Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The article below looks at experiments underway in the Stanford
Learning Laboratory to investigate the potential of portable
electronic devices to increase learning efficiency and effectiveness.
It is from SPEAKING OF COMPUTERS,
[http://acomp.stanford.edu/acpubs/SOC/] a Stanford University
Publication edited by Eleanor Brown [firstname.lastname@example.org].
See further information at the end of this posting.
UP NEXT: Good Practice in Tenure Evaluation
Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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MOBILE LEARNING EXPLORATIONS AT THE STANFORD LEARNING LAB
Speaking of Computers
Issue 55--January 8, 2001
by the Board of Trustees
of the Leland Stanford Junior University
Cell phones, Palm Pilots, wireless Web - they help us check email,
trade stocks and stay in touch - but can they help us learn? Can we,
should we, try to fill
in gaps of daily time with learning opportunities?
Last summer, the Stanford Learning Lab (SLL) developed a few rough
prototypes for mobile learning. The SLL staff chose foreign language
study as the
content area, hypothesizing that mobile devices could help provide
sorely needed opportunities for review, listening and speaking
practice in a safe,
authentic, personalized and on-demand environment.
The prototypes developed let users practice new words, take a quiz,
access word and phrase translations, work with a live coach, and save
vocabulary to a notebook - all in an integrated voice/data
environment. The intent this summer was not yet to support an actual
Stanford course, but instead to begin exploring recent technologies
and fundamental human cognitive challenges involved i learning
The SLL's vision was to fill in gaps of time -- to create a bubble of
learning that you carry with you, but may only access for periods of
30 seconds or 10 minutes at a time. Being mobile correlates with
highly fragmented attention, and the challenge was to better
understand what kind of learning can happen in those fragmented
pieces of time.
Three User Modes and Technology Tests
SLL staff conducted three discrete technology explorations and
informal tests on several language learners of varying skill, with
the following general results:
Text Quiz: vocabulary quizzes over mobile phone-based wireless Web.
Pros - convenient small question chunks to test knowledge during
opportunistic bits of time.
Cons - small screen is difficult to focus on while outdoors; small bits of
text do not provide an immersive enough experience for learning new
Live Coach: live-voice coaching sessions over mobile telephones.
Pros - speaking with an expert is ideal for language practice.
Cons - comprehension can be difficult over the phone; time with real-live
coaches is difficult to scale.
Interactive Audio: automated voice-controlled vocabulary and quiz
sessions over mobile telephones
Pros - audio experience can coincide with other activities (driving,
walking, waiting, etc.) instead of replacing those activities; automated
system offers potential for scalable, personalized, database driven
listening and speaking practice.
Cons - voice recognition technology, flaky and expensive mobile phone
connections, and audio interface design complexities are just some of the
potentially show-stopping technology challenges.
Automated Audio: General Responses and Guidelines for Design
While initial test results were mixed, SLL continues to be intrigued
by the potential for interactive audio to provide a scalable, rich,
and flexible language learning environment. A summary of their user
test findings and suggestions for future development follows.
Mobile Learning is a Highly Fragmented Experience:
Learning can be hard work. It requires concentration and reflection.
However, being on-the-go (driving, riding a train, sitting in a cafe,
walking down the
street) is fraught with distractions. Users are in situations that
place intermittent, unpredictable, yet critically important demands
on their attention. Where does this leave the mobile learner? With a
highly distracted, highly fragmented experience. The learning
application must be designed with this in mind.
Probably the most dangerous distracted and fragmented experience is
learning while driving. Here are some typical responses from our test
using the Spanish voice application while driving:
Review (vs. introduce) concepts: "Let me practice things I'm familiar
with instead of forcing my brain to digest brand new things."
Familiar and forgiving interactivity: "Because my attention is
divided, I can't pay attention to complicated instructions about how
work. Stick with simple and familiar interaction modes like quizzes
and make transitions between interaction modes obvious."
Minimize interactivity: "I don't want to feel pressured by the system
to interact. I want to feel free to fade out if I need to and then
I left off - that's why language tapes are good."
Modular learning chunks: "I may have 30 seconds, 10 minutes, or a
mystery piece of time from now until my next big distraction. Give me
discrete chunks to work with so I can feel accomplished no matter how
long I have."
Personalized interaction: "Let me personalize the experience to my
learning styles, my state of mind, my point in the learning process,
my degree of
distraction. Let me specify things like whether I want a quiz or a
lecture, instruction or immersion practice, audio only or audio
combined with text
on my PDA."
Learning is a Personal and Emotional Process:
Feeling shy about speaking your new foreign language, even with your
teacher? Afraid you'll accidentally insult someone, or that they'll
laugh at you?
Learning is a sensitive process and language learning especially
requires opportunities to practice in an emotionally safe and
The SLL's current interface is friendly, congratulates you when you
get something right, and encourages you to try again when you don't.
In a previous
version they experimented with an interface driven by a sassy,
demanding 12 year old. Responses from their test users were mixed.
Some felt challenged
and more engaged while others felt pressured and insulted. Based on
these responses, the SLL decided to find something more neutral, or
give users a
choice of feedback personality types.
User Frustration Wrecks Trust and Decreases Learning:
Poor cellular connections and environmental noises can cause
imperfect voice recognition and therefore failed menu navigation and
incorrect responses to
learning interactions (such as quizzes). User observations indicate
that repeated voice recognition misunderstandings impact users in
interesting ways: on the
surface, frustration and a reluctance to continue the lesson; on a
perhaps less conscious level, a perception of the system as stupid or
uncaring and therefore
not an effective, trustful way to learn.
Also, not all misunderstandings are created equal. Users were more
forgiving when the system made an incorrect response to their
attempted Spanish than
when it made an incorrect response to a simple navigation command like "back".
Did It Work?
This first attempt at supporting language learning over mobile phones
was not perfect. While voice interface design and creating studio
quality audio are not
easy, these can be remedied with a more professional development
process and budget than SLL had available last summer. What about the
fundamental question of learning over the phone and in a mobile
environment? Is the technology far enough along? Can a threshold of
reached, even though it's not perfect? Yes, and no.
With care and attention some parts of the learning process can be
supported. SLL's testing showed that simply having access to the
anywhere increased daily attention to learning Spanish and boosted
motivation. However, highly fragmented attention and bleeding edge
result in an environment too frustrating for learning. The Learning
Lab's advice is to keep it simple. Focus on those parts of the
learning process most
suited to audio, most suited to small chunks of time, and most suited
to a highly distractable learner. Allow learners to personalize their
experience - from
personality to interaction mode - to match their own learning styles
and situational needs.
Much work is still to be done in defining paradigms for effective
learning in a mobile environment. Many thinks to the extended
Learning Lab team for
their inspired contributions in getting this far. If you'd like more
information on this project, please contact Melissa Regan, Assistant
Director for Global
Learning Partnerships at the Stanford Learning Lab at email@example.com.
Published quarterly by the Academic Computing group of Stanford
University Libraries and Academic Information Resources (SUL/AIR). To
send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
? 2001 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior
University. Articles may be re-printed if the publication is
acknowledged. No right is granted to quote from or use any
material herein for purposes of promoting any product or service.