Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Case Study 1 – West Cheshire College (WCC)

Yesterday I visited WCC to see their current exploitations of mobile learning. WCC is a Further Education College that caters for the ‘academic and vocational needs’ of students and the wider community in Chester and Ellesmere Port. They provide courses in (amongst others) Professional Cookery, Hairdressing and Beauty, Plumbing, Art and Design, Sport and Performing Arts.

From the outset you might be thinking ‘but how can mobile learning ‘fit’ into these vocational type courses’ and in reality the answer is very well indeed if done so in a relevant, planned, managed, contextual and enthusiastic way. The cookery students are lucky enough to have a passionate and animated (in the field of both cookery and technology) tutor who through a blended approach to learning has adopted new teaching and learning methods in order that his students receive the best teaching and learning experience possible. The mobile learning effort in this department takes the shape of specially constructed in-house videos that demonstrate to the cookery student’s vital skills in their chosen profession, such as ‘how to tie and wear a neckerchief’ and ‘square paysanne vegetable cuts’ . The students are able to loan Nintendo DS handheld gaming devices from the LRC onto which the relevant videos can be downloaded as necessary, The students can then take their mobile devices, loaded with the relevant video into the kitchen enabling them to exploit the mobile device in a flexible and contextual way to help them to learn. Although no official student feedback has been sought, one look at the comments left on the WCC Youtube site conveys how important these videos are to the students:

“Awesome videos! Subscribed!”
“This was a lifesaver!!!!.”
“Very nice :3 easy... exelent help for beginners”

Having spoken with ‘Chef’ himself, I was inspired by his ‘visions’ as to the ways in which new learning and teaching methods can be adopted for the benefits of the students. He didn’t try and preach about technology and how it can save lives (as some advocates can seem to do!) but expressed his honest opinions of the values of new and mobile technologies. He articulated the pro’s and the con’s and stressed the importance of keeping a ‘leash’ on the information that is being put out there for the students included content, quality and control. I found it amazing that other departments within WCC had not been inspired enough by ‘Chef’ and his team to experiment with similar sorts of ideas in their own subject areas. Yet unfortunately this does seem to fit in line with the apparent lack of communication and collaboration within both FE and HE Institutions as expressed by the research literature in this research forum.

But back to mobile learning. It needs to be mentioned that the LRC and the Digital Media team at WCC play a pivotal role in the mobile learning advancements at WCC. The Digital Media team do all the filming and editing within the college and the LRC team as a whole controls the loaning of laptops, digital cameras, handheld gaming devices and other mobile hardware. Without this support network a mobile learning culture would be difficult to maintain. This addresses how vital cross-departmental collaboration and communication is in manifesting a successful mobile learning ethos and directly sheds light upon what the project report will recommend with regards to mobile learning at LJMU.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

BOS's, Focus Groups and Other Things...

Over the last week I have constructed 2 Bristol online Surveys (BOS), begun to organise 4 focus groups and attempted to arrange visits to other institutions to see mobile learning in action.

The BOS’s have come along nicely. The first one has already been launched and is aimed at our Distance Learners; it is important to ensure that we survey a good sample of our students. When I carried out the face-to-face student surveys I was based at one of the three LRC sites, on-campus, hence the respondents (generally) fell under the traditional undergraduate category. The aim of the first BOS is to get a balanced view across all our student groups. Considering students who study at a distance tend to be more assured with technology as they study electronically, and therefore may find mobile learning more beneficial than most.

The second BOS will be linked to via the LIS webpages and will be open to all our student groups. It is currently under review but I hope to have it launched next week (fingers crossed)!!

The focus groups are slowly but surely coming together. I have contacted some of the students that showed an interest at the face-to-face interview stage of the project with a view to holding four focus groups: 1 at each LRC site and 1 for the trainee Information and Library Management students. It will be interesting to hear the views of the professionals of the future with regards to the changes and advancements in the field.

I will be going to visit West Cheshire College next week to see the logistical side of mobile learning – the loaning of hardware etc. – the support needed for students in a mobile learning culture, and the production of mobile content. In March I will also be travelling down to London to go to London School of Economics and Political Science to have a chat with the Learning Technology Librarian there about mobile learning.

Unfortunately I have not come across many other institutions that support mobile learning. I am awaiting contact from a couple of other people but I must admit the outlook is pretty bleak. It seems that we are all talking about it but there isn’t much ‘doing’ taking place which is a real shame!

On a more positive note, it looks like there is a possibility of us obtaining some mobile devices to trial in a learning and teaching context…so watch this space!!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Twitter Revisited

I have decided to follow up my short blog entry about Twitter from a couple of weeks ago with some insights into the ways in which I have used it as there has been an ever-growing interest in Twitter over the last 2 weeks, with many friends and colleagues flummoxed by it!

