Heritage Minutes and Canadian History

Heritage Minutes and Canadian History

Canadians of my generation learned their key moments in Canadian history via short television commercial segments produced by what is now Historica Canada. Known as Heritage Minutes, these short films were sent to schools, made available on tape, DVD, and online, and played during commercial breaks. They taught students and television viewers of all ages what was important in the history of our nation. The segments produced memorable catch phrases (such as the classic, ‘Doctor, I smell burnt toast!’) and have sparked numerous parodies over the years (the Rick Mercer Report‘s are always a favourite). Continue reading

Facts versus Interpretation and Why Historians Disagree

Facts versus Interpretation and Why Historians Disagree

Facts v Interpretation & Why Historians Disagree

In popular culture, I think there’s a tendency to shrug off the study of history as the memorisation of dates and facts. This ignores a fundamental element of history: it’s open to interpretation. Not only that, but ‘history’ tends to have been interpreted by the time it reaches its audience.

This doesn’t mean, however, that historians can say whatever they want and it will be considered ‘fact’. Continue reading

H800 Technology-Enhanced Learning: Reflections

H800 Technology-Enhanced Learning: Reflections

I recently finished an online postgraduate course on technology-enhanced learning that forms part of the Open University‘s Online and Distance Education postgraduate programme. This module introduced students to the key texts, terms, and debates when it comes to technology-enhanced learning from both the practitioners’ and students’ perspectives. One of its greatest strengths was that built into the class were opportunities to seek out new technologies and apply what we were learning and finding to our own unique circumstances.

The Open University’s H800 students were from all over the world and in a wide range of professions, including teachers and educators from all levels as well as tech professionals in higher education and the private sector. It was a great mix and we’ve all learned a lot from one another as well as from the course materials. One of the things that surprised me most was the strong sense of community that developed outside of the module’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), the online course area provided by the Open University.

While we were provided with online forums and the ability to video chat with fellow students within the VLE, more than two dozen of us migrated many of our conversations and discussions to a private Facebook page. I also connected with fellow students via Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts on my computer and mobile phone. I think this reflects several of the goals of the module: 1) Introduce us to a range of technologies; 2) Apply these to our own work; 3) Take ownership of our learning; and 4) Create a supportive community of practice.

Not only have I begun to use new technologies to meet a range of needs for my informal and formal learning and work as a practitioner, but I now have connections to individuals with a range of expertise that I could draw upon in the future. For example, I’ve already spoken with a few about developing the Moodle (VLE) for Slavery in the Americas that’s starting soon. I also think that as some of my posts over the past few months have demonstrated, I’ve begun to look differently at some of the technologies that I was already using in new ways, such as for informal learning, teaching potential, supporting communication, online community building, etc.

H800, Technology-enhanced learning, was as much about teaching and learning theory and debates as it was about the technology. This has been very helpful. I’ve been introduced to the language, the techniques, and the research that underpins much of the teaching and innovations that are taking place in universities across the western world. Its been eye-opening. For example, I’m excited about the possibilities of making the ‘flipped classroom’ (where instructors film their lectures to be provided to students online ahead of class so that class time can be devoted to interactive activities such as problem solving, group work, and support) a common site on university campuses.

I’m now understanding why universities and their libraries are refurbishing to provide social spaces within their buildings and providing better Wi-Fi capacity. Both the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh, for example, have revamped their main libraries to encourage and facilitate technology-enhanced group work and discussion. I’m also intrigued by the controversy over whether the ‘Google generation’/ millennials are really all that different from other ‘generations’. Do they learn differently and require different teaching strategies from their instructors than previous students? Or is it all hype? Seeing as by some definitions I am a millennial, it’s an interesting thought!

I took on H800 for general professional development and to strengthen my online course creation skills. I’m coming away with a strong understanding of current teaching and learning theory and practices, awareness of the possibilities of new and existing technologies for teaching and learning, and some great connections and good friends. It’s been a good, intense 32 weeks!


