Mobile Lives of College Students

Mobile Lives of Online Colleges


UW-SP offers Tablets to all Faculty/Staff

University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost Greg Summers has announced that all faculty and academic staff who desire will be issued a tablet “in an effort to support innovative methods of teaching and learning”. These will be supplied in addition to their office desktop.

Currently, the only tablet supported by the University’s security policies, such as being able to wipe data remotely in the case of loss or theft, is the Apple iPad. A three-year upgrade cycle similar to the faculty/staff desktop program will apply to the tablet program. In the future, Android or a Windows tablets will become available for those who prefer one of these options. The standard issue configuration will be:

  • 32 GB storage
  • WI-FI enabled
  • folio cover
  • Productivity apps such as  a remote desktop app called Jump, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote; and Acrobat reader

The cost of  upgraded storage, cellular options, etc.  will be born by the faculty/staff member’s home department.

Even in this era of tight budgets and declining state support, it’s refreshing to see bold moves by administrators to address the changing landscape of technology-enhanced teaching and learning.

* Note: iPad pictured above is not necessarily the configuration provided.

William Rankin, LWF Talk, London 2011

Always inspiring, William Rankin from Abilene Christian University presenting his 2011 Learning Without Frontiers talk “Dispatches from the Frontier: Next-wave mobility and the future of digital books”.

Shared on Twitter this week ….

News and comment shared by The Digital Professor this week.

“BBC News – Does it pay to be a student (from the UK) in America?”

The 10 Biggest Myths About Synchronous Online Teaching:

“Professors Publish Guide to Copyright Issues of Multimedia Projects – Wired Campus-The Chronicle of Higher Education”

“Professor’s iPhone App Gets Users Off the Beaten Path – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education”

“Isarithmic History of the Two-Party Vote « David B. Sparks”

“Top Trends of 2010: Growth of eBooks & eReaders”

“Paper or electronic? Universities consider e-textbooks | The Daily Collegian”

“E-Learning Brings University Education to Post-Quake Haiti”

Banning laptops in the classroom

Over the weekend two news items caught my attention about professors increasingly banning laptops from their classrooms. What I distilled from these pieces is that laptops are a distraction for students resulting in poor academic performance. For me personally, there are two issues here, first the student’s management of distraction and second the respect shown to the professor while delivering a lecture.

As pointed out in the NPR report,”Put Away That Laptop: Professors Pull the Plug“, distraction didn’t start with the laptop. Classroom distractions have been around since the dawn of classroom education. Whether it’s passing notes, talking to a fellow classmate, or looking out the classroom window and day dreaming, students can be distracted. The issue is how students deal with distraction on their own so they can stay focused and on task. It is true that today’s student has many more way to become distracted and these will not go away. One can ban electronic devices but one cannot ensure distraction won’t occur from non-device intrusions. Delivering as hour-long PowerPoint lecture to a passive audience will not be engaging. Instructors must use ways to continually engage students during instruction. A number of techniques have been proposed over the years. Classrooms can be equipped with technology that prevents students from logging onto the Internet. I personally have no problem with this under certain circumstances. For instance, if I’m teaching a laboratory course that requires the use of computer hardware in a campus computer lab, I need the students to focus on the software being used. But, in a conventional lecture hall, where the instruction is not about using technology, restricting access is more problematic.

What bothers me most is the lack of respect shown by students who are not paying attention in class, whether this be to digital distractions or others. I become frustrated after spending many hours crafting a good lecture only to find, albeit, a minority of students not paying attention. I have the attitude that we, the students and I, have a job to do during class, I instruct and they learn. Sleeping, texting, talking to their neighbor, finishing an assignment for another class is not showing me the respect for the time and effort that I have put into creating and delivering a lecture. For several of my colleagues, this is not an issue. Even seeing students with heads on their desks, they continue to plow through their lecture material.

So why should I as a professor care? Though banning laptops has been shown to increase student attention, we lose a valuable resource for learning. The issues described above seem to arise in lecture courses, which begs the question, “Is the lecture format the most appropriate one for learning, especially in higher education?” The answer to this question is a difficult one indeed, and in my opinion, may well depend on the content, level, and purpose of the course. Given the industrial mode of “educational production” foisted on professors in the early 60s, the lecture is the most efficient way to instruct large masses of students. If the goal is to maximize the “profit” in education, is it necessary to have students meet face-to-face in many of the large lecture courses that are currently offered by universities? I’ll have more to say in a future blog post.

Apple, eBooks and the Media Tablet.

TechCruch’s MG Siegler posted an article interpreting Steve Jobs comments in the New York Times about Apple’s interest in eBook devices. It should be apparent to all from Jobs statements before last week’s Apple music event that Apple has no intention of creating an eBook reader. Only once in recent history has Apple created a single use device, the iPod, for entertainment media. But even the iPod has morphed into a multi-use device, the iPod Touch/iPhone. It would not be in Apple’s interest to build a standalone eBook reader. There are several players in the field already for such hardware. Though garnering lots of press, I wonder as does Jobs just how well they are selling. What Apple would be interested in is selling eBook content through the iTunes store to drive the purchase of a media tablet.

