Understanding Mobile Learning at Athabasca University through MobiGlam (UMLAUT-M): Do the Benefits Justify the Cost and Time? at the 2008 International Conferfence on Mobile Learning
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The goal of the UMLAUT-M project is to investigate the viability and pedagogic usefulness of mobile access to online course materials. Although the project team is composed of researchers and programmers from the United Kingdom and Canada, the project itself is being conducted at a distance University in Canada. Students of this university receive textbooks, manuals, and other materials through the mail. Currently, there is some provision for person to person interaction through telephones, the learning management system (Moodle), and various other electronic tools. Yet, there remains an apparent lack of "connectedness" among learners because of the physical and temporal separation of the instructors and the learners. The project tested a system called MobiGlam which allows students to access Moodle courses through a variety of mobile devices such as cellular telephones, PDAs, and smartphones. The researchers used the FRAME Model as the theoretical base for the UMLAUT-M project. The FRAME Model defines mobile learning as a synergy of device-usability, learner, and social aspects; that is, between technology, individuals, and communications (Koole, 2006). The convergence of these aspects results in an environment permitting enhanced networking and the creation of new questions and ways of solving them. The participants were graduate students in an Master of Education program. Participants of all computer-comfort levels were invited to participate so long as they had Internet and data access on a java-enabled mobile device. Participants were not required to use specific devices. The participants were asked to complete a pre-questionnaire designed to determine their prior experience and comfort levels with technology including Moodle and/or online learning. After a one-month testing period, the participants were asked to complete a post-questionnaire designed to assess their experience with mobile access to Moodle. Both questionnaires were structured according to the FRAME Model. Preliminary data from the project suggests that Canadian students and the Canadian telecommunications industry may not be ready to fully enjoy mobile learning. Many of the respondents had never before “texted” a message nor accessed the browser on a mobile device. Hence, perceptions of usability were lower than expected. The demographics of this study may have had a strong impact upon the results. A similar study with younger respondents may yield different results. Several respondents also had difficulties setting up their devices. The source of the problem was two-fold: use of devices that were not java-aware and difficulties with locating cost-effective SMS gateways in Canada. The researchers will conclude by discussing preliminary results of the project and some hypotheses regarding the potential effects of mobile access to Moodle on communication patterns, learning strategies, and learner motivation. The researchers will also discuss the benefits of anywhere, anytime access to online courses and whether or not such benefits outweigh learners' perceptions of mobile device usability difficulties and data transfer costs.