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April 2011 Archives

In a previous post I asked educational technology consultants to share their thoughts on preparing faculty, staff and students for using mobiles in teaching, research and work at the University of Minnesota. Kim Wilcox wrote about mobile equity and other matters. Here is an exchange between Keith Brown and Paul Baepler, both educational technology consultants in OIT's Collaborative for Academic Technology Innovation:

Keith: So to 'fess up right up front, I don't own a cell phone, smart phone, iPod or any other mobile device. I use a laptop (owned by the U) but seldom use it out of the office except at meetings.

On the practical side, I really see small format mobile devices as great for consuming information, but perhaps not as practical for producing things. Finding if my flight is on time on the mobile device is much different from writing the app to do that using a mobile device. Or, think of emails written from a phone versus emails written from a computer with a keyboard. In my experience, one or two line responses on a mobile device would be pretty long. I definitely wouldn't write an email in response to your question on mobiles with this much detail on a mobile device. If we're looking for interactivity and active learning, devices that don't make it easy to create, as opposed to consume, may limit their usefulness in education. I believe there is a niche for them, but we'll have to be creative.

Paul: I guess I'm in agreement with a lot of what Keith has said. Currently, it seems like mobile really works best for consuming content and potentially for interacting in specific ways--delivering feedback like a clicker, creating a backchannel such as Twitter, taking cursory notes on an iPad.

But I also think there will be major advances in particular disciplines depending upon how a course is taught. For instance, I think we'll develop really strong apps for using mobile in identifying features of natural objects--planets, plants, rocks, etc.--in their natural setting. An app that can give even a cursory translation of a foreign language text could really advance reading skills, particularly for lazy language learners like me who hate looking up every other word in the French or Spanish dictionary. While finding information on natural objects or looking up words in a dictionary involve consumption of information, we might also put those actions in the context of solving natural problems in an authentic, real-world environment.

In the end, I think we'll probably discard the idea of "mobile learning" and return to concepts like problem based learning that happen to use mobile devices. That is, I think we'll take "mobile" and connectivity for granted very soon, at least on campuses with expanding wireless access. But that will probably be after the singularity when all of us have given up any hope of winning a round on Jeopardy against our mobile overlords.

In my previous post I asked educational technology consultants from OIT's Collaborative for Academic Technology Innovation for their thoughts on how we might prepare faculty, staff and students to use mobiles in teaching, research and work at the University of Minnesota. Kim Wilcox, Senior Educational Technology Consultant, writes:

Parry's piece makes clear the conceptual hurdles that may exist for any number of us--especially those of us rapidly approaching geezerhood--attempting to reach "mobile literacy." Preparing to teach and learn in a mobile world will mean learning to think in very different ways, to imagine differently how we might use the capacity of mobility to achieve specific learning outcomes.

I am still concerned on some practical levels. How will the University ensure some form of mobile equity? Will all students have access to web-enabled mobile devices? There are still inequalities among devices themselves. For example, not all mobile devices have Java and Flash capabilities, or high-resolution cameras. There will be design challenges for creating assignments.

Nonetheless, there will be no turning back. In the past, early adopters did cool stuff but few others knew about it. Today, the channels of communication are much better and sharing is much more a part of the culture. So for me, the challenge is getting up to speed enough to consider how we might approach faculty development in this area, as well as considering how to help faculty prepare their students to use mobile devices in ways that may be new to them.

The topic for tomorrow's 20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event is mobiles. As it turns out, this is a timely topic. Designated as a technology to watch in the 2011 Horizon Report, mobile technology is the focus in the latest Educause Review. In his contribution to that issue, Mobile Literacy, David Parry identifies three "literacies" we ought to teach students (and perhaps everyone else): 1) understanding information access, i.e., not only how to find relevant information, but also how to use and evaluate it. 2) understanding hyperconnectivity, i.e., how to use mobile devices to "engage in hypermediated experience" without being distracted from "directing full attention the event." 3) understanding a new sense of space, i.e., "the massive amounts of data that we are going to be layering on top the physical world and that will substantially alter how we can interact with space." This short article lays out substantial challenges with exciting possibilities.

Mobiles have been a topic of conversation within OIT's faculty development team. We talk about the potential of mobiles in higher education, and of course how we might help faculty, staff and students prepare to use mobiles in teaching, research and work at the University of Minnesota. I asked educational technology consultants to share their thoughts, which will appear in subsequent posts.