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Donna Church, Lambton College’s vice-president, academic, observes as massage therapy students, led by instructor Monique Van Hooft, use a program that allows them to visualize body mechanics. (Sarah Scheible/Lambton College)
Donna Church, Lambton College’s vice-president, academic, observes as massage therapy students, led by instructor Monique Van Hooft, use a program that allows them to visualize body mechanics. (Sarah Scheible/Lambton College)

Online Education

Learning untethered: How mobile is enhancing how students learn Add to ...

As a student in her second year of a two-year accelerated massage therapy program at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ont., Lynette Hyatt’s main work tools are her hands, her practical knowledge of anatomy – and increasingly, her iPad.

Rather than rely on memory and hand gestures to explain to a patient how she will work on their muscles, Ms. Hyatt is learning to use augmented reality apps such as Aurasma that bring body parts to life (holding a device with the app over a proprietary drawing of a heart transforms that image into 3-D).

Ms. Hyatt says seeing the augmented image boosts her understanding. “It helps to simplify and to remember in a visual sense, to reinforce what I’m learning in the textbook, to bring that to life for me.”

With more than 50 mobile learning programs, from Autism and Behavioural Science, to Culinary Management, and Fire Science Technology, Lambton is clearly embracing mobile learning. Host to an annual summit on the topic, the college was recently recognized by technology partner Apple as a distinguished program.

Donna Church, Lambton’s vice-president, academic, says the move toward mobile evolved from the college’s active learning strategy. “We started imagining the possibilities and, as a college, had evolved far enough that we could start thoughtfully deploying the use of iPads and other technology in our programs,” she says.

Lambton’s move to mobile began with enhancing its WiFi capability, equipping classrooms with interactive whiteboards and Apple TVs, and embracing a mobile version of D2L, the school’s learning management platform, as well as a set of apps. Lambton’s mobile programs also require students to have iPads. A “Textbooks for All” initiative is moving toward delivering all textbooks to student devices digitally.

Instructors are encouraged to incorporate apps and use technology in interactive ways, for instance using polling apps to survey the class or recording simulated client interactions on their iPads for critique. In the Renovation Technician program, students use mobile apps to read blueprints and building codes on job sites; in the Esthetician program, students use apps that help assess their proficiency at applying makeup.

At other institutions, mobile is also clearly on the radar. At the mostly online Athabasca University, where educational technology is also a field of study, that includes a move toward responsive design (that detects the user’s screen size and adjusts to fit) and encouraging instructors to embrace apps that suit their needs.

Mohamed Ally, who has published several books in his specialty of mobile and is also a professor in the Centre for Distance Education, says institutions need to prepare for big changes. “Students today and in upcoming generations are very mobile literate so we will need to make sure our courses can be delivered on mobile devices,” he says.

Hanny Alshazly, a former graduate student of Dr. Ally’s who earned a Master’s in Distance Education, has been studying at Athabasca since 2001 and has been witness to many changes in technology. He says the ability to use mobile tools such as Skype to meet with his supervisor was invaluable, given his hectic travel schedule as regional director for the Middle East and Africa for D2L.

“To me it was an extreme convenience to be able to sit in a hotel lobby with my headset plugged in, working with him on a conference call and using my iPad in front of me, following up on the PDFs and other information he was giving me as we talked,” Mr. Alshazly says.

At Ryerson, the move toward mobile began with the launch of Ryerson Mobile, a suite of apps that helps students do everything from booking study rooms to checking grades. Associate professor Nancy Walton, Ryerson’s director of e-learning, says she was surprised to learn just how much students were using not only tablets but smartphones. “Students are reading PDFs of articles and doing all their work on their mobiles,” says Dr. Walton.

When the university recently upgraded its educational platform to D2L’s Brightspace, mobile capability was a major driver. Like Athabasca, Ryerson has not yet mandated specific apps, instead allowing instructors to choose apps that work for their courses. “We want to make sure we’re doing what’s right for students rather than just deploying technology across the campus,” says Dr. Walton. “When you’re using an app just for the sake of using it, students know.”

In terms of mobile trends for the future, Dr. Ally foresees an increasing use of devices in co-op placements, both to consult resources and to record practical experiences for use in e-portfolios. He expects the move toward mobile will also prompt a shift in course design that will see reduced text in favour of more multimedia. Besides increased use of augmented reality apps, such as the ones Lambton uses, he also expects to see an increase in the remote operation of equipment, for example apps that will allow students to access and control equipment at remote institutions, such as a telescope physically located at another university.

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