John Dewey, writing in the early years of the twentieth century, may not have foreseen the proliferation of 21st century ‘mobile devices’ but, in the quotation to the right, he does point out something that remains relevant: that mobile learning involves change, initiative and adaptability.
"A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability." John Dewey (1916)
Mobile learning involves change in the sense that the ability to communicate with tutors and peers, as well as access learning resources, changes what is possible in education. It takes initiative for leaders to create a vision to sustain that change and, finally, mobile learning requires adaptability by members of staff to carry out the change.
This is a practical guide to thinking through the issues relating to institutional adoption of mobile learning. It follows a mobile and wireless technologies review which delves deeper into the theory behind mobile learning and the wider context. One of the biggest take-aways from that review is that mobile learning is still in its infancy and that mobile learning, as explained in What is mobile learning? is about the mobility of the learner rather than the device.
As with other forms of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) it is possible for mobile learning to be used in a small-scale and ad-hoc manner. Such approaches are rarely sustainable or, ultimately, satisfactory without wider buy-in from across an institution. Successful mobile learning initiatives are change management programmes that involve Strategy, a focus on Pedagogy, and a rigorous Implementation plan.
Whilst there are many approaches an institution can take when it comes to mobile learning, from administrative functionality through to rich learning and teaching experiences, one key factor to take into consideration is the learner. The importance of context cannot be overstated when it comes to mobile learning. Talking to and gaining feedback from learners allows institutions to plan accordingly for the contexts within which learners operate. The snapshots section gives examples of institutions and organisations that have done just this.
Emerging practice in a digital age
This guide is a developing resource launched at ALT-C 2011 alongside the new Jisc publication emerging practice in a digital age (September 2011). Augmenting the emerging practice guide, this is a practical guide for educational institutions planning to implement a mobile learning initiative.
At launch, the guide comprised a wiki-based resource collating information and guidance from Jisc and other sources. It has developed to incorporate additional examples of initiatives from across the sector. An overview of the guide is available as a SlideShare presentation.
Mobile learning can be many things to different groups of people. Superficially, it appears from the outside to be learning via mobile devices such as smartphones, MP3 players, laptops and tablets. Certainly, these are important in enabling mobile learning.
"Early definitions of [mobile learning], which focused predominantly on the attributes of mobile technology, have given way to more sophisticated conceptualisations suggesting that mobility is the central issue (Winters, 2006). This denotes not just physical mobility but the opportunity to overcome physical constraints by having access to people and digital learning resources, regardless of place and time." Kukulska-Hulme (2010)
But mobile learning is more than just using a mobile device to access content and communicate with others – it is about the mobility of the learner. According to Mike Sharples, a leading authority in the field, mobile learning can be defined as:
"the processes (both personal and public) of coming to know through exploration and conversation across multiple contexts amongst people and interactive technologies" Sharples, M. et al, 2007
The key word here is context. Mobile learning allows for a contextualisation of learning that is impossible with desk-bound computing. A more workmanlike definition of mobile learning was given by MoLeNET, a three year programme of capital funding for further education institutions running from 2007 until 2010. Mobile learning, they reasoned, involves the:
"exploitation of ubiquitous handheld hardware, wireless networking and mobile telephony to facilitate, support, enhance and extend the reach of teaching and learning."
Despite over ten years of work in the field of mobile learning the body of research available upon which to draw is relatively small. This is for two reasons. First, the rapid evolution of mobile devices has caused problems for meaningful longitudinal work. Often, by the time institutionally-purchased devices begin to gain traction they can be shunned for being out of date.
Second, cultural issues in key settings have prevented the use of mobile devices in educational institutions and healthcare. Seen as disruptive, distracting or causing privacy issues, management policy in many such settings has been one of blanket bans.
As you shall see through exploring this guide, mobile learning is more than the sum of its parts. It is, to a great extent, a ‘trojan horse’ and a vehicle for exploring the changing nature of learning in a connected age. Because of the large-scale funding, Further education institutions who participated (or learned from the outputs of) the MoLeNET programme are, perhaps, better-positioned than many schools, higher education institutions, and other providers as regards mobile learning.
Just as with any meaningful intervention or technology-enhanced learning initiative, there are no shortcuts. What this guide provides are some useful pointers and steps to consider along with some ‘snapshots’ of how other institutions have previously trod a similar path.
Why mobile learning?
"Mobile devices give us a unique opportunity to have learners embedded in a realistic context at the same time as having access to supporting tools." Futurelab (2004)
Mobile learning is more than simply learning via mobile devices (see what is mobile learning?). Planned and implemented properly, mobile learning initiatives allow for educational institutions to reflect upon the nature of their provision for learners. Although the technology involved in mobile learning can be attractive to staff and students there are also tangible and strategic benefits that mobile learning can bring.
Mobile learning aligns well with many goals of educational institutions, including:
Many of those interviewed as part of the research for this guide commented upon how relatively simple uses of mobile technologies can help in reducing frustration and in student retention. Examples include SMS messages sent to inform students of cancelled or rearranged lectures, and keeping in touch with learners at risk of falling behind with (and therefore dropping out from) their studies.
Tangible benefits of mobile learning
There are many tacit benefits of mobile learning but those that can be measured and made tangible include the following.
Personal, private and familiar (reduce perceived barriers to learning)
Pervasive and ubiquitous
Fit into the lives of learners (allow for productive ‘dead’ time – eg when travelling or queuing)
Portable – allow anywhere, anytime learning
Immediacy of communication (including speech and data-sharing)
Allows access to learning by those in dispersed communities and isolated situations
Contextualisation through location-aware features such as GPS
Allows data to be recorded and learning processes captured wherever they happen
Access to mentors, tutors and others learners on-the-move
Perceived as an acceptable way for learners to receive reminders and chasers – and to manage their time
Bite-sized e-learning resources can be delivered to learners (especially useful for basic skills or work-based learning)
Abstract (representational) and concrete (environmentally-situated) knowledge can be integrated.
Peer-to-peer networks make learning more student-centred
Promotes active learning
Enable new learning environments
Increases accessibility for learners with special educational needs
Encourages reflection in close proximity to the learning event
Reduces technical barriers to e-learning
"Looking at mobile learning in a wider context, we have to recognize that mobile, personal, and wireless devices are now radically transforming societal notions of discourse and knowledge, and are responsible for new forms of art, employment, language, commerce, deprivation, and crime, as well as learning." Traxler (2007)
Educational institutions both drive societal change and have to respond to it. According to GSMA (2011) a survey by Blackboard found that:
“virtually all students own a mobile phone and a third have [a] smartphone.”
Indeed, GSMA cites data from Ofcom showing that:
“99% of people aged between 15 and 24 have a mobile phone, the highest penetration rate for any age group.”
Whilst before the year 2000 ownership was restricted to the privileged few, it has become increasingly socially problematic and disabling not to own and use a mobile phone. This transformation of “societal notions of discourse and knowledge” (Traxler, 2007) is the context which educational institutions must both understand and operate within to remain relevant.
As is explained throughout this guide, mobile learning can be a ‘trojan horse’ for wider institutional changes. Considering the extent to which learning can be made more social through the use of mobile devices, for example, may force teaching staff to reflect upon the methods of assessment they use on a course.
Similarly, if ‘content’ can be delivered in a personal way to mobile devices, educators may deem discussion, debate and practical ‘hands-on’ activities a better use of face-to-face contact time. As this diagram from Upside Learning shows, mobile learning can be used both for content delivery and as a performance support system.
A final point to consider is the ease with which mobile devices allow for the creation of user-generated content. Coupled with the rise of social networks and location-aware services, mobile learners can engage with the content and skills they are expected to learn in more ways than ever before.
1 This is especially the case in relation to the National Student Survey
Mobile learning myths
There are a number of myths surrounding mobile learning. Some have a basis in fact but most demonstrate a fear of the known.
Here are 10 myths about mobile learning that can be dismissed with an explanation as to why such statements are false:
1. Mobile devices have screens too small to allow for learning
Whilst mobile phones do not have screens as large as desktop computers, ‘mobile devices’ also include laptops and devices such as e-book readers. These screens are certainly large enough.
Mobile devices with smaller screens are often used in different ways from more fixed technologies and are heavily context-aware. Touchscreens, for example, can allow for text input in non-traditional ways and users can also use video, audio and GPS to input data.
2. There are no consistent standards for mobile learning
At the turn of the century and for a few years afterward, Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) was seen as the de facto standard for e-learning products.
With the development of HTML5, CSS3 and other frameworks, along with the various app stores (iOS, Android, BlackBerry), however, existing content is becoming a lot more mobile-friendly.
3. Mobile devices are unsuitable for learning as they are a distraction
Distraction is nothing new to learning, with the scenery beyond the classroom window being a perennial source of fascination to students.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘distraction’ as “the drawing away (of the mind or thoughts) from one point or course to another; diversion of the mind or attention.” Whilst it is true that mobile devices with notification features turned on can be detrimental to sustained concentration, the fault lies not in the mobile device but in its use.
The appropriate use of technology in a given context is a socially-negotiated process.
'give the learners something interesting to do in the first place.'
4. Mobile learning is just ‘learning on the move’
Mobile learning may be about the mobility of the learner, but this is to do with moving across contexts rather than accessing content whilst being on the move. This could be in a context that suits the individual learner, for example on public transport, waiting in a queue, or sitting in a favourite chair at home. Alternatively, it could be in a context more suitable and appropriate for learning.
For example, Arboriculture students at Myerscough College use digital cameras up in the tree-tops to explain where they would cut diseased or damaged limbs. This could be carried out in real-time by using their mobile phones for formative assessment meaning they would not repeatedly have to descend and ascend to check with lecturers.
5. Students with disabilities cannot use mobile devices for learning
It’s a little-known fact that Apple’s iOS phones and tablets have some of the most consistent, rigorous accessibility features ever seen on a mobile device. In fact, if an app does not meet core accessibility guidelines, it is not approved for entry into the iOS store (see accessibility section for further discussion).
Although this is less true of other app stores, the ability for learners to personalise their device, to have it constantly set up for their use, removes a barrier to learning. Far from providing a hindrance, therefore, mobile learning is a great boon to students with disabilities.
6. Mobile learning means content delivered in bite-sized chunks
Bite-sized chunks may seem like the best way to deliver ‘content’. This, however, is a ‘transmission’ approach to mobile learning where an instructor has some knowledge to impart and delivers it, via a mobile device, to a learner. A more holistic approach is to engage the learner in creating user-generated content and engaging through audio, video and other features of mobile devices in the learning experience.
7. Young people already know how to use mobile devices for learning
As the 2008 Google Generation report demonstrated, the use of mobile devices by young people for social activities does not mean they know how to use them for learning. Educators should be aware of, and continue to experiment with, new ways of using mobile (and other) technologies for learning within their discipline.
8. Mobile devices cannot be relied upon for learning as they are likely to be lost, broken or stolen
Mobile devices tend to be both expensive for their size (and therefore desirable to thieves) as well as being easy to lose or damage.
The MoLeNET programme, however, found that of 10,000 handheld devices purchased across various projects, less than two percent were damaged, lost or stolen. Just as it can be a good idea to have spare versions of older technologies such as pens and books, so it is sensible to have spare mobile devices in the case of various eventualities.
9. Content on mobile devices cannot be as secure as on desktop computers.
Whilst mobile devices are more likely to be lost or stolen than desktop computers they often have additional security features. For example, Apple iOS devices and BlackBerries can be set to require a PIN to use whilst Android devices can be unlocked by drawing a shape on the screen. In addition, individual apps have various security features and separate pincodes, with a certain number of incorrect entries trigging data deletion. Finally, software such as Prey allows for the tracking of mobile devices should they be lost or stolen.
10. Mobile learning is an expensive option
This is a common criticism of mobile learning initiatives and is often raised in relation to ‘digital divide’ issues. The latter is the idea that there is a widening gap between those who can afford technology and those who cannot with the former group profiting from greater access to resources and information at the expense of the latter.
Mobile devices cost less today than they ever have done, with basic mobile phones being available behind the counter at petrol stations and ‘smartphones’ given away free on cheap monthly contracts. The cost to the learner can be defrayed by the provision of wireless networks, ‘loanership’ schemes and employing a multi-pronged strategy (see University of Bradford snapshot).
In this section you will find information and guidance on how to get started with the big picture of mobile learning.
Without an overall vision for what mobile learning is able to achieve in your particular context it is doomed to failure.
Along with the ‘snapshot’ case studies this section consider what learners are increasingly coming to expect in terms of their ability to use mobile devices for anytime, anywhere learning. It is not enough to simply engage and cater for learners, however, as staff must also be on board with initiatives. Cultural considerations are important for any change management project and particularly when technology is involved that is more often used for social reasons.
Finally, whilst the novelty factor may enable an organisation to gain some initial traction, it is important that mobile learning initiatives are sustainable.
This guide can, of course, be accessed in any order. Moving from the overall vision, putting learners at the centre, through to cultural considerations and then to sustainability, enables potential barriers (“That will never work here”) to be put to one side in the first instance for some blue-skies thinking. There is more on overcoming barriers and finding enablers in the implementation section. As is mentioned through this guide, mobile learning can serve as a ‘trojan horse’ for wider changes and re-focusing within an institution.
Mobile learning, as we saw in what is mobile learning? is a concept that depends heavily upon context. It is a flexible term used to cover a spectrum of approaches that help learners in a variety of ways. One way to consider this is diagrammatically:
Most large-scale mobile learning initiatives and implementations lean (understandably) towards the left-hand side of this spectrum.
They focus on getting key pieces of information to staff and students in timely and contextually-useful ways. Examples of these include informing learners that a lecture has been postponed or cancelled, or that library books are due back soon.
At the other end of the spectrum are rich teaching and learning experiences. This includes engaging in activities that were previously either impossible or very difficult and time-consuming to undertake. Visualising an ancient building at an archaeological site through augmented reality would be an example of this: without mobile technologies this would not be possible in real-time.
The majority of ‘quick wins’ for mobile learning lie at the left-hand side of this spectrum. They often include either slight tweaks or modifications of existing content or turning on tools that are available through institutionally-purchased e-learning solutions.
Five quick wins for mobile learning are set out below. These are approaches that can be implemented quickly in ways that, to use Agile project management terminology, are high in Business Value and low in Complexity.
