Conceptualizing Mobile Learning and Related Issues


A definition of mobile learning is given in Guidelines For Learning in a Mobile Environment by O’malley et al. (2003) is as follows:

Any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies.

This definition emphasizes the mobility of mobile learning, or m-learning rather than only focusing on the technological aspect of it as in Quinn’s definition which, as Sharples and others comment, “overlooks the wider context of learning as part of an incrasingly mobile lifestyle". Here’s Quinn’s definition:

It’s elearning through mobile computational devices: Palms, Windows CE machines, even your digital cell phone. (as cited in Sharples et al, 2009, pp. 234)

Sharples et al. (2009) suggest that exploration, conversation and collaborative knowledge building are the three fundamental processes that make up our experience in understanding the world and our knowledge of it (pp. 236). Exploration is making connections between experiences and concepts to form new knowledge. Conversation is learning that is connected between different contexts, time and space. Collaborative knowledge building is quite self-explanatory, that is, collaborating with other people to create new knowledge.

Sharples et al. argue that the technology of Wikipedia offers “a distributed system of meaning making that promotes collaborative knowledge building" (pp. 236). They further suggest that the technology of Wikipedia is not merely “a medium of inscription", but “an active participant in the process"(pp. 236). This is where I feel they have come up with a theory without making much effort to justify it. Apart from describing Wikipedia as “enabling certain forms of activity and constraining others”, they give no further elaboration on how “a medium of inscription" differs from “an active participant in the process"(pp. 236). Isn’t it true of all media that they enable certain forms of activity and constrain others? If the design and features of Wikipedia evolve, do not most of the other human inventions? Admittedly, the changes and modifications in technologies like Wikipedia may be much more sophisticated and subtle than many other human inventions, but how are they fundamentally different?

However, I do think this is an interesting theory, if one not backed with sufficient arguments. Perhaps what Sharples et al. have in mind is the way in which the designers and technicians behind technologies like Wikipedia interact with users and make changes based on such interaction. It is also more likely, I think, that people would regard sites like Facebook and Tumblr as two people with different personalities than think of their old refrigerator and the new freon-free one as two people with different opinions in environmental protection.

Sharples et al. go on to propose some interesting questions:

…who owns the products of conversational learning (online discussions, Wikipedia pages, etc.) and what are peoples’ rights to be free from continual engagement with educational technology…How can we distinguish between the intimacy of coming to know and the need to publicly record and register our attainments? (pp. 236-237)

On sites and Tumblr people are reposting and commenting to form new meanings on a daily basis and the posts often evolve into something beyond the intentions of the initial author(s). If these posts are to be collected for publication, it is difficult to determine who are entitled to the ownership of these posts. Even when a post is made by an individual or a self-organized group the present regulation of online ownership rights seem to be quite immature and needs modifying. There is a recent case in point. A group of overseas students who make short videos filming events and introducing places of interests in UK which they post on a collective Weibo account found that one of their videos is appropriated and aired without their permission or acknowledgment by a local television station in China. They posted about this appropriation on Weibo, where I learned of it. As I have not been following the incident, I wonder whether it is resolved now.

As for the questions about peoples’ right to be free from educational technology, I am not quite sure what is meant by this. The expression “intimacy of coming to know" is especially confusing to me. I have a vague understanding that the authors are worried about the records of peoples’ learning behaviours and achievements in educational technology. But the worries remain unclear and obscure to me as no specific examples are given. If anyone can elaborate on this point, it would be most helpful.


O’Malley, C. & Vavoula, G. & Glew, J.P. & Taylor, J.& Sharples, M. & Lefrere, P. (2003). Guidelines for Learning in a Mobile Environment. MOBIlearn.
Retrieved from

Sharples, Mike & Aenedillo-Sánchez, Inmaculada & Milrad, Marcelo & Vavoula, Giasemi (2009). Mobile Learning. In Balacheff, N.; Ludvigsen, S.; Jong, T.; Lazonder, A.; Barnes, S. (Eds.) Technology-Enhanced Learning. Springer.

Retrieved from

Collaborative Digital Video Project and Learner Autonomy

–Discussion of Fostering Learner Autonomy in English for Science: A Collaborative Digital Video Project in a Technological Learning Environment by Christoph Hafner and Lindsay MillerImage

Hafner and Lindsay reported their case study in which 67 university science students took a course in EST (English for Science and Technology) and collaborate as teams to create digital videos presenting their science experiments.

Students first learned about Internet search engines and online databases to gather information to prepare for their experiment. They were then taught to use DV cameras and editing software before they start filming and shooting. The final products will be posted on YouTube on the course YouTube channel as well as the course Weblog where students shared comments on the videos. A sharing session was held in class in which students exchanged face-to-face feedback.

To facilitate students with their projects, technological support was provided in the form of (a) learning management system for course administration, (b) course Weblog for weekly reflective discussions on coursework, (c) DV cameras and editing software for video production, (d) resources Web site for support with video editing software, (e) YouTube channel for sharing the videos created.

Hafner and Lindsay present students’ account from questionnaires, focus group interviews, and Weblog comments to show the leaner autonomy fostered in the project. Their discussion of learner autonomy cover the aspects of motivation, authenticity, independent learning, teamwork and managing the learning process, peer teaching and reflection on learning.

I will now focus on the aspect of authenticity. Students’ account presented in Hafner and Lindsay’s paper show that they think it is important to be able to create multimedia productions which will help them in future presentations. Students also anticipate a wider audience beyond their classroom. I think the skills involved in making a science documentary is no doubt valuable and useful in today’s world. Envisioning a wider audience, on the other hand, though potentially a powerful incentive, may produce mixed results.

