Mobile Learning at an Applied Institution

We’ve been asked on numerous occasions about our mobile strategy–how we got there and where we are going next.  Oddly, we are rarely asked the why question, but for me that is really where it starts.

The Context

When I first came to JIBC 4 years ago, mobile was on my radar as the latest thing but I was already at that stage of ed tech dis-illusionism where everything sounded like a buzzword. But the more I learned about this peculiar institution– which boasts a relatively unusual range of course offerings, course formats, and professions and pathways–the more mobile became interesting.  When a particularly savvy program area pitched the idea of an app, explaining that it would eliminate the need to carry stacks of binders of info into the field, the lightbulb went off.  Mobile wasn’t a nice to have here, it was an ed tech necessity.

The necessity factor is in fact much more nuanced.  Institutional data shows that our students have a long term/lifelong relationship with the institution. There’s a lot to be unpacked here, but put simply, JIBC is embedded in professional and physical communities who send their people to us for training, who then go back to their communities, only to come back later for further training.

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The Assumptions

Once you consider this JIBC student trajectory, the method to our mobile madness makes a lot more sense.

1. We teach to professions that aren’t the sit at your desk variety.  First responders are generally on the go, in the field, and attached to some sort of mobile device.

2. Experiential learning, simulations, or active case scenarios, are a primary method of training.  These simulations take place, for the most part, outside of a classroom environment.

3.  Learning, while on the job or at the institution, has a fair bit of just-in-time characteristics.

4. The tools and resources that are used while in their JIBC program are the same tools and resources that are used in their professions.

Our initiative is based on the above assumptions and criteria.  Number 4 is critical–everything we’ve created for mobile is something that could be used by a community, a professional, or a student in our programs.  This is also one of the reasons why most of our mobile initiative projects are free or open.

The Mobile Initiative: Evolving towards a strategy

While we have a mobile initiative, I wouldn’t say that we are at a point where we can call it a strategy.  Through some donor funding, we’ve been able to create a favourable environment for experimentation and learning and failing.  We’ve done this by funding equipment, small pilots, and contributing to boosting the infrastructure.

1. We funded the purchase 2 class sets (50) of tablets for loaning and pilots.  This number also required the purchase of some Griffin charging/syncing stations, a mac mini, and covers.

2.  We funded the development of some iOS apps. None of these apps have cost more than $3000.

3. We funded the purchase of an array of program specific apps.

4. We funded some instructor/program-initiated pilots. Most of these are simple projects that can be done off the side of a desk with a little bit of pilot money for equipment, or staff or contractor backfill time.  We don’t require the pilot to succeed, we only require that lessons learned be shared.  Most of these pilots have cost less than $3000.

5. We funded some necessary IT  infrastructure pieces, such as Airwatch licenses for the mobile device management system, and technology for a “classroom of the future” that is designed with mobile in mind.

We try and make it as easy as possible for people to bring an idea to our centre and to try it out.  We make sure everybody understands that we are learning as much as they are.  We emphasize that we don’t have all the answers, but the purpose of pilots are to better understand what is needed, what should become integrated, and what we shouldn’t bother with moving forward.

The next stage is to articulate considerations for a strategy. So far what has emerged is:

1.  Good campus wifi is essential to making this work.  (We have some work to do here)

2. Although we started with creating native iOS apps, WordPress has been a very effective alternative for certain projects.

3.  The idea of a learning ecosystem is helpful in deconstructing the learning environment–for a tablet program, the tablet provides the platform for all the bits that make up the program learning ecosystem.

4.  A mobile device management system (MDM) with something like Airwatch is essential for moving from small, isolated projects to more integrated, program level thinking about mobile.  It basically allowed us to move into the big leagues.

5. Mobile thinking should probably be the default at our institution, given who are students are, where they come from, and where they are going.

Presentation for ETUG 2014
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One thought on “Mobile Learning at an Applied Institution

  1. Pingback: Mobile Learning | mary katherine french

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