5 quick wins to kick-start institution-led mobile learning initiatives
1. Add a mobile stylesheet to your website
Through the use of media queries in an alternative, mobile-friendly stylesheet, an existing website can be made to render more effectively on mobile devices.
A presentation by Meagan Fisher from 2009 entitled designing mobile interfaces does a good job of explaining the options in an entertaining way.
2. Provide a mobile-friendly front end to an existing RSS feed
RSS feeds are generated by most content management systems (CMS), blogs and wikis. They allow for content to be syndicated to places other than the existing website. An example of this would be university press releases.
Although some mobile devices can make sense of these RSS feeds, some need a helping hand. There are several ways to do this.
The easiest way is to run the RSS feed through Google’s free FeedBurner service. After some straightforward configuration, this provides a mobile-friendly front end for your RSS feeds
Some CMS have add-ons that allow RSS feeds to be displayed in ways that can be read by mobile devices. There are too many CMS to list the options for each but, if this solution is lacking, Tiny Tiny RSS is a free mobile-friendly RSS feed reader that could be used for this purpose
Although it is moving away from ‘quick win’ territory, developing a ‘hybrid app’ is an increasingly-popular approach. The idea is that the application, available through (for example) the Apple, Android and BlackBerry app store, is a ‘shell’ for updates provided from your website.
3. Set up social media accounts to broadcast relevant news and updates
According to Facebook’s official statistics, those users of the social networking site who access it on a mobile device are “twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users”. Moreover, Facebook accounts for more than 50% of the online time spent by UK users when using their mobile devices.
"The number of Smartphones amongst our students has gone up to around 20% but it would still be hard to convince a lecturer to spend time on such a small portion. Luckily for us our main learning platforms, Blackboard, QuestionMark Perception and PebblePad have all released mobile apps / mobile friendly web versions / APIs… So [soon] pretty much any elearning a lecturer does will be available on both Computer and Mobile without any extra effort on the lecturers part. Whilst it may not represent my ideal bite size nugget format, I do think it’s a major win." John Fairhall, University of Bradford
Facebook, along with other social networks such as Twitter and Google+ have extremely mobile-friendly websites and apps. For important news and announcements it can be a good idea to go to where people already are. Sending an RSS feed to a range of social networks can lead to very quick wins: learners see them as they often spend much of their time in these environments, and the cost to the institution is effectively zero.
4. Turn on the mobile version of your learning platform, VLE or e-portfolio solution
Many, if not most, providers of virtual learning environments and e-portfolios have developed a mobile version of their offerings. According to the 2010 UCISA Survey of technology-enhanced learning for higher education in the UK, apart from those solutions developed in-house, the most popular learning platforms are Moodle, Blackboard and Microsoft SharePoint. These all have mobile-friendly apps or versions of their online solutions that are tailored to mobile devices.
5. Invest in secure SMS text messaging services
Janet txt, along with competing services, allow for secure institutional SMS text messaging to learners. This can be done on a granular basis, as opt-in (recommended) or opt-out, and provides flexible options for integrating with existing provision.
As SMS is guaranteed to work on any type of mobile phone – ‘smartphone’ or otherwise – it can be a good place to start with a mobile learning initiative.
The current higher education landscape is more complex than ever before. With the 2012 reforms introducing new fee structures and increased marketisation, students are very much in the driving seat. As a result, higher education institutions – as well as further education colleges that teach HE in FE – find themselves in a position where they need to respond to student demands in unprecedented new ways.
"New generations of young people who have grown up with digital technology have high expectations of anytime, anywhere learning, but many learners do not have a clear understanding of how courses could or should use technology to support learning. They are still very much reliant on lecturers for guidance." Jisc learner experiences of e-learning, guide 2
Students are likely to make their voice and demands heard in a range of ways. The uncritical use of technology in the curriculum, for example, is not something that students are prepared to tolerate.
“using IT for studies more frequently does not necessarily lead to an increase in student satisfaction.”
Indeed, research by the NUS found that:
“the percentage of students who feel that ICT usage has enhanced their experience of studying has actually decreased, from 46% in 2009 to 42% in 2010.”
Much of students’ dissatisfaction with technology in education has, perhaps, to do with the disconnect between their institutional and non-institutional experiences of IT. Most institutional use of IT is driven by impersonal VLE and e-portfolio systems; as the 2010 UCISA survey of technology-enhanced learning demonstrates, academic departments are developing their own learning platforms in tandem to them. The most popular response for why this is happening? “A case has been made for the departmental VLE based on pedagogical reasons.”
Mobile learning allows for ubiquitous, personalised and social learning experiences. Deployed in consultation with learners it allows for a more nuanced approach to students’ technology-mediated interactions. Given their familiarity with the device they use for other purposes, students are also less likely to find such interactions frustrating. This all, however, depends upon a planned, coherent and holistic approach to deployment.
"I think the learners themselves still aren’t clued up to the potential of mobile learning so in surveys where we asked them they only really responded with access to the VLE." John Fairhall, University of Bradford
Provide clear explanations of technologies learners are expected to use (support available and educational benefits)
Ensure essential course information and learning resources are available via the VLE (expected by learners as a minimum)
Offer ‘tasters’ of potentially innovative learning activities that learners can try online
Explore what colleagues are doing to ensure a level of consistency for learners in their experience of technology
Treat new technologies as an opportunity to share skills (some learners may be highly proficient while others are unsure)
Recognise that how the use of technology is explained to learners is of critical importance
This advice is particularly applicable to mobile learning where peer learning through the technology that students already have available can make a significant difference to their educational experience.
"From our research…what students say they would value most is a ‘one stop shop’ where they can get instant access to reliable and up to date information about the teaching and administration that matters to them. This might include lecture times and rooms, assignment deadlines, course notes, lecture slides and recordings, and overdue library books." Mike Sharples, The Open University
Even when rolling out parts of the overall mobile learning experience that are more administration-focused it is important to nevertheless place pedagogy at the heart of change management initiatives. There are certain things that students expect despite their initial unfamiliarity with how mobile devices can help in their learning:
To be able to use their own devices with corporately-owned IT infrastructure.
For technology not to be used as a crutch for poor learning and teaching experiences.
Unhampered digital communication with their peers, tutors and administrators.
Study habits are changing as an inevitable consequence of the ability for students to instantly access both information, their peers and knowledge-brokers such as academic staff.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can blur the lines between the previously-demarcated worlds of the academic and the social. The cultural considerations section provides some guidance as to how to deal with these changes in a positive and reasonable manner.
Considering and responding to the culture of an organisation is key in any change management initiative. As countless Jisc reports testify, the culture of an organisation can be an enabler or a barrier for projects aiming to improve or modify the working/learning environments for staff and students at an educational institution.
One of the biggest advantages as well as one of the biggest drawbacks for a mobile learning initiative is it can often serve as a stimulus for wider, sometimes unanticipated, changes within an institution. Once staff, for example, reflect upon their assessment practices as a result of a mobile learning initiatives, it may lead to wider curriculum design implications.
The initial stimulus for staff and students getting involved in mobile learning is likely to vary from context to context and, indeed, upon individual preferences and interests. As Julie Laxton, part of the University of Leeds’ ALPS team points out (see video) it is a case of understanding the benefits of mobile learning and ‘selling a story’ of positive impact upon practice. In this way both technology and pedagogy work together.
"It’s really understanding how it can impact practice and selling that story of how it can impact positively on practice." Julie Laxton, University of Leeds
Mobile learning is content-agnostic and, as such, can often help break down existing barriers for wider institutional gains. Julie Usher, a learning technologist at the University of Northampton found that being ambitious and seeking input from across teams in the university can be “a challenge” but lead to “some great unexpected outcomes”. The mobile learning project at Northampton was “a catalyst, breaking down silos and raising questions about the availability of information”. It also, importantly, she points out, led to questions about how such information could “be improved in order to enhance the student experience.”
"There were two main drivers for mobile developments at the University. One was pedagogic and came from the learning technology team, who recognised the potential of mobile technology to provide opportunities for more flexible, situated and personalised learning. The other driver came from our Marketing team, who saw mobile development as a way to raise the profile of the institution, and make information more readily available to prospective students, parents and visitors." Julie Usher, University of Northampton
Another benefit of mobile learning is that it allows institutions and staff to re-evaluate their roles in a changing landscape, ensuring that what they provide remains relevant and learner-focused. To ensure that such reflection takes place it’s important for those leading mobile learning projects to engage with various stakeholders across the institution and, as Jackie Carter of Mimas points out, to work in partnership. “I think it’s taking from the learning to the technology, not the other way around”, drawing on her experience of Mimas’ award-winning mobile learning projects.
As long ago as 2004 Futurelab saw mobile learning as heralding a new dawn for learning experiences. Quoting Soloway et al. (2001) the mobile technologies and learning report states that
“to make any difference in the classroom at all, computers must be mobile and within ‘arm’s reach’.”
In addition, mobile technologies should not “be viewed as simply providing more portable versions of the learning activities that are currently supported on more static machines” as the mobility of the device and the learner “adds a new dimension to the activities that can be supported.” Mobile learning initiatives provide an opportunity for staff to reflect upon their practices and (re-)ask the question How can technology best enable this particular learning outcome?
Some mobile learning initiatives are student-centred but with an indirect link to learning and teaching. An example of this would be library reminder services via SMS text messages for borrowing deadlines. As explained in the quick wins section these types of mobile learning initiatives are likely to be quicker and cheaper to implement than others and (to paraphrase Prof. John Traxler) can serve as “the low-hanging fruit” that doesn’t “frighten the horses”.
Once senior members of staff are used to checking their email and accessing information on a mobile device, once academic staff are convinced of the benefits of assessment in practice situations, and when learning technologists and IT staff have been reassured as to impacts on their workload, further development can take place. Cultural change can often be a slow and, at times, frustrating process.
"The culture change is huge and I don’t think we should underestimate that." Chris Dearnley, University of Bradford
Although the temptation for those in charge of mobile learning is to start with the early adopters of technology, this is not always the best idea. Kyle Bowen of Purdue University, USA, for example, who led the team who developed the innovative ‘Hotseat’ and ‘Mixable’ technologies actively avoids early adopters. Not only do early adopters tend to carry less influence than other members of staff, he claims, but aiming for those “with a healthy level of scepticism” can mean that you can genuinely tell if an intervention or initiative is working.
There are many questions to consider when implementing a mobile learning initiative. Some of these will be specifically context-dependent whereas others, such as those given below, can be stated more widely:
Does the mobile learning initiative alter the meaning of ‘contact time’ for staff or students in a significant way?
Is this an example of substitution is this transformational for students?
Has the mobile learning initiative achieved high level buy-in?
Who benefits from this mobile learning initiative? Who (or what) is marginalised?
What are the positive, demonstrable, benefits of going with mobile learning in your institution?
"Most institutions, especially larger institutions, tend to turn like cruise ships… [W]e have to [remain] agile, which means we have to kind of stay out of that standard mainstream culture of the institution and we have to hit right at the pain points by going directly there and offer solutions. That way, by the time the ship turns all the way around… we’ve already figured out what some of the issues are." Kyle Brown, Purdue University, USA
One of the biggest effects mobile learning is likely to have is to blend and blur the traditional boundaries between informal and formal learning. This is due to the personal nature of the technology and the cultural expectations as to how such technologies are used. However, as Vavoula and Sharples (2008) point out, such blurring of boundaries is not necessarily a bad thing.
Seeing informal and formal learning as completely separate leads to the advocates in each camp only to see the weaknesses in the other. Instead, it makes more sense to explore the elements of formality and informality present in all learning situations. Citing Colley, et al. (2003) they advocate four groups of attributes to consider:
Location and setting
Conceptualising mobile learning as comprising of the interrelationship of these four elements is more productive, they claim, than applying a binary distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ learning.
A final thing to consider relating to culture is the various backgrounds from which both staff and students ‘come to the table’ and interact with one another. Cultural expectations, norms and barriers vary from country to country and between subgroups. It is imperative, therefore, that focus groups and consultations capture feedback from a cross-section of the institution’s community.
As our guide to sustaining and embedding innovations good practice notes:
'Sustainability in innovation projects can be defined as embedding change as well as maintaining and enhancing project outcomes.'
This is achieved by:
Changing people and culture
Working with existing institutional structures to influence organisational change
Embedding or aligning with strategies, processes, systems, initiatives and services
Creating usable tools and resources (as part of project outputs) to meet stakeholder needs
Developing commercial and open approaches to sustaining and embedding innovation
Implementing a mobile learning initiative is, at its most basic level, just another change management procedure. It is important, for example, to project manage the initiative effectively, take account of cultural considerations, and obtain senior level buy-in.
In order to make the change sustainable, however, there must be some kind of momentum to the project, something that keeps it going beyond the initial flurry of excitement and embeds the innovation across the institution.
"It’s worth thinking hard about the implications of what you’re going to do in the longer term, rather than the short term – because this is technology that’s very much here to stay." Tim Fernando, University of Oxford
Mobile learning is a many-headed hydra. Whilst this can be useful when trying to align funding for mobile learning initiatives with funding opportunities and institutional priorities, it can lead to issues because of the sheer number of stakeholders and interested parties there are likely to want to be involved.
‘Sustainability’ means different things to different groups: to finance and marketing teams the focus is upon cost/benefit issues; to IT personnel it is about keeping systems up-to-date; and to academic staff and students it is about the technical systems remaining relevant to desired pedagogical (and social) outcomes.
"As the individual and organisational use and awareness of the benefits of mobile learning increases there needs to be a parallel change to learning design and pedagogy to make the most of these opportunities. This often starts with an assumption that the same content and activities developed for the VLE and larger screen devices will work just as well on smaller mobile devices. Aside from any technical incompatibilities there’s clearly a big difference in terms of teaching and learning activity between what works on 7-inch+ screens and what’s realistic on smaller mobile phones." Ron Mitchell
The ways that we approach designing systems, workflows and learning opportunities need to evolve as the metaphors and symbols we use in everyday life change. Take, for example, the symbol used next to a long string of numbers to indicate a telephone number. Often, it is a rotary telephone with the receiver placed on top – something that many university students may never have seen or used in practice.
In a similar way, conceptually-speaking, we use frameworks from one area and apply it to another: VLEs and Learning Platforms become glorified filing cabinets, for example. As Vavoula and Sharples (2008) draw attention to, “these ‘borrowed’ frameworks and tools might no longer be adequate” as mobile learning is not just “learning that is facilitated by mobile technologies” but involves “processes of coming to know through conversations and explorations across multiple contexts” (Vavoula and Sharples, 2008, p1). The Frameworks for mobile learning section may be able to help your institution with this.
