Click on the image below to visit my media presentation of our participatory story.
Deconstructing the Process
Choosing the Form of Media
I knew before I began that I wanted to pair our Twitter story with some form of images. I think that, in part because it was Twitter-based, the cohort spent a lot of time “setting the scene” or developing descriptive passages. Consequently, I wanted the opportunity to create a graphically-rich representation of the story. I imagine that we were all picturing some sort of scene or item or object in our heads when we read or wrote these descriptive passages. Taylor and Williams (2014) explain that, “McCall Smith… cites the critical role of the reader’s imagination in bringing these miniature tales to life,” and so I wanted to try and capture the imaginative scenes we were thinking about as we wrote the descriptive passages.
I wasn’t quite sure how to do that, so I started by brainstorming what kinds of tools would allow me to neatly integrate images into the already-crafted narrative. I considered doing some sort of “timeline” feature (such as the one here), as I remember a classmate used it in one of her posts in my summer Digital Citizenship course and I thought it was very visually appealing. However, it did seem more appropriate for a project with a clear chronological organization, so I kept looking. I found that another student in last year’s ED 677 cohort used a very interesting tool– Adobe Spark. Since I’d never used it before, I thought it looked like the perfect tool for what I was hoping to accomplish.
I found Adobe Spark very easy to use– and actually pretty fun! It was very simple to integrate Creative Commons licensed photos- although I spent probably more time than I should’ve browsing through the images to try and find ones that matched what I was picturing in my head. I experimented with the different themes as well as the different ways to display text so that the end product offered visual variety.
Reflection on the Twitter Storytelling Process
I had a hard time with this project initially, and this blog post and media presentation through Spark came together much easier for me than did the weeks of tweeting leading up to it. Logistically, I struggled to fit in two tweets per week because I primarily work on classwork over the weekend. I would login with the intention of completing my second tweet, but wouldn’t be able to because I would be breaking the “no consecutive tweets” rule. I also often found myself confused about what was happening in the story, which made it difficult for me to write tweets that I was confident wouldn’t derail the storyline further or cause even more confusion. Thus, the process of coming up with two tweets a week was sometime frustrating.
In general, I also think it was difficult for me because storytelling as a whole is outside of my wheelhouse, and this form of storytelling even more so. According to Taylor and Williams (2014), “Mitchell says crafting stories for Twitter requires a completely different approach to novel writing. Above all, he says compression is the key, and modification of the narrative is often required.” If you look at any of my previous blog posts (this one included), compression and brevity are really not my strengths. I always prefer to use more words rather than fewer words, so the shortened nature of each Twitter contribution was a challenge for me. In addition, I am much more comfortable with nonfiction than I am with fiction. I do think I’m a creative person, but not when it comes to telling stories or creative writing. I liked what Alexander (2011) said about this type of storytelling: “The social media world has made the outer frontier of stories porous. Where a story begins and ends, what the container is that holds a narrative: these questions are more difficult to answer than before” (p. 125). I found Twitter to be a challenging “container” with which to hold a story– I like continuity, order, organization, and a plan… which is tough with 140 characters and 10+ authors!
I do like what Alexander (2011) said, though, regarding “collaborative spaces.” He explained that, “One model for understanding storytelling in a social media world, one where content and audience interaction is distributed over multiple sites and across time, is that of the networked book,” and that we should think of the networked book “…as a platform, whereupon visitors build materials in a collaborative space” (p. 127). Twitter became a platform for collaboration, and it is kind of neat to look at my Spark presentation above and consider that it all started with one tweet and was created solely through collaboration.
Alexander, B. (2011). The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
According to Davis, “Augmented reality, at its most basic form, is defined by the incorporation of something virtual into something pre-existing, thus amplifying the experience.” Augmented reality offers us an opportunity to enhance natural experiences or static images with virtual experiences and additional information. In other words, the Auras below allow us to link digital content to something physical, which enables the information to be displayed and the story to be told in ways that were previously not possible (Mills, 2012).
Disclaimer: make sure you follow vmw1925 on Aurasma so that you can view the following Auras! I also recommend you click on the image to enlarge it before viewing it with the Aurasma app.
This first image is a map of the location of US National Parks. When you view the image with Aurasma, you’ll see two arrows appear: one for the past, and one for the future. Clicking on the arrows will take you to a YouTube video about the history of the parks, and a Ted Talk video about future potential for the parks.
