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 the Echo360 lecture capture recordings which can be played back on student's devices while taking notes
- 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.”