Using metaphors and similies when introducing mobile learning initiatives can be a powerful way to leverage adoption. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that these conceptual frameworks are updated along with additional features and possibilities.
It is a fairly straightforward task to design mobile learning initiatives that focus upon administrative functions and pop quizzes. It is a different matter to design mobile learning initiatives that focus on deep learning and rich interaction. Doing the latter requires a commitment on the part of several stakeholders, not least academic staff. As John Fairhall, Mobile Technologist at the University of Bradford (see Snapshot) notes, it can be very difficult to convince a lecturer to spend time on mobile learning content “when the majority of their students don’t have a mobile to use it.”
Leveraging the provision already available through external providers is something identified in the quick wins section and removes a potential barrier: internally-developed systems and software need a business justification, but this can be difficult to obtain without evidence of need. If staff start using something that is provided as a matter of course with, for example, the institutional VLE or e-portfolio system, it is a low-risk and low-cost way to investigate potential uses.
The challenge, as Futurelab (2004, p5) point out, is:
to discover how to use mobile technologies to transform learning into a seamless part of daily life to the point where it is not recognised as learning at all.
The same is true at the administrative end of the spectrum; using a mobile device to access information quickly and efficiently should become second-nature to staff and students alike. Achieving this involves a great deal of awareness-raising and hand-holding as to what is possible and desirable when using mobile devices.
Taking a collaborative approach to implementing change pays dividends, as Dave Pickersgill from Sheffield College discovered (see quotation to right). Once staff and students are aware of the potential benefits of mobile learning and senior management buy-in has been achieved, using the advice in the sustaining and embedding innovations good practice and CAMEL methodology guides is likely to lead to a more sustainable mobile learning initiative.
"The CAMEL (collaborative approaches to the management of e-learning) methodology was adopted for CPD as MoLeNET brought new dimensions for a large number of colleagues within the college. A collaborative non-judgemental approach was required in order to allow colleagues to learn from each other as the use of m-devices increased across a diverse number of curriculum areas." Dave Pickersgill, Sheffield College
The main purpose of this section is to introduce a pedagogy perspective for mobile learning. Along with looking at various frameworks and their merits moving from theory to application, this section considers the value of mobile learning upon learning and teaching as well as the changes that come with it, specifically exploring the subtle tension between the affordances of mobile learning and the constraints of established practice.
This section also looks at the importance of context, specifically how institutions and learners can take advantage of various changing contexts for learning and how important this is to the success of its implementation and acceptance across an institution.
Frameworks for mobile learning
In order to move from academic theorising about mobile learning to operational and successful use frameworks are necessary. There are a variety of such frameworks and, before introducing several which educational institutions may find useful, it is worth recapping a Futurelab overview from 2004 outlining six broad theory-based categories of activity. Knowing what it is that’s driving the change you want to see enables successful evaluation of mobile learning initiatives:
Behaviourist – activities that promote learning as a change in learners’ observable actions
Constructivist – activities in which learners actively construct new ideas or concepts based on both their previous and current knowledge
Situated – activities that promote learning within an authentic context and culture
Collaborative – activities that promote learning through social interaction
Informal and lifelong – activities that support learning outside a dedicated learning environment and formal curriculum
Learning and teaching support – activities that assist in the coordination of learners and resources for learning activities
Whilst some initiatives may see mobile learning as a way to foster collaborative interactions, others may foreground more behaviourist approaches. It is possible, of course, to blend several categories of activity (although this may make the initiative more difficult to evaluate).
Laurillard (2002) – A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies
For categories of activity that can be described as constructivist, situated, collaborative and/or informal, Laurillard’s conversational framework may be appropriate:
The main roles of mobile technology in supporting the ‘conversational learning’ promoted by Laurillard are therefore:
Providing an environment to enable conversation
Enabling learners to build models in order to solve problems
Whereas previous applications of Laurillard’s framework may have been static and, perhaps, VLE-based, mobile learning enables this type of learning to be both technology-mediated and contextual. For more on Laurillard’s conversational framework, please see her book Rethinking University Teaching.
Park (2011) – pedagogical framework for mobile learning
For those institutions looking for an alternative focus, Park’s (2011) pedagogical framework for mobile learning is a way of understanding how ‘transactional distance’ and the ‘social’ nature of an activity can be mapped against one another. The former is defined as the ‘cognitive space’ between individuals whereas the latter is to what extent an activity involves interaction with others in order to be completed successfully:
Park’s pedagogical framework allows academics and institutions to plan for the type of learning and teaching experiences that may work well in their particular context. Park gives each element a code – with H standing for high transactional distance, L for low transactional distance, S for high social interaction and I for low social interaction.
An HS approach, for example, allows for high transactional distance and high social interaction with peers. This can be appropriate at any level of education, but may be more appropriate with learners who already have expertise in a given area. An LI approach, on the other hand, would be closer to a traditional experience for learners, with highly-structured and with (mostly) individual interaction with a single instructor.
Koole – A model for framing mobile learning (2009)
A more holistic framework for mobile learning comes with Koole’s FRAME model. This consists of a three-circle Venn diagram comprising the learner aspect (L), the social aspect (S) and the device aspect (D).
Taking two or more of these together at the point at which the circles overlap in the Venn diagram:
Koole provides criteria for each of the sections:
Mobile learning is therefore a combination of the interactions between learners, their devices, and other people. Koole also provides a helpful checklist for institutions looking to adopt mobile learning, including the following questions.
In a mobile learning system, have you considered:
how use of mobile devices might change the process of interaction between learners, communities, and systems?
how learners may most effectively use mobile access to other learners, systems, and devices to recognize and evaluate information and processes to achieve their goals?
how learners can become more independent in navigating through and ﬁltering information?
how the roles of teachers and learners will change and how to prepare them for that change?
These questions enable the mobility of the learner rather than the device to be at the forefront of the mobile learning initiative.
"Mobile learning provides enhanced collaboration among learners, access to information, and a deeper contextualization of learning. Hypothetically, effective mobile learning can empower learners by enabling them to better assess and select relevant information, redeﬁne their goals, and reconsider their understanding of concepts within a shifting and growing frame of reference (the information context)." Koole (2009)
Learning and teaching considerations
Once learners have devices and the institutional support structures are in place (see the implementation section) the question remains: What’s different about mobile learning?
"[M]obile learning in a wider TEL [Technology-Enhanced Learning] context is the whole problem. It no longer has anything to do with that or institutional contexts. TEL is top-down/centre-out/we-take-the-lead; we are in a situation that’s outside-in/bottom-up/they-take-the-lead." Professor John Traxler, University of Wolverhampton
As this quotation from Professor John Traxler makes clear, mobile learning presents something of a problem for educational instutitons. Whilst the potential of mobile devices for learning is huge, questions remain as to their value for teaching. This subtle tension between the affordances of mobile learning and the constraints of established practice means that, as mentioned throughout this infoKit, mobile learning can serve as a ‘Trojan horse’ for wider institutional changes.
One of the biggest changes that mobile learning affords is to blur the previously distinct line (and set of practices) between distance learning and face-to-face (F2F) learning. Park’s (2011) framework for mobile learning goes some way to helping map out the different types of ways learners can interact with instructors and one another. However, a more holistic approach such as Laurillard’s Conversational Framework or Koole’s FRAME model may be more appropriate. See the frameworks for mobile learning section for more details.
In terms of the specific details of the type of learning activities that can be undertaken with mobile learning, this will vary from educator to educator and discipline to discipline. “Mobile learning technologies clearly support the transmission and delivery of rich multimedia content” states Prof. John Traxler (2009), but they “also support discussion and discourse, real-time, synchronous and asynchronous, using voice, text and multimedia.” Just as different disciplines lend themselves to different styles of teaching, so different mobile learning approaches will be necessary.
Before giving examples of the types of mobile learning activities that can be undertaken by learners it is worth pointing out the ways in which such activities should be reconceptualised to take account of what is possible. The SAMR model by Ruben Puentedura is not so much a framework as a taxonomy of types of learning activity:
Conceptualising technology-enhanced learning activities with the help of the SAMR model helps avoid shallow uses of mobile devices for learning. For example, accessing a pre-existing VLE or learning platform through a smartphone may count as mobile learning but, on Puentedura’s model, constitutes ‘substitution’, the lowest form of technology-enhanced learning.
As examples from Jisc publications demonstrate, mobile learning can take on a variety of forms and work in a number of contexts. Case study five in effective practice in a digital age (pages 28-9), for example, demonstrates the ways in which learning is supported in authentic environments at Southampton Solent University through the use of iPod Touches. Likewise, case study six in effective assessment in a digital age (pages 40-41) shows how feedback can be enhanced by being given and received via mobile devices. Case studies two, seven, eight and nine in emerging practice in a digital age feature examples of mobile learning, with case study seven showcasing the work of ALPS (see snapshot) where students on placement can have access to resources, support and assessment tools.
Further examples can be found from ESCalate, the MoLeNET programmes and the Excellence Gateway.
The importance of context
Whilst context has always been an important factor in TEL (technology-enhanced learning) it is of central importance with mobile learning. As Wingkvist and Ericsson (2010) note:
if the context is not understood well enough, the mobile learning system will not survive beyond the scope of the initiative and the project’s end date.
Contexts, however, are not static but fluid and dynamic with important repercussions for both formal and informal learning experiences. In this section we shall look at how contexts have, and are continuing to change, ways in which those contexts can be conceptualised, and (most importantly) how institutions and learners can take advantage of various contexts for learning.
As revealed by Jisc research, the social context in which learning takes place has also changed, and in ways that were not foreseen in the early part of the 21st century. Learners are increasingly dependent on technology to help them fit learning into their complex, demanding lives. Ownership of personal technologies – from computers to mobile devices – is now pervasive, and use of the internet, including web 2.0 technologies, is commonplace. Jisc (2009)
The growth of personal mobile technological devices has been staggering. 91% of the UK adult population own or use a mobile phone (Ofcom, 2011) with the overall number of mobile devices exceeding the total population. Indeed, Ofcom has characterised the UK as a nation addicted to smartphones. Whilst such devices were available previously, the move from analogue to digital and the subsequent dramatic drop in price has led to an explosion in adoption. It is now extremely unusual for someone not to carry a mobile device of some kind.
This context of having a device available for personal use at any time changes things significantly for learning and teaching. Indeed, “mobile, personal, and wireless devices are now radically transforming societal notions of discourse and knowledge”. They are “responsible for new forms of art, employment, language, commerce, deprivation, and crime, as well as learning” (Traxler, 2007, p.10).
The evolution of such devices, from simple voice and SMS text messaging functionality to smartphone functionality with high-speed internet access has meant that “the main barriers to developing… new modes of mobile learning are not technical but social” (Sharples, 2010, p4).
"The user interfaces and the speed at which the interactions are performed have to be really well-tuned… Quite often [learners] will be in a social situation… or just need to be getting somewhere quickly." Tim Fernando, University of Oxford
Whereas, previously, knowledge was physically present in places such as libraries with institutions having very formal lines of communication, the growth in use of mobile devices and social networking has changed this dramatically. With a lowered barrier to social interaction and knowledge through technology, students are able to self-organise as well as access relevant information more quickly and efficiently than ever before.
Context can be defined as “the formal or informal setting in which a situation occurs; it can include many aspects or dimensions, such as environment, social activity, goals or tasks of groups and individuals; time (year/month/day)." Brown (2010)
Context is a word that is used informally in a variety of ways. Within mobile learning it is used extensively and is, perhaps, most helpfully explained by reference to a diagram, derived from the work of Lonsdale (2004) and Sharples (2010).
Professor Mike Sharples compares context to an ever-playing movie, “a continually unfolding interaction between people, settings, technologies and other artefacts” (Sharples, 2010). The following ‘context hierarchy’ may be useful in understanding how the different constituent elements interact:
The outer circle constitutes the wider context, which Lonsdale, et al. (2004) call the “interaction over time between people, settings, technologies and artefacts”. This is followed by the middle circle (the ‘context state’) comprising “elements from the learning and setting at one particular point in time, space or goal sequence.” Finally, the inner circle (‘context substate’) is made up of “elements from the learner and setting that are relevant to the current focus of learning and desired level of context awareness.”
Whereas some elements of ‘context’ are reasonably static, there are more rapidly-changing elements – those which Lonsdale, et al. term ‘context substate’. These can change from learning experience to learning experience and therefore fluctuate even over the period of a module or semester. Wrapped around that comes the ‘context state’ which may be an academic department or faculty, and finally the ‘context’ may be the wider university or college. Learners and staff operate across these contexts.
As Glahn, et al. (2010) point out, mobile learning allows both a high degree of personalisation as well as enabling a much more social method of learning. It therefore, rather uniquely, allows for learning within and across contexts.
Taking advantage of contexts for learning
As Tim Fernando explains (see video to the right), with mobile learning the various out-of-classroom contexts mean that the speed at which communications take place or knowledge is accessed is all-important. Whereas traditional TEL interactions involve a significant period of time usually in one pre-booked space, mobile learning interactions are often the inverse of this. Reasonably low-tech and established technologies such as podcasts and pervasive instant message conversations mean that learning can take place “just in time, just enough and just for me” (Rosenberg, 2001).
One way in which modern mobile phones with internet access (‘smartphones’) can be used as part of institutional contexts is demonstrated by Thom Cochrane of Unitec, New Zealand:
This diagram, reminiscent of Laurillard’s Conversational Framework (see frameworks for mobile learning) shows how the smartphone, and therefore by implication, the learner, can be placed at the centre of a wider social system that allows interaction with academic staff, mentors and peers. Cochrane (2010) found that
“when modelled by their lecturers… students in the projects developed a strong sense of community and integrated the technologies into multiple learning environments.”
In addition, he found that they were “also critiquing and collaborating with their peers.”Mobile learning allowed the learning conversation to be focused on learners rather than teachers as the technologies were more personal and personalised. It is the potential for mobile learning to “bridge pedagogically designed learning contexts, facilitate learner generated contexts, and content… while providing personalisation and ubiquitous social connectedness” that makes it different and “sets it apart” from more traditional learning environments.
