Mobile learning: lectures to go

Students at York University can now study on the go with the aid of video lectures delivered via the Apple iPod.

“Really what we’re offering students is the ability to customize their learning environment to fit their lifestyle and their learning style,” says Diane Zorn, a lecturer in the School of Arts & Letters in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. Her first-year philosophy course, Modes of Reasoning, is available via downloadable video podcast, or “v-cast”.

Right: Diane Zorn is seen delivering a lecture via iPod

The course, which is delivered entirely online, is the second in Canada to utilize video podcasting, and the first to throw other digitized lecture materials into the mix. When students subscribe to Zorn’s RSS feed, they have their lecture handouts, in the form of PDFs, delivered directly to their iTunes or other podcast software.

Zorn says the v-casts will appeal especially to visual learners and what researchers have dubbed “kinesthetic learners,” who tend to be hands-on, active, and require frequent breaks. “A handheld device is perfect for them; they can learn in small bits while they’re on the go,” she says.

The lectures can also be downloaded in audio format, and they’re viewable on the course Web site, which is driven by rich media capture technology called Mediasite, by Sonic Foundry. Some students use a blend of all three delivery methods. The site also enables students to chat online with one another, and they can book a chat session with the instructor through – what else? – virtual office hours.

The brains behind the technology is York’s senior multimedia designer Kelly Parke, who, along with Zorn, has been nominated for the Council of Ontario Universities’ Teaching with Technology Award.

Left: Diane Zorn (left) with Kelly Parke

“We’ve really tried to create a true online course, not just translate a traditional class into an online format,” Parke says. “The focus has been, ‘what can we actually do with this technology?’ and then pushing those boundaries. The response from students has been amazing.”

Zorn adds that she sees real value in the concept of a classroom that is truly interactive, constantly evolving and can virtually adapt to students’ needs. “We’re letting go of the notion that the instructor needs to have complete control over the learning environment,” she says.

However, she cautions that students looking to use technology to avoid hitting the books will be disappointed. “This course is in no way designed to be easier because of its format. It’s simply different,” she says. “It’s more interactive and more self-directed.” And while course work is submitted online, the final exam is administered the old-fashioned way – in person.