mlearn project

Charles Sturt University's Mobile Learning Project

Subject Outlines

The Project has been consistently working on mobilising Subject Outlines on the web for use by students. The aim of this work is to deliver access to a high volume student site and provide significant benefit to the student experience. The key to this work is to provide students with tangible utility for accessing the system, and simply put, the Subject Outlines is the primary source for information on assessment tasks.

The Subject Outlines provided a unique challenge for mobile devices due to the substantial amount of information contained, in many cases exceeding 40+ printed A4 pages. Therefore, the solution needed has to be more significant than changing text styles. The Project’s design skills and experience with user interface development, played an important part in transforming this information into an application that is intuitive, easy to navigate, accessible and cross platform. This work required design of a unique visual style for mobile devices, primarily Smartphones, that embraces their unique affordances and significant constraints. The Project also set up a device lab consisting of a range of mobile devices and operating systems vital for real world testing. The Project has fed the completed work back into the conversation at CSU around mobile, through the Web Management Committee Operations Subcommittee (WMC-OSC) and the Mobile Coordination Committee (MCC). We have made recommendations for additions to the web style guide and developed a supported proposal for a new font that can be specifically used for mobile.

Process

The Subject Outlines are a vital component of CSU’s interface between students. In essence,  the Subject Outlines, outline the learning contract between the university and the enrolled students. They contain all the mandatory information, and are a compulsory component of all CSU subjects, and so require all students to access them. At present, access to the Subject Outlines is tied to CSU Interact, so the aim of the project was to remove steps in the process and make access to this important information, both faster and easier. The goal of the system is to improve access and usability on a mobile device, and consequently increase student usage.

Mobilising the Subject Outlines was CSU’s first foray into the development of a web application. A web application is slightly different from a mobile website, and is far more complex. This is because it requires a more substantial logic layer and interactions with various databases to achieve more complex actions and input from users. The team’s aim was to build upon the work started by the Current Student Web Experience Project (CSWE) in the development of m.csu, and to move the design and interface forward. The team aimed to create impact and to forge a new visual style, while at the same time developing critical skills and knowledge in the mobile development space.

Unlike most projects at CSU there was no need to start from scratch and build a new system. Instead, the project has aimed at merging and mashing-up existing content and systems. The application has capitalised on existing APIs to deliver content via a text file. The application then parses that file to generate menus and navigation elements. The presentation and styling is then applied, and has been designed specifically to improve the usability and readability on the small screen.

The project has built this application using available web technologies with the aim of creating a truly cross platform solution. During the course of this development the team has also investigated the use of Phone Gap, which allows applications built, using web technologies to be packaged and deployed to a variety of mobile platforms as a native application. While delivering a native application is not within the scope of this work, the team felt that it was prudent to investigate this area to ensure that all avenues and possibilities had been properly explored.

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