Today’s large penetration of information and communication technologies in society places new requests on the education sector. One of the objectives of the research area called “Technology-Enhanced Learning” (TEL), is to gain understanding about the types of knowledge and competence, individuals as well as organizations need to develop in accordance with the impact of technologies on our working and social practices. One emerging and interdisciplinary research field within TEL, deals with the question of adoption and design of mobile and ubiquitous technologies for learning (cf. Mobile learning). This emerging field of research seeks to understand the nature of learning when supported by handheld and mobile devices and to develop theories, methods and artefacts able to support conceptual, social, psychological and physical aspects of learning anytime, anywhere. Mobile and wireless technologies due to its large penetration in children and teenagers’ communication practices are of particular interest by TEL. The rapid development of these technologies combined with access to content in a wide variety of settings, allows learners to experience new learning situations beyond the school’s walls. This offers the potential for a new phase in the evolution of technology-enhanced learning, marked by a continuity of the learning experience across different contexts.
Research conducted in the field of Mobile Learning is interdisciplinary. Scholars working in this field of research come from different disciplines : educational technology, learning sciences, computer sciences and human-computer interaction. Although each of these disciplines presents their own focus, methods and theoretical frameworks, they all share a common research objective: to find out how to design the use of mobile technologies in order to support a teaching practice that promotes deeper learning across different contexts.
In this particular field of research, Nordic scholars have excelled in areas such as: describing collaborative and social aspects in technology-based learning environments; understanding self –regulated and computer supported collaborative learning, motivation in socially-shared environments; exploring social mobile media; designing and developing mobile and wireless devices for learners, studying psycho-developmental processes associated with the use of technology; analyzing the use of mobile technologies in school subjects such as language learning, mathematics and natural sciences; development of methods and learning environments based on user-centred design philosophies. Nordic scholars have for instance gained international reputation in areas such as development of mobile devices for supporting seamless learning (e.g. Spikol and Milrad, 2008), studies about the role of emotions, motivation and self-regulation mechanisms involved in technological based-learning environments (e.g.Järvelä, S., Näykki, P., Laru, J., & Luokkanen, T. 2007) and studies of technology use (e.g.Wasson, B. 2007), (e.g. Karlström, P. Cerratto Pargman, T and Knutsson, O. 2008). (e.g. Gjedde, L., 2008). Today, the complexity of the research area of mobility and learning has motivated researchers in Scandinavia to establish contacts in order to: - implement a strategy to capitalize on local knowledge already acquired by each research group, - to promote synergy in research and development of TEL environments, - to implement operational actions in order to apply for funding opportunities and - to support research training and mobility of Ph D and young researchers.
Relevant research for the NordicLEAF network can be grouped into the following main areas:
- Embodiment and situated learning. Embodiment refers to the interactions and conversations that happen in our physical and social worlds and provide meaning. Given that mobile learning typically involves acting and communicating in a physical and social world, rather than constructing things per se, it follows that ideas arising from embodiment may provide a more extensive account of learning with technology. (Rogers and Price, 2008). Situated learning has contributed to a growing body of research focusing the situated character of human understanding and communication (Wenger, 1998). Rather than defining learning as the incorporation of propositional knowledge or content, learning is regarded as something that takes place in-situ in contexts of collaboration.
From this perspective, what is to be learned is embedded in social activities and can be taught through interacting with teachers, books and other artifacts as well as other learners. By way of the interaction and communication taking place the learner can reflect upon and discover concepts and problems and thereby actively construct and test knowledge. The idea of being able to work with experiential or concrete information which can be captured into images, sounds, films or any other kind of multimodal material brings new thoughts about the learners’ construction of scientific concepts with the support of technology.
- Constructivism. There has been a significant increase in our understanding of the developmental, cognitive and social dimensions of learning with and through artifacts. Current research in the learning sciences indicates that in addition to most knowledge being an interpretation of personal experiences it is also social in nature: knowledge is jointly constructed in interactions with artifacts, discussions with other peers and reflections upon concepts in a specific domain (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996).
