Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 17 July 2009   Tuesday, July 28, 2009

ISSN 1748-3603

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Learning on the go with an iPod Touch
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Learning on the go with an iPod Touch
by Timos Almpanis and Stewart Bruce-Low

The aim of this study was to evaluate whether mobile access to learning resources would enhance the students’ learning experience on a sport science course. Seven video demonstrations of laboratory experiments were filmed and then loaded onto iPod Touch devices. The same videos were also made available through the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) so that they could also be accessed via desktop/laptop computers. The group of students who were given the iPods were asked to login to the VLE using these wi-fi enabled devices and access additional learning resources. This article briefly presents the background research in the area of mobile learning. The research methods employed for the pilot study are then explained, the students’ feedback is analyzed in detail and the pilot is evaluated.
 
Context: background research in mobile learning
Learning on the move is predicted by some to be the way in which students learn in the future. According to a survey of experts carried out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (2009):
“The mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world in 2020”. 
Similarly, according to the latest edition of the Horizon report (Johnson et al, 2009: 3), mobile technologies are among those “technologies to watch” in the short term as they:
“are already established on many campuses and many more Institutions have plans in place to make use of these technologies in the coming months”.
Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), mobile phones, mp3 players and portable game consoles have recently been used in innovative ways to support learning (Ramsden, 2005; Smordal and Gregory, 2005; Polishook, 2005; IAML 2009). The fact that these devices are ubiquitous and that they can be used for learning on-the-go are their biggest advantages, and educators have also begun to investigate students’ engagement in their learning when making use of a device which can be carried with them at all times (De Freitas and Levene 2003). According to Kukulska-Hulme (2005) mobile learning is not limited to small scale projects but has matured sufficiently to tackle issues such as scalability and sustainability and integration with other forms of delivery and support. Indeed, over the last decade, numerous studies have investigated ways that mobile devices can be used in pedagogically effective ways (IAML, 2009). In the developed world, mobile devices are usually used in addition to computers; mobiles are used for learning on-the-go or learning in the field. In the developing world, however, mobile devices are often the only devices that can be used for accessing digital resources (Ford and Leinonen, 2006).
 
As mobile devices have become increasingly powerful, they have started to assume more and more tasks that until recently could only be accomplished via computers. Recent models typically have audio and video players, and many are wi-fi enabled making them capable of providing Internet access on-the-go. The device selected for this case study was the iPod Touch. In addition to its capacity for playback of podcasts and vodcasts, the iPod Touch has a decent screen size making it capable of providing a good browsing experience. Additionally, the iPod Touch’s Global Positioning System (GPS) facility has great potential to be used in education; for instance, it has been used for studies in Geography and to increase one’s spatial ability (Durham & Arrell, 2007). The device has already been used successfully in other institutions, for example Abilene Christian University (ACU) in Texas distributed Apple iPhones and iPod Touches to all first year students in the autumn of 2008 to “explore a new vision for mobile learning” (ACU Connected: Mobile learning, 2009). ACU envisage a campus where technology fully integrates with learning both in and beyond the classroom; they have developed their own resources and applications for these devices so that their students are using them not only for accessing course materials but also for accessing news, timetables and participating in online in-class surveys and polls.
 
Many educational applications have been developed for these devices, both by Apple and by third parties. For example, applications with learning material for medical students and other health professionals have been developed and are available at a low cost (Modality Learning, 2009). Additionally language learning applications (Transparent Language, 2009), text note and voice note (Evernote, 2009) and ear training applications (Karajan, 2009) are offered. E-book reading software applications like iReading (Norbsoft, 2009) can transform the iPod Touch to an e-book reader.
 
Background to the pilot study
As part of the current pilot study, students were given an iPod Touch for a period of three months (October 2008 – January 2009) with seven video demonstrations preloaded. The videos were filmed in the Sport Science Laboratory within the Centre for Health, Exercise and Sport Science at Southampton Solent University and were to be used as supplementary resources by students during their own practice in the laboratory/field-based settings. Students were asked to watch the videos and at the end of the semester they had to undertake assessments based on the appropriate use of these. For equality of access, the videos were also available via the Moodle VLE. Students were also asked to test mobile access to the Internet and to Moodle using the University’s ‘open’ wireless network - or any other wireless network available to them. 
 
Research methods
The pilot study used students studying at level two of the Applied Sport Science degree. The average age of the participants was 22 (± 3) years old. At the end of the project, the students were given an anonymous questionnaire asking them to reflect on their experience using the iPod Touch to: a) access the preloaded video demonstrations; and b) access Moodle sites from the iPod using wi-fi.
 
