Teen on Smarphone

Smartphone Learning

For the past several years the Horizon Report has listed mobile learning, in one form or another, as an emerging educational technology (e.g. mobile computing, mobile apps, social media, BYOD, mobile learning). Mobile technologies have changed over the years: from the early PDAs, Blackberrys and feature phones with texting capability and cameras, to tablets and eReaders to the ubiquitous smartphones of today. According to the ECAR 2016 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 96% of undergraduate students now own a smartphone. Smartphones have clearly emerged as the mobile technology of choice, while the tablet, eReader and wearable technology ownership has dropped off.

Chart showing rate of undergraduate smartphone ownership
Undergraduate Smartphone Ownership

Despite near universal device ownership, students have yet to fully embrace the smartphone as a tool for learning. The ECAR study indicates that most students (appx 80%) do use their smartphones for one or more classes while only 46% consider them “essential for coursework” compared to their laptops at 93%. This is understandable considering the fact that many online courses tend to be reading and writing intensive. The size of the screen and necessity of “typing” with a virtual keyboard, can mean reading and writing with the smartphone a laborious task.

The top three ways listed by students for using academic technology include making it easier to access coursework (72%), increasing communication with other students (65%), as well as with their instructors (60%) – in other words, student-to-content, student-to-student, and student-to-instructor interactivity. Anderson’s Interaction Equivalency Theorem states that “deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one (or more) of the three forms of interaction is at a high level”.

What if we were to design the course with the smartphone learner in mind? Not necessarily that the course must be taken using a smartphone, but that the learner who uses a smartphone as their primary technology would not be disadvantaged. What would we then need to do differently?

Considering student-to-content interaction, rather than delivering content primarily in text, the use of video and/or audio formats might prove more mobile-friendly. Smartphones are great for watching short videos or listing to music. Video and audio files (podcasts) can can be easily created using various mobile apps or web-conferencing solutions (e.g. Voice Recorder, Zoom.us, Skype). By using Google Drive or Archive.org, media can be made available for students to download offline, when they may be without a WiFi connection.

The ability to take photos, record and share images, audio and video via the smartphone camera can be a powerful tool for both student-to-content and student-to-student interactivity. By sharing or attaching photos, screenshots, video or audio files, learners can create authentic artifacts. Such media can be submitted to an e-portfolio or blog (e.g. Tumblr) for peer review or assessment of learning.

Most social media technologies (SMT) are designed to work with the smartphone as well as with desktop browsers. By replacing LMS threaded discussion with SMT (e.g. GroupMe), messaging, engaging in group discussions, as well as sharing news, scholarly articles, video, etc. becomes a simple and familiar process.

Scheduling virtual office hours using Skype, Zoom, or Hangouts can increase student-to-instructor interactivity and improve student satisfaction. Skype also can be used for asynchronous video and audio communication, supporting teaching presence and instructor immediacy.

Despite the pervasiveness of smartphone ownership by today’s undergraduate students, their use of the technology for academic purposes has not kept up with the rate of adoption. One reason students may not leverage their mobile devices for formal learning is educators have yet to fully “harness” the affordances of the technology for teaching and learning.

References:

Brooks, D.C. (2016). ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology 2016. EDUCAUSE.

ANDERSON, T (2003). Getting the Mix Right Again: An Updated and Theoretical Rationale for Interaction. IRRODL

Cochrane, T., Bateman, R. (2010). Smartphones give you wings: Pedagogical
affordances of mobile Web 2.0. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.

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Antique Video Camera

Students ask for more video with their learning

A few years back we invested in the streaming video service – Films on Demand. The service integrates with our campus portal and the Lakeland Library to permit faculty the means of integrating educational video into their course materials. Compared with the former system of ordering individual media (VHS, DVD), this has proved to be a very good investment. Nevertheless, the level of adoption has been less than expected.

