What are important characteristics of a good education app? Okay, free is good. I will give you that one. What else? For me, I love ubiquitous apps, or in other words, programs that work on all my devices, including my phone, my iPad, and my computer. I also prefer apps that allow me to access my data almost anywhere I go. For the purposes of this article, the data needs to have a meaningful educational purpose. Students should see their smart phones as more than just media consumption devices. The apps need to be easy to use and reliable on a variety of platforms. Three apps immediately come to mind that fit this description: Evernote, Dropbox, and Readability. Let’s look at descriptions, suggested uses, possible issues, and alternatives for each of these apps.
My first recommendation is Evernote, which is a cloud-based note taking tool that enables your notes to be synchronized between devices and shared with other users. In addition to conventional note taking, Evernote can import pictures of notes from a whiteboard using a phone or laptop camera. Evernote uses OCR technology to import images, making any text on the images searchable and easy to find at a later date. Notebooks (groups of notes) can be shared with students or colleagues by sending them the notebook’s URL. The address for a notebook could be posted once in Blackboard at the beginning of a class and students could see new notes as they are added throughout the term. One possible issue is formatting problems that occur when copying and pasting text from another source, such as a Word document. This can be avoided by converting the document to plain text before copying. A possible alternative to Evernote is Microsoft’s OneNote. Currently OneNote is a better program if you only plan to take notes on a PC. However, Evernote provides a consistent experience across PCs, Macs, and mobile devices which makes it more useful for those of us who want to be productive note takers regardless of the technology we are currently using.
The second ubiquitous app I recommend is Dropbox, which is an online file storage tool that can be used to share and back up your documents. A professor might use Dropbox instead of email to share a folder where students submit projects with large file sizes, such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, or images. Students would copy completed projects to the folder and then let the instructor know so the project could be graded. Dropbox syncs all of the files to a folder on your computer so you do not have to manually download each document. Another possible use would be to create a folder that contains files that you frequently share with your class. This folder can be made available to students on an as needed basis or can be made public so students can help themselves. It would be nice if Dropbox provided a service where students could email your Dropbox with an assignment. There is a third party tool that can help you accomplish this (http://ifttt.com/dropbox), but by using it, you give the vendor access to your Dropbox content, probably okay but not preferred. If your primary use for Dropbox is to back up institutional data, the university’s synching system should be used instead. There are other file sharing/backup applications, such as SugarSync (https://www.sugarsync.com/), which provide more sophisticated syncing and sharing options. However, Dropbox’s simplicity and tight integration with your computer’s file management makes it a popular choice and one I recommend.
My final suggestion, Readability, allows users to customize online articles they are reading, making these articles ad-free with options to change the font, character size, and background. Readability can also be used to save and organize articles for reading later. You might want to use Readability to modify educational blogs and web articles so they are easier to read when shown on a data projector in class. You can also use Readability to save web articles that you can read at your convenience on a mobile device, web browser, or even your Kindle. One possible issue you may run into is that not all web pages allow Readability to do its magic. You can tell if this is the case when the Readability page is blank or fails to load. Alternatives such as ReadItLater and Instapaper can be used to save web pages for later viewing; however, neither has the elegant formatting features of Readability.
Evernote, Dropbox, and Readability are all popular in the educational community because they provide much needed solutions for teaching and learning, and they work on almost any device. Educators want cloud-based apps that work across platforms and can be used by educators and students as productivity tools, which helps us all to become better 21st Century learners.
Here is a tag cloud created with Tagxedo showing what I tweeted about in 2011. My Twitter handle is dwicksspu. I shared lots of links using the hashtag #mlearning as I prepared for several presentations on mobile learning. My role as co-chair of the MacLearning.org Steering Committee had me frequently using the tag #maclearning and the handle @maclearning to tweet about how Apple products were being used in teaching and learning . I began a project with five other professors on blended learning in August and used the tag #blendedlearning to share resources that I found. I am predicting that it will be one of my most popular tags in 2012. The hashtag #et5online should also be a popular tag for me in 2012 as I am the program chair for the 5th Annual International Symposium for Emerging Technology in Online Learning. I hope to see you in Las Vegas this summer.
Happy New Year!
Each school year predictably begins with Seattle Pacific University professors asking me one of two questions:
- What new technologies are you examining? Or,
- How do you keep up with all the changes?
Professors who ask the first question usually follow up with a statement about how fun my job must be to be able to spend all day “playing” with technology. Professors who ask the second question usually follow up with a statement about how they were just getting use to the last round of changes and they have no idea how I can keep track of all the updates. I enjoy the challenge of helping both groups as they seek be successful in their use of instructional technology.
According to Smaldino (p. 1-2), instructional technology is the “integration of teacher and student use and knowledge of tools and techniques to improve student learning.” This definition encourages me to develop better workshops and one-to-one trainings and to continually search for new tools and techniques that can enhance learning.
