Friday, 23 September 2011

What is it good for? Mobile devices for learning

I've been looking forward to this week cuz we have been exploring the use of mobile devices at our college. We have a small (but growing) group of instructors who have iPads and are exploring how they can be used in the classroom or during faculty meetings. We also have an exciting project in our library where the staff are exploring the use of Asus Transformers (tablets) for posting and sharing information with students. But I have still felt somewhat lost as to the best way mobile devices could be used to enhance learning.
 In their paper for ASEAN Journal of Open & Distance Learning, (Mobile Learning Initiative through SMS) Abas,  Lim and Woo shared some of the advantages of mobile devices and the response of students to their use in Open University Malaysia.

The advantages of mobile devices that they cited are similar to those in many parts of North America. In fact they seem very close to what we heard from an online webinar hosted by Educause that discussed the experience at most American universities. A near 100% penetration rate is not what we see in the North though, although it may be close. Just walking through the halls this term I see students constantly texting or peering intently into their phones. But I wonder what an instructor would do who wanted to try mobile learning if some or a few of their students didn't have cell phones or some form of mobile connectivity? Do those students have to remember to check a computer every day? Or do you just select a specific day for SMSing? and hope they can share with another student to view the texts? If a teaching approach benefits or reaches most of your students, is that good enough?

The successful project at the University of Pretoria found that SMS use increased the retention rate because learners felt someone cared. I wonder if anyone asked students if they just felt annoyed by the SMSs?  Sometimes our research is biased so strongly towards looking for what we expect. I'll have to do some more reading.

What else stood out for me? OMG!  OUM has an average enrollment of 30-40,000 learners per term. More than the population of the Yukon!!

But what really impressed me is the thoughtful, organized approach that was documented in the article.
Approach by OUM
  • pick a course to try SMS (Learning Skills for Open & Distance Learning)
  • plan what kinds of SMSs and how often sent
  • forum msgs intended to stimulate discussion in online forums in LMS
  • content msgs highlighted important parts of text
  • tips msgs included how to study, how to understand specific concepts
  • motivation msgs were about how to succeed, encourage them to perservere
  • course mgmt msgs dealt with admin issues
If I can get a partnership going with one of our teachers to try this approach in the future, I doubt I'll be quite as organized by I like the idea of organizing by intent and content.
Now...time to dive into the comment, tweeting, bookmarking part of my nascent network. (Backchannel:  where do people find the time for this. Just reading one of the posted articles has taken me until Friday cuz I've been so busy with work and life.)

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