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Mobile practices in everyday life: the opportunities and challenges for learning, Guy Merchant, Sheffield Hallam University (UK)

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John Cook
18 November 2011

Early images of computing depict lab-coated scientists - usually white males - in room-sized environments surrounded by large cabinets, spools of tape and coils of wire. In recent years the development of powerful and affordable pocket-sized devices, such as smartphones, has been remarkably rapid. The idea of the computer, processing huge databanks of information, housed in a room, in a place one went to, has given way to the seemingly straightforward everyday social and portable use of technology. The ubiquity of these devices often numbs us to their novelty. Practice theory (Shatzki, 2002) helps us to understand how mobile devices have been incorporated into day-to-day life. Using this perspective, the presentation will examine the place of the mobile in social networking and give a critical overview of how educators have begun to explore the uses of mobiles in educational settings.

Extra content

Mobiles are instantiating new kinds of divides, creating new libraries and surround us and fellow travelers. We should look at bundles or nexus of practices. Gergen 'the mobile is subtitle insinuating itself into capabilities of everyday life'. We are sharing images in real time. It is becoming inaccurate to refer to ‘it’ as a phone. But is it intelligent or a fashion accessory? A totem of consumerism?

Statistics: 30% of mobile internet users are under 25. But we have to be careful with stats. Layered social, f-to-f networks (Gergen) seeing mobile phone as nucleus of our networks. 5 things we do: lightweight contact with friends, casual entertainment (short movies, photos), arrange formal and informal meeting (micro coordination), capturing objects and events & checking web information.

What happens when mobiles are founds in formal educational contexts? They get banned! Classroom ecologies: possibilities for different kinds of learning relationships. BUT institutions are patterned by established relationships. Institutions find it difficult to break into new approach.

David Parry coins the term mobile literacy. Understanding info access, hyperconnectivity and the new sense of space. Latter, is location specific, e.g through QR codes.

But, there are 3 concerns. Is the fact that we can do new things sufficient justification? How can teachers, trainers manage the the potential levels of distraction? Which students have devices that are sufficiently nimble, who owns them and who pays for them?

More positive story. 2009 Campsmount secondary school, when burnt to ground. After fire no coursework, student contacts, VLE. Within 24 hours Woordpress blog, Twitter feed, Facebook group (1,500 members) and YouTube video press release (3,000 views). Worked with donated laptops, iPod touch. Got going as a school I a new form within 1 week and school became mobilized and mobile. Changed way school worked spurred on by extensive blogging, QR clouds etc. Head sprints around school ‘capturing learning’ using Soundclound etc. But some questions, WHat (and whose) device are most appropriate in different learning contexts (smartphone, iPod touch, tablet)? What should we be teaching about mobile social networing?

Conclusion: What practices are seen as legitimate/legitimated in learning contexts? (Need to remain safe). What constitutes ‘advantageous practice’? Especially for disadvantaged students ...


John Cook
10:13 on 21 November 2011 (Edited 10:47 on 21 November 2011)


Some questions to be answered:

What new things can we do with mobile technologies?

How do teachers manage tthe potential levels of distraction?

Which students have devices that are sufficienly nimble, who owns them and pays for them?

Maria Perifanou
10:30 on 21 November 2011

Campsmount: the school was recovered after a fire with the use of blog, twitter, facebook...enthusiasm was back very soon11

Maria Perifanou
10:38 on 21 November 2011

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- layered permeable social networks

- smartphone as a hub to social networks

- sharing via mobile phone ("oh, let me show you...")


- Outside school mobile practices are e.g.: maintaining lightweight contact, casual entertainment, arranging meetings, navigation, micro-co-ordination, capturing objects and events, checking web-based information

- In school just lightweight maintaining practices don't really work


- possiblities for learning / relationships


- Mobile literacy: understanding information access, hyperconnectivity, the new sense of space - Parry 2011:


- BUT institutional (school) ecologoies are differntly patterned, thius creating obstacles to mobiles

- classroom ecologies and the impact of mobile media use - positive or negative disruption?


3 concerns:

- is the fact that we can do these things a sufficient justification to do them

- how do teachers manage the potential level of distraction

- which students have devices that are sufficiently nimble, who owns them, and who pays for them

(Comment from the audience: How do adults including teachers manage thjeir own level of distraction?)


3 questions:

- are mobiles advantageous IN learning

- what devices are most appropriate

- what should be taught about mobile social networking


Finally asking:

- What practices are ligitimate(d) in learning contexts?

- What constitutes "advatageous practice"?

Klaus Rummler
10:43 on 21 November 2011 (Edited 10:48 on 21 November 2011)

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SuJan Shrestha
2:16pm 19 November 2011 (Edited 2:20pm 19 November 2011)

We widely accept the growth of social media and mobile communication and unlimited opportinities it offer. However, before experimenting with different ways to use mobile & Web 2.0 tools in education, do we know if students are motivated to learn through 'fun' or 'social' channels?  



