An interview with Mike Sharples, new Deputy Science Manager
Recently Dissemination Team members Beate Kleessen and Werner Trotter spoke with Mike Sharples, director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute, University of Nottingham (UK), about mobile learning, and the strategic goals of the Kaleidoscope network.
Q: Can you tell us about your current involvement with Kaleidoscope?
In addition to being the new Deputy Science Manager, I was asked by the
Core Group to set up a mobile learning initiative, as there were quite
a number of people in Kaleidoscope interested in that area. The
Core Group felt there needs to be coordinated interest.
Q: What, in your opinion, are the most important challenges for Kaleidoscope?
I think the most important general challenge is to coordinate research
in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) across Europe. There are a
number of national initiatives and organisations, and international
ones, but there isn’t a distinctive, coordinated voice for TEL.
For Kaleidoscope, the challenge is to offer a coherent European voice
with regard to research, dissemination of research, and the way
research impacts on policy, on industry, and on learners.
Q: What do you think are the strategic goals of Kaleidoscope?
Kaleidoscope can bring a distinctive European perspective to research,
not just in TEL, but also different aspects of it. The way we
research mobile learning has been different to the United States, Asia,
and Latin America, for example. We, in Europe, are world leaders
in mobile learning and in computer supported collaborative
learning. We have to make more of the distinctiveness of the
European perspective of TEL. It is different from, say, the UK,
Norwegian, US, or Japanese perspective.
Q: How so?
By taking an integrative approach. In the States, for example,
they tend to ask you which paradigm you are from – are you a
cognitivist, socio-culturalist, or behaviourist? We recognise
there are different perspectives, but we try to look for ways in which
they might be integrated. So if you want to understand learning,
it is not enough to understand it from the socio-cultural point of
view, or the cognitivist/individual learner point of view, or the
neuroscientist’s point of view, but to try and integrate those
perspectives into a broader understanding.
Q: Is Kaleidoscope successful in integrating the various approaches?
I think it’s starting to work. I’ve seen it in a number of
ways. In the Philosophy SIG, for example. At our meeting in
Budapest we brought together the Hungarian and UK perspectives and
found that we had a lot in common; we developed a philosophical
understanding of what it means to be a learner in a TEL society.
In mobile learning, we have a distinctive perspective that integrates
informal learning and collaborative learning. In the States, it
is mostly about the device and how to bring handheld devices into the
classroom. Our perspective has been more about the mobility of
the learner, about learning across multiple contexts and the
transitions between home and school, school and workplace. That
perspective has now been promoted in journals and conferences around
Q: So Kaleidoscope is like a forum for integrating the different approaches in the field in Europe?
It’s becoming more than a forum as we get to know each other and each
other’s research. Now we can see how perspectives from inquiry
learning, for example, can benefit collaborative learning, or how
perspectives in collaborative learning can benefit mobile learning.
In December, we’re holding an event that explores the integration of
inquiry, collaborative and mobile learning, specifically looking at not
just how we can bring together our different perspectives, but really
learn from and create a combined understanding.
We’re building something new out of the components, building a shared
understanding, shared vocabulary, and a shared perspective on how that
can impact learners and policymakers.
Q: What are the target groups Kaleidoscope should reach?
It’s difficult for me to talk about specific Kaleidoscope target
groups, since there are so many. I can tell you who I’ve worked
with in the past, and who I am working with now. I’ve worked with
big companies (such as Microsoft, IBM, Cisco), and Small- Medium-sized
Enterprises. I’ve worked with a number of start up companies in
There are policymakers, organisations like National College for School
Leadership (NCSL) that trains head teachers and school leaders in the
UK. We’re doing a Kaleidoscope workshop with the NCSL – it is a
way in which we can work with the people who are training school
I am also working with museums using mobile technologies in learning.
