Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Smartphones + College = Smart Learning Innovations?

As online learning continues to resculpt the enrollment and learning landscape in higher education, trends are suggesting that more change is upon us.  Today, most online classes include learning activities that are designed to be accessed through a desktop computer.  And while many students already possess a smartphone, they're rarely used in college classes as learning tools.  Web-based assignments are typically woven into college learning as peripheral activities, completed outside of the classroom.  Today, there are certainly noteworthy exceptions, like the thought provoking study demonstrating a connection between student use of Twitter, overall engagement and higher grades.

Today I read an article noting a presentation by Mary Meeker that revealed within two years, smartphone shipments will exceed that of desktop and tablet PC sales combined.  First, this rate of saturation is fascinating to me.  But, second, increased student ownership of smartphones offers tremendous potential for increasing access to learning, increasing student-generated content (through free or low cost apps) and making learning more anchored in real life experiences or activities.  This is our time to plan and innovate -- right?

The questions I'm left with are -- how will this growth in smartphone sales (and the relative tanking of PC sales) alter pedagogy in and out of the physical college classroom?  In the classroom, will professors begin to view phones less as a distraction and more as a worthy tool for fostering information gathering and student engagement?  Or will resistance to this idea continue, resulting in an increased gap in the way our students are learning inside and outside of their formalized learning environments?  Will this gap result in more of a demand for online classes?

Second, how will this shift in internet access away from desktops toward mobile, anytime/anywhere access affect the learning activities in online classes?  Will mobility foster more global and/or contextual learning in higher ed and reduce the instructional reliance on "the text"?  What apps are most likely to be adapted by colleges and universities -- or are these yet to be developed?  Will the increase in smart phones sales impact the reliance on large-scale learning management systems across higher ed? 

What ideas do you have for using smartphones to promote student-centered learning in and out of the classroom? What are the biggest obstacles to mobile learning in higher ed? 


Bio-prof said...

From what I have seen there are many who use smartphones as clickers:
See a good article about clickers here: http://derekbruff.com/teachingwithcrs/?cat=25
I encourage my students in F2F classes to take pictures (with their phones) of lab experiments and dissections they do in class and include them in their lab reports (all digital). I feel good also about podcasts, as most students have either a smartphone or an iPod (and worse case scenario they can listen to them in their computers). I would not go further however until smartphones become as ubiquitous as computers/laptops/email. It is essentially unfair in my opinion to introduce learning based on an item which, although pretty widespread, is still pricey and demands a certain income to cover. Maybe colleges could offer, just like computer labs, some kind of discounted subscription?
That said, I have been reading a lot that in certain parts of the world, such as Africa, there are many more with cell phones than with internet, so there is an incentive for global education to incorporate more phone based applications...

Unknown said...

Hi Ana,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

I think, as we move forward, it will become more important (and hopefully natural) to offer options to our students in how they demonstrate mastery of the skills fostered in class. For example, record your observations with your smartphone in audio/mp3 format or write your reflections. Extending students options is good practice, in general, but also resolves some of the important access issues you've pointed out.

I love that you encourage students to take pictures of their lab experiments with their phones and imagine students who don't have phones could bring a digital camera. I remember when I started teaching online, I required students to take a photo of themselves while visiting an art museum or gallery (required for the class). I had peers voice concerns that "not everyone has a digital camera." I think we all agree that day has passed and, by the way, I never had a student who was unable to borrow one in those early days.

I also really like your thoughts about offering discounted subscriptions to students. Yes! Many colleges have laptop loaner programs that extend laptop access to less fortunate students. Your idea sounds great to me.

Thanks for your ideas -- please come back soon!