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Learning in the New Millennium

This longitudinal project in three phases explored the possibilities offered by new technologies to communicate, be creative and learn together between schools and together with adults industry. Underpinning this work was an online learning environment created in the FirstClass software.
When Aug 31, 1993 to
Jul 30, 1999
Where Brentwood
Aim: To research the new uses for creative & communicative digital tools in secondary classrooms.
Reflections: I was lucky to be on the edge of this project, occasionally invited to school visits and project meetings, frequently involved in reflective thinking and planning. I learnt that young people could be trusted with expensive equipment and powerful functionality and that their creativity and attainment could be enhanced by technology tools, enabling considerable achievement. It also taught me that children's safety and confidence were precious and needed positive and careful action to assure.
Contribution: My part was very small in the action of the project, but I acted as a mentor (with Stephen Heppell) to the project and as research supervisor to Carole Chapman, who led the project. As such I helped develop the conceptual thinking which then provided a basis for much other research. 10% (with Stephen Heppell and Carole Chapman)
Originality, impact and importance: The project was groundbreaking in its connection between professional scientists and school students to discuss science problems, in its early use of mobile technology and in its foundation on the concept of online community. The impact of the project was felt in its larger scale successor projects such as Notschool.Net, Schools Online, Think.com, TeachernetUK, Talking Heads and Ultraversity. Its importance was the establishment of design, practice and conceptual knowledge for Ultralab and beyond.

This project was sponsored by the Nortel company, maker of communications equipment, and initially connected five schools and engineers in Nortel to create an online learning community. Its influence on Ultralab projects was far-reaching, influencing and inspiring the thinking of the Schools Online Project, the Etui project and the NotSchool project and many others. The close contact with schools and pupils, the confidence of the sponsors and the early provision of equipment permitted an agile action research to develop, establishing possibilities and identifying challenges.

A description of the project written by Carole Chapman, the project leader and Greta Mladenova describes in more detail its development and findings:

Learning in the New Millennium: A longitudinal project in three phases

Carole Chapman, Greta Mladenova
ULTRALAB, Chelmsford, UK
June 2001

Abstract

This paper sets the background to the Learning in the New Millennium (LiNM) Project which was undertaken at Ultralab, a learning technology research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University. This longitudinal research project ran from 1993 to 2000. The project informed the debate in the UK in the arena of learning beyond traditional confines. LiNM started from a constructivist conception of learning and aimed to empower project participants to utilise technology and to develop processes that enhanced paricipation and collaboration.

The paper covers briefly all three phases of the project and then describes the findings of the final phase which was concerned with a range of mobile IP devices. Recommendations based on the findings are made.

Introduction

At Ultralab we develop our projects within a framework which accepts that learning should be ambitious (and preferably delightful). Anecdotally we know some of our best learning occurs when we can explore and extend our understanding with interested others, where we can scaffold (Vygotsky1 , 1976) learning. Ultralab projects recognise that our most memorable learning often takes place outside the formal school curriculum: we often forget lessons but remember the experience shared when friends or parents talk around a dinner table, the television programme we found by mistake, or by a teacher dropping a set lesson to speak with real passion about a topic or idea. Such an experience, topic, idea, eccentricity can establish new relationships and encourage formal and informal debate. New technologies, which enhance our abilities to communicate, for example asynchronous conferencing, allow this extension of learning by enabling the following through of a story or learning experience beyond the traditional physical and temporal confines of professional educational institutions or time limits imposed by the curriculum. New technologies can be harnessed to deliver content (Information Delivery Technology) or can be used to support the building of deeper understanding through two-way communication, participation and engagement (Information Communication Technology). Constructivist theory (Bruner2 , 1986; Fosnot3 , 1996), which emphasises the latter, has informed the pedagogical foundation for the design of Ultralab projects. Constructivist theory specifically aims to empower participants via collective learning to actively construct their knowledge rather than passively receive information.

