Mobile Learning infokit / University of Bradford
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University of Bradford

Page history last edited by Doug Belshaw 8 years, 4 months ago

University of Bradford logoThe University of Bradford has a particularly forward-thinking, learner-focused and reasonably mature mobile learning initiative. It has been built, in part, upon participation in JISC-funded programmes under the leadership of Becka Currant (Dean of Students) and project management of John Fairhall (Mobile Technology Adviser).

 

Background

Bradford’s profile is slightly different to that of other universities, being heavily involved in the ‘widening participation’ scheme and having a significant proportion of mature students. As a result, although some form of mobile learning initiative was seen as a priority, the details of what it would involve and look like in practice were uncertain. To discover what was possible, explains Becka Colley, the team decided to “monitor the key national research info that is published” but, equally importantly they asked students their opinion which, she says, “is at the heart of what we do and why we do it. The students tell us and we listen and act."

Once student input had been sought and a literature review completed, the Bradford team realised that they needed a focus. John Fairhall takes up the story:

"We tried to do something a little bit different. We knew we had these strategic objectives with a strong emphasis on mobile so our plan was to do a literature review of all previous JISC mobile projects and find some that delivered results in these areas. We found 3 that we thought would be a good fit but only the resource to do one – so we asked the senior managers to vote on which one they wanted implemented. A Bradfordised version of the Kingston KASTANET project won. After a follow up feasibility study, impact assessment and tender process we’ve now got the TxtTools SMS system, and have just completed case studies of its use in four departments." (John Fairhall, University of Bradford)

 

One of the reasons John Fairhall gives for the success of Bradford’s mobile learning initiative is getting senior staff on board from the start: “Having them on side definitely opens doors, and when you do hit a road block their support can be very helpful." 

 

Experiences

In addition to the use of SMS text messages mentioned above as part of the JISC Building Capacity programme, Bradford has developed two other mobile learning-related offerings to students. The first is a very basic XHTML-compliant mobile site which provides links to information on study support, library services, webmail and other items that would be to the left of the spectrum diagram in the Quick Wins section. The numbers next to the links correspond to button that can be pressed on non-touchscreen phones to access that particular link.

 


Slightly further to ‘right’ of the mobile learning spectrum is the About UoB app, made available through a partnership with oMbiel Ltd. This app in its unbranded form is known as campusM and includes (in addition to the functionality of braduni.mobi) the ability to use the GPS functionality of smartphones to find nearby computer rooms, the location of your friends, and maps of each campus.

BradUni.mob

braduni.mobi webapp

AboutUoB app

AboutUoB iPhone app

(powered by oMbiel’s campusM)




The multi-pronged approach favoured by the Bradford team is built upon a concern to maximise accessibility whilst keeping an eye to the future. To ensure a consistent user experience the desktop icon in computer clusters look the same as the About UoB app on a mobile device. “It means that for mobile users who log on to a student cluster machine they would be able to recognise and interact with the app in a similar way,” explains Becka Colley. This is also an important consideration when it comes to disability issues. As John Fairhall explains, “unless you’re going to ensure everyones got an appropriate mobile device you need to make sure theres an equivalent PC experience."

The technical side of getting started with mobile learning is not difficult (“it’s just the technical work to get it on a mobile and then promoting it” says John Fairhall) but ensuring the appropriate policies and access are in place requires some thought. This is especially important when a number of different mobile technologies and systems are used. In Bradford’s case, the use of SMS texting, braduni.mobi (developed in-house) and About UoB (from an external provider) means that planning and delivering a cohesive mobile learning strategy takes discussion and iteration.


Lessons learned

 

The importance of co-ordination

Any kind of change within an organisation can lead to resistance and barriers. In the case of the University of Bradford, reflects Becka Colley, they were “conflicting pressures on the time of the individuals involved, the funds to pay staff and for further developments of the app and strategy.” In addition, she says, a lack of overall co-ordination from the beginning meant that staff who engaged in the mobile learning initiative came from all over the university. This, whilst “great for collaborative working” was “less good when it came to accountability and overall management.” This has been rectified through the creation of a new group focused on campus life, chaired by a senior manager and which various sub-groups feed into.

 

Iteration is key

Once students and other stakeholders have been asked for their input it is important to go back to them and ask for feedback on what has been developed. John Fairhall explains Bradford’s approach:

"At the first focus group the developers outlined the options for implementing the first recommendation, a way forward was agreed, the developers then went away and implemented it. The next week they came back to the focus group, the implementation was reviewed to ensure everyone was happy with it or if it needed tweaking, and the next change was planned. This process repeated until we got the release version of the client."


Such an approach ensures an ongoing dialogue between what users want and what can be achieved given the various constraints (time/money/technical) developers work within.


Cultural change can be difficult

Often, those who are most enthusiastic about technology are not those best-placed to test and evaluate it in the longer-term. As we saw with Kyle Bowen’s experience at Purdue University (see Cultural Considerationsearly adopters can often focus too much on the technology rather than what can be achieved by using it. Becka Colley notes that “it's only recently that we have moved away from just early adopters using things and for it to have become more mainstream.”

When it comes to persuading staff to get on board with mobile learning, the correct approach can be difficult to find. Often, the pressure can come from students and can be helped by external providers making available mobile versions of their offerings.

"It’s very hard to convince a lecturer to spend time on something like that when the majority of their students don’t have a mobile to use it. The number of Smartphones amongst our students has gone up to around 20% but it would still be hard to convince a lecturer to spend time on such a small portion. Luckily for us our main learning platforms, Blackboard, QuestionMark Perception and PebblePad have all released mobile apps / mobile friendly web versions / APIs for us to build in to the App and Braduni.mobi. So from September pretty much any elearning a lecturer does will be available on both Computer and Mobile without any extra effort on the lecturers part. Whilst it may not represent my ideal bite size nugget format, I do think it’s a major win." (John Fairhall)

 

Conclusion

The University of Bradford has embraced mobile learning through a balanced approach including input from reports and publications (JISC and elsewhere) as well as from IT staff and, perhaps most importantly, students. As Becka Colley notes, the time to start experimenting and getting started with mobile learning is now:

"Students access HE at all different stages of their lives and for all sorts of reasons. Therefore it's crucial that things are offered on a variety of platforms and at a number of times to ensure that what is made available meets the needs of the users. Different people will want different things at different stages, but as we move into more and more people using mobile as their platform of choice we need to be able to offer access to materials as early as possible in order to enable them to engage effectively."


As she also points out, “communication is one of the hardest things for an organisation to get right, but when it's done well it means everything else falls in to place and becomes more successful.” Not only have Bradford managed to provide a platform to improve access to information for students, but they have thoughtfully brought together key people and groups to enhance communication within the institution.