Universities experiment with educational mobile apps

Mobile Devices, like cell phones and Ipods, play roles in the way students study. A student uses an IPod touch to take notes and study for an exam. Photo by Brittany McGrail / [email protected]

In a world of smartphones, laptops and tablets, many universities are “going mobile” — making that drastic leap from being tech-friendly to tech-savvy by providing mobile applications for their students, whether in education or campus services.

Some universities, such as Marquette, are just beginning to take such steps.

Jon Pray, the associate vice provost for education technology, said integrating portable devices into classrooms is the biggest challenge the university faces in the future.

“Here at Marquette, what we’re focused on is the next generation of devices, and students will lead us to where that may be,” Pray said. “And (a large) factor are phones, (specifically) smart phones.”

Another question Marquette’s technology team members struggle with is how to deliver “application friendly” content to students.

“Macs are easy to integrate (due to their programming, development and sales process), but we are always working on portable devices and monitoring the different ‘flavor’ platforms of phone operating systems, like Mac, Droid, Chrome, Blackberry, Windows, and others,” Pray said.

Sarah Feldner, an assistant professor in the College of Communication, believes there are both upsides and downsides to integrating technology deeply into education, such as with mobile devices.

“My iPad makes it a lot easier (to do tasks), and all of my textbooks are on my iPad, which helps the clutter factor,” Feldner said. “But mobile devices can’t do word processing (and other office functions) yet, so I see them more for a research function than for developing lesson plans.”

For students, there are hundreds of mobile applications, or “apps,” already available to help with their studies from a variety of markets, such as MakeMobile’s “CoursePro” app for Android, Vimutki Technologies’ “Student Buddy” for Blackberry, and The University of Nottingham’s “iDocs” for Apple.

These apps allow students to track performance and grades in specific courses, organize their schedules with interactive calendars, and create document templates that can be exported to other devices.

Lindsey Livacich, a freshman in the College of Business Administration and iPhone user, believes the current Marquette system (with online apps such as D2L and Microsoft Outlook) is productive.

The possibility of a mobile-based educational “Marquette App” that would be available offline is an intriguing addition to that system for students such as Livacich.

In conjunction with CBS College Sports, Marquette launched a sports-based “Marquette Mobile” app last year for Apple products, which provide students with breaking news, scores, schedules and other information on Marquette teams.

“I feel like Marquette should have a (university-sponsored educational) app that students could access from their phones, because it would allow students to communicate and get involved easier with the Marquette community,” Livacich said.

Others in the Marquette community, such as Feldner, see a need to step back and evaluate integration of mobile technology into the curriculum.

“We have to be smarter about (using technology), and where we can use it, but it also needs a retraction from education in some places where students prefer face-to-face interaction and discussion,” Feldner said.

Pray emphasized the dynamic nature of technology use and mobile apps in education, and the uncertainty associated with that change, which makes arguments for and against mobile education apps valid.

“It varies from discipline to discipline and person to person, considering how adventurous they are with technology, and (willingness) to try new things,” Pray said. “I look at if I can keep up with the technology because there are always new devices coming into teaching.”

Mobile Devices, like cell phones and Ipods, play roles in the way students study. A student uses an IPod touch to take notes and study for an exam. Photo by Brittany McGrail / [email protected]