As evidenced by the auras above, AR can be used to integrate all kind of digital information into the physical world. User generated content, news stories or current events, hiking guides or visitor information, historical facts, and fun trivia can all be a part of an image with the use of AR technology. I will leave you with this one last aura to end your virtual experience of the story of US National Parks (click on the new image once it appears):
Deconstructing the Process
Augmented reality is frequently applied to travel experiences (Graham, 2010), and so that is why I decided to explore that concept further in my AR post, just to see what kinds of materials could be integrated. My husband and I have traveled to quite a few US National Parks, and I appreciated their story in the broader story of US history. I noticed that over the past few years, the iconic “vintage” posters of each national park have been more popular, and I think it’s partly because they capture a particular feeling about the park and/or convey the park’s particular story. Since education (along with preservation) was one of the original intentions of the park system, I thought it would be fun to use these vintage posters as the trigger images for my auras. I tried to attach different kinds of information to each trigger image, so that I could practice adding various overlays and actions.
While I think that AR has exciting potential, I struggled with the technology in its current form. As the ASTE Presentation (2012) describes:
The biggest drawbacks to AR, right now, are access to technology and complexity. While there are a handful of platforms that lower barriers for participation, many exciting new applications of AR may be out of reach for many educators due to the level of technical skill required to build on many platforms.
I tend to agree with this quote. I believe that good instructional design seeks to limit extraneous load, but the extraneous load for AR is quite high for both the creator of the content and the user. I know that I spent much more time learning the technology and trying to overcome glitches than I did developing the educational content, which is not ideal– the educational content, not the technology, should be the star of the show. Similarly, I think AR can also limit what kinds of materials we use. Trigger images have to have specific characteristics, so if the best image educationally doesn’t work technologically, you will have to use Plan B (which again, is not pedagogically ideal). I would also have some accessibility concerns, since it isn’t easily apparent to me how my above auras could be transformed into something equally accessible to all students.
Because of these experiences, I think there is a danger in AR becoming the use of technology for technology’s sake. As with all kinds of design, we must be intentional in our use of technology and in our technological choices to make sure that the technology serves to support and enhance the content and does not make it more difficult to access the content or distract from the objectives of learning.
A good place to start in any discussion of a topic is to consider your definitions. As I’ve been working on this post, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more important to center the discussion on mobile learners than it is mobile tools. In other words, I think mobile learning is defined more by the mobility of the learners and the context of learning than it is about the tools those learners are using (see “Mobile Learning”). According to The World Is Open, “With mobile devices, the educational event or activity follows the learner, instead of the learner having to arrive at a designated place in which to acquire it. Access, access, and more access is demanded everywhere one travels” (Bonk, 2010, p. 293). Mobile learners are able to access academic material or complete their coursework as they move through their day: as they wait in line at the DMV, as they sit on a park bench on their lunch break from work, or as they ride on the metro on their way home. Mobile students move across contexts as they study and learn.
So what tools are “mobile” tools? Because I think that mobile learning can be conceptualized as being more about the mobility of the learner than the tool, I prefer not to include laptops as a “mobile” tool. Laptops are “transportable computers…one moves it from place to place, working at each of those places. But, one doesn’t use a laptop computer while one is moving about” (Norris & Solloway, 2013). In a 2015 Educause study, around 40% of students say they wished their instructors used smartphones or tablets more frequently (Dahlstrom, Brooks, Grajek, S. & Reeves, 2015). Similarly, the number of students who do access academic resources on mobile devices is quickly rising: in 2013, 67% of students’ tablets and smartphones were used for educational purposes, which is nearly double from the previous year (Chen & deNoyelles, 2013). Clearly, post-secondary students are using their mobile devices (not just transportable laptops) to access academic content, which makes a discussion of mobile learning timely and relevant to higher education.
Context is Critical
According to a blog post exploring mobile learning’s impact on instructional design, “mobile learning assumes that modern learners are continuously in motion, and allows students to learn the right thing, at the right time, in the right place. This immediacy could increase the effectiveness of authentic and situated learning tasks by giving students the ability to approach a topic in real time, as they go about their daily routine” (Remington, 2015). In other words, mobile learning has the potential to adapt to the context of learning.
I particularly like this diagram of mobile learning, which explains mobile learning as the intersection of the social aspect, device aspect, and learner aspect. In the next section, I will first consider the intersection of Learner and Device, and then consider the intersection of the Social aspect and the Learner.
Designing for Mobility
If you are an instructor designing a course, you probably recognize that your mobile students will access your course content in a variety of contexts. According to Remington (2015), “Whether or not you formally design curriculum for mobile learning, it will exist. Learners will find ways to consume content and learn in different environments. So embrace that concept!” So how can we embrace the concept of mobile learners?
