Does the use of personal mobile devices aid teaching and learning?
The increasing move towards technology-enhanced learning in Universities has raised dilemmas for the South African Higher Education sector as it grapples with models for students' equitable technological access.
The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) commissioned the Personal Mobile Device (PMD) Project in 2014. The aim of this project is to investigate how the “financial investment of a PMD, whether on the part of a university or on students themselves, can add value to the teaching and learning experience.” The project also aims to explore how access to these PMDs “enables greater flexibility and effectiveness of teaching and learning in the higher education sector both in and outside the classroom”.
In order to facilitate this, the DHET partnered with five South African universities to investigate various aspects of the use of PMDs. These institutions are Sol Plaatje University (SPU), the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of Free State (UFS), the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the University of Witwatersrand (Wits).
The findings from each university were presented at a Symposium held in Cape Town on Monday this week.
UFS presented an institutional perspective on blended learning and highlighted the particular challenges of data access and online learning as a result of the #feesmustfall protests. As a result of the protests in a three-week period UFS trained 350 lecturers on aspects of blended learning. SPU focused more on the student perspective and explored “how social media was used and how Web 2.0 tools like Facebook and YouTube facilitated the sharing of information and how it was incorporated into collaborative learning.” The main finding from SPU was that “the use of social media allows for interaction and sharing of experiences and interests on the web and that social media is valuable for collaborative learning through constant internet connectivity.”
UCT, UJ and Wits examined the use of digital media through the roll-out of tablets in different disciplinary contexts. Wits described the challenges students faced in accessing online resources and how critical both devices and data were to students learning especially during the recent #feesmustfall protests. They added, “we’ve learned that we are excluding students and we are excluding them in a range of different ways”.
At UJ the tablets were used to engage students more critically in course content by producing videos. They noted that “despite the overwhelming majority of students indicating that they are comfortable with technology (i.e., technical literacy), not many know how to use their devices in collaborative, transformative learning.”
UCT had a slightly different focus and looked at how the increased access to technology enabled changing pedagogical practices of educators. What the project has found thus far is that “access is an absolute issue” as stressed by project lead Dr Cheryl Brown. Although laptops would be the ideal device for students' learning experiences, certain tablets were able to provide an adequate teaching and learning experience she said. Researcher Genevieve Haupt elaborated explaining that the three main benefits of a tablet versus a laptop are portability - size makes it easy to carry around, chargeability - the battery generally lasts longer and invisibility - minimising the risk of theft for students using public transport as they are easier to conceal. Students were also able to use the tablets for a whole range of learning benefits including note taking, research, communication, access to learning resources and even creative projects like making videos.
A recurring theme throughout all the university presentations was the prohibitive cost of data for students and possible ways of addressing this. Out of this research the project will develop resources for both students and staff to better understand how PMDs can be used for teaching and learning.
To learn more about each project and its findings please view the project webpage.