One of the presentations today at ALT-C focused on an analysis of student use of mobile phones as part of their learning. The report highlighted that students spend large sums on their mobile phones (not surprising given that an earlier presentation noted that students saw owning a mobile as more important that owning a television) and as a consequence have significantly higher specification phones that their tutors. So are they looking to use these devices for teaching and if so, what are they using them for?
Firstly the scale of ownership of high end devices suggested that fewer students would be disadvantaged by not owning high feature devices. That said, there will always be some that don’t have such phones and they will need to be provided for appropriately. The study showed that the students were keen to have the ability to learn on the move – but there then appeared to be contradictory information. Only 25% were keen to have access to learning materials via their mobile. The discussion suggested (and I’d tend to agree) that this was because the available resources were not designed for mobile devices; the students preferred to use those resources on the platforms they were designed for. On the other hand, 29% said that they used their phones for learning. So what were they doing?
There were a wide variety of uses. The most common use was to conduct research and get information which suggests to me that students were using their phones to take advantage of dead time (such as when travelling) to work. The study showed an increase in the use of the phone to generate content which echoes the sophistication of the devices owned. A more surprising use was the phone as a storage device, used to transfer files from one platform to another. An earlier presentation opined that, because student ownership of laptops was increasing, the need for on site IT facilities was declining. This appears to suggest the opposite – that students aren’t carrying their laptops around with them but are keeping the files they are working on on their phones and transferring them back and forth. So perhaps the institutional IT rooms will be here for a while yet (or at least until the iPad and similar technology becomes standard as highly portable devices with long battery life).
Finally there was some debate on the sort of information that students want. The study intimated that students didn’t want announcements from central admin but were happy to receive hints and tips from their tutors. A couple of Tweets suggested the reverse which highlighted that students are different and will want (or not want) different things delivered to their mobile. This seems to place greater emphasis on the use of mobile apps where students can choose what information they look at and receive. So the mobile-institution (whether commercially provide or home grown) has a bright future.
PS The main presentation featured here was by Claire Bradley and Debbie Holley from London Metropolitan University and won an award at the Conference.