Fims on Demand - Collections
Films on Demand – Collections

In our recent survey of online learners, students reported that they would like to have more video content in their online courses. Streaming video is becoming an extremely popular way for students to view content as is evidenced by the rate of adoption of such services as iTunes U and Khan Academy.

According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed reporting on thePearson Higher Ed Survey on Student Mobile usage

“Eight in ten (83%) college students regularly use a smartphone, up significantly from 72% in 2013.  Smartphones are now close to laptops (89%) as the mobile device students are most likely to use on a regular basis.”

Perhaps the increased use of smartphones by students helps to explain the demand for more video content. Although I enjoy reading journal articles and other text-based material on my iPad because of the size and orientation, I am not a big fan of reading text on my iPhone. That being said, the iPhone works great with streaming video – especially with WiFi available both at work and home.

iPhone CC-BY-NC-SA by Alex Bartok on Flickr
CC-BY-NC-SA by Alex Bartok on Flickr

Films on Demand is available to both faculty and students and although we have promoted its use primarily with the faculty – demonstrating how to search for relevant content from among the more than 15,000 titles and 200,000 plus segments – students also may access these materials and find value in searching through the collections themselves.

Does social media belong in the classroom?

Social media, when used for teaching and learning encourage student-to-faculty, student-to-student, and student-to-content interaction and thereby have the potential to increase learner engagement.

CC-BY-NC-SA by Espacio Camon on Flickr
CC-BY-NC-SA by Espacio Camon on Flickr

A few years ago, Rey Junco researched the effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades and found that “Twitter can be used as an educational tool to help engage students and to mobilize faculty into a more active and participatory role.”

Although use of social media has increased for both students and teachers their preference is for personal rather than for educational purposes.

The Social Media for Teaching and Learning report by Pearson & Babson finds faculty use of social media has increased in all areas: personal, professional, and educational. However, most faculty still have some strong reservations when it comes to use in the classroom. Although it appears that both faculty and students see the value of integrating mobile technologies into teaching and learning, both groups are concerned with privacy and prefer to keep their personal separate from their academic lives.

“Concerns about privacy, both for themselves and for their students, and about maintaining the class as a private space for free and open discussion, have been at the top of the list of concerns in all of the reports. Until faculty feel that this issue has been addressed, the wide-scale adoption of commercial social media tools in the classroom will remain limited.”

– Pearson: Social Media for Teaching & Learning

The very nature of Social media is highly interactive and therefore engaging – permitting us to share our stuff – news articles, blogs, videos, photos, etc. – with our connections in practically real-time.

shareThe advantage of social media over LMS tools like the discussion forum is the convenience of sharing directly from the media to our connections – like the difference between email and texting.

“This is cool! I’ll share it. There – I shared it!” …five people liking it and three comments later and we’re engaged in a conversation.

So how do we get around this privacy thing?

The critical thing about social media when it comes to privacy is the social network. Some social networks can be made either open or closed, public or private. For example some Google Plus Communities are made available for anyone to join while others are by permission only.

Our campus uses Gmail for student email, so virtually every student has a Google Plus account whether they know it or not. They just need activate it. As an instructor I can create a private community in Google Plus for my course, email the students in my class and invite them to join. Content shared within a private Google Plus community is visible only to those who are members of the community.

There – we have a private social network. Now what?

The latest ECAR study on undergraduate students and information technology shows that students are willing to use their mobile technologies for educational purposes, they just need some instruction on how to do so.

With a little orientation students can quickly get up to speed.

Students need to know how to manage their networks or “circles” in Google Plus and then how to like (+1)  and to share media when they find it. As the community owners, we need to set some guidelines for our community so students know what is appropriate to share and how to engage in the conversation. We also need to show them the mechanics of the tools.

Categories can be created within the community. By using hashtags (e.g. #edtech) when sharing or posting media, the content and discussions can be organized into various topics and forums. This works great for managing small group discussion and assignments or for topically organizing the media and other content.

