Existing in an Online Mobile World

A recent article in ars technica—an online publication that “specialize[s] in original news and reviews, analysis of technology trends, and expert advice on topics ranging from the most fundamental aspects of technology to the many ways technology is helping us enjoy our world”—reported on the plans of a publisher of scholarly journals to switch to an online-publishing model only. The article, by John Timmer, starts by pointing to a recent phenomenon highlighted by another publisher of scholarly content.

“Last week, the head of the U.S. branch of Oxford University Press noted an event that was striking, if unsurprising. When grading an assigned paper, a Columbia University professor found that the majority of his students had cited an obscure work of literary criticism that was roughly a century old. The reason? Because the work was in Google Book Search, while much other (more recent) work was not,” wrote Timmer in his opening paragraph of “Science moves from the stacks to the Web; print too pricey.”

In addition to the significant economic and business model-related consequences the Internet has exacted upon the publishing world in the 21st century, Timmer’s article hardly intimates the current situation those in academia—both faculty and students—find themselves in with his introduction of, “If information isn’t online, it may as well not exist.”

Online, these days, is increasingly mobile; gone are the days in which students were tethered to computer labs or to their desktop computers statically sitting in their dorm rooms and off-campus abodes. As wireless networks become more common and modern smart phones serve as access points to not only voice conversations but also an abundance of text, photo, and other digital data, today’s college students have a variety of educational and instructional content available to them literally at their fingertips.

Delmar Dade, a soon-to-be-senior studying law enforcement and justice administration (LEJA) student at Western Illinois University, is one student who embraces the access his mobile device provides him. This past spring, I sat down and talked with Delmar and one of his department’s faculty members, Associate Professor Jill Myers, to learn more about how mobile computing and content disseminated online is impacting the educational experience at WIU.

•••

Question: As a student at Western, have you used a mobile computing device related to your coursework?

Dade: I recently used my touchscreen phone that’s compatible with email. That helps a lot, because during the day you get several email messages, and some of them you don’t need, some of them you do. So, using my touchscreen phone, I can access my email and delete messages that I don’t need. This helps me stay organized. I’m also able to use my phone to check my class schedule, and I have even used it to check WesternOnline. Some of the phones let you do that. This helps, for instance, if you think you may have forgotten to do something for class. You can check and see to make sure you have all your assignments in or if you have one that’s due soon.

Question: In regard to your coursework, have you encountered any problems with your with mobile device?

Dade: One of the problems I’ve had is I have found the area [website] itself doesn’t support the software that the cell phone has, so, for example, the site might not load or load very quickly. Another problem is that you can’t always view attachments.

Question: What other kinds of things would you like to see happen that’s not happening, or at least that frequently, in your coursework?

Myers: For instance, how about podcasting classes?

Dade: I think it would be beneficial to use podcasts, say if someone who was really sick or if a student just couldn’t make it to class. It would also be good in cases in which, say, you were assigned a project, and you weren’t really sure what the instructor said and you didn’t happen to get that down in the notes. You could use the podcast to go back see what the assignment was.

It could even help with studying for a test. There are times, when I’ve answered a question on a test based on the information I had written down in my notes, and then I go back and talk to the professor and realize that’s not what he or she meant. You could always use something like a podcast (or vodcast), uploaded to WesternOnline or somewhere online, so you could go back and double check.

•••

In Fall 2008, Delmar, like other students enrolled in Professor Myers’s Criminal Procedure course, tried his hand at creating podcast content. (Oftentimes, the terms “vodcast” and “podcast” terms are used interchangeably, but vodcasts specifically incorporate a visual or video element.)

Delmar Dade, a senior studying law enforcement and justice administration (LEJA), talks about the benefits of working on a vodcast/podcast project in his LEJA 312 (Criminal Procedure) course offered at Western Illinois University.

•••

Question: Tell me about your experience of putting together the podcast for Professor Myers’s class. How did you go about putting it together?

Dade: When she initially assigned the project, she told our groups (we were worked in groups for the assignment) to get familiar with the software. So I went over to one of the labs, and I just messed around with it for a couple of hours, just to see what you could do. I did this so when it came time to put the project together, I wasn’t stumbling over the different functions and would know what the software could and couldn’t do.

