HEA conference, day two, mobile learning

by Paul Maharg on 23/06/2010

Linked to HEA IMPALA.  Good to see IMPALA as the basis for this work — really good project.  Session on mobile learning by mobile devices and educational context, by Don Vinson, Simon Padley and Joanna Hardman, U. of Gloucestershire.  Physical sciences disciplinary context, but in many ways applicable to almost all disciplines.  Three examples were given, below the fold:

Introduction to Teaching and Coaching Principles.  

Students submitted an assessment as a podcast — this was assessed as a reflective viva – lecturer was looking for genuine reflection (interesting phrase — how did he know it was really genuine…).  Information was given to students that would normally be emailed.  

Coaching Practitioner Skills

Students engaged with the literature on the subject of coaching skills.  Previously, feedback didn't seem to make much difference to iterated essays.  Students were then given podcasted feedback, sent by email by the assessor. Fairly informal, with also annotations on the work — ie the podcast talked to the assessed work with its annotations.

Curriculum Development and Planning

This time, the team used a vodcast.  A lecturer interviewed another member of staff on what he was looking for in the assessment process.  Schoolteachers also came in and were filmed discussing their work in schools.  Staff also podcast assessment guidance to students (via email attachment).  

All three examples are innovative exemplars of how technology was being used to embed feedback and information and task-oriented data and contextualisation for students.  

In their study the staff had focus groups and forums to obtain feedback on all this.  Student feedback was very positive, as one would expect.  Flexibility was central, as well as the point that students normally only get written feedback, while this opened the range of channels.  Other students: 'rubbish really difficult trying to take information in.' 'If I did well I didn't bother to listen to it'.  


  • knowledge of the medium is key
  • there were issues re access to podcasts, eg privacy
  • what about the medium – audio, visual, etc.
  • what about the style — formal vs informal, vocal, pace, terminology
  • length — generally 3-5 minuts max
  • convergence was critical — link to written feedback sheet, eg
  • they found it encouraged interaction (student > lecturer), after the assessment.


  • variety of media to be accessed through different mobile technologies
  • ensure module teams co-ordinate return of feedback
  • map feedback comments to assessment criteria and use 'student-friendly' language — don't assume knowledge
  • ensure podcasts are accompanied by other feedback forms.
  • try to prepare thoughts prior to recording  - even fro more informal settings.
  • succinct information where possible – prcis thoughts.
  • ensure consistency across module team regarding required content and grade delivery. 

They used the gFlash site, useful for iPhones and other mobiles.  Used the gFlash for flash cards, self-tests, etc.  Very interesting little direction to take things.  Must explore that more.  

Implications for future research

  • Better or just different? — probably both.  Depends how it's used, obviously.  
  • Use of feedback
  • Terminology/language
  • Staff perception

Improvement in performance, question — team reported it was rather disappointing.  But viva reflective podcast was way better than previous.  Why disappointing?  Because, the team thought, students still had to engage better with the concept of feedback — and this was a faculty issue, too.  But students were pretty clear that the feedback was much improved.  Someone from the IMPALA project agreed with this, and said that this process of feedback engagement takes a long time — as we all know…  

Very good session.  Lots of imaginative and innovative use of general mobile-focused pedagogies.

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