It’s been a while since the last official project post following the completion of development work [and a number of new initiatives and work have taken over of late - not least planning curriculum usage of Google Apps integration, and finding a Realtime Collaboration solution for 2013 onwards]. With this in mind, a few points have crystallised following presentations, attendance and discussion with folks at a number of events in the first quarter of 2012.
Firstly, the decision and ongoing driver for the Mobile Web: the OU is not promoting this approach on the grounds of cost savings in development and maintenance, but more so that we can provide a mobile entry point in a space where our students may be bringing a whole range of personal technology to bear. We cannot continue with a lowest common denominator approach however [and this isn't sensible for mobile web browsing approaches generally]. The aim is to provide legacy devices with simpler HTML browsers at least the capability to view their progress – read-only. While some folks want a breakdown of what device can do what, I hope that the more generic support materials, coupled with peer support for specifics will address this longer-term. [See also the range of features I outlined previously].
Secondly is the approach taken to support distance learning on mobiles: from looking at a number of different (and some app-based) approaches, I really feel that the OU is distinctive in this area due to our differing needs and experience. Where discrete resources and small-scale activities may suit courses where a lot can be mediated (or overcome) face-to-face – we need much more narrative, signposting and in the cases of open-access students in their first years, scaffolding.
I’m not saying that we do this consistently across our whole online offering – but few others seem to provide a week-by-week or block-by-block online navigation path through a learning journey. Few also manage, by design, to direct and blend differing activities – a lot of successful approaches externally seem to have worked despite the interface or as workarounds to LMS/VLE models.
Thirdly – the ubiquity of mobile connectivity: although this could be characterised by the position favoured by Google and others, the current reality is still that good, consistent mobile connectivity is patchy. Apple and other folks more geared to the higher-quality print or media production equivalents see the blend more as an offline approach with online benefits. I’m not personally persuaded overly by either arguments [particularly since I was happy in the driver away from 'sideloading' to 'over-the-air'], but perhaps the aim towards convergence in this space as well as others in the history of mobile technology will prove the best approach.
Engaging in online activities with some caching or offline backup in case connectivity drops can complement working on longer-form text or media connecting online as required for collaboration or groupwork for example. While the OU has a larger investment in learning & teaching support than mobile services, and mobile web rather than mobile apps at present – we still see an approach for a native ‘shell’ app incorporating some caching, and simpler access to services in the mix for the future.
Finally, the inclusion of real collaboration in a mobile space: in a similar way to the whole ‘learning styles’ debate and inaccurate mentions by some commercial companies [i.e. that people only have one favoured style - rather than related to context], the use of ‘collaboration’ can be misused [i.e. an activity constructed so that it is the differing individual contributions to the whole that end up with an outcome impossible to achieve alone]. A lot of what is talked about in this space is really just group cooperation or discussion using more advanced tools.
I do welcome the increasing possibilities to include rich media in discussions so that more time can be given over to analysis and reflection rather than just description of fieldwork/practice-based work (as an example). On testing the water for collaborative support however, the most widespread approach seems to be activities supported by Google Apps toolset in particular – much improved by the mobile interfaces refined of late. Bespoke apps of course also have a place, but then you need to stitch these together [and provide alternates, arrange for bulk-buy/education discount??].
I don’t think we have an answer here yet by any means – it’s good to see work that bridges the physical world with online (e.g. QR codes at the simpler end, Augmented Reality at the more complex) to make the connections in this process easier/better. The challenge is to find meaningful learning outcomes appropriate for HE, and at scale, as well as some of the great work already explored at school level.
Informing this set of reflections have been the large number of discussions and contributions from colleagues at a number of recent events, including: BETT 2012, LWF12, OU Learn About Fair, Apple Mobility in HE seminar [to be followed by similar webinars on 2nd May & 5th May I suspect], London Knowledge Lab “What the research says” events, SCORE OER Open Education sessions, Blackboard Teaching & Learning conference [EU]. Internal sessions continue as well of course, although these have been largely informal – allowing more for catchup/coordination. It’s also good to be involved in more faculty staff development with IET in this area, and I still hope to get more granular learning analytics on existing use of mobiles by our students.
Complementing this period of reflection have been yet more advances in OU provision in the mobile space – particularly in public engagement and informal learning opportunities. More of our apps have been ported to Android, further prototyping has taken place with interactive iBooks and more recently iTunes U Courses. Most recently, the guidance on use of mobiles is starting to be made available in advance of promoting our offering more officially to students.