Action Area 4: Adapt to a Ubiquitous Learning Environment

The digital information and communications technologies that have transformed the world were invented and first made in America. However, in the home of their invention there has been no notable leadership in their application to education. Most classrooms are still strikingly not a part of the information age even by the most basic of measures—students’ access to digital learning content and work spaces. And when students have access to these environments, the curriculum content and student work practices are often unimaginatively conventional (content transmission, lock-step sequencing, standardized curriculum, discrete item assessment). Much ‘e-learning’ does not innovate in ways that the new technologies allow. Student learning results are disappointing. Yet, ironically, these same technologies are having a marked and transformational impact on learning and communication outside the classroom. How can this be?

Ubiquitous learning is an extension of the idea of ubiquitous computing, a term which describes the pervasive presence of computers in our lives. Personal and portable computers have become an integral part of our learning, work and community lives, to the point where, if you don’t have access to a computer networked with reasonable bandwidth you can be regarded as disadvantaged, located as a ‘have not’ on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’.

Meanwhile, many other devices are becoming more computer-like, or have computer power built in: mobile phones, televisions, global positioning systems, digital music players, personal digital assistants, video cameras, still cameras and game consoles, to name a few. These devices are everywhere. They are getting cheaper. They are becoming smaller and more portable. They are increasingly networked with each other. This is why we find them in many places in our lives and at many times in our days. The pervasive presence of these machines is the most tangible and practical way in which computing has become ubiquitous.

Ubiquitous learning is a new educational paradigm made possible in part by the affordances of digital media.186 ‘Made possible’ means that there is no directly deterministic relationship between technology and social change. Indeed, educational institutions at every level have proven quite effective at adapting these new resources to their conventional practices and content, rather than vice versa. Digital technologies arrive and almost immediately, old pedagogical practices of didactic teaching, content delivery for student ingestion and testing for the right answers are mapped onto them and called a ‘learning management system’. Something changes when this happens, but disappointingly, it is not much.

And another qualifier: ‘affordance’ means you can do some things easily now, and you are more inclined to do these things than you were before simply because they are easier. The technology becomes an invitation to do things better, often in ways that some people have been saying for a long time they should be done. You could do collaborative and inquiry learning in a traditional classroom and heritage institutional structures, but it wasn’t so easy. Computers make it easier. Desirable social learning practices which were at times against the grain for their idealistic impracticality, become viable. What we are witnessing is a set of social and cultural changes (as well as technological changes), largely based in learning activities outside the classroom – the coffee house, the home, the social network, the gaming environment, the media and popular culture, the workplace – reflecting back on a set of changed expectations on the part of young people about what their learning experiences inside the classroom should look like. Learning processes, motivations, and relevance to the practical contexts of ordinary life are changed by this shift of emphasis, as is the need for the school and classroom to reimagine themselves in relation to these other learning environments. This is the revolution we describe as “ubiquitous learning.”

Here are some infrastructure and pedagogical imperatives that we can now more practicably put into place.

Move 1: To blur the traditional institutional, spatial and temporal boundaries of education. Learning is lifelong and lifewide. And some important new things don’t need to be learned in formal classrooms because they can be learned at user-friendly interfaces, by asking a help menu, through over-the-shoulder teaching by a friend or colleague. This is just-in-time and just-enough learning, a new pervasiveness for pedagogy. This requires a new systematic investment in access infrastructure, hardware, software, technical support and teacher professional learning.

Move 2: To shift the balance of agency in learning so that learners become active discoverers of available knowledge well beyond the previously constrained orbit of teacher talk and textbook; they become recorders of empirical observation; they become reporters and publishers of knowledge that they have (re)made in many contexts. Learners become knowledge actors at least as much as they are knowledge receptors. This requires IES, NSF and other agencies to increase dramatically research into e-learning and pedagogy

Move 3: To recognize learner differences and use them as a productive resource. Learners are more able to draw upon the resources of their identities and apply their experiences to the learning environment, to observe and report in a way that articulates with their own perspectives and represents knowledge in the timbre of their own voice. This requires investment that encourages large scale, long term, university, community college and school partnerships, testing in laboratory conditions and developing proven ways in which all learners can be engaged to meet their aspirations and realize their potentials.