The openness of the Internet appear to allow everyone to get access to global audience for the works that they publish in public space. The truth is, however, many people can only reach a very small audience. I checked out several of the student documentaries made in the project and found that most of them have less than 200 views. Two of these video stood out in view count, one receiving 458 views and the other 353 views. All of the videos I have looked at have one comment or no comment posted below. Seemingly presented and available to the world outside classroom, these videos are viewed by a limited number of audience, the majority of which presumably are students and teachers involved in the projects and probably their friends and families. A problem arises: If a student expects to have audience beyond her classmates and teachers and becomes disappointed at the views her video gets, will she lose incentive to make videos on her own in the future? I think students should be prepared for unsatisfactory results and encouraged to regard the project as an opportunity to build their skills which can be used in future self-initiated projects. Teachers can recommend good models of educational videos (for example, scishow and crashcourse) to students in hope of inspiring them to share what their knowledge online.


Fostering Learner Autonomy in English for Science: A Collaborative Digital Video Project in a Technological Learning Environment

Student showcase of the collaborative digital video project

scishow channel

crashcourse channel

What is This Thing called ‘New Literacies’ ?

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Here is an excerpt from an essay I have written for the course of ‘new literacies’. I hope it helps explain ‘what is this thing called “new literacies" ‘.

Defining New Literacies

The concept of ‘new literacies’, the term itself being a relatively new invention (Wikipedia), have been developed and elaborated by many scholars including Allan Martin, Paul Gilster, Howard Rheingold, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel (Lankshear and Knobel, 2011, p. 22-29). The term ‘new literacies’ is often associated with 21st first century literacies, digital literacies, information literacies, ICT literacies, all of which “are used to refer to phenomena we would see as falling broadly under a new literacies umbrella” (Coiro, KnobelLankshear, and Leu, as cited in Wikipedia).

According to Lankshear and Knobel (2011), digital literacy tend to be conceptualized in two aspects, a technical aspect-‘mastering keystrokes’ and a more attitudinal aspect-‘mastering ideas’(p. 22), which are joint together by Allan Martin who opt for ‘an uneasy marriage’ between ‘skills-based vocational approach and a critical, action-oriented “academic” approach’ (as cited in Lankshear and Knobel, 2011, p. 23).

Gilster gives his definition of digital literacy in an interview: Digital literacy is the ability to understand information and—more important—to evaluate and integrate information in multiple formats that the computer can deliver (Pool, 1997).

Rheingold (2009) contends that we must ‘go beyond skills to literacies’ and advocates ‘skills plus community’-community here denotes the importance of social media. He further elaborates the five core elements in his conception of 21st century literacies: attention, participation, cooperation, critical consumption and network awareness (Rheingold, 2009). These intertwined and interdependent elements make up a nice framework for the comprehension and acquirement of literacies.

Lankshear and Knobel (2011) contribute their distinction of ‘new’ in ‘new literacies’ from conventional literacies in two aspects. Firstly, new literacies are ‘made of different stuff’-‘new and changing ways of producing, distributing, exchanging, and receiving texts by electronic means’; secondly, new literacies are made of different ‘ethos stuff’ -social and cultural relations and values-and are often more participatory, collaborative, distributed and less published, individuated, author-centric (p. 29).

All of these elaboration on ‘new literacies’ echo one another in differentiating two important aspects in new literacies: skills and mindset. But Rheingold’s emphasis on community may justify a further distinction of individual conception and interpersonal relationship within the realm ‘mindset’, though the two are closely connected. Thus, new literacies can be defined as follows: the ability to obtain, understand, evaluate and integrate information in multiple formats available in electronic devices; the self-awareness and understanding of participation and values in the process of information gathering and meaning making using electronic devices; and the understanding of interpersonal relationship and collaboration formed or supplemented by interaction using electronic devices.


Lankshear, Colin & Knobel, Michele. (2011). New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning. New York: Open University Press and McGraw Hill.

New Literacies. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from:

Pool, Carolyn. (1997). A Conversation with Paul Gilster. Educational Leadership, 55, 6-11. Retrieved from:

Rheingold, Howard. (2009). 21st Century Literacies. Howard Rheingold. Retrieved from:

In a nutshell


To whoever’s out there looking inside this tiny little blog,

This is a solemn announcement: I am starting this blog, my first blog, for a course that I have taken this semester on new literacies and language learning, that is, the application of new technology in language learning.

For course requirements, I will regularly blog about our reading materials and my reflections on them. It sounds quite academic, and it probably is.

Since my primary readers will be my teacher and my fellow classmates, maybe it is a bit unnecessary aiming to cater to any reader who happens to walk in here. But, as this is the beginning of my blogging experience and it is customary and forgivable to aim high and make unpractical resolutions about one’s future and one’s future self, I shall, for this moment, cling to the romantic goal of blogging to meet the academic requirements of the course and the general view of readability.

I would really like to tell you more about what my little blog will be about, especially when the title of this post inevitably leads you to form the assumption that I have a clear idea of what I am doing and that I am prepared to tell you in an organized and concise manner just what I am going on about. Sorry about that. You really should have stopped reading by the first paragraph. Really, you should have deduced from the first paragraph that I have no idea what my blog will look like in the days to come as the course has just started and I have no experience whatsoever in blogging. Anyway, my sincere apologies for the misunderstanding.

I will, however, try to blog as informatively and reader-friendly as possible. Not only for your benefits, of course, as I myself am the most avid reader of my blog and will no doubt suffer the most for a horrible post. It’s like wrecking your own house really.

In a nutshell, I hope to find this blog evolve into something not too hard on the eyes. Hopefully that’s when you will walk in.

Best wishes,

and apologetically,

Celine the beginner blogger