So, what new technologies are we looking at this fall? Here is a quick table:
|eBeam||Mobile interactive whiteboard tool that allows professors to take the “Smartboard” with them to class.|
|StagePresence||LectureCapture tool that increases social presence by capturing presenter as part of the presentation. Presenter uses gestures to control presentation.|
|Edmodo||Private Facebook-like social networking tool used primarily by K-12 schools to communicate with students and parents.|
|CourseSites.com||Free learning management system (LMS) from Blackboard that allows professors/teachers to have up to 5 free online courses using the latest version of Blackboard Learn.|
|Instructure||New LMS that integrates Web 2.0 tools such as Google Docs and Twitter.|
|NookStudy||Electronic Textbook Reader that works on Mac and PC. Limited integration with Blackboard.|
|iOS 5 and Various iPad Apps including: Fuse, ScreenChomp, VoiceThread||New iPhone, iPad operating system has great features that eliminate need for home button. Fuse is for capturing video, ScreenChomp is a whiteboarding tool and VoiceThread is a reflection/asynchronous discussion tool.|
How do I keep up with all the changes? First and most importantly, I have excellent colleagues in Instructional Technology Services (ITS) who are dedicated to providing great services for faculty. Janiess Sallee, Dominic Williamson, and David Rither do such great work managing their projects that I rarely have to deal with workflow issues that may consume other managers’ days. We also have a great student staff who willingly learn new technologies and are able to explain the costs and benefits to us from a learner’s perspective. Second, I have a great personal learning network (PLN) of colleagues around the world through my relationships with MacLearning.org, MERLOT, Sloan-C, NWACC, and educators I interact with on Twitter. Finally, I have been encouraged to teach courses in the School of Education, which allows me to see first hand what works for those on the bleeding edge as well as those who want to apply instructional technology in a more conventional manner.
I consider it a joy and a privilege to serve the faculty and students of Seattle Pacific University. My department wants to help professors be successful with instructional technology, regardless of their skill level. And yes, it is fun to get to “play” with technology all day.
Smaldino, S. E., Lowther, D. L., & Russell, J. D. (2011).Instructional technology and media for learning. Boston, Mass: Allyn & Bacon.
Blackboard plus Sprint does not equal true love. A recent article in the Chronicle about Sprint’s lawsuit against Blackboard reminded me of a conversation I had with my Blackboard rep during the Spring. I told him I was tired of seeing Blackboard promote partner “deals” that aren’t addressing the real challenges of online learning (e.g. collaboration and assessment). To his credit, he listened and put me in touch with the Blackboard Idea Exchange, a stealthy group at Blackboard that focuses on making the core product better. My first impression of the BIE is positive but I still think Blackboard places too much emphasis on marketing partnerships with other companies that add little value to online learning. Let me explain what I mean by this.
Before the Sprint deal, Blackboard promoted an offer with NBC News where customers received free content, but it was only a sample and schools had to pay handsomely if they wanted true Bb-NBC integration. Before that it was “free” lecture capture with Echo360 which was only a free trial and the actual storage and scaling came with a cost. In each case, Bb charged their “partner” to be featured. In return, the partner agreed to give a product or service away, which gave them an opportunity to be introduced to existing Blackboard customers. While there is nothing illegal or immoral about this, Blackboard promoted these relationships as product enhancements instead of the third-party trials. Both could be true but they need to make it very clear that these enhancements won’t benefit all without an additional cost. Take Blackboard Mobile Learn for example. It is promoted as a mobile app that gives faculty and students access to their courses on a variety of mobile devices. However, many schools including my own, failed to fully understand the limitations caused by the Blackboard/Sprint relationship, even after reading the promotional web page. Personally, I thought the app would work for any device on wifi and only Sprint devices over 3G/4G networks.
The Blackboard/Sprint partnership makes little sense for anyone. While Blackboard Mobile Learn is a good first attempt, it is still a half-baked native app with limited features. Faculty and students who use Bb for more than just a document repository find the course website to be more useful than the app, and they don’t have to worry about it being blocked because they are using the “wrong” mobile carrier. Sprint should have known better than to think they would gain an advantage by purchasing rights that prevented their competitors’ devices from working with Mobile Learn. People hate having their mobile services blocked, just ask the BART Authorities. Instead of switching mobile carriers, the educational community is more likely to become frustrated with those responsible for preventing access.
You may be asking yourself, if this is true, why haven’t we heard more complaining from educators and students about limited access to Bb Mobile Learn? Thank Blackboard for insisting that under this deal, Mobile Learn would be allowed to work on iOS devices using WiFi. Sprint should be thankful that this is the case. Otherwise, no one other than Sprint customers would have been able to try Mobile Learn, and those using other phone carriers may have complained about this app being withheld from them. Instead, iOs users have been able to download Bb Mobile Learn, try it, figure out that it is currently lame (see user ratings) and forget about it because it is a free app. No harm, no foul.