Move 4: To broaden the range and mix of representational modes in which students can express their knowledge—in text or image, audio or video, dataset or software program. This will necessitate investment into interdisciplinary research into and professional learning to provide teachers with an appropriate tool box of ‘grammars of meaning’ which will enable learners to use a broader repertoire of media in their learning.

Move 5: To develop conceptualizing capacities, navigating one’s way through the ersatz identifications in the form of file names and thumbnails, the navigational architectures of menus and directories, the semantic tagging of home-made folksonomies, the formal taxonomies that define content domains, and the standards which are used to build websites, populate web feeds, determine database fields and identify document content. These new, ubiquitous media need a peculiarly conceptualizing sensibility, entailing sophisticated forms of pattern recognition and schematization.

Move 6: To connect one’s own thinking into the social mind of distributed cognition and collective intelligence. In the era of ubiquitous computing, you are not only what you know but what you can find out. The measure of your intellect is not to recall knowledge but to able to find the knowledge that is at hand because you have the Internet in your hand. This makes closed book tests and much of rote learning an anachronism. To move in this direction will require interdisciplinary research to create assessment tools that provide both more useful and relevant formative and summative evaluative information to learners, parents and educators.

Move 7: To build collaborative knowledge cultures. Ubiquitous computing invites forms of social reflexivity which can create ‘communities of practice’ to support learning. In the ubiquitous learning context, teachers can harness the enormous lateral energies of peer-to-peer knowledge making and the power of collective intelligence. Learners can involve people who would formerly have been regarded as outsiders or even out-of-bounds in the learning process: parents and other family members, critical friends or experts. The digital workspaces of ‘social networking’ technologies are fertile ground for this kind of work, at once simple and highly transparent when it comes to marking differential contributions.

Technology, however, is only one medium supporting the general goal of ubiquitous learning. Other aspects include:

Technology may support these moves towards greater educational ubiquity. But it is not sufficient to produce them.

— Bill Cope, Mary Kalantzis and Nick Burbules

Action Items

Action Item 4.1: A Wireless Laptop for Every Learner

Every student needs their own computer at school which they can also take home—this is as essential to twenty-first century learning as pens, paper and textbooks were to nineteenth and twentieth century schooling. The Get Digital initiative will mass-purchase laptops from computer manufacturers, distributed through local retailers; students can purchase computers at a discount, or of unable to afford them, are provided with the support of cross-subsidies within the program.

Action Item 4.2: Expand Wireless Infrastructure, Provide Technical Experts to Schools

Every student needs wireless access at school and internet access at home—without this, we have a digital divide so fundamental that it is equivalent in the recent past to denying some students pens, paper and textbooks. The Get Connected initiative will provide a free wireless account to every student and technical support based in the school.

Action Item 4.3: Create Innovative Digital Learning Environments and Redesign Classroom Architectures for Digital Learning Environments

Students today mostly get hand-me-down business software, cheap ‘educational’ games with none of the sophistication of ‘real’ games, and e-learning systems which are no more than low-cost digital makeovers of nineteenth or twentieth century didactic pedagogies. For the enormous resources put into education, frighteningly few dedicated R&D resources are devoted to creating and evaluating new, digital and online learning environments.

The initiative will dedicate IES and NSF resources to mixed methods experimentation and intervention in the area of ubiquitous learning, in partnership with IT industry, designing, introducing, testing and redesigning tools of new learning.

This could be supported by a series of jointly funded Ubiquitous Learning Linkage Grants that support collaborative-participatory research between universities, schools and the IT industry to field test existing new technologies more suitable for learning.

Action Item 4.4: Online Supplements to Full Service, 7 day 7-11 Learning

Online learning may allow schools to shake off the constraints of geography and locally available teaching skillsets. Students of the near future may be able to join classes in multiple schools, near and far away, exactly suiting their capacities and interests. Full service and long hours schools will be able to offer supported mixed mode, partly or fully online programs for longer hours.

The Anywhere Learning Program would support learning that is anywhere/anytime, particularly for secondary school students and to provide flexible home and school learning options. A highly distributed development strategy would support the development of a variety of online learning management systems, linked nationally via the web and supported by a network of local learning centers attached to libraries or other community facilities, thus providing more flexibility and autonomy for learners. This could be supported by honor and buddy systems. Attendance and performance can easily be tracked in today’s online environments.

