Friday, March 30, 2012

Mobile Learning by Default

Motorola MILESTONE smartphone displaying Wikip...Motorola MILESTONE smartphone displaying Wikipedia home page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)When I first started reading about mobile learning platforms, there was a lot of talk about special content management systems or learning management systems that would enable mobile learning (or "mlearning"). A few years ago, there were a lot of mobile learning platform start-ups, but it looks like that is not really where mlearning is going to go. Many applications support mlearning right out of the box. For instance, my wife, Jacqui, teaches reading and she uses Softchalk to create her course "textbook." She then uploads it to Sakai (the college's learning management system). Students will often read in the classroom on the computers. One day she came in when the students were supposed to be reading and a few of them had their phones out. She asked them to put them away. They quickly turned the phones around to face her and she was really surprised at what she saw: they were reading her textbook on their phones. Not only could they read it, but all of the images, roll-over definitions, embedded videos and annotations worked perfectly. She didn't have to do a thing. And it really tells us how students engage with content and the digital world. The students who need or prefer the mobile content just naturally navigated to the content with their phones.

Style sheets can detect when a web page is being accessed by a mobile phone and then redirect the user to the mobile version of that page - Facebook does that and so does this blog. Blogger.com uses a mobile style sheet and I didn't have to do a thing. In fact, some visitors of this blog have told me that they prefer the mobile version to the pretty web version because it loads faster and they can access the information they are looking for quickly.

One of the things that impressed me about the Angel learning management system before they were subsumed by Balkbored was that every part of the LMS was accessible by phone even before the wide-spread use of smart phones.

What is my standard for mobile sites? One of my favorite mobile sites (I used to teach English in a happier time long, long ago...) is the mobile ESL site at Athabasca University put together by Rory McGreal et alia.  This is a very useful site that is openly licensed. We are working on a version of this for College of the Redwoods so stay tuned. This is the model of how mobile sites should work: simple, self-contained, easy-to-read, and it includes self-assessment! This is the how and why of mobile learning. This is what the students will be using on the long bus ride to school. This is genius. If all of that wasn't enough, you can download the files and adapt them to your particular circumstances and upload them to your own server because it is openly licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.

Students have reported that they are able to access Sakai (the learning management system used at College of the Redwoods where I work) on their mobile phones without too much trouble. Here is a screen shot of the mobile interface from Ithaca College in NY:


It is important for us to understand as educators that students often will be catching what they can of their learning experience when they can catch it. It behooves us to use tools that by default makes the learning materials as accessible to as many as possible.
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