- Design studies about technology use, seeks to understand how learners and teachers incorporate technology in their daily practice and how technology influences processes of learning, teaching and collaboration. Design research within technology enhanced learning and instructional design constitutes an interdisciplinary field of research that conceptually borrows from various disciplines, primarily psychology, pedagogy, human- machine interaction and computer science. Various perspectives and competencies are necessary, various understandings of learning with and through artifacts are necessary in order to design and develop pedagogically sound learning tools able to create meaningful learning activities in school settings.
European networks of excellence such as Prolearn, working in the area of technology-enhanced professional learning or, Kaleidoscope fostering innovation and creativity through the development of new technologies, methodologies and concepts; have largely contributed to identify main thematic research areas in the field of TEL.
In the last five years, Nordic governments have set out ambitious research and research training objectives by launching various programs regarding the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in education.
For instance, in Sweden, one of the main objectives of the Knowledge Foundation's research program Learning and IT (LearnIT) was to build up a body of knowledge in the area of learning and information and communication technology. The program was limited to an eight-year term, 2000-2007 and pursued a two-fold structure involving, on the one hand, the analysis of existing research and training activities and dissemination of information about them, and, on the other hand, the stimulation and carrying out of new research and development on learning and IT. This mission was not limited to school and formal education; it concerned to an equal degree issues of learning and further education in the workforce.
In Denmark, a national research network on Learning and interactive multimedia worked with issues related to TEL between 2000 and 2002, and a national research centre “DREAM” (Danish Research Centre on Education and Advanced Media Materials) www.dream.dk, was founded in 2005, its main aim was to create a scientific foundation for the development of learning resources in Danish for use in formal as well as informal learning contexts.
In Norway, the network for IT-Research and Competence in Education called “ITU”. http://www.itu.no/ituenglish/ was founded in 1997 as a key project in the Ministry of Education and Research’s first action plan, Information Technology in Education 1996–1999 and was continued in the second action plan Information and Communications Technology in Norwegian Education. Plan for 2000–2003. ITU was originally founded as a national research and competence network for information technology (IT) in education, under the administration of the University of Oslo (UiO). Another Norwegian effort was the program for Teacher Education, Technology and Change (PLUTO) established in 1999 as a reform program within teacher training. PLUTO focused on innovative and comprehensive change within teacher education. The program was anchored in the Ministry of Education and Research’s action plan ICT in Norwegian Education – Plan for 2000–2003, in which the PLUTO projects were an integral part of the Ministry's special-focus initiative linked to restructuring teacher education.Similar strategic activities were funded in Finland, by the Ministry of Finland with the objective of contributing to promote research and research training in the field of learning and information technology.
These Nordic networks have provided the research community with research training opportunities within TEL and have generated much understanding about competence development of the individual learner as well as the development of society in relation to deskbound information technologies. However, their impact has been limited to a national level. This fact is in part due to the lack of a common Nordic research and research training strategy able to capitalize on local efforts from a Scandinavian perspective. Furthermore, research issues related to the development in mobile and social computing require a stronger interdisciplinary effort between different research fields and research training programs. In addition, research issues concerning design of future teaching and learning practices supported by mobile and ubiquitous technologies to be used both across contexts ( inside and outside the school) in Nordic countries, have been overlooked.
The LEAF network aims at bringing together innovative research on learning sciences, human computer interaction and mobile and ubiquitous technologies. These fields focus strongly on both rethinking pedagogic curricula from the opportunities that mobile technologies bring up to education and, redesigning mobile technologies taking account of specific learning and social goals defined in educational curricula.
More in particular, the Nordic LEAF network focuses on the following core themes of research:
- Learners’ competencies and adaptive expertise. One of our main objectives is the study of how the mobility of learners can contribute to the process of constructing deeper knowledge, developing new skills and learning experiences. We are particularly interested in physical, temporal conceptual and social aspects involved in the use of technologies in education. In this sense, technology does not constitute our primary focus in the study of TEL. We are rather interested in understanding the nature of the learning experience that technologies together with pedagogical tasks make possible.