It is a media tablet that is needed for distributing eBook content in the education market, not the standalone reader. Students from elementary through graduate school do not need an additional device to carry around. What they do need is a well-done touchscreen media device capable of performing daily tasks related to their educational pursuits. For most this may mean just a tablet, capable of taking notes in class, reading an eBook, and communicating with their teachers and classmates. The device must be of sufficient size (10″ inch?) to comfortably allow for text entry of notes and playback of most media types. Storage space is not of great concern due to the advances in cloud computing and cheap external drives for archiving files. A few years ago rumors began swirling about Apple’s potential move into the tablet market, and an announcement seems imminent next year. In January of 2008 a patent for a Mac docking station was released. Such a pairing would be ideal for students.


Mockup of Apple Tablet and Docking Station (Courtesy appletell)

In the meantime, others are testing the touchscreen tablet waters. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington  promised a special press and user event for last July for his “CrunchPad” media though nothing official has seen the light of day. Netbook maker Asus has made a half-hearted foray into the touchscreen tablet field. But we continue to wait for an elegant solution to bring eBooks to life in a truly useful device. Patience grasshopper …

CourseSmart eTextbooks come to the iPhone/iPod Touch

coursesmart_ipodThe Wall Street Journal is reporting that CourseSmart LLC has created an application to bring their textbooks to the iPhone and iPod Touch. More than 7,000 titles will be accessible for students to read a book, view their notes, and search for phrases. One can only access their books when connected to the Internet. This may be an impediment to some, but the continued build out of wireless access on campuses and in student residences will make it less of an issue over time.

This is a welcomed announcement, especially in light of Amazon’s failure to deliver a truly capable eTextbook reader and recent rumors circulating around the mythical Apple tablet. This may just be the shot in the arm for the eTextbook market. Though I have my own issues with CourseSmart’s eTextbook interface, e.g., lack of interactivity with content, if delivered on an Apple tablet this initiative will give students a unique opportunity for mobile learning. The free application is available from the iTune App store.

(Image courtesy of iTunes app store)

How the CrunchPad Could Fit into the Education Market

cbd2_smallOver a year ago, Michael Arrington expressed a desire that many of us have, a simple tablet for “consuming” information on the Web. The device would be able to access your email, browse web sites, and watch videos online. It would be a simple, low-cost, and highly portable consumer device. It will be different from a tablet PC and netbooks as it will not have a hard drive and thus not be able to store data per se, or run applications for word processing and such. Its “operating system” would be the browser, a unique and powerful way of breaking away from the confines of Windows, OS X,  and Linux if one only wanted to interact with web-based resources.

Mr. Arrington told the NY Times that he would hold an event at the end of July or the beginning of August to make a big announcement about the CrunchPad, and the tablet would be for sale “as soon as possible.” What we know at this point the CrunchPad

  • will have a 16 mm thick enclosure
  • use a 12 inch screen mounted flush with the aluminum case.
  • will run on an Intel Atom chip
  • will have a soft keyboard
  • will include USB ports for Keyboard/Mouse/Whatever
  • use a Webkit based browser
  • will be Flash-enabled
  • and have a target price of around $300.

The education market needs a low-cost, highly portable device that will lighten the burden (both physically and financially) on students and replace plethora of single-use devices with one multi-use device. As I continue to read about the CrunchPad  I am struck with its potential as a light-weight device for students and learning. What potential you might ask? It doesn’t have a hard drive. So what! The trend in computing is to move more of our work (and education) off our devices and into the cloud. The CrunchPad could not only let students consume information, but presumably interact with web resources and their fellow students. Students could view course web sites and take notes using online word processing programs like Google Docs. In laboratory classes students students could have an digital “clipboard” to enter and share data with Google Spreadsheets or similar online applications. Online polling and testing of students could occur during class via a learning management system or a web-based class room response system, eliminating the cost of a “clicker”.  Class discussions using social networking sites are increasingly being used by instructors and should be accessible through the CrunchPad.

The ability to run flash is especially important for the education community who uses many resources that are programmed with it. Flash-based instructional media produced by textbook publishers and distributed on CD-ROM could be placed in a learning management system and then accessed with the CrunchPad. CrunchPad could serve as an eBook reader as well. eTextbooks in Flash would benefit by having a device that accesses them without the need to download the book to a hard drive, protecting publisher’s intellectual property rights (a contentious issue, but one that I won’t get into here). These books often use an interface that permits highlighting text and tagging passages with notes and stored online. Yes, there is the Kindle DX, but it has rather limited capabilities, especially for the science textbook market that requires color.

The possibilities for CrunchPad in education are potentially endless, but we won’t know for sure until the widely anticipated availability announcement is made in a few short weeks. I am anxious to get a hold of one to test its possibilities for use in my courses. It could be a revolutionary device for instructors to deliver educational content and activities to new generation of learners.

Handheld Learning

apple-iphone-keyboardMany institutions of higher learning are waking up to the fact that learning takes place beyond the walls of the institution, hence the push over the last many years for online courses. Unfortunately, many of these same institutions are failing to realize the shift in the devices used for anytime, and more importantly “anywhere” learning. The more innovative schools adopted laptop programs in the late 90s in response to a the growing market in these computers. Though touting its core mission as teaching and learning,  my home institution missed the opportunity to become a leader in the fledging area of mobile learning. But that’s another story …..

It’s undeniable that mobile devices have permeated our culture. iPods (and other media devices) and smart phones are becoming a standard tool and entertainment platform for conducting our lives. Innovative universities like Abilene Christian University in Texas have recognized this, and are enriching the academic culture of their students. Their presentation at the 2008 Handheld Learning Conference demonstrates what is capable with the latest breed of handheld media/communication devices. Those interested in such learning technologies should keep an eye on Abilene Christian University’s implementation of mobile learning. It is the future …


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