Flexible Learning using Smart Devices

A cursory look around learning or social spaces at Harper Adams reveals that students like to be connected to the Internet at most times using a variety of kit thus allowing them to make use of Web-sites and Web-services during what appears to be their ‘casual’ time.
Given this apparent pervasiveness of smart devices we undertook a survey to establish to what extent our 2015 student intake would wish to use such kit to support their formal teaching. To this effect and we surveyed a sample size of 165 students as part of our freshers’ Moodle induction session (see figure 1).

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Our main findings

  1. Whilst the laptop is still the most popular hardware for online learning, the desktop PC and the smart phone are nearly equal second with the tablet trailing in fourth. Mobile devices combined (smart phone and tablets) account for about a third of preferred hardware to access learning resources with two thirds still based on Windows/OS X operating systems .
  2. Nearly half of the respondents stated that smart devices may provide an opportunity for in class
  3. More than three times the number of respondents would engage in true mobile learning (i.e. when travelling) compared with those who would not (with about a third being indifferent)

These answers indicate that a significant minority (30-40%) is expressing a desire to use smart devices for learning. Consequently it may be worth considering one or several of the following points:

  • providing 100% WiFi coverage across the campus; this project is already well underway and is expected to be completed by summer 2016
  • making the VLE interface mobile friendly; this has already been achieved by introducing a ‘responsive design’ theme in August 2015
  • designing Moodle module pages with mobile accessibility in mind (for example by deploying the ‘Design Deep’ principle); aspects of these are offered during Moodle training sessions
  • making existing and any future learning resources ‘mobile compliant’ based on HTML5 coding
  • considering to experiment with the flipped classroom model of teaching
  • considering to develop a mobile learning strategy based on pedagogically sound principles.

It may be appropriate when designing a new or amending an existing course or module to put forward the question whether mobile technology is necessary to support students in reaching the intended learning outcomes and enhancing their learning experience?
If the answer were to be yes then a Mobile Course Checklist should be provided for instructional designers to review the online module and give tutors a summary of the module’s ease of usability and access afforded via mobile devices and any action required to ensure compliance.

An additional resource from a US centric perspective has been published by a team from the University of Central Florida in June 2015. http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/students-mobile-learning-practices-higher-education-multi-year-study or the accompanying eLecture recording on Mobile Essentials for Faculty https://educause.acms.com/p4v3wl160kv/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal

Additional reading:  http://www.educause.edu/library/mobile-learning

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