Professor’s Research Shares Benefits, Dangers
By Christine Gillette
Teaching college courses via handheld mobile devices offers students convenience but can also leave them feeling the effects of information overload, according to research by a UMass Lowell professor.
“If you look at mobile phones and smartphones, they are becoming very pervasive among students,” says Prof. Luvai Motiwalla, chairman of the College of Management’s Operations and Information Systems Department. “Today’s generation of students use mobile phones all the time and they are a good way to reach them.”
While he believes higher education should focus more effort on developing ways to use mobile devices for instruction, Motiwalla also knows, based on his research, that students can also feel overwhelmed if they are getting too much information at once.
Motiwalla recently shared the results of his research at the Microlearning 5.0 International Conference in Innsbruck, Austria, which brought together academics and other experts on mobile learning from around the world. Motiwalla was the only speaker from an American institution. It was organized by Research Studios Austria and Research Studio MicroLearning and Information Environments at the University of Innsbruck, both of which develop mobile learning applications
To conduct the research, Motiwalla developed a framework through which students could evaluate the educational aspects of a variety of mobile learning options that allowed them to participate in discussions in chat environments, instant-message assignments and group projects, submit homework and take exams.
UMass Lowell undergraduate and graduate students participated in the project, using smartphones in the classroom and completing surveys. They weighed in on how they felt about using the mobile devices to learn, rather than their opinions on how the application functioned from a technical standpoint, says Motiwalla.
Motiwalla evaluated the results based on how the students felt the various applications worked for them and their learning styles, as well as how applications might be combined to be more effective.
His major findings from the research were:
- The educational approach of most existing e-learning systems can be adapted to the requirements of a mobile system.
- The amount of information delivered at one time is critical to the success of mobile learning, as well as the style and timeliness of content delivery.
- Mobile learning should complement other learning platforms, not replace them.
The research also found that students thought the mobile interfaces were generally easy to use and enhanced understanding of the subject being taught, as well as offering greater accessibility to fellow students and faculty members. Some applications also received good marks for ease of sharing files, posting links and other course materials.