First, I think it’s important to consider a few practical elements of design that can make mobile learning more or less effective. How do learners interact with their mobile devices? (This is the “device usability” section of the diagram above). Obviously, viewing content on a mobile device is different than viewing it on a laptop or desktop. The way we use these devices, the contexts in which we use these devices, and the physical ways we interact with these devices are quite different (Buff, 2013). According to an article by ICS Learning Group, “While audience and content vary, one constant that is largely accepted; an mLearning module that tries to be like an eLearning module does not make for a great learning experience” (Gipple and Lord). If you’ve ever tried to scroll sideways on a smartphone or accidentally hit “cancel” instead of “submit” because the buttons were too close on a small screen, you know the frustration of trying to interact with a device that isn’t designed for mobility.
In order to take into account the needs of your mobile learners, you may want to think about things like screen size and file download limits. Unlike students working entirely on laptops, students who use smartphones for schoolwork are perhaps using up their (limited) phone’s data plan (Buff, 2013). Also consider your use of flash or other things that may not work across all devices. Remember that scrolling or typing essays can be difficult in a mobile context. An Inside Higher Ed article suggests that when designs for mobile learning could be “chunked, and be less about typing and text. Video capture could replace typing. Short statements could replace long paragraphs” (Kim, 2013). When in doubt, try out Google’s URL Tester to see if a course will work for the mobile learner (Avey, 2016).
The Benefit of Apps
When we use mobile devices to learn, we can access a variety of apps that can broaden learning, fill in knowledge gaps, and enhance academic productivity (West, 2013). For example, teachers could compile a list of reference apps and encourage students to use those apps. In an Educause study by Chen and deNoyelles (2013), these were some of the most common apps that mobile learners said they used on a regular basis:
We universally dislike the browser based learning management system (LMS), and universally love our phones. We love apps.We love apps because they are purpose built, simple, lightweight, cheap, and fast. Imagine a mobile first online learning platform that strips away all the unwanted features of the LMS. No more complicated gradebook. No more list of features that we never use. Only a method to collaborate, share materials, complete and collect assignments, engage in formative assessment, and build a community in the class (Kim, 2016).
The power of mobile learning is maximized when students are encouraged to take advantage of the unique features of mobile devices.
Mobile learning has a unique potential to enhance student learning, and can be particularly powerful when courses for mobile learners are designed to play to the strengths of mobile devices. For example, mobile learning can be a uniquely connective and social process. (This speaks to the intersection of “social aspect” and “learner aspect” in the diagram above). Bonk (201o) describes that more people and resources are “fully loaded in the teaching and learning loop” (p. 353). Mobile devices offer instant opportunities for connection; more connection with resources, but also more connection with other like-minded learners. As Remington (2015) describes, “Social media has created a culture where people have near-instantaneous contact with any other person, anywhere in the world. By focusing on Mobile Learning, instructional designers can take advantage of this culture to further improve learning opportunities” (Remington, 2015). With mobile tools, “interacting with a learning community could become organic to activities of daily living” (Kim, 2016). Essentially, mobile learning creates new opportunities for connectivity with other learners as we move throughout our day and access learning spaces in a variety of contexts.
Learner-Centered and User-Generated Content
Some argue that mobile learning is more learner-centered. Access–instant, flexible, and varied–characterizes mobile learning. As The World Is Open describes, “The emergence of mobile and wireless technologies for learning— which place educational opportunities literally in the learner’s hands and allow him to schedule learning when he wants it—has paralleled the growing acceptance of a more learner-centered educational philosophy” (Bonk, 2010, p. 295). “mLearning” has become a common abbreviation for mobile learning. As you may imagine, the “m” usually stands for “mobile.” Sergio (2012) argues that the “m” could “just as easily” represent “me” (Sergio, 2012). Mobile learning has the potential to be centered on the needs of the learner.
Designing for mobile learners also means we encourage movement across contexts and user-generated content. Jisc explains that a “holistic” approach to mobile learning “is to engage the learner in creating user-generated content and engaging through audio, video and other features of mobile devices in the learning experience” (“Mobile Learning”). An Educause article also explains that mobile learning offers an opportunity to create user generated content, explaining that, “Devices such as smartphones, tablets, and e-book readers connect users to the world instantly, heightening access to information and enabling interactivity with others. Applications that run on these devices let users not only consume but also discover and produce content” (Chen & deNoyelles, 2013).
Mobile learning, then, represents this intersection of the Learner Aspect, Device Aspect, and Social Aspect. Considering these three elements of mobile learning will help us maximize the potential of mobile devices to positively influence higher education.