This is backed up by the findings of Kenny, et al. who comment that effective mobile learning is “defined by the convergence of the device usability, learner, and social aspects to extend their impact beyond their natural boundaries.” This “affords enhanced collaboration… ready access to information, and a deeper contextualisation of learning” (Kenny, et al., 2009).
It is because of this ability to bridge contexts of learning that Dr Mike Short (Vice President of public affairs at Telefonica O2 Europe) believes that ‘contextual learning’ may be a better term than mobile learning as “we need different tools for different lessons and different learners”. Using the term ‘contextual learning’ he believes demonstrates that the focus is on a “more personalised context that is not tied to one technology, one network, one device, or one e-library.”
For now, however, ‘mobile learning’ is a convenient term to describe enhanced educational experiences in a variety of contexts that use mobile devices.
Learning activities and video case studies
"If we treat the mobile web as its own environment rich with possibilities, rather than a crippled extension of the desktop experience with restrictive limitations, we begin to understand how to embrace and even exploit those possibilities." Cameron Moll, 2005
This section of our guide features examples of good practice in the use of apps for teaching and learning. It includes videos from organisations across higher education, further education and the skills sector and showcases how mobile apps have benefitted the learning experience.
Assessment, feedback and submission
“Assessment is central to learning and teaching. What is assessed defines what is taught and how it is learnt. The process of assessment, in turn, shapes institutional practice and affects a learner’s view of the value of engaging in learning.” Jisc
Assessment is an important check on learning - have learners understood and can they apply what they have learnt? The traditional view of assessment is rows of students sat in a sports hall completing paper based questions within a given space of time.
But most traditional methods require not just time from the learner to complete, but also from the assessor to mark the work. Many have experienced an ever growing pile of paper assignments to work through, following the relevant marking criteria and providing every student with formative feedback in order for them to improve next time round (all hand written in red ink). It also takes time, in terms of all the additional 'paperwork' required to record the subsequent details following the setting of an assignment eg tracking sheets.
Technology has provided the ability to transform the delivery of assessment from electronic submission through to video and audio feedback and online marking. Advantages include:
Easy individual and group feedback
Statement banks – minimise effort
Monitor group process as well as outcomes – eg wikis
Assessment software – timed release
Online gradebooks – easy tracking
Assignments can be confidential or easily shared – peer review
Easy distribution to markers
Less time marking
Increased opportunities for practice and feedback- eg rich media
Mobile technology has extended these possibilities with tools to provide quizzes, polls, annotation on screen, submission facilities and methods for students to evidence their learning. and for staff to provide media rich feedback.
The following are examples of how mobile technology aids the assessment process:
Perth College UHI - hairdressing app
Perth College University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) used a tailored app for hairdressing students, created by the college learning technologies centre. This app (android) replaced a paper based process for a fairly complex hair colouring task, which required a great deal of interaction with the practitioner to advise and give feedback.
The app automated this process and gave the students, prompts, advice, and feedback as they progressed through the task. It also pointed out where they went wrong, if mistakes were made.
Anglia Ruskin University - MyKnowledgeMap
MyKnowledgeMap is a commercial app for the electronic completion and assessment of student professional development portfolios (ePDP) via a mobile tablet.
The system, compared to the traditional paper-based alternatives, greatly enhances tutors' ability to monitor student progress while on placement, and on individual and group bases. This enhanced monitoring capability allows the rapid identification of students at risk of failure and facilitates early intervention.
Pembrokeshire College - mCommunity mobile app
Pembrokeshire College uses mCommunity mobile app which provides instant messaging, electronic individual learning plan (eILP) and Moodle-based learning. The app is part of a European funded project developed by TSSG in Ireland.
Now part of an extension programme called mTransition (funded through Leornardo knowledge transfer), the app provides pastoral and academic support through the learner's phone or tablet device. It is open-source and free.
The app is currently used in various contexts across Europe - supporting vocational education and training (VET) learners, EuropeMobility learners, 'at risk' vocational learners in the UK, not in education employment of training (NEETS) and SME's. It helps to:
Address language and confidence barriers
Develop and maintain student engagement
Develop self-management skills
Take learning outside the classroom
Maintain continuity and communication, non-formal learning
Focus learners on their personal development and improve their knowledge and skills.
TEAM Wearside - e-portfolio and Google Docs
TEAM Wearside uses Learning Assistant as an e-portfolio with Google Docs. The organisation has also invested heavily in purchasing android tablets to be used with assessors - the portability of the device enables learners to log on whilst at work and home to submit evidence.
The Learning Assistant app can be used both online and offline which allows flexibility for both learner and assessor. The Google Doc app enables assessors to use the tablet like a laptop and upload or send content to their work email.
TEAM Wearside is also looking at other apps that complement Learning Assistant in the long term.
Newcastle University - recording student presentations
Newcastle University staff use the Panopto recorder with an iPhone and an external microphone to record student presentations in third year undergraduate politics seminars. They then annotate the recordings from a desktop PC using the notes function to provide formative feedback to the student concerned. Students then access the recordings and feedback via the VLE (Blackboard).
Dr Nick Randall says:
“The formative feedback provided to students using these technologies has a number of advantages.
Traditionally, if I wanted to provide feedback to students on presentations, I would have provided written feedback, typically via a pro-forma, or verbal feedback during or after a class. Each has significant drawbacks. Written feedback is either hastily scribbled down during the presentation or written after the class is finished when the details of the presentation have begun to fade. Either option is detrimental to the quality of the feedback that I can present.
Verbal feedback to the student immediately after the presentation is another option, but given that such feedback is inevitably presented in front of the entire class there are again constraints on the feedback that can be presented. Verbal feedback directly after the class is not always possible and subject to the same difficulty of the details fading.
Using Panopto allows me to address these difficulties. I have a recording, which I can replay at a time of my choosing and I am able to give frank and constructive feedback directly to the student. The system has a number of other advantages. The student can review the feedback on repeated occasions. The feedback directly matches the timeline of the video such that comments are directly related to the relevant part of the presentation, another significant advantage over other methods.
Given that a video recording is the basis of the feedback allows a richer range of feedback to be presented. So, for example, distracting gestures or a failure to look up and engage the audience can be drawn to the student's attention.”
Lewisham and Southwark College - supporting the assessment process
The college use a range of apps to support the assessment process. The benefits they have seen are as follows:
Enables teachers to engage and assess their students through the use of real time questioning on tablets, laptops and smartphones
Feedback is immediate as student results populate the teachers screen as they submit answers giving in the moment understanding of how a lesson is going
Teachers can create a bank of questions (in advance) to see if lesson objectives have been reached
Saves teachers time so the class can further collaborate, discuss, extend and grow as a community of learners
Variety of report types are available: whole class overview, student specific results or question by question breakdown. These can be viewed online, downloaded, emailed or delivered to Google Drive and used to inform and plan future sessions
Socrative is available for all web-browsers, and as an app for various mobile devices, making it accessible for a variety of settings.
Teachers can create and collect assignments, monitor work completion and provide direct, real-time feedback and grades
Students can keep track of what’s due on the assignments page
Teachers can make use of time-saving features ie automatically make a copy of a Google Doc for each student
It also creates Google Drive folders for each assignment and for each student to help keep everyone organised
All class materials are automatically filed into folders in Google Drive.
Hull College - helping construction students revise
Mike Abel, curriculum leader, uses Appgeyser, to support his construction students. He says:
“It has helped me create a revision app for my construction students (no programming skills needed) where they can revise any place, any time and on the go and no need for wifi once it is downloaded to their phone. I created images on Google SketchUp to add a more visual aspect and I made the terminology of the questions more like they will get asked in the real unit end test.
I have uploaded the app to the college Moodle system so the students can scan the QR code for the app. They then can install it to their android devices. The good thing about the app is the student can assess their own performance and by interactive learning can progress.”
University of Glasgow - Socrative
The university uses Socrative with international students on an in-sessional course to support the development of academic study skills.
They have also used it to formatively assess the students’ knowledge at a given point during the class, as well as gather feedback at the end of it. For example, students anonymously answered open-ended questions about main learning points such as referencing conventions. This helped them reinforce their learning and allowed the tutor to check their understanding and offer remedial explanation in case of inaccuracies in their answers.
At the end of the class, students are often asked to use Socrative to share questions about aspects of the content covered. The tutor later responds using the VLE or in the following class.
“Using the app this way empowers the student to reflect on their learning as it gives them an opportunity to articulate their understanding of the learning gains as well as questions about points they are not clear about. In face-to-face whole class discussion shier and less confident voices may remain unarticulated and/or unheard.
By collating all the responses into a spreadsheet, the app effectively and conveniently provides me with a good picture of what the students have taken up from the activities done in class and whether I need to follow up with any additional explanation. It lets me reflect on the effectiveness of my teaching too and address any misunderstanding right there and then or later using the virtual learning environment.” Anna Rolinska, English for academic purposes (EAP) tutor
Research forms an integral part of any student experience during their academic studies. The activities involved in research can be broken down as follows:
Acquiring and organising information
Brainstorming and mind mapping
Citations and referencing
Technology has helped support this by facilitating the digitisation of collections, reference material, journals and databases and providing a platform for resource discovery. Mobile technologies have allowed for the process to be available anytime, anywhere providing methods for students to access information, collate and share it.
Sheffield Hallam University - preparing research dissertation proposals
Masters students on allied health professions courses used MyProgress app to prepare for their research dissertation proposals. Tutors develop tasks that students can access in the workplace without concern about NHS firewalls - students can work on the app offline and synchronise their completed tasks when they are in a wifi area.
Tutors developed a number of tasks to help learners through the research process and develop a research proposal by encouraging them to:
Network and engage with stakeholders
Work with a critical friend and mentor using university tutor feedback through the app to adapt the proposal ready for ethics approval submission.
The benefits include:
The ability to support students in a structured way whilst in their work environments
Opportunity for 'in the moment' reflections from clinical staff (peers and supervisors or mentors) and stakeholders (user representatives) enhancing the quality and usefulness of the proposal
Allows students to direct their own learning, bring in stakeholders, peers and supervisor to feed into their research design
Allows students and the university tutor to monitor progress and provide quick feedback by the remote university tutor.
The app allows keys skills from the researcher development framework to be mapped against each task so students can see which ones they develop as they progress through the framework.
A previously designed entrepreneurial pedagogy has been used as the overarching approach for formulating tasks in the research app. This encourages participants to develop the skills required to innovate within the NHS, develop and test novel interventions or services as part of the dissertation process.
North Lindsey College
Dr Dan Peart, programme leader for biosciences at North Lindsey College uses of a range of apps to assist his students:
Dropbox for cloud storage to save and share research
"Reflection is a process that allows us to look back on a situation, consider it and then learn and adjust actions as a result. It is a complex activity that requires the individual to develop a set of skills required for problem solving." Moon, 1999
Reflection as a learning tool:
Is the process that we consciously undertake to gain further understanding and add meaning to our daily lives
It is associated with learning that has occurred through experience and is an activity that helps you make sense of and learn from situations
It is a means of assisting us to think, explore our thoughts and feelings and to work through an experience in an attempt to gain new understandings, fresh insights and self awareness
It is the active consideration of, and learning from our thoughts and actions, together with the further use of these thoughts and actions as a means of developing reflective thinking
"The most important aspect of engaging in reflection for your ongoing personal and professional learning is that you are able to demonstrate your progression towards achievement of the NMC learning outcomes and standards of proficiency. The process of reflective writing leads to more than just a gain in your knowledge; it should also challenge the concepts and theories by which you make sense of knowledge. When you reflect on a situation, you do not simply see more, you see differently. This different way of viewing a situation is reflected in statements about a commitment to action. Action is the final stage of reflection." Taylor, 2001https://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/
Students may be asked to reflect during their academic studies for a number of reasons. They may be presented with scenarios that require a reflective approach, feedback on assessment activity in order to learn and improve and more often in practical situations, for example, following some kind of placement, performance, or active task.
Mobile technologies provide the opportunity to record this reflection in a more instantaneous way perhaps by utilising the inbuilt media creation tools such as the video camera or voice recorder. They also provides quick access to social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as allowing for the obvious method of reflection by blog or vlog. The following are a few examples of apps that provide a facility for reflection:
Evernote - a web-based tool that functions like a word processor but with the ability to insert audio notes, images, attachments and reminders
Wordpress - an open source blogging platform that provides a range of easily customisable templates, the ability to integrate social media, embed multimedia and more
Google Docs - allow users to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations in real time on any device, anytime.
University of Birmingham - mobile technologies for reflection
The University of Birmingham developed an app that stimulates reflective learning about how social workers should use social media personally and professionally.
Flipping the classroom, learners access the app prior to attending a face-to-face session. The app encourages learners to reflect on the following five areas out of class:
Is social media skills development important for social workers?
What are the ethical implications of exploring open social media profiles?
Should social workers be mindful of their online image?
Does social media present new personal/professional boundary issues?
How can social workers effectively engage in continuing professional development when using social media?
As well as using the app with their own students, they have extended this work to colleagues from Canada and Australia.
Learners then explore these issues in more detail in classroom discussion and debate.
Communication is central to education, and takes many forms. These include both synchronous and asynchronous systems (a phone call is synchronous while a letter is asynchronous) one-to-one, and one-to-many models (for example SMS and Twitter).
Over time, there have been developments in task-driven communications including scheduling and collaborative work and how content is generated, such as scrapbook and digest systems. This has broadened the ways we communicate with others and what we do with content.
Communication from teacher to learner includes disseminating information about deadlines, scheduling or room changes, requests for work or feedback; these could be aimed at individual learners or the entire cohort. Learners can request information or clarification, give feedback of their own or contribute to collaborative work.
Teachers can accommodate different learning styles: communication can be aural or text-based and students can work together or individually. Powerful multimodal communication tools mean that physical location and impairment have less of an impact upon learning.
Provides a safe in-house digital platform for communication
Dramatically improves student engagement in decision-making within the educational environment
Creates 'big data'
Develops citizenship skills
Can be used for very small groups (such as group tutorial) or many thousands (such as the entire student cohort, scattered across many campuses)
Shifts learners to a culture of participation and crowd-sourcing
Systematically provides a priority list for turning user-generated ideas into tangible action
Identifies Maslow-type needs
Improves student satisfaction
Fosters a sense of community.