Supporting Evidence

Supporting Evidence 4.1: The Digital Divide

Over 50 years after the Supreme Court struck down educational segregation in Brown v Board of Education on the grounds of securing educational equality for all, public education in the United States still battles severe inequity with respect to resources, infrastructure, and funding. As the information age continues into the 21st century, training students to work with technology becomes an exceedingly salient goal for public education. However, even as technological costs continue to decline and schools can afford more computers and greater internet access, the digital divide between the technological “haves” and “have nots” continues to grow.

Equity of access: Although some rural areas of the United States still face problems of internet access, the most noticeable effects of the digital divide can be seen in low socioeconomic, urban areas, particularly when compared to their suburban counterparts.187 Therefore, in essence, access to technology becomes a problem associated with race and socioeconomic status. White and Asian students are significantly more likely to use computers, both in school and at home, than African-American or Latino students. Households located in low socioeconomic areas are far less likely to own computers or have internet connections than those families earning over $75,000.188 Similarly, the more students from low socioeconomic households enrolled in a particular school, the greater ratio of computers per student.189

Equity of useage: Even when access ceases to be an issue, there is a secondary divide that occurs with respect to the level of digital literacy that is acquired in low socioeconomic, urban classrooms versus those found in suburban schools. Research shows that teachers in poorer school districts use computers less, and when they do use technology, these teachers tend to have students perform rudimentary tasks, such as drill-and-repeat exercises, or offer technology as a reward for good behavior rather than for learning purposes. These findings provide a stark contrast to research that reports teachers in affluent schools using technology for research, content acquisition, and statistical analyses. In addition, many low socioeconomic school districts have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers proficient with technology, resulting in classrooms run by teachers who lack the necessary training to use technology in meaningful ways.190

From an instructional standpoint, research in a variety of disciplines has suggested that incorporating technology into classroom instruction in meaningful ways increases student interest and raises academic achievement.191 Moreover, those who never learn how to deftly navigate the internet run the risk of earning considerably lower wages than their technologically proficient peers, becoming unable to access political information and actively participate in an increasingly digitalized democratic society, and experiencing a loss of social status within their local community.192

The digital divide within public education is contributing to the perpetuation of economic, social, and political inequality in the United States and, therefore, policymakers should seek to narrow all aspects of the divide, not just access.

— Wayne Journell

Supporting Evidence 4.2: New Teaching Practices for the Digital Era

In today’s dynamic education environment we have to prepare our students for learning in ways that may prove challenging and frustrating. The learners of today are often highly sophisticated in their use of social networking and other software applications and to some degree web based text/data mining software such as Google. Often when students are provided with adequate computing hardware, the appropriate and current computer software, teachers fail to know how to integrate content using technology to keep student’s interest. Despite the use of social networking programs such as Facebook, Teacher Tube, and other Teacher driven networks to help with the implementation of technology in the classroom, little is actually achieved. Students continue to struggle with limited resources and teachers who are not prepared or unwilling to make the transformation to using technology to teach curriculum in the classroom.

Much ignorance around this issue has been the primary cause of the problem because many university faculty in Teacher Education Programs fear using technology to deliver instruction or exposing student’s use of technology in the classroom because of fear from loss of control.193 Canned responses to using technology have not been an effective pedagogy for the classroom, yet such responses prevail in text books, and online materials.

Educational institutions must find ways of harnessing the power of Web 2.0 applications. Users are no longer consumers; they are creators within web environments. Higher Education Teacher Education Programs must find an approach that integrates web 2.0 applications while affording the opportunities for dynamic content changing as students engage in ‘just in time learning’ and collaborations. No longer is it necessary for teachers to create the content alone, teachers and students can co-create web based and computer based content and therefore leveraging creativity.194

More digital arts and creativity needs to be placed back in the hands of the users in schools.cxcv We need to develop learning experiences using technology that leverage social networking applications. More applications should be used to integrate content in a variety of virtual spaces. Some virtual spaces include: Social networking, blogs, wikis, simulations (scientific and social) text messaging, text chat, social virtual worlds, games, podcasts, screencasts, listservs, discussion boards and forum and many others.