Students can share various media (location, photos, video) directly from their phones, tablets, or computers. Hangouts (live chat and video) permit up to ten students to interact remotely in real-time with desktop sharing, audio and video. This is especially helpful with collaboration in small study groups.

The Hangouts on Air feature permits the instructor or guest speakers to join the class from a distance and to stream, as well as record lectures, which are then automatically posted to the community timeline.

The private community is not limited to the classroom but permits the instructor to decide who can join the community. By expanding the network students from multiple sections, upper-classmates, alumni, and experts in the field can engage in classroom discussions.

Google Plus communities permit the faculty and students to share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. anything stored in Google Drive – permitting students to collaborate in the development of class projects or share their portfolios.

Does social media belong in the classroom? I would say yes, depending on what you hope to achieve. There are many ways of engaging students by extending the classroom using social media if you are willing to invest a little time and effort to set up a private network.

Helping Distance Students Get Onboard

 Some rights reserved by John Biehler
CC-BY-NC-SA by John Biehler on Flickr

Onboarding is a term used for getting new employees acclimated to their new workplace. Also known as “organizational socialization” the process includes introducing new team members to the organization’s values, norms, expectations, policies, etc. It seems to me the business onboarding approach can also serve as a framework for helping distance students get onboard with online learning .

These aren’t necessarily new ideas – just another perspective on the online learning experience, student engagement and retention.  For your consideration, how might “onboarding” provide opportunities for enhancing the online student experience?

1) Transparency: be clear from the beginning about program offerings, what percentage of the degree is offered online, are there any synchronous requirements (e.g. face-to-face orientations, proctored exams, web-conferencing, internships, etc.). Students working long hours or multiple jobs, overseas, etc. may find it difficult or impossible to arrange their schedules to meet such requirements. Designing online programs or courses for maximum flexibility will mean more students can engage at their convenience and ultimately succeed in their academic goals.

2) Personalize: offer opportunities for new students to connect with the college community and to get to know classmates and the instructors personally. Such opportunities can easily be lost with distance education unless we make the effort to reach out and welcome new students. Online orientation should provide the same experience on-campus students receive. Schedule live webinars with icebreakers, polls, short introductions with several campus speakers. Record the sessions for those students unable to connect at the scheduled times.

3) Orientation: new students to your online programs need to learn to navigate the system the same as your on-campus students. One way to accomplish this is for each new student to have an assigned guide to show them where to find support services: enrollment, financial aid, advising, tutoring, library services. Create short (2 minutes-ish) video intros to services. Online orientation and campus tour.

4) Technology: develop student-oriented tutorials for your learning management system (e.g. Blackboard, publisher websites, etc), campus portal, email systems, help desk services, online tutoring – any other online services, as well as any maintenance schedules that can impact availability of services, planned outages, etc. Again, best to have this a personalized experience; a live web-conference session allows for guiding the student through the process.

5) Socialization:  students need to meet other students enrolled in their program and courses.  Social networks (LinkedIn Groups, Program Facebook Pages, Google Communities, etc.) enable students to connect with the campus community and to create program cohorts. Because our student email system is G-mail, every student has access to the campus network and the ability to connect with others using Google Plus.

Campus Connections: stream student activities and campus events: graduation ceremony, career services, visiting campus speakers, hyflex workshops. Permit students to connect to student course and capstone presentations, portfolios, final projects, course and program guest speakers via web-conferencing solutions.

Pay it forward:  As students find their place in the campus community and program they may in-turn, serve as mentors for new students – yet another way for students to engage and invest in their chosen program. As student graduate, alumni may also participate by becoming guest speakers via webinars, helping students and program faculty to better understand the evolving job market and allowing alumni to contribute ongoing to the program and college.

For an in-depth look at online learner engagement – Kristen BettsOnline Human Touch (OHT) Instruction and Programming: A Conceptual Framework to Increase Student Engagement and Retention in Online Education. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Vol 4 No 3, 2008

Should you be “texting” your students?