More Maps: Matthew Paris’ Great Britain

Earlier this summer I looked at using maps as primary sources for class as a way to generate discussion and highlight worldviews of the time periods and cultures in which the maps were created.  One of my favorite maps, and one that would be an excellent source in British History courses, is Matthew Paris’ Map of Great Britain, produced in 1250.  This map is now in the British Library.


Matthew Paris, Map of Britain (1250) – photo credit: wikimedia commons

Not only is the map visually appealing, particularly in its use of color, drawings of miniature battlements and city walls, and ability to seize the imagination, it is also the oldest surviving map to show such a high level of detail and accuracy.  Over 250 places are identified on the map, with Scotland clearly set apart by Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall.  I particularly enjoy the depiction of the Firths of Forth and Clyde sharply cutting through Scotland to almost meet.  Scotia and Wallia (with an elaborate Mount “Snaudun”) are identified by name, along with areas such as Devonia and Sufolck. The side bars identify the nearest land in each direction.  London, in the bottom center of the map, appears to have all roads leading to it (notice how the towns line up above it) along with a snake-like Thames.

We can see that the land depicted on the map is distorted, but even with this it was still extremely accurate for its time.  As the British Library site describes, Paris’ depiction was likely based on both travelers’ accounts and Ptolemy’s geography.

Matthew Paris was a monk at St. Alban’s Abbey in England, where he lived all of his adult life.  He was an historian, writer of chronicles, and artist.  Paris drew four maps of Britain, of which this is the most detailed.

Just think about the Hereford Mappa Mundi from my previous maps post.  As Simon Garfield emphasizes in On the Map, Matthew Paris created his map of Great Britain about fifty years before the mappa mundi was produced, making Paris truly stand out as a unique mapmaker of his time.

Why Study Slavery from a Comparative Viewpoint

In September I’ll begin teaching the first of two new courses at the University of Glasgow‘s Centre for Open Studies on the histories of slavery and abolition. ‘Slavery in the Americas‘ will run for 10 weeks from September 28 until December 7 (no class on October 12). With a little over one month to go, I’m beginning to put together some of the resources that I will be sharing with my class. One of the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for Slavery in the Americas is to ‘Compare the size and state of the slave populations of the various colonies’. I think it’s a really intriguing topic that deserves a bit of exploration here, too.

Atlantic_Ocean image

Why should we study slavery within a wider context? For example, you may have come across studies that look at slavery in two different states in the USA, or the South versus the North, or the United States versus the British Empire and so on. The short answer is that studying slavery using a comparative perspective can tell us more. It can reveal things that we might not have seen otherwise. It gives us context and can reveal significant differences and unique events as well as similarities and trends across space and time.

Here are a few examples of areas to consider when thinking about placing your study within a wider context:

  1. Demographics. While it’s hard to know exact numbers, there are a number of ways to attempt to assess the size of the enslaved population of one or more regions. For example, we can use the Transatlantic Slave Trade database, Voyages, to get an idea of the numbers that were imported to specific regions from Africa. (Check out my guide to using Voyages here.) We can look at registers from the Caribbean and census records from the USA. British compensation records give numbers from the period of abolition in the 1830s. Some plantation record books are still in existence, allowing for comparisons between individual plantations. There are also advertisements in newspapers that provide information on slaves for sale which gives an indication of the interest in and scale of slavery in an area.
  2. Local crops. Coffee, sugar, tobacco, etc. were all grown using slave labour in the Americas. The kinds of crops being grown have been shown to affect the size of the enslaved population. This is due to a number of factors, including: physical intensity and exertion required to grow and harvest the crop; the degree of mechanisation; and the risk of accidental physical harm due to the machinery and tools involved in the growing, harvesting, and processing of the crop. Sugar, for example, was a dangerous, exhausting crop to grow, harvest, and process, yet demand for it was skyrocketing in the later eighteenth century. Planters in the Caribbean, then, struggled to maintain the size of the slave population in their sugar plantations, whereas their counterparts in the southern USA, with more land devoted to growing cotton and tobacco, witnessed a self-sustaining enslaved population.
  3. Mortality. Mortality rates were high for enslaved Africans and those of African descent. Corporal punishment, accidents, racially-based hate crimes, restricted legal rights in the justice system, malnutrition, and infanticide all affected mortality rates (probably many other factors did, too)*, as well as old age and disease. By the late seventeenth century, planters and abolitionists alike were becoming obsessed with understanding and justifying the rate of natural increase (or decrease) in slave versus free populations. Abolitionists argued that a slave population that could not sustain itself was proof that the system of slavery was inhumane. Planters and merchants, meanwhile, blamed decreasing numbers on an unequal sex ratio, the climate, natural ageing, and manumission (the process by which a slave could become free). They used the declining numbers to justify their continuing support for the slave trade.
  4. The timing and nature of abolition. Abolition (here referring to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade) and emancipation (the freeing of enslaved persons) took place at different times in different areas and also comprised of different things. For example, while both the USA and Britain officially ended their participation in the transatlantic slave trade in 1808, Britons could still invest and take part in the foreign trade for several more years. Britain’s Caribbean colonies faced a growing labour shortage France, meanwhile, abolished slavery in her colonies in 1794, only to reinstate it eight years later. Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888. As such, an estimated four million enslaved Africans were imported to Brazil from Africa over the centuries.