University of Newcastle - making university services accessible
The university developed an app to make university services accessible to over 16,000 students, supporting them anytime, anywhere. It supports students in many ways:
Provides each student with a personalised view, with access to the information and tools they need
Option to subscribe to university news channels and more personal subscriptions including school specific news feeds about placements and career opportunities
Offers enhanced library account facilities enabling students to search their course subject guide and library catalogue, as well as managing reservations, renewals and loans
Access to timetable information
Highlights accessible entrances to buildings
Provides real time availability of PCs on campus and shows the nearest PC to current location
The app is available on iOS, android, Windows phone and via the web. It is proving highly successful with students.
The university is keen to create links with other institutions wishing to create a similar app and setting up a community of interest.
Plymouth University - mobile with initiative
The Mobile with Plymouth University initiative began in October 2011 to enhance the learning experience. It is based on the campusM mobile framework, which enables the university to deliver apps for iPhone, iPad, android and Blackberry devices and additionally, any device can access the services via a web browser.
'Mobile With' now has over 20,000 users and development is ongoing. The start of the 2014 academic year saw a substantial increase in new users, and ongoing use after users registered. Between 1 September – 26 October, 5,953 new users downloaded the app and over 13,000 users accessed it. New user registrations focus around arrival and induction (peaking at over 2,000 registrations a day during welcome week). Users continue to make use of the app, with nearly 7,000 active users per day.
Students provide continuous feedback that helps with the development of new features and functionality, such as enhancing alerts from updates and forum posts from the learning environment.
'Mobile With' is part of a suite of digital student support, alongside a new digital learning environment with access for all students to a library of online video tutorials. Integration between these elements is key - the mobile initiative is not an add-on or separate system but is part of the student experience.
The current functionality provided by Mobile With Plymouth University consists of:
Learning environment: allowing users direct access to their Moodle courses, grades and learning resources.
Library and IT Induction: information about, and a link to a library and IT essentials Moodle course
Online video tutorials (via lynda.com): frequently asked questions, information about, and a link
Timetable: in-app view of the user’s timetable
Pocket guide: information and links to relevant information including school and faculty locations and contact details
Wi-fi Information: support and Information on how to connect to University wi-fi networks
Library search: link to the Primo system
PC availability: information about available open access computers, with location maps
Bus and train times: links to websites and apps for all major transport providers
Locations: campus maps showing buildings and key features
E-portfolio: link to PebblePad
Videos: links to University video sources
iTunesU: information about, and link to iTunesU
Staff directory: a directory of staff contact details
IT status: displays service status of University IT systems
News items: changing display of university news items
Event items: changing display of university events
Additionally 'Mobile With' allows the user to receive alerts generated by the app administrators or from Moodle course pages. It can also contain other content, such as welcome week information, for inclusion at particular times.
Royal College Manchester - creating custom communication systems
The Royal College Manchester uses 'Grid Player' to create custom communication systems for its students with severe communication disorders.
Used alongside the windows software 'Grid2', the college uses 'Grid Player' to design custom symbol based communication systems that are as unique and individual as the students that they support.
Using their custom 'grid sets' the students can make choices and communicate, allowing them interact with peers and take part in lessons in new ways.
University of Glasgow - creating literacy apps
The University of Glasgow led an innovative, synergistic collaboration with private industry. They worked closely with the company, Appscool, to create a series of literacy apps targeted at key areas of weakness which school pupils exhibit at national levels four and five in English during their examinations.
These issues were determined via a longitudinal analysis of Scottish Qualifications Authority principal assessor reports at standard grade and intermediate levels over the last decade that were then thematised.
The apps were then custom-made to address specific issues drawn out from the themes and as far as they are aware, were the first literacy apps created in Scotland for Scottish pupils to address the specific issue they experience.
As part of the project, they also invited an app programmer from Appscool to deliver a seminar to postgraduate English students to demonstrate the coding that underpins such apps. The students loved it and the seminar raised their awareness of grammar, digital literacy and the role of technology in 21st century literacy.
Each student then created their own vlog to demonstrate targeting a challenging area for school pupils. This was then uploaded to a dedicated YouTube channel.
Benefits: school pupils
They were able to access support via a new and exciting medium
Support was targeted very specifically at key areas of need
Issues in language were addressed 'privately' to support pupils who might otherwise feel embarrassed to ask for help.
Benefits: initial teacher education students
Heightened awareness of the app as a medium to develop linguistic competence
Increased motivation - they loved it!
Imaginative output, in the form of YouTube demonstrations on the themes of 'perennial issues which pupils find challenging.
Doncaster Deaf Trust - developing a sign language app for deaf people
There are over 200 sign languages in the world, each developed in line with written language and culture, and yet sign language is hugely different from the written word. British Sign Language (BSL), for example, more closely resembles written Chinese than English because like Chinese, one gesture can mean one letter, one word or an entire phrase.
Spread the Sign is an international collaboration between 15 European learning institutions, who have developed an interactive online sign language website. From this, Doncaster Deaf Trust has developed the Spread the Sign App - a completely free, downloadable app for deaf people which enables them to see what sign to use when talking to people who learned a different sign language than the user.
This app performs in exactly the same way as language translation apps, except it's all in sign language and, for the first time ever, allows deaf people from different countries to actually 'speak' to each other.
This is a huge step forward because it has the potential to allow deaf people to learn new and different sign languages, just as non-hearing impaired learn other spoken and written languages and so opens up the possibility of travelling and working in different countries, with no communication barriers.
There are currently around 5,000 words and phrases available on the website and the app. The aim is to raise it to 15,000.
Derwen College - apps for students with learning and communication difficulties
My Choice Pad allows students with learning and communication difficulties to communicate with staff and peers. Students can have conversations with staff and peers using My Choice Pad, and make grids of different concepts to allow them to save regularly used symbols for specific work areas.
Story Creator allows students to create a story of the work they have been doing to show friends and family. Students can also use story creator to create a set of instructions to remind them how to do a particular task.
Story Creator can help build evidence for work portfolios.
Weston College - effective communication with My Choice Pad
The My Choice Pad app is an effective communication aid that allows students to communicate their wants and needs by creating personalised grids that they are able to locate and then select the appropriate picture/topic that they would like to talk about.
The app is much more accessible than student’s previous communication aids which unfortunately stopped working and couldn't be repaired. Students also prefer using it to their previous communication aid.
In particular, for one student, he has taken ownership of the app and is extremely confident and competent at using it. He is able to take photos, create new concepts, including spelling the word and saying the word, and insert these into the relevant grids on the app.
The aim is for him to use the app consistently in all of his lessons. This will encourage application of the skills he has learnt during his communication sessions with his speech and language therapist to other environments.
The student’s Makaton and speech becomes clearer each week. His communication skills have improved significantly since he first started college due to the app as he has finally been given a voice.
It is hoped that the app will help students to initiate conversations more independently to tell people about what they have been doing and communicate if they have a problem.
The advent of cloud services in computing has seen an increase in services which support shared resource access. Some, like Dropbox, permit multiple synchronised copies on computers and in the cloud while others, like Google Docs, allow more than one person to edit a file simultaneously.
There are many benefits for education. Teachers can now post materials that all learners on a course can access. Learners, in turn, can post work in progress to receive formative assessment. This means simplified collaboration between learners and researchers; in particular, multiple editing of a single document ensures that collaborators never work at cross purposes, repeating work or losing modifications.
Because data is not exclusively stored locally, when a cloud-based system is used there are concerns about data protection. In particular, data created within the EU may not be sent outside of the EU unless a minimum level of protection is provided. This is laid out in the safe harbour privacy principles, which organisations may voluntarily adhere to if they wish to manage data from the EU.
Further examples of tools facilitating the sharing of resources include:
Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) - developing an app to teach dental technology
The teaching of dental technology requires significant face-to-face contact hours leading to high staff load and variability in the learning experience.
Smartphones, which are now ubiquitous, powerful and affordable with excellent communication capability offer the possibility of individualised learning.
MMU analysed the traditional learning process for partial denture construction and designed a database-driven mobile learning application using Xcode software for Apple iOS devices. The app connects users with an array of resources with a focus on video that they can use in or out of the formal learning environment.
The aim was to deliver student-directed learning in an undergraduate dental technology programme.
The results indicated high student engagement with the app and a highly significant improvement in coursework performance, however, examination performance was unaffected. Having video resources on-demand also reduced the amount of times a student would otherwise have queued for advice, maximising the time that they spent undertaking their coursework.
Although the app reduced staff time and improved student performance, students can develop dependence. The broader implications of the study indicate that mobile learning applications have a place in the learning environment whilst their global range offers great opportunities for the delivery of dental technology and other subjects in the future.
The use of the app had a positive effect on student satisfaction and the learning experience as supported by the comments and ratings made in the institutional student surveys. The app won the MMU Union award in the category ‘outstanding innovation in teaching’ in 2013.
It has since been enhanced to include social media integration and figures report more than 1,100 downloads across the world which is high for such a bespoke and niche application.
University of Wales Trinity Saint David - app for science teachers
The app provides information on level descriptors for a variety of skills that have to be assessed as part of the secondary science curriculum in Wales. The development of the app was stimulated by trainee science teachers' needs to access 'just in time' information on science skills/levels to enable them to assess more accurately the science skills of their pupils. There will also be a Welsh-medium version of the app very shortly, and hopefully android-compatible versions also.
A full evaluation of the app, and an estimate of the benefit it has conferred, will be undertaken after release of the final version. Earlier versions were evaluated by a group of trainees, and as a result some changes in format were made. This app should eventually be of benefit to all science teachers and pupils in secondary schools in Wales.
The principle of using a mobile app to provide/share key resources could be applied to many other practice-based learning contexts which the university will explore in the near future.
Royal Veterinary College (RVC) - addressing student expectations
The RVC developed an app to address the modern student's expectations of accessing all their learning materials from mobile devices. The benefits of the app include:
Access to formative quizzes, discussion forums, handouts and videos through the mobile-friendly VLE
Improved access to student support information and guidance wherever they are or whatever device they use. This significantly improved the student's experience - feedback is positive.
Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) - Tech Novice café and peer support for mobile technologies
All students, ranging from ages 16-25 have a visual impairment and many use mobile technologies for a variety of reasons. For some it's simply texting and calling, for others it's for social media, online shopping and navigation to finding the next bus, identifying items and researching assignments.
There is a rich source of peer support and the students are always willing to help each other. This support is often incidental, perhaps discussing a new app that someone has found, but there's also the opportunity for a student who has just bought a new piece of technology to develop skills in using that technology.
Students are always happy to help. They have patience and understanding of the need for clear and concise instructions with plenty of re-enforcement.
Teresa Allen, teacher in charge of IT skills and development explains:
“We were approached about an initiative within Herefordshire to support people to gain experience of the internet as part of the Fastershire Broadband project. We discussed the idea with students and came up with the idea of a Tech Novice café for the elderly and/or visually impaired.
Students applied for posts within the café. In the first year we had only four regular clients, but we now run a regular session on Wednesday afternoons with a regular client group of eight - more and more people are enquiring about it.
The clients get one-to-one support. Some bring technology with them, others learn about various technologies that our students use, have a go and then make an informed choice and purchase what they believe will suit them best. they then bring this technology to the sessions and have training in using it."
Thoughts from the students and trainers
“Being able to help other students and cafe members is very beneficial. It's a great sense of achievement to teach someone a new skill and pass on the knowledge that you have worked so hard to gain.
I see this as a great opportunity as it has given me confidence to teach more people about what assistive tech is out there. It is also great experience of what a job may hold in the future."
"I’m happy to support my peers when it comes to using new technology. With many gadgets available, it’s important that users share their experience and make sure no one misses out if they’re capable of using them.
Tech Novice Cafe trainer
"The project helps the clients to stay on top with the latest technology, and lets them take advantages of modern technology just like all the sighted community.
It benefits me as a trainer, as you get the great feeling of teaching someone something they’ll use in their daily life, and you might’ve just made their life that little bit easier.”
"When helping my peers with technology, I ask them what they need first before giving advice or guidance.
If a student is having technical difficulties and don't have their devices with them I take them through the steps necessary to troubleshoot and ultimately solve the problem they are having.
From personal experience, both advising students and troubleshooting problems have been successful for me.
Tech Novice Cafe trainer
"I deal with members of the public, primarily older people who have either lost touch with technology or are getting into it for the first time. The support is provided one-to-one, which I find is helpful for both me as a trainer and the client I work with.
I very much enjoy these sessions as I believe that the client is getting everything they need in their own time and at their own pace.”
The use of digital media for presentation has advanced a long way from the simple PowerPoint presentation. Learning materials need not only be presented face-to-face but can now be located online for access outside lectures. Materials can be presented online in real time, eg in live webinars or recorded and/or stored for asynchronous access.
Presentation no longer has to be a one-way activity as various tools provide the ability for collaborative work or real time feedback from teachers. The material of course can be supplemented with interactive tools permitting polling or live answering of questions.
Greater levels of autonomy and control, from the student-base
Enhanced levels of interactivity within contact and non-contact time
Increased levels of student creativity
More avenues for depth in discussion
Far more provision for changing the learning space
Higher degree of student participation and engagement in lectures
More informed levels of communication between students and lecturers
Ability to demonstrate and engage the student voice and receive feedback
Meeting the student skill-set in a technological way
Adding some relevance and realism to current trends in education
Increased access to learning in and outside of the classroom
Encouraging higher levels of effort in assessment tasks and non-contact work
Increasing scope and provision for self-assessment for both students and staff
One use of apps is with the BA (Hons) physical education (qualified teacher status) students, who have been using Nearpod as part their teaching strategies. The app allows teaching staff to move their delivery away from the confines of the front of the class. Presentations can be delivered directly to a student’s device, fully controlled by the academic staff, and interactivity can be added to the slides to provide students with an engaging learning experience.
This interactivity can include video, audio, quizzes, drawing elements, images, web pages, social media elements and polls. It also provides a means of assessment, as reports can be produced from the assessed features, providing a method of obtaining just in time feedback, which can indicate levels of understanding. This can be particularly problematic within the restrictions of an outdoor activity.
Sessions can be delivered to devices live or set as out of class/lecture activities, providing a means of 'flipping' the lesson.
The creation of sophisticated audio and video content was once the reserve of professionals with expensive equipment and facilities. This has changed dramatically in the past few years: people now carry in their pockets the ability to record, edit and deliver high definition video and broadcast quality audio.
This is not to say that everyone is now producing professional quality media, but simply that cost and physical size are no longer hurdles that must be overcome.
