Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conclusions from the Mobile Learning Workshop

Here is basically an information dump of what I learned from the workshop "Bringing Mobile Learning to Your Institution."
  • Mobile devices are not replacements for computers. They just aren't. The goal is to enhance learning, not replace computers. 
  • No one is saying a data plan should be required, since it is a significant financial responsibility. At Abilene Christian University (ACU), the students had a choice of whether they wanted a phone and data plan or not; in the former case they would get an iPhone and in the latter, an iPod Touch.  The campus needs robust wireless if mobile is a priority. 
  • Doing school work on phones or iPod touches is not ideal due to size. They can be fine for absorbing small bits of information. Tablets are in their infancy. They will get better and prices will go down, probably before we even know it. I feel like we are so close to amazing things, but not quite there yet. 
  • A BYOD program with a robust loaner program (including class sets of various devices, reservable for various lengths of time based on need) could actually be more conducive to learning than a mandated device program because professors could have more options of devices to match to the functionality needed. 
    • For instance, a geography field trip might prefer iPod touches or phones of any type because they are smaller and more portable but still have cameras. Or, maybe they'd need a device with a data plan since there would be no wireless. 
    • An education class might need Apple devices because that is what the students have to learn for their future jobs as teachers. 
    • Having class sets of laptops or ultrabooks would reduce the use of class sets of tablets being used as replacement computer labs, when computer functionality is needed. 
    • For some tasks, such as taking photos or recording audio, it might not matter what device the students had. They could use a video camera, portable digital recorder, phone, tablet, laptop, etc. 
  • Speaking of laptops, they are sort of mobile. While our culture is transitioning to more true mobile devices and tablet use is growing, laptops may a great transitional devices to get the job done. For instance, a Twitter backchannel or Poll Everywhere could be done with smart phones, dumb phones, laptops, tablets - anything, as long as there is wireless or cell service. 
  • It might be better to avoid calling mobile learning "mobile learning." It's about enhancing learning and engagement with technology. Sometimes mobile devices can help you do that. The presenter from ACU said that when he offered workshops on "mobile learning," attendance was low, but when he called it "enhancing teaching with technology," attendance was high. We need to focus on learning. 
  • Now a "mobile friendly" campus is different, and that requires a multifaceted approach: building content for mobile, power outlets in classrooms, a culture of mobile acceptance and valued innovation, excellent wireless and cell service, e-books...

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

BYOD is the most notable concept I learned about at the "Bringing Mobile Learning to Your Institution" workshop this week. Basically, it means that rather than mandating a specific device and either providing it or requiring it to be purchased, the devices that individuals are already using are accepted regardless of size or operating system. Duke employs this and they have a loaner pool for students who need a device. The rental time period depends on the need. They also have a general rental pool for students to check out devices for a week just to try them out. BYOD is gaining momentum in the business world - searches for "BYOD" will primarily bring up corporate examples.

It was a timely concept for a few reasons. The definition of mobile learning is "any activity that allows individuals to be more productive when consuming, interacting with, or creating information, mediated through a compact digital portable device that the individual carries on an regular basis [emphasis added], has reliable connectivity, and fits in a pocket or purse" (Wexler et al., 2007 as cited in Quinn, 2012). If we are to achieve true mobile learning, we need to leverage the devices students are carrying on a regular basis.

This reminds me of the laptop initiative at UW-Stout. When I worked there I heard a lot of feedback that students did not appreciate it for two main reasons:
  1. They saw it as less expensive for them to buy their own laptop rather than pay the extra fees for the Stout issued laptop since they didn't get to keep the Stout laptop upon graduation. On the other side of the coin, they don't know how much time and money goes into deployment and support, and they did get a new one every two years. 
  2. Also, they didn't have a choice in what type of laptop they would get; they needed a specific reason to get a Mac like being an art major. 
The main presenter at the mobile learning workshop was from Abilene Christian University (ACU) which is well known for their iPhone/iPod Touch program that started back in 2008 - eons ago in the mobile world. He now works for Concordia University up in Canada, which is an expensive, private institute with about 2000 students. He said that their students have devices and BYOD is the only thing that makes sense. I think the demographics of his students are quite different from those at UWEC but it is likely we will get there, especially if high school students, or more likely, the parents of high school students, are informed that a mobile device such as a tablet is helpful in college - especially if (excuse me, WHEN) e-books become a feasible reality. Back in the day, the phrase was "one computer per child" and now it's changing to "one tablet per child." This is not an unreasonable expectation. 