I hope that this has been a helpful overview of some of the ways in which we can look at the history of slavery and abolition from a comparative perspective in order to contextualise and, really, just better understand the numbers and experiences that we will inevitably come across.

*The history of slavery in the New World contains stories of unimaginable death, terror, and tragedy. I know that I don’t discuss these elements very often in the context of this blog, but you can’t understand the demographics, the events, and the arguments for and against abolition without acknowledging this reality. We are looking at people’s lives and it was an awful life to live, but there were also enslaved and freed people who kept hope, who made their own ways out, and who helped others get out, too, on the ground, in community centres, and in government chambers and assemblies both there and abroad.

Suggested readings:

Blackburn, Robin.  The Making of New World Slavery (Verso, 1997)

Blackburn, Robin.  The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery (Verso, 1988)

Eltis, David. ‘Was Abolition of the U.S. and British Slave Trade Significant in the Broader Atlantic Context?’ The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 66 (2009): 715-36.

Littlefield, Daniel C. ‘Plantations, Paternalism, and Profitability: Factors Affecting African Demography in the Old British Empire.’ Journal of Southern History, 47 (1981): 167-82.

Mason, Matthew. ‘Keeping Up Appearances: The International Politics of Slave Trade Abolition in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World’. The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 66 (2009): 809-32.

Morgan, Kenneth. ‘Slave Women and Reproduction in Jamaica, ca. 1776-1834’. In Women and Slavery: The Modern Atlantic, ed. Gwyn Cambell et. al. (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2008): 27-53.

Sheridan, Richard B. ‘Slave Demography in the British West Indies and the Abolition of the Slave Trade.’ In The Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade, ed. David Eltis and James Walvin (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981): 259-86.

Slavery & Abolition, 26 no. 2 (August 2005). [special thematic issue on women and slavery]

Building the CV: Getting a headstart on the next school year

It’s summer, and for the most part there’s still lots of time before the big scholarship and funding award deadlines start looming. This means that now is an ideal time to think about strengthening your CV, meeting with mentors and potential supervisors or future colleagues, and formulating your plans. Keep in mind that many will likely have research trips planned, but they’ll also have more free time as classes are out and exams marks have been submitted. Why not send out an email or two to see if someone in your field at a nearby university would be free for a coffee as you ask a few questions about their work and projects. You find find yourself with some new leads, new ideas, and new connections.

Now is also an ideal time to write out a list of all of the award programmes you’ve been thinking of applying for and note their official deadlines. Next, check with the university you’re planning (hoping?) to take up the award at to see if they have their own internal deadlines and work from those. Go over the description of your future project to see what areas you can expand upon or clarify. The clearer and more specific you can be about your proposed project, including your timeline, your objectives, and your planned output, the better. Be sure to note where you’ll be doing your research, what archives (and specific archival sources) you’ll be utilising, and in what format(s) you plan on sharing your findings.