No amount of tools can turn someone into a creative genius. What tools can do, however, is to simplify and democratise the creative process. This can shorten the journey from concept to product for learning resources. It also means that the teaching practitioner needn’t have their ideas filtered through a third party before being ready to present to the learner.
There are many apps that facilitate the creation of different types of content. Here are some examples:
Some practitioners encourage students to create content as part of their learning. Others have taken this one step further by creating apps that can be used to create content. Here are a few examples of each approach:
University of Bath - developing the 'app factory'
Keith Brown developed an 'app factory' that is designed to enable academics or students to easily create apps for both iOS and android. The main idea is to establish a university-wide eco-system whereby apps can be created and shared for teaching and learning, or for any other purpose that enhances student life.
Apps have a number of distinct benefits:
Familiarity – apps are second-nature to students
Immediacy – the material is local, so there no delays
Availability – can be used even in situations where there is no wi-fi or phone signal
Reduction of printing costs.
The app factory project is a work-in-progress. However, the latest prototype has been used by an academic to create an app in about ten minutes, using existing materials such as PowerPoint files, videos and quizzes.
To date, students have created apps for peer assisted learning purposes, including:
Kidney and diuretics
Over the counter remedies
Quizbank for MPharm year three clinical unit
Two more will be released shortly. In addition, apps have been created for programme units of the MPharm degree:
Introduction to microbiology
Introduction to pharmaceutical analysis
There is also a campus map and a timetable app.
Apps currently in development, in collaboration with the widening participation office, include those for prospective pharmacy, physics and management students. These include learning materials aimed at sixth formers.
Keith also worked on a distribution infrastructure - an internal app store called the 'app centre' which enables installation of iOS and android apps by staff and students within the university. He has recently evaluated the impact of the use of these apps with students.
University of Nottingham - delivering course presentations to the web
E-Lecture Producer HD is a web based slide converting and editing tool that can help teachers to produce an auto-played online presentation with voiceovers and transcripts. It can import PowerPoint presentation files or pdf slides files, and convert them to the web slides (e-lecture) format. The final product will be exported and is ready for web publishing.
This app provides a simple solution for teachers to deliver their course presentations to the web. The final e-lecture easily integrates with Moodle, WebCT or any other website. Video recording is not required and teachers just need to record audios slide by slide. As the final e-lecture resources are all saved in a web folder, it is also easy for teachers to update the e-lecture by just replacing several slide images and audios.
Lecturers at the University of Nottingham have used this app to produce many e-lectures for their Moodle modules and training courses. The e-lecture supports desktop, tablet and mobile browsers. As there are no video files in the e-lecture, it can be loaded very quickly even under a poor network condition.
Bath Spa University - developing an interactive visitors app
Creating content for mobile platforms is an essential skill. Developing concise content and a dynamic engaging reading experience are digital literacy skills that benefit from alignment of learning, teaching, and assessment to professional standards.
This cross-disciplinary project with students from BA (Hons) heritage and history and BA (Hons) graphic communication courses produced an informative and educational app explaining the history and background of ‘cabinets of curiosities’ and the grand tour. More specifically, the app looks in detail at objects a typical eighteenth century gentleman would have collected on his tour.
The project raised confidence in using and being able to talk about technology. It also linked finding and managing information with professional presentation of solutions and outcomes. Students develop a deeper understanding of a medium in which they are often a consumer, but do so from the perspective of being a creator. The ability to develop content and immediately review and share this leads to more discussion and iteration, both of which are key to student learning.
In addition to using key authoring software (Adobe Creative Suite), the students used Google Apps for Education. This enabled them to collaborate between Bath Spa University campus sites for art and design at Sion Hill and heritage and history at Newton Park, where they shared documents and images using Google Drive and screen sharing in Google Hangouts.
University of Brighton - designing an interactive treasure hunt
BSc business top-up students designed a treasure hunt quiz as part of their induction programme with help from Maggie Garabedyan, Students’ Union, vice-president (academic affairs). Using the Scramboo Playmaker app, the quiz is aimed at students who are new to the university's business school. The quiz enables students to learn about the Moulsecoomb campus.
Consider a diverse range of students with different needs and expectations
Identify what you think they need to know
Find out the answers yourselves
Plan the quiz/hunt
Prepare materials for each step
Participants can attain badges as they progress (level one: blue, level two: green, level three: purple, level four: gold). Those with a good score can elect to enter a prize draw to win a selection of vouchers.
University of Lincoln - using video for differentiation
The University of Lincoln has made use of video tools for differentiation. Alisdair Houser, programme manager and senior tutor says:
"We create teaching points via short videos (five to ten minutes) either by screencasting via Camtasia (and presentation software PowerPoint/Prezi) or through the Swivl app (iPad) and Swivl camera mount (automatic recording 'robot'). These videos are edited in Camtasia to include Shareable Content Object reference Model (SCORM) quizzing and hyperlinks to further learning.
They are then uploaded to You Tube specifically to utilise the closed captioning feature and then embedded in Blackboard.
Some of the video content may also be captured through the Fuse app”.
Students are then assigned videos as homework (with accompanying worksheet) so that when they come to class they are already prepared to engage in the same class topic ie, the flipped learning approach.
The main benefit of this teaching and learning style is that students can engage in some of the passive aspects of learning at home instead of in class. This also allows for a degree of differentiation in that students can learn at their own pace and utilise features like the closed captioning and playback speed designed to benefit 'non-traditional' and 'traditional' learners alike.
Employing various techniques in class can ensure collaboration occurs between teacher/student and student/student.
During summer 2015, the university began trialling this with bring your own device (BYOD) so students can access this material in class.
St John's College - creating content for learners with learning disabilities
Learners can create very rich e-books that have a range of content. Learners at St Johns College have a range of learning disabilities and autistic spectrum conditions so being able to create this kind of content with minimal language is very useful and powerful.
One learner for example curated a dance themed book. He adds videos of his favourite dancers from videos and even adds videos of himself dancing. This learner is non verbal and uses signing (Makaton) to help him understand language. He also adds videos of him signing into the book.
Making video CVs
The college also explored the use of Book Creator to make video cv's. Book Creator allows users to export an e-book as a video. Due to the intuitive interface and ease of use compared to more complicated apps, learners can be more independent in their use rather than relying on staff to support them in content creation.
"The use of these apps allows the learner to be autonomous in their learning, as they are the person guiding the process. This element of independent learning is also massively beneficial in terms of allowing for cognitive dissonance which is such a precious part of the learning process; the learner solves their own problem, and uses their own knowledge to produce an end result that is visible by all.
The use of these is also so valuable in becoming used to computers and technologies in working environments. There is also wide scope for peer mentoring with all abilities.
Using the in-built camera enables them to get a picture straight into what they are creating without having the need to use a PC which often requires a lot more staff intervention. Once again reducing the amount of support needed and increasing independence”
Finally the learners use an Apple TV and Airplay to show the group their work on the big screen.
Another app used is Kaleido. This was used with learners within a sensory art session. The learner used this touch sensitive app to create layers of the kaleidoscope and to change the colour and stylistic features. The learners were then able to view their work in video format with screenshots of their work taken.
It was beneficial to the learners as they could engage with the app at a very basic level and understand the process of cause and effect, as well as to appreciate the more astute stylistic aspects.
Watch the video:
Engaging learners with content linking
A number of practitioners have recently linked information through a mobile device with objects in the real world. This can be done either through the labelling of the objects with QR codes or by means of augmented reality (AR) apps.
The use of QR codes is simple, with a variety of free QR code generators and scanners available for all mobile devices. The main drawbacks associated with this approach is the reliance upon the codes - users must locate a code in order to get the content. Conversely, content will only be linked to a physical object if a code can be attached to it.
AR can be seen as the next step in content linking - it doesn’t necessarily require a symbol to be attached to an object. This is because some systems use a special symbol while others recognise the shape of a specified object or image as the trigger for the content.
The other difference between QR codes and AR is that, with QR, the code (which may be text of any sort including a URL) is the content or a link which will take the user to the content, eg on a web page.
In the case of AR, however, the content is overlaid on the image that the user sees on the screen of the mobile device. In a sense, a QR code will take the user’s attention to the linked content while AR will bring the linked content to whatever the user is observing.
One of the main strengths of using QR and AR in education is that they can take learning out of the classroom. Information can be accessed at the point where it is needed or where it is most relevant. By linking content to location we can assign a relevance to it; the location, in turn, can enhance learning by providing additional sensory inputs to be associated with the content.
In addition, the learner actively engages with the information, choosing whether or not to access it when it is encountered.
The 3D nature of some AR can greatly assist learners in visualising complex 3D structures such as molecules. Maps can be viewed from different directions in three dimensions, giving learners a much richer understanding of the contents.
The hearing voices mobile app draws together expertise of educationalists, healthcare professionals, learners and those who hear voices. It offers a comprehensive package to support and promote an understanding of the challenges faced by people who hear voices. An evaluative study will take place during spring/summer 2015 to evaluate the app's usage and who is using it.
Simulation is central to the app's pedagogy. It incorporates audio footage recorded by voice hearers - the content is designed to reflect the variety of voices commonly experienced.
Learners engage in a number of cognitive and social tasks whilst wearing headphones and listening to the recordings. Some of the voices are positive, providing encouragement and support while others are confusing or critical, repeating strange phrases or disparagements. The sense of reality is enhanced by the mobility of this resource as learners can carry out the exercises in any environment.
The app features text-based information with explanations for voice hearing and the means of helping individuals to manage these experiences. There are interactive exercises and reflective prompts throughout the text to facilitate deeper learning and encourage learners to consider how the content relates to their practice.
The app responds to health and social care employer’s demands for accessible and flexible education for their workforce. It is relevant to a wide range of health and social care professionals, relatives and carers, service users and professional groups (ie the police), who come into regular contact with those who experience mental health problems.
Hearing voices can be used independently or integrated into educational initiatives as fully directed or blended learning. Educational facilitators can work with groups of learners and utilise the exercises as short activities within a traditional classroom setting.
University of Chester - living and dying well dementia app
Health and social care assistants assume a dominant position in care giving for people with dementia. Many paid and unpaid carers undertake this challenging and demanding role with minimal preparation and little or no access to further training.
With collaboration from the Alzheimer’s Society, the Gold Standards Framework, the End of Life Partnership (EOLP), the living and dying well dementia app bridges this gap with a free, accessible educational resource which promotes an understanding of dementia and its impact on those affected by the condition, whilst focusing on some of the key issues in end of life care.
The app uses a storytelling approach to follow the journey of Jill as she ages, develops dementia and eventually dies. The content is split into bite size chunks and features supporting text, interactive exercises and reflective prompts to embed learning
The content is split into bite size chunks, each including a video of Jill and her family, portraying different stages of the disease progression, together with supporting text, interactive exercises and reflective prompts to embed learning and encourage users to consider how the content relates to their own experience. It also features a series of podcasts from people with dementia as well as their relatives to generate understanding.
There is a supporting website available which includes extended versions of the podcasts.
An evaluative study will begin shortly after the launch to investigate the impact of these resources on the knowledge and practice of its audience.
Portland College - use of apps to increase engagement
The college uses a variety of commercially available iPad apps. All learners at Portland have a disability and apps increase inclusion via added engagement. For example, using the iPad screen as a shutter button in Camera Awesome increases the ability to participate and Chooseit! Maker3 facilitates accessible feedback/evaluation on activities.
Staff and learners also use the dictation function and apps such as TextGrabber and ClaroSpeak to overcome literacy difficulties/text impairments.
Learners are motivated to use iPads in sessions because the devices give them parity with their non-disabled peers. QR codes trigger audio versions of text on a notice board and apps such as Aurasma and QR Code Reader push the most relevant content direct to the learners. Socrative and Nearpod, in addition to being engaging apps in their own right, allow for the generation of detailed, formal reports. These are ideal for evidencing progress and are generated with one or two taps making it more attractive to the teachers too.
Apps such as Fluidity ensure learners at all levels can engage with technology and participate fully in sessions. Practitioners using camera apps can also video this interaction a) to show to the learners and b) as evidence.
Further examples of app use include SpokenPhoto and Pictello to create 'about me' books or person-centred plans.
Watch the video of how learners use the Grid Player app to aid communication:
South Staffordshire College - using AR in teaching and learning
Following the introduction of augmented reality in teaching and learning, coupled with more widespread use of mobile devices, South Staffordshire College is reaping the benefits of more engaged and interested learners. Although in the early stages of development, the technology is having a significant impact particularly in practical subjects.
Steve Wileman, e-learning manager says,
By having AR enabled posters around the hairdressing salon or in the construction workshop for example, learners could point a smartphone, iPod or tablet device at a poster and instantly see a video demonstration of how to achieve a particular hair style or how to cut a brick. This could help learners who needed a reminder or for those who missed the demonstration..”
For those learners who don’t have a smartphone or tablet device, they are encouraged to ‘buddy up’ with another learner who has one. Additionally a number of iPads are available for learners to borrow during lessons. Content is also uploaded to the VLE so that learners don’t have to rely on the posters. They can simply point their device at the trigger image on screen and access the content outside the college.
The benefits of using AR include:
It is more accessible and inclusive
No need to log onto a PC to access materials
More efficient for the teacher – avoids delivering the same tutorial repeatedly
Content can be updated quickly and easily.
Read the full case study about South Staffordshire College’s AR activities.
Swansea Lifelong Learning Service - using apps in essential skills
Essential skills teachers use a variety of apps to help even low level literacy students carry out research, planning and presentation findings in an exciting and professional way. The inclusion in the digital world through mobile technology and learning boosts confidence and skills of the students exponentially.
University of Hull
200 students on PGCE courses have iPads (with a range of apps such as Nearpod, iMovie,Keynote, Safari, Socrative and Creative Book Builder) to encourage a move from lecture-seminar based learning to a more enquiry-based learning approach. Using iPads also encourages them to think about the possibilities for content creation and curation.
City of Glasgow College - enhancing the learning experience with assistive technology
The Personal and Social Development (Access 1) New Challenge Project class includes students with varying additional support needs including no spoken language and cognitive difficulties arising from for example Downs Syndrome. A number of students are on the autistic spectrum.
Christine Mailley, educational supported programmes lecturer and Elaine Argue, assistive technologist, discussed how assistive technology could enhance the learning experience and in particular, help students who can't communicate verbally within the cookery class.
