Enabling students to plan their learning on placement using mobile technology

Written by Susie Macfarlane

While both academics and students on placement may be keen for students to use their personal mobile devices to make the most of their workplace learning (WPL) experiences there are a range of challenges they may face. These barriers include:

  1. Learning Design vs. Learning Reality

Students may engage in learning activities and assessment tasks in ways that are very different to how the learning designer intended; the substance of students’ learning may also differ markedly.

  1. Learning Agency

Students’ experiences of prescriptive educational experiences may inhibit their intrinsic motivation and agency to seek, design and integrate their own learning. Learning experiences can be designed to reinforce power relationships and generate compliance, or to encourage safe participation, shared decision making and student agency.

  1. Professional vs. student role

WPL is conceptualised as a site for the development of students’ professional identity, and social and cognitive practices. However students’ view of themselves may be dominated by their role as student, precluding their engaging in their professional community of practice and development as practitioners [1].

  1. Mobile technology

Students’ and staff levels of knowledge, experience and confidence in mobile technologies and learning vary enormously. Perceptions of acceptable practices with mobile devices vary widely across individuals, disciplinary contexts, and maturity of organisational technological implementation. Perceptions of acceptable and unacceptable practices and why may be negotiated with students (participation), discussed with (consultation), communicated to (informed) or only addressed through a breach of rules (disciplined).

  1. Responsibility for and approaches to learning

The roles and responsibility of academics, work place educators and students for students’ learning may not be identified and understood, and may vary with location, circumstance or time. In addition, each may hold their own theories of learning and these may not be consciously articulated or shared with others.

  1. Competition and collaboration

Traditional assessment practices in higher education evaluate the students’ individual performance, not their capacity to work with others to enhance workplace relationships and performance. Students involved in WPL may need guidance to learn to value collaboration, and to develop skills in collaborating with, learning from and mentoring colleagues.

Practice capabilities are to be learnt and further developed through WPL to deal with these barriers. Capability or ability to do something is based on knowledge and skills but also on the conditions students find in particular workplaces. This context includes physical, material, emotional, cultural aspects that together shape what is the best way to act in this situation [2].

Professions combine discipline-based knowledge and concepts (knowledge of), with practical knowledge and experience (knowing how) [3]. Developing practice knowledge and capabilities involves tactile, cognitive, emotional, personal and social elements [4].

A useful taxonomy of pedagogical methods [5] follows:

  • Self-study: students access GPS material without much additional guidance
  • Didactic: workplace context is explained, students are lectured on what to do, what not to do
  • Dialogic: opportunities are created for exploring the opportunities or issues through various kinds of structured or unstructured conversations
  • Communicative: online infrastructure is created to support and stimulate ongoing interaction between the students, academics and workplace educators during WPL
  • Participatory design: students are encouraged and supported to co-design mobile resources they may find useful for WPL.

Boud and Prosser [6] argue for the need to strategically plan activities to help students make the most of their learning experience using new technologies. An important step in conceptualizing curriculum design is to identify who designs, and how. Traditionally curriculum design is a task undertaken by academics, for students. To what extent is a student who obediently complies with instructional goals and methods designed by another, preparing adequately for the 21st century workplace? In their WPL, students will encounter informal, highly complex and ill-defined learning contexts and professional experiences. Involving students as active participants in designing their own learning provides them the opportunity to develop a sense of agency and the capability to plan, manage and reflect on their learning. Students who are guided to develop awareness of their existing technologies, digital literacies and other skills can design learning experiences that harness and develop their capabilities. Students can be encouraged and supported to reflect on their learning progress, and adapt their learning goals to meet emerging challenges and opportunities. Students can be encouraged to engage in collaboration, peer learning and networked learning, and to consider the affordances and risks of using mobile technologies to support these approaches in their particular workplace context.

