With the rise of mobile technology over the last few years, the number of mobile users that represent the student population has increased rapidly. Possessing smartphones, tablets, and eReaders, students now have even more options for computing and learning on-the-go. Whether you are a learner or a teacher, these devices and applications are bound to be resourceful in your higher education experience.
Facilitated by CTLT staff, the Mobile Devices Lunch’n’Learn session at the CTLT Institute was buzzing with eager participants who were ready to learn more about mobile applications and how these applications can be used in the classroom. Set up as a scavenger hunt, participants were encouraged to explore six different applications currently available on mobile devices: visual notetaking, Snap’n’Know apps, ePub docs, augmented reality, geotagging, and QR codes.
Visual notetaking is a graphic recording method that produces as you go. It allows users to digitally paint their ideas through images and words (with the touch of a finger), while giving them flexibility in the choice of colours and brushes. For those that were used to the traditional paper and pen method of notetaking, Cindy Underhill, CTLT Strategist, Learning Resource Design, demonstrated the power and convenience of this tool. Not only does visual notetaking allow users to draw their ideas from scratch, but it also has the capability to import photos from Flickr for an added element of idea mapping and visual expression. Users can also easily export and share their final notes as high-resolution (up to 4608 x 6144) JPGs or as a QuickTime movie.
Brushes, a visual notetaking app developed for the iPad, features a dynamic interface with multiple layers and extreme zooming. It can replay the painted notes stroke by stroke (using Brushes Viewer on Mac OS X). Cindy explained that this can be an effective app when creating a step-by-step tutorial video.
The idea behind Snap’n’Know apps is simple: capture (snap) sounds and photos of your surroundings, and your mobile phone will let you know what it is that you’re looking at. While the idea is simple, these apps boast impressive abilities to decode and identify data. Joe Zerdin, CTLT Analyst, Emerging Technologies, and Kyle Gailling, CTLT IT User Support, showed participants how Snap’n'Know apps can be utilized. Joe explained that “the basic necessity for these [Snap'n'Know] apps to function is a built-in camera or microphone and Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity.” This allows users to capture sounds or photos of objects, text, and landmarks, and connect to web databases or via GPS “fingerprints” to deliver the search result.
Google Goggles is a cross-platform app that can identify unknown artworks or company logos, and translate foreign text. Kyle demonstrated its ability to recognize characters from a business card, where the app will then prompt the user to save the information as a new contact into their mobile phone. Another Snap’n'Know app is Shazam, a popular tool for discovering songs that are currently playing. Simply hold up your mobile phone to the speaker, and Shazam will identify the song details directly on the screen. Other apps in this category include What the Font? and Word Lens (both for iPhone only).
ePub (short for electronic publication) is an open standard for digital publications, developed and maintained by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Emily Renoe, CTLT Learning Technology Specialist, stated that the number one advantage of ePubs is the ability to reflow and resize text based on screen size. This allows for maximum optimization and maximum distribution over various mobile devices, a limitation that PDF documents exhibit to its readers. Another advantage is the support of integrated images and multimedia, which enable an engaging and content rich publication.
Emily continued to describe how the UBC Library (or any UBC department) could further facilitate resources through this medium. Since ePubs are an open standard, Emily stated that anyone can easily create and share an ePub eBook by using free tools available online. One method is to create an iTunes channel, where ePubs can be uploaded by the content author and downloaded for free by students. Furthermore, course materials and blog posts could be created and uploaded in an ePub format, giving students convenient access to these materials from their mobile devices.
Augmented reality (AR) is “overlaying data over physical space,” as explained by Brian Wilson, CTLT Instructional Designer/Project Manager. The layering of digital information (including graphics and sounds) over the natural surrounding heightens the way the user experiences the real world around them. Offering real-time data and spatial positioning, AR can display Points of Interest (POI) while the user is walking down the street, or it can be programmed to gather information within an indoor site, such as in galleries and museums.
The possibilities for AR to be adapted across disciplines as an active form of on-site learning are endless. Imagine a group of students who are engaged in field work – watching an AR-embedded video as they’re on location can contribute to a more comprehensive learning experience. It allows for greater perspectives in the way information is presented and digested, and students can quickly gain and apply hands-on knowledge to their work. AR can also be used in understanding history in a compelling way. Through using historical 3D image overlays on current buildings and landmarks, students can witness and learn about events that connect the present with the past.
Geotagging is the process of adding geographical information to almost any content that is shared online – photos, videos, blog posts, RRS feeds, and data sets. Zack Lee, CTLT Educational Resources Developer, explained how geotagging captures GPS information from mobile devices, and adds location-specific data to photos and videos. This form of data sharing allows users to see the various interactions that are taking place at a current location, and makes finding new resources more accessible. Flickr and YouTube are examples of social web tools that enable users to geotag online content. With the addition of geographical information, users can easily observe and compare the range of activities that have been gathered at a specific location, such as photos taken during the earthquake in Japan. Zack suggested that by geotagging photos and videos, users will actually “add even more data to what they’re [already] sharing.”
Services such as foursquare and SCVNGR partner with businesses to encourage users to “check-in” to earn points and they also act as tools that direct users to new locations that they may have otherwise never discovered. Universities can adapt these tools to encourage campus-wide engagement by promoting campus locations as “check-in” hot spots. Since SCVNGR is also a mobile gaming platform about doing challenges at places and earning real-life rewards, using SCVNGR can be a great initiative to get students involved in participating in the information building process.
QR codes have become increasingly popular, and most participants have encountered these mobile barcodes at one point or another. QR (short for Quick Response) codes contain meta-data that will lead users to urls and exclusive pieces of information once the code is scanned. As such, a QR code scanner (available as a cross-platform app free for download) and a built-in camera on your mobile phone are required. Lucas Wright, CTLT Learning Technology Specialist, provided demonstrations for those that were inquisitive towards its functions. As participants scanned existing QR codes with their mobile devices, Lucas explained that creating your own QR code is just as easy as extracting the information. He directed participants to ScanLife, a comprehensive code generator and management service that allows users to scan existing codes or customize the creation and delivery of their own codes.
While QR codes have garnered popular use as a marketing tool, there is currently a limited discernment towards its use in higher education. In teaching and learning, QR codes can be effective in providing instant access to context specific information and content rich media. By scanning QR codes, students can find out more information about course materials without having to write down or memorize a web address. This creates an instant bridge between real-world information and supplemental online resources.
The mobile applications that were introduced at this session display an impressive evolution in technology that is emerging every day. Mobile devices and applications differ in individual functions, but the overall value of mobile technology is with its ability to heighten the user experience and help users make sense of the world around them. With the further development of these devices and applications, we can expect learning to become even more dynamic and interconnected. Content will be brought to life, conversations will have the ability to expand across channels instantaneously, and sharing will become a habitual way of engaging with the world. Whether it is in or beyond the classroom, there are still many facets to mobile technology that have yet to be explored. As we embrace the nuance of mobile learning, maintain an open mind and continue to explore the endless possibilities!