‘Who-topia’: are we on the cusp of a paradigm shift in how we teach and learn?


We wrote this post originally a couple of years ago, but thought it might be fun to re-post it and reflect on how things have changed…

 The TARDIS effect: how mobile devices could transform teaching and learning…

In 1963 the BBC launched the science fiction television series Dr. Who, in which ‘The Doctor’ explored the universe (and continues to do so through his various regenerations) in his TARDIS, a machine that’s ‘bigger on the inside’ and that allows him to travel anywhere in time and space. Some 50 years later we too can do the same, albeit virtually, using mobile devices and this opens up an exciting constellation of possibilities for teaching and learning. With this in mind @ka81 and I set about re-imagining an alternative teaching and learning universe with mobile technology at its core. We have called this new educational universe, ‘Who-topia’… but could it happen and do we want it?

More and more of us have in our pockets our very own T.A.R.D.I.S… and it’s much bigger on the inside that we can possibly imagine! No longer does teaching and learning need to be constrained by time and space as students can travel to wherever they wish, whenever they wish by using their mobile phones to connect to the ‘Internet of Things’. Educators and students alike can view, upload, download, collate, compile and share data, ideas and resources at the tap of a touchscreen. But, we can both be so much more than simply travellers in virtual time and space! We can also use these devices to interact with our environment, to collect data and control other devices as part of our teaching and learning experience and this opens up glorious new dimensions for teaching and learning.

21st century teaching and learning?


Imagine the following scenario. Students sign in to their classes with their mobile phones, having scooped the session’s content via their class’s social media group the night before and archived it to their own mobile Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). They use their phones, in class, to interact with the materials, the teacher and fellow students in order to test their understanding, whilst sharing their views, comments and questions via a live Twitter™ feed. The whole session is recorded in real time and uploaded to the students’ phones at the end of the session. Outside the classroom their learning continues as they now use their phones to collect data for projects and use social media such as Facebook™ to ask questions and share answers. They build their own data-loggers in the university makerspace to explore ideas further and design and code their own open-source phone apps to interrogate these devices and share their data via Bluetooth to the web. They record their progress as they go on their blogs and add in useful updates and links to their LinkedIn™ profiles at the end of the day.Unrealistic?  We don’t think so… here’s why.

A constellation of possibilities


Automated attendance registers involving students swiping the barcode on their student cards are already in operation and barcode and QR-code scanner apps already exist, whilst free apps like Socrates™ and Kahoot™ allow students to use their mobile device like ‘clickers’ to interact with peers and tutors during in-class sessions. Facebook is already being used to deliver content, provide 24/7 support for students and allow them the freedom to upload their work wherever they are and in whatever format they like. Evernote™ is already being used as a virtual PLE by some students to compile, collate, edit and create content specific to their own learning and it is now easier than ever to scoop, snip, scrape and clip information to support individual learning. Live Twitter feeds and chats too are on the increase and provide teachers and students with a ready means of interaction and webinars and video-blogs are becoming more common in educational settings. In addition walk-throughs are now easy to produce in real time using video capture software like Blueberry™, Action! ™ and Bandicam™ (tip: go to where the gamers are!)and we have successfully used the latter to record lectures and provide instructional materials for students.

Sensors at your finger tips


Mobile phones are packed full of sensors that students can use to collect data on temperature, pressure, light intensity, humidity, sound levels and vibrations and there are a huge numbers of free utility apps that can be downloaded and used to turn these sensors into seismometers, range finders, wind meters, speed guns and heart monitors. Makerspaces are beginning to appear in educational settings providing students with a wealth of enquiry-based learning opportunities and 3D printers and physical computing devices such as Raspberry Pi™ and Arduino™ are becoming more common in our schools, colleges and universities thanks to a new wave of educational initiatives. MinecraftEdu™ has merged gaming with learning and Lego Mindstorm™ allows kids to build physical devices to learn about science . And with these developments has come coding. It’s now part of the National Curriculum in UK schools and children as young as 8-9 are using MIT’s Scratch™ to create their own content  whilst older children are using it to create their own phone apps and more advanced users ‘joining the dots’ by using MIT’s S4A™ software to code apps that will control Arduino-based devices.

Only time (and space?) will tell…


The idea that we need a paradigm shift in education is not new  and it has long been recognised that at the heart of this shift lies a return to more creative ways of learning and teaching. Mobile technologies, we believe, provide us with an unprecedented opportunity to  achieve this by allowing us to develop new, flexible pedagogies that provide students with diverse, rich learning environments in which the creativity of the student as hacker / maker can flourish and in which learning is no longer confined in time and space. So, the question is this; is our ‘Who-topia’ for the ‘geeks’ or ‘the masses’?  We guess only time (and space?) we tell…



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