For example, are you planning a website, journal article, conference, public lecture, an essay in a published collection, or even an academic monograph to come out of your project? Then show and prove that you’ll be able to accomplish this. For example, past publications with reputable publishers demonstrates that you can write and get published. Technical skills in web design show that you can put together a website. Evidence of event planning in previous employment or having helped out with past conferences might help convince a funding body that you’ll be able to plan and run a successful conference withe their money.

You’ve probably noticed that I specified that past publications are an indication that you’re likely to be able to get published in the future, and the same goes for events such as conferences and workshops. In fact, it’s also true for funding. One of the best ways to support a funding application is to have already had successful funding applications. This is one of the (many) reasons postgraduate students who are self-funded struggle to continue in academia beyond the PhD. Not only do they often graduate with crippling debt (or end up ABD — all but dissertation — because they’ve often had to take up paid work and run out of time or motivation to finish their own research and thesis), but they can’t show that they’ve been considered a worthy investment by funders.

So how do you build a strong academic CV? Keep your CV in mind as you make daily choices about what you’re going to do. Could you be doing some additional research to strengthen that article you’ve been writing? Could you ask someone in your department about possible funding for student-run conferences? Past funding doesn’t have to mean scholarships and studentships. You could volunteer to help organise a series of postgraduate work-in-progress workshops at your school, or email a friend who’s organising a conference to offer to give a talk. Become a member of an organisation that is connected to your field. Not only will your membership go on your CV, but you’ll suddenly be getting insider information about upcoming events and opportunities for ‘service’.

Have you taken note of publishers who have been publishing on topics related to your field recently and looked up how to contact the editorial team? You may find that your preferred publisher appreciates early contact with authors in order to discuss a potential book idea instead of waiting until you have a fully-formed book ready to go. Who knows? You might suddenly have a book deal with two years to go before you feel the book will be ready (just be completely honest and up front about the stage at which your research and ‘book’ is at — you don’t want to miss publishing deadlines).

It’s worth looking into their instructions for authors from an early date. You can gain a lot of insight from a few webpages and an email or two; not only could this save you a lot of time in restructuring work or chasing down editors at a publishing company that may no longer be interested in your field or in adapted PhD theses, but you might also find just the right person at the right company who wants to work with you now to create an exciting book in the not-so-distant future.

My plan is to revisit this topic later this year with some clearer points to help with building and refining the CV, but for now I want to wrap up with some advice one of my PhD supervisors always gave at his postgraduate skills seminar on publishing: finish the degree. The most important thing to do is to finish the degree. There’s a reason why ‘Education’ is listed at the start of the CV. Completing your degree shows that you have commitment, drive, and ability. You stick to the task. You can be trusted to finish what you start, and you’re worth investing in. So enjoy the relaxed pace of summer, but consider using some of this time to get ready for a better, more productive year in the next school year, one that you can document and utilise to do even more in the future.

Using Maps as Primary Sources for Class: Windows to Historical Worldviews


15th Century rendering of Ptolemy’s Map of the World – photo credit: wikimedia commons

One of my favorite sources to spark discussion in class, especially in courses like the Atlantic World, British Empire, and American history, are historic maps.  What can maps tell us about how people at the time perceived the world around them?  What did the maps prioritize in their depictions of the world?  Who created them and what knowledge did they draw upon?  How did these views change over time?  One of the big benefits to using maps is that they are easily comparable between time periods for students.  And they allow students to easily grasp just how huge of an impact the era of explorations had on European conceptions of the world around them.


Babylonian Clay Tablet with Map, ca. 600-550 BC, now in the British Museum – photo credit: wikimedia commons

Another benefit of using maps as a basis for class discussion is that it makes clear to students that people in Columbus’s time did not believe that the world was flat (this seems to be a recurring misconception).

