There is a lot of talk at the moment about Ubiquitous Learning. But what exactly is it, should we care, and how should it be implemented? This article by Edutech Associates member Nick Fekos explores these questions.
Ubiquitous computing is a model of human computer interaction in which computer processing has been integrated fully into daily activities, and also integrated into objects with which we routinely interact. A Ubiquitous Learning Environment enables learning at any time, at any place.
Imagine you are a high school physics teacher and you are teaching concepts like gravity, friction, velocity and inertia. In a classic learning environment, you would be in your classroom with your students at a preset school period. But what if you could teach these concepts by taking your students to a soccer game or baseball game -
Origins of UL
Mark Weiser from the Xerox PARC Lab ‘fathered’ UL more the twenty years ago. He envisioned three computer waves: mainframes which were prevalent at the time, personal desktop computers which were just appearing, and ‘Ubiquitous’ computing (also known as ‘ubicomp’), as the future. This third step is often referred to as reaching a point where the user is not aware of the computer, whatever form it has taken, but focuses only learning and the related materials.
Weiser identified three types of computer devices:
- Interactive Boards
And their main characteristics would be:
- Quite and Invisible
- User not necessarily aware of their presence, just the interaction
- Should not demand attention
Key characteristics of Ubiquitous Learning
The main characteristics of ubiquitous learning are: (Chen et al., 2002; Curtis et al., 2002)
- Permanency: Learning materials are always available unless purposely deleted.
- Accessibility: Access from everywhere as personally required
- Immediacy: Wherever a student is, he/she can immediately access learning materials.
- Interactivity: Online collaboration with teachers and/or peers (chat/blogs/forums)
- Situated instructional Activities: Learning in context (on-site).
- Adaptability: Getting the right information at the right place for the right student.
Pedagogical Basis of UL
The main pedagogical premise of Ubiquitous Learning is related to ‘situated learning’ (see J. Lave and E. Wenger, 1991) which is a general theory of knowledge acquisition that is based on the notion that ‘true’ learning occurs in the context of real life activities. In contrast, formal classroom learning implies knowledge abstraction and decontextualization. This abstraction may not be such a problem, but learning in context (as illustrated at the beginning of the article) can certainly improve learning (as does engaging learners in authentic tasks).
Another pedagogical premise of UL would be collaborative learning (involving social interaction), again undoubtedly improving the learning process.
UL in the Context of Today’s and Tomorrow’s Technology
Today’s technology seems to be trending towards the actualization of the original UL concepts as described by Mark Weiser. Two out of the four essential components have already been established, and two are just now appearing as described below.
1. Mobile Devices: powerful, personal mobile communication, processing and storage devices
The proliferation of personal mobile devices, starting from smart mobile phones and currently progressing to tablets, has created an important shift in the direction of innovation as an intrinsic aspect of technology. Perhaps not yet widely apparent in terms of the potential, but the shift has happened and is irreversible.
We now have a hardware device (a tablet) that is highly ‘personal’, similarly to how personal a mobile phone is, but much more personal than a desktop pc or a laptop.
This computing device, although in exchange for a certain degree of ‘personalization’ compared to mobile phones, is able to powerfully communicate, store, process and access information. It has the mobility and autonomy of a mobile phone, but the processing power and screen of a computer, and so it is much more suitable for broader and more fundamental use. Importantly, it provides the opportunity to move away from an ‘Angry Birds’ takeover of mobile technology
2. Cloud Computing
Cloud platforms can now provide the server side ‘omnipresent’ aspects of UL. Any system with UL characteristics would have to be fully cloud based so as to ensure reliability and seamless scalability. If design and development is originally geared towards maximizing efficiency by keeping required cloud power low, ‘lean’ cloud applications can be developed that can then be scaled much more powerfully, thus enabling efficient and robust UL.
Intelligent Personal Agents/Knowledge Objects
Given that we now have widespread truly mobile hardware devices, the next step is intelligent personalized software.
In order to truly implement UL and make ‘real’ use of available hardware and software platforms, the implementation of a personal knowledge object/agent that is ‘intelligent’ is essential. Using Artificial Intelligence Techniques, this object/agent would take part in a ‘learning network’ (i.e. learn automatically) and would contain a rule base from which to make decisions.
This knowledge object/agent would model the ‘learner’ and would be dynamic. It would have attached processes that would implement functionality like the ability to interface with other objects like itself, or to other non-intelligent objects (e.g. Word document) or to other systems (e.g. SharePoint) or devices (e.g. a telescope).
This interface functionality would be implemented using standardized file formats and access languages, like HTML5, SQL, RDF and OWL which are available today. The latter two introduce the idea of semantic processing, moving beyond the ‘text’ level into concepts and conceptual organization schemes (Ontologies). Once we move into the conceptual processing realm (Artificial Intelligence), then very important and exciting functionality, like knowledge inference (reasoning) can be provided, which will mark a true technological turning point.
In summary, this platform independent knowledge object/agent would be the main vehicle for implementing Ubiquitous Learning (as described above) as it would know:
- Who you are
- Where you are
- What device you are using
- Dynamic skills and ability profile
- Whether it is night or day
- What time its
- Who is near you
- What devices are near you
Although seemingly too ‘futuristic’, the proliferation of wearable online devices will further the implementation of UL. A good example is Google Glasses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Glass), with many more on the way.
