February 26, 2015

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.


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.


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:


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



Creating a mobile learning app from scratch

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Morgan, T. (2012) Creating a mobile learning app–what we learned, what’s left to learn Explorations in the ed tech world, March 14

You’re the ed tech co-ordinator in a small college, and you need to develop a mobile app for a specific purpose. How do you go about it? This was the situation Tannis Morgan was in, when members of the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) approached her for an app for students who are emergency responders (firemen, paramedics and police) for a course on emergency response management.

Tannis in her post takes us through the process, which took in her case 21 months. From her post, the technology was the easy part. The hard part was going through institutional procedures and policies and getting through the Apple bureaucracy.

Anyone else want to share their experience?

Financial Times highlights online business degrees

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from Wikipedia, 2012

Financial Times (2012) Online Learning, March 12

This special edition of the UK-based Financial Times has about a dozen articles about online learning in business schools.

The articles cover a range of the more prestigious business schools now offering blended or fully online programs.

It should be noted that this is a market where cost is a major factor – one school charges $89,000 in tuition fees for its online MBA. However, some prestigious schools also offer online programs in the $25,000 range.

It is interesting to note that in the FT’s ranking of 48 business schools offering online programs, Athabasca University’s executive MBA is the only Canadian school listed. There is also an interview with an Athabasca University student taking their executive MBA

The FT also compares the rankings of online programs within their overall rankings of business schools:

Of the 48 schools featured in this year’s FT Online MBA Listing, 12 have full-time programmes ranked in the world’s top 100 in the FT Global MBA Ranking 2012.’

On the technology side, there is an article on the use of iPads in business education, and also an interesting article on the use of mobile learning in business programs by Carina Paine Schofield: Business schools need to think beyond convention

All in all, this is a useful guide to students thinking of doing an online business degree, since it really doesn’t matter where you live, so long as you meet the institution’s admission requirements. However, be aware that there are many other good schools not mentioned in this edition.

It is also a useful resource for those trying to move their business schools into the 21st century: many of the more prestigious schools are already there. Show it to your Dean!