Despite the extensive body of publications exploring the potential of mobile devices in learning settings, little research is today concerned with how issues of mobility and place shape high-demanding cognitive activities such as writing. This paper investigates mobile learning practices while university students write technical reports collaboratively. The paper draws on a body of HCI research that seeks to elucidate how the growing use of ubiquitous and mobile technologies redefines our relationtionship and experience of place and time. While such technologies and applications allow people to be mobile and engage with activities at a variety of physical locations, understanding their use raises analytical issues concerning the situated nature of the very practices mobile technologies facilitate. According to Dourish (2006), for instance, when the technologies of interest are portable, distributed and embedded in our physical and social environment (i.e. wireless services), it becomes central to understand how such technologies transform people’s interactions with a specific location (i.e. how they navigate or represent it), or how they can enable a meaningful engagement with a given physical environment. This, in turn, draws attention to the social, emotional and corporeal aspects concerned with people’s experience of being in place, rather than merely investigating the physical affordance determined by its structural dimension (McCarthy et al., 2005). This paper investigates the role of physical place in the context of mobile learning activities. More specifically, it focuses on reciprocal transactions between places occupied, technologies used and the specific activities undertaken. Our interest in place is, therefore, tightly interwoven with the use of technologies, how they are appropriated in the context of the group activities to distribute the various writing tasks to a number of different locations, and to practically turn locations into appropriate places for writing. In terms of analysis, this entails to draw attention to writers’ psychological, social and practical orientation to the places they occupy, and not merely to their writing tools and resource, tasks and objective. Our interest in understanding the materiality of place, and the different ways in which it can practically shape the mobile collaborative writing activities, draws therefore on the idea that place does not merely entail geometrical and physical properties, but it also encompasses facets of human experience and activities within it. The empirical material examined comes from two investigations of university students engaged in collaborative writing activities within two different courses. The theoretical approach chosen for the examination of the materiality of place, and how issues of mobility reflect on writing, is grounded in Casey’s phenomenological theorization of “place”. The analysis of the data shows the role of physical environments and contexts on mobile collaborative writing activities. These results contribute to a move away from the conception of mobile learning occurring anytime and anywhere. Instead it call for an understanding of the material “here” and “now” of a particular “mobile” collaborative writing activities.
Talk presented at Technology-Enhanced Learning Sciences 2nd Nordic Symposium on Technology-Enhanced Learning