goals – it is no longer a linear process, it is now, a more multi-faceted experience. However, integration of networking resources into our everyday lives is resulting in a degree of fragmentation with regards to behaviours, grades of experiences and preferred communication channels, and obviously this is something that education providers also need to consider when rolling out new ways of delivery.

To finish on a library theme, Lorcan recognised that the challenge for libraries is to make themselves invisible. In the current information and technological rich world, users want seamless access to resources delivered in formats that fit into their workflows - hence the popularity of Google amongst many student groups. Single sign-on is a must for academic libraries if they want to make sure that their students are satisfied with the functionalities of electronic access to resources – for many, access to electronic resources is long-winded and at times disjointed, with some students not understanding where they are or what they should be looking to achieve within a given search. I feel that this would further increase the libraries relevance to 21st century students thus helping them to demonstrate how they are of value in the context of growing competition for resources. Ease of access will inadvertently impact on popularity - we live in an ‘I want it now’ culture after all.

Lorcan finished by looking to the future, alluding to increasing availability of eBooks and new output methods for institutions.

Lorcan’s talk was thought provoking, and at times I would have to admit, slightly overwhelming. There is so much that needs to be done in HE at the moment to meet the expectations of current and future users. The library also, need to reassess their content, access and delivery – after a talk so ‘big’ on content, I have been left wondering, where to start with all this? It is such a huge mountain, I just hope that at LJMU we can start to successfully chip away at some of the lower-ground stuff, edging us on our way to overcome some of the massive changes to cultures and traditions of our current education system.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

M-Libraries 2009 - The Beginning

Well after a long day travelling I arrived in Vancouver on Sunday at about 4.30pm local time (12.30am Monday England time…). I was glad to breeze through customs and obviously thrilled when my suitcase came trundling along the carousel pretty sharpish too!! It was a half hour taxi ride to the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus (unfortunately however, with a taxi driver who didn’t quite know where he was going – or maybe he was trying to fleece the ‘tourists’???) It was about 6pm by this time so I got registered for the conference and then checked in at the accommodation, glad to be able to have a shower, stretch out, watch some TV and sleep…I must admit I did try and read the conference programme but I guarantee this was not a good idea at what my body thought was 3am (even though it was 7pm, anyway enough of the time difference moanings, for now anyway)!!

Monday saw the start to the pre-conference workshops. The day had a bit of a shaky start (this next bit is for girls only…my hairstraighteners won’t work here in Canada…argh…!) but I soldiered through and headed down the UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre. Here, the day kicked off with some lovely fresh fruit and monstrous baked goods, setting me up for my first full day in Vancouver.

The first workshop I attended was hosted by the Open University and here, I was able to create a mobile information literacy learning object. It was a brilliant experience, and the first time I had actually tried to create mobile content (I tend to just talk about it and write about it), and it enabled me to put all my m-learning knowledge into practice. The second workshop I attended was hosted collaboratively by Athabasca University and the Open University and looked to discuss the challenges and opportunities that m-library technical development can pose. This was an intensive and thought-provoking session which covered an awful lot of material; it really helped me to look at the bigger picture with regards to the back-end work of m-learning. This is not an area my research has taken me and the session taught me that collaboration with other institutions is definitely a worthwhile venture with regards to m-learning – there is no point reinventing the wheel after all!!

The evening saw a trip to Granville Island, about a half hour drive from UBC. The coach driver kindly gave a humorous commentary, pointing out some $10,000,000 houses on the way (eek!). I had a lovely walk around Granville Island which readied me further for my evening meal - a lovely 3 course sit down meal at the Dockside Restaurant. I must admit by this time I was flagging, I was sat next to a lovely lady from Australia though so I tried not to complain too much, as she rightly stated, she had the ‘rights’ to jetlag after all!!

So now it is Tuesday, the first official ‘conferencing’ day. I was up at 5.30am – I just hope I can hold out until later for some much needed sleep!! I’m looking forward to the opening keynote by Lorcan Dempsey – I have it on good authority that he is definitely worth getting out of bed for…!

Watch this space for individual blog postings about particularly interesting sessions…