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Handheld learning conference 2009 mobile devices as boundary objects on field trips
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Handheld learning conference 2009 mobile devices as boundary objects on field trips


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  • As you can see from all my logo’s I am associated with lots of acronyms! Which can get rather confusing at times. The parent project of the TLRP-TEL project is Ensemble which is dealing with developing Semantic web apps in CBL in HE- the universities involved are… Of which City is one of the settings. If you are interested in the project you can ask me later but I will refer more technical questions to the leaders as my setting and context is more departed. Boyle survey showed field trips ‘good’ for K&U, confidence & SR, Fletcher positive comments over negative, Stott PDAs enable better sharing, collection but have issues to resolve.
    Could say something about my own background, mixed social science, psychology, horseriding and sports and teaching, left to pursue TEL research. And therefore nice to be surrounded by practitioners yesterday and seeing what innovative work is taking place on the front line.
    Look for and answer my Q on conference connect please!
  • A review of the lit revealed much of the work in the geosciences has focused on how wide spread use is, what is used, why and how, or focus on evaluating the technology in the field, however little on social aspects. That is the interactions that take place around these devices the processes of learning in, with and around them within the setting which while outside of the classroom has similarities the to parent project’s case based learning. So what AM I doing here? Specifically this paper was a exercise in beginning to explore the data already collected with a focus on the distinctive aspects of learning provided by these devices in group learning in the field.
  • So why I am using these? Borrowing the theoretical frameworks initially from the parent project ANT was employed as a frame of analysis, this paper is an exercise to test out its suitability for this area and project, you are all probably going ‘whats ANT’ I know the feeling! I will come to this in good time and the next concept BO.
  • Relatively new approach used in STS it combines the physical/material with the conceptual in the case of learning something like a book with concepts in that book like a theory of learning. It itself is NOT a theory but seen as a tool kit for descriptive stories, one of the more entertaining being Callon and his scallops. With the time allow I could not attempt to explain ANT fully it is large and diverse, instead as my beginning in understanding myself I have used concepts from it in my analysis – Actants and actors. I am most interested in this approach because unlike many approaches it give non-human objects importance and attempts to map the messy practices that occur during action. Note that network is not in the sense of gridlines that are fixed but following interactions and connections between actants, network is the pencil sketches in the background. It a hyper descriptive method used to uncover practices that would not normally be noticed, because they are ‘everyday’
  • Another concept to use, the most important this is not to label these in your head as material objects, they can like actants be conceptual like ideas, their important feature is that they can be distinguished and have similar identities in different contexts, Star & Griesmer looked at museum pieces, one example they used was stuffed birds being common in identify to both a scientist and bird spotter, so they have common ground from which to discuss. Students arrive at HE especially in MSc courses with diverse experiences and backgrounds to work together successfully collaboratively they need common points of reference to start. This paper explores the possibility of mobile devices being boundary objects in this context, the common and flexible (in this case material object) from which the students could use them to meet the needs of the activity.
  • Because I was unsure to begin with what would and won’t work well in the field, I employed a variety of tools of collection based around observation which over the two field trips I have observed has generated a vast amount of data. Informed consent was sought before any filming of the students and they have be blurred out according to ethics. This analysis has focused in the headcam and short video data initially as this is the most rich.
  • Talk about the trip! Let them read the slide – Now I am going to play two clips which are transcribed in my paper but are here for your viewing pleasure
  • Describe the context of this clip what happening? What have they been doing? Who is there?
  • The key thing was that while the PDA initially slowed progress this was made up later on it did not impede the Los, but through the data collection and transfer in ArcPad allowed them to experience the issues of collection real life data. There was a lot of influences felt throughout the time which the students themselves were not used to such as a time, weather, environment, reading devices and maps. No one had familairity with the PDA and they all had a steep learning curve to work it out but as a group this helped and they passed on their knowledge when they took turns with it. It was clear it was not acting as BO as such but ehArcpad visualizations and GPS locator were something the students could all identify and work with.
  • No. 2 describe a bit about this one
  • Describe the context of this clip what happening? What have they been doing? Who is there?
