I recently attended a NERCOMP event on Mobile Learning in Higher Education. NERCOMP - the NorthEast Regional Computing Program -- is an EDUCAUSE affiliate. The "day of discovery" was hosted by Kristin Lofblad Sullivan, Manager of Instructional Technology at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.
The first session was presented by Jason Gorman, Instructional Designer, Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), Gino Beniamino, Instructional Technologist, HGSE, and Susan Eppling, Instructional Media Developer, HGSE.
Mobile devices were defined as anything you can take outside the classroom and connect to the internet or a network via a broadband connection. Clearly there is a proliferation of diverse software platforms and devices that meet this criteria and that was noted as a challenge. But the opportunities for education are staggering given the statistics:
- Out of a total U.S. population of 308MM, there are 285MM cell phones.
- More people in india have access to cell phone than toilet.
- 41% of the global population of 6.3 BB carry mobile phones.
- For real-time updates see the PhoneCount website.
- "Nomophobia" is the fear of being out of mobile contact.
Challenges to deployment include the need for skilled developers/vendors, faculty fluency and interest, funding, platform decisions, the lack of common devices, student opinions of tools, the 'digital divide' and access to tools, unrealistic expectations of students/faculty/administrators, technology support, changing opinions of assignment design, and the overall ‘technology happens’ issues concerning technical problems when using devices and platforms of this nature. These were organized into three broad categories: technical, teaching and learning, and institutional.
Next we reviewed some sample projects, each showcasing a different type of device and approach to mobile learning.
ABILENE CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY
ACU has embarked on a number of mobile initiatives, with some noteworthy projects involving the iPhone and iPad. Students, faculty and staff created a movie called Connections to "visualize a new kind of learning environment". Many of the challenges outlined above were felt. But they achieved some interesting outcomes, including:
- Creation of a Mobile-Learning Fellows program. Gave half-dozen faculty grants to innovate in different ways (also had corporate sponsorships/partnerships). Published, discussed with community, disseminated ideas, etc.
- Closed some computer labs to offset costs
- 89% of students and 87% of faculty rated it a success
- But student performance NOT measurably increased
Duke created the Duke Digital Initiative in order to incorporate the use of emerging technologies in the classroom. One initiative project centered on the use of "flip-phones" to foster critical reflection through video. For more on the actual project, see the eLearn Magazine article: How Tiny Camcorders are Changing Education and the blog post on 6 Recommendations for Teaching with the Flip Video Camera. Outcomes included:
- Better quality essays
- Some fear of technology was noted
- Unforeseen tech problems were noted
- Use of video promoted in-class discussions
- Students felt that video was more evocative than text
- Classroom may become a public space – pro and con
The Biology Mobile Classroom project was reviewed (see overview PDF).This initiative involves taking laptops out into the filed to allow students to crunch numbers and perform onsite analysis and experimentation. Dozens of laptops were issued (via grants). Some outcomes and considerations:
- Powerful hardware/software was needed
- Participants definitely felt it took learning to a deeper level
- Participants felt a strong potential for cross-discipline use
Considerations for the future
Some general considerations for the future of mLearning were discussed:
- Teaching and learning considerations – students have more insights into this technology than many teachers do
- Institutional considerations for how to fund, train, socialize
- Technology keeps changing -- stay tuned for "Super WiFi" -- the FCC is selling off new frequencies that will augment mobile capabilities. Also compatibility standards – HTML 5, linux 2.2, Mac/PC, etc.
- E-waste – old cell phones – proper disposal and recycling (see some impactful photos of eWaste)
Session: "Walking Ulysses: Joyce's Dublin Today"
Walking Ulysses is a mobile learning project created by Boston College professor Joseph Nugent (and instructional designer Tim Lindgren co-presented). The goal was to afford a 21st century visitor to Dublin the ability to walk around and experience, to the greatest degree possible, the sights, sounds, smells, etc, of Joyce's 20th century city. They aimed to achieve this via the use of collaborative mapping and mobile technologies. Students are thus participants in a hybrid physical/virtual space and are also active contributors to the site and hence the shared knowledge it extends.