The online questionnaire consisted of twenty questions. The first five asked students to describe their mobile access experience to the video demonstrations and to compare it against the traditional way of accessing them from a desktop or laptop computer. Questions six to nine focused on students’ experiences of accessing the World Wide Web in general; questions ten to seventeen surveyed Moodle’s mobile usability, navigation, effectiveness and students’ overall satisfaction. Finally, questions eighteen to twenty asked students to give their own perspectives on the future of mobile learning and their comments on this particular project. Closed-ended Likert scale questions were mainly used, coupled with two open-ended questions in which students were prompted to add their comments on a) the mobile access to the video demonstrations and b) the mobile experience of accessing Moodle VLE using the iPod Touch. 
 
Findings
All students found the iPod Touch easy to use. Most students said that it made no difference in terms of quality whether they accessed/watched the video demonstrations from a computer or the iPod Touch; however, three quarters stated that they found it more convenient to access the video demonstrations from the iPod rather than a desktop/laptop computer as they could do it anytime, anywhere; the last quarter stated that it made no difference. Furthermore, three quarters of the participants perceived that the mobile access to the video demonstrations had enhanced their learning experience. According to one student:
“having the Ipod [sic] enabled me to view important course information, specifically video footage on lab protocols which was extremely beneficial, in terms of being more independent and efficient”.
The iPod’s portability allowed students to have access to the video demonstrations during the practical sessions in the Sport Science Laboratory; students found this very helpful as they could play back the videos while performing a test in pairs. In a student’s words:
“it provided an immediate reference if ever we got stuck performing a practical”’. 
The vast majority of students (18 out of 20) used the iPods to access the Internet via wi-fi. Most who did so (14 out of 18) did not experience any usability issues as they found access and navigation either ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. 3 rated their experience in terms of usability as ‘moderate’ while 1 found it to be ‘poor’ (Figure 1).
 

Figure 1: Accessing the WWW using the iPod Touch: Usability
 
The mobile online experience was also rated highly by most in terms of effectiveness; they could find what they were looking for ‘easily’ or ‘very easily’ with only three students rating their experience as ‘moderate’ (Figure 2).
 

Figure 2: Accessing the WWW using the iPod Touch: effectiveness
 
Overall, participants rated their mobile web access experience highly: half of those that used their iPod Touch for browsing the web had a ‘good’ browsing experience, 6 described their browsing experience as ‘excellent’ and 3 found their browsing experience ‘moderate’ (Figure 3).
 

Figure 3: Accessing the WWW using the iPod Touch: overall experience
 
Students were then asked to describe their mobile learning experience using the iPod Touch to access the Moodle VLE. Accessing the main page was found to be ‘easy’ by most (12), ‘very easy’ by 3 and ‘moderate’ by the remaining 3 (Figure 4).
 

Figure 4: Accessing Moodle VLE using the iPod Touch: accessing the main page
 
Students experienced more difficulty when typing in their login details to access the VLE: half of them found it ‘easy’, 2 ‘very easy’, 5 ‘moderate’ and 2 found it ‘hard’. This could be due to the touch-screen keyboard that the iPod Touch is using, which is more prone to mistyping compared with ‘real’ keyboards (Figure 5).
 

 
Figure 5: Login into Moodle VLE using the iPod Touch
 
Navigation within Moodle – finding the target sites - was ‘easy’ for most (12 out of 18) while 4 students found it ‘moderate’ and 2 ‘very easy’ (Figure 6).
 

Figure 6: Navigating within Moodle VLE using the iPod Touch
 
Particularly interesting were the findings regarding reading text from within the VLE: text typed directly on screen - using the Moodle HTML editor - was easily accessible by the vast majority: only 1 found it ‘hard’, 3 found it ‘moderate’, while 12 found it ‘easy’ and 2 ‘very easy’ (Figure 7).
 

Figure 7: Reading text in Moodle VLE using the iPod Touch
 
Accessing word documents was found to be ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ by 10 (7 and 3 respectively) while 5 found the experience ‘moderate’ and 3 found it ‘hard’ (Figure 8).
 

Figure 8: Accessing word documents in Moodle VLE using the iPod Touch
 
PowerPoint presentations had to be converted to PDF files in order to be accessible using the iPod Touch. 9 students reported that accessing and reading PDFs was ‘easy’, 4 ‘very easy’, 4 ‘moderate’ and 1 ‘hard’ (Figure 9).
 

Figure 9: Accessing PDF files in Moodle VLE using the iPod Touch
 
One student described his mobile access to the VLE using the iPod as:
“Easily accessible and easy to use on the move when having long days at University with breaks. It is useful to recap with myCourse (Moodle) from the ipod [sic]”. 
Another student highlighted the convenience of having mobile access:
”Extremely handy around campus as you can access info during a break wherever you are e.g. canteen and can see what you have to do [sic]”.”
However, not all students used the iPod Touch to browse the Internet; another participant stated that:
“[I] did not use it for surfing the Internet much, as any research or information I wished to collect would be easier to gather on a pc”.
When students were asked whether they would be happy to use the iPod Touch to access all of their units on Moodle, most of them ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ (5 and 11 respectively) and only 2 students ‘disagreed’ stating their preference to access the VLE from a computer (Figure 10).
 

