Mobile Learning for Migrants: An Interview with Begoña Gros

Mobile Learning: Having access to the technology does not guarantee effective use. Image by Jeff Turner (flickr creative commons)

This summer, the AACE Special Interest groups Design and Trends conducted a joint call for abstracts for the Special Issue on Mobile Technology of the Journal of Interactive Learning Research. A total of 16 abstracts were selected for the next round of reviews to submit full paper proposals. We present some of the most original submissions through interviews on Innovate Learning Review. As an immigrant myself, I was fascinated by the paper ‘Co-designing apps to support the learning needs of migrants in Barcelona (Spain)’.

How can educational technology developers create apps that support the learning needs of migrants? How do migrants use mobile technologies? What are the cultural and societal differences? Begoña Gros and her colleagues explore what kind of mobile apps migrants use to support their communication and learning needs, and if there are gaps between what migrants need and what apps are currently available.

In the interview we talk about the motivation for this research project, key findings and future developments.

How did you get the idea for this project?

The use of mobile technology has been increasing over recent years and spreading from young people to adults. In this context, we have seen that some efforts have been made among European projects to generate technology that may support social inclusion. The problem is that resources and applications are designed without the participation of end users. With this in mind, the idea of the project arose from a proposal to analyze the type of technology that can help immigrant citizens to gain better knowledge of their new context. From the beginning, we were very clear that we could not define or determine the technological solution before starting the project, since it had to be defined as a consequence of a co-design process with the participation of final users.

How exactly did you gather information on migrants’ mobile technology use? 

We established a collaboration agreement with five NGOs located in Barcelona. All of them work with migrants by providing support, language courses and guidance for finding employment. We obtained information through interviews with professionals working at these NGOs and each organization asked for volunteers among migrant individuals taking their courses to participate in two workshops. In the first session, participants talked about their knowledge of mobile applications and the digital skills they possess, and we asked each participant: “On a normal day, what kind of apps do you use and for what purpose?” The participants wrote down the names of the apps and their use. In the second session, we asked them to identify the main problems that they faced when arriving in Barcelona and how they thought that technology could help them. 

Did you observe cultural, age or gender differences in the way mobile tech is used among the migrants you talked to?

In total, 52 migrants (16 women and 36 men) from 18 different countries participated in the study. The results show a high use of smartphones, however some differences were observed. It is quite clear than young people have more knowledge than older people, but there were also significant differences related to educational level. We also observed that women participated less than men during the workshops and we therefore had to support and encourage their participation.

What was the most surprising result of your research?

We observed that the participating NGOs had a different view regarding the participants’ skills in the use of technologies. In fact, they were surprised by the results of the project, in particular the high usage of smartphones among participants and the use of the apps to support daily activities and resolve problems.

At the same time, is important to consider that there are many differences among people, as having access to the technology does not guarantee effective use. For instance, some participants had difficulties sending their résumés by email when they wanted to apply for a job.

Do you think your results are specific to your country (Spain)? How would you like to see this research replicated in other countries? 

I do not believe that the results related to the use of mobile technology are specific to Spain, in fact, they coincide with other studies carried out in places like Finland, Australia and Canada. However, it would be very interesting to analyze the needs and technological proposals in other countries using the same methodology.

What practical outcomes did this project have?

The next step in the project (currently under development) is the development of a chatbot to assist migrants with bureaucratic processes: MigraWelcome Barcelona.

The use of chatbots as conversational agents is becoming increasingly present in everyday life. Thanks to the widespread use of chatbot technology, it is easy to add a conversational interface to a large set of applications. In the case of MigraWelcome Barcelona, this feature will use Facebook and the main goal is to assist migrants with bureaucratic procedures such as obtaining healthcare assistance, registering themselves as residents in the city, nationality issues, etc.

What’s next for you and your team? Are you planning follow-up research and development?

Yes, we have a lot of challenges ahead. First, we want to evaluate the impact of MigraWelcome and we would like to extend the application to other contexts and languages.

About the researcher:

Begoña Gros holds a PhD in Pedagogy. She has been a lecturer at the University of Barcelona since 1988 and holds the Advanced Research accreditation from the AQU (2004). In recent years, she has supervised research at the Faculty of Education Sciences (2001-2003) and has been head of research at the Institute for Education Sciences at the University of Barcelona (2004-2007).



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