Bovill and Bulley [7] developed the “Ladder of student participation in curriculum design” based on Arnstein’s [8] Ladder of Citizen Participation. The ladder provides a range of levels of student participation, ranging from the lowest level – Dictated curriculum to the highest – Students control the decision-making and have substantial influence. The highest level includes activities such as students designing learning outcomes and projects. The ladder provides academics, workplace educators and students with a useful benchmarking tool to identify together the existing, and desired, levels of student participation in their curriculum design practice.

Some curriculum design solutions include:

  1. Designing curriculum design
    Task: Teams of students, academics and workplace educators meet. Together they decide how students, academics and workplace educators will participate in designing their workplace learning.
    Resource: The ladder of student participation in curriculum design [7]
  2. Designing workplace learning
    Task: Individuals or teams of students design their own workplace learning curriculum. Academics and workplace educators participate as agreed in the first stage.
    Resource: The Designing Learning Experiences matrix in this pattern provides a framework for students to select learning methods (columns) and domains of learning (rows) that will be of most value to them.

References

[1] Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[2] Walker, M (2005). Higher education pedagogies: A capabilities approach. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

[3] Eraut, M (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence, London, Falmer Press.

[4] Ellströem, P-E (1997) The many meanings of occupational competence and qualification. Journal of European Industrial training, 21(6/7): 266-274. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/03090599710171567

[5] Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (2016, in press). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer.

Chi, M. T. H. (2009). Active-Constructive-Interactive: A Conceptual Framework for Differentiating Learning Activities. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(1), 73-105. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2008.01005.x

Chi, M. T. H., & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP Framework: Linking Cognitive Engagement to Active Learning Outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49(4), 219-243. doi: 10.1080/00461520.2014.965823

[6] Boud, D, & Prosser, M. (2002). Appraising new technologies for learning: A framework for development. Educational Media International, 39(3-4), 237-245

[7] Bovill, C & Bulley, CJ (2011) A model of active student participation in curriculum design: exploring desirability and possibility. In Rust, C. Improving Student Learning (18) Global theories and local practices: institutional, disciplinary and cultural variations. Oxford: The Oxford Centre for Staff and Educational Development, pp176-188.

[8] Arnstein, SR (1969) A ladder of citizen participation, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35(4), 216-224.

How to start a discussion about the use of mobile devices to help students learn on placements?

Workplace learning (WPL) occurs in organisations and within disciplines that have their unique ways of doing things – how employees work, say things, use things and relate to each other to get things done, etc. This also applies to the ways in which personal mobile devices (PMD) and online networks are used and accessed. On the one hand, more and more workplaces have their own policies around the use of PMD and social media. On the other, students, academic coordinators and workplace educators (WPE) also bring their own assumptions and expectations about the use and value of PMD to WPL. These policies and assumptions need to be explicitly discussed in order to reach a shared understanding of how students, WPE and academics will use PMD to enhance students’ learning.

If that is a given, how can academics, WPE and students develop their capacity to discuss and negotiate expectations, skills and value around the use of PMD and to address cultural issues and power relations as well as work within policies?

We cannot take for granted that social interaction takes place automatically. Just because people are physically in the same place and allocated to work together does not mean that they have communicated about and addressed these issues.

Successful placements need, amongst other things, clear, robust and shared understanding around coordination and communication with and between students, academics and WPE [1]. In addition to this, beyond placements, learning and decision-making, in general, requires dialogue [2]. Indeed, research has shown that collective, reciprocal, cumulative, supportive and purposeful dialogues “can improve student perceptions of learning environments” [3].

Some researchers [4] recommended the use of dialogue (as well as advocacy and leadership) to raise awareness of mobile learning. Others [5] argued that “[t]he introduction of a new device for learning into the community of practice facilitated an opportunity for staff and students to open a dialogue and further develop shared meaning and experience”. As such, the use of mobile technologies can create a community of practice [6].

