ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest – ALA Midwinter 2009 – Discussion 1

Mobile Learning Best Practice for Information Literacy Instruction

Convener: Jim “Lazer” Hahn, Orientation Services Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Saturday, January 24, 4:00-5:30pm
Grand Hyatt Denver, Sunlight Peak Room


Information literacy instruction encompasses the totality of information searching. Bruce (1997) demonstrates the varying role of information technology within this phenomenon. Given emerging iPhone and smart-phone popularity many students now access information resources via mobile devices.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project report Mobile Access to Data and Information, the cell phone ranks as the most highly valued technology in America, finding that it (the cell phone) is the technology which Americans are most unwilling to part with (Horrigan, 2008). This preference has surpassed the Internet and television, indicative of a fundamental societal preference shift occurring in the past five years.

With widespread availability and student utilization of mobile devices, it is timely to discuss opportunities for development of instructional services on the personal computing equipment our students carry. Learning opportunities consist in the use of iPod iQuizes, SMS exercises, short videos for micro-instruction and even applications available for download from the Apple iTunes App Store ( and Google’s Android Market (

This type of instruction can be situated in the domain of the blended librarian: which is to say, the librarian concerned with instructional design, pedagogy, and the role of the library within learning. It is a constructivist pedagogical approach to build knowledge within the student’s already existing knowledge framework/ conceptual schema. A Vygostskian educator may view mobile devices as a cultural tool of the first-year student.

Questions to begin our discussion

  1. Mobile learning is personalized, short / bite-sized in content, and informal (Traxler, 2007). To what extent do our conceptualizations of learning influence how we view mobile learning?
  2. Given the personal nature of mobile computing, in what ways can information literacy instructors ensure that their students are developing the appropriate privacy skills to protect themselves in future mobile social networks?
  3. What do first-year undergraduate students bring to this sphere? (Consider technology aptitude, and also a highly scheduled and commoditized existence centered upon a highly adaptive and changing social network.)
  4. What do libraries need to know about mobile technology; the field moves very quickly and is a non-traditional area for packaging learning content?
  5. How does one assess learning that is personal? (Is clicker technology relevant? In what ways is mobile learning similar/different than clicker class response systems?)

Summary of Discussion

Of significance from the discussion is the fundamental question: “what is mobile learning, anyway?” Traxler’s work partially addresses this question. See also this monograph for further theorizing: Mobile Learning Handbook (Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2005). Mobile learning is not what we will recognize as something that occurs in a classroom and may not be easily defined, or assessed (Traxler, 2007). There are not really great definitions and perhaps we should tweak the terminology to better explain what were seek to communicate: “mobile enabled” or “mobile access” are better choices for what we are exploring.

We are in need of sustained inquiry into this question of defining what mobile will mean for information literacy instruction; and we need to be certain that we are not too quick to jump upon a new phrase or term just because it is the latest new trend. Specifically, we want to know more about what other librarians have accomplished in this domain; and what future research will look like. Establishment of a framework for evaluating mobile learning initiatives is a possible avenue for research. This framework may be adapted from social networking assessment, since there are overlapping concerns, such as conceptualization of privacy. It was interesting to note that many students will think of privacy in different ways than educators. Mobile social networking potentially places vast amounts of information about location and patterns of individual motion online.

Suggested Readings

Short Time Investment (can be read in less than 5 minutes)

Medium Time Investment (read in over 5 minutes)


  • Kukulska-Hulme, A., & Traxler, J. (2005). Mobile learning: A handbook for educators and trainers. London: Routledge.
  • Kukulska-Hulme, A. & Traxler, J. (2007). Designing for mobile and wireless learning. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe (Eds.), Rethinking pedagogy for the digital age (pp. 180-192) . London: Routledge.

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