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The Possibilities of Mobile

This week I will be talking with some great people who have been doing valuable work in the field of mobile learning—researching, designing, implementing, teaching, coding, and making: David Gagnon, Liz Kolb, and Jenna Blanton.  Here is the announcement from Connected Learning TV: Teachers and Students: real-life mobile implementation with learners.


Also see last week’s session, Mobile Learning: turning place into a learning space:

  • Richard Scullin – Founder,; Director of Mount Greylock Regional High School DML Lab
  • Chris Emdin – Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University; #HipHopEd
  • Jack Martin – Associate Director, Global Kids; NYC Haunts
  • Matthew Battles – Principal and Associate Director, metaLAB at Harvard
  • Steve Vosloo – Senior Project Officer in Mobile Learning, UNESCO

Unbundled Learning with OpenPath

In the post, “Napster, Udacity, and the Academy,” Clay Shirky connects the current state of higher ed—rising costs, variable quality, inefficient access—with the advent of MOOCs, drawing a parallel to file sharing (Napster) and the upending of the music industry. I’ll leave it to you to read the essay; it’s timely, thoughtful, worthwhile.
Shirky writes, “The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled.” In this new, unbundled world, the mobile device can become the tool that provides access to the disparate pieces. OpenPath, our proposal for the NSF / Mozilla Ignite competition to design gigabit speed apps from the future, relies on mobile as both glue and on ramp for learners.

Imagine, for example, you come across the site of “A Great Day in Harlem,” the 1958 photo by Art Kane. There, using your mobile, you discover the documents and media that have been curated around this location and event—-jazz recordings, interviews, videos. You can also contribute your own writings, video, and artwork real-time via your mobile.

OpenPath Harlem

OpenPath affords the learner an unbundled, interest-driven, location-based experience. OpenPath offers a learning-in-the-world, where mobile acts as glue holding the experience together, and offers real-time media and collaboration. The mobile acts also as an on ramp to communities of interest, other learners who would like to pursue other learning paths created by this first experience. Shirky’s notion of unbundling, then, means that the OpenPath learner uses a tool that navigates the unbundled educational world, allowing geo-locative connections, communities, collaboration and creation. And perhaps this unbundling liberates the learner to reacquaint him/herself with inquiry.

OpenPath Tumblr

OpenPath Mozilla Ignite

Resisting Answers

“Charting innovative scenarios for the future of knowledge creation and dissemination in the arts and humanities” –metaLAB


Last Thursday I visited openLAB, a showcase / open house for metaLAB at Harvard. They’re working on some fascinating ideas, projects that will have bearing on learning, inquiry, curation, and inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Some of the projects

Library Observatory: Harvard Accessions: using Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) API, this project tracks acquisition and accession of non-English items at the Harvard Library, rendering a curious and beautiful graphic representation across time, language, and events. Another piece juxtaposes accession with publication date, a swirling chronological visual narrative.

Library Observatory
Zeega: is focused on inventing new forms of interactive storytelling and documentaries, a creation tool and platform combining editorial and design tools using HTML5, with JS libraries such as Backbone and Popcorn. (See for Mozilla’s work in this area.). You can click and drag content, collaborate with and through massive collections such as vimeo and Flickr, among others, and in general, start to make video work like the web (Mozilla). I am eager to try this with students.

A Wealth of Nations: The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith’s book mapped to create a global geo-spatial representation of publication since 1776.

Digital Ecologies at Arnold Arboretum: Although just emerging in form, this initiative sounds especially promising for its embrace of a multidisciplinary approach that combines sciences, design, curation, and digital media. Project leader Kyle Parry writes, “We are asking what visitor experiences become possible when we integrate information and media ecologies into a living landscape teeming with natural and human histories.” This project, he notes, is “Conceptually situated at the intersection of nature and networks, landscape and media design, and science and aesthetics…”.

_____  _____

Throughout the evening, I participated in some great conversations, moving around the rooms, stumbling upon informal clusters of people gathered around visualizations, making observations, listening to presenters, and asking questions. Lots of good activity. One attendee seemed dismayed, though, that there weren’t enough Answers. And in truth, perhaps there were a few others who also longed for firmer conclusions, for tenable defenses. My sense is that answering questions was not the evening’s purpose, however.

