Thursday, August 28, 2008

Evaluating various ways to deliver multiple choice questions to mobile phones

I completed a set of comparative trials with a group of full time baking students some time back and analysed the evaluations this week. Multiple choice questions were texted to students using eTxt, on AMS forms generously provided on two Nokia phones from the Kinross group and via access to Moodle quiz on their computers.

Informal feedback already indicates a preference for the flexibility of having the questions delivered to their mobile phones instead of just being available on a desktop computer via Moodle. Several of the students were keen to have more questions provided so that they could revise their lessons whenever they had a window of time. This finding confirms the learning from Peter Mellow’s studytxt trials.

Unpacking the formal evaluations using an activity theory framework revealed some important aspects of user behaviour which I did not expect to find. If we view the completion of revision questions as the object (or objective) of the activity, the things that impact on the object include the students who will use the questions, the tools they use (mobile phones) and the signs they use (SMS & the use of ‘bullets’ on AMS forms & moodle multiple choice questions). The other things that contribute to the activity include the rules (trying to get the answers right), the community (the course the students are enrolled in) & roles (students as students, students as research participants etc).

The importance of the tool & the signs used seemed to be foremost in how the students evaluated the differences between answering the same questions via eTXT (SMS messages), AMS forms (multiple choice with ‘radio buttons’ loaded on to 2 Nokia phones) & Moodle (multiple choice with buttons but had to access the questions via the web).

Students went for the familiar. They expressed a preference for using eTXT because it was simple, they understood how to use it without having to learn a new phone system, they could answer the questions by texting the answers back whenever they had free time to do so.
As the majority of students did not own Nokia phones, they were unfamiliar with the menu system on the phones & found it difficult to find the questions. Answering the questions themselves proofed to be easy although a few students (both younger & older) needed to work through a few questions before they were comfortable.

The majority of students were on prepaid phones and did not want to access the questions on Moodle via their mobile phones. They were happy to hunt up a computer at CPIT to complete the questions but the convenience, just –in – time & nomadic aspect of mlearning then became redundant. Students had completed quizzes on Moodle before and were familiar with how to access & work through the questions. Even after I demonstrated how to access the questions via my Treo, none of the students took up the opportunity to also do the same with their mobile phones.

My learning from this is that the “learn an unfamiliar activity with a familiar tool” seems to hold true. The layout of multiple choice questions on AMS forms & Moodle is vastly superior to just receiving the question as a text message. However, the students made a choice for the familiar & by their perception, the cheaper options. So whatever we do from now on needs to be simple to use BUT also familiar.

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