Learners and Mobile Devices

Collaborative Network of Practice

Thomas Cochrane & Vickel Narayan


One of the goals of the #NPF14LMD project was to create a collaborative network of practice across the six institutions participating in the project. The network provided a support and communication structure linking the six institutional communities of practice, enabling sharing of their experiences and a sense of belonging to a wider national and international community. This chapter outlines the use of mobile social media to facilitate the #NPF14LMD network.

Research Questions

The two project research questions formed the basis for the foundational concepts underlying the #NPF14LMD collaborative network.
RQ1. Will learners’ mobile devices deliver innovation, inclusion, and transformation—the main potential benefits for learners? If so, how?

RQ2. What is the ‘framework for enhanced learning and institutional change’ that will deliver these benefits?


The mobile learning research literature indicates that innovation (Kukulska-Hulme, Sharples, Milrad, Arnedillo-Sanchez, & Vavoula, 2009; Parsons, 2013; Sharples, 2010), inclusion (Attewell, Savill-Smith, & Douch, 2009; Traxler, 2010; Unterfrauner & Marschalek, 2010), and transformation (Lindsay, 2015; Pachler, Bachmair, & Cook, 2010; Puentedura, 2006) are key benefits of mobile learning. The network was designed to allow sharing of practice that explored these benefits from a variety of contexts and approaches. Sharples (2013) summarises the range of approaches taken by mobile learning initiatives as a scale from enhancing curriculum-led classrooms to informal highly mobile learning environments (Figure 1).
Cook and Santos (2016) describe three aspects of state of the art mobile learning research: (1) the ability to use social media and apps to enable new patterns of connected, social, learning and work-based practices; (2) design research around the transformative possibilities of mobile learning; (3) a focus upon user/learner generated content and contexts. Basing the #NPF14LMD collaborative network around the use of mobile social media was one way to approach innovation (facilitate new pedagogies), inclusion (facilitate open access to all participants), and transformation (from the social use of mobile social media to the educational use).


The collaborative network was developed as part of a model framework for practice and institutional change that we envisioned the project practitioners might apply within their own contexts. Facilitating lecturer professional development and providing a supporting technological infrastructure were core elements of the framework. We borrowed concepts from Puentedura’s (2006) educational technology adoption framework (SAMR – Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition), and all the participating researchers and practitioners were supplied with an iPad mini and an iPhone each to personalise and facilitate access to the use of mobile social media in their own contexts. We did not remotely manage or image participants' devices to simulate a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environment. Jameson (Jameson, 2014; Jameson, Ferrell, Kelly, Walker, & Ryan, 2006) emphasises the critical nature of developing trust within networks and communities. Building trust within a new collaborative network of researchers and practitioners who did not know all of the other participants was a key goal of the use of social media within the #NPF14LMD network.