They initially tried using Google Maps to trace characters’ paths but were quickly overwhelmed its capabilities. Ultimately the BC instructional technology group provided a grant to Prof. Nugent for $10,000 to hire a developer to build something - but what to build? Website + iphone app? Couldn’t afford an Apple application, so went with a web application + a ‘mobile skin’. The instructional technology group had no prior experience in this domain but figured it out as they went. They organized content by chapters (chapter = path), then tagged content by ‘sense’ (sound tag, smell tag, etc). They then gave those items location tags and put them on a map. But they wanted the map to be reflective of the time period and hence needed a Google Map-type interface capable of filtering between people, buildings, events, etc. .
Session: Mobile Learning at Tufts Medical School
Speakers for this session included Susan Albright, Director of Educational Technologies, Technology for Learning in the Health Sciences (TLHS), Tufts University Sciences Knowledgebase (TUSK), and Mark Bailey, Manager of Support for TUSK.
TUSK is a "dynamic multimedia knowledge management system" that the Medical, Dental, and Veterinary Schools at Tufts and several other international schools use for knowledge management and info-sharing. This year they rolld out a mobile version for the platform in response to a number of factors, including lack of computers in partner schools, preceptors asking for support in office, students wanting to access content ‘on the go’, etc. Additionally, in the healthcare field internationally, the phone IS the computer. Globally there are 400 million computers vs. 4 billion cell phones. Nearly 100% of students at partner schools have phones – only 10% have computers. Besides ubiquity, Tufts believes in the learning potential of mobile devices (they cited research by Naismith regarding mobile technologies and learning).
The team encountered some design challenges for the mobile piece, including appropriate use of the new context for information, the screensize, load time, storage, diverse phone platforms, etc. Design considerations included understanding user patterns (done via survey), achieving objectives using fewer links per page, allowing more scrolling in favor of larger text size, simplified pages, and ultimately achieving a "one design MANY platforms" solution. Testing was done using free online phone emulators, and the Opera mini browser was determined to be the baseline minimum technical requirement. The team is keeping their eye on the "HTML5 vs. Adobe Flash" issues.
Mobile content on the site includes slides, flash cards for self-assessments, patient log entry forms, etc.
Session: Mobile Learning in Executive Education at Harvard Business School
Speakers for this session included Curtis Hermann, Senior Multimedia Engineer, and Katie Martin, Director of Program Innovation, both from the Educational Technology Group at Harvard Business School.
In spring 2009, HBS Executive Education launched a pilot program using iPod Touch mobile devices. This allowed program participants real-time access to program information and content from any on-campus location. The devices were provided to over 160 participants with funding contingent upon an extensive post-use evaluation. The iTouch was chosed because it would allow for a single-platform for content development, it did not contain a phone (no plan required), and it was an attractive vehicle for A/V content.
Assessment was handled via pre- and post-program surveys, flash polls, focus groups, individual interviews, and weekly journals. Key takeaways:
- The device was quickly adopted as critical to daily activities, used on average 47 minutes/day by participants. They primarily used the device to check email, and to keep appraised of the program's schedule and announcements. There is also a program directory.
- Participants preferred the anytime/anywhere nature of the device in contrast to desktop computers provided in their living quarters.
- Audio versions of certain Harvard Business School case studies were provided on the devices. Pariticipants found these to be a compltement to, but not a replacement for, hardcopy cases. About 1/3 listened and then read, about 1/3 read and then listened, and about 1/3 read and listened simultaneously. A small percentage preferred paper only. Most participants agreed that they were better prepared for case study discussions when they had audio/video components as part of the learning.
Moving forward the program will not provide the devices for participants but they did work to produce an iPhone app that participants can download in advance of attending. This app provices similar access to content and information via their program portal. Resourcing a program of this nature required faculty outreach, content identification and creation, device adoption, and training/support. Just loading participants' personal devices with content takes a few days of intense support resources and is a limiting factor on their ability to scale the program.