The Fine Art (and Architecture)of Mobilizing Student Learning: A Snapshot of Disciplinary Use of Library Tablets

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Focusing on the implementation of an iPad loaning program at the Art and Architecture Library at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2010, chapter 8 of Library Technology Reports (vol. 48, no. 8) "Rethinking Reference and Instruction with Tablets" examines the ways in which the academic library intersects with mobile learning and student engagement The author reviews the development implementation, and reception of the project among library users. In the process, the broader issue of discipline-specific utilization of the tablet computer for mobile learning, particularly in the fields of art, architecture, and design, is discussed.


Built more than five thousand years ago, the royal library of the ancient Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal consisted of more than thirty thousand clay tablets. (1) One of the first truly mobile technologies, enabling the preservation and transportation of recorded information across vast distances and durations, it is perhaps fitting that the tablet has resurfaced, alchemically transformed by the digital age, to once again find its place within the library. From the oldest library to the newest, what are we to make of the tablet's "return"? How might libraries engage the specific modes of learning, literacy, and communication fostered by tablet computing? Put simply, why do tablets matter for the library?

This chapter addresses these questions. Focusing on the implementation of an iPad loaning program at the Art and Architecture Library at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2010, it examines the ways in which the academic library intersects with the tablet computer and its forms of mobile learning and student engagement. Reviewing the development and reception of the project, the chapter also addresses the broader issue of discipline-specific adoption of the tablet, particularly in the fields of art, architecture, and design.

Mobile Technology, Mobile Learning, and the Library

Buttressed by a technical infrastructure of anytime Internet access on the one hand and a progressively dense fabric of media applications (apps) and third-party services on the other, the relative cheapness and ubiquity of mobile devices like the tablet have rapidly redefined when, where, and how students interact with information. Converging with the wider proliferation of user-generated content associated with Web 2.0 applications, including social networking sites, wikis, blogs, media-sharing sites, and mashups, mobile devices further promote the Web as a medium designed as much for active participation as passive consumption: users are able to easily and quickly capture, create, and disseminate information on the move, untethered from a desktop. The growing pervasiveness of cloud computing will likely further weaken the traditional relationship between computing and locational fixity.

It is no surprise, then, that mobile technology is also fundamentally changing how students relate to learning and learning institutions. The pedagogical theory and practice of mobile learning, or "m-learning," first emerged roughly two decades ago in response to these changes. Though there has been little consensus about the definition of the term across academic communities in the intervening period, mobile learning, at its core, recognizes that learning "can take place in any environment using technologies that fit in the palm of the hand or can be easily carried from one place to another." (2) The pedagogy of mobile learning is thus tied not simply to the mobility of the tools themselves; rather, it recognizes the fundamental situatedness, or personal and context-specific dimensions, of learning. As Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, John Traxler, and John Pettit have contended, "With widespread ownership of mobile and wireless devices, learners are increasingly in a position to take the lead and engage in activities that are motivated by their personal needs and circumstances of use. …


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