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A key step to understanding paradigm shifts in e-learning: towards context-aware ubiquitous learning

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Electronic learning (e-learning) has become widely accepted in both entirely online learning environments and in blended learning contexts (Mayadas, Bourne & Bacsich, 2009). In a broad sense, e-learning is used to describe the way people use an
  Colloquium A key step to understanding paradigm shifts in e-learning: towardscontext-aware ubiquitous learningGi-Zen Liu and Gwo-Jen Hwang Address for correspondence: Dr Gwo-Jen Hwang, Dean, College of Science and Engineering, NationalUniversity of Tainan, No. 33, Sec. 2, Shulin Street, Tainan 700, Taiwan. Email: Dr Gi-Zen Liu, Foreign Languages & Literature Department, National Cheng KungUniversity, No. 1, University Road, Tainan 701, Taiwan. Email: Introduction Electronic learning (e-learning) has become widely accepted in both entirely onlinelearning environments and in blended learning contexts (Mayadas, Bourne & Bacsich,2009). In a broad sense, e-learning is used to describe the way people use an electronicdevice (usually a computer) with learning technology (LT; Rushby & Seabrook, 2008)todevelopnewknowledgeandskillsindividuallyorcollaboratively.MobiledeviceswithLT, such as PDAs, smart phones and portable computers, constitute various forms of wireless environments that foster two-way, real-time communications among users, aswell as between the user and their context, and can have many functions to promotemobile learning (m-learning; Rushby, 2005). Since the early 2000s, new forms of mobiletechnologycontainingadditionalsensordeviceshavebeenprovidingnewdirec-tions for technology-assisted learning, and this has led to context-aware ubiquitouslearning (u-learning; Hwang, Wu & Chen, 2007;Yang, 2006), which enables users tointeract and learn with sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) embeddedobjectsintheirsurroundings(Curtin,Kauffman&Riggins,2007).Context-awareubiq-uitous technology is continuing to develop and spread, and its applications have begunto influence learning in various fields and disciplines (de Jong, Specht & Koper, 2008).Although Taiwan is very competitive with regard to research and development andgaining patents in the ICT (information and communication technology) industry, itsachievementsarestillunsatisfactorywhenitcomestomakinggooduseof suchdevicesin various contexts (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2008). In order to better prepare forthe cutting-edge context-aware u-learning that is being developed as part of government-funded, national e-learning research in Taiwan, we first identify the simi-larities and differences among conventional e-learning, m-learning and context-awareu-learning in terms of theoretical and practical variables. To date, there has been noresearch published concerning the paradigm shifts in e-learning leading to the devel-opment of context-aware u-learning, and thus we propose a set of significant values British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 41 No 2 2010  E1–E9doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00976.x ©2009TheAuthors.Journalcompilation©2009Becta.PublishedbyBlackwellPublishing,9600GarsingtonRoad,OxfordOX42DQ,UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.  based on the relevant literature to guide the development of context-aware u-learningapplications. In addition, we present a context-aware u-learning case to demonstratehow it can be used in real-life contexts. Finally, the research agenda along with someconcerns are presented, followed by the conclusions to this work. Paradigm shifts from conventional e-learning to m-learning tocontext-aware u-learning When applying a new type of LT, we may need a new paradigm for guiding the use,design, implementation and assessment of the technology (Richey, 1998; Rushby,2005). e-Learning has become prevalent in all kinds of learning contexts since themid-1990s,andYang,OkamotoandTseng(2008)observetheLTfieldandindicatethatcontext-aware u-learning is an emerging computer-supported learning paradigm.Basedonthistrend,weareexperiencingaparadigmshiftfromconventionale-learningto m-learning (Rushby, 2005) and another from m-learning to context-awareu-learning (Hwang, Tsai & Yang, 2008). The theoretical framework given in Figure 1may help readers identify the important factors constituting a context-awareu-learning environment, and give a clearer picture of these shifts.To prepare for the latest shift to context-aware u-learning, we first identify the similari-ties and differences among conventional e-learning, m-learning and context-awareu-learning in terms of the theoretical and practical variables in Table 1. Values and directions for guiding potential context-aware u-learning forlearning, teaching and research purposes Richey (1998) identifies values as personal interests as well as beliefs and ideals, all of which help the researchers guide the selection of the important components used inthisstudy.Sincecontext-awareu-learningisdifferentfromconventionale-learningandm-learning, in order to identify potential ways to realise context-aware u-learning in e-LearningMobile learningContext-aware u-learningComputer networksMobile deviceswireless communicationsSensor technologiesmobile deviceswireless communications Figure 1: The components of paradigm shifts in e-learning E2  British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 41 No 2 2010 © 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 Becta.  the research, we review the literature and provide a summary of the recognised valuesassociated with this technology with regard to learning, teaching and research inTable 2.All attributes concerning teaching and learning are worth researching, includingmaterials, resources, users, contexts, meta-cognition and the ways users develop theknowledge and skills. In addition,Yang  et al  (2008) identify eight major characteristicsof context-aware u-learning, namely mobility, location, interoperability, seamlessness,situation awareness, social awareness, adaptability and pervasiveness. These featuresdeservecloserobservationtofurtheridentifystrengthsandweaknesseswhenengagingstudents in this kind of e-learning. An example of context-aware u-learning Forthepurposeof evaluatingtheeffectivenessof thiscontextualisedmediaforlearningand the possible problems that may arise (de Jong  et al , 2008), we design a case toexplore the learning conditions and all possible factors. Figure 2 shows the arrange-ment of the context-aware u-learning environment, which is a butterfly garden witheach host plant labeled with an RFID tag. Moreover, each student has a handheldmobile device equipped with an RFID reader. In the learning area, wireless communi-cation is provided, so that the mobile device can communicate with a computer server.As a student moves around the learning area, the system can detect their location byreading and analysing the data from the nearest RFID tag. Consequently, assessmentcanbeconductedtoevaluatethelearningperformanceof thestudentintherealworld.Figure 3 shows the user interface for conducting the assessment process in an authen-tic environment, which is an ecology garden consisting of tens of plants for raisingbutterflies. With the help of mobile devices, wireless networks and RFID sensors, the Students with handheld devices equipped with an RFID reader  Wirelesscommunications Test system RFID tagRFID tagRFID tagRFID tag Butterfly host plants RFID tagRFID tag Figure 2: System architecture of the context-aware u-learning environment E4  British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 41 No 2 2010 © 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 Becta.
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