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A week in the life of...
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A week in the life of...
Professor John Traxler, University of Wolverhampton
by John Traxler


Having just got back from the eLearning Africa conference in Lusaka and getting ready for a week in Singapore followed by several days in Mumbai, this looked like being a week in the office and a week of cycling to work (thereby addressing several recent episodes of sitting around eating hotel and airline food). It also means a week at the Learning Lab with colleagues Liz, Denise and Abi at our Priorslee campus in Shropshire and some meetings in our City campus.

The Singapore trip is part of a programme funded by IDRC to support research capacity building in south Asia. The project I support is based at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and is building a mobile application in Khmer to improve sexual health amongst Cambodian young people. The project team will be doing a brief presentation at an IDRC workshop in Singapore so we have to revise and rehearse in this week. Most university staff in Cambodia were killed or exiled during the Khmer Rouge era and the universities were closed down so there’s lots of capacity to build but the team are keen and learning fast.

After attacking some email to start Monday, a colleague comes over from the City campus to discuss extending her research exploring the growth, or otherwise, of ethical awareness in budding computing professionals. We realise that the research could go in all sorts of different directions. Interestingly, there is some overlap with our discussions with ALT and with IAML (the International Association for Mobile Learning) on ethical frameworks for e-learning researchers and mobile learning researchers, and also with our special interest group on the informal ethics of educational interventions in popular technologies, funded by the HEA. Abi maintains this group and we’ve got a growing membership and an increasing number of outputs and activities.

On Tuesday, in the aftermath of eLearning Africa, I get approached by the editor of their post conference report. Apparently I said, "We no longer talk about society without technology. It’s inconceivable. In the same way, it’s no longer viable to talk about learning without technology. It’s no longer sensible to talk about technology and learning as two separate things — they are the same thing. We shouldn’t look at learning in terms of previous notions of (PC-based) digital divides. Mobile phones have moved technology from the “top” (privileged) spaces, defined by scarcity, to the “bottom” (everyone) spaces, defined by abundance.” I agree to being quoted. And then exploit the opportunity to push for an African edition of the mobile learning peer-reviewed journal, the International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning. 

Later on I get the chance to attend to some outstanding editorial tasks. The first one had been putting the finishing touches to the editorial for special edition of a distance learning journal. Writing the editorial is proving to be quite fun; the preceding months of editing much less so! The Learning Lab is coordinating an upcoming edition of Interactive Learning Environments and we’ve learnt a lot about making all the processes run smoothly. In addition, the HEA’s education subject centre, ESCALATE, has asked us to organise an edited book aimed at introducing mobile learning ideas to trainee teachers. The contributions have started to come in and it’s turning out to be a great excuse to read and disseminate new and exciting developments from across the sector.

On Wednesday I receive the formal invitation to be ‘foreign advisor’ to a university in Kazakhstan, doing a lecture series in Kazakhstan and supporting a postgraduate student working in mobile learning on a UK study visit. The Learning Lab gets well rewarded for both halves of the deal.  Also, on Wednesday the confirmation comes through that a PhD I’d examined at Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, had gone through successfully - phew! It was a study of South Africa’s Living Labs initiative, a framework of understandings with communities intended to encourage social entrepreneurs around socially useful technologies. I’d spent two months last year at the Meraka Institute, the South African e-learning institute leading the programme, and am still trying to understand how sustainable innovation can take place in countries with ‘small government’ and only social entrepreneurs and foundations to take up the slack.

Throughout the week one of the first large mobile learning conferences in the US takes place, albeit largely focused on commercial and military, and thanks to the mLearnCon hashtag I manage to get a very good sense of what went on from the tweeters. Something else to follow up on behalf of the International Association of Mobile Learning.

In the afternoon, I review a couple of papers for the Games Based Learning conference. They’re good so it’s easy and informative to write the reviews and I become more conscious that even though when it comes to games, I don’t ‘get’ it, clearly this an innovative, growing and challenging area with much in common with mobile learning in its capacity to ‘disrupt’ preconceived notions about learning. I make a note to talk more with Karl Royle, my gaming colleague, about synergy and convergence. I also receive an email confirming the date for my ‘public lecture’, the Wolverhampton equivalent to a professorial inaugural, so start preparing for this too.

On Thursday morning, local company, Ombiel, come in for a chat about the evolving higher education IT landscape. I’m convinced that there are many good reasons why we’re on the verge of a change in IT procurement from ‘institution supplies’ to ‘learner supplies’. Ombiel produce systems that give learners organisational and geographical information specific to their current location and to the place in the university.

Some Singapore polytechnic students had approached me earlier for advice to help their entry to the Microsoft Imagine Challenge. They were developing a messaging system to help African teachers and had heard of my work in Kenya. Today they announced they were through the regional finals and heading from Warsaw for the World Cup. Last week I’d spent an evening coaching them and it looks like it worked.

Another job for today is to book an air ticket to Prague for later in the year, to give an invited session on mobility, connectedness and information at a conference on information systems development. Not my specialist area but I’m on a mission to convince everyone about the transformative effects of mobility across so many aspects of society including the ways in which produce, share, store, transmit and consume information, and images and ideas.

In the afternoon, we write the majority of small but interesting bid to the HEA Computing Subject Centre for support to build up a network of computer science lecturers across UK, southern Africa and India and it goes off.  We’ve managed to create a community of lecturers interesting in pooling their expertise, materials and methods - let’s hope we get funded.

Abi and I also start to get the outline together for our 'early researcher' writing event; last year we had run a very successful residential workshop for the mobile learning research community and we guessed there might be a demand for something similar for the e-learning community, especially amongst researchers targeting ALT-J for their REF output. It’s coming together and looks like a worthwhile formula. Here’s hoping.

The whole week has been beset by the difficulties of getting a visa for my Indian visit whilst being on the verge of leaving for Singapore. At 5am on Friday I catch a London train. I have to collect a second new passport, and by noon I have done this. By 2pm I’m at Bristol airport about to fly to Singapore, leaving my other new passport in the Indian High Commission - where it and I are subsequently refused a visa five times. Unfortunately this means I am unable to travel – despite being at the airport ready to go. As a frequent international traveller, these are the challenges I face alongside my everyday work!

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