mlearn project

Charles Sturt University's Mobile Learning Project

Phase 1: Student Trials

The first set of trials conducted in the 201230 session were focussed on the students. iPads were deployed to subjects across the faculties, and represented quite different discipline areas and student cohorts. The subjects involved were ITC594, EML302 and MRS222.

ITC594 – E-commerce Technologies

Faculty of Business

Subject Coordinator: Ken Eustace
Additional Staff: Study Centre Staff 
Class Size: 20+ students across multiple cohorts – (Internal, Distance, Melbourne & Sydney Study Centres)
Equipment: iPad WiFi + 3G

Aims:

  • to use the devices to inform and enhance a research project into mobile technology and e-commerce
  • to provide students with the tools to explore mobile technology uses
  • to allow students to create and develop content for assessment directly on the device
  • to assess the processes required for delivery and return of devices to non-internal students

Academic Observations

Mobile Learning has many value-added advantages, e.g., choice of device desktop/smart phone/tablet and location to make a video presentation. Although all students are not equipped with their own iPads or Android devices, most will switch to smart devices that have enhanced functionality and connections, as their phone upgrades occur.  The trial was a good call to action and tested the CSU systems, backend and others in the supply chain.  Many components of the CSU experience are not mobile friendly, such as in the use of Interact tools, especially with Online Meeting, or Wimba, with its slow Java applet controls and lack of Java support on iPhone or iPad. It is important to note that this does not improve on an Android device.

mLearning can still be viewed as eLearning in nature, but with interface constraints, such as screen size and many tools requiring a ‘wired connection’ over wireless connections for speed and consistency.

The students were happy to get an iPad, but some did ask for an Android device. This reflected the tech savvy nature of those enrolled in an IT masters course.

To enhance the quality of mobile learning at CSU, academics could challenge students to undertake an assessment task with mobile technology. This could examine the unique functionality that only a mobile learning experience can deliver; otherwise the dependency on the screen size and familiarity of the desktop will remain. The inclusion of a broader spectrum of devices would assist in understanding the student perspective, in particular the choices they face between devices and platforms.

The trial was a great initiative and a worthwhile experience for all students and the participating staff at the Study Centres in Sydney and Melbourne.

EML302 Investigation: Literacy

Faculty of Education

Subject Coordinator: Jae Major
Class Size: One tutorial group with 1:1 iPads, 22 with iPads from the project + 4 students with their own.
Equipment: iPad WiFi

Aims:

  • Students to use the capabilities of the device to create multimodal text
  • Students to participate in weekly tutorial sessions with the iPad
  • Students to develop writing tasks using the iPad
  • Students to post writing tasks to a class blog
  • Assess the efficacy of the iPad

Academic Observations

Mobile learning is quite challenging to incorporate in a pedagogically sound way. It takes careful thinking and planning to design activities utilising mobile devices in meaningful ways to enhance student learning. Quite a lot of assistance to find and explore suitable apps to achieve the outcome was needed. There was a gap in the required skills or knowledge required to use the iPad confidently and help students when they experienced difficulties. Mobile devices for learning purposes are not well understood, and there needs to be much more work done in considering how they can best be used to enhance learning and teaching.

Not everything is necessarily better with new technology; some tasks are more easily and quickly done using ‘old’ technology.  As a result of working in an app environment for the main tasks and purpose, everything took much longer, and could have been achieved more efficiently with paper and pen or on a Netbook.

The main benefits of the mobile device were easy connection to the Internet in class, so web quests and quick research could be done, and the ability to share material and work.

Not all students were confident in using the iPad, and it took quite a long time to get past the need to focus on how to use the technology and the apps, so that students could then concentrate on the skills and concepts related to subject content. Surprisingly, not all students were wildly enthusiastic about using the iPad and some preferred other technologies, including paper and pen! Using a mobile device to connect with friends via Facebook is not the same as using it for learning purposes, and few students are skilled in recognising its potential or understanding how to use their devices for educational purposes.

The mobile device did become a distraction at times, which I thought might happen.

The students suggested that they would like to have textbooks available to read on the iPad. More time to explore and plan how to embed the mobile device into the teaching program would have been more helpful, and more assistance to identify apps and strategies for use. Several orientation sessions for students would be required, so that they had some basic skills with the apps and the device generally, prior to using it in a subject. It would be useful if some research could be identified investigating best practice, or at least things that have worked for others in the use of mobile devices for teaching and learning.

I think we make too many assumptions about the skills that students have with mobile devices and technologies. Many use their devices for fairly low-level tasks and in basic ways,  and are not as sophisticated as we suppose. A lot more thought is needed about how these devices can best be used before large amounts of money are invested. In my opinion as well, the wider university infrastructure needs some serious upgrading and improvement in order to successfully support the use of mobile devices. While we are still working with clumsy platforms such as Interact and Pebblepad (not accessible on iPad), then there will be problems with effectively embedding mobile devices into teaching and learning programs. Alignment and compatibility of the different platforms and elements of IT is absolutely critical to success.

MRS222 Nuclear Medicine Science 1

Faculty of Science

Subject Coordinator: Geoff Currie
Additional Staff: A casual member is co-teaching
Class Ratio: 1:1 access for all 15 students
Equipment: iPad WiFi + 3G

Aims: To

  • introduce interactive elements to the classroom using responseware (Clicker app)
  • increase the flexibility of students through improved access
  • provide an information access point and communication tool for students on placement
  • use discipline specific applications as a learning resource
  • develop learning resources for mobile devices
  • use multimedia capabilities to record learning practice in a video diary
  • leverage 3G technology to provide ubiquitous access to subject materials
  • provide support to students on placement through video chat (Skype)

This subject would form a longitudinal study, as it is a yearlong subject.

Academic Observations

The success of that program rests with careful application of the value added opportunities the iPad offers, that is, recognising the strengths of the iPad in enhancing what we currently do, while maintaining the strengths of other media. The iPad is a powerful tool, offering unique capabilities, which do not replace current valuable media like Interact.

I have used the iPad to actively engage students in the classroom, and to extend the classroom beyond the walls and timetable. An unexpected benefit has been the use of social media to enhance learning, communicate, reflect and strengthen the hidden curriculum. It should be noted that my cohort has provided international leadership in mobile learning for our discipline. This has culminated in two enormous milestones. Firstly, the invitation to write a guest editorial in our discipline’s most prominent and widely circulated journal on mLearning. Secondly, recognition by international universities of what we are achieving, and requests for collaboration (Wheeling Jesuit University and the University of Alabama Birmingham).

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