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Event report: ‘Face to Face with Mobile Technologies’

26 February 2013

Peter Phillips reports on the second instalment of Summits and Horizons, an e-learning-themed series of lunchtime workshops organised by the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT) and E-Learning Environments (ELE).

iPad with app icons spelling out 'The future is mobile'

The subject of mobile technologies up for discussion at this month’s Summits and Horizons workshop was one I was looking forward to. Given the ubiquity of iPads, iPhones, netbooks, laptops and android devices, I thought it would be interesting to see what steps UCL staff were taking to incorporate these into their teaching.

The first presentation, by Christian Spielmann and Parama Chaudhury from the Department of Economics, was about teaching using iPads. One of the main points they made about using iPads in lectures was the enjoyment which both the teaching staff and students took from the interactivity it allows. Modern teaching needs to move away somewhat from the traditional model of one person standing at the front and talking, and Christian and Parama’s use of the Explain Everything app, which records both sound and notes that are ‘written’ on the iPad screen during the lecture, is one way of allowing students to become more involved in the lecture as it’s evolving.

Parama found the feedback from her pre-tutorial videos of problem sets to be the most positive of any she had received on her course. Not only did the students feel more involved in the teaching, but also being able to watch the videos prior to the tutorial meant there was much more time for wider discussions in a course where tutorial time was at a premium. A theme, then, is emerging from these events: technology can be used to enhance the quality of staff-student contact time.

Once again, the speakers were honest about the teething problems and time implications of adopting new technology in teaching practices. The problems they had with the iPad, including the fact that it is hard to ‘write’ a lot on the screen using the Explain Everything app, prompted an audience discussion around the value of iPads versus netbooks and android devices (a discussion we’re all used to in everyday life). Through audience members sharing their own, similar experiences and suggestions, Christian and Parama learned of other mobile devices they could experiment with, which demonstrated the value for everyone of this sort of event.

Next up was Paul Bartlett from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who extolled the virtues of his brand-new undergraduate lab space. The old lab had been a relic of the Victorian era as far as room set-up was concerned and, in terms of IT, resembled something from the 1980s (which, in IT speak, may as well be the Victorian era). This is an area where the value of investment in new technologies and the importance of innovation can be seen.

Paul wanted IT to be an integral part of the learning environment, not just an add-on to it. One of the key aims of teaching must be to engage students and the live camera feeds, videos, animations and so on that can now be used in the lab, complemented by use of the students’ own mobile devices, has helped to achieve very positive feedback from the students. Although not a key aim of teaching, saving lecturer time by using Moodle quizzes to mark students’ lab scripts also must count as a real bonus of using technology.

I entered last week’s session wondering how much UCL was doing to be at the vanguard of using this sort of technology in teaching. It was clear that the room was full of colleagues who were passionate and engaged in using new technologies to improve teaching. The hope now is that UCL as a whole understands the importance of using new technology in innovative ways to improve the student experience and perhaps even save valuable lecturer time. Of course it is not a case of one size fits all, as the discussion of iPad versus android shows, but mobile technology is becoming more and more prevalent, especially amongst students, and so it seems clear UCL has an important role to play in its development.

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Page last modified on 26 feb 13 15:21

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