Mobile

Training Faculty for Mobile Learning

At the University of Central Florida, instructional designers offer faculty ongoing mobile technology training courses.

mobile learning

With all the emphasis on BYOD and student success with mobile devices, the faculty side of the picture is often downplayed, or not addressed at all. In order for mobile devices to work in the classroom, the person standing at the head of the class must be as up-to-date as the tech-savvy students facing him or her – and that usually involves some level of training.

"It's all about planning, and thinking creatively," said Luke Bennett, instructional designer at the University of Central Florida's Center for Distributed Learning. Bennett and his team support about 2,000 faculty members by conducting research and developing online and training courses. Their current training course is called "Mobile Essentials."

Mobile devices can expand learning beyond the classroom walls, Bennett explained. "This can happen both outside the classroom and in a traditional classroom space. The mobile device is the medium connecting the classroom experience to the real world of the student. The content learned in the classroom is connected to the outside world."

In a traditional classroom space, mobile learning may mean asking students to reach out to experts in the field through their device; to view content such as pictures, text and/or video; to connect with one another via communication apps; or to take opinions discussed in class and ask their social network for feedback. Outside of the traditional classroom space, the instructor might ask students to look for real-world examples of things discussed in class, to take photos or video, and to bring those examples back to the classroom.

"Either way, Bennett emphasized, "instructors can break down one of the four classroom walls and guide students in an effort to connect content to the world of the student."

Going Mobile in the Classroom

UCF's Mobile Essentials course helps provide faculty with a framework for integrating mobile into their courses. The first step: looking at course outcomes and then deciding if a mobile feature, function or app will support the students' path toward that outcome. For example, can mobile be used to acquire information, as a communication tool between groups, to record video on-the-fly, or as a way for the instructor to deliver content while students are out in the field? Can an app help synthesize information? Does the use of a mobile device allow the instructor and his/her students to do something more effectively, efficiently, or in a new way? 

"Integration happens when instructors absorb what a device can do and use that information to decide whether or not it supports students reaching the learning outcomes," said Bennett. "Each instructor has to go through this reflective process. Asking the right questions is a big part of reflecting about mobile integration. The result has less to do with a specific content area and more to do with the faculty member's ability to think beyond his or her current model and ask the right questions."

Barriers and Mistakes

In addition to training faculty on mobile integration in the classroom, the Mobile Essentials course also walks instructors through potential barriers and gives advice for overcoming them. The biggest barriers have to do with access to devices, Bennett said. Will students be expected to provide their own devices, or will the institution provide them? If the latter, is availability immediate, or will it take time for devices to be available to the class? Will the instructor have to purchase devices? If so, is funding available?

The UCF library has a program for checking out tablets if a student doesn't have a device, and there are places on campus where students can get devices at discount rates. In addition, the mobile learning experiences can be designed so that students who do have devices can be teamed up with those who don't.

Then there are the internal barriers, such as fear of integrating technology, fear that it will take too much time to learn the technology, fear that the technology will never work right, and so forth. The Mobile Essentials course advises apprehensive instructors to start small, to have specific goals for mobile experiences, to have a backup plan, to do a test run, and possibly to provide an experience that is low risk.

"Essentially," Bennett said, "we want instructors who are a bit fearful of mobile to take small, well-planned, well-practiced first steps. Steps that they feel are 'safe' to try." 

Bennett maintained that most of the mistakes faculty members experience involve lack of planning — as well as not knowing where to get support when things go wrong. If an app breaks down, for example, do instructors go directly to the app developers, or do they go to their department? If neither option is available, instructors may have to provide their own support.

A common mistake is the use of mobile for the sake of using mobile. Although mobile may be the right choice for a particular learning experience, the use of a mobile device for other learning experiences may, in fact, complicate the experience. If it is to be used successfully, mobile has to be the right choice to support student learning.

"In other words," said Bennett, "Don't use mobile just because it's cool."

Tracking Results

Results from the first phase of UCF's research into teaching mobile essentials to faculty showed that context, practicality and alignment were the key themes. "There were strong recommendations that instructors simply wanted more information about why mobile was important to their teaching practices," said Bennett. "Those who took the course felt that more practicality and accessibility were needed. They wanted to see what their colleagues who were doing it well were doing with mobile technology. They also wanted to know what considerations for creating mobile experiences were accessible to all of their students."

The Center for Distributed Learning maintains a blog that includes the team's mobile research and a variety of other items related to teaching and learning with mobile technology.

Recommendations

Here are Bennett's recommendations for colleges and universities considering a mobile technology training program for faculty:

  • Faculty have to feel safe about adding mobile learning experiences at their own pace.
  • Providing technical, design and pedagogical support is a good idea if mobile integration is expected.
  • According to UCF research on student mobile ownership and practices, the majority of students are carrying devices and accessing content via mobile. Therefore, it is something that institutions should at least be aware of — as mobile does not seem to be a technology that is going away any time soon.

Mobile Essentials for Faculty

For faculty who are teaching with mobile technology, Luke Bennett, instructional designer at the University of Central Florida's Center for Distributed Learning, sums up his suggestions as follows:

  • Know your students. This is key to integrating mobile and developing your courses.
  • Take a broad approach. Mobile is always changing, so be prepared to change with it. Find the main features and common denominators, and create activities by focusing on those features and capabilities.
  • A reflective process is necessary to facilitate the teaching of a course that includes good pedagogy as it relates to mobile technology.
  • Constantly reassess in order to make sure you are continuing to meet the needs of your students.
  • Design with mobile in mind, if you are delivering content that students may access on a mobile device. Know what that content is going to look like on a mobile device.
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