Monday, August 15, 2011

Engaging Students Through Mobile Technology

Leveraging available technologies to make education more accessible and engaging is a hot topic among educators.

Rio Salado College eLearning design faculty chair Dr. Jennifer Freed, who spoke recently on integrating mobile devices into course content at the 2011 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Conference in Austin, Texas, has quite a few of her own ideas for how to effectively use technology in the classroom.

By taking the classroom into the real world, instructors can make mobile assignments relevant and useful.

"Use it to engage students. Make it more real and meaningful," Freed said. "Let’s not do it just for the sake of doing it."

According to Freed, when students can relate to the assignment and it makes sense, the experience is more genuine.

"As an example, if you’re teaching a sociology class and you’re looking for a concept in action in the real world, send the student to the mall with their mobile phone. If they see the concept in action, have them record it and make a podcast,” Freed said. “Have them explain what they see and what's going on and what the context is-- as it happens. Then they can upload the podcast and that's the assignment."

Freed also engages students by using an opt-in program called text Plus to provide students with updates and news information in real time. The program allows users to send text messages to multiple recipients without referencing a personal phone number.

"If you see something relevant on the news that you want to get out, you can send something like 'hey, check out 12 news right now!' or 'don’t forget your big assignment’s due on Wednesday.' Of course, you shouldn't overdo it. It's good for once in a while,” Freed said.

According to Freed, most students already have some form of a mobile device or smartphone and don't need to purchase extra equipment to complete mobile assignments. "Students today and the generation coming up grew up with this stuff. The devices are getting more powerful and less expensive. It’s a priority for students and for kids to get their cell phone, so most of them already have one."

Rio Salado eLearning design students who are interested in generating mobile content can take "Mobile Devices as Learning Tools (ELN116)" as an elective.

The course is completely devoted to mobile learning and by the end of the class, students will have written their own mobile application.

The course itself is mobile friendly and many students who elect to take ELN116 prefer to complete the coursework on a mobile device. Freed said, "Most of the students that have gone through it have done it on an iPad, Droid, or iPhone.”

Freed also said the college’s online learning platform, RioLearn renders well on a mobile browser and that she believes that the college is working toward a more mobile student experience.

"I'd love to see a proprietary mobile application like the one North Carolina State University is using," Freed said. "It would be great if we could do something like that and arrange it by program so that students could go in and see what the courses are for their program."

"Maybe include a checklist or news and events or a quick 'ask us' function that could send a text message to the department chair," Freed said. "That would be really cool."