Texting
CC-BY-SA By Gelatobaby on Flickr

Your students text – and they prefer it as means of communicating over voice calls and email. There are advantages to texting over email and voice calls:  you don’t need a smartphone, it’s always on, and you can send and respond to text messages at your convenience, texting is just-in-time.

Texting lets teens chat casually and quickly, unlike a voice call, which most teens see as an interruption. According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, 63% of teenagers exchange text messages every day with people in their lives. Compare that with the 39% of teens who make voice calls, or the 35% who engage face-to-face outside of school. – The Daily Beast

On our campus students are no different. According to our own 2012 Students and Technology survey, approximately 95% of our students use their cell phones for texting. As educators should we consider accommodating their preferred method of communication in our students-to-instructor communications.

Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education: “encourages contact between students and faculty” along with… “gives prompt feedback”. We know that by providing prompt feedback we can increase the level of learner engagement and that learner engagement is linked to greater student success.

I’m not trying to make the case that texting your students means they will all get A’s, but how we communicate can potentially increase interactivity between students and their instructor. Also, if you yourself are already texting, it should be relatively painless. On the other hand, if you are not a texter – this might not work for you.

As with other class interactions, students need to know what to expect.  I’m not suggesting you be available via text 24-7. However, if you’re going to offer texting as a communication option, be sure to let them know when you will be available and approximately how long they can expect to wait for a response. If you can’t be reached on certain days or after certain hours, let them know what to expect.

One concern faculty have concerns privacy – many people just aren’t comfortable giving out their cell phone number…

Enter Google voice – a phone number that offers texting capability. Google Voice can be used online or can be forwarded to your own phone. It is a free service and the number can be posted right in your Blackboard course or email signature.

My account Google Voice is set up so that voice calls go directly to voicemail, they are then converted to text (albeit not understandable – they still have some bugs to work out with this feature) and then sent to me as a text message or via email. I can elect to answer my texts on the computer or forward to my email or cell phone. I decide when and if I reply. I also have the option of having my calls go to Google chat and connect with me if I am available online – this works well for virtual office hours.

Google Voice Settings for Text and Voice call

If you really want to get fancy, you can create groups (for your courses) and use “custom greetings” – “This is professor Peabody, I am not available at this time. Please leave a message and I will get back to you within the next 24 hours.” Other Google Voice options include  “do not disturb” or having text messages go forwarded to an email account where you may respond via your smartphone or tablet.

If you decide to try texting with your students them to identify themselves in their first message so you may add their number to your contacts list. You might also remind them not to text and drive  (consider including this in your syllabus) – not only is it extremely dangerous, it’s against the law.

eLearning and the Smartphone

Social Mediators by johnwilliamsphd
Social Mediators, a photo by johnwilliamsphd on Flickr.

We recently conducted a survey of our student body to learn what kinds of technology they have access to and use for their studies. We are interested in seeing how our students compare to the research on college students and technology.

For me, one of the more interesting finds was 65% of our students surveyed report they have a smartphone. This is precisely the same percentage as reported by Pew Internet’s recent survey of college students and technology for community college students – which by the way, is the demographic showing the highest percentage of smartphone ownership.

“College students are much more likely than the overall cell owner population to use the internet on their mobile phones, although all young adults do this at a relatively high rate regardless of student status.” – Pew Research Center

Considering that community college students oftentimes have access to fewer resources, it seems at first that this would be counter-intuitive. However, when you consider that the smartphone may be the main source of Internet access, it begins to make more sense. The cost of the smartphone is usually spread out over monthly payments within a contract. This means lower costs up-front and lower costs overall when compared to the combined costs of a cell phone and monthly Internet service to the home.

It raises an important question. Can the student who relies primarily on a smartphone for Internet access get the same experience as the student who uses a computer with broadband connection at home? Probably not.

If, in fact a large percentage of our students rely on their smartphones to access their education, we need to seriously consider how we can best accommodate these students toward the goal of providing the most successful experience.

Things to consider: Access to grades, ability to participate in online discussions, library services, student services, help desk services…