Given the amount of money that Sprint is suppose to pay Blackboard, it is clear that Blackboard continues to offer these third-party “enhancements” for financial reasons. However, with the current publicity from the Sprint lawsuit, I don’t think that this practice can continue for much longer. This may be considered bad news for Blackboard’s new owner as it appears that one profitable part of Blackboard is not sustainable. Hopefully under this new ownership, Blackboard will learn a lesson and sharpen its focus on true innovation that enhances teaching and learning such as better ways to collaborate or give students feedback. Maybe they will give higher priority to the work of the Blackboard Idea Exchange. Otherwise, those of us who have been loyal customers may begin looking for a new LMS partner.
In a recent post I wrote about eBooks being one of six emerging educational technologies to keep an eye on in the near future. Continuing with that theme, I would like to share about the current status of mobile learning or m-learning in higher education and at Seattle Pacific University. The 2011 Horizon Report predicted that mobile learning will move towards mainstream adoption during the 2011-12 academic year.
In this post, I will:
- Define mobile learning.
- Describe how it can be used in higher education learning.
- Share examples of how Seattle Pacific University professors are using m-learning with their students.
- Share an upcoming opportunity for SPU faculty to discover more about how mobile learning can be used with their students.
What is mobile learning?
Mobile Learning or m-learning definitions fall into one of two camps, tech-centric or learner-centric. Traxler (2005, p. 262) defined m-learning as “any educational provision where the sole or dominant technologies are handheld or palmtop devices.” This definition clearly focuses on the technology being used rather than the learning that takes place. Learner-centric definitions emphasize the location of the learner –anywhere, and the timing of the learning activity –anytime (O’Malley et al., 2003). I choose the second definition to stay centered on learning and keep “the tail from wagging the dog.”
How is mobile learning being used in higher education?
Quinn (2011) shares Four C’s of Mobile that can help educators stay focused on appropriate uses of this educational technology. First, mobile devices can be a great way to access learning Content. Students can watch videos, listen to lectures, and even read articles or books on their mobile devices. SPU’s iTunes U site was recently optimized for iPhone and iPad use. Second, mobile devices are great tools for Capturing content. Students can use their phones to take pictures, as well as record audio and video, all which can be used to document evidence of their knowledge and skills in a course. Third, students can use mobile devices to Calculate. Instead of purchasing and lugging around a separate calculator, students can buy a scientific calculator app for less than a dollar that is available wherever they carry their smart phone. Great computational apps like Wolfram Alpha can be useful for finding and sharing statistical data during classroom discussions. Fourth, mobile devices can be used to Communicate with others. Students can send emails, texts, and use voice and video technologies to interact with their peers and professors. The Four C’s promote anywhere, anytime learning, allowing students to engage in learning activities in places where they might not be carrying their textbook or have access to a computer.
How is m-learning being used at SPU?
Seattle Pacific University professors are experimenting with mobile technologies in both face-to-face and virtual settings. One example is from Assistant Professor of Economics, Geri Mason, who has students answer a higher-level question at the beginning of a class using cell phones as a personal response devices or clickers. She uses PollEverywhere to survey students, having them text answers to an online database where they display on the projector screen as they are submitted. Once all students have participated, she has them break into small groups and discuss their answers. When finished, she calls on students to defend a position from one of the responses. Professor Mason also uses this technology for short quizzes, taking attendance, and gathering feedback on data collection assignments. She has harnessed what many would consider to be a disruptive technology and uses it for active learning.
Education Professor Andrew Lumpe has recently experimented with Blackboard Mobile Learn on his iPad. Blackboard Mobile Learn is a native mobile app version of Blackboard available on Apple mobile devices, as well as Android, Blackberrry, and WebOS (formerly Palm) smart phones. He has used it to participate in discussions with students in an online graduate course. Professor Lumpe gives the app mixed reviews for now. He likes how easy it is to navigate around the course on the iPad. He also likes how discussion forums are graphically represented. However, he does not like that the Control Panel is unavailable to make changes to the course and wishes there was a feature to receive notifications when new discussion posts are made. For now professors and students may prefer to use the browser version of Blackboard on their mobile devices.
Are you interested in learning more about m-learning?
Instructional Technology Services will be hosting a workshop on mobile learning on June 15, 2011 at 2 PM in the Library Instructional Lab. Professor Mason will share about her experiences with PollEverywhere and I will share highlights from an invited presentation I recently gave in Syracuse, New York at the SUNY Online Learning Summit.
Photo Credit: Dominic Williamson, Senior Graphic Artist, Instructional Technology Services
Here are my slides from my invited presentation at the 2011 SUNY Learning Network Online Learning Summit #SLNOLNSUMMIT. I used notes that were crowdsourced during a workshop I co-facilitated at the 2010 Northwest eLearning Community Conference to create the presentation.
10 Questions Presentation (PDF) [5.7 MB]