Mummies, War Zones, and Pompeii: the use of tablet computers in situated and on-the-go learning

Two weeks ago I presented ‘Mummies, War Zones, and Pompeii: the use of tablet computers in situated and on-the-go learning,’ at ALT-C, the annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology, which took place this year in Manchester. Tablet computers in learning is not new; mathematics and physics teaching especially has long benefited from the ability to scribble a formula and share out to students and receive students’ formulae in return — one use of in-class tablet computers. It didn’t take long after the launch of the iPad in 2010 for one-iPad-per-student projects to spring up in every level of education.

The case studies I presented on, however, made use of the out-of-class benefits of tablet computers. I describe each in a nutshell:

1) Mummies: University of Leicester Museum Studies masters students take field trips to such destinations as the British Museum. After the trip, students report back, group by group, and discuss as a class. Using cleverly-designed Powerpoint shows on Windows tablets, instructors gave students video interviews with British Museum academics and other learning material. Carrying the tablets around the museum, students viewed and learnt from the material while standing before the actual artefacts, took notes and photos, and created presentation reports in time for a 10am deadline next morning. The project has been felt to be a great success and plans are underway to create material for further, different field trips.

2) War Zones: University of Leicester Criminology students of the online Masters in Security, Conflict and International Development are each sent an iPad and instructed to download the free app (yes, you can download it too! It’s called SCID).  The app serves multimedia learning material which works on the iPad whether or not there is an internet connection, which is key because for their day jobs these students are visiting refugee camps or living in a submarine for weeks at a time. Early feedback is overwhelmingly positive for both iPad and app.

3) Pompeii: In the Porta Stabia project and the Quadriporticus Project (directed by Steven Ellis of University of Cincinnati and Eric Poehler of University of Massachusetts, and in which some of our University of Leicester Archaeology colleagues joined in the research), iPads were taken into the ruins of Pompeii to process photographs of the ruins and overlay archaeological layers. iPads were also used as field notebooks in every way, including receiving data into Filemaker Pro to be later synced with data collected by all iPads. The end result was an efficiency increase of 371% plus other benefits.

These case studies illustrate the power of mobile outside of the classroom, in what I refer to as situated and on-the-go learning. I’m especially interested in this kind of use of mobile devices; please comment if you know of any other great case studies along these lines.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow

 

 

 

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Early findings from a new programme using iPads

Today I met with one of our lecturers who is soon to launch a new distance masters programme, the MA in International Education. It is planned that for this programme, every student will be furnished an iPad and instructions how to load it up with module materials.  I wanted to get an idea of how easy or hard it is for him to prepare materials for the iPad. Unfortunately for me, he hasn’t been working on that part yet, but he feels confident that using iBooks Author, it won’t be very onerous. I have only fiddled with iBooks Author a little bit myself, and I found it pretty easy but not quite as intuitive as I would have liked. I hope that my colleague’s confidence turns out to be well-founded. I will keep you posted here.

One thing I have learnt from both this programme and our Criminology programme also utilitising iPads is that it is pretty time-consuming to create distance learning materials to go on a VLE. This really isn’t very different from the time-consuming process of creating printed learning materials in the old correspondence course model. With this Education course, the lecturer has hopes that developing material for the iPad may even be easier than developing for the VLE. The ‘Criminology iPad’ module is making use of an app developer to create the materials for the course, so that’s an unusual way of producing learning material.

Apple has done much in recent months to make it easier to create learning materials for the iPad. Just the other day I created a Course using the Apple Course Manager, which is not a piece of software but a place on Apple’s website. All you need to create a course is your learning materials, a Mac with Safari, and an Apple ID. You don’t need to belong to an institution that’s in iTunes U. As for the learning materials, I quote the iTunesU Course Guidelines:

“Assignments can include many types of materials that are part of your course, such
as videos, audio files, web links, apps, books, documents, and presentations. You can
add content from the App Store and the iBookstore, and you can even upload your
own original materials.”

A course in iTunes U, comprised of various materials and links. Photo courtesy of fraserspeirs on Flickr

The course I built consisted of 4 pdf documents, 2 mp4 video files, and then I made up a course outline which I posted in the “Posts” section. Creating the course took all of 20 minutes. I then received an email from Apple with the url of my new course, and I emailed it around to a few colleagues. An instructor could email that to the students. A course must be ‘consumed’ using an Apple handheld device — iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. The student clicks the url of the course, and is told that her enrolment is pending approval. Meanwhile, the instructor receives an email saying a’ new student wants to enrol in your course’, and the instructor grants access by clicking a green tick in the Course Manager page. Once the student has access, she accesses it through the iTunes U app, which quickly downloads the materials to her device. It is surprisingly smooth and simple. I showed this method to my Education colleague, and he may end up going down this route for his programme.

Bad points? Completely proprietary to Apple. Good points? It’s so easy. Does it enable good learning? I hope to find out as part of the Places project.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow, University of Leicester