A specific example
A student carrying a tablet approaches a telescope at school. The telescope ‘broadcasts’ its availability to the tablet which then informs the student of this. If the student agrees, the tablet connects to the telescope and sends information through its intelligent personal learning agent about the student, for example age, class, learning profile, interests, past projects and so on.
The telescope then transfers information that is appropriate for that particular student about itself, what it can do, and perhaps showing on the tablet screen what it is seeing right now. Also, the telescope connects to a cloud astronomy app, or to the Microsoft World Wide telescope for added experience and information.
Finally the telescope proposes a small interactive game from which it can assess the student to see what has been learned or not, and then perhaps contacting a fellow student to join the game online.
One thing is certain: the students would enjoy this, and so learning and assessment will have been achieved. This of course would be part of a broader educational strategy that would include other forms of learning, including classic learning paradigms.
Many of the pieces of the UL puzzle are now starting to fall into place, as summarised in the diagram below:
Please contact email@example.com for more information.
Second of two guest blogs by Dr Paul Kelley
In my last blog I considered the ambitious plans of New Zealand to use Ultra-Fast Broadband to bring better education to all its citizens. Part of New Zealand’s Inquiry into the implementation of 21stCentury learning is linked to consideration of school buildings.
Both New Zealand and China are dedicated to improving education, and their school buildings. In New Zealand, the Chair of the Education and Science Select Committee, Nikki Kaye, makes clear the opportunities for inspirational buildings within the one billion dollar budget for new and refurbished school buildings. In China, the transformation of cities is astounding – and not just in Beijing and Shanghai. In Hebei Province, Baoding and Shijiazhuang have been transformed to very modern cities with populations of more than 10 million.
Both countries could do with considering the failures and occasional success of English education. Changes in the education system are reflected in educational buildings- or a lack of change in the case of England. This is most apparent in the English education system where hundreds of millions of pounds were spent on buildings, most of which, in the end, were simply newer versions of old buildings. This trend is continuing, and degrading the quality of school environments by failing to future-proof new buildings.
The ambition to implement school designs better suited to the 21st Century was not achieved in England, though the school building in the photograph above this blog shows one of the few that reflected the ambitions of Mukund Patel, the visionary leader of the Department for Education’s Schools for the Future programme. This failure to achieve systemic change was not the fault of architects. For example, Alex de Rijke of dRMM created one visionary design, the Dura- the model for the school above- re- built another (Kingsdale School here), and has inspiring ideas about education buildings. Kingsdale has the most wonderful ETFE roof, and being in this interior area is an inspiration on its own.
Here dRMM’s Clapham Manor School shows how a stunning modern school can complement a much older building- the Odd Fellows Hall. Indeed, I would suggest that the school will, in the end, become the more important of the two. It has the visionary quality that characterizes dRMM as a practice, and the quality of finish that is breathtaking.
New Zealand is fortunate in having a clear link between education and science in its political structure, as new science will help solve some problems in schools. There is much that is wrong with school buildings- they are usually too small, have poor acoustics, bad air quality, and low light levels – yet there are solutions based on good science and engineering to resolve these issues. Having education linked to science may help New Zealand find good solutions.
It would be fitting for New Zealand, with one of the world’s best environments, could create world-leading school designs that enhance learning for students, and the digital network for the country as a whole. Such an achievement would help the country become a leading example of good educational practice through embracing the future- rather than rebuilding the past.
The first of two guest blogs by Dr Paul Kelley
One of the major changes in the education world is the rise of the Western Pacific in international studies of student achievement. The education systems that seem to perform well – Shanghai, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, and New Zealand all have shown a willingness to overcome difficulties to improve outcomes. Most of these countries have made significant economic gains as well. Is it the turn of New Zealand to transform the experience of their students for the better?
On the surface, that won’t be easy, especially in Technology. The terrain in New Zealand is beautiful, but it is hardly designed for rapid deployment of technology, particularly internet technology. Yet it looks like that is exactly what New Zealand is going to do- bring the whole country‘s education system into an Ultra Fast Broadband Network for Learning (or, in our acronym-ridden world, UFB N4L). It certainly makes sense – New Zealand is a low population country and such a system would offer a fantastic way to bring teachers, students and families together in learning.
New Zealand will also be able to avoid the follies of other countries in deploying large-scale Technology solutions in Education. Some of the worst examples are closed systems where there isn’t interoperability with other technologies- in other words, New Zealand shouldn’t create an educational silo where all the content is produced- at great expense- by companies, and the software infrastructure is programmed in a special way for the project. The National Health IT system disasters in the UK have shown that doesn’t work. For New Zealand, the ambition appears to be bringing the whole nation together in learning, and build the digital expertise of the nation.
