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Mobile Computing 5-Day Sprint: Day 2 Recap—Teaching and Learning

Today the EDUCAUSE Mobile Computing 5-Day Sprint ran through the fields of teaching and learning. A two-hour webinar, hosted by Veronica Diaz, associate director of ELI, drew more than 400 participants to hear from Judy Brown, Jennifer Sparrow, Kyle Bowen, and Lisa Young. Twitter was abuzz with thoughtful—and sometimes funny—musings about how mobile technology influences the most basic mission of all higher education: to teach. Activity and excitement around mobile computing are intense, but there remain more questions than answers.

Run What They Brung

According to a post in IdeaScale, “Many of our students walk into our classrooms with more computing power in their pocket than the computers that sent astronauts to the Moon. Let's leverage that!” This comment acknowledges both that higher education has an enormous opportunity and that it's likely to happen on student-owned devices. Students choose to have mobile technology (and, according to Judy Brown, they might have more cell phones than toothbrushes), and institutions can harness that technology in the classroom. But students will bring whatever devices they select from the large and shifting pool of consumer options.

Kyle Bowen noted that for its mobile initiatives, Purdue has taken a “run what you brung” stance, developing apps that work on nearly any device students bring. This is great for users, but many institutions are uneasy with the loss of control that comes with this approach. Then again, ceding some control to the consumer market allows institutions to devote resources to figuring out how to effectively channel all of the energy around mobile computing into purposeful, strategic initiatives.

Sprint participants wondered whether mobile teaching and learning programs should or even can be handled at the institutional level, or whether it would be better to let a thousand mobile programs bloom.

Is it creepy or progressive to use Facebook as a platform for teaching and learning? Participants did agree that regardless of the approach, students need to be part of the discussion.

Does It Quack Like a Duck?

In another flurry of questions without answers, Sprint participants wondered what really constitutes mobile learning. Is “mobile learning” simply “learning”? Or does having access literally all the time imbue mobile learning with a qualitatively different character? And what of mobile applications? Does being able to find a bus using a smartphone app mean that you're learning? Or, as someone noted, “A syllabus app sounds handy but not exactly transformational.” Other comments concern the very nature of mobile devices: “It's difficult to see how the form and format of most mobile devices can lead to anything remotely resembling the construction of knowledge.” Some raised the issue that so often causes people to stare at their shoes—assessment.

In the end, maybe what we're seeing is that mobile devices finally begin to take down the wall that has for so long separated “learning” from “life.”

Crutches and Distractions

One participant wondered how we can ensure that mobile technology augments learning rather than serving as a crutch. Another comment suggested that having instant access to information all of the time might discourage people from reflection and deeper thought to try to figure out the answer on their own. At the same time, we are familiar with the issue of students needing to evaluate the reliability of online information—do mobile devices exacerbate this concern?

In the webinar, one slide showed a 14th-century drawing of a classroom, which included one student who was sleeping and others paying little attention. The resonance with a classroom today was striking, and the question, of course, is what level of distraction mobile devices cause. For this question, however, there seemed to be an answer: You have to get students to care more about what you're teaching than about Facebook.

Jump In, Get Your Feet Wet, and Ask for Permission Later

Mobile computing clearly does some things really well and offers unique benefits for teaching and learning. Participants described how mobile devices sustain connections between learners, cultivating a sense of connection that would otherwise be lost. At Purdue, students in a course on American Sign Language use a mobile app to take video of themselves and submit it for evaluation—a wonderfully elegant use of mobile technology. In another example, some suggested that the question of what e-textbooks can do for the mobile market is backwards—that mobile devices are so powerful and revolutionary that textbooks are simply trying to catch the mobile train.

With teaching and learning, the possibilities for mobile computing really do feel limitless. Fire up your imagination and see where it can take you and your students.

Tune in tomorrow for enterprise integration and app development, a topic that underlies much of today's discussion. Thursday we will cover security, privacy, and policy, and infrastructure wraps up the week on Friday.

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