Students are required to prepare food and tell Christine what ingredients are needed for each dish. For those who couldn't communicate verbally, Christine used paper based notes with images of different ingredients for students to point out what was needed. As a result they looked at different solutions which could be put in place.
Christine and Elaine tried a piece of software called Grid 2. It combines the different styles of communication aids into one program which works for both text and symbol users.
Introducing the Grid 2 software and Grid Player app into the class has been a positive addition to the already great methods of teaching that Christine has in place. Students find it enjoyable and it has made the class an inclusive learning environment for students who can't communicate verbally.
City of Glasgow College - removing barriers to learning
The college used mobile technology with the NQ Personal and Social Development 1 class. Elaine Argue, assistive technologist from the learning support department worked in collaboration with Gillian Devine (educational supported programmes lecturer) to trial different types of technology with students to enhance and remove barriers to their learning.
As part of the drama class, students had to complete different outcomes to pass the module. One outcome is that students have to pick an activity and plan how they are going to perform it, and then give feedback afterwards.
After the planning stage, students perform their chosen activity. At this point Elaine and Gillian introduced the use of iPads into the class.
Using the camera function on the iPads they recorded each of the students' performance. As part of this process the students each had the chance to record one of their peer’s performances. Not only was this good interaction for the students using technology, but also it was used for gathering assessment evidence.
The in-built iPad features used included the camera function to record video evidence. Other apps used included the Grid Player alongside the Grid 2 software.
Personalising technology to meet learner needs
The vast majority of mobile platforms come with built in accessibility features that provide choices for users to make them easier to interact with.
There are many ways to personalise mobile devices, changing the appearance of the screen makes it easier for people to view information. The size of text can be increased, colour of text and background can be changed, and the content on the screen can be magnified.
Most people are used to being notified of messages and mail with an auditory prompt, however visual cues provide other ways of receiving notifications which can be useful for someone who has hearing loss, it is also a useful feature for people who do not want to be constantly disturbed by interruptions from a bleeping or pinging phone.
Another helpful feature for people who can't hear is the capacity to change their settings so that any video viewed on their mobile device will automatically show captions (assuming they have been included by the author of the video).
Built in reading tools can be helpful for people who struggle with text. For example people with dyslexia, those who have literacy issues or English as a second/alternative language may benefit from having individual blocks of text or whole pages read back to them.
These text to speech/screen readers options have been of significant help to people with vision loss, and have been hailed as one of the most significant built in accessibility features that have emerged as part of the explosion of the mobile market.
Voice commands can help people navigate and activate different features on their devices. Speech recognition can be an excellent writing support tool where people can dictate text messages, documents or emails instead of typing.
Calendars, clocks, alarms etc. can be useful productivity tools offering prompts and reminders to help assist with organisational skills.
Some operating systems help students focus on particular pages at a time to avoid distractions from learning. Students with mobility difficulties have the capacity to adapt the way they interface with tablet devices by altering the gestures they use.
Whilst the range of options vary depending on the operating system, they all offer a suite of features that can make a real difference for disabled and non-disabled people and provide a range of ways to adapt the interface to suit our individual differences.
There are many apps that offer different ways to make content more accessible, multi-sensory and often more fun for learners. Some of the case studies below demonstrate how apps have helped provide information in alternative formats and in sequenced stages to meet learner’s needs.
Treloar College - iPads for independent learning
Mobile technologies in particular the iPad have changed the way their students engage with their learning. One device can give a student a voice - through communication apps, and the independence to control their learning, their environment and their leisure.
Using the iPad in teaching and learning has led to a decrease in the amount of one-to-one support required for certain activities, empowering the student to take control of their learning, so that they become active rather than passive learners. This particularly applies to those learners who are switch users, enabling them to engage in a range of lessons, from English to media, maths to computer programming.
Speak selection enables students to listen to text or questions independently; using the camera and video enables a teacher to create visual instructions. The amount of one-to-one support to research materials from books and journals is decreasing as students become independent researchers.
Mobile technologies are opening up a whole new world for both their teachers and learners.
City of Glasgow college - using an iPad for participation and literacy development
The City of Glasgow college uses mobile technology to support a student who lost both of his hands as a teenager. Elaine Argue, assistive technologist says:
"The use of the iPad's in-built features and apps have been a valuable and great benefit to Hemin's learning experience. Previously Hemin could not participate in written exercises the class were completing. Now using the iPad and apps he can complete work and email it back to the lecturers and receive feedback making it a more inclusive learning environment.
Hemin's reading has also improved using the iPad as the speech function meant that he could listen to the information being read and follow it onscreen to improve his reading skills.
His confidence grew from using the iPad and he began to look for solutions for himself and ask for different apps to be added."
One of his lecturers has reported that the use of the iPad has made a big difference to his participation in class and to his literacy development.
Beaumont College - using iPads to support living skills
Many students at Beaumont benefit from sequenced instructions to support activities. Living skills sessions, which contain a lot of cookery, have been transformed by using the Pictello app.
Photos for each stage can be uploaded to the app and viewed at each stage. In addition any text to describe that stage can be read out by the app which supports non-readers.
Students can use the recipes created in the app to work independently. Previously many students required support when using paper based recipes. Any iPads used in the session are in protective cases which protect them from spills, but also can be wiped clean for hygiene reasons.
The cookery room has a large screen with an Apple TV attached meaning the tutor can wirelessly connect an iPad and display content to the whole group. This enables the tutor to run through the recipe at the start of the session to check the group’s understanding.
Importantly the recipe is viewed in exactly the same format as the students will later use it.
Beaumont College - using iPads in a gardening session
One tutor at Beaumont made use of the Photos app on the iPad (which comes as standard) during a gardening session. Photos of gardening tools and implements were taken so that students without speech could request a particular tool. Also the tutor could show a photo of the tool to the student so they could select the correct tool for a task.
The immediacy and simplicity of the iPad as a device and the camera and Photos app lent itself to this session. The gardening session is generally outside and students move between areas so a fixed workstation wouldn't be an option.
It could be argued that the same objectives could be achieved with a digital camera, but the size of the picture on the iPad enabled students with visual impairments or learning difficulties to engage with it.
Beaumont College - using an iPad to facilitate communication in dance
A student at Beaumont was studying dance, but when choreographing with a partner struggled to make himself heard over the music. This was due to the low volume of his speech.
He started to use an iPad mini which could be safely carried on his lap, whilst in his wheelchair. This had the Grid Player app installed on it.
Grid Player is a communication app on which a grid of text and symbols can be created. When tapped, these are spoken out and these instructions were much more audible. In some sessions a Bluetooth speaker was connected to the iPad to give greater volume.
This set-up immediately enabled equality of access in the session. The student could now express himself in the same way as the other students. He also decreased his reliance on staff members to repeat his speech or intervene when he couldn't be heard.
In this section you will find information and guidance on how to implement mobile learning. Various issues must be considered both before and during the implementation of mobile learning within your area in order to make sure it is apt, to a standard and able to be evaluated throughout roll-out and continued use. This section looks at the general principles behind a mobile learning ‘ecosystem’.
In doing so it provides guidance on practical considerations in relation to technical considerations which covers the types of interface and app to be used, where they will be used and who by. Accessibility looks at both how materials can be accessed by mobile learners as well as being specifically tailored to benefit learners with disabilities. Steering on the cost/benefit is given to navigate the problems that can be encountered when comparing these two criteria. Identifying and overcoming barriers to institutional adoption looks at potential pitfalls and ways that they can be avoided as well as guidance on increasing uptake.
There are also ten steps to mobile learning adoption which pulls together many of the major themes and lessons from the other pages that would lead to a successful introduction of a mobile learning initiative.
This guide can be read in any order and the issues around overcoming barriers is further explored in the strategy section. As is mentioned throughout this guide, mobile learning can serve as a ‘trojan horse’ for wider changes and re-focusing within an institution.
Mobile learning is a fast-moving field with device lifecycles becoming ever shorter. This section looks at some of the general principles behind the technical roll-out of a platform or ‘ecosystem’ for mobile learning.
There are two main decisions when deciding on the approach for institution-centric mobile learning experiences. These decisions should flow not from technical possibility but from some of the considerations mentioned in the strategy and pedagogy sections of this guide. The first decision is whether the mobile devices used will be provided by the institution or by the students. As we will discover in the cost/benefit section it is increasingly the case that going down the road of institutionally-provided devices is undesirable in all but the most specialised of cases.
The second technical decision to be made is on the type of interface that is presented to the audience for the mobile learning initiative. This, of course, needs to take into account whether the audience is closely identified (eg a particular group of students) or diverse (eg the whole staff and student population). These considerations do not map one-to-one onto the following options but should nevertheless guide implementation.
There are broadly three options for mobile learning ‘apps’:
The native app is delivered via the app store pertaining to the particular device. This means, for example, that to cover the bases of the main types of smartphones that are currently on campuses, native apps would have to be developed for iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices. The cost in terms of financial outlay and time commitment to do this is prohibitive for all but the largest of institutions. CampusM from Ombiel is an example of a popular native app available across various smartphone devices.
The web app can be accessed via any device that can connect to the internet. There are many ways to do this, including providing an alternative mobile-friendly CSS file for existing content, or building a new portal. If the latter is chosen it is important that it is standards-compliant, using the guidance of the World Wide Web Consortium to ensure cross-platform, and future, compatibility.
The advantages of native apps include tighter integration with the various specific features mobile devices as well as offline caching of content. The advantages of web apps, on the other hand, include instant updating of content and lower costs. Hybrid apps, therefore, promise to be the best of both worlds. The native app is a ‘shell’ which is available through the various app stores and is updated when functional improvements are necessary. However, the content – the information, links, resources and communication opportunities – are web-based and can be updated without updating the whole app.
Before building apps and rolling out services to staff and students it is important to have in place those things that will enable a mobile learning ecosystem to flourish. There are three such basics which any institutions should consider as ‘standard’:
Open data streams
A problem-solving system
The received wisdom up until recently has been to ‘flood’ campuses with wifi access. In other words, an institution could never have too many access points to provide network and internet access to staff, students and, on occasion, the general public. That position is changing, however. Not only have financial constraints meant a re-evaluation of this approach but evolutionary improvements in wifi technologies, along with a more nuanced understanding of when and where students use wifi-enabled devices, mean that such a blanket policy looks outdated.
"Our network team have taken a measured approach with the wireless roll out, providing hot spots in all the main areas where staff and students gather or work rather than blanket coverage everywhere. This enables us to provide a cost effective wifi service and minimise the number of access points that are installed in areas where there is no wireless requirement." John Fairhall, University of Bradford
Opening data streams, or more precisely exposing systems through web services, is also important as it allows any apps that are developed to easily ‘hook into’ information available to the institution. Examples of these include RSS feeds, the source XML for which can be used on a variety of platforms including web pages, apps and information screens around campus.
Finally, as Tim Fernando points out in the video, people do not like going out of their way to report problems. A lightweight but context-relevant problem-reporting system may not capture every detail about a particular problem but it would, at least, identify the problem and (often) the affected user.
Having partial information about a problem that could be frustrating many users of a service is better than having no information on it at all.
Some guiding principles
Whilst strategic and pedagogical decisions should always guide technical deployment of hardware and software for mobile learning there are, nevertheless, some guiding principles that may help guide those looking after the technical considerations. Upside Learning has suggest five key mobile learning implementation tips:
KISS (Keep It Short and Simple)
Aim for low information density
Use multimedia sparingly
Make use of built-in features for collaboration
Provide tools as well as content
Their checklists focus on usability as well as the technical and functional aspects of the mobile learning experience – something that, as explained in the section on the importance of context, it is vital to bear in mind. The Open University do a good job of providing support to users of their mobile learning offerings through their mobile portal, learner support blog and apps page (see box to the right). Such a ‘joined up’ approach requires buy-in from across the institution, as set out in the strategy section.
One of the least touted features of mobile learning is the amount of accessibility it affords learners. Whilst some, quite rightly, point out the potential for mobile learning to widen the ‘digital divide’ the amount of personalisation devices enable can be liberating for some learners. The fact that learners are using devices they have chosen and are familiar with means they are in a context with which they are comfortable. Although there is no such things as the ‘perfectly’ accessible device, learners are likely to have developed workarounds if they know the device’s shortcomings.
As John Fairhall from the University of Bradford comments, some smartphones such as the Apple iPhone have “amazing accessibility features” built into them, of which should be made a “bigger deal.” However, he points out,
“it’s important that you don’t disadvantage students… unless you’re going to ensure everyone’s got an appropriate mobile device you need to make sure there’s an equivalent PC experience.”
Although the iPhone has a high level of accessibility at the operating system level, it should be noted that this is not necessarily true of other platforms such as Android and Windows 7. In addition, specific apps may not be accessible to some learners as the text-to-speech functionality may have been neglected by the app developer.
There are two important strands to accessibility. The first strand is accessibility as access to learning and resources, with the second is accessibility as being usable by those who have some form of disability. Whilst institutional purchasing of mobile devices has previously been favoured in order to avoid problems around the ‘digital divide’, such policies may not only be financially unsustainable (see cost/benefit) but can also marginalise disabled learners.
Planned appropriately (see strategy), mobile learning experiences can be inclusive and designed to be ‘accessible’ in both the ways outlined above. The issues with the first type of accessibility tend to be cultural and financial, whereas with the second type they are likely to be technical (for example the font cannot be enlarged) or pedagogical (to do with the overall learning design). For advice on the latter, Jisc has a wide range of advice and guidance on designing for more inclusive mobile learning. The model of accessible m-learning asks four important questions:
Does it support me? (accessible content)
Can I work it? (accessible interface)
Do I value it? (cultural capital, using ‘cool tools’)
Does it engage me? (accessible task)
GoMobile! and Upwardly Mobile resources (2009) provide guidance on a range of inclusion opportunities and accessibility issues specifically related to mobile learning. It also has more specific advice on technologies such as e-books and helping those with disabilities choose a mobile device. In addition, the considerations mentioned in accessibility and mobile and wireless technologies within the innovative practice with e-learning project (2005) remain relevant.
Weighing up the cost/benefit ratio of learning outcomes can be a problematic and tricky business. Whilst quantitative elements can be measured such as the frequency that a resource is accessed by learners, the number of people connecting to wireless access points, or the cost of making available a mobile app, these do not tell the whole story.
