Apps for creativity in learning

SketchBook Pro app image

SketchBook Pro app image

This week I attended a session on using iPads for education at London Metropolitan University. The session description stated that

Derrick Welsh is playing with iPads for teaching and learning purposes.  He has offered to run a hands-on session to explore how we can create engaging and creative activities with the iPad – and how we can harness its potential for teaching, learning, assessment – and FUN!!

Derrick Welsh is described as an Artist-Technologist. He began experimenting with sending drawings as text messages in 2007 and moved into drawing on handheld touch devices for education. He has worked with schools and youth groups to encourage creativity.

We currently have some iPads in the Schools that are being lent to staff for a few different purposes. These include:
Teaching – e.g. app development in Online Journalism and Cultural Policy and Management; Experimentation – staff have borrowed iPads for a few weeks at a time to see how they could improve their organisation, note taking, presentations etc, marking pilots and administration – for example using dropbox for paperless meetings.

One of the ways we have found iPads most useful in the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences so far is for marking, for example iAnnotate is proving useful for marking student scripts that have been submitted via Moodle.

I was interested in attending this session as it looked at different uses to those we are exploring.
We spent the afternoon looking at a number of different apps – mostly free or with free versions. The group was quite diverse, with attendees from different universities and differing roles from library to teaching staff. Derrick introduced a number of different apps for different purposes. My favourites are below:

SketchBook Express/Pro

This is an excellent drawing application. We all doodled on the same iPad and then Derrick created a fantastic pattern by copying the image and mirroring it. I really enjoyed using this (although I have the pay for version – SketchBook Pro). I can see this being used for mind mapping and visualising. Sandra Seifield, the organiser of the session for London Met, said she felt it would be useful to ask students to draw representations of theories and concepts. I think this is a great idea.

Flip it! Lite and Animation HD Lite

These are free animation apps. You can quickly create and play an animation. I can see this as a way of revising or summarising work.

I personally like the effect of this although I’m not too sure of it’s its educational uses! P – perhaps for revision notes! You type a word or words and then can use them to draw. The app calls it ‘typography art’.

I was glad I attended this session, which highlighted some ways in which creativity can be embedded into learning to help students understand the subject they’re studying.

Image by Penguinpoker uisng TypeDrawing app

Image by Penguinpoker uisng TypeDrawing app

Flip It! animation

Flip It! animation

“Mobile learning: Crossing boundaries in convergent environments” Conference in Bremen, Germany

This conference was run by the London Mobile Learning Group this was a mobile learning conference with a twist. Part conference, part un-conference, with a 50 euro attendance fee, and a local hostel on offer for those on a tight budget, this conference was designed for anyone with an interest in mobile learning, from PhD students to primary school teachers through to those utilising mobile learning in medical and professional industries.

The conference was very small for an international conference, with a maximum of 150 participants which gave the event an intimate feel as if everyone would know each other at the end. The most unique aspect of the organisation was that it was partially traditional with presentations of peer reviewed papers and workshops, and partially run in an unconfererence style allowing for anyone to join in and share their work and experiences.  Papers and presentations were uploaded to cloudworks throughout the conference.

The keynote discussed the widening role of mobile technology in primary education discussing a project that brought computer science teachers and art teachers together, using everything from robots, haptic and virtual environments they attempted to show students that computers are not about using fixed tools and a keyboard, but rather an environment for creation and imagination.

This merging of computer science and arts departments within schools reminded me of an article in the guardian last week about South By Southwest (probably the worlds most famous conference around emerging technologies) the author had seemed shocked that because use of technology was so integrated in our everyday lives, sxsw interactive was no longer a conference about the tech industry it had become a conference quite simply about everything. This mobile learning conference was essentially exploring how mobile technology has allowed us to enhance all aspects of learning, from primary school arts classes to higher education, professional development, and also exploring the role of mobile learning in more independent and informal learning contexts.

A main theme that arose time and time again were the possibilities for using mobile devices to bring the outside world into our classrooms to add more social, cultural and geographical context to our teaching. While many of the presentations were around primary and secondary education, I feel we have good examples of this type of activity taking place more and more in Higher Education.  For example during the flip video project in the Sociology Department at City, first year Sociology students were asked to work in groups, to create a video about a space on campus of their choosing.  The project asked the students to explore the sociological aspects of the space, giving the students their first taste of thinking like sociologists.