We’re supporting visitors to these museums, more specifically, school
trips. School trips can be terribly boring, so we’re using
mobile phones to enable inquiry learning. The teachers work with
the students in advance to set up an inquiry, and then, on their visit,
students use these mobile phones with specially-developed software to
take photos, make notes, make tags for more information. All this
information is sent to a personal web site that they can share with
other learners. Essentially they’re trying to pose a question
which they explore with mobile devices in the museum. Then afterwards
they can carry their experience at the museum back into the classroom
to answer it. It’s not Kaleidoscope project, but done in the
context of Kaleidoscope. The results are fed back to
Kaleidoscope, and perspectives from Kaleidoscope are fed into the
project. We doing the formative evaluation, working with software
designers to create pedagogically sound software.
Q: What do you think is the philosophy of Kaleidoscope?
There is a shared desire to try and develop a deep understanding of TEL
and to influence the future of the design and deployment of TEL across
This new understanding is going to determine the future of research and
development in TEL. We ought to be stronger in influencing
European policy in TEL. There is a huge change at the moment,
away from web based eLearning in classrooms and computer labs, towards
the personalisation of learning, personal inquiry, and small-group
collaborative learning. There is a big change underway as to how
learning with technology is enacted.
Q: How far-reaching is TEL in politics or society?
I can talk about that mainly from the UK perspective. Both the
Department for Education and Skills and Higher Education Funding
Council for England have produced policy papers for a strategy in
TEL. A national research programme for eLearning has been
announced. It is an integrated strategy for research. Josie
Taylor, Diana Laurillard, myself, and others in Kaleidoscope have been
at the centre of this. In the UK, this is having a direct effect
on national policy. There is a direct impact from Kaleidoscope
into the UK national research strategy in eLearning.
Q: What are the challenges or issues presented by mobile learning?
Clearly we’re moving towards a more mobile society. Over 95% of
secondary school children have mobile phones. That is a starting
point. They are developing a mobile culture. They are
continually in communication with their friends, creating informal
networks, doing the kinds of things employers really value.
Knowledge sharing, network learning, instant messaging. But they’re not
allowed to do this in school classrooms, so you are getting two
cultures: the classroom culture of learning, and the
home/informal culture of learning.
Already children have very powerful mobile devices and they are
increasingly using them for informal social
networking. In school you have formal computer labs
and traditional classes. Trying to integrate both the technology and
the skills is one of the greatest challenges right now. It is
difficult for schools to realise that most learning goes on outside the
classroom. School is only the context for a small part of
learning, albeit a very important part. So how to integrate the
learning with technology outside school with the learning going on
inside school is a big challenge.
Q: So you’re saying there needs to be a change of paradigm of what learning is all about.
That’s right. It’s not that mobile technology is driving
this. There is a co-evolution of learning and technology.
Like SMS/text messaging. It started as a technology, teenagers
adopted it and developed a culture, so companies developed new mobile
phones to support that culture. There was a co-evolution.
That’s starting to happen with learning now. You have new types
of learning – collaborative learning, inquiry learning – and people are
developing new technologies to support them. How you support that
co-evolution of learning and technology is very important, and mobile
technology is very important to that.
Again, it’s not just about small devices; it’s about being able to
learn wherever you want to, and to integrate that learning. It’s
a big challenge, because it takes you away from the very carefully
constrained, organised world of the classroom. It’s much more
dynamic and more interactive. It’s also more personalised,
because the learning follows the learner, literally. So it’s a
real interesting challenge for educators. And I don’t see it
conflicting with classroom learning, but it should complement it.
Q: How would you describe the importance of Kaleidoscope to someone outside the network?
I think it’s about the future of learning in a technology-enhanced
society. It’s about how you can research that future, because the
best way to understand the future is to invent it. I’m not the
first person to have said that. So we’re in the position, really,
to help mould the future of learning in a way that is productive.
I think that learning is not just something that happens, but it’s
something that you can design all the time. It’s a matter of
designing the technologies and the curriculum and the way the two fit
together. There are ways to design it so that it is based on
good, sound research. That’s what I think Kaleidoscope should be
doing, influencing the design of future learning.
Kaleidoscope Mobile Learning Initiative is organising "The Big Issues
in Mobile Learning" workshop, to be held on 1-2 June 2006.