More so than ever schools and teacher education programs need to create an environment that challenges the integration of technology to foster more creativity and critical thinking.196

— Sharon Tettegah

Supporting Evidence 4.3: Cyberbullying: What are Schools to Do?

There have been significant changes in how children and adolescents interact with technology and how technology is used to harass, humiliate, and bully others. For example, Pew Internet and American Life reported that 87% of US teenagers (ages 12 through 17) currently use the Internet197, and a Forrester report found that nearly 80% of youth between these same ages use MySpace at least weekly.198 A more recent Pew Internet and American Life study reports that the preferred modality of communication is instant messaging; 75% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 years used instant messaging and of these teens, 48% report using IM at least every day. These environments are social in nature; however, they do not involve face-to-face interactions. Thus, these social environments are not immune to the various negative interactions that are encountered in schools, families, and neighborhoods.

“Cyber-bullying” has emerged as a common occurrence among children and adolescents.cxcix Cyber-bullying has also been called: ebullying, electronic bullying, cyberviolence, digital bullying, etc. A recent definition of cyberbullying posited by Ybarra and Mitchell is “intentional and overt act of aggression toward another person online.”200 Studies have found that 10-33% of youth between the ages of 11 and 19 have experienced being the target of aggression/bullying online, and more than 15% of youth reported being perpetrators of such behaviors.201 As technology has grown exponentially in the lives of children and adolescents, most school-based violence and harassment prevention programs have failed to target cyber-bullying. This is disappointing given the finding that 45% of preteens and 30% of teens who had been cyber-bullied received messages while at school.202 Thus, there is an urgent need to forge a comprehensive research program on understanding the types and prevalence of cyberbullying to assist schools, parents, and communities in developing evidenced-based intervention programs.

— Dorothy Espelage

Supporting Evidence 4.4: P-12 Informatics

Although the basic tenets of education have not changed - education is still about preparing our children to be productive citizens - how we come to learn and what it is we should be learning has changed. For some, we will be preparing students for careers and opportunities that currently do not exist203. Three years ago, Forbes predicted that jobs of the future would include such things as teleport specialist, robot mechanic, drowned cities specialist, and Hollywood Holographer204. These projections have garnered strength as much has been declared regarding the need for individuals who can adapt their learning and bring new understanding to the vast amounts of digital data growing within our information society205. No greater support for this, however, has been seen as with the intense growth of informatics related studies206. In higher education, informatics harnesses the power of information technologies across all disciplines. Students engage with techniques and instructional practices that employ a synergy among technology, media, knowledge processing and creation. A student’s cognitive flexibility207 then permits them to authenticate the learning process so that social, emotional, and creative intelligences are matched with the hard sciences in shaping their understanding of knowledge. Our challenge today in the P-12 classrooms, therefore, is to find the ways in which we foster critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and creativity which are coming to characterize the main attributes of success in our post high school experiences and even more importantly as lifelong learners in our global society. A curriculum designed around the principles of informatics would permit educators to rethink how they teach our students and instead of approaching subject matter as isolated disciplines, would apply learning amidst the students ability to generate, obtain, manipulate, and/or display information208. Learning thus is not only about obtaining core skills, but also about students acquiring portable skills in which they are actively engaged in how they are coming to understanding information and what it is telling us. This digital wisdom209 empowers the students to look at learning not as static knowledge, but as dynamic and instrumental in shaping the way we innovate, create, and educate. And as a result, they are better able to embrace the problems that they will face in the workforce which typically are ill-defined and multi-disciplinary. This contradicts what many students currently face in today’s curriculum that sees problems as clearly defined within a single discipline with one right answer210. The hallmark for a 21st Century informatics framed curriculum would then bring semantic awareness not only to applications211, but also to the human mind. A student’s capacity to bring seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts together to formulate new ways of thinking, and new ways of coming to know is what will ensure that there is a connection between what we are teaching and breakthrough ideas so that America is an influential leader in shaping our future.

