Friday, 19 December 2008

Project Update - The Last Post For 2008!

Well today has been my last working day until Christmas…and I thought it’d be an ideal time to wish you all a Merry Christmas…and give you a final project update of 2008!!

The last 7 weeks have been somewhat eventful and very informative. Highlights have included my trip to the University of Bradford and the MmIT North West AGM, lowlights have been few and far between I’m glad to say but I’d probably have to admit the lack of awareness of m-learning from some of the students has been disheartening…it’s funny in a world where these so called ‘digital natives’ thrive in the use of new technologies, yet a seamless integration into teaching and learning is still a good few years off on both sides of the coin: students and academics.

Over the last two days I have been tackling the results from the student surveys in order to present them in a journal article that myself, Leo Appleton and Will Reid are pulling together by early January next year (next year - 2009!!!) It’s been a good exercise of enlightenment and a thought-provoking process actually looking at the results in detail, discovering how the students are currently using their devices in teaching and learning, the possibilities for future use and why the support of m-learning is a good step for the university to be taking.

The abstract for the M-Libraries Conference has also been submitted today so fingers crossed over Christmas that it gets accepted – I’ll let you know as soon as I know myself!!

So I’ll round it up there, have a lovely Christmas and I’ll see you all refreshed and ready to get stuck back into the research in the New Year!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

MmIT North West AGM: Mobile Learning in Libraries

Yesterday I attended and presented at the Multimedia, Information and Technology (MmIT) Group North West AGM. The theme for the seminar was ‘Mobile Learning in Libraries’ which obviously fits in nicely with the current research project I am conducting for LJMU.

The day kicked off with some rather strong coffees and mini mince pies, which were lovely!! After half an hour of networking with the other attendees, Leo Appleton (the chair for the day) summoned us to take our seats for the first presentation.

Unfortunately one of the speakers from the first slot was ill and could not attend so Leo jumped from host to presenter to help his former colleague Sean Herbert to present. ‘Using handheld gadgets in Further Education libraries’ was an informative case study that showed how the library service at West Cheshire College has evolved over the last few years, growing with the new ways in which the students wanted to learn and embracing the new era of mobile technologies in teaching and learning.

The library service at West Cheshire College is a library with a difference. Students are able to loan hardware devices (handheld video players, digital audio recorders and digital cameras etc.) as if they were books so they can be utilised for their study.
A YouTube site containing a whole host of videos from ‘How to tie and wear a neckerchief’ which has 2,673 views to ‘Preparing vegetable cuts’ is maintained by West Cheshire College enabling their students to download relevant and informative course related videos onto their handheld devices to help them in their study. The beauty being that on a handheld device, the students have access anytime, anywhere – the trainee chefs can use the videos in the kitchens, the bricklayers on site etc.

And also hardware casualties are extremely rare – one fatality in the last year!!

The second speaker was from Blackburn Public Libraries; Angela Robinson gave an enthusiastic presentation on ‘Using games consoles for reader development’ and even though this isn’t strictly ‘mobile’ it does open avenues for the future. The use of a Nintendo Wii to improve reader development exposes how technology appeals to children and young people, public libraries can exploit this to ensure that children and young people consistently return to their local libraries. ‘But they are not reading...’ some people might argue – not whilst they are playing on a games console I admit, but during the time when they are waiting their turn, nipping to the toilet or talking to friends, they are surrounded by books which is the first step to getting children and young people who would never dream of going to the library, never mind actually picking a book up to read it, to actually do so.

Angela also spoke of a new initiative that is currently underway at Blackburn Public Libraries whereby they have invested in 10 Nintendo DS gaming devices with 10 Brain Training packs to be offered to the over 50’s, loanable in the same way in which books are. A brilliant way to bridge the gap between the older generations and the younger generations in terms of technology but also, if this initiative is a success then surely there will be similar schemes for different age groups to follow...