Firstly I would advise not to make judgements before you have fully immersed yourself in the world of Twitter, you won’t see the benefits unless you (a) are following enough interesting people and (b) taking note of ‘interesting’ being the operative word in point a.! In English – no one wants to follow people who only Tweet about what they are having for lunch or what they are watching on TV – the most useful people to follow (in my opinion!) are the ones that provide lots of links and insights into happenings in their given subject area. Over the last two weeks I have really started to see the benefits of using Twitter in a work-related context. The ability to ‘follow’ librarians from all over the globe, picking up snippets from different schemes, initiatives and projects and links to blogs, articles, videos and sites that you wouldn’t necessary be subjected to in your normal day-to-day working environment is a brilliant way to gather information. It allows you to quickly scan, assimilate and either save or forget, utilising Delicious or Bloglines to manage the useful information with minimal effort.

Another useful tool that I have recently been made aware of thanks to Joeyanne Libraryanne is ‘Just Tweet It,’ a directory of Twitterers, organised alphabetically in order of designation (e.g. Architecture, Education, Librarians) enabling you to quickly find people to follow who are interested in the same subject area as yourself. It takes a couple of minutes to register yourself into the correct category and brilliant if you want to share your Tweets and knowledge with other people in the same role as yourself.

Twitter is a brilliant example of communication and collaboration, and provokes interesting discussions about how it can be used in education. I recently had a meeting with the Digital Media Co-ordinator from West Cheshire College, Sean Herbert who told me a brilliant story about a guy named Mike Wesch, a Professor of cultural anthropology from Kansas State University who is studying the impacts of new media. He utilized Twitter in his teaching and learning by asking his students to produce a timeline of the history of the world which was compressed into a five minute video then synchronized with the Twitter stream.

Monday, 9 February 2009

The Homeward Bound

Last week the project steering group met to discuss the best way to use the remaining three months of the project. As I have previously blogged, I have already consumed a large amount of literature focussing on mobile learning. I have performed primary research that has concluded the types of mobile devices our students are using and the ways in which they are using them. I have spoken to technology enthusiasts within LJMU who already utilise technology in their teaching and learning and I have been in contact with other institutions to gauge their uptake of mobile learning. It was therefore decided that the remaining research time and effort should be channelled in a slightly different way.

I will now be approaching the research from a different tact looking at the strategic ways in which we can encourage our academics to embrace a mobile learning culture within the university and to exploit the possibilities this would involve in their teaching and learning. I hope to liaise with both the LDU and the academics in order to glean the information I will need in order to make informed recommendations at the end of the project.

I will also look to conduct focus groups with our students to ascertain the ways in which they feel they study and learn best, how they currently make use of technology in their academic study and how they hope this use will develop in the future.

I then anticipate targeting students that are typically ‘distance’ students, coming ‘on campus’ perhaps only once a week or less via online questionnaires. From this I hope to gauge opinion about learning and technology from our students who would perhaps benefit from a mobile learning culture more than most.

I am also in the process of trying to organise visits to approximately 5 other institutions (ideally 2 HE, 2 FE and 1 school) in order to compare and contrast the ways in which mobile learning has been adopted, again informing the recommendations made in the final project report.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Half Way There

Well the project is officially half way to completion, with 3 months hard research under my belt I am surrounded and educated by a plethora of information on mobile learning, from journal articles to blogs, reports to newspaper special supplements.

I am now frantically searching for other institutions that support their students in a mobile learning context in order to make informed recommendations towards the steps LJMU should take in order to foster an effective and successful mobile learning culture amongst our staff and students. I've posted to LIS-LINK which unfortunately did not return many leads and I have been in contact with a number of librarians, both here in England and in America, in order to gain insights into how their library service supports mobile learning. In an ideal world I would have more leads to follow up however as is the case with mobile learning a lot of people preach but (apart from small scale departmental pilots) there isn't much practising taking place!!

I have booked my place for LILAC this year which has a key theme of 'emerging technologies' so hopefully I might be able to network and find some HEIs that are already pushing out information and learning materials to their students in a more mobile format than is done traditionally. If not I still think that I will be able to gather some very useful opinions and ideas from other librarians and I know that there is a parallel session about using mobile phones for information skills sessions so I will definitely be able to get some good information that I can feed into the report.

We (the project team) submitted out journal article to ALT-J in the nick of time and it is now under peer-review so fingers crossed that we get some good feedback on that. It worked out quite well really as it also served as a bit of an interim report for the project and made me realise where the focus of my remaining research needs to be.

The M-Libraries conference has also accepted our paper so Will Reid will be going over to Canada to officially present the project findings in a public forum in June. We'll also have to provide a written summary which will contribute to the M-Libraries Conference book.

In the short-term I have a meeting with a Digital Media Co-ordinator from a FEI tomorrow and me and Will will be doing a CPD session for the students of the postgraduate Information and Library Management students here at LJMU on Thursday.