— Evangeline S. Pianfetti

Supporting Evidence 4.5: A knowledge Management Approach to Lesson Planning

Today’s learning communities need to regard themselves as organizations in which ‘knowledge management’ is pivotal. Knowledge management adds system and rigor—active learning by design—to the knowledge which is implicit and informally learnt within organizations.212 It involves transforming personal knowledge into common knowledge, implicit and individual knowledge into explicit and shared understandings and everyday common sense into systematic designs.213

Teaching in modern times has been a talking profession, at least so long as the primary information architecture was the four-walled classroom. What happens in the classroom is ephemeral in the sense that the spoken word disappears once spoken. Except for the learners’ marks, the classroom is a private, even secret place because the door is closed. There is not a lot of professional sharing.

However, self-paced and e-learning environments require the teacher to document more, to record learning processes explicitly. And once they do this, teachers can share their lesson plans or learning resources with other teachers. Teaching becomes a more collaborative profession. The school becomes a knowledge producing community. Using the new digital media, particularly, educators can share their pedagogical choices, document their learning programs, share effective practices and write up jointly developed learning community goals.214 Students can themselves participate this collaborative, knowledge-building culture, by publishing portfolios of the work they have created digitally either individually or collaboratively—such as a course wiki to which students have contributed different components, or a digital portfolio. The result will be greater transparency and accountability amongst those who share responsibility for education. In this way, the traditionally closed door of the classroom is thrown open, and its primarily oral, and thus its private and ephemeral character is transformed. Its knowledge-producing actions learning processes are recorded in such a way that they become publicly visible to peers, to the educational organization, to parents and communities.

At the level of whole-school organization, it is the project of knowledge management to ensure that collaboration is institutionalized and that knowledge sharing does occur. As a result, wheels are not needlessly reinvented. Lessons from mistakes are learnt once. And the knowledge of the organization or community is not dangerously depleted when a key person departs. In short, the extra work of organizing knowledge should create less work. This is the basis of the ‘learning organization’ the sum of whose knowledge is greater than the individual components of knowledge in the heads of individuals.

— Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope

Supporting Evidence 4.6: Open Education

Open education develops around a successive series of utopian historical moments based on a set of similar ideas stemming from core Enlightenment concepts of freedom, equality, democracy and creativity. The early history of open education consists political and psychological experiments conducted in special schools established in the early twentieth century.215 The movement from the very beginning thus was shaped by contemporary political and psychological theory that attempted to provide alternatives to the mainstream, connected to and exemplified a form of society and set of institutions that was seen as politically desirable. These early ideas also significantly involved an analysis of the space and architecture of schools and the associated idea of freedom of movement underwent considerable refinement and development over the course of the twentieth century.

An important aspect concerned not only the analysis of architecture but the overcoming of distance in a form of distance education that began in the late nineteenth century through correspondence and progressed through various media eras including that of radio and television. Open education consisted of several strands and movements that often coalesced and overlapped to create a complex skein that despite the complexity was able to rapidly avail itself of new communication and information technologies in the last decade of the twentieth century and to identify itself more broadly with the new convergences among open source, open access, and open courseware movements. It was as though the open education movement in its infancy required the technological infrastructure to emerge as a major new paradigm rather than a set of small-scale and experimental alternatives or a form of distance education.

The model of technology-based distance education really received its impetus in the 1960s when the Open University in the UK was established founded on the idea that communications technology could extend advanced degree learning to those people who for a variety of reasons could not easily attend campus universities. It has been immensely influential as a model for other countries and distance education flourished in the 1970s and picked up new open education dimensions with the introduction of local area network environments.216 Open courseware (OCW) is very much a feature of the twenty-first century. MIT, one of the first universities to introduce OCW, announced its intention in the New York Times in 2001, formed the OpenCourseWare Consortium in 2005, and by 2007 published virtually all its courses online.217 MIT is only one example of the OpenCourseWare movement, an important player, but nevertheless, only one institution amongst many.218 Most recently The Cape Town Open Education Declaration mentions the variety of openly licensed course materials, including lessons, games, software and other teaching and learning materials that contribute to making education more accessible and help shape and give effect to a ‘participatory culture of learning, creating, sharing and cooperation’ necessary for knowledge societies. It goes on to provide a statement based on a three-pronged strategy designed to support ‘open educational technology, open sharing of teaching practices and other approaches that promote the broader cause of open education.’219

The open education movement and paradigm has arrived: it emerges from a complex historical background and its futures are intimately tied not only to open source, open access and open publishing movements but also to the concept of the open society itself.220

— Michael Peters