Toward a mobile learning strategy

Based on the JISC Mobile Learning InfoKit, with my additional points based on recent developments in mobile learning as well as on our own observations through the Places mobile learning evaluation project:

In order for a school or university to strategically implement mobile learning, it must, as an institution:
• put learners at the centre
• ensure staff are on board and kept in the communication and policy loop
• consider cultural implications of employing technology often used for leisure
• consider cultural and other implications of expecting students to use their own equipment in their learning (in BYOD initiatives)
• consider cost including institutional wireless capacity, charging, and furniture in learning spaces
• plan for sustainability

Mobile charging station -- a lucrative small business in some African countries. Photo by Adam Cohn on Flickr

Mobile charging station — a lucrative small business in some African countries. Photo by Adam Cohn on Flickr

Every institution will come at this differently, tackling these issues at different times and in different orders. Many find that the first mobile learning initiative serves as a Trojan Horse for further innovation, especially when previously disparate parties come together to accomplish such a project. At University of Leicester, the initial success of the ‘one-iPad-per-distance-Masters-student’ Criminology programme paved the way for a second one-iPad-per-student programme in the School of Education, and an attempted one-Kindle-per-student programme; this was a natural outcome since many questions and reservations were already resolved.

It is therefore worthwhile to consider some ‘quick win’ mobile learning scenarios:

1. Add a mobile stylesheet to the institutional website — so that any mobile device will nicely display the site
2. Add a mobile-friendly front end to an RSS feed. For example, many universities broadcast news via a blog, which creates an RSS feed. When this is run through Google Feedburner, a mobile-friendly RSS feed is created.
3. Set up social media accounts to broadcast news and updates.
4. Turn on the mobile version of your VLE or LMS. At University of Leicester, we began to make use of the Blackboard Mobile Learn app last autumn. This is not a free option within Blackboard, however.
5. Invest in secure SMS text messaging services on behalf of the institution. Sending texts to let students know a lecture has been cancelled is usually very well appreciated.
6. Try making some learning materials available not only as Word documents but as pdf (viewable on all mobile devices) and epub, and ask students for feedback on how they look on their devices. The free software Calibre easily converts a document to epub. It is best to save a Word document first as html, then import into Calibre, then convert to epub. Additionally it can be converted to mobi pocket, the format for Kindles.

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

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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

 

 

 

Review and Re-package: JISC Mobile Learning Infokit

For our Places project, which will evaluate the use of tablet computers in University of Leicester programmes, we are beginning with a literature review and a re-packaging of some of the information in the sources we choose. Why is re-packaging part of the project? I think it’s because this particular field — mobile learning — is moving at the speed of light. New technology looks old in a few months’ time. It is hard to write something well-researched quickly enough to still look current when it is published. And yet well-researched older material (even a whole 3 years old!) may present findings which apply perfectly well to current technology and practice. For example, when we were writing our final DUCKLING report in 2010, we felt we needed to comment on how outdated was the technology we had used: the original Sony PRS505 e-reader, the first e-reader available in the UK. But our findings agree with current findings of the use of mobile devices such as the iPad.

Reading a Sony PRS-505 E-Reader in 2009. Photo courtesy of Cwluc on Flickr

And so I’m reading through the literature, and am finding the JISC Mobile Learning Infokit very valuable. I will definitely be taking bits from it for re-packaging. It is not old — first published in autumn 2011. I appreciate, for example, having several definitions of mobile learning – ranging from Mike Sharples’ which emphasises processes, to the MoLeNET definition which emphasises the devices.

But what stood out more was the ‘Tangible benefits of mobile learning’ listed in the infokit. The list begins with the usual affordances attributed to mobile devices: ‘personal’, ‘pervasive’, ‘portable.’  The last item caught my attention: ‘Reduces technical barriers to e-learning.’ I was thinking that only a few years ago, mobile devices presented their own technical barriers — I remember endlessly struggling to help different colleagues to sync up their Palms to their desktop computers. But in 2012, yes, many mobile devices reduce technical barriers to e-learning. I am thinking of our Criminology distance masters programme in which students around the world are shipped an iPad, and instructed how to download the app which contains multimedia learning materials. I’m reading preliminary feedback from students, and so far the majority are saying they value the fact the app allows them to study even when there is no internet connection.  I am likely to find evidence to the contrary on that note, but so far, I’m seeing evidence of  ‘reduces technical barriers to e-learning’.

Now that we have healthy competition in the mobile realm, and products have arrived at a good level of usability, I believe we will see those ‘barriers to e-learning’ continue to fall.

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

JISC. (2011). Mobile Learning infokit / Home. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from https://mobilelearninginfokit.pbworks.com/w/page/41122430/Home