The Power of mLearning: A Force for Creating New Learning Ecologies

Sanguine voices are heard on a coastal beach in Maine as a group of high-school age young people gather around multiple mobile devices that are networked via live webcast to their peers in China, New Zealand, London, Uganda and Bolivia in a project called “The Interdependence of Global Water”. This international project based learning pod are gathering, some waking at 1:00am to view sea run Salmon return to spawn on the Penobscot River in Maine, United States. These young people are doing more than watching; they helped make the Penobscot River viable for this process again through their combined research, writing, and service efforts. In partnership with indigenous communities, business interests, academics, local, regional and national governments, and conservation biology organizations they have joined a coalition to remove dams and restore native salmon spawning corridors. There study was intense, memorable and had lasting impact on all involved. As these young people wove service and action into their “core” themes of study: society, environment and economics, there lives were changed, and they helped catalyze a movement for new learning around the world. What we find out is that these young people are collaborating together on similar projects in all of the six world regions mentioned and in concert with each other in a new learning ecology. There are no “walls” in this learning ecology, rather these students learn year round, individually and in groups at regional based learning centers where they come to collaborate, problem solve and socialize with other project based learners. The bulk of the work these brave young people accomplish is done in the field, at home, or traveling in “mobile learning labs” utilizing the most innovative eLearning tools imaginable. The blended eLearning networks used to collaborate on the integrated global projects mentioned, where also leveraged to connect domain territory specialists and mentors to young people as they constructed an understanding of quantitative reasoning, social sciences, literature, experimental sciences, and visual arts in integrated project based learning. The ePortfolios of each learner on that beach in Maine and around the world would be constructed to exhibit learner mastery of knowledge territories and to meet international and national standards in education. This is international learning done across cultural, environmental and economic borders; creating a global frontier for critical education.

The vision above is embedded in mission of the Institute for Global Civic Culture and the design of our pilot projects. I have had the frame above in my mind for years now and I am elated to write that we are getting closer to facilitating the type of learning necessary for the young people imagined on the coast of Maine and in many networked spaces around the world as they build a global civic culture together.

This last month I worked on a major presentation about the Global Civ learning ecology. I was struck as I have been so many times in the design process with the power of mobile learning. Conceptually mobile learning redefines learning structures as the learning and dynamic experience are linked and captured regardless of space or schedule. The London Mobile Learning Group; has explained Mobile Learning as a socio-cultural ecology:

“We see learning using mobile devices governed by a triangular relationship between socio-cultural structures, cultural practices and the agency of media users / learners, represented in the three domains. The interrelationship of these three components: agency, the user’s capacity to act on the world, cultural practices, the routines users engage in their everyday lives, and the socio-cultural and technological structures that govern their being in the world, we see as an ecology which in turn manifests itself in the form of an emerging cultural transformation”.

Our Learning Ecologies are designed to be a catalyst for the emerging cultural transformation in education. Global Civ has used mobile devices for learning and exists outside the structures that currently govern most students in North America; a powerful combination. Our programs are designed to be multisited and highly mobile as learning takes place in networked spaces, face to face meetings, at a learning center and in experiential learning excursions. Programs feature learner centric project based learning, ePortfolio assessment and a highly individualized system that is attune first to the learner. In this ecology, students choose their path in learning while being held accountable for the deep literacy, civic action, and the self determination necessary to help lead the world in the 21st century.

As D. Bob Gowin (1998) wrote, “Imagining how events could be otherwise than they are is a hallmark freedom and power of human beings”.  I look forward to my work with IGCC in this new year,  and am inspired. I know powerful blended learning experiences that explore the possibilities of mLearning will continue to play a vital role.

iPhone photo: JISC Digital Me

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