Mobile technology can be a useful communication tool to connect, motivate and enhance relational aspects of learning and social interactivity [7]; support “the interchange between explicit and tacit knowledge” [8]; and foster the development of collaborative and cooperative learning situations in powerful integrated electronic environments [9].

Kirschner [9] argues that the future of learning is based on a shared meaning making design. Mobile technology can also be the conversation starter to “augment these discussions by preparing trainees so that they can have a more informed, more confident and potentially more efficient discussion” [10]. However, online dialogues should not be simply seen as a replacement for face-to-face interactions.

Asynchronous technology-mediated exchanges often lead to monologues rather than dialogue [11]. Also, in practice, there are many obstacles and challenges to students actually using their personal digital devices while on placement. For example, there are cultural and professional biases against the use of mobile devices or a lack of shared expectation.

Therefore it is essential that before placements students start a conversation with their workplace educators about expectations, perceived barriers and opportunities for using their personal mobile devices for learning. We propose that this process can be initiated, fostered and structured around a series of questions in key domains:

 Workplace culture (What for and how are staff using mobile devices in the workplace?)

  • Policy and guidelines (Where can I find the workplace’s policies and guidelines about the use of mobile devices?)
  • Ethical conduct (What ethical issues do I need to consider if I use my mobile device on placement?)
  • Personal preferences (Can we discuss how I plan to use mobile devices?
  • PMD use and tasks (What work and/or learning tasks might I be able to complete using my personal mobile device and when? )
  • Digital literacy skills (Do I need to upgrade my digital literacy skills to complete the negotiated tasks?)

Does this resonate with activities that you know of? How do you get students to initiate dialogue around the use of PMD for learning on placements? We look forward to your comments.

References

[1] Howard, C., Fox, A. R., & Coyer, F. (2014). Text messaging to support off-campus clinical nursing facilitators: A descriptive study. Nurse Education Today. Doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2013.12.011

[2] Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P., & Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior 19, 335-353.

Hardyman, W., Bullock, A., Brown, A., Carter-Ingram, S., & Stacey, M. (2013). Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: An evaluation. BMC medical education, 13(1), 1-10.

[3] page 15 in Simpson, A. (2015). Designing pedagogic strategies for dialogic learning in higher education. Technology, Pedagogy and Education(ahead-of-print), 1-17.

[4] West, M., & Vosloo, S. (2013). UNESCO policy guidelines for mobile learning HERDSA Review of Higher Education (Vol. 21, pp. 002196). Paris: UNESCO.

[5] Wenger (1999), cited page 259 in Coulby, C., Hennessey, S., Davies, N., & Fuller, R. (2011). The use of mobile technology for work-based assessment: The student experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(2), 251-265.

[6] Holley, D., & Sentance, S. (2015). Mobile ‘Comfort’Zones: Overcoming Barriers to Enable Facilitated Learning in the Workplace. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2015(1).

[7] Mettiäinen, S. (2015). Electronic Assessment and Feedback Tool in Supervision of Nursing Students During Clinical Training. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 13(1).

Hardyman, W., Bullock, A., Brown, A., Carter-Ingram, S., & Stacey, M. (2013). Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: An evaluation. BMC medical education, 13(1), 1-10.

Howard, C., Fox, A. R., & Coyer, F. (2014). Text messaging to support off-campus clinical nursing facilitators: A descriptive study. Nurse Education Today. Doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2013.12.011

[8] page 8 in Hardyman, W., Bullock, A., Brown, A., Carter-Ingram, S., & Stacey, M. (2013). Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: An evaluation. BMC medical education, 13(1), 1-10.

[9] Kirschner, P. (2001). Using integrated electronic environments for collaborative teaching/learning. Research Dialogue in Learning & Instruction 2, 1-9.

[10] Hardyman, W., Bullock, A., Brown, A., Carter-Ingram, S., & Stacey, M. (2013). Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: An evaluation. BMC medical education, 13(1), 1-10.

[11] Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P., & Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior 19, 335-353.