  • So what did I find here? In Malta the LOs were more focused in the skills development with the devices but but the exercises were student led, it was interesting as a previous teacher to see them working out the real meaning of the learning objectives not just reading them and not linking them to the practice of what they were doing, this can be seen in the last clip. Actants were similar (note the analysis was done together after both trips). Here the students used older technologies to overcome some challenges and negotiate group work and sharing of data. There were more devices and the technical issues encountered were greater and frequent but this in itself them came to understand as a implicit LO.
  • The teacher in me want to see how much you have understood! So spot the actants! What is influencing action and process in this scene kindly drawn by my husband
    Sun – time constraints – LO, army trousers for the army experience factor, note book, map, device and then the BO the visualization
  • It certainly was a very interesting, engaging and busy setting encompassing long hours for all, with ANT I am only scratching the surface of something very large and hugely debated within its own practice, I do not have expertise in this but am working to develop it. Would seem MB are not BO they do not give a common understanding which is key feature of Bos they are more of a tool in practice. The visualizations they produced were more appropriate as BOS as they were familiar and common to the students, window platforms and ArcPad which is scaled down version of ArcView which they had been using in their lessons or work. Devices which are personal and brought in with experience of use already attached to them may provide more stable Bos, comparison between brought in and personal is an avenue I wish to pursue through further analysis and data collection especially looking for opportunities were mobile devices like phones come into action. They were constitutive to the learning activity but although aiding the attainment of LO they provided challenges along the way being unfamiliar especially the PDA. When these challenges were presented the students often resorted to older technologies/Bos which helped them overcome these.
  • Ant is hyper descriptive but it is debatable whether it offers more that description and while this has implications for practice, I would prefer something which provides critical analysis which can feedback into design for TEL. BO are used in these contexts for negotiating challenges and sense making within the context, therefore them seem extremely important components for success. Work will continue to explore these in the context of visualizations and student’s own devices which like many settings mentioned during this conference field trips in HE are experiencing. Thank you for you time and listening, any questions please feel free to ask and ill do my best to field them.
  • Leave this on at the end during questions
  • Transcript

    • 1. +Mobile devices as ‘boundary objects’ on field trips Nicola Beddall-Hill PhD Student Information Science Dept. Twitter: CityMobileAngel
    • 2. + Setting & objects of interest  Ensemble project  An interdisciplinary inter-institutional TLRP TEL project investigating the use of the semantic web for case based learning in HE.  Mobile-technology-enhanced learning OUTSIDE the classroom - Specifically mobile devices in field settings  Field courses perform an important function for developing understanding and subject knowledge (Boyle et al., 2003).  Fletcher et al. (2003) GPS devices & mobile phones used extensively in field courses & Stott (2007) suggests a key place for PDAs also.
    • 3. + Paper focus  Previous studies on mobile devices in field settings focused the prevalence of use (Fletcher et al., 2003; Clegg, 2006) or evaluating the technology (Stott,2007; Maskall & Stokes, 2008).  Little attention has been paid to the device’s role in the social interactions and processes during learning in the field.  This paper explores the distinctive learning experiences produced by mobile devices and their role in influencing actions and decisions within collaborative group learning activities in the context of field courses.
    • 4. + Theoretical frameworks  The Ensemble project is using Actor Network Theory as a frame of analysis to explore the processes in constructing case based learning semantic web applications using participatory design  This paper aims to explore the benefits of using concepts from ANT as a framework to explore this setting.  The nature of this analysis will tell ‘stories’ about the network of interactions within this highly complex collaborative social learning environment. It will also allow an evaluation of the potential of mobile devices to be boundary objects (Star & Griesemer, 1989).
    • 5. + Actor Network Theory  Developed by Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon  New social theory that applied to science and technology studies (late 1970’s/early1980’s).  ANT maps the material world and the conceptual world as one network (Law, 2007).  Descriptive tool kit for telling stories (Law, 2007).  The appeal of ANT is in its “sensibility to the messy practices of relationality and materiality of the world” (Law, 2007:1)  Places importance on non-human objects
    • 6. + Boundary Objects  BO’s can be abstract such as ideas, or material in the form of objects; they retain a common identity across contexts but are flexible enough to meet the differing needs. (Bowker & Star, 1999).  Students come into the field courses often from a variety of backgrounds; boundary objects emerge from their learning needs and practices.  Discovering these boundary objects will have useful implications for designing for learning both technology and teaching (Fleischmann, 2006).