- Learning activities and landscapes. A central question in the area of TEL related to mobile technologies is the conceptualization of learners’ interaction with digital and physical information across different contexts. In this respect we are interested in defining the notion of context in an educational technological environment and developing a methodological framework able to take account of the specificities of learning across contexts such as informal-formal, outside –inside, abstract-physical, specific-general.
- Sustainability and learning deals with questions such as how to best pilot the changes that technology irremediably introduces in traditional teaching and how to best support “lifewide” and “lifedeep” learning processes.
- Emerging learning technologies. This area deals with design questions related to the development and design of technologies for learning. In this respect we are interested in developing design guidelines that enable to develop technologies aimed at supporting specific pedagogical activities. One of the main challenges here is to define the role of pedagogy in such a development and design process.
The Nordic LEAF network emphasizes the following dimensions:
- Interdisciplinarity is a must characteristic in the field of TEL. We are inevitably interested in research problems that are constructed beyond disciplinary frontiers. This statement implies that methods and theoretical perspectives are carefully chosen or further developed in relation to the specificities of the research questions under investigation.
- Applied research is a dimension that the eight research groups involved in the LEAF network have in common. A major goal with our research activities is to provide the education sector with a better understanding of how to integrate and adapt technology for learning purposes, in a sustainable way.
A main objective of the Nordic LEAF network is to envisage and predict how the future of learning would look like in the upcoming 10 years. Indications of such as an effort can be found for instance in reports from the National Science Foundation in the USA, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) in the UK and the Intelligent Nation 2015 program in Singapore. In the Nordic countries, similar efforts toward this objective have, in comparison been few and mostly conducted from a national perspective. In order for Scandinavia to excel in the area of TEL, we need to cooperate and conduct well-orchestrated operational research and research training activities. More specifically, Nordic scholars need to build on the pedagogical innovativeness of Scandinavian schools, the practice of collaborative pedagogical activities that are already well established in Nordic countries, the high penetration of mobile technologies and Internet, as well as the average level of ICT competence already high among children and teenagers. We believe, the Nordic LEAF network will contribute to make a difference and achieve excellence at the international level on the area of TEL by conducting a consistent research and research training strategy.
Furthermore, the Nordic LEAF network will bring together and continue to support a group of seniors scientists as well as a new generation of doctoral students working in the field of TEL from the perspectives of learning sciences and human computer interaction. Although the readiness to participate and the need for such a network clearly exist already, an operational network requires a basic infrastructure for coordination and management, as well as financial support of joint activities. We believe that NordForsk by providing us with financial support would contribute to the development of a promising interdisciplinary area in which Nordic research has good prospects of achieving excellent results with high international standing.
Duffy & Cunningham, (Eds.). (1996). Constructivism: implications for the design and delivery of instruction. New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.
Gjedde, L. (2008). Designing for learning in narrative multimedia environments . Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. I: Syed, M. R., Multimedia technologies(p. Chapter XXIX)
Järvelä, S., Näykki, P., Laru, J., & Luokkanen, T. (2007). Structuring and Regulating Collaborative Learning in Higher Education with Wireless Networks and mobile tools. Journal of Educational Technology & Society 10, 4, 71-71.
Karlström, P. Cerratto Pargman, T and Knutsson, O. (2008). Literate tools or tools for literacy? A critical approach to language tools in second language learning . Special Issue Interaction Design in Pedagogical Practice in Digital Kompetanse/ Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy. Vol. 3. (pp. 97-112). Universitetsförlaget. Oslo.
Spikol, D., & Milrad, M. (2008). Physical Activities and Playful Learning Using Mobile Games. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning. Special issue on Mobile and Ubiquitous Learning Environments. Vol:3 No: 3 pp.275- 295.
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