Naming a problem?

Is the way we use language in technology having a negative or positive effect? It’s a debate that’s been going on a while, but a discussion over the weekend with a new student prompted me to put something down about the authority that jargon seems to carry.

It’s been interesting discussing some of the issues that have been cropping up in some of the JISC Transformations Programme with projects over the last couple of weeks. One issue that as stood out to my mind is the problem of communicating with teaching and research practitioners about the projects and changes that may come about as a result. This was further illustrated by a conversation I had with a friend I do volunteer work with, who will become a mature student this September.

As staff involved in working with technology we are used to prefixes suffixes and all the loaded techno-terminology in between. I think that sometimes we use it just because it sounds great but we don’t think about the grammatical consequences, and we don’t think about the bigger issues – such as will the term lead to a techno determinist approach?

An illustration of this is Mobile Learning – m-learning in some cases. The image conjured in most people’s minds is of students using mobile devices (phones and tablets), or perhaps learning on a small screen with a slow connection, and certainly in the minds of mature student I was talking to. He was asking me if his older model android was suitable for m-learning. A phrase he’d picked up on a piece of course information. After a brief look at the course it was apparent that any browser (mobile or otherwise) could access the information they had referred to. But the ‘m’ prefix, or even spelling out mobile learning, is loaded with technology based imagery – right or wrong mobile is short for mobile phone, and that becomes the fixation, a techno determinist approach.

But what was it that they meant? In the case of the mature student, the course was referring to that in some cases, or aspects of learning, the student didn’t have to access the information/course materials on campus. For example they could have accessed them on a laptop at home. Unpicking this with a colleague, we wondered if this is an aspect of Open? It probably is, or at least will be at some point.

Looking back at the JISC Location Independent Working Project at Coventry Universitythe focus was on systems and processes that allow staff to work anywhere, anytime. This strikes me as being relevant to student activity, is the terminology a better description of the approach we are taking with students? Location Independent Learning, or even Location Independent Engagement? We need to be thinking about the activity and the user, such as learning, and not allowing the technology based terms to add an unnecessary barrier. Hopefully some of these points will be coming out in the Mobile Landscape report that is being managed by Ben Showers

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