    • 7. + Methods  Intensive observation using various methods dictated by the environment and activities of the students and field course structure.  Head cam & short video diary clips outside  Stationary digital video indoors and structured  Focus groups  Supported by field notes, GPS tracker, questionnaires
    • 8. + Coniston  April 2009 with City University, as part of their MSc in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). It was based in the Lake District.  6 students predominately international, varying age & experience, 2 female, 4 male.  Two projects each lasted two days: brief, planning, data collection, analysis, presentation & assessment.  Devices used; Garmin Geckos,Trimble GeoXM & HP PDA  Observation via video indoors, head cam outdoors, photography, field notes, structured observation record, GPS trackers.
    • 9. + Clips
    • 10. + Clips
    • 11. + Case 1 Technologically determined realties  The PDA enabled the learning objectives to be met  There was a large variety of actants present; experience of students, paper maps, note books, time constraints, learning objectives which influenced processes.  The mobile device (PDA) was not a BO, but the visualizations produced by ArcPad & GPS locator demonstrated features.  Individual student decisions and environmental factors presented challenges to the achieving the learning objectives.
    • 12. + Malta  June 2009 Kingston University and JISC-funded MORSE project (  MSc GIS ten students, 3 female, international & mature status.‘Mobile devices’ module, mainly data collection, analysis & assessment in UK.   Training first day, 2nd a tourist trail of Valletta, last 2 days 4 half-day projects mapping the coastline.  More equipment = Magellan & Etrex GPS, HP PDAs,Trimble Junos & GeoXH, Leica system 1200 & Total station.  Digital camera photos, video clips, voice recorder, field notes, focus groups.
    • 13. + Clips
    • 14. + Case 2 Different device,different readings  By comparing the different devices the students are able to evaluate differences in accuracy.  Similar actants; Learning objectives, environmental factors, but the device itself embodied further actants; battery life, GPS signal.  Hand drawn data tables & digital visualizations became the boundary objects with which the groups worked.  However the device’s performance and different visualisations presented challenges for this activity.
    • 15. +
    • 16. + Conclusions  Rich place to observe the interworking of technology, environment and learning practices.  Concepts of actor, actant and boundary object may provide a suitable method to view the complex interactions within this context, with a view to enhancing design for learning.  The Mobile device did not demonstrate features of a BO, but visualizations on the devices & older technologies did.  Mobile devices are constitutive to the learning activity by enabling recording of the environment but supplied complexity and challenges to negotiate. Simple GPS trackers presented less challenges than more sophisticated devices.  To overcome these challenges older technologies were called into action as practices with mobile devices had not yet stabilized.
    • 17. + Implications  ANT concepts provide descriptive stories; further work is needed to assess if this approach provides an appropriate critique.  Boundary objects are useful concepts for sense making.  Visualizations displayed by the devices maybe a suitable focus.  Survey student’s own devices during the fieldwork, they may act as boundary objects due to familiarity.  Compare ‘brought in’ vs.‘personal’
    • 18. + ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This work was carried out as part of an ESRC studentship at City University, linked to TLRP-TEL project Ensemble ( The author would like to thank Prof Jonathan Raper as the co- writer and Ensemble project investigators Dr. Patrick Carmichael and Ms. Uma Patel for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. A special thank you to Victoria Crump and the author’s family for their extra support.
    • 19. + References Bowker, G., C. & Star, S., L. (1999) Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences. MIT Press Boyle, A., Conchie, S., Maguire, S., Martin, A., Milsom, C., Nash, R., Rawlinson, S.,Turner, A., & Wurthmann, S. (2003) Fieldwork is Good? The Student Experience of Field Courses, Planet, 5:48-51 Clegg, P. (2006) From Pencils and Paper to Lasers and Laptops Proceedings of a one day conference on “Supporting fieldwork using information technology”. Experiential Learning ETL, University of Plymouth. GEES Resource database: Fleischmann, K., R. (2006) 'Boundary Objects with Agency: A Method for Studying the Design-Use Interface', The Information Society, 22:2:77-87 Law, J. (2007) ‘Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics,’ version of 25th April 2007, available at (20th July 2009) Maskall, J., Stokes, A. (2008) Designing Effective Fieldwork for the Environmental and Natural Sciences, GEES Subject Centre Learning and Teaching Guide available at (21st June 2009) Star, S. L., and Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology,“translations” and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39. Social Studies of Science 19:387–420.