Many of the openLAB projects looked at data artifacts or larger data patterns afforded by access to Library Cloud or DPLA. These works ask us to step back from the trees to see the forest. And as a result of this perspectival shift, viewers were curious. What is that contour and then sudden swirl in the Early Modern Collections visualization, and what does it say about the collecting (and funding) preferences of the institution? What is this anomaly is here, this lone instance of The Wealth of Nations in Argentina in the early 1800s? Why is it there?

These are “traces,” suggested metaLAB’s Mathew Battles. They are “bread crumbs” and paths we can follow, curate and, I would add, cultivate.

metaLAB Schnapp and Battles

I like this language and imagery. It serves metaLAB projects well. In these works we start to see the nuances of data, contours and overlaps and intersections that we never would have seen. The odd thing is that these are patterns that have always been there, in front of us, but not visible. And strangely, we sometimes need to see a big picture in order to discover a small detail.  We encounter traces, residues, anomalies and patterns, and these moments of observation and inquiry become starting points for participation and collaboration, and for more questions. Resisting the Answer, then, becomes a beginning at metaLAB, not an end.

Library Observatory and A Wealth of Nations images from metaLAB.

Mobile STEM in the Hood

In “What Tech in Schools Really Looks Like,” Audrey Watters describes the distribution of technology in US K-12 classrooms. Watters offers some notable examples of how schools are using digital media for learning, “[b]ut stories like these don’t represent what’s happening in most of our nation’s schools,” she points out. I argued a similar point re. mobile learning at this fall: despite promising anecdotes and amazing potential, mobiles are not being leveraged for learning. The central idea for Watters, though, concerns inequity: “…the distribution of technology in our classrooms remains radically uneven. It differs by school and grade level. It differs by region. It differs in the make, model, and operating system of various computers. It differs in usage.”

There are a number of reasons why this is so, some of which I will examine in an article I am writing for IJLM, but for now I’d like to discuss a central point in Watter’s piece: BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) / mobiles. More specifically, could the mobile device be a step toward addressing the radical inequality Watters describes? While this inequality reveals itself in varied regional and socioeconomic contexts, I’d like to focus on urban youth. We know from Pew Research that mobile adoption in black and Hispanic populations has been strong. In many instances, some less advantaged socioeconomic groups have skipped landlines and laptops, and have gone directly mobile. Is this an opportunity?

Here’s where Chris Emdin comes in. Emdin is a professor at the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University. His recent work focuses on how to teach, or inspire the curiosity to learn, STEM subjects.

Emdin has a new book out, Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation, one he recently discussed  in conversation with @NewBlackMan, Mark Anthony Neal.

In the interview, Emdin proposes our using the languages and culture of the “‘hood” to teach sciences. He suggests focusing on urban youth culture, a black vernacular that has been marginalized in STEM disciplines. How, Emdin asks, may hip hop culture be used as a pedagogical tool?

This makes sense: Use the forces and influences in brown and black students’ lives (what Emdin describes as “a way of knowing and being”) to connect content and skills for learning in sciences.

So, what if we were to connect the dots between Emdin’s ideas, Audrey Watters’ ideas, and mobile devices?

I can imagine an entire program designed and implemented around mobiles—the devices many students already own—to leverage mobile technology for STEM learning. Why don’t we design curricula that are mobile, using the neighborhood as the science lab? (You could easily use platforms such as And thinking about Connected Learning, I also imagine Mobile STEM for the ‘Hood as successfully embodying connected design and learning principals.

Connected Learning

Learning Principles

Academically oriented

Design Principles
Openly networked
Shared purpose

On Connected Learning

And Audrey Watters

What Tech in Schools Really Looks Like

And Chris Emdin

Open Mobile Learning badges

Open Mobile Learning Badges: Scenarios

Digital Media & Learning Competition: Badges’s proposal for Mobile Learning Badges was selected for the next stage of the Mozilla/MacArthur/HASTAC DML Competition. Here are some of the mobile learning scenarios I described in the application.

Mobile Environmental & Citizen Science

As a member of the local river and watershed organization, the Hoosic River Watershed Association (HooRWA), Tony participates in the annual flora and fauna census, collecting data and documenting the health of the local river ecosystem. Tony uses his mobile phone to geolocate, record, and contribute vital data sets to the larger study. Tony has earned two badges for his work with HooRWA—a Mobile Environmental Badge and a Mobile Citizen Science Badge.

Tony’s badges appear on his website, social media pages, and in Tony’s Learning Tree, an online dossier documenting his lifelong accomplishments in any number of activities and fields of study—both formal or informal.