SuJan Shrestha
2:17pm 19 November 2011 (Edited 2:17pm 19 November 2011)


The growth of social media and mobile communication provides educators with an opportunity to
transmit course-related information to students in new ways. But are students willing to accept course
information through those channels, typically seen as “fun” and “social?” The study in this chapter
examines the reasons that students use different types of personal media and how appropriate certain
types of communication channels are for academic information. Results show that students prefer to get
their academic information through “official” channels, such as email and course management systems.
However, they are willing to accept certain types of information through social channels (mobile devices,
social networking), as long as they do not have to share personal information.



Maria Perifanou
10:11am 21 November 2011 (Edited 10:12am 21 November 2011)

We cannot consider technology in isolation. Mobile technologies have changed the education reality. Everyday practices show this...sharing is a part of our everyday life, is a part of everyday learning. I totally agree with Guy Merchant.

Maria Perifanou
10:17am 21 November 2011 (Edited 10:24am 21 November 2011)

Classroom ecologies: Possibilities to make different kind of learning relationship, different kinds of interaction, different forms and purposes of communication...How this can work in the school context in reality?

George Bekiaridis
10:29am 21 November 2011

Mobile literacy : how to use these technologies effectively. What is effective for different individuals?

Maria Perifanou
10:39am 21 November 2011

Campsmount: the school was recovered after a fire with the use of blog, twitter, facebook...enthusiasm was back

Maria Perifanou
10:39am 21 November 2011 (Edited 10:42am 21 November 2011)

Food for thought:

Mobiles can clearly help in organising learning but how are they advantageous in learning?

What devices are most appropriate in different learning contexts?

What should we be teaching about mobile social networking?

Yishay Mor
10:42am 21 November 2011

Thanks for a great talk. Could you share the slides and the references?


Maria Perifanou
10:45am 21 November 2011

Yes, the slides and references will be uploaded very soon! 

George Bekiaridis
10:47am 21 November 2011

Thank you, great presentation

Maria Perifanou
10:48am 21 November 2011 (Edited 10:48am 21 November 2011)

Slides and references will be uploaded very soon.

maria ranieri
10:58am 21 November 2011

Thanks, Guy, for your presentation! Your mapping of mobile learning practices is very helpful and I also agree with your concerns and conclusions. Moreover, like you, I believe that it's fundamental to teach about social mobile network to develop critical perspective...Thanks again :-)

Guy Merchant
11:26am 21 November 2011

Thanks for all the comments, I have uploaded my slides to Slideshare - I don't think they're embedded, though!?

Guy Merchant
9:17am 23 November 2011

...and sorry, I forgot. Here are the references I promised.


Adami, E. & Kress, G. (2010) ‘A Social Semiotic Analysis of Mobile Devices: Interactions of Technology and Social Habitus’ in N. Pachler, B. Bachmair,  and J. Cook (Eds) Mobile Learning: Structures, Agencies, Practices. London: Springer (pp.185-204).

Gergen, K. (2003) ‘Self and Community in the New Floating Worlds.’ In K. Nyiri, (Ed.) Mobile democracy, essays on society, self and politics. Vienna: Passagen. (pp.103-114).

Greenhow, C., Robelia, B., & Hughes, J.E. (2010) ‘Learning, Teaching and Scholarship in a Digital Age: Web 2.0 and Classroom Research: What Path Should We Take Now?’ Educational Researcher 38:4 (pp.246-259).

Ihde, D. (1993) Postphenomenology: Essays in the Postmodern Context.  Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Ito, M. (2004) ‘Personal Portable Pedestrian: Lessons from Japanese Mobile Phone Use’ Paper presented at the International Conference on Mobile Communication, Seoul: Korea, October 18-19, 2004.  Available at: Last accessed 14th November, 2011.

Ling, R. & Yttri, B. Hyper-coordination via mobiles in Norway. In J.E. Katz & M. Aakhus (Eds) Perpetual Contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parry, D. (2011) ‘Mobile Perspectives: on teaching mobile literacy.’ Educause Review March/April, 2011. Available at: Last accessed 16th November, 2011.

Reckwitz, A. ‘Towards a Theory of Social Practices: A development in culturalist theorizing.’ European Journal of Social Theory 5:2 pp.243-263.

Shatzki, T. R. (2001) ‘Practice mind-ed orders.’ In T.R. Shatzki, K.K. Cetina & E.V. Savigny (eds) The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory.’ London: Routledge. (pp.50-63)

Shatzki, T.R. (2002) The Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Verbeek, P. (2005 What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency and Design. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Wellman, B. (2002) ‘Little boxes, glocalization, and networked individualism’. In M. Tanabe, P. Besselaar and T. Ishida (eds.), Digital cities II: Computational and sociological approaches. Berlin: Springer, (pp. 10–25).

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