Facilitating a Collaborative Network

A key strategy was to model the use of the mobile social media tools we were exploring throughout the project, and create an environment that could facilitate sharing of ideas and practice across the geographically disperse participants. We based the design of the #NPF14LMD social network around the concepts of social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978), nurturing communities of practice (Wenger, 1998; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002; Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009), connectivsm (Siemens, 2004), and rhizomatic learning (Cormier, 2008). The #NPF14LMD network connected teams of researchers/practitioners across six institutions nationally. Cormier’s concept of rhizomatic learning decentralises learning environments and refocuses the role of the teacher from deliverer of content to a designer of an ecology of resources and triggering events that enable learner discussion and creativity. Cook et al., (2013) argue that mobile social media can bridge the socio-cultural milieus of everyday life and education. We attempted to model these concepts in the #NPF14LMD collaborative network. There were five main elements of developing an ecology of resources to support the project: (1) a community-driven hub and discussion forum, (2) collaboration and communication channels, (3) opportunities for sharing practice, (4) a way of linking the local communities of practice into the wider network, and (5) a repository for project documentation. An ecology of resources was developed consisting of a core suite of mobile social media tools including:
Other key collaboration strategies included face-to-face meetings, and participation in presenting at a variety of symposia and conferences across New Zealand and Australia (Cochrane et al., 2015; Cochrane et al., 2014; Frielick, Cochrane, Narayan, Moyle, & Oldfield, 2015; Heap et al., 2015). Participation in these symposia and conferences also served to generate a broader network of interest in the project and conversations on social media that linked a global network of interested followers of the project. Figure 2 illustrates the #NPF14LMD project ecology of resources (EOR).
The #NPF14LMD project network EOR provided multiple channels for sharing and collaboration, including an email listserve. This ecology of resources provided participants with several options for collaboration to choose from, with the Google Plus Community serving as a central hub from which to find the various project resources and collaboration channels. The ability to create calendar events and schedule reminders for upcoming events such as webinars with G+ Community was very useful for helping to coordinate interaction within the network of the project. Because we wanted to model open practice and allow for project interaction from a potentially global community of mobile learning experts we decided to make all of the project social media platforms public, but contribution was by invitation only. The email listserve and project documentation folder were kept closed to the participants only. Within the first three months of establishing the project there were over 80 posts on the Google Plus Community, with 35 comments on these posts, and 44 #NPF14LMD Twitter hashtag users active creating 182 tweets. Twitter interactions using the #NPF14LMD hashtag were graphically analysed via TAGSExplorer (Hawksey, 2011), with the live data available at http://bit.ly/1OQkB2s and a network diagram screenshot as at December 2015 shown in Figure 3.
The density of twitter conversational interaction is shown by the visualisation of Twitter replies, mentions and retweets that is illustrated as a growing network of conversations recorded in a time-lapse video. The time-lapse video illustrates the growth of the Twitter network around the project, highlighting that the network grew in reach and confidence around specific critical incidents such as conference and symposia where project participants shared their experiences and practice. Twitter was also a key tool to nurture the network – as practitioners joined Twitter (mostly for the first time as a result of the project) they were welcomed into the network, and peer feedback was given through likes and retweets of ideas and practice shared via the Twitter hashtag. A snapshot of the TAGSExplorer visualization after almost two years of the project (December 2015) is shown as a cumulative network diagram in Figure 4, where the largest nodes are the most prolific twitter conversationalists using the project hashtag #NPF14LMD.
Analysis of the key network nodes indicated by TAGSExplorer shows that the top Twitter conversationalists for the project include not only the project coordinators, but also several practitioners within the top 20, as shown in Figure 5.
The Google Plus Community formed a hub for linking the mobile social media EOR activity around the project. The use of the Google Plus Community was optional for the project participants although all participants were encouraged to contribute at some level. Significant activities included a weekly project coordinators video Hangout (for example: http://bit.ly/20zcErm), a series of webinars with invited guests, a series of project report webinars, a virtual symposium, shared links to project resources and research, and sharing of conference presentations related to the project. A collaborative Google Doc was used to create the Webinar and project report schedules (http://bit.ly/1K4eGsh), these were live-streamed as Hangouts On Air, and archived on YouTube for asynchronous viewing. The webinar series schedule is shown in Table 1.

WebinarLink to notesTwitterDate (NZT)
Helen Keegan (UK) - Collaborative Mobile Film Making Notes 24th Oct 2014
Alan Levine (USA) - The Affordances of the Open WebNotes 31 Oct
Catherine Cronin (IE) - Being an Open EducatorNotes 14 Nov
Toni Bruce (NZ) - Qualitative Research ApproachesNotes 21 Nov
Logan Austin (NZ) - My Journey from Skeptic to NinjaNotes 28 Nov
Dee O’Carroll (NZ)- Māori Learners & PedagogiesNotes 12 Dec
Laurent Antonczak (NZ/FR) - Mobile pedagogiesNotes 1 Apr 2015
Table 1. #NPF14LMD Webinar Series
The series of mid-2015 project report Hangouts are collated in Table 2.
WebinarTwitterG+ LinkDate
Adrienne Moyle and team - #np14lmd in Education 16 April 11:30am
Matt Thompson - #np14lmd in Carpentry 5 May 12pm
James Oldfield and team - #npf14lmd Unitec team 21 May 11:30am
Kathryn MacCallum and team - #np14lmd in Computing 11 June 9:30am
AUT team - #npf14lmd AUT team  29 May 10am
Massey Team - #npf14lmd team at Massey Uni  

