Mobile tech engages university students

Image: cropped from Nazareth College

It was not until 1994 — I was in the third year of my degree — when I had my first contact with the Internet. Back then, the Internet was a brand new thing for students, even if some departments of our university Tecnológico de Monterrey enjoyed it for at least two years. The PC was used basically for doing some homework, but not for learning. This was 20 years ago.

The use of the information technology in education comes from the mid 90s. The American company Blackboard pioneered this trend, with its educational software developed since 1997 and marketed for an educational target since 1998. Back then, the PC was beginning to be used for learning. This was 16 years ago.

Blackboard is today used in hundreds of colleges around the world — my alma mater among them. And while I did not use it as a student, I did as a teacher between 2008 and 2013. I must admit that my training in its use was not easy, but eventually I could master it pretty much. All this already happened with a laptop in my hands and was a few years ago.

But the use of this kind of software in traditional PCs or laptops will be soon a thing of the past, since the invasion of smartphones and tablets is turning the education into something mobile — you can learn things wherever you are. We are entering, many say, the era of mEducation. We used to learn from a book or printed materials. Today, we can do it from a tablet or a smartphone. Education could be rather passive; today it is more interactive and mobile, with all that these words imply.

Mobile tech engages university students

Image: Blackboard

mEducation is the new trend in the academic world

Besides the specialized software for learning and teaching by Blackboard, there are other solutions available. Some of them target other educational markets. This is the case of Sistema Uno by the Spanish Grupo Santillana, with a strong presence in Latin America and focusing basic education. Both are models that were born to be implemented in a PC but have adapted or are in the process of adaptation to the mobile devices.

A company that strives in for boosting mEducation is the German qLearning, already conceived in the mobile era. In this context let us not forget that the education market is of great value as education, in many countries and every year, takes a big portion of national budgets.

The shift from one form of learning to another is very complex as it involves the assessment of several variables and deals with new scenarios. One of them is the ‘informal’ shape of actual education, which represents a risk as it may cause a decrease of learning quality. Not surprisingly, the mobile device and the connectivity generate a less supervised or less pedagogical knowledge, as conservatives are stating.

Although still limited due to their short history, the studies about mEducation are beginning to shed interesting results. One of theses studies is carried out by EDUCAUSE and is called ECAR Students and IT Study. The latest edition of this study developed in the U.S. since 2004 is the 2012 edition.

This latest edition involved 106,000 under- and postgraduate students from 195 institutions. 74% of students stated that they took at least one course featuring online contents, which is not surprising given the high penetration of connectivity in the USA. Another result is the increase of students who have taken full classes online: it grew from 15% in 2008 to 31% in 2012. 70% said they learned better in blended learning environments (traditional and online).

Mobile tech engages university students

Graphic: ECAR

A figure rather not nice for teachers reveals that 16% of students do not attend classes when course readings are available online. A relevant data for mEducation is the increase of the use of smartphones as educational tools: from 20% in 2008 to 62% in 2012. The laptop was at 86%, while the tablet was just 15% (2012 figures).

Another study, this time focused in a single university (Exploring Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education), was carried out among the students of the University of Central Florida (EEUU). Its conclusions are also interesting. About the percentage of students using mobile devices, for example. Apparently 58% of students with a smartphone were using their device for academic purposes, and 82% of students with a tablet used theirs for this very purpose (see next page).

Mobile tech engages university students

Graphic: Educause

mEducation seems to be the future

Dr Mohamed Ally and Dr Josep Prieto-Blázquez wonder in a recent article what is the future of mobile learning in education. The conclusions of the article indicate that digital educational resources should be more like console games so as to motivate the students to learn. They also state that more studies should be implemented to transform adequately the education taking the mobile devices into account, and considering the local contexts and the cultural differences as well.

For the time being, I’m outside the education world because I’m not teaching anymore. But if I would go back to the university, I’m sure the technologic tools that I would find would be more developed. We would be in the world of mEducation.