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Enacting theory through mlearning design: mantras and text inserts

Mobile Design Positioning Statements for Design

I found myself wireframing some potential mlearning tools recently using Pencil and Balsamiq, two GUI prototyping tools that I use from time to time. As I was wireframing some of the page layouts, I became a bit distracted as I was coming off a session of writing my PhD thesis. So, my mind was still a bit in that writing mode as I was wireframing. I found myself slotting in text in the mobile wireframes that had more to do with my thesis than the tool I was working on. I had created quite a few of these, all bare bones design (in some cases just the iPhone wrapper) but all with some textual insertion that related to theory.

If you are interested in an excellent book on mlearning design and the theory that should be behind it, I might suggest the following:

It is a fantastic book and goes well beyond anything I might be able to suggest here and in anything else I have written on this blog about mlearning. Some excellent chapters on mapping and representation (in particular). So, that being said, what I am presenting here is rudimentary.

Mantras=Enacted Theory

I am basically suggesting that this distraction I described earlier of slotting in theoretical or interactional text in these wireframes enacts the marriage of theory and technological design. It is a mantra enacting a desired state of balance. The text is more than just a list of design considerations; it is more than a wish-list of ‘nice to have’ deliverables. It is enacted theory.

Mobile Design

So I wanted to keep designing these as much for inspiration as for theory and recollection. They inspire me to push beyond what has been presented to date and affirm that what I am trying to do with my thesis (mlearning for the Humanities in higher education) is a  worthwhile pursuit. That there are design considerations that we are not always considering, considerations that extend beyond usability and navigation and clear feedback and signaling chains. There are design considerations of interactional context and the creation of mediums for the pursuit of novelty and experimentation. That there is a role for design that challenges and inspires outside the context of current workflows or entertainment; it is a tacit understanding that design isn’t always monetizable (but it is always interactional). These mantras also illustrated an important consideration for participatory design processes.

Participatory Design and Mantras: Articulating need in a shared language

What these little text inserts also illustrated to me was their potential use as scaffolds in a participatory design process. If working with a community unaccustomed to speaking in technological terms (and why would anyone but technologists be comfortable with this approach), then creating spaces for this sort of seemingly incongruous communication is important. It gives a voice and draws the discussion closer to need and requirement. Articulating where previous technologies have fallen short is useful, certainly, but that approach couches future design on past models. it builds in legacy into the discussion and demands that iterations resemble past design.  This approach works in shapes and text. Drop a text insert (a callout, a button, a markup, a Stickie, anything) in space and articulate what that space should be doing for you, or what type of interaction you want to have there. Nothing original here as interactional design and workshopping has worked with white paper and stickies for decades, but using it right in a wireframe bridges that gap between gathering requirements, articulating, and presenting them. For academic purposes, it enacts some aspect of a theory or framework or observation that the individual wants enacted.

These I created through some sort of distracted serendipity. As a conscious design tool, I suspect it would produce some good results. As a mantra, it verbalizes expectations of both the technology and the individual. It enacts these expectations through design considerations. I think it is time to begin approaching our technology with this sort of enacted theory or philosophical stance backing our activity.

 

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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