I actually found [the software, iMovie] to be pretty easy once after just experimenting it with for a couple of hours. I was able to test different effects and functions that I could use to put together my assignment. So when we actually went in to create the project, the hardest thing was trying to figure out what to say, not how to put it together.

Question: How was working with the other students in your group on the podcast assignment?

Dade: I think it helped us to work in a group, because we could listen to a group member record into the computer and then tell him or her what it sounded like. If there were problems, we could go back and re-record a certain part and help correct each other.

It also helped us when we were studying for our final test. We actually used our podcast project to go back and figure out which of the issues we covered in our podcasts, which was a lot easier than going back and actually reading the whole case study. Because we had all 12 of the case studies right in front of us in the form of the podcasts, we could actually just go back and watch the 30-second clips and figure out what the cases were all about.

Myers: Was there a down side to the assignment? For instance, when you were in the lab, watching the other groups, what problems did you see?

Dade: I think people may have had issues with never using Macintosh computers before, or just trying something different, I guess. There were also problems with people understanding the software, so they weren’t able to use it to its fullest capabilities.

Once the groups turned the podcasts in, you then provided feedback, letting us know if we had gotten the correct issue [content] right or giving us just a general critique of our performance.

Myers: So how was the editing or fixing process?

Dade: Going back to fix the projects wasn’t that difficult.

Myers: I was hoping that the assignment would help you guys get better at being concise. As law enforcement people, you’re going to be out having to deal with the public. Do you think this assignment and experience helped you develop — or at least understand the importance of — these skills?

Dade: I think recording yourself and being able to watch it playback was very beneficial, just because you could see if you said, for instance, “like” too many times, or if your pauses were too long. It gave you the opportunity to see your body language and how you present yourself. For law enforcement professionals, being comfortable with public speaking is important because you not only deal with people directly but you also, oftentimes, end up speaking in front juries or to the media.

Myers also sees how traditional note-taking could be modified to provide students with ways to access course content online and on mobile devices.

Myers: I could put my PowerPoint presentations online. I have the ability now to make my PowerPoint presentations into podcasts,so instead of taking notes with paper pencil, they could use their mobile devices to view podcasts of the presentations. That is one way to help provide them with content that can be accessed on a mobile device.

Other things we’re looking at, from my perspective in law enforcement and justice administration: For instance, when I get a witness, I need to talk to them immediately, and I need to capture his or her statement. I think we should train people to start capturing people in the real world. So if I find a witness on the side of the street, and I want to be able to capture that, I can capture that on my cell phone through a video recording.

Or a law enforcement professional could use a mobile phone to take pictures from a crime scene. You can still do it the old-fashioned way, describing it in a report, but, again, with the technology that is out there, we are in a new world. I think we should start using the new world technology today. One of the things that I talk about in my classes is about how President Obama reached out to the masses with social media during his campaign. He reached a whole new level of people with Facebook, for example.

We want to use that kind of networking in education. It’s not only for social purposes, but we’d like to use it for educational as well as job-related uses.

For job searching, for example, newly graduated individuals can go to a Ning account, where criminal justice practitioners interact, post a résumé on there. Likewise, for a criminal justice practitioner or lawyer, I may want to know if there’s a expert witness out there on a particular subject or crime and an online network of professionals may help my find that expert I need.

Dade: One thing it could do is open up the world to different possibilities. Let’s say, like Professor Myers referred to, an investigator arriving at crime scene. Yeah, he or she can write down all he or she wants to, but if that investigator can grab a handheld camera and talk to the camera and walk through the crime scene, then he or she can go back and review that. This might replace taking shorthand notes, so when the investigator gets to the point that he’s writing the report, he will be able to refer to the video and get more detailed information for the investigation.

••••

For more information about how WIU’s Mobile Computing Task Force is helping to prepare students and faculty for mobile computing and learning, keep reading WIU’s Mobile Computing Blog at wiu.edu/mobilecomputing/mc-blog/.

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