Background to Learning in the New Millennium

The Learning in the New Millennium (LiNM) project took place against an educational background in the UK of growing 'panic' surrounding educational achievement and failing schools, which resulted in the implementation of the National Curriculum and OFSTED, rhetoric concerning standards and the implementation of almost continuous rigourous testing. The model of education that developed is best described as an input / output model.

The LiNM project, throughout its three phases, has emphasised collective learning as a social process, involving the active construction of new knowledge and understanding, consideration, participation in and discussion of existing knowledge. Collective learning is most effective because it involves the active construction of knowledge, combined with peer learning, which results in the development of different methods of problem solving and interaction. This results in motivated and considered feedback (Kaye4 , 1995). Stafford in 1990 examined 96 learning studies and concluded that interactivity was associated with learning achievement and retention of knowledge over time (Najjar5 , 1995). Educational theory (Bruner, 1986; Vygotski, 1978) has long established that people learn material faster and have a better attitude toward learning material when they learn in an interactive learning environment. At Ultralab we would make a clear distinction between interaction, evoking choice and response and participation, evoking contribution and ownership. Our research projects emphasis participative environments.

Learners in a collaborative learning environment control their own learning and the asynchronous nature of the flexible learning environment of LiNM enabled this control to take place. Pupils learnt from others and collaborated to construct knowledge. Thus the project in its second phase did not simply involve working on project studies or set tasks, but true collaborative learning, where the pace of work and knowledge acquisition was in the control of the learner. Thus the second phase of LiNM involved pupils sharing and distributing their multimedia work. A cycle of comment and iteration was built into the process, which was transparent. It is worth emphasising here that communication is not collaboration, just as interaction is not participation. Effective learning requires both participation and collaboration (Vygotski, 1978). As with all Ultralab project participation and collaboration were ‘built into’ LiNM. The simple addition of multimedia materials and self paced learning is not enough to deliver other than the most basic task orientated training. The best elements of the LiNM project used new technology in a non linear, participative and collaborative way.

LiNM Project Phases

The LiNM project was sponsored by Nortel Networks. The project started in 1993, aiming to raise the profile of science and technology with school pupils in the UK. As a longitudinal project LiNM has been able to examine the considerable developments in technology which have taken place since 1993. The ethnographic, organic nature of LiNM enabled the project to adapt to meet changes in both education and technology. Teachers were always given equipment for their own use before it was taken into classrooms and were encouraged to become researchers, keeping logs of use and diaries as well as reflecting in the conferencing environment. Pupil participants communicated via conferencing and developed an open and honest approach, feeding back their success and failures as well as their observations and reflections. These logs, diaries and reflections, combined with Ultralab research observations, formed the basis of the research.

The project pupils came from a number of state schools across South East England, and were chosen specifically to cross barriers of ethnicity, age and/or ability. During the course of LiNM some 1,850 pupils aged 8 to 16 years were involved in the project.

LiNM fell into three natural phases.

Phase one of the project (1993 - 1997) connected pupils, aged 8 to 18, to scientists and engineers at Nortel, and to teachers and academics. The schools participating in the LiNM project were among the first in the UK to have a connection which allowed them to contribute to the www. The project added "experts" as additional areas of expertise became required . Project participants never met physically for the two year period of phase one and only communicated via the text based conferencing environment. In phase one of the LiNM project, connection to the computer conferencing environment took place almost entirely at school, home Internet connections being rare. The findings of phase one are published and can be found on the website6 .

Following phase one of LiNM, Ultralab recognised that the asynchronous conferencing process, where people could reply to someone's message after thinking about it and preparing their reply at leisure, had significant advantages in that it offered excellent opportunities for reflection. Elsewhere in Ultralab sociometric analysis of face to face meetings were helping us to understand the gains in parity of esteem and parity of contribution of asynchronous distributed online environments. Natural scaffolding (Vygotsky, 1976) was developed through the continual focus on collaboration, and participants were encouraged to use the computer and software environment as mind tools (Brown, Collins, & Duguid7, 1989, Jonassen8 , 1994; Prickett, Higgins, & Boone9 , 1994). Our research saw reflection and collaboration develop among the bulk of project participants.

