Monday, 29 June 2009

M-Libraries 2009 - The Concurrent Sessions (Day 2)

Day 2 was a day of interesting facts – good for those who enjoy a bit of trivia or like to partake in the odd pub quiz…

Parveen Babbar and Seema Chandlock from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), India
On the second day I attended a very interesting session delivered by Parveen Babbar and Seema Chandlock from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), India. Firstly think about this for an amazing statistic – IGNOU are the largest University in the world with 1.85 million students. Phew!

India is the 2nd largest mobile market in the world with approximately 10 million new subscribers per month. The mobile market benefits from information access, wherever, whenever and this limitless access provides unique opportunities for the education sector. Furthermore, the interactive capabilities of such devices offers up an interesting dynamic also.

Research at IGNOU indicates that their users want to be able to access a whole host of things via their mobile phone. They want to know (amongst others) their enrolment status (82%), exam times (82%), previous year question papers (90%), library OPAC (60%). They want to access services such as library databases, reference/enquiry help, mobile library circulation, moblogging and video conferencing. As you can see the scope for more mobile mediums is huge at IGNOU. This is even more advanced that the types of m-learning content/activities students at LJMU are asking for.

With all this in mind, IGNOU recognises that the small screen of a mobile phone can cause issues, therefore when adopting more mobile mediums institutions must be careful about visibility and presentation of content. A good example of this is the IGNOU mobile web site through which the following key points are accounted for:

*keep it simple
*test on various platforms
*keep customization on the desktop
*incorporate search
*remember usability
*clean up images
*create more mobile suitable content

The provision of mobile access at IGNOU strengthens the learning in distance education and improves the overall student experience. IGNOU have been successful in making steps to more mobile futures for their distance learners, similarly to the Open University in the UK and Athabasca University in Canada. Traditional universities have a lot to learn from their distance education counterparts.

Elizabeth C. Reade Fong from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji
The other session I was particularly excited about was that given by Elizabeth C. Reade Fong from the University of the South Pacific, Fiji. Now I must admit that my initial reasoning behind attending this session was as a result of sitting with Elizabeth during one of the pre-conference sessions, she was such an interesting and lovely lady I just had to go and support her work by attending her session. I was also intrigued to find out about the culture differences between the UK and that of Fiji with regards to mobile technologies in teaching and learning.

But next, the second interesting fact: the University of the South Pacific covers 33M sq km in 5 time zones (and 2 days)! Now THAT's distance learning if ever I saw it!!!

The University of the South Pacific are made up of a 44% distance and flexible learner mode, they have learning content delivered in a variety of formats such as video conferencing and audio lectures. A number of students were surveyed to ascertain opinion of a possible m-learning future, of those surveyed 94% owned some sort of mobile device with Nokia being the most common brand, there was a minimal 3% ownership of iPhone/PDAs. These finding parallel those here at LJMU as a result of the student surveys I performed earlier this year. Fijian students expressed a preference for 2 way communication (63%) also yet they do not want to pay for mobile learning, this is a major problem as connectivity in Fiji is very expensive. Major financial and management decisions would need to be made at the University of the South Pacific before any m-learning venture could be explored. Consideration would need to be made of a LMS upgrade or even a new LMS altogether to deal with the shift in service delivery and an overhaul of the technical infrastructure would need to be rolled-out also, furthermore there would need to be a revision of library policies. To be fair, up to this point there is not really any culture difference to note between Fiji and the UK with regards to a possible m-learning future, the next point that Elizabeth made however exposes the underlying cultural differences in that the Fijian students feel extremely strongly about the library being a quiet study space, enforcing such rules in due course (unlike many academic libraries in the UK in which you say students flouting the rules of quiet study areas). Fijian students can not get access to a quiet study space at home so it is imperative for them that they get this space whilst at the library.

So what next for the University of the South Pacific? Well ‘mobile learning’ is already in the library strategic plan, the next step is to get it into the university strategic plan in order that a more top-down, rather than bottom-up approach is maintained. The library service at the University of the South Pacific is definitely looking to go ahead with an m-learning environment – students are keen to explore this venture as are the library staff, echoing the findings here at LJMU also.

The second day of the conference made me realise that there are not as many cultural m-learning differences as I had initially thought; universities across the world are faced with similar challenges no matter of time and place. The issues of centring the learner at the forefront of developments, ensuring usability of content and services, and providing parity of access are all key issues for everyone striving to move into the m-learning domain. The sharing of experience at conferences such as m-Libraries is a key player in ensuring that we can draw on others experiences, preventing us from time and time again 'reinventing the wheel' and helping the transition to more mobile mediums be as smooth as possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment