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Mobile Learning

"Mobile learning" is any learning activity that utilizes a mobile device--usually a smartphone. Mobile learning seeks to utilize the ubiquity and unique capabilities of mobile devices to make course materials available to students wherever they are, and to create new kinds of learning experiences that help students engage with course content and the world.

3 Ways to Use Mobile in Higher Ed

Engaging with Chicago

Apps such as OneNote can capture and sync your notes to the cloud or across devices using text, handwriting, images, or audio clips. Shared notebooks allow users to view or co-edit documents. Available on Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and the web. For more information, see the Information Services OneNote page.

Enhancing the Classroom

  • Poll Everywhere allows you to create real-time polls with either open-ended or quantitative questions. Students can respond through its app, the mobile web, a laptop, or text messages, and you can see responses from all your students in real-time. DePaul has a limited license for the premium version of Poll Everywhere. If you are interested in using Poll Everywhere, we recommend you set up a free account, try it out,  and if you are interested in advanced features like unlimited responses per poll or graded questions, fill out this form to request premium access.
  • Kahoot is a free team-based speed game in which students answer multiple-choice questions together on their own web-enabled devices. Because it is team-based and competitive, it is a great way to add engagement to your class. (Note: This is not a DePaul-licensed or -supported tool.)

Untethered Studying

  •  Quizlet is a tool  that allows students the ability to create digital flashcards. It also supports other study prep tools, such as fill-in-the-blank quizzes, spelling tests, and even games like matching. Requires a Google login but is free to use. (Note: This is not a DePaul-licensed or -supported tool.)
  • Tinycards is another free flashcard tool made by the team that created the Duolingo language-learning app. It has a native app for iOS and Android. Tinycards has pre-built “decks” for language learning, and allows you or students to create custom decks. (Note: This is not a DePaul-licensed or -supported tool.)

Mobile Learning Pedagogy

Mobile learning is not just online learning on a smaller screen. Smartphones have some limitations compared to computers but also unique affordances that can allow for new kinds of learning experiences. These affordances have been identified as the five “C’s” of Mobile Learning by Clark Quinn:
  • Content: Providing instructional materials that students can access anywhere, or in specific contexts (like instructor commentary for a museum trip).
  • Capture: Using mobile devices to capture images, video, sound, GPS coordinates, and ideas (as notes).
  • Communicate: Being able to stay in touch with classmates anywhere or during specific field activities.
  • Compute: Using devices to assist in calculating, language translating, and other computational tasks.
  • Combine: Using the previous four functions together in interesting ways, like augmented-reality experiences that capture GPS location, orientation, and images, and supply relevant content to the learner.

Making your D2L Course Site Mobile Friendly

As of Fall 2017, D2L has been updated to a mobile-friendly version that allows students to easily and intuitively access all aspects of the system from their phones. However, there are some things you can do to make sure students looking at your course site from their phones have a good experience. Contact your FITS consultant for help in implementing these suggestions, as some of them require coding or other advanced technical knowledge.
  1. On your homepage, make sure the most important widgets are at the top on the left. When viewed on a mobile device, D2L will display widgets in a single column, with the left column appearing first. Make sure the top-left widget is the most important, as students will need to scroll to see the others.
  2. Create web files in D2L rather than uploading PDFs and other documents. Word documents and PDFs often have text that’s too small to read comfortably on a small screen, forcing students to zoom and pan. Instead, copy and paste your documents into new files created within D2L.
  3. Avoid tables. Tables never translate well to mobile devices–avoid using them if you can.
  4. Mobile-friendly images. Since Fall 2017, images should resize down when viewed on a smaller device by default. However, if you resize the image in D2L or if the image was inserted before Fall 2017, the image may not resize. You can add  style="max-width: 100%;"  to the img tag in the HTML source code to force the image to resize.
  5. Test your Links and External Learning Tools. Make sure you test anything you link to outside of D2L to see how it behaves on mobile devices
  6. Put videos in with the Video tool, or use responsive CSS.  If you add video by going to Content and selecting “New” > “Audio or Video” your video will resize for mobile devices. If you’re embedding video content  another way, contact your FITS consultant about adding a custom cascading style sheet (CSS) to your course, which can force your videos to resize.

