April 18, 2015

Mobile learning for women and girls in Africa

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Zelezny-Green, R. (2013) Boosting mobile learning potential for women and girls in Africa: lingering considerations E-learning Africa News Portal, February 14

This is an interesting summary of five major mobile learning initiatives have been implemented in Africa that sought to directly benefit women and girls, or which included women and girls and provided some evidence of benefits to them. A key conclusion:

The need to involve men and boys in mobile learning activities designed to benefit women and girls. Gender-themed mobile learning projects sometimes focus on supporting women and girls only, often to the detriment of the project’s sustainability if awareness-raising is also not done with the men and boys that live in the communities where projects are implemented.

The article is well worth reading in full.

Research and development in online learning from the Open University of Catalonia

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Media TIC, home of the eLearn Centre

Two weeks ago I visited two open universities (the UK OU and the Open University of Catalonia) and a research lab of the Institute of Education at the University of London. Full reports of the visits will be appearing later this month on the Ontario Online Learning Portal for Faculty and Instructors managed by Contact North. These reports are looked at from the perspective of key ‘game-changers’ in online learning, and provide an overall picture of each institution.

However, I want to use my blog to discuss in more detail the research into online learning that is being conducted in these institutions, because as a result of these visits I want to question why here in Canada we are so disorganized and frankly ineffective in the way we conduct research in this area, despite having several world leaders in online learning research and development.

First though I will provide a series of posts on the research and development being done at the three European institutions we visited. The first post is on research at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), where there are two research and development units as well as a program of innovation specifically on online learning.

the eLearn Centre.

The director is Albert Sangrà, a former colleague of mineThis unit has 10 full time researchers and 134 researchers across the world (including some from Canada) affiliated or collaborating on research with staff from the eLearn Centre.

The time factor

The eLearn Centre decided to focus on a four year program of research on the time factor in online learning. The four year period ends this month. This study covers topics as diverse as learning rhythms, the timing of curricula and courses, student time management, and the effect of timing on feedback and learning. The research team leader is Elena Barberà.

Research students doing dissertations as part of their graduate studies in the eLearn Centre, and affiliated researchers, have been asked to include a least a question on the time factor when collecting data and analysing their results, whatever the topic of their thesis or dissertation. As a result the centre has been able to produce a six monthly journal on the time factor in online learning.

There are now five issues of this journal published to date, with 28 different papers published, covering the time factor in assessment, collaborative learning, time management in networked learning, and the time factor in online teaching and learning in maths and physics.

Open educational resources

The eLearn Centre is a partner with several other European universities in a European Commission project called OERtest, whose objectives are:

  • creation of a single portal for accessing Euro-centric OER content
  • development of quality standards, assessment guidelines, financial models, curricular provisions and any other administrative requirements necessary to allow for HEIs within the EU to assess learning received exclusively through OER
  • assessment of the feasibility for EU HEIs to offer assessment services for OER
  • establishment of a European network to promote and follow the development of OER and Open Educational Practices within the EHEA.

eLearn centre staff are also engaged in another European Commission project, OporTunidad. The project intends to foster the adoption and pilot of open educational practices, and open educational resources), at an institutional level, in Latin American countries. The focus here is on institutional strategies that promote the adoption and use of OEPs and OERs. Contact at UOC: Lourdes Guàrdia

e-portfolios

Another focus of research is on e-portfolios. The centre has taken a lead role in developing a Spanish national community of practice on the use of e-portfolios in post-secondary education, with 14 institutional members, with a focus particularly on the use of e-portfolios for assessment. Staff from the eLearn centre are also particpating in another project funded by the European Commission, Europortfolio. The aim is to create a Learning Community Portal as a space to publish, share and review data and resources on ePortfolio practices and technologies across Europe. Contact at UOC: Lourdes Guàrdia

Dissemination

eLearn Centre staff disseminate their research and experience through establishing a community of practice for UOC faculty for training in how best to use OERs and e-portfolios, as well as drawing on the research for more formal teaching such as in UOC’s Masters in e-Learning.

The eLearn centre also worked in collaboration with the New Media Consortium to produce the Iberoamerican edition of the Horizon Report 2010, which specifically looked at the Spanish/Latin American context, and has an invited visiting scholars program, and a program for inviting institutions to visit.

In addition to its research, the eLearn Centre also provides training in e-learning through its Doctorate program, and its Masters, Diplomas and Certificates in Education and ICTs.

I have touched on only part of the work of the eLearn Centre. There are 10 other research groups associated with the eLearn Centre. More details can be found at: http://www.uoc.edu/portal/en/elearncenter/index.html

A 'xarcuteria' on Carrer Casanova, Barcelona

The Office of Learning Technologies

Its mission is ‘to create the learning environments of the 21st Century for the new digital generations and global citizens.’ It has a staff of 42, and its director is Magì Almirall. This is an educational technology development group. This department develops a wide variety of tools and applications for use in the university. In 2011 it was working on a total of 38 projects.