I did ask questions about BYOD: 
  • Are the Apple and Android platforms similar enough that the same apps and functionality are available? The presenters said yes, because the solid apps are developed for both platforms. Other thoughts are appreciated. I feel I need to see this in practice more. 
  • Is it reasonable to expect students to purchase apps? Again, the consensus in the room was yes. Most apps are in the $1-5 range. 
  • How does support vary for BYOD vs a managed, mandated deployment? Another person at the workshop formerly worked for Abilene Christian University and she knew more about the details of managing the iPods/iPhones. Basically, she said it was a ton of work. I'd like to talk to her more though. My humble opinion is that if students are already using these devices for their lives in general, using them for school is less of a stretch than learning a new device. Although Apple products are quite user friendly, there are still some things to learn. Regardless of the model chosen, support would need to increase - the question is just in what area? BYOD support would primarily fall on the front end user support like the Help Desk and cross platform research would need to be done, whereas a managed device program would more support from the back end people and administrative staff to manage the process and purchasing. Which is more work? What other concerns exist? The BYOD articles about corporations might lend some insight. 
What other questions do you have? Another one I thought of since the conference is whether anything other than Apple and Android should be on the radar. Maybe BYOD has limits...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Increasing Your YouTube Time Limit

Did you know YouTube has a default 15-minute time limit? It's true. You can get around this by verifying your account, which basically means giving them your cell phone number so they can send you a verification code which you type into the computer, verifying you are a human, I guess!

Before I tell you how to do this, I just want to make sure you know that watching something online that is longer than 15 minutes can seem like an eternity to the viewer, especially since other distractions are very easily accessed on a computer. When I open up a video that is longer than 10 minutes, I really evaluate if I'm up for this type of commitment. If possible, chunk your content down to 5-10 minutes. That said, sometimes there is a reason to have a longer video.

To increase your time limit, go to the Upload page on YouTube (in the yellow box below).

Then click "increase your limit" toward the bottom of the screen. You will be asked for your number and sent a text with a verification code, which you will type in to the next screen.

Regardless of length, videos need to be 20 GB or less.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Interesting Ways to Use the "Approve Messages" Function in the D2L Discussion

In case you're not familiar, there is an option in D2L to require student discussion messages to be approved before being viewable by other students. That used to sound tedious and unnecessary to me because I assumed it was used by instructors who were overly concerned about students posting wrong or inappropriate information (which may be the intended use), but I learned about a few interesting ways to use it.

1. When you want to avoid students reading each others' messages and using others' work to write their message. Some students will bide their time, read the messages of the early posters, and use them to craft their response. As an experienced online learner, I admit to posting among the middle of the pack so I could read others' messages first and see if I was on track. It's not that I copied their information, but I often joined the discussion after checking the temperature, I guess you could say.

Now, good discussion questions shouldn't have a right or wrong answer and you can ask the students to incorporate information or examples from their lives to personalize the response. That said, the first students who post are probably the overachievers who do well in the class and will have good ideas that others might reiterate or reword to make it seem like their own.

Some instructors try to get around this by telling students they have to cite different information or take a different stance than the previous posters, but that doesn't always work for the question being asked and I don't know if it is an effective learning strategy.

So, a way to use technology to get around this is to set the messages to require approval, and then unapprove all of them at the same time and open it up for responses. I think this could actually improve engagement, because I'd be really interested if I saw someone else had unknowingly had the same ideas as me.

In lieu of the dropbox for URLs. To use the dropbox, a file needs to be uploaded. So if you want the students to submit URLs for a project they created, they'd have to paste the URL in a Word doc and then upload that to the dropbox. Word doesn't need to be involved in this process, unless you do want some sort of text analysis along with the URL. If you want the students to see each others' projects, you can use a regular discussion, which can be nice if you want them to comment on each others' work. If you don't want them to see each others', or you want them to see each others' after they all submitted so they aren't able to modify theirs based on others', a discussion board requiring approval could work well.

In lieu of the dropbox for questions with right/wrong answers, unit summaries, etc (occasions you don't really want the students to see each others' responses ever or until after they write their own or if you just want to share a few good ones). The dropbox is just kind of cumbersome, with the uploading and downloading of files, and then if you get a really good response you want to share with others, you need to then either copy/paste or reupload the content. If you used a discussion forum with approval required, you could have the students submit a response to a question that has a right or wrong answer (preferably requiring substantial text, because you could just use a quiz if it was a word or two), and then you can either keep them all hidden (unapproved) from the other students and grade them, or you can open up a few good examples for the group to read, which can both help them learn how to write well for next time and to improve their comprehension of the content. And who doesn't like a little recognition for work well done? It always made me smile when the instructor chose my work to share as a good example.

Here are some screenshots: 

NOTE: If you use the approve messages function, make sure to let the students know what is going on, because it can be disconcerting to be unable to review their message. Below is showing what the students see after they post their messages (Approving messages is the title of my topic). Even after posting, it will say "No messages to display."

The image below is showing the box that needs to be checked/unchecked to require approval.

Below is what it looks like when the instructor clicks on the topic to read the messages.

And here is what it looks like when the instructor clicks on an individual message, if the goal is to approve them individually.