The qualitative elements of mobile learning, the ways in which learners can interact with resources, tutors and peers, cannot be recorded easily and holistically through the use of numbers. It is important that institutions, whilst paying attention to issues surrounding sustainability issues, value the ‘softer’ benefits that mobile learning affords.
The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behaviour being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation. Wikipedia
Although any intervention is liable to the Hawthorne effect, one way to measure the success of a mobile learning initiative is to track assessment scores, following this up with a series of focus groups or interviews with learners. However, even this can be problematic. As Vavoula and Sharples comment, “although a learning experience can be a well defined event with a start and a finish, learning is an ongoing, lifelong process of personal transformation.” As such, they argue, it “requires longitudinal, historical assessment” (Vavoula and Sharples, 2008, p4).
Focusing on measures of ‘intrinsic motivation’ through attitudinal surveys can be a reliable predictor of the conditions in place for effective learning.
Academics, prompted to focus on students attitudes and satisfaction (particularly in reference to the National Student Survey) are likely to evolve new, more student-centred assessment procedures. Doing so acknowledges that it is “not possible to determine in advance where the learning may occur, nor how it progresses or what outcomes it produces” (Ibid, p3).
"I think in the future we’ll concentrate on providing content to the students because… most [students] already have some form of iPhone or BlackBerry anyway." Gareth Frith, University of Leeds
Whilst it can be difficult to agree upon how mobile learning should be evaluated (see Evaluation) there is an increasing consensus on one thing: that learners should bring their own devices. This view, often abbreviated to BYOD (bring your own device) is backed up with the following rationale:
Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are expensive
Mobile devices become outdated and (are perceived as) ‘obsolete’ more quickly than other equipment used for learning
Students are increasingly likely to have a mobile device that contain functionality that can be used for learning
Dave Pickersgill of Sheffield College comments that “’if each student has a mobile phone, each worth £100, this equates to £100,000 worth of hardware available for use on a daily basis in the College.” He believes that “no school or college can afford to ignore the uses and benefits such a large amount of kit” can bring. Professor Mike Sharples, who has been described as the godfather of mobile learning, agrees, claiming that “there would appear to be no obvious case for institutions to provide students with mobile devices when most already own laptops and smartphones.”
He points out that institutionally-provided devices would be obsolete within two to three years. Thinking outside of the box, therefore, Sharples suggests that “a strategy could be to progressively replace desktop machines with rooms for student laptops”. The money saved could be used, by negotiating with a supplier, to provide discounted equipment on campus, “with the supplier providing free technical support to students.”
Just as colleges and universities do not provide students with paper, pens and stationery items but expect them to be used, the time is coming when mobile devices will be another expected part of a student’s toolkit. There are many ways for institutions to facilitate this but it does involve a shift in mindset.
Overcoming barriers and finding enablers
In any change management process there will be technical, procedural and cultural barriers. Often the technical and procedural barriers can be quantified and overcome through persistence whereas the cultural barriers can be multi-faceted and more problematic.
In terms of mobile learning, there can be additional specific barriers to institutional adoption. Whilst using mobile devices may be popular and institutions may, to a great extent, be ‘pushing at an open door’ there are nevertheless barriers to adoption. Interviewees for this infoKit were keen to share their examples:
The biggest barrier at the minute is still the percentage of students with appropriate devices – but we’re getting there. John Fairhall, University of Bradford
Even though you still think of smart phones as becoming more common, there are still some barriers there for students… [T]hey don’t like having to pay for stuff to be downloaded to their phones, because they’re on tight budgets. Keith Cole, Jisc
It really seems to be that students don’t consider mobile web apps to be true mobile apps, because you don’t get them from the store. And so unless there’s something actually in the store to download, they don’t really think about it as a mobile app, and you kind of have to introduce them to it, kind of go out of your way to introduce it to them. Kyle Bowen, Purdue University, USA
The ALPS project at the University of Leeds, referred to in the snapshots section, had barriers to overcome in addition to those provided by institutions.
Gathering feedback from other professions or the service users… was very challenging for some of our professions. Julie Laxton, University of Leeds
Multiple standards, multiple screen sizes, multiple operating systems
Conceptual differences between e- and m-learning
No demographic boundary
Potential disruption of students’ personal and academic lives
Tracking of results and proper use of this information
Barriers to mobile learning, as with any change management initiative are heavily context-dependent and will alter in terms of intensity as hardware and software change.
As with the barriers to institutional change and mobile learning initiatives in particular, finding the enablers that allow progress to be made differ depending upon context. There are, however, some ways of approaching mobile learning initiatives as well as ideas that can be gleaned from projects that have trod a similar path.
Claudia Igbrude of the Dublin Institute of Technology, for example, reminds us that SMS text messaging “remains to some extent the lowest common denominator, especially as smartphone use… is not yet at 100%.” “Every mobile phone,” she points out, “can send and receive texts” and “can be used in scaffolding learning experiences, providing just-in-time learning using keywords.”
Tony Bartley of Lowestoft College points out that institutions can use cloud services, “linking to services like Flickr, iPadio, Posterous, Google Docs and the like.” Students, he continues, “may already be using [these] anyway, and if not [they] are very easy and free to set up and can provide equally quick wins.” Using free and low-cost cloud-based services can often mean that useful tools can “easily be demonstrated to students as easy gain, low cost options.”
The following comprises some key barriers with associated enablers identified in the literature and by those interviewed in the course of putting together this guide.
Cost savings due to fewer PC clusters
Improved targeting of information
Start off with admin side of spectrum
Classroom management (further education)
Debate, backchannel and peer support (higher education)
Explore subject-based ways to engage staff
Use workshops to demonstrate how ‘mobile first’ can lead to better user outcomes
Target key staff (eg director of IT services)
Buy-in through finding solution to specified problem
Focus on lowest-common denominator
Consider two-tier approach (basic and advanced)
Disruption to personal life
Set guidelines for staff on engagement
Make policies opt-in whilst explaining benefits
Don’t assume students ‘digital natives’ – run workshops for learners
Consider making mobile learning part of induction activities
Ten steps to mobile learning adoption
Mobile learning, like any change initiative, involves different stakeholders playing a greater or lesser part. Whilst those who are responsible for the change (the change sponsor and change manager) should be well-acquainted with the entirety of this mobile learning guide, other stakeholders may need an overview of the process. Working in partnership is critical.
The generic ten-step process outlined in the image above has been adapted from Gary Woodill’s very detailed mLearning Road Map (via the Internet Archive) and is a useful overview as to how to successfully implement a mobile learning initiative:
Write mobile learning vision statement
Gather stakeholder requirements
Agree on scope
Obtain senior manager buy-in
Identify required content
Decide in-house or external development
Create and test beta content
Gain feedback and iterate offering
Roll out to wider group
After the initial mobile learning roll-out, consider:
Constant updating of policies as challenges/opportunities arise
Changing course as the mobile landscape changes
Updating job roles and responsibilities as requirements and scope alter
Providing ongoing training for all stakeholders
Ensuring that a mobile learning initiative is successful involves being able to answer the following questions:
What is the learning problem you are trying to solve?
What technology will you require?
What skills will teachers/facilitators have to learn?
Evaluating a change involving technology can be challenging for a variety of reasons, from the number of variables involved to the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ (explained in cost/benefit section). For mobile learning the complexities surrounding evaluating the success of an initiative are often heightened because of the added difficulty of evaluating across various contexts.
'A major task for educational evaluation is to identify and analyse learning within and across contexts. For mobile learning, the interest is not only in how learning occurs in a variety of settings, but also how people create new contexts for learning through their interactions and how they progress learning across contexts.' Vavoula and Sharples (2008)
Vavoula and Sharples argue that “in order to establish, document and evaluate learning within and across contexts” it is necessary to analyse:
physical setting and layout of the learning space (the ‘where’)
social setting (who, with whom, from whom)
learning objectives and outcomes (why and what)
learning methods and activities (how)
learning progress and history (when)
learning tools (how)
In order to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of a change management initiative it is important to have a baseline from which to work as well as clear success criteria. Whilst projects may often yield unexpected benefits (and come up against unexpected barriers) it is important to share the key elements against which the project shall be judged.
Jisc has a range of resources and publications to help institutions evaluate mobile learning initiatives:
Guidance on learner-centred evaluation – looking at evaluation from a pedagogical point of view, this resource provides guidance on developing learner-centred evaluation questions, gathering and analysing data from learners and on ‘purposive sampling’.
Measuring benefits – a short but useful overview on how to measure benefits of a programme or project.
Traxler (2007, pages 8-9) points out that “there are no a priori attributes of a ‘good’ evaluation of learning” but that there are, however, some “tentative candidate attributes” of what would make a ‘good’ evaluation of mobile learning initiative. These are that mobile learning should be:
Rigorous (trustworthy and transferable conclusions)
Efficient (cost, effort, time)
Proportionate (“not more ponderous, onerous, or time-consuming that the learning”)
Appropriate (technology, learners, ethos)
Aligned (to chosen medium/technology)
Using these as headings for the evaluation of a mobile learning initiative allows organisations to focus on those aspects of mobile learning that make a real and sustainable impact on an institution.
Case studies and snapshots
A number of snapshots and case studies highlight institutions and projects that have been involved in mobile learning initiatives. The snapshots explore the background, experiences and lessons learned from implementing and embedding mobile learning.
The University of Leeds focused on a number of mobile learning initiatives, with perhaps the best known being their deployment of Apple iPhones to medical students. The University of Bradford share their experiences of mobiles apps and websites. Jisc have been involved with a number of projects, including the SCARLET project which involves augmented reality, and Mobile Mimas which provides researchers a mobile-friendly way of accessing a wealth of information and articles.
An international perspective is demonstrated by Spain’s School of Industrial Organisation, who have been experimenting with mobile learning since 2009, specifically looking to provide richer learning process for the students and teachers through more personalised content and greater interactivity from mobile devices.
A range of case studies to draw on different experiences relating to mobile learning includes collections from ESCalate, the Excellence Gateway and MoLeNET.
Bista, M. (2001) The Five Myths of Mobile Learning. University of Colorado.
Brown, E. (2010) ‘Introduction to location-based mobile learning’ (in Brown, E. (ed.), (2010)Education in the wild: contextual and location-based mobile learning in action, University of Nottingham: Learning Sciences Research Institute)
Cochrane, T. (2010) ‘An mlearning Journey: Mobile Web 2.0 Critical Success Factors (in Montebello, M., et al. (2010) mLearn 2010: Conference Proceedings)
De Lorenzo, R. (2009) Addressing Some Critiques of Mobile Learning. The Mobile Learner.
Glahn, C., Börner, D. & Specht, M. (2010) ‘Mobile informal learning’ (in Brown, E. (ed.),Education in the wild: contextual and location-based mobile learning in action, University of Nottingham: Learning Sciences Research Institute)
Kenny, R.F., et al., (2009) ‘Using Mobile Learning to Enhance the Quality of Nursing Practice Education’ (in Ally, M. (ed.), Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training, Edmonton: AU Press)
Koole, M.L. (2009) ‘A Model for Framing Mobile Learning’, in Ally, M. (ed.), Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training, Edmonton, 2009, p.38)
Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2010) Mobile learning as a catalyst for change (Open Learning, Vol.25, No.3, November 2010, 181-185)
Lonsdale, P., Baber, C., Sharples, M. & Arvantis, T.N. (2004) ‘A context-awareness architecture for facilitating mobile learning’ (in Attewell, J. & Savill-Smith, C. (2004) Learning with mobile devices: research and development, London: Learning and Skills Development Agency)
Pacific Blue (2012) Mobile Learning: Myths and Misconceptions.
Park, Y. (2011) ‘A Pedagogical Framework for Mobile Learning: Categorizing Educational Applications of Mobile Technologies into Four Types’ (The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(2), February 2011)
Rosenberg, M.J. (2001) E-learning: Strategies for delivering knowledge in the digital age (New York: MacGraw-Hill)
Sharples, M., et al. (2007) ‘Mobile Learning: Small devices, Big issues’ (in Sharples, M., et al. (eds.) Technology-Enhanced Learning, 2009, Part IV)
Sharples, M. (2010) ‘Foreword’ (in Brown, E. (ed.), Education in the wild: contextual and location-based mobile learning in action (University of Nottingham: Learning Sciences Research Institute)
Traxler, J. (2007) ‘Current State of Mobile Learning’ (in Ally, M. (2010) Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training, Edmonton: AU Press)
Traxler, J. (2009) ‘Current State of Mobile Learning’ (in Ally, M. (ed.), Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training, Edmonton: AU Press)
Vavoula, G.N. and Sharples, M. (2009) ‘Challenges in Evaluating Mobile Learning’ (in Traxler, J., Riordan, B., Dennett, C. (eds) Proceedings of the mLearn 2008 Conference (School of Computing and Information Technology, University of Wolverhampton, pp. 296-303)
Wingkvist, A. and Ericsson, M. (2010) ‘A Framework to Guide and Structure the Development Process of Mobile Learning Initiatives’ (in Montebello, M., et al. (2010) mLearn 2010: Conference Proceedings, University of Malta)
We would like to thank the following for their input into this mobile learning guide. Where quotations are not attributed to an article, the words are taken from interviews with the following participants:
Anwar, Shiraz (Jisc)
Bartley, Tony (Lowestoft College)
Bowen, Kyle (Purdue University, USA)
Carter, Jackie (Jisc)
Cole, Keith (Jisc)
Colley, Becka (University of Bradford)
Fairhall, John (University of Bradford)
FitzGerald, Elizabeth (The Open University)
Frith, Gareth (University of Leeds)
Igbrude, Claudia (Dublin Institute of Technology)
Mitchell, Ron (Consultant and ex-MoLeNET mentor)
Pellow, Andy (University of Leeds)
Pickersgill, Dave (Sheffield College)
Ramirez, Matt (Jisc)
Sharples, Mike (The Open University)
Short, Mike (O2 UK/Telefonica Europe)
Soon, Lilian (xlearn, ex-MoLeNET mentor)
Stead, Geoff (Tribal Labs)
Tangney, Brendan (Trinity College, Dublin)
Thomas, Rhodri (The Open University)
Traxler, John (University of Wolverhampton)
Usher, Julie (University of Northampton)
Winters, Niall (London Knowledge Lab)
This mobile learning guide was also informed in a significant way from the insights gleaned from interviewees for the Jisc Mobile and Wireless Technologies Review.