Mobile Local History

Catherine, a college History major, uses her mobile phone to create several key bodies of content that the community now uses for educational and historic purposes.

For The Architectural Record, a work that documents noteworthy architectural structures and stories in her small city, Catherine uses an online map (Google, FourSquare, Layar, etc.) to geolocate and photo-document houses and buildings of historic merit. Community members use their mobile phones to tour the city, learn from the tags and audio recordings, contribute details and narratives, and view historic layers over their city.

She uses her phone to photo-document and record veteran’s narratives which become living documents on the community Veteran’s Center website. Further, students from the local elementary and high schools contribute fresh narratives each year, thereby perpetuating the growth and relevance of the veterans’ stories to community history.

Catherine received several badges for her work in this field: a Mobile Local History Badge, a Mobile Veterans’ Services Badge, and a Mobile Civic Engagement Badge.

Mobile Art

Ben is a digital and performance artist living in Pittsburgh, PA. His work concerns massive open participatory media events where disparate participants briefly form mobile art communities. Recently, Ben received a grant to implement his latest project: a mobile symphony. Ben set up seven telephone numbers, each with a different note, and another five lines that play found percussion sounds. Using trunking lines from a mobile VoIP (Voice over IP) provider, each number can be concurrently dialed and played by multiple callers. On July 14, over 85 participants gathered at Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning to create a “mobile sound wave” with their phone speakers, and with the local experimental dance collective, create a spontaneous collaborative performance. Part of the artist’s interest lay in if and how a group of strangers could gather and then self-organize to make “art.” The event was a success.

Ben earned a Mobile Art Badge and a Mobile Music Badge. Participants also earned Mobile Community Art Badges for their involvement.

Mobile Fundraising and Civics

Margaret, the first of her family to graduate college, knows from personal experience that early intervention plays a powerful role in helping reverse failing trajectories. To help her Early Childhood Literacy Center raise money for their new initiative in underserved neighborhoods, Margaret collaborated with a local friend who had expertise in advertising and graphic design. Together, the two created a simple yet successful QR and Text For Literacy campaign in the city. They postered and distributed flyers, and they placed PSA ads with various media outlets. Community members, by texting “literacy” to 54454, could contribute $10, $20, or $50. The two women also persuaded a local business to host a coffee hour, where they shared success stories of the literacy program. Attendees could text in their support immediately.

Margaret earned two important badges through her work: a Mobile Volunteer Badge and a Mobile Educator Badge.

More on Open Mobile Learning Badges

Badges for Mobile Learning just submitted a proposal for the HASTAC / Mozilla Foundation / MacArthur Digital Media & Competition on Badges for Learning. See this link for our ideas on using badges to recognize achievement in mobile learning.

An excerpt from the application:

Because these learning activities fall outside the aegis of “school,” they go unrecognized. We must acknowledge noteworthy and meaningful achievement in use of mobile phones to pursue fields of learning or civic engagement outside traditional educational structures.

To address this need, proposes creation of the Open Mobile Learning Badge program to recognize achievement using mobiles in various fields of interest—both in established learning practices and yet-to-be discovered modalities for learning that are made possible through mobile technology.

Please comment if you have insights that might be useful.

Delivering, Accessing; Creating, Designing

Last Thursday, The New York Times hosted SchoolsForTomorrow, an all-day event featuring a variety of speakers sharing their vision for “bringing technology into the classroom.” The conference leaned toward corporate (Skype, Pearson, Scholastic, Intel, Cisco, etc.), or at least it felt that way. Conference symbiosis is always a delicate balance, though. And Yes, some teachers and administrators were there, but a student panel or two would have offered a useful contrast with the corporate discourse. Youth sometimes provides a healthy reality check (crucible?) for the ideas adults espouse.

The panels were too crowded—eight people (plus moderator)—but they generally uncovered some worthwhile ideas on the current state of affairs in education and technology. Keynote (Harvard University president emeritus) Larry Summers stated emphatically (paraphrased): 1. technology is dramatically transforming education, and 2. the mobile phone is central to that transformation.  And on a broader level, one of the more important ideas of the day was that the event happened, that The New York Times gathered these groups to share ideas with a broader audience. A good sign, I hope.

Mitch Resnick (Scratch), in the K-12 panel covering The Student, noted something revealing. Most of today’s discussions, he remarked, were about delivering and consuming, not making and creating. While delivering/accessing information is important, new technology can also broaden they way we create and design things…to be full citizens in society, said Resnick. Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT Media Lab states:  “We develop new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and fingerpaint of kindergarten, expand the range of what people can design, create, and learn.” I could see Nichole Pinkard (Digital Youth Network, Remix World) and Esther Wojcicki (Palo Alto High School, Creative Commons) nodding in agreement as Resnick spoke. I did, too.