Table 2. Project Report Hangouts

In July 2015 we convened a virtual symposium, whereby project participants collaboratively created a map of their local project locations across New Zealand, and embedded project presentations and reflective VODCasts into this map, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6. #NPF14LMD participant Google Map

The map is arranged as several layers, including a layer for the project coordinators, and a layer for each participating institution. There are 39 contributors to the collaborative project map, with 32 videos embedded within it, creating a geolocated multimedia overview of the various educational contexts explored throughout the project. Created and shared in July 2015 the #NPF14LMD participant Map has had 534 views between July 2015 and December 2015.
A summary of some of the social media activity around the project is shown in Table 3.
Mobile social mediaActivity
#NPF14LMD Tweets 662 conversations involving 129 users
Google Plus Community activity  60 members
558 posts and 205 comments
TAGBoard  Over 1200 posts from Twitter, Facebook, G+, Vine, Instagram & Flickr
Webinars  13 Livestreamed and archived videos
Collaborative Google Map participants  39 participants, 32 embedded videos
Participant eportfoliosGoogle Plus Communities, Wordpress blogs, Mahara etc…
MINA2014 Conference Twitter activityhttp://bit.ly/1mjDAIW
Ascilite2014 Conference Twitter activityhttp://bit.ly/1PGrTI8
2015 Roadshow G+ Photoshttp://bit.ly/1KwFYHP
ISAAT2015 Conference Videostarhttp://bit.ly/1VY1J45
TERNZ2015 Conference Twitter activityhttp://bit.ly/1L59CPd
Ascilite2015 Conference Twitter activityhttp://bit.ly/1oeQb1E

Table 3. Summary of #NPF14LMD project social media activity.
The global reach of the project is illustrated by a map of Twitter geotagged tweets , shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Map of Twitter geotagged tweets for #NPF14LMD


It took significant time for many project participants to gain confidence with using and interacting actively with the project social media EOR. One of the key initial barriers for many participants was the use of pubically viewable social networks and protocols around the use of social media within educational contexts. A series of project roadshows in March 2015 at each participating institution was effective at mediating the concept of the mobile social media EOR supporting the network (http://bit.ly/1KwFYHP ). The introduction of a project email listserve was aimed at providing a foundational communication and discussion forum for the project participants, however it was only ever used as an announcement channel for project administration purposes. A core group of project coordinators and practitioners made regular active use of the mobile social media channels, while others lurked passively on the periphery of this core group, with some preferring to keep their project activity private to themselves and their students via institutional systems such as Mahara and Moodle. However, as participant confidence with the educational use of mobile social media grew throughout the project we began to see several practitioners create their own social media ecology of resources to support their students and classes. Each of these ecologies was made up of a unique blend of social media and institutional tools that were suitable for each context. Based upon their experiences throughout the project, participants theoretically grounded their use of mobile social media from a variety of learning theories and frameworks, including: social constructivism, connectivism, rhizomatic learning, activity theory, e-tivities, situated learning, conversational learning, and socio-cultural theories. These theoretical perspectives provided a rich foundation from which to build the educational use of mobile social media within the various curriculum contexts, described within the case studies covered by the following chapters in this ebook.
There were different institutional and infrastructure barriers and enablers experienced within each institution, however working with the institutional IT support services to provide a robust wifi network for the project participants was a common theme. For example there were many posts shared in the G+ Community with ideas and hints from the participants regarding ways of implementing wireless screen-mirroring from mobile devices. While initially part of the project plan, the provision of MOAs: Mobile Airplay Screens (Cochrane, Munn, & Antonczak, 2013), for each institution exceeded the available project budget and practicalities of supply and transportation to each institution, hence each institution explored their own wireless screen-mirroring solution.


The use of mobile social media to support the #NPF14LMD collaborative network enabled both active and passive participation as an opt-in form of facilitating sharing and collaboration throughout the two years of the project. Four of the six participating groups became regular contributors to the national collaborative network, while the other two groups lurked on the periphery of the network. A significant benefit of the use of social media to support the project network was the ability to create a global impact and awareness around the project and to link global experts in mobile learning into the network. Another significant benefit was the development of participants’ confidence in becoming mobile social media users and the development of professional and educational practices that they could then model to their own students, and explore integrating into the curriculum.


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