The concept of ubiquitous computing or Ubicomp was first articulated by Mark Weiser in 1988 at the Computer Science Lab at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Centre). He asserted that the most profound technologies associated with ubiquitous computing are those that disappear as they weave themselves into the framework of our everyday lives. He described Ubicomp as the third wave of computing. The first wave of computing, from 1940 to about 1980, saw the use of one mainframe computer by many people. The second wave saw a one-to-one computer to human ratio where individuals were connected to desktops or laptops. We are now in the third wave of computing where many computers dispersed throughout the physical environment, service one person, and as these technologies recede into the background of people’s lives, they are increasingly being used unconsciously for task completion (Weiser, 1991, 1996). In this regard, ubiquitous computing is viewed as the age of “calm technology” (Weiser and Brown, 1996). In a similar analogy, O’Malley & Fraser (2006) describe technology associated with ubiquitous computing as “tangible” in which “the technology is so embedded in the world that it ‘disappears’ ” (p.2).
When computing becomes ubiquitous, it has the capacity to support learning whenever and wherever it might take place, i.e. ubiquitous learning (u-learning). If ubiquitous learning is to occur, the technology cannot disrupt the learning process. ‘Calm’ or invisible technology does not occupy the learners’ attention all the time but is able to be moved seamlessly and effortlessly between the learners’ central and peripheral attention. Hence, u-learning is not constrained by physical space, plans or timetables but is pervasive and occurs anywhere at anytime. This flexibility and interactivity in learning has additional advantages. Price, Rogers, Scaife, Stanton and Neale (2003) state that tangible-mediated learning could allow learners to combine and re-combine familiar knowledge in new, unfamiliar ways - promoting creativity and higher order thinking.
In education, handheld mobile technologies offer the potential for u-learning through new ways of accessing information and thinking both individually and within networked communities, where collaborating with others supports developing new understandings and arguing for new solutions. Available technologies include mobile phones, laptops, tablet PCs, personal digital assistants (PDAs), MP3 players, iPods and games consoles. These technologies enable learning to be increasingly more mobile with the potential that young people’s thinking can be shaped by connectivity through these devices (Aleven, Stahl, Schworm, Fischer & Wallace, 2003; Hargreaves, 2003; Becta, 2003). Consequently, the need to think in new ways and engage with others in that thinking is increasing all the time both to respond to the new potential and to increase the potential of the technologies to benefit the interactions between teachers and students.
At a broad level, u-learning (ubiquitous learning) is e-learning (electronic learning) usually associated with m-learning (mobile learning). At the level of the learners, there are more specific requirements placed on technologies if they are to be used for u-learning (Ogata & Yano, 2003, pp. 29, referencing the work of Chen, 2002 and Curtis, Luchini, Bobrowsky, Quintana & Soloway, 2002). These are: