EDUCAUSE Report on Undergraduate Student use of Technology

The latest edition of “The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009” has just been released by the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. This report provides insights into the ways in which students use, and would like to use, various technologies in their own lives and in their learning.

Some of the “m-learning” findings across 39 institutions include:

  • students are switching from desktop PCs (71% in 2006, down to 44% in 2009) to laptops (65.4% in 2006 to 88.3% in 2009).
  • one-third of students own and use Internet services from a handheld device, with another third of students owning or planning to acquire a handheld, internet-capable device in the next 12 months.
  • “Asked to select the three institutional IT services they are most likely to use, if available, from an Internet-capable handheld device, responents who currently own a handheld device and use the INternet from it selected as their top three e-mail system (63.4%), student administrative services (official grades, registration, etc.) (46.8%), and course or learning management system (45.7%).” (pg 11).

via Tony Bates’ e-learning & distance education resources

Australian uni goes mobile!

An article in the respected Australian newspaper has showcased the new mobile student support website recently implemented by Curtin University of Technology. Dubbed “CurtinMobile,” the service was developed in response to the growing use of, and demand for, supported mobile platforms and services:

Chief information officer Peter Nikelotatos said 99 per cent of Curtin’s students had mobile phones and 75 per cent of those phones were web-enabled.

“What we wanted was an application layer that recognised that our students were using netbooks and smartphone devices more and more and they wanted to be able to access a lot more information through these devices rather than desktop PCs,” he said.

In addition to the current provision of mobile student information and services, Curtin is looking into the future use of mobile devices for learning:

“Areas that we want to explore a lot more are integration opportunities with our learning management system and a lot more around emergency and critical incident management and integration from an international perspective,” [Mr Nikelotatos] said.

What is *your* institution or organisation doing to cater for the growing use of mobile, web-connected, devices? The mobile device industry is the fastest-growing sector in the IT and web markets, and making good use of mobile platforms will soon be as important for universities asmaking good use of the internet.

Handheld Learning 2009

This week, I have been keeping an eye on the Handheld Learning 2009 conference.  The Handheld Learning conference series is one of the two major international conferences on mobile learning, but unlike M-Learn, which is coming up later this month in Florida) is always held in the UK, and is run by the very strong community of mobile learning pratitioners at the Handheld Learning site.

One of the most interesting aspects of any conference I’ve attended has been the out-of-session discussions, and the Handheld Learning 2009 conference has done this through support for a number of social networking tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, as well as their own conference forum area, which already boasts some 4500 posts on 1500 topics.  There’s a lot of noise in all that buzz – but there are also some gems to be found.  Of particular note is the “Teaching for Mobile Learning” discussion area, where participants are sharing actual ideas for incorporating mobile learning strategies into teaching activities as well as actual case studies; from discussions with educators in the past, there is something of a divide between the theoretical potential of mobile learning and the practice of it, so some of the stories and ideas in this area are just excellent.

I’ll be reading through all of the online chatter and will try to bring you some of my very best finds right here on the Mobile Learning blog… stay tuned! 🙂

On-Campus Wireless Internet

The topic of easy-to-use, reliable wireless access to the internet came to the fore today, so I thought I should write about it.  I heard from a number of people on our Yammer social network that they believed that our institution’s wireless service was difficult to connect to and only available in scattered areas around the campus.  That this appeared to be the opinion of the majority (with some exceptions) caused me considerable concern, as in my opinion, student wireless access should be considered priority infrastructure for any self-respecting further/higher education organisation.

From a teaching and learning point of view, campus-wide internet access – or even access that targets social and learning spaces such as refectories, libraries, lecture rooms and labs – is what truly blends together online and face-to-face learning.  It means that while they’re on campus, a student can access their online learning just by turning on their netbook or iPhone.  They can contribute to class online discussions while eating lunch or access their readings before class, using the technology they already have with them: their laptop, netbook, or other wi-fi capable mobile device.

Some of you may be thinking “can’t students just go use a computer lab?”  To some extent, they can.  However, most students don’t choose a library or computer lab as their preferred environment for group projects or study groups unless they’re forced to.  In most of those locations, there are restrictions on noise levels, food, drink, physical access, and software installation/configuration.  If students can get together at a campus cafe or in a refectory to work together, they will.  By way of example: every day the refectory at my university is full of students working together, because that is their preferred space to do so.

But they can’t get internet access there – not without an apparent struggle.  I work in an office just above the refectory, and one of my colleagues (in the same office) reports that there’s no signal.  Even if they can get a signal, the process of actually logging in and getting network access is difficult or impossible for the apparent majority.

Then, of course, there are all the affordances of the internet that could be brought into learning situations.  Students can look up definitions or supporting materials in lectures, using a wiki to collaboratively create lecture notes, or blogging an experiment or other learning experience, live from a student lab.

For mobile learning – and even for flexible learning – at any educational institution, equipping formal and informal learning spaces (such as social spaces) with fundamental enabling technologies like wireless internet access has to be at the top of the priority list.  It even makes sense from a budget point of view, as every laptop a student brings in and uses takes pressure off the student labs.  This, in turn, reduces the amount that has to be spent on standard-image, admin-locked, physical lab computers… and frees students to use their own computers which can be configured to best support their particular program of study.  That’s what I call win-win!

The Mobile Learning Engine (MLE) for Moodle

One recent interesting development in mobile learning has been the creation of mobile interfaces for Online Learning Environments.  Here at the University of Canberra, I’ve been investigating one particular extension for the University’s new Moodle-based learning environment: the free and open source Mobile Learning Engine (MLE).

MLE provides a mobile interface to Moodle in two different ways.

  1. It features a custom Java application, capable of running on the majority of contemporary mobile phones. Some testing on different handsets shows that this Java application run on different handsets and at different resolutions. The big advantage of a custom Java application as a mobile interface is that the entire interface is dedicated to accessing Moodle functionality, rather than trying to fit Moodle menus and commands within a web browser, with its own menus and commands.  As an example of how this simplifies things, the MLE interface has its own internal bookmarking system, which operates consistently between handsets.  By contrast, different handsets designed by different manufacturers each have their own web browser which implements bookmarks in different ways, making it very difficult to train a user in how to bookmark a Moodle page as the process is specific to their device.
  2. For handsets that cannot install the Java application to access Moodle, a standard web/browser-based interface can be used to access MLE.  This provides a “fallback” for students wishing to access Moodle but unable to install Java, or, for example, using a friend’s phone to quickly check their online course materials.

Of particular interest to me is MLE’s implementation of “Mobile Tags” – a QR Code reader built into its Java client. While this doesn’t appear to work on my handset, it has a lot of potential in terms of supporting situated learning activities and linking realia and printed learning resources with online and rich media via mobile devices.

I’ve had a chance to play with our own implementation of MLE, and while it may need a little polishing, it’s well on the way to being an excellent product for mobile learning.