Toward a mobile learning ideal

thumb_img_1761_1024What is the ideal of mobile learning? To me, having in as convenient a mobile device as possible, as much interactivity and functionality to learn as possible, is the ideal. iPads particularly have been dismissed as being nothing more than consumer devices and therefore inappropriate for learning. It is a bit tricky to create on an iPad, but only a bit. Its draw-ability with a stylus, recordability with built-in microphone and camera, and large-enough-but-not-too-large size pretty much hit the sweet spot for the mobile learning ideal. Even the fact that it is larger than a phone, in itself lends a bit of professional-tool credibility; it is more clipboard and more book than toy.

In the Leicester Medical School, every student is given a full-size iPad as a study tool. Students are asked to bring it to every class session, and are given basic guidance to download learning materials from the VLE. But these learning materials are only the basis of their study. Unlike much “e-learning” which can be narrow experiences of spoon-feeding, students are challenged to build answers to clinical-type case study questions; they learn to critically appraise different online sources including university-supplied ebooks as well as YouTube videos, and they must work as a team to arrive at case-study solutions, as they will have to do in professional practice.

Here is a basic rundown of the tools being used in this workgroup case study context:

  • Blackboard VLE – students find it better to use Blackboard in the Safari browser rather than the Blackboard Mobile Learn app which does not allow downloads
  • Notability – in a recent comparison of PDF annotators which we did, Notability came out tops for functionality — notes can be added to PDF documents via typing, scribbling, or voice recording
  • Cloud services – we tell the students to set up a cloud account and back up their work regularly to one or more of the following: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, and One Drive. Notability works best with Dropbox and Google Drive, and iCloud is handily available by logging into it on Internet Explorer on our university PCs
  • iMessage groups – we encourage students to create an iMessage group corresponding to their work group, so that they can quickly send each other links and updates. We know that students also form Facebook groups corresponding to their workgroups, but we lightly encourage not launching Facebook during workgroup sessions
  • Airdrop – another quick and easy way to share files and links

Our situation is not BYOD; we supply the iPads. So far we are pleased with the reliability and intuitive usability of iPads. What about Android? Android is great for being able to see the folder structure — with an iPad, one must get used to just trusting that the app still has your document even though you can’t see the folder structure… or just going ahead and sticking all your files in the cloud. I know that as of now, there is no Notability on Android. Many folks like Evernote as an alternative (they’ve begun to charge more for it, though). If I had an Android tablet, I think I would just use Google docs for as much as possible. There’s no Airdrop equivalent, but could possibly use WhatsApp or even WeChat for some of the sharing and interactivity.

A final thought about mobile learning: for the last ten years or so, the VLE (non-Brits call this an LMS) has been the dominant e-learning software tool. However, in my opinion, no VLE has kept up with the growth of mobile as a learning environment; none of the VLEs work very well on mobile except Edmodo and that one is not really a full-service VLE. VLEs cost a lot of money, and one considers: if it doesn’t do the job on mobile, maybe we are paying too much for too little functionality. With our iPads, once we download the materials onto the iPads from the VLE, that’s it, the VLE is largely out of the picture; from then on, we are just using apps. Dare I say it: good mobile learning is rendering the VLE obsolete.

Terese Bird, Educational Designer, Leicester Medical School



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