With phase two (1997 - 1999) the research focus moved from communication and communities to the contribution symmetrical, multiple media and broader band communication might add. Ultralab had a long track record of pioneering work with multimedia stretching back into the 1980’s. LiNM Project participants were encouraged to expand communication from text to multiple media, to share and distribute their work on multiple media projects across physical boundaries and age limitation, to build their own interactive webspaces, for which they were responsible (for example they directly updated and controlled), and to explore their own new media literacy. The findings of phase two are published and can be found on the website10 .

Phase three of the project (1999 - 2001) aimed to add diversity to the technology and look at the implications of mobile IP (Internet Protocol) with a clearly distinguished personal identity for each user. In 1999 pocket mobile wireless devices were introduced into the school environments. One of the aspects investigated in this phase was the impact of the new technology on classroom practice and behaviour. This rest of this paper draws together some of the specific findings of this research

Phase three: context of the third phase

Since phase one of LiNM there has been an extension of use of the internet for learning purposes. This is demonstrated by the development of web sites by those institutions who consider they have a learning remit (Bitesize from BBC , HomeWork High from Channel 4, Learn from the Guardian, SchoolNet2000 from Tesco ). Children's use of the Internet in Europe was recently researched by NOP and the findings showed that use in England was only surpassed by Scandinavian countries11 .

Since 1994 there have been twelve major UK government programmes with an investment of over £250 m to support the use of ICT in education. In schools these government initiatives, for example NGfL (National Grid for Learning), have ensured that all schools will have internet connections by 2002 and NOF (New Opportunities Fund) training for all teachers will ensure that teachers are familiar with the Internet and understand its potential value.

Children are spending the majority of their spare leisure time inside their or their peer groups homes. NOP research found that this was mainly due to parents concerns over 'stranger danger' and road safety (NOP, 2000). NOP research also found that most computers are based in bedrooms. This is in contrast to Ultralab safety guidelines to site computers in social spaces. Given the context outlined above it is unsurprising that under 16s are using the Internet in ever increasing numbers.

In our research we have observed a pattern of online activity amongst the project participants where increasingly pupils have extended the activities undertaken in the project into their leisure time. We questioned, and asked for feedback from, teachers and pupils in LiNM schools where their exposure to, and understanding of, technology futures, through LiNM phase three has informed the debate.

Phase three: findings

Our observations showed that increasingly, where given the opportunity by technology, pupils go to great lengths to keep in touch with their peer group. We observed pupil groups SMS messaging to friends and logging in to access online communities at anytime, anywhere. Here individual identity was crucial so that children knew who was sending to them as well as who they were sending to: they felt the need to identify the audience. Pupils found messages from 'unknown' numbers' or emails from strange addresses disturbing.

The majority of pupils who used WAP technology (over 70%) preferred to SMS even when the activity was almost synchronous ( defined by 6 communications sent in a 4 minute period) . We asked why this was the case and most pupils cited reflection as the reason;
“I can think before I answer”
“I like to know what I am going to say”
“It gives me more time”

Rarely were pupils observed using hand held devices to simply read personal mail or messages without making some response, even if it was only an acknowledgement. Almost all pupils who used the community software regularly (over 70% of our group logged into the community software at least twice a week) checked the discussions within the active communities they were members of. Currently this is only possible in a limited way with mobile phone technology, as multiple messaging is limited in the SMS world. This means that support for learning or social cohorts is non existent. This situation is changing with the development of 3rd generation mobile phone technology, which offers enhanced functionality. Already (June 2001) mail lists are available through mobile phones and the games industry is attempting interactive gaming using SMS. Advances in technology will enable participative functionality (see Ultralab m-Learning project) and our research shows that this will be increasing demanded by a young, sophisticated audiences.