Figure 10: Would you like to access all your units using the iPod Touch?
 
Students were finally asked whether they thought that in 3 years time mobile access to online learning resources could be common. Of the 18 students that answered this question, 11 of them ‘strongly agreed’, 5 ‘agreed’ and only 2 ‘disagreed’.
 
In an attempt to interpret these results, one would say that the majority of students (16 out of 20) have seen some benefits from the project: they were satisfied both from the retained quality of the video demonstrations - when accessed from the iPods - and the quality of the mobile browsing experience.
 
Issues with technology 
Most students did not encounter problems with the devices. Following an initial 1 hour training session they were ready to use the devices. Ongoing support was offered via e-mail and one-to-one meetings on request but only 3 students required this additional support. A factsheet with instructions on how to connect to the University’s campus wireless network using an iPod Touch was made available. In terms of repurposing content delivered from within the VLE, the only change that had to be made was converting PowerPoint presentations: these cannot be accessed by iPods so were exported as PDF files.
 
Wireless network access has been enabled throughout the campus since August 2008; however, 2 students mentioned that the Internet connection on campus was not always satisfactory. 1 student mentioned that s/he had problems accessing the University’s Portal, but this could be due to occasional technical problems as Portal access was tested and worked from the iPod Touch. Apart from the occasional connection problems, the University’s wi-fi has seemed to have worked well for the project participants.
 
Future work 
The project will most certainly continue next year with the next cohort of Sports Science level 2 students. Although the project will be similar in design, a few more applications will be tested, including an application (MightyDocs) that allows storing documents and other files for offline access. Students will also be encouraged to use their iPod Touch to take notes during their sessions.
 
In addition a Facebook group will be set up for the students to explore the potential of social networking sites to support their learning through online collaboration. This development has been created from data obtained as most students reported they had downloaded an application and used facebook from their iPod Touch this year. 
 
Timos Almpanis
Southampton Solent University
timos.almpanis@solent.ac.uk
 
Stewart Bruce-Low
Southampton Solent University
stewart.bruce-low@solent.ac.uk
 
 
References 
ACU Connected: Mobile Learning – Abilene Christian University (2009)
Retrieved online 17/02/09 at www.acu.edu/technology/mobilelearning/index.html
 
De Freitas, S. & Levene, M. (2003) Evaluating the development of wearable devices, personal data assistants and the use of other mobile devices in further and higher education institutions.
Retrieved online 23/02/09 at www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/tsw_03-05.pdf
 
Durham, H. & Arrell, K. (2007) Introducing new cultural and technological approaches into institutional practice: an experience from geography. British Journal of Educational Technology, Volume 38, Number 5,
Sep 2007, pp. 795-804
 
Ford, M. & Leinonen, T. (2006) MobilEd – A mobile tools and services platform for formal and informal learning. MLearn2006 Conference Proceedings, Oct 2006
Retrieved online 13/03/09 at www2.uiah.fi/~tleinone/mobiled/merryl_teemu_mlearn2006.pdf
 
IAML Projects (2009)
Retrieved online 07/02/09 at http://mlearning.noe-kaleidoscope.org/projects/
 
Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009) The 2009 Horizon Report, Austin,
Texas: The New Media Consortium
 
Kukulska – Hulme, A., & Traxler, J. (2005) Mobile Learning: a handbook for educators and trainers. Routledge, Oxon, UK
 
Polishook, M. (2005) Handheld composing: reconceptualising artistic practice with PDAs. In: A. Kukulska-Hulme & J.Traxler: Mobile Learning; a handbook for educators and trainers. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 133-138
 
Ramsden, A. (2005) Evaluating a low cost, wirelessly connected PDA for delivering VLE functionality. In: A. Kukulska-Hulme & J.Traxler: Mobile Learning; a handbook for educators and trainers. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 84-91
 
Smordal, O. & Gregory, J. (2005) KNOWMOBILE: mobile opportunities for medical students. In: A. Kukulska-Hulme and J.Traxler: Mobile Learning; a handbook for educators and trainers. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 99-105
 
Applications for iPhone/iPod Touch 
Evernote Corporation (2009) - Evernote for iPhone/ iPod Touch
Retrieved online 09/02/09 at http://evernote.com/about/download/iphone/
 
Karajan (2009) – Music and ear trainer for iPhone and iPod Touch
Retrieved online 09/02/09 at www.karajan-eartrainer.com/en/
 
MiGhtyDocs (2009) – Offline access to documents from the iPhone/ iPod Touch
Retrieved online 20/02/09 at http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=287327494&mt=8
 
Modality Learning (2009): Medical school in your pocket
Retrieved online 17/02/09 at www.modalitylearning.com
 
Norbsoft (2009) - Applications for mobile devices. iReading for iPhone and iPod Touch.
Retrieved online 09/02/09 at www.norbsoft.com
 
Transparent Language (2009) – Software, audio and free resources for learning foreign languages.
Retrieved online 09/02/09 at www.transparent.com

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