Claudius Ptolemy produced his descriptive atlas in Alexandria in the 2nd century, which was still considered one of the best sources for knowledge of world geography by the 15th century.  His atlas consisted of a huge list of descriptive coordinates for cities and other known locations, which were then interpreted by mapmakers as seen in the map at the top of the page.  As can be seen, Africa and India are distorted, the Mediterranean is overly large and depicted at the center of the map, and the areas within Greece and the Roman Empire are the most accurate.  Ptolemy also tended to fill empty spaces on the map with “theoretical conceptions,” rather than leaving unknown areas blank.

After the Library at Alexandria was destroyed, there was little advancement in cartography from the time of Ptolemy.  Medieval maps tended to place Jerusalem at the center of the known world, and represented both geographical knowledge of the physical route to Jerusalem as well as a symbolic route for salvation.  The Hereford Mappa Mundi, created ca. 1300 and housed at the Hereford Cathedral, is a T-O map with Jerusalem at the center, the East at the top, and Britain and Ireland on the bottom left.  Along with cities and towns, the map depicts Biblical events, plants and animals, fantastical creatures, and classical mythology.


Hereford Mappa Mundi – photo credit: wikimedia commons

Another one of the most notable medieval maps was that created in 1450 by the Venetian monk and cartographer, Fra Mauro (who also has a region of the moon named after him, where Apollo 13 was supposed to land).  His map was considered the most detailed and accurate of its time, including Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Atlantic.  And you can see that he oriented the map with the South at the top.


Fra Mauro Map, now at the Museo Correr in Venice – photo credit: wikimedia commons

And finally, we have the 1507 map created by Martin Waldseemüller, the first map to label the newly-discovered continent in the western hemisphere “America.”  This map includes knowledge about the coasts of Africa and India from recent explorations and discoveries, and includes a large ocean to the east of Asia: a very early depiction of the Pacific.  But the aspect which students are most responsive to is the narrow strip of land encompassing all that was known at the time about North and South America.  You can see the detailed east coast and Caribbean, and the hazier depiction of land to the west.


Waldseemüller Map, Universalis Cosmographia, now housed in the Library of Congress – photo credit: Library of Congress

Obviously there are many more historical maps that could be used as examples.  But overall, I can’t say enough about how well students respond to maps such as these as the basis for jump-starting class discussion, having students make discoveries that you might not have noticed yourself, and, even if this might all seem rather perfunctory, I find them very fun discussions both as an instructor and for students to help understand how Europeans of different eras envisaged the world around them.

  • See also: Simon Garfield, On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks (New York: Gotham, 2013).

History, Comedy, & Good TV

With summer now in full swing, it’s time to think about the new school year on its way and some ways to make history and social science curriculum, content, and the student learning experience more exciting. Looking for some fun, accessible takes on historical events and eras? Here are two of my favourites that you might want to check out:

History Bites

This Canadian sketch show from the late 1990s and early 2000s looked at significant historical dates from the perspective of someone watching the event unfold on television. A small ensemble of actors played recurring characters giving context and information about the event in recognisable television genres, all hosted by Rick Green aka Bill from The Red Green Show. They utilised news segments, sitcoms, talk shows, game shows, soap operas, etc. to show different aspects of the event as it unfolded and the sketches were shown as though the viewer (or Rick) was flipping through the channels. Definitely not for children, but older teens might be up for looking past the production levels to enjoy a different take on history.

Memorable moment:

Who Killed JFC – A JFK-style conspiracy about Julius Caesar’s assassination

Horrible Histories

This UK comedy sketch show is based on Terry Deary’s best-selling Horrible Histories books (which has spawned a range of spin-offs). Off and on since 2009 as a live action television show, Horrible Histories prides itself on sharing the gross, disgusting, and even horrific details that school history curriculum tends to leave out of the story in a show meant for young people. At one point 50% of British children aged 6-12 were watching the show. With a rat playing host, a great cast, writers who were openly influenced by Blackadder and Monty Python, catchy songs with impressive historical content, and a love of jumping around time periods and locations, it’s amusing for kids and parents.

Memorable moments:

The Monarch’s Song – A quick, catchy look at every British monarch since 1066

RAF Pilot Song – A touching, boy band-style tribute to the RAF pilots of WWII

Further Reading:

Leo Hickman, ‘How Horrible Histories became a huge hit’, The Guardian, 17 March 2011.

