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.

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