ACU’s Mobile Learning Initiative will expand to include all full-time students, Executive Vice President Dr. Phil Schubert said last week.
“We’re getting ready to fully saturate the mobile devices throughout the university. All full-time students will have them by fall 2010. We’ve been anxious for a long time to get devices in every student’s hands,” said Kay Reeves, director of technology support services.
The Mobile Learning Strategies Team, of which Schubert is a member, meets weekly and has been working toward providing all students with hand-held devices. The decision was finalized within the last two weeks.
Faculty members working on the project said the goal has always been to equip students with access to information through mobile technology on campus. They believe that in order to most effectively use the technology already in place, all students must be a part of the program.
“One of the things we’ve wanted to do from the beginning is see how a truly mobile university works, especially as we increase access for all the students,” said Dr. William Rankin, director of educational innovation. “They say that knowledge is power. We know that knowledge is about access, and by increasing access we’re really hoping to empower students in a new way to participate in their classes and to bring in content of their own.”
One of the aims of expanding the program is to create more consistency in the classroom. Students and professors have reported difficulties incorporating the devices into an academic setting – not because the technology is inadequate, but because not all students can participate.
“One of the biggest challenges in mobile learning has been in having classes where perhaps all but one student has an iPhone,” said Dr. Cheryl Bacon, chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication. “That really limited what we were able to do, and knowing that we are going to have a saturation of the devices on the campus will make it possible for lots of other faculty to get involved in mobile learning.”
Students who did not receive an iPhone or iPod said it is difficult to be an active part of a mobile learning classroom without owning a mobile learning device.
“People ask students – especially in newer departments – to have an iPhone strategy in their curriculum when half of the students don’t have them. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Whitney Puckett, junior journalism and advertising/public relations major from Palm Bay, Fla.
“When a teacher tells me that the only way to participate in an activity is through a mobile device, it’s like, ‘Am I still a part of this class?’”
Puckett said though she has at times felt excluded from classroom activities, the inability to participate in class is the real problem.
“In some cases, [using my mobile device] is my extra credit for the class, and if I can’t use my laptop, then that creates a problem for me,” she said.
For upperclassmen who purchased devices for themselves, the differences in teaching and learning styles between classes with and without mobile learning are evident.
“I used my iPhone a lot in my lower-level classes, but now that I’m taking classes for my major, my professors can’t utilize them in classes because upperclassmen don’t have them,” said Bailey Brown, junior English major from Midland.
Next year, though, this lack of uniformity will not be a problem. Expanding the initiative will be yet another step forward in ACU’s vision of leading in academic mobile learning.
“This is something that’s beginning to transform higher education, not just at ACU, but across academy,” said George Saltsman, executive director of the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning and director of educational technology.
Reeves said such a large expansion ovder a relatively short period of time will certainly present challenges, but the prospect of moving forward is more exciting than daunting.
“I can’t help but be thrilled. There’s a lot of work left to come, and if I had a few more answers, I’d be a little calmer,” he said. “But we did it once, and we can do it again, and it’ll be worth it when every student has a learning device in his or her hands.”
Everyone involved in the project seems to share the same eagerness to turn the initiative, still in its pilot phase, into a fully implemented program.
“We’re on the very leading edge of this, and there’s a lot to be discovered and understood,” Saltsman said. “But things look very positive; we’re getting great results, Idon’t think that the future could look brighter.”