Within the school environment duration of time contacting with others was limited and thus any spare minute was liable to be grabbed. This was true in LiNM schools where access was open and an integrated approach to new technology encouraged. Using conventional computers the most popular login times - and the longest - were just after school or lunchtime, pupils often using the whole lunch break. This was because pupils had to go to a specific place to log onto a computer. This takes time because it may involve finding a member of staff and queuing. Once a computer is obtained pupils wish to keep control of it. Personal devices which use wireless connections, were observed to be used in breaks to 'keep up to date'. We noted the tendency to use every single opportunity to communicate when pupils have access to the technology. They stopped at the cloakroom area and opened the mobile device simply to login for a few minutes to check email and/or conference messages. We observed that almost without exception they originated messages as well as read them. For them the Internet was a participative environment.

Our research showed that on systems where there was a resumés or a type of 'about me' available, children accessed this information many times. They were interested in any information concerning others in their communities or others communicating with them. They wanted to know who was in their community, what their interests were. They reread resumés of active users on a regular basis to look for additions and/or changes. They were keen to write information about themselves for others to see and changed their comments to update their information. One of the first five messages in over 50% of pupils communicated with was, “have you read about me”.

Although pupils do respond to messages in an online community in large numbers the communication, when children are the main members of a community, is characterised by short and direct responses. An average discussion involving mainly children consists of a number of quick fired one liners and/or questions interspersed with longer comments. This pattern was observed before SMS but is reinforced in SMS messaging 'conversations' which we observed taking place.

We asked LiNM pupils what they most liked doing in the online communities in which they belonged. Children's answers were as follows
"chatting", “asking” "looking things up", "making web pages", "movies"

We also asked our teachers involved in phase three what they had observed their pupils enjoy doing most when participating in the LiNM project. The teachers answers included
"..giving feedback and seeing their ideas take shape",
"sharing joint project and communicating", "taking part".

In both cases the majority (72%) mentioned some aspect involving communicating and creating , or as the children commented, "doing things!" This is not surprising: memorable learning takes place when we are 'doing', especially with others.

Within the classroom in the primary sector the attitude to wireless mobile devices was very open and positive. Pupils were encouraged to move around the school, collect equipment, use the equipment in a self directed way and return equipment to a central point, thus pupils were given control of the technology and their own learning. Teachers noted that this had a direct impact on the pupils attitudes, with younger children becoming investigative and the older more difficult pupils more stimulated and interested in learning. One teacher commented that in the case of a very difficult pupil excluded from lessons the ability to control and pace learning using a wireless computer and open ended tasks had reawakened the childs interest in the world around him.

The ability to use the wireless technology outside the confines of the school building was seen by the teachers as one of its greatest assets. The ability to include extracurricular staff, “even the dinner ladies were roped in...” proved invaluable in involving the whole school in learning. Caretakers also became involved in helping the pupils to achieve their objectives of collecting images, video and audio from around the school.

Also worthy of note was an increase in creativity. Freed from the boundaries of desk and wires pupils were able to use software tools in an inventive way. We observed for example the increased use of digital manipulation of downloaded images. Video and audio became a standard feature of work. It was common to see a group of children in the field searching for images of plants to check their rarity or crowded around the pond looking at movies of insects and, for example comparing their movements to those observed in real life. Pupils were rarely observed as one individual using a machine but in groups working together, collaboratively.

Secondary school lessons tended to be fixed, located in a central subject area. For these classes mobile IP was equally valuable, as many lessons were constrained to separate teaching areas and pupils/classes did not have the flexibility which allowed them to move to central computer suites when needed. Thus with pupils in control of the technology they became classroom researchers for both peers and teachers, able to add an additional dimension to lessons. We observed pupils not only by extending the information available to the classes but also posing questions in online conferences and receiving answers during the lesson, finding and observing online simulations or models on relevant subjects and synchronously and asynchronously questioning pupils working in the same areas in other schools and exchanging files with these pupils. All this is possible in a computer suite but of interest is the way in which these activities became a feature of almost every lesson and the way in which pupils no longer simply interacted with teachers, answering questions but truly participated in lessons.

