Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Improving Online Learning with Mobile Technology

If you are a reader of my blog you will know that my teaching is online. I teach students throughout the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (and sometimes beyond). We use mainly synchronous (online, real time teaching) via Blackboard Collaborate in addition to asynchronous (online, on demand, access of resources) via Desire2Learn. It does have its challenges, of which I believe that mobile technologies will help.

1) Supervision: Right now most of our students are placed in a "room" where their computers are located for synchronous and asynchronous learning. In small schools where human resources are few and very busy, having students online in a separate room can be problematic. In addition, as we continue to bring testing into the online environment, supervision while students are writing a test can be an issue. Scheduling a teacher to be in that "room" for a test can be even more challenging. Mobile technologies can eliminate supervision issues. To start, Blackboard Collaborate has an app that will work on many mobile technologies. With an headset/mic and a tablet/smartphone, a student completing an online course can simply sit in an existing classroom with a teacher/class. When an online test is scheduled, the student can take their tablet/smartphone, sit in the same room as other students/teachers and complete the test.

2) Helping students with assigned questions/homework: If a student is working on a math problem they have one of two options for help: either they have to replicate workings on the online "whiteboard" or have to scan their work and upload to their teacher through Desire2Learn. With the use of mobile technologies in the online environment, a student can take a snapshot of their work and simply message it to their teacher. I am hoping that with the Blackboard Collaborate app, students will be able to use the camera tools of the tablet/smartphone to take a snapshot of their workings and post it on the fly to the whiteboard (if not... consider this a feature request Blackboard). I hope this ease of use is also in the next Desire2Go functionality of Desire2Learn (as right now there is no way to easily attach and email from mobile devices... or not that I am aware of).

3) Anytime/Anywhere access: With having online classes limited to a physical console, students are less inclined to complete online work and attend online classes when away from that physical workstation. With mobile technologies, students will be able to attend synchronous classes anywhere with a WiFi connection (using data plans will be data intensive and perhaps costly). They could be at a tournament in another school and still attend class, complete an online assignment or watch a recorded class.

There are so many more advantages to bringing mobile technologies into the online learning environment. But I will stop for now with what I have listed abovd.

Schools will need fast, consistent wireless networks; students will need the same outside school (in the home specifically) and everyone will need to look at learning as possibly occurring anywhere and at anytime. Then mobile technologies will finally and successfully enter the online learning environment... K-12 anyways.

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