dan lasota's masters in education portfolio for online innovation and design


Mobile Tools In Higher Ed

3 August 2012

Develop a position statement on mobile tools in higher ed supported by examples from your reading and research. How can mobile tools fit into higher education? What are the pros and cons of implementing Wi-Fi or 3G mobile tools? Are there promising practices or exemplary programs that provide examples? Publish your statement on your personal blog in an entry titled "Mobile Tools in higher ed."

Universities should:

  • Maintain strong campus wide wifi networks that can handle peak capacity bandwidth needs. Invest in new technologies like super-wifi which will extend the geographic footprint of wifi coverage and the importance of the university in the community.
  • Join federated cooperative service provider agreements so people from affiliated universities worldwide can access the Internet while visiting campus, and people from the local campus can readily access the Internet while traveling.
  • Build websites that are mobile friendly or have a mobile version as an alternative.
  • Invest in staff and faculty development so that the proper talent exists on campus to build websites, apps, and curriculum activities designed specifically for the mobile user and modern mobile devices.

The first item in my position statement is crucial to a viable mobile learning environment on a campus. A lecture hall filled with people, some with two mobile devices or more, can put a strain on wifi networks. The network infrastructure needs to be able to handle current and projected future demands to adequately support the academic mission. It is important to realize that given the nature of mobile devices, people will want access to network resources in far flung places. One promising technology is the 802.11u standard, or super wifi. This new technology which allows the broadcast of wireless networks two to three miles in an urban area and 40 miles in an open zone (Wolpin, 2012). Adopting this technology for universities would ensure that people could use mobile devices across the campus and beyond.

Eduroam is a federated network of wifi access points chiefly at universities and colleges throughout the world. Using one's affiliated university credentials, a person can access the net from a cooperating university's wifi. In addition to providing seamless access, the connections are encrypted, providing a much more secure environment than typical residential or commercial wifi hot spots (Eduroam faq, 2012). As a matter of convenience the login sessions for Eduroam wifi connections are valid for one year, so one does not have to navigate a login screen every time she activates her device.

There are two approaches to making websites mobile friendly. One method involves building a separate presentation of the web site geared towards the smaller smart phones and tablet devices. Some content management systems like Google Sites facilitate this as a checkbox option: Manage Site > Mobile: Automatically adjust site to mobile phones. Other extendable platforms like WordPress have plugins that allow transparent web page presentation switching upon detecting that a device is mobile. When a mobile device loads a website rendered with a mobile theme the page width is customized to fit into the smaller mobile device screen. WP Touch Pro for WordPress additionally provides options to use a device's native user interface elements which make certain input even easier for the mobile user (WPtouch Pro, n.d.).

Another approach in making web pages mobile friendly, especially for iPhones with adaptable virtual keyboards is using appropriate label markers for input forms on web pages. As an example, if the web page intends for a person to enter a phone number in an input field, that field can be labeled as number. When the mobile user focuses on this input element, the iPhone virtual keyboard will change so that the elements of a phone number, digits, dashes and parenthesis, are visible on the keyboard. Ben Nadel illustrates this simple technique in his blog post, Default to the Numeric, email, and URL Keyboards on the iPhone (Nadel, 2009)

These considerations of access and presentation of content to mobile devices are important, but are only a part of a successful effort in delivering good course content to the mobile user. Abilene Christian University (ACU) has a multifaceted approach to creating the twenty first century classroom and learning experience for students:

An exploration of their Web site announcing this project indicates that they have used a highly collaborative and comprehensive approach in planning for the iPhone and iPod Touch. There is a social interaction team, a digital media interaction team, a pedagogy team, a student research team, a living and learning team, a study coordination and invention team, an administrative and infrastructure team, and, of course, an application and programming team. (Bonk, 2009. p. 307)

It is clear that ACU is not relying on one aspect of technology to deliver a whole curriculum. ACU is using the talents of many teams to create the curriculum and learning environments that they envision. Other institutions should examine this model closely.

One disadvantage in building a program around mobile technology is that students will have increased costs to their education. To some students this can be economically prohibitive especially if the mobile device is intended to only be used in a small number of classes.

The obvious answer to this is integrate mobile technology to some degree into the majority of the curriculum. When the device is used across the entire degree program the cost per class becomes less than typical text book costs. There are many approaches to laptop purchase programs. Some are general and some are specific to meet the needs of particular degree programs (LaSota, 2012).

The real promise of mobile technology in higher ed is not just the ability to access the net untethered from a power cord, but having a wide range of integrated technologies wherever you go. James Pearce writes in Professional Mobile Web Development with WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal, "With devices that are capable of geolocation, orientation, touch input, and camera-based functionality, the features your mobile site offers might be a superset of your desktop experience" (Pearce, 2011, p. 187).

A good example of a website and mobile app combination that takes advantage of the capabilities of modern mobile devices is Project Noah:

Project Noah is an award-winning software platform designed to help people reconnect with the natural world. Launched out of NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program in early 2010, the project began as an experiment to mobilize citizen scientists and build a digital butterfly net for the 21st century. Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of nature explorers and helping people from around the world appreciate their local wildlife. (Networked Organisms, 2012)

The project caters to citizen scientists and observers but also has online education forums with sample lesson plans. The mobile app is free to download and once loaded on a device allows for captioning a picture or organisms, classification and automatically records the geo position and time of day. The project also includes classroom management tools to set up observation safaris complete with a badge system.