There was a 30min refreshment break next which we were all extremely glad for – it was exceptionally cold in the lecture theatre so a nice cup of tea was just what the doctor ordered!!

Will Reid and myself finished the day off by reporting back to the group on the research undertaken so far here at LJMU for the mobile technologies project I am conducting.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Christmas Countdown

Well it’s the final working week before Christmas – time to wind down, tie up loose ends, and leave work with everything straight and ready for the New Year – YEAH RIGHT!! It may be the last working week before Christmas but it will hold no mercy...I've got a list as long as Santa's to complete before 5pm on Friday!

Over the last couple of days I have been busy analysing the results from the student surveys, writing an abstract for the M-Libraries conference and preparing for a presentation at the MmIT North West AGM tomorrow...and after tomorrow I will be submerging myself in the construction of a journal article for ALT-J. So any chance of an easy week was squashed many moons ago!

The first examination of the student survey results has produced some interesting findings, most prominently, of all the students surveyed, 75% were keen to see some form of mobile learning made available by the university. This is encouraging as it means that there is a want and need from the students and in fulfilling our role of providing resources and services that fulfil student requirements there is an obvious gap. It also provides encouragement for the planned student focus group as it gives us the chance to find out exactly what the students want and need to help them with their learning and study. Perhaps not surprisingly, 100% of students surveyed owned a mobile phone; however it is important to note that 10% of these students did not own internet enabled devices which raises future issues with inclusion – are these students going to be at a disadvantage by the introduction of an m-learning strategy? This again rolls over to other devices without a 100% positive response rate – 86% of students own a laptop, 77% own an audio listening device and 11% own handheld gaming devices. Quite excitingly (for me and him!) one student owned an iPhone, one student owned a netbook and one student owned a notebook – no one questioned owned a PDA, some not even knowing what a PDA was. This demonstrates the playing field in which we enter if we develop a strategy for m-learning over the coming years. More in-depth results will follow in the near future.

The abstract for the M-Libraries Conference 2009 in Vancouver is pretty much set for submission and preparation for the presentation is near complete – the ALT-J article – now where to begin...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

txt msg 2 spprt...(*translated as text message to support)

During the graveyard stint of student surveys (one of the quietest days so far at IM Marsh according to the staff!) I managed to gatecrash a short meeting about the possibility of using text message technology to support learners within the Sport Development team in the Faculty of Education, Community and Leisure.

In previous studies it has been proven that text messages illicit a better response rate compared to email from students as it is their natural channel of communication; this has also been proven during the student surveys I have performed as part of the mobile technologies project. I have found so far that every student owns a mobile phone, carrying it with them almost 100% of their day-to-day life and when asked almost 100% of students preferred to be contacted via text as it is ‘instant’ – with email the students feel that they have to make a conscious effort to log on and check their inbox – and then they are faced with numerous blanket emails that they feel are totally irrelevant, important emails get lost in the midst.

So on the face of things, text message technology seems like a good move – but what about the logistics???

Well the key points to consider are:

· Students change their mobile numbers on quite a frequent basis – how will this be managed?
· Will the system be 1 way (only the lecturers can contact the students) or 2 way (the students can also contact the lecturers)?
· Cost – 4p per text is seen as an acceptable rate.
· Data protection.
· Would a package with Blackboard integration but is slightly more expensive (such as EDUTXT) be better than one that does not but is slightly cheaper (such as Janet TXT)?

From talking to the students I think text message technology is the right way forward as long as it is managed correctly. There is no point bombarding the students with the same amount of ‘irrelevant’ texts as they get emails as they will soon get fed up with them all and just end up deleting them before they have read them. Text message technology is a great way of ‘instant’ communication with the students and if it is exploited in the right ways, could seriously help the students feel supported in their learning and study.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Back In The Thick of Things

Well after having two days off (and two brilliant concert nights - Coldplay and the Kings of Leon) it's straight back in the deep end with my 3rd round of student surveys. I'm at IM Marsh LRC today, hoping that I'll be able to get a decent handful of students to take a couple of minutes out of their exam preparation time to give me their views on mobile technologies and how they see it fitting into their learning...