A major focus at the moment is the development of ‘My mobile UOC’, that enables students to access their learning on any kind of devices, websites and other environments such as SmartTV or Chrome Operating System. Several of the projects focus on helping students with disabilities, by making the online environment more accessible.

The Office has developed a number of social media applications and tools, such as microblogging tools and small group online videoconferencing facilities, as well as augemented reality tools for creating virtual worlds.

All these tools are integrated or interoperable with the university’s in-house developed Virtual Campus, an open source, combined learning management and administrative system. Once the tools developed by the office become adopted and operational, the responsibility for maintaining them passes to the Learning Services division. However, the Office is also responsible for the overall design of the university portal and the community services that are run through the portal.

The Office of Learning Technologies reports to the Vice Rector, Technology, who manages a fund of around 100,000 euros a year for innovative projects that are bid for internally through an RFP process. The theme this year has been mobile learning, including the development of apps for learning.

Summary

The Open University of Catalonia is a fully online university with more than 60,000 students and an annual operating budget of 100 million euros ($125 million). This has enabled it to set up these R&D units at a sufficient scale of operation that they can take on substantial projects that will have direct impact on the operation of the university, both pedagogically and technically. Given that both these units are relatively new, their influence on the external world of online learning is likely to grow, despite language and cultural differences.

A Modernista building on the Rambla Catalunya

 

 

Why Canadians lag in mobile learning

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Steinberg, S. (2012) Mobilicity research suggests smartphones play increasing role in education Mobilicity Newsroom, August 9

A survey conducted for the Canadian mobile phone company, Mobilicity found that

  • 66 per cent of Canadians would use a mobile phone to conduct online research anywhere, anytime;
  • 46 per cent would download mobile apps to help stay organized;
  • 41 per cent would record lectures and tutorial sessions; and
  • 42 per cent would coordinate school and social activities if they were a student.
  • the majority of Canadians (56 per cent) think that mobile phones are an invaluable tool for students.

However, the survey also found that Canadians consider themselves poor mobile consumers:

  • 19 per cent of Canadian mobile phone users would give themselves a near-failing ‘D’ grade saying they think they are “paying too much”.
  • only 17 per cent of Canadians give themselves an ‘A’ grade for having done their homework and having the best plan.

Mobilicity suggest the following uses for mobile learning:

  • Do real-time research at school in the palm of their hand
  • Record lectures and tutorial sessions to avoid missing key study points
  • Collaborate on group projects virtually using cloud-based applications, such as Dropbox and Google Docs
  • Photograph instructor notes or drawings for reference and/or transcription
  • Tweet peers using a class #hashtag to create a discussion and clarify any confusion with the professor.

Comment

This is a survey by a new Canadian mobile company seeking to break into a market dominated by three large telcos (Bell, Rogers, Telus). Canadians have traditionally paid high mobile tariffs, especially for data, compared with most OECD countries. Mobilicity’s survey co-incidentally (!) comes just after they have announced a $25 a month unlimited data, talk and text plan that undercuts most plans currently available. Obviously, the cheaper mobile phone costs are, the more likely students are to use them.

However, another reason may also be that most institutions are not designing for mobile learning. Mobilicity itself assumes that mobiles will reinforce classroom teaching, rather than looking at designing courses in such a way that tools such as smartphones and tablets can be used to do learning outside the classroom, through project work, online research, and digital data collection (photos, videos, audio).

So good for Mobilicity in helping bring down costs; now the baton passes to us as educational designers.

Apps or web sites for publishing on mobile devices?

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Pontin, J. (2010) Why publishers don’t like apps, Technology Review, May 7

This article is sub-titled: The future of media on mobile devices isn’t with applications but with the Web. Although focused on ‘traditional’ publishing such as magazines and newspapers, there may be lessons here for academic institutions that have online programs with large amounts of text and graphics.

Comment

It could be argued that in education we should no longer be designing large quantities of text and graphics, but  instead should consider the design of online courses from the outset with mobile devices in mind that take advantage not just of the ‘linkyness’ of mobile devices, but also their unique technological ‘affordances’ that may well include special apps.

On the other hand most institutions have ‘legacy’ text-based courses that cannot be redesigned from scratch for cost reasons. This article may be highly relevant for making such courses available on mobile devices.

Well worth a read, but I’m not altogether convinced by Pontin’s argument (except for his criticism of Apple’s digital publishing system) – what’s your experience in porting online courses to mobile devices?

Thanks to Matt Bury for directing me to this via LinkedIn

Examples of virtual worlds, simulations and mobile apps from Ontario

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Carleton Virtual

This is the second in a series of guest blogs on innovative developments in online learning in Ontario post-secondary institutions. (The first was examples of hybrid learning.)