Herein also lies a problem, I fear. Are most of the efforts to transform learning with technology merely duplicating old (ineffectual) models? Delivering and consuming, instead of designing and creating?

At the end of the day, I stopped by one of the new edtech showcases. As I  watched the black box theater and chatted with the rep, a hologram of Nicholas Negroponte (OLPC) emerged from the darkness to present a lecture.

Mobiles in Museum Context

nu colossus - nari wardI have been working at MASS MoCA for the last six months, helping them among other things raise capital for their educational and artist programs. MASS MoCA is a fascinating place—frugal, efficient, innovative, caring, supportive, and often sometimes exploring beyond boundaries. They are a making museum, one where the artists (and sometimes the entire staff) create installations/art on premises, real time. Most recently, for instance, we helped Jamaican born artist Nari Ward construct a  massive 60′ basket-woven fish trap ensnaring a 30′ fishing boat that Nari had found at a local garage.

This August, though, I will be doing some work with MASS MoCA’s KidsSpace and local B-HIP interns, discussing how mobiles (and digital media) can be leveraged for learning and curatorial opportunities in the museum context. (B-HIP is an intensive arts management internship program in the Berkshires.) Given MASS MoCA’s unusual circumstances, what is context when the museum is a 13-acre campus with 25+ buildings offering hundreds of thousand of square feet? This campus was the home, for example, of the Solid Sound Festival, a Wilco-curated arts festival spreading out into every nook and cranny of  the massive campus.

What, also, is context in terms of art that is yet to be created? And what is context when the mobile phone by definition liberates the participant from a fixed context to a more discursive, untethered experience.

I’m just thinking through some questions. If you have ideas on mobiles in museums, please send me a note; richard AT . I’d love to hear what you’re doing.

NCLIA at SXSWi: mobile learning and environment

SXSWi 2011 was at SXSWi last week, moderating a panel on the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLIA) and use of mobile phones for environmental (and STEM) education. The bill, inspired by Richard Louv’s concern over children’s “nature deficit disorder,” hopes to enhance the environmental literacy of K-12 students and “foster understanding, analysis, and solutions to the major environmental challenges.” The panel brought together a thoughtful group of mobile learning researchers and practitioners:

  • Jared Lamenzo, President/Co-Founder The WildLab/Mediated Spaces Inc.
  • Rebecca Bray,  Interaction Design & Strategy, Smithsonian Institution
  • Drew Davidson, Professor and Director at ETC, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Richard Scullin, Founder,
  • S. Craig Watkins, Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Austin

The conversation was framed in part by a question: What would Henry David Thoreau, the quintessential American naturalist-scientist, think of mobile devices used to study Nature?

The group covered good ground in its discussion. Some notable topics/questions:

Davidson: Are people starting to lose specific skills due to their relationship with new mobile technologies (maps)—the ability to give and understand directions, for example?

Lamenzo: Could the connected mobile device alter learning, perhaps (re)creating a guild-type model for distributed learners. [I’d like to hear more about this.]

Watkins: How are mobiles altering learning in the context of digital media, equity, and diversity, particularly around the shift from the digital divide to the participation gap?

Bray: Won’t students with mobile phones just text their friends? Or provide more of a barrier between them and nature instead of less? How do know that this is engaging enough that the technology would not be a distraction?

I also enjoyed the discussion of mobiles enabling game layers over the world, and more specifically, Davidson’s reference to Jane McGonigal’s distinction between “gameification” and “gamefulness,” the latter emphasizing the positive attributes (skills, collaboration, thinking, ethos) that arise through engagement with games. See Reality is Broken for more.

Also: thanks to Omar for some good coverage in the Austin American-Statesman: Austin

Open Mobile Learning: MobileEd’s 3-minute proposal

As finalist for the MacArthur / HASTAC Digital Media and Learning Competition, we were asked to submit a 3-minute video describing our plans and partners for Open Mobile Learning, an initiative to help teachers leverage and integrate mobiles for learning. This was shot mostly on mobile phones. Thanks to all the people who helped out, especially Merli V. Guerra.

Check out also MacArthur’s Spotlight, a blog covering digital media and learning, and DML Central, for theory and praxis writings in this space.