Margaret Scanlon, ‘History Beyond the Academy: Humor and Horror in Children’s History Books’, New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship Vol. 16 (2011): 69-91.

Department for Education, ‘National curriculum in England: history programmes of study’, Statutory Guidance, 11 September 2013.

Digital Humanities Summer School

This year’s iteration of the Digital Humanities Summer School at the University of Oxford starts next week.  I attended the week-long summer school last year, participating in the “Introduction to Digital Humanities” workshop.  Other workshops were centered on much more specific areas within the digital humanities, including crowd-sourcing, musicology, text encoding, linked data, and digital humanities for medieval and renaissance studies.

Based out of St. Anne’s College, my workshop provided an overview of the avenues of possibility within the digital humanities.  Along with a variety of practical applications and examples in different areas, we were also exposed to more philosophical issues regarding the digital humanities as a whole.  Several themes and questions emerged throughout the week:

  • How does digital technology fit in with traditional ways in which humanists conduct research and teach? On the one hand, humanists work in similar ways while using digital technology as an enhancement.  On the other hand, we must confront how our traditional methods are to be revised in these new contexts.
  • In what sense can we do things now that we couldn’t do before? Here we have questions of big data and the potentials of having so much data that we as scholars are forced to change our methods (but also have the opportunity to dream up new projects with analytical capacities that were never before available).  We have using crowd-sourcing and citizen science to both process big data and engage the public in new ways.  We have new ways to visualize scale and time – even as a modernist, I am fascinated by thinking about how digital technology can allow us to understand the vast scale of history in new ways and attempt to grasp it.
  • How do the digital humanities fit in with traditional formal disciplinary structures? Digital humanities projects often cross subject and disciplinary boundaries, or require sharing across boundaries.  Is it possible to create structures that will allow for the digital humanities to spread across all disciplines?
  • How do we build infrastructures that allow us to engage with our materials? Digital change is often viewed as short-term and decisions are made quickly for something that needs exploration and thoughtful development for long-term use.  We also must be concerned with the building of infrastructures that will take into account the huge amounts of data accumulation and try not to close off options for the future even if future needs can’t be predicted.
  • Relatedly, how do we protect our current digital technology output to be used as future resources for historians? When thinking about data preservation, we have to consider how to go about archiving internet sources and other related issues with digital archiving, if we need to keep everything, what is important to keep and what isn’t, and who is making these decisions.  It is difficult to predict what is going to be useful in the future, but the volume of information being generated throughout the world is outstripping the ability to store it.  We need to somehow create distance to be able to make decisions that will have a huge impact on future historians.
  • How far along are we in the development of digitization? Changes in the technology of 3D topography, hyperspectral imagery, embedding metadata, etc., will likely greatly change the experience of examining digitized texts and objects in the near future.  The recreation of the physical with digital technology will certainly be impacted and there are questions that go along with that.  How do we go about describing physicality and use to people who are only exposed to an object digitally?  How do you approximate on a screen what it would have been like to read a specific book, for example?  How do you describe something that had multiple uses over time?  How large is something?  Scale on a screen is difficult to communicate and makes a difference to perceived use (such as the difference between a pocket-sized Bible and one that would be kept on a pulpit).  One interesting example we had in our workshop was a medieval anatomy text that had layers of flaps showing layers inside of a person’s skull.  As it stands, it would be very difficult to communicate such a thing digitally.
  • Relatedly, what different considerations should be in play as we move beyond text-based sources?
  • How will accepted editorial principles develop over time? We have questions over who will be able to access digital humanities products, how open academics should be to let other people use data, and infrastructure issues for the product/data owner.
  • What ethical questions must be considered in the sphere of digital humanities? Privacy is the current big issue here.
  • What can academic departments do to integrate digital humanities? And how should digital humanities projects be integrated as part of an academic career?  This challenges traditional departmental and institutional structures, ways in which academics are encouraged to work, and ways in which academic work is evaluated.
  • What does this look like in the classroom? With increased emphasis on gamification and personalized education, can we also maintain focus on skills we already value, like writing, close reading, and critical analysis?

