GMW 2013 perspectives on mobile learning

Last week I had the opportunity to present our project results at the GMW 2013 conference in Frankfurt a.M. and at the "Fernausbildungskongress" of the German Bundeswehr. The GMW conference is one of the prominent meetings of the German-speaking media-education and e-learning community for discussing the latest developments in education and learning with technologies. It featured a key note from Larry Johnson from the New Media Consortium ( as well as a dedicated track on mobile learning with presentations and posters. In this article I give an overview on the mobile learning perspectives that discussed at the GMW 2013.

The conference was overshadowed by the dominance of the current MOOC discussion and I was glad that Larry Johnson reminded the community that another technological wave is approaching the shores of educational and learning practice: mobile learning. NMC's famous Horizon reports have mobile on the radar for quite a while, but this year it became evident that mobile learning is the single technology trend that equally affects schools, higher education as well as non-formal and informal learning across the world. The recent Horizon reports indicate that the current MOOC wave must not cloud our views for the fundamental shift of the Post-PC era that will be caused in the coming decade by the mobile learning tsunami. With this reminder of the big picture I went to see what this part of the German-speaking community has to report with respect to mobile learning.

The conference hosted six papers and four posters on mobile learning (plus the one I presented but I was regarded as not being mobile). My first impression while skimming over the papers was that classroom interaction support is one of the important problems of the GMW community. Four of the six papers in the mobile learning track were focussing on the so called clicker apps. The other pressing topic is the application of tablets for learning as the remaining papers and two of the posters indicated.

Classroom response systems in large and not so large rooms and groups

The first presentation in the mobile session by Thomas Korner from the ETH discussed the concepts of the "new" ETH eduapp and demonstrated it briefly to the audience. The ETH Eduapp combines a campus information with a lecture hall interaction tool. The app integrates classroom interaction tools clicker apps with the personal study management. The core of the app concept is the replacement of the university's hardware clicker apps. Korner emphasized that the transition from hardware clickers reduced the administrative overhead and improved the technology acceptance in the lectures, significantly. The link with study management is created based on the lecture selection: the app integrates a week planner that eases the section of the current lecture. From this perspective it was a small step to offer a campus map app that helps students to find their lecture halls mor quickly.

The other "clicker apps were discussed in the special session on classroom response systems.

Katrin Weber and Bernd Becker presented a clicker and quizz app for class room interactions. Their paper discusses a preliminary analysis of the system in one lecture. The analysis indicated neutral user acceptance (around the center of the scale on pretty much all items). The paper concludes that both the technological infrastructure and the educational approach are essential for a successful and joyful classroom experience.

Felix Kapp, Iris Braun, and Hermann Körndke presented a hermeneutic categorization of classroom response systems based on a series of use cases and scenarios. The paper concludes that technological support for classroom interaction can improve the interaction between students and teachers, but teachers need to consider the technology in their instructional design. Furthermore, the authors suggest that the student interaction should be anonymized, but they do not explain how teachers can then use the interaction data for supporting their students.

The final paper in this session was given by Frank Ollermann and Karsten Morisse about the learner experience of classroom response systems in two psychology seminars in a German university. The study reports on two dimension of the used classroom response system. The first dimension included the experience of using then system along self-defines scales. The second dimension addressed the use of the system for providing feedback to the presenters along the parameters "content", "media usage", and "presentation style". The usability of the system was considered as easy to use and as a relevant tool by all study participants. However, the overall perception on improving the attention to the presentations was not improved. The perception of the fun factor seems to be dependent on how actively the presenters used the system and there were slight differences between the two seminars.

Tablets and didactics

The second mobile learning strand on mobile learning were the use of tablets for education and learning in different settings.

Pattrick Bettinger and Frederick Adler presented a small exploratory study about how university students use tablets in their learning. The study focused on the didactical concept "Entgrenzung" of learning. This concept refers to the potential of anywhere and anytime learning of mobile devices and the related extension of the learning environment of the students beyond the educational institution. The hypothesis of this study was that the use of tablets can broaden the learning experiences towards greater self-organized personalization. The paper covered two iterations of the study over two academic terms. The core assumption of the study was that students are able to organize their studies using the new devices themselves. The study setup included that students where handed out tablets with the remark that they should analyze their device use for learning, but in the initial phase no advises about apps and tools were suggested. The core finding was that the expected dissolving of learning context could not be observed. However, the experiences of the iterations indicated that the intuitive usability of tablets does not imply that students can use it immediately for their learning. The presenters revealed during the discussion round that a tutorial compensated this deficit by introducing tools and practices for using tablets for learning. This introduction was an important factor for enabling the students to use the tablets effectively for their academic learning.

The last presentation of the first conference day focused on the use of tablets in professional further education. Susanne Schestak discussed the role of tablets in the extending a presence course with distance teaching elements. The course is part of a professional further education curriculum. The presenter discussed the benefits of open and distance learning practices for offering greater flexibility for the conventional presence-centered approach. The presentation primarily focussed on web-based content delivery. The conclusion that tablets are suitable for content delivery was not particularly surprising, and displaying a conventional SCORM sequence could not really convince as a particularly mobile use case.

In the poster session Clemens Bohrer presented the use of iPads for creating short movies in spiritual education classes in a German secondary schools. The poster showed a educational design for creating and sharing short movies in classroom exercises. The iPads served as networked cameras and were well accepted by the students.

Adoption of, Authoring for and Practices of Mobile Learning

The other contributions of the poster session render a slightly broader picture of the relevance in the community.

Matthias Maifarth an his colleagues analyzed the mobile device usage in their university in a one week diary study. The diaries were peer coded for qualitative analysis along a single activity dimension that has been inspired by Bloom's taxonomy. Despite a much larger number of responses the study only considered 23 responses that matched the pre-defined taxonomy. Surprisingly, all considered entries fall into the comprehension category, which makes me wonder what were all the other activities about.

Birthe Rudolf and Björn Nilson presented a new authoring environment that allows lecturers to create SCORM multimedia learning material on a tablet. The environment uses the tinyLMS framework for basically producing electronic books. This design study showed many wireframes but leaves the question unanswered, why they use SCORM of their e-books instead of the more widespread ePUB.

Finally, Georg Peez and Ahmet Camuka discussed a glossary-style learning cards system for memorizing art objects in courses about initial art education. The stand alone app included pictures and metadata that can be sequentially processed by the students. The study intended to provide more flexible approaches for activating the students' learning. The study presented several screenshots but no evaluation or practical experiences.


The GMW conference offered a mix of app concepts and first evaluation results from the educational mainstrem. Concepts such as seamless learning, augmented reality learning or contextualized learning have not yet arrived in this community. Most of the studies show that many groups use mobile solutions for extending existing educational approaches. Considering these small practical changes it was not very surprising that the experiences did not fully match the expected potentials of the new technologies.