Monday, November 30, 2015

File Attachments - The Bane of Mobile Learning

We can make our online courses more mobile friendly by cutting down on file attachments. File attachments are a nuisance to mobile device users.

The problem 

Downloading and saving. Files such as .docx, .pdf, xlsx need to be downloaded. These files are not easily saved to mobile devices and might need to be downloaded every time they are used.

Opening to view. Once downloaded the file must be opened with a mobile app. While all computers can now open most file types, this is not yet true with phones and tablets. The student's device may not have the necessary "app."

What you can do

Create a page. Each Learning Management System (LMS) has an easy to use page creation tool. In Blackboard you can create pages with the "item" and the "new blank page" content tool. Rather than attach a file, create a blackboard page that contains the files content.

Do you attach your syllabus as a Word file? Your syllabus can be pasted on one of these pages in your LMS. Do you have a reference table in Excel that you attach within your course? Create a page in your LMS and paste it either as a table or an image.

Links to the Web. Do you attach .pdfs of articles you want your students to read? Ask your librarian if she can give you a "permalink" to an online source for the article. By adding a link to the article the student may be able to read the article online. Linking to the source also ensures that you are not violating "fair use" by distributing copies of copyrighted works.

Interactive files. What if you want students to fill out information in your word document or excel file? You might consider sharing Google word processing documents and sheets with students and linking them to your course. Google documents can be manipulated online with free mobile apps.

Printing. One reason for attaching a file is that it can be printed and set on students desk for frequent reference. Mobile users are not only less likely to work at a specific desk, they are unlikely to have or use a printer.

Some attachments are unavoidable. Most can be replaced by pages containing the content or links to files that can be used in a browser or free mobile app. With more and more online students relying on mobile devices (at least some of the time), let's take steps to make our course content mobile friendly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Your Online Students May Not Have Computers

A recent study by the Pew Research Center reports that among young adults (ages 18-29) more have a smartphone than a computer. And this is a recent shift. In 2011 88 percent of young adults had computers, compared to 52 percent that had smartphones.

MP3, Computer Ownership Has Dropped Among Younger Adults Since 2010
Technology Device Ownership (PEW 2015)
While the study does not distinguish between young adults who are enrolled in college or not, it does alert online teachers about an important trend. Students are likely to be depending more and more on mobile devices.

Most learning management systems are adapting to this change by providing mobile apps. Apps allow students to view and interact with course content on a small format device.

While this is an important improvement, a course is only as mobile as we - online faculty - make it.  In my next post I will share a surprising strategy to make your course more mobile friendly.