A key feature therefore of pupils behaviour in a world of mobile IP is that pupils will access where and whenever they can, from a multiplicity of computers and from a number of devices. Increasingly, when allowed, they slip time boundaries to blur the lines between their school and leisure and wish to use their learning from their leisure time to enhance their school learning.

It would be as wrong to presume a consistency of software/ hardware in the classroom as it would be to presume such in the wider population. LiNM phase three has demonstrated the diversity of equipment available for pupils to use and the willingness of children to accept and use such technology. LiNM pupils used whatever equipment we presented them with, and will use whatever is available: ubiquitous desktop machines, portables but also anything else that they have access to, even temporarily, however limiting the interface. When we gave pupils data phone technology, they happily used these mobile wireless devices to access the Internet, despite the impoverished environment and unreliability of gateways.

Recommendations

We would be foolish to expect more consistency of technology in the future, indeed diversity is widening considerably. The findings outlined above, combined with the movement towards an integration of devices (third generation mobile phones which will allow recording of video, receipt of information, synchronous video conferencing, televisions which allow for interactivity and asynchronous conferencing etc.) point to a move from the traditional desktop computer towards a "thin client" device. Like the devices we introduced to schools these will have no local applications at all and minimal local storage. This effectively rules out local storage of files other than as a very short term expedient. This raises a number of interesting issues for schools surrounding managed service provision and standardisation around specific hardware and/ or software platforms.

Phase three has demonstrated that schools with flexible and adaptable approaches to new technology, as opposed to being locked into managed services, can successfully adopt new technologies, integrate them into the school environment and benefit from an increase in creativity that such innovation brings. LiNM pupils had limited problems with software choice; they used whatever browser and/or device was available and whatever operating system, as long as the door remained open for their participation.

Our observations confirm that children log on where (and when) there is opportunity: from school, home, public access points, friends, anywhere. The pattern of use identified in the findings above clearly evidences the importance of individual identity over group identity and of mixed age, distributed, asynchronous communities.
1 VYGOTSKI, (1967) "Mind in Society", Harvard University Press
2 BRUNER, J. (196). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
3 FOSNOT, C. T. (EDS.). (1996). Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press
4 KAYE (1995), "Computer Supported Collaborative Learning" in "Information Technology & Society" Edited by Heap et al, The Open University
5 NAJJAR, (1995) "Multimedia Information and Learning", Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Vol 5, No 2 1996
6 Findings Phase one http://research.ultralab.anglia.ac.uk/One/linm.html
7 BROWN, J. S., COLLINS, A., & DUGUID, P. (1989/95). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. available at http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/ilt/papers/JohnBrown.html, last updated 29-Nov-95
8 JONASSEN, D. (1994). Technology As Cognitive Tools: Learners As Designers. ITFORUM listserv discussion paper published 2nd May 1994: available at http://itech1.coe.uga.edu/itforum/paper1/disc1.html
9 PRICKETT, E. M., HIGGINS, K., & BOONE, R. (1994). Technology for learning ... not learning about technology. Teaching exceptional children, summer, 56-60.February 1998
10 Findings Phase two http://research.ultralab.anglia.ac.uk/findings.html
11 NOP research (June 2000)“Children and the Internet” March 2000
Under 16's using the Internet by country:
Denmark: 90%
Sweden: 84%
France: 40%
England: 55%
Italy: 45%

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A character notes some practical difficulties with such a map and states that:

"we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well."
— Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, Lewis Carroll, 1893

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The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. education & The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. employment

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The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'. teaching

The dissertation and portfolio for Richard Millwood's PhD by Retrospective Practice titled 'The Design Of Learner-centred, Technology-enhanced Education'.selected for the PhD