Staying Safe with Mobile

Some instructors have expressed concern about students using mobile devices out in the field and the possibility of theft. These are some tips you can share with students to reduce the risk.

  • Try not to look like a tourist. If you look and behave like a tourist who doesn’t know where he or she is going, you’re more likely to be targeted.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t be so engrossed in your mobile device that you ignore the world around you.
  • Try to avoid high-foot-traffic areas when actively using your device. Try to find a place where people aren’t actively walking near you.
  • Be careful near doors on the CTA, especially when they’re opening and closing. Some thieves on the "L" will snatch valuables and run off just as the doors are closing.
  • Go in groups of two or three.
  • If you don’t feel safe, put your device away.
  • When not in use, put your device in a secure location, like a zippered compartment or a pocket where you can feel it against your body
  • In case your device is lost or stolen, make sure it is protected by a password/pin/pattern lock so none of your personal information is at risk.
  • Use an app that will help you find your device like Find My iPhone or Find my Device on Android.

What if a Student Doesn't Have a Smartphone?

Smartphone adoption is not yet 100% among students, but it is quite high and growing. Over 90%​ of 18-29 year olds in the US have a smartphone, and we have found that among urban college students smartphone ownership is nearly universal. But if you have a student without  a smartphone, here are some strategies to make sure mobile learning doesn't leave anyone out:
  • Students can be asked to pair up for field activities.
  • Many mobile-learning activities do not require a smartphone but only basic phone features like text messages and/or a camera.
  • Alternative activities or instructions can be provided for students who don't have or don't want to use their smartphones.
  • Academic units that rely heavily on mobile learning can develop a system for lending out devices to students.

Further Resources

Designing mLearning

Clark Quinn's “Designing mLearning” is both a reference resource and an instructional tool for successfully integrating mobile-based technology devices into a pedagogical structure. Addressing the foundations of general learning concepts, Quinn prepares instructors for the idea that mobile technology is an integral aspect of academia, enhancing and expounding upon existing educational means. Even though the technology Quinn mentions is out of date, the mobile learning principles he outlines still apply to current devices.

mLearning for Higher Education

Addressing areas such as administrative concerns, as well as social media,“mLearning for Higher Education” targets solutions based on practical, existing considerations that exist for higher education organizations. Quinn offers a strategic means toward strengthening existing infrastructure, while creating a better learning environment for students, teachers and administration.

Educause Review: “Students' Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education: A Multi-Year Study”

This article summarizes​ two surveys of students at the University of Central Florida. A majority of students reported that mobile devices make it easier to access to coursework and communicate with their instructors and other students. The authors note that both students and instructors need technical, logistical, and pedagogical support for integrating mobile devices and apps in formal and informal learning environments.

ECAR Study of Undergrads & Technology

The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students a​nd Technology 2016​ summarizes the findings of the annual survey of undergraduate students and technology use. This most recent study finds that students are ready to use their mobile devices for learning, but expect to have guidance from their instructors and institutions. The report also notes that use of these mobile devices in the classroom is not common, and students report being prevented or discouraged from using mobile devices in the classroom.

IDDBlog: Mobile Learning

The DePaul Faculty Instructional Technology Services (FITS) department writes weekly blog posts​ about instructional technology, online pedagogy, and other topics. This link points to a collection of posts from FITS staff about Mobile Learning.

Mobile Teaching and Learning: Engaging Students and Measuring Impact

How well does the mobile platform engage students in the learning process? Given as a presentation for the EDUCAUSE Midwest Regional Conference 2012, this overview identifies means to assess the leveraging of mobile technology within various learning environments. Assessment regarding the utilization and implementation of mobile technology resources can play a key factor in the design, execution and offering of an online or hybrid course.

7 Things You Should Know About Connected Learning

The connected learning model views student learning as occurring both inside and outside the classroom. Technology, people, and experiences may facilitate or contribute to that learning. Our roles as educators is to help students connect all of these various learning experiences in order to create an individualized, yet cohesive learning experience. The connected learning model serves as one pedagogical underpinning for the use of mobile devices in learning.

Using Mobile Already? Please Let Us Know!

The Mobile Learning Initiation would love to hear about how you’re already using students’ mobile devices for learning. Please reach out to us at MoLI@depaul.edu​ and share your experience so we can share it with other instructors.​ 


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