In this post, Judith Tobin of Contact North| Contact Nord focuses on examples of virtual worlds and simulations, and mobile apps. Here is her guest post:

Introduction

In my previous guest blog, I highlighted examples of online and hybrid learning innovations in Ontario post-secondary institutions that were serving as vehicles for bringing new ideas into the classroom, such as restructuring class time, collaborative learning, and changes in the teacher/student relationships. This time, I have focused on applications of leading edge technologies, including virtual environments, simulations, and mobile apps. These technologies are just beginning to have a role in learning and considerable research and experimentation are taking place to determine their optimal contributions. The innovations below explore student learning and responses, while working to make the technologies easy to use and flexible.

Virtual Worlds and Simulations

The Virtual World Design Centre at Loyalist College in Belleville has been working with virtual environments for a number of years, using the open source software Second Life (http://secondlife.com) since 2006.  They have recently adopted the Unity 3D authoring tool as they find it more adaptable for educational purposes. 

 Virtual worlds are successful in education because students identify with the characters and the situations portrayed and so become active participants in the events on screen. The learning from these experiences carries over into real life applications.  In an award-winning and educationally successful project, the staff in the Virtual World Design Centre created a virtual border crossing at which students’ avatars take on the roles of border crossing guards, interviewing travellers who present challenges of documentation, prohibitions, smuggling, and difficult communication.  The virtual traveler interviews take place in class and each encounter is then analyzed by the entire group so that best practices are identified.  Applications for completely online learning are being investigated.


Virtual environment of a border crossing

The students at Loyalist found the virtual experience provided them with more than enhanced content learning; they also developed confidence, observational skills, and the capacity to respond to developing situations.

 Other virtual environments created at Loyalist included a virtual hospital tour for secondary school students and a factory simulation for the repair of machinery for food processing. Experience in these virtual worlds prepares students for more effective and informed exposure to the real environments.

Carleton Virtual is an online virtual environment resembling the physical setting of Carleton University in Ottawa that was constructed to explore how virtual environment can be used to enhance learning.  An English-as-a-second-language teacher used the virtual meeting space so that her students could practice language usage and collaboration skills in a risk-free environment. They used the virtual classrooms, meeting rooms, and other spaces, with many students participating more actively in the virtual spaces than in a face-to-face classroom.  A virtual archeological site allowed students to better understand the archeological processes that create knowledge, when a visit to a functioning site was not possible.

The virtual archeological site

At the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Oakville, students in the Veterinary Technician Program could no longer have access to live animals and cadavers for both ethical and health reasons. In response to this need, the Network for Innovation and Leadership in Education built a 3D dog skeleton with images that can be manipulated and disassembled. The skeleton was then built into a web-based learning tool as a complete package for online student learning, including mobile applications.  The simulation is being tested for educational effectiveness.

Mobile learning

In Fall 2012, all full-time, first-year students enrolled in the four-year Bachelor of Business Administration Program at Nipissing University in North Bay will receive iPads. Leading up to this innovation, pilot projects are being undertaken to explore applications for teaching and learning.  For example, connectivity was set up so a professor could use an iPad while moving about the room and illustrating and annotating normally static PDF documents, then saving the revised slides for class distribution. Meanwhile, the students would use their iPads to add their own notes to the same slides. The first year of the iPad usage will be dedicated to introducing students to software for document preparation and research; more advanced learning applications will be developed over time to emphasize the collaborative and creative possibilities of the iPad.

Nipissing is also exploring the development of apps for mobile learning but, for ease of access and flexibility of revision, these would be web applications hosted on web servers that would look and function like apps. 

Using mobile apps to encourage language learning and practice outside the classroom has been the focus of recent work at George Brown College. Extensive research is being done on student ownership of mobile devices and data plans, preferences for activities in mobile learning, and an instructional design framework to encourage active participation and extensive language usage. From this, a set of design principles for effective mobile learning was created. The Mobile Learning Specialist at George Brown would like to collaborate with colleagues in other institutions on mobile learning developments.

Research and evaluation

Research is an essential component of all these innovations as post-secondary institutions ponder and test how these technological and software advances can best be used to serve learners.  They are often expensive and require technological and pedagogical sophistication to develop and implement. The educators want to be sure they are using them as tools for effective learning.

Thank you, Judith, and if anyone else would like to do a guest post of an innovation in online learning at their institution, please contact me at tony.bates@ubc.ca

Further reading

For more details on each application go to the following links:

Border Simulation – Student Learning in a Virtual World: Loyalist College

Simulations for Learning: Loyalist College

Carleton Virtual: Carleton University

A Simulation-Based Learning Tool for Students in the Veterinary Technician Diploma Program: Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning

Going mobile: Nipissing University

Mobile-assisted language learning: George Brown College

For more examples of innovation in online learning in Ontario, go to: Pockets of Innovation