Mobile Learning infokit / Mimas
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Mimas

Page history last edited by Doug Belshaw 8 years, 5 months ago

Mimas logoMimas is a Centre of Excellence and national data centre hosted by the University of Manchester. They have been involved in a series of mobile learning initiatives. This snapshot contains input from Keith Cole (Director), Jackie Carter (Senior Manager), Matt Ramirez (Project Officer) and Shiraz Anwar (UX Design and Project Manager).

 

Background

Mimas started with their mobile learning journey in around 2005 when Stuart Smith (then a member of the Mimas team) suggested that Mimas help develop a mobile learning solution for students on vocational courses. The Learning and Skills Council and JISC-funded Hairdressing Training project won the Handheld Learning Conference award in 2008 and, as Jackie Carter explains, paved the way for further initiatives:

“On the back of [the award] and the University taking notice of it and putting out a press release that we helped them write, people in the Manchester Museum who were teaching a Master's program contacted us - because there was another opportunity to bid for funding. We didn't get it, actually, but it showed that there was wider exposure at that point.”


Keith Cole remembers that Stuart Smith came up with a “compelling business case” for mobile learning: the material needed by learners could not be accessed in salons. This, argued Stuart, could be the case for other types of student who might not have internet access where they are doing their training.

 

Experiences

With one success under their belt, the Mimas teamed looked for other ways they could develop mobile learning resources. A JISC-funded service (now closed) called Intute featured a ‘Virtual Training Suite’ which consisted of web-based information helping students learn how to locate resources for use on their course. Through a Rapid Innovation grant, Mimas took one of those web-based tutorials and turned it into a mobile application.

Further projects resulted from Mimas’ interest in mobile learning, including the Mobile Internet Detective which, the team recall, resulted in real challenges of how to present content so that it is displayed correctly on mobile devices. Instead of just re-purposing content, the team realised the importance of usability and the student experience. It was a stimulus for something that has become a core part of what Mimas now do.

Mobile learning was becoming a hot topic in 2009 and Mimas decided to dedicate their annual Mimas Open Forum to the subject. July 2009 saw big names in the world of mobile learning head to Manchester for a conference which showed how serious Mimas now is about mobile technology and mobile learning. The amount of activity Mimas now undertakes in the mobile arena has mushroomed since 2009, including (at the time of writing) the SCARLET project which involves Augmented Reality, and Mobile Mimas which provides researchers a mobile-friendly way of accessing a wealth of information and articles.

 

Lessons learned

Because of the iterative and small-scale way Mimas have developed their mobile learning offerings the team has had chance to reflect on what makes them successful. They make the following recommendations:

Work in partnership

Rather than finding learning experiences to fit mobile technologies, Jackie Carter stresses the importance of focusing on learning. Her major recommendation is “working in partnership” which she believes gives much more attention to what the technology means on the ground with students. Keith Cole goes one step further adding that it’s important to have the right team in place:

“I think it's having a combination of staff with the right skills. So it's people who understand the technologies. People who understand how to get user requirements from focus groups. It's not a case of just, say, we'll develop that interface, but making sure that it meets users' needs... [It’s] developing something that's actually usable rather than just something developed because the technology enabled you to do it.


Working in partnership is difficult, but as the examples throughout this infoKit show, it is key to successful mobile learning initiatives.

Provide the business case

Partly due to what Gartner Inc. have dubbed the ‘Hype Cycle’ of technology there are often times when people get excited about particular new products or services. Whilst such positive energy can lead to impetus and a welcome change in the status quo, it has to be tempered with some pragmatism, as Jackie Carter points out:

“[T]here might be enthusiasm within a project or activity to do something but sometimes that can get overruled. And... the university is increasingly driven by the need to demonstrate impact particularly on the student experience. So, what we probably have now is evidence to take to the university to say ‘this can positively impact the student experience’.”


Every institution has more or less pressing agendas and priority areas within which it is best to work in order to gain traction. Often, by discussing ideas and attempting to align them with such agendas and areas, synergies and serendipitous connections can be made.

Experiment

Not only is it important to bring the right members of staff together with a mix of experience, knowledge and expertise but, says Keith Cole, it is also vital to experiment. He talks of the need when you’ve got staff with good ideas to “give them the opportunity to develop these, try these technologies out in a sort of sandpit environment.” Such a culture of support not only allows existing ideas to bloom but “prepares people to come up with these ideas”.

Ideas for experimentation may often come from parts of the institution or organisation which lack seniority. As Keith Cole notes, it’s necessary to listen to ideas from all quarters, as “these might be the way forward in terms of providing certain interfaces that students want”. After all, “students' behaviour is changing: they're less likely to go to the library and they don't necessarily use web based browsers”.

Conclusion

Mimas have become an emerging authority on mobile learning as a result of early experimentation and a commitment to consulting with learners. Although there have been ‘failures’ - Mimas have not always been successful in bidding for funding - they have learned from mistakes, ensuring that they provide a sound business case for their projects. Perhaps most importantly, Mimas have embraced mobile learning through senior management buy-in and forged productive partnerships with other organisations. They have seen mobile learning as not merely the focus of a single short-lived project, but have endeavoured to make it a core part of what they do as a team.