Tuesday, November 29, 2005

eTXT trial results

Well, I have had an exciting couple of weeks. Each morning, I used eTXT™ to post out questions to participants in the trial. I would check about 11am each day to see how many responses to the questions posted in the morning have been received. Participation rates were good. 10 of the 19 participants continued to put in answers for most of the questions and 2 other participants texted in intermittently.

In summary, in week one, I texted 2 food safety questions a day to participants along with a short text message explaining what to look for in the question type.. I trialled multiple choice, short answer, fill in the blank, sorting and matching questions types. In week two, I texted out questions on how the participants perceived the food safety question from week 1. Questions included what question type the participants preferred; how each question type displayed on the mobile phone screen; which questions were easiest to read and which were easiest to respond to plus how many questions a day would be manageable in a workplace situation.
The main findings from the trial was that participants preferred questions that were easy to read and easy to respond to. Participants were prepared to view questions that required scrolling on their mobile phone screens if the answers to the questions were in turn easy to input. Multiple choice questions were favoured most, followed by sorting and matching question types. Although short answer and fill in the blank questions displayed well on mobile phone screens, participants found it difficult to compose text messages that would fit into the 160 character limit to fully answer these questions. Participants also had a preference for no more that four questions a day to be delivered to their mobile phones.

Undertaking the eTXT™ trial was a very good experience. Although eTXT™ was very easy to use, the type of questions, the number of questions that can be posted out on each day and the user experiences in responding to the various question types was very enlightening. Much work needs to be done to ensure that questions are written so that they are easy to understand, display well on mobile phone screens and are simple to respond to and mark.

Trialling formative question types has provided important information on how to best use eTXT ™ to support the mlearning at CPIT. Text based mobile phone communications supported with synchronous voice interaction with distance students are solid platforms to begin with. Future developments to extent the uses of mlearning with work-placed based learners can now be spring boarded for CPIT from projects next year to offer either food safety or bakery unit standards.

Friday, November 18, 2005

eTXT trial week 1

Week one of the etxt trial has progressed well. I am especially encouraged by the prompt replies I am getting from my apprentice participants. Last week, I texted all the apprentices who had volunteered to help with the trial. This group of apprentices came to CPIT on a second year block course back in August. I introduced the concept of the mlearning trial to the class of 16 apprentices while they were at CPIT. All in, a 5 minute session. 10 of the apprentices filled in a form volunteering to be part of the trial. Of the 10 I texted last week, 9 replied, with 8 agreeing and 1 declining to take part. All replied within the space of 2 hours of the text message being sent out to them.

During week 1 of the trial, at least 5 of the apprentices replied to food safety questions being sent out to them. I had already posted several messages to them to say that it was not compulsory for them to answer the food safety questions. So the response has been very heartening.

Text messages work better than email messages as apprentices are connected to the phone all the time. They check their phones for messages at every opportunity and I have noticed that smokers tend to check phone messages while they are on a smoking break. Several years ago, an apprentice told me that the only way he could get a break at work was to become a smoker. Otherwise, the bakers at his bakery worked from 2am to noon without a break! I think that the realities of the workplace, especially in a trade like baking, mean that being provided with the opportunity to take snack sized bites at completing work towards their unit standards works well. After a 10 to 12 hour day of hard, physical and often hot work that also demands maximum input from their cognitive senses, bakers are often too tired to make the effort to put in more hours in front of a computer to do work necessary to completing their qualification. Providing some incentive and motivation by way of sneaking in some learning moments using mlearning will hopefully pave the way for more reflective learning to take place when the time does come for the apprentice to ‘hit the books’. Therefore, I see mlearning as a good way of starting apprentices on an on going cycle of working towards their qualifications. In my context, mlearning should be used as a support tool, not be the primary way in which content is delivered to apprentices.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Keeping up with how mobile technology is progressing

I have been lurking on the Oxford University moodle discussion site on next generation mobile applications. The site facilitators include Tomi Ahonen, Ajit Joakar and Peter Holland. Tomi is well known for his work on forecasting future applications for mobile technology. Ajit has written a book called the Open Garden which discusses how to build commercial applications on the mobile internet and how innovation can be fostered within the mobile internet.

So far, the people who have introduced themselves on the discussion site are working mainly in the ITor telecommunications industry in mainly technical and marketing positions. So it has been an interesting perspective for me to have a look at the commercial aspirations of various individuals and companies..

The discussions range from the mundane to ones that really provide good information into the present applications of mobile phones. In particular, there have been several posts that have discussed the ramifications of present applications, using what we can do now to launch pad more innovative ideas and applications.

One of the most important things I am learning by checking on the discussions since the forum started at the end of August has been how quickly a community has built up. The other thing I have picked up is the positive energy and enthusiasm evident in various posts. The technology that allows so many people who have a common interest to come together to share their thoughts and ideas is really good to experience.

How can I replicate this for my apprentices? I would like to see that the community of apprentices that is formed becomes a support group that helps apprentices work through workplace assessment issues, evidence and portfolio gathering challenges and other topics that apprentices would like to discuss with each other. As it is, many apprentices are isolated in their workplaces where often they are at the bottom of the workplace hierarchy. Their struggles, which might seem to be extremely difficult for each individual, can often be more easily surmounted with the support of their peers.

Block courses that apprentices attend once a year could be use as the seeding points for a mobile community of apprentice bakers to start the process. The technology is literally in their hands as all of them have a mobile phone. They only need a platform for their discussion forum to take place. However, writing emails / moblogs are not something that the majority of apprentices would relate to. Perhaps we could start a discussion forum using audio /podcasting formats. Would it work? How could the discussions be threaded? How are we going to archive & then display the discussions on a mobile phone? Again, more questions than answers.