...Fingers crossed...

Friday, 5 December 2008

iTunes U

After a bumpy start, (my PC deciding it wanted to enjoy a long weekend and giving up the goat) this morning turned out to be a rather informative and constructive one…

I attended a meeting fronted by Paul McFadden (head of sales for Apple iTunes in Europe) to discuss a new piece of technology called iTunes U. And what is iTunes U I hear you ask? Well, iTunes U is just like iTunes but for educational content – so lecturers within the university could create podcasts/videocasts relating to their courses and make them available in a LJMU branded iTunes store. Students can then subscribe to the content that is produced for their modules. Subscriptions to playlists can either be password protected (which is synced to the universities username and password facility) or public facing; the advantage of allowing external access (ie access from non-students) is that the profile of the university is raised each time an external person accesses or downloads content that is produced within the institution. A prime example of this being Joseph Stiglitz’s podcast about the credit crunch at The University of Oxford which now occupies the number one spot in the global iTunes U top download chart thanks to its popularity – now I know The University of Oxford does’t need their profile raising any further but the idea and indication of what a successful podcast could do for an institution is there all the same!!

All the content that is produced for the store is held on campus by the university (Apple do not have a hold on any content) and there isn’t a cost to the students for accessing the material. The costing to the university comes through staffing and the time spent to produce the content in the first place but apart from that it’s plain sailing.

A prime example of an iTunes U store that’s an extremely high standard is that of the OU –check it out – it is very slick!!

So what’s for the future here at LJMU? Well as of yet I’m not sure but hopefully iTunes U will be embraced by the university enabling us to provide podcasts/videocasts to students in an easy to use and scalable way.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Student Surveys - Part 1

So the student surveys are now underway…

On Tuesday 2nd December I spent the afternoon at Avril Robarts LRC and managed to get responses from 25 students. I was surprised at how hard-going the ‘clipboarding’ actually was and I hadn’t anticipated how long I’d be spending with each student on average. I did however manage to get a good range of students (although fresher’s were the most likely candidates to stop and chat…and with such enthusiasm…is it that we have officially seen the arrival of ‘Generation C’ students or is it just that the 1st year is the least stressful?!?)

Without looking at the results in too much detail as of yet – I’ve got two more ‘clipboarding’ sessions to carry out after all – I think it’s safe to say however that the overall consensus from the students was that they could not see a connection between their mobile devices and the ways in which these devices could enable them to ‘learn on the go.’ At first I was a bit disheartened by this level of opinion but having had time to reflect on it I have come to the conclusion that the reason this response was so is simply due to the fact that the students have never really been faced with this option and therefore have never really thought about it. I had many a blank face when I asked the students “in an ideal world, what could we (the university) provide for you (the student) in terms of content that could be used on your devices anytime, anywhere?” Almost every student needed to be prompted with ideas (for which I mainly used podcasts of lectures) and I’m glad to say that the majority of students would be keen to have access to such material. This is promising when considered in relation to the LJMU Podcasting Forum and the fact that the podcasting direction is one already been experimented with across several faculties within the university.

Out of the 25 students interviewed everyone owned a mobile phone and one even had an iPhone – yes I know I was pretty excited too – and this student was particularly keen to be able to access learning objects which he could use on his iPhone ‘on the go.’ I think the idea of m-learning is one that the students haven’t been fully faced with as of yet so a big part of this project needs to be about raising awareness and getting the students excited about ‘what could be.’

I won’t analyse my findings any further just yet, I’ve got a 3 hour stint this afternoon and a further session next week…I’ll update any further important outcomes of this afternoons session and provide more in-depth results next week after I’ve finished all the student surveys.