Another example of the integrated capabilities of mobile devices being used in higher ed curriculum is in place in a nursing program in Taiwan. In their A Context-Aware Mobile Learning System for Supporting Cognitive Apprenticeships in Nursing Skills Training authors Po-Han Wu, Gwo-Jen Hwang, Liang-Hao Su, and Yueh-Min Huang studied how mobile learning devices enabled with location sensors helped nursing students learn to diagnose and treat respiratory illnesses. The students' mobile devices acted as electronic mentors indicating correct procedure or helpful hints if something went wrong.

In the same period as the control group the mobile equipped nursing students were able to practice about three times as many procedures in the same time period as the control group:

For example, the students in the experimental group performed about 445 operations (i.e., 3.32 practices) on average for the first case within three hours, while those in the control group only performed 134 operations (i.e., 1 practice) within the same time. (Wu et al., 2012, p. 232)

Not all mobile applications need to be a completely customized website/mobile app solution. A study at Carlos III University of Madrid compared different engineering classes. Some classes used the concept of learning pills and the others did not. The authors described learning pills as short exercises given to students during class via mobile devices. The students had 24 hours to send back an answer to the question. The article:

described a successful experiment that was able to improve the ratio of student class attendance, student performance and student motivational patterns for electrical and computer science engineering students by using mobile devices in class to provide them with contextualized learning pills (short exercises). (Munoz-Organero, Munoz-Merino & Kloos, n.d.)


Mobile devices have their place in the higher ed curriculum. There are several promising examples of good uses in the classroom and studies to back up the increased rates of practice time, scores and attendance when these tools are used in a well purposeful manner. Mobile devices not only extend the time and area that learning occurs, but also make it more efficient with better results. In order to incorporate the best use of mobile devices in the classroom and increase learning efficiency University administrators should:

  • Concentrate on ways to support the hardware architecture to make campus networks readily able to handle peak demand from classes and public events.
  • Work cooperatively with other learning institutions and research organizations to join federated single sign on wifi networks.
  • Invest in staff and faculty development so custom tools and curriculum can be developed and supported.
  • Think about ways to help students finance the purchase of mobile devices and put careful consideration into technical requirements and partnerships with mobile device vendors that best serve the university educational missions.


Bonk, C. J. (2009). The world is open : How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

LaSota, D. (4 August 2012). [Web Page]. Laptop Purchase Programs at Select Universities. Onidan. Retrieved from http://onidan.lasota.org/2012/08/laptop-purchase-programs-at-select-universities/

Nadel, Ben (29 September 2009). [Web Page]. Default to the numeric, email and url keyboards on the iphone. The Blog of Ben Nadel. Retrieved from http://www.bennadel.com/blog/1721-Default-To-The-Numeric-Email-And-URL- Keyboards-On-The-iPhone.htm

Networked Organisms. (2012). About Project Noah. Retrieved August 4, 2012 from http://www.projectnoah.org/about

Munoz-Organero, M., Munoz-Merino, P. J., & Kloos, C. D. (2011). Sending learning pills to mobile devices in class to enhance student performance and motivation in network services configuration courses. IEEE Transactions on Education, 55(1), 83-87. doi:10.1109/TE.2011.213165

Pearce, J. (2011). Professional mobile web development with wordpress, joomla!, and drupal. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Pub

Wolpin, S. (2012). Stronger signals. Popular Science, 280(3)

Wu, P., Hwang, G., Su, L., & Huang, Y. (2012). A context-aware mobile learning system for supporting cognitive apprenticeships in nursing skills training. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 15(1), 223-236

Eduroam faq. (16 April 2012). [Web Page]. Retrieved from http://www.eduroam.org/index.php?p=faq

WPtouch Pro. (n.d.) [Web Page]. Retrieved August 2, 2012 from http://www.bravenewcode.com/product/wptouch-pro/#5

5 thoughts on “Mobile Tools In Higher Ed

  1. Jane Monahan says:

    Hi Dan. With UAF’s commitment to online learning programs, your comments are right on target. We know the truth is that some students taking online classes might be taking them from their UAF dorm rooms. This coupled with the fact that most research is done online, students connect to their professors and other students online, and the general public can use the wifi on campus gives strength to your argument about capacity.

    I agree that if students will be required to buy tech. tools for learning, more instructors need to add them in to the curriculum and subsidized equipment for students may be necessary to make sure there isn’t an “app gap” between those who can afford technology and those who can’t.

    A good paper. I think I saw a few dropped “s’s”. Read through it one more time and you’ll catch them.

    I like that you cited an earlier paper your wrote and added it to the references. Makes you seem so credible. 🙂

    • dan.lasota says:

      Hi Jane.

      On the self citing, I wanted to reference the ten or so school websites that I had looked up to get a feel for what is going on out there in higher ed as far as hardware purchase plans go. I think this method was less awkward than putting ten separate references into my paper from different universities. At least I hope so.


  2. Allison says:

    I particularly liked your comment about needing to incorporate mobile devices into a majority of curriculum in order to make it a worthwhile added expense to college students. I think it is equally as important for educators to utilize them in similar manners throughout courses–especially courses specific to a degree program. Use may differ for a justice major as opposed to an education major, but within each department there should be consistency. Just my two cents though…

  3. tatiana says:

    very nice paper with a technical flavor! I though we were suppose to give an assessment for mobile tools in K-12 though 🙂

    • dan.lasota says:

      I asked about doing the research on higher ed because that’s what I am primarily interested in doing. Skip gave approval. There are lots of on going studies on mobile learning in K-12. What I found most fascinating was the integrated apps like the one used in the Taiwan nursing program. I also looked a bit to see if any higher ed classes had adopted the Project Noah, but did not see any right away. We should be on the lookout if we do any botany, biology or environmental studies classes.

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