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OHIO Faculty look at how students really use mobile devices

Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Sean O'Malley  

What happens when you turn two classes full of students loose with 4G/WiFi tablets for an entire quarter?  

OHIO faculty Teresa Franklin, Jeffrey Anderson, and Gene Geist, graduate students Yanyan Sun, and Nick Yinger, and the Office of Information Technology’s Emerging Technologies group all decided they’d like to know.  

To make the study happen, the researchers partnered with OIT, mobile device manufacturer HTC, and cell carrier Sprint to give a 4G enabled HTC EVO View tablet to every student in Anderson’s undergraduate Management Systems class and Geist’s graduate Teacher Education seminar.   

“Most tablet studies limit themselves to a very narrow range of experience,” said Franklin. “Did the participants like the devices? We decided to take a more holistic approach and look at the big picture, both in and out of the classroom.”

Students were given full freedom with the tablets, with the stipulation that they blog about their experiences, complete a survey, and take part in focus groups and face to face interviews. The resulting data is being analyzed by the researchers and will be presented in a variety of forums, including the 2012 Ohio Higher Education Computing Council (OHECC) at the University of Toledo.

Anderson echoed the importance of freedom in the study. “We chose to leave access wide open for the participants – they could download whatever they wanted and use the tablet as they saw fit.” 

And the students?  

Their reactions ran the gamut, from those who spent most of their free time on the tablet to others who barely used it at all. Some students loved obtaining materials online, while others used the devices only for entertainment. Still, some consistent themes did emerge. Undergraduates were more adventurous and more willing to work past initial problems than graduate students, but all students agreed that, for academic use, the devices should include some form of orientation or training. A robust, easy to access wireless network also was a top priority, while academic applications like the Blackboard Mobile platform still have some maturing to do.

“Ultimately,” said Geist, “I wanted to know what students expect from technology – and what they expect from me as an instructor. I think this is good step in that direction.” 

For those interested in learning more, Franklin, Anderson, Geist, Sun, Yinger, and Sarah Rist of OIT will discuss the project in a Faculty Showcase on April 30 from 2:00 to 3:30 pm in the Friends of the Library Room (Alden 319). The event is free and open to the public.


Related Links

Faculty Showcase: Using Mobile Tablets in the Higher Education Classroom 
In their own words: participants and researcher comments