Now they have secured funding , New Zealand are looking at how to make the best system (and make the biggest impact on student outcomes) through an open public inquiry. This very approach suggests New Zealand is going to get a lot right. In my five years on the Board of BECTA and Chair of its Education Committee (BECTA was the UK NGO leading on technology in education) , there weren’t public consultations on policy. So rather than politicians making announcements and the Ministry of Education having to play catch up – or the Ministry creating a new organisation run by education experts to decide on IT solutions (or even worse, asking IT experts to decide on education solutions) – they are asking people and organisations what they think. Good for them.
Of course it isn’t that simple politically. The Chair of the Education and Science Select Committee, Nikki Kaye, makes the political challenge clear:
The select committee is evenly split between Government and Opposition MPs. In order for the motion initiating the inquiry to be passed, an Opposition member on the committee must vote in favour of the motion.
Nikki Kaye is being brave, I think, to push for consulting widely- it is easier to have government officials write plans- it keeps everything in political control. And she’s wise in trying to ger the political parties to agree, since a project of this size needs long-term support. It’s interesting that she feels the right thing to do is ask everybody what they think, and this may reflect that, as a young digital native, she naturally uses social networks.
There are weaknesses in all education systems, and New Zealand is no exception. Yet maybe they can create the world’s first open (‘interoperable’ in IT jargon) digital network for learning that really delivers the paradigm shift education needs. Let’s hope they do.
Thanks to Kaitlyn Cole from Onlineuniversities.com for drawing our attention to this article:
The article covers a broad spectrum of new and emerging technologies and is well worth a read.
This white paper – Assess. Analyse. Intervene. From E-Assessment to Personalised Learning - was written to help Ministries of Education, Local Education Authorities and prospective suppliers understand how to build on E-Assessment and E-Examination to create personalised learning experiences. Taking the three key building blocks of Assessment, Analytics and Intervention, the paper defines a Personalised Learning Platform and its interfaces within a broader schooling ecosystem – the Schooling Enterprise Architecture.
The central proposition to this paper is that using data generated by the growing use of E-Examination and E-Assessment process offers significant value for increasing the effectiveness of the schooling systems.
Schooling system needs to constantly innovate and evolve. This paper sets out a vision for how schooling leaders can make learning even more effective by personalising the learning experience for all school students – without introducing unmanageable complexities.
The implementation of the key recommendations of this paper should deliver the following benefits:
- Effective learning – Intervention is about developing virtuous cycles of learning, tailored to individual needs
- Deep insights – using deep analytics, new and unpredicted patterns can be found that can help inform decision makers about where to focus investments
- Timely intervention – whilst E-Assessment takes essential “rear view mirror” snapshots of learning performance, predictive analytics can be used to constantly steer students in the right direction, maximizing the chances of doing well in assessment and examinations
Three interdependent processes combine to deliver a personalized learning experience:
Ongoing assessment from a range of sources is used to gather data about how individuals and groups of students are learning. This data is analyzed to help target students with tailored learning, and to make decisions that lead to increased effectiveness. Using data, interventions can be set up do deal with issues such as reducing drop-out rates; selecting the most effective ways of improving reading and mathematics; and dealing with risks before they become a problem. Ultimately interventions can be tailored for individuals and groups of students.
Each of these processes are interconnected in multiple ways -
The white paper explores these processes and how they integrate and can be implemented.
Download the white paper here: Assess. Analyse. Intervene. From E-Assessment to Personalised Learning
Thanks to Quoc Bui; Horng Shya Chua; Puay San Ng and Edgar Ferrer Gil.
Question – “what has 32,000 big smiles and makes as much noise as an aeroplane taking off”
Answer – “primary school children at the book fair in Osasco, Sao Paulo, Brazil”
Thanks to my friends at Planeta Educacao, I was thrilled to be part of the launch of O Ensino à Velocidade do Pensamento - the Portuguese version of Schooling at the Speed of Thought - at the Osasco book fair recently. The day started with thousands of children descending on an open market for books. Each child was given a $BRL30 voucher (~$15USD) and, after being entertained by clowns, let loose to choose from thousands of books. The fair was organised just before the holidays, so every child in the school district had a book to read whilst on holidays.
The logistics were breath-taking – 4,000 children a day over 8 days. Coaches would pull up, then children would get into line, watch clowns perform, sing songs, then run off to see what they could find. This was followed-up with reading sessions. It was organised chaos, but wonderful evidence of the children’s strong desire to read and learn.
I stopped to find out what one boy had chosen – a book about dinosaurs. Jokingly, I offered him two copies of “O Ensino à Velocidade do Pensamento” for his dinosaur book – he politely declined my offer, and who can blame him.
The launch itself was great fun too. First a book signing session and impromptu talk with a group of teachers and the Secretary of Education for Osasco , Professora Marinalva de Oliveira
The main event included a demonstration of use of Kinect for learning at home by families…
… after that, came a short speech…
… and the event was completed with a panel discussion
I’d like to sincerely thank my friends and colleagues at Planeta Educacao for making this possible – Luis Namura; Roberta Bento; Aline Tosini; Renata Martins Dias; Manoela da Costa and Elisete Baruel; and to Carmen Nigro for excellent interpretation.
Slides are here: O Ensino a Velocidade do Pensamento
O Ensino à Velocidade do Pensamento is available from the Planeta Educacao store – http://loja.planetaeducacao.com.br/