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.
Some examples of communications tools include:
- SMS (edutxt)
- Voice over IP (VOIP) and videotelephony (Skype, ooVoo, Lync, FaceTime)
- Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
- Blogging (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, VoiceThread)
- Scheduling (Doodle, Meet-O-Matic)
- Textwalls (Learning Wall, textwall)
- Scrapbooks (Evernote, Pinterest, Scoop.it, Padlet, Pearltrees)
- Polling (Poll Everywhere)
Pembrokeshire College - VocalEyes democracy app
The college tested and promoted VocalEyes Digital Democracy - an app developed by a social enterprise. It has a number of benefits:
- Provides a safe in-house digital platform for communication
- Teaches democracy
- 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
- Informs decision-makers
- Systematically provides a priority list for turning user-generated ideas into tangible action
- Identifies Maslow-type needs
- Improves student satisfaction
- Improves communications
- 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
- Wifi information: support and Information on how to connect to University wifi 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.