Most important overall was the message of collaboration.  Lone scholars can’t possibly achieve all that is possible in the digital world.  If we are approaching a question from a humanities standpoint, we also have to make it appealing to the people with whom we collaborate who come from a technical background.  How can humanities research questions be interesting to them so that a partnership can be formed rather than a one-way relationship?  Humanists should not be the ones with the questions and the computer science people the ones with the tools, all the time.  And thinking in terms of teamwork and collaboration, allowing each person to bring their different perspectives and skill sets to the table, will open up so much more potential for what the digital humanities can offer.

Smartphones and Mobile Technology: Learning anytime, anywhere?

As I continue on in my 6 month course in Technology Enhanced Learning with the Open University, I’ve come across a week devoted to mobile technology (handheld technology in particular, such as smartphones and tablets) and its potential uses for teaching and learning. It’s an interesting topic and one I thought I’d explore a bit here.

As an introduction to the week’s topic, we’ve basically been asked to consider three things: 1) What types of mobile technology do we each use? 2) In what ways do we use mobile technology? and 3) Which of these ways contribute to what we might call learning?

There are also other factors under consideration, such as how frequently we undertake each activity, whether we perform each action for fun or for work, and how we have used mobile technology in our teaching (or plan to in the future). The recent rise of modern tablets (Apple’s iPad debuted in 2010), smartphones becoming increasingly common and more affordable, and free WiFi on campuses and/or affordable data plans are allowing more students and teachers to work on the road, check their email and messages, and stay connected to the classroom community throughout the week.

Suggestions for the types of mobile technology we might have access to included a basic cellphone, a smartphone, an iPod or mp3 or mp4 player, and/or a tablet. I hadn’t thought of my old iPod Touch, something I’ve rarely used in the past two years since I got a smartphone, so I was happy to have had the list of suggestions. We then completed surveys on how often we used each item and for what (such as for fun, for work, or for social uses). These then led to a discussion about mobile technology and learning that was supplemented by a reading about mature students’ use of mobile technologies before the iPad came on the scene.

You might be thinking, ‘I have a smartphone and I don’t use it for “learning”. I’m not a student’, which is basically how I started out the week, too. But then I began reading about some examples of ways in which people do use mobile technology for learning and realised that I do use my smartphone in ways that contribute to my learning. For example:

  • I check the weather using dedicated apps (applications) or on the web
  • I send and receive emails to and from other practitioners to discuss work and ask and answer questions
  • I scan through the Pinterest app to get new ideas and find how to guides on a range of topics, including developing infographics for history topics
  • I pop on Twitter to see if there are any new calls for papers for upcoming conferences and edited collections
  • I’ll Google any questions that come up while watching a television show.

I’ll also note that a number of my classmates and I agreed that we consider our laptops to be mobile technology, although in my (somewhat old) Macbook‘s case, not handheld mobile technology — it’s far too heavy! If we agree that laptops are mobile technology, then the list of uses for learning expands dramatically. So the next time you pick up your phone to check a message or Google something, think about how you might just be learning something new!

Suggested readings:

Anderson, M. (2015) Technology Device Ownership: 2015 [online], Pew Research Center.

Dahlstrom, E., Brooks, D.C., Grajek, S. and Reeves, J. (2015) ECAR Study of Students and Information Technology, 2015, Louisville, CO, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research.

Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2012) ‘Language learning defined by time and place: a framework for next generation designs’ in Díaz-Vera, J.E. (ed.) Left to My Own Devices: Learner Autonomy and Mobile Assisted Language Learning, Bingley, UK, Emerald.

Kukulska-Hulme, A., Pettit, J., Bradley, L., Carvalho, A.A., Herrington, A., Kennedy, D. and Walker, A. (2011) ‘Mature students using mobile devices in life and learning’, International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, vol.3, no.1, pp.18–52.

The Economist (2015) ‘Planet of the phones’, The Economist, 28 February.