I presented the research I have been conducting with Dr Sian Lindsay and Ajmal Sultany from the LDC around the use, ownership and attitudes of our students towards using their personally owned devices.  We have found two years in a row now that students want to use their personal devices in a passive way, they want to access grades and feedback, and access the VLE, however they are resistant to using their mobile devices in a classroom setting.  I found this surprising as 77% of them now own smartphones, and they happily engage in projects where we provide the technology (e.g. flip video cameras).  I find it concerning that the Horizon Report (pdf) has repeatedly named smartphones as the next big thing in Higher Education, and this has been reiterated throughout mobile device research, and yet I wonder if anyone  is actually asking the students whether they are willing and able to use their own devices as part of their formal learning experience.  Our presentation “just because they own them doesn’t mean they use them” is available here.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at this two day event in Bremen and while it was interesting to listen to the experts, the unconference angle allowed far more sharing of ideas and practice than is normally achieved in a typical two day event.  Because of the low costs of running this in a local community centre the range of participants able to attend really contributed to the overall success of the conference, I hope to see more events like this arising in the future.

European Mobile Learning Conference Bremen 2011

I’m very pleased to announce that Dr Sian Lindsay, Ajmal Sultany and myself recently had our paper on the role of Mobile Learning in HE accepted for presentation at the 2011 European Mobile Learning Conference in Bremen. The abstract for our paper is below:

Just because they own them, doesn’t mean they use them: Exploring the potential for mobile learning in Higher Education


This paper explores a two year study conducted into current trends in student mobile device ownership and attitudes in a UK HE Institution. In February 2010 after the first year of our study, we reported on the finding that 99.8% of City University London students owned a mobile device, however our student body had clear ideas as to how they would like to utilise these devices for their Education.

This paper presents the findings of our 2010 and 2011 student mobile surveys. The survey results overwhelmingly indicate that even a year on from our original survey, our students still want to use their mobile devices for accessing teaching-related activities, learning content, and administrative tools. However after implementing a new wireless infrastructure at the University, based on the results from last year’s survey, the majority of students are still not positive about using their personal devices for interacting in class. The paper explores what CUL are doing to respond to the request for more access to information via mobile devices, while questioning why students are not willing to use their mobile devices in a more formal classroom setting, and examines what happened when we piloted in class use of mobile devices.

1. The Mobile Learning Survey at City University

The aims of the student mobile device survey was to discover the types of devices students own, what they currently use them for, their attitudes towards using these devices for formal and informal learning, and any issues surrounding the use of these devices on campus, and more importantly whether these attitudes are changing over time. The explosion in smartphones and more recently tablets has been attributed to advancements in wireless technology and 3G mobile networks, as well as the production of extremely sophisticated hardware. The 2009 Horizon Report suggested that mobile devices would be widely adopted for learning within a year (Johnson et al. 2009), and it is important for institutions to consider both the pedagogic potential, and the degree to which students are both willing and able to put their gadgets to this purpose.

1.1 Methodology

The Mobile Device Survey at CUL ran in January 2010, and then again in January 2011. Several changes were made to the survey the second time it ran, the most significant improvement to the design has been to the sampling. During the first student mobile survey in January 2010, the research team used a ‘self selection’ sampling technique in which the students were made aware, through the use of advertisement, of the study survey and could choose whether or not to complete the survey. The researchers had no control over who would take the survey and how many times, and this method does not allow results to be generalised to the target population as there are many biases involved.

During the second survey conducted in January 2011, based on methods outlined by Dr R. Sapsford, stratified random sampling was applied (Sapsford 2007), this was in order to give a research sample that would be more representative of the population studied as a whole and therefore more likely to satisfy mathematical assumptions underlying many of the statistical tests we wished to use during analysis of the data. To produce a random sample we obtained an accurate list of student email addresses at the University. The sample was then stratified according to School so that students from all Schools were fairly represented, the researchers then used a program to randomly assign a number to each member of the population from which the sample was taken, these students were then send personalised email invitations asking them to complete the survey.

In order to ascertain whether the questions on the survey were clear, we used a pilot group of colleagues within the University, but not necessarily working with technology to pilot the survey and produce feedback, before releasing the survey to the students.

2. Results and Conclusions

Although the methodology used in disseminating the survey changed in 2011, the results have been consistent across both years of the survey despite avoiding a ‘self selecting’ sample the second time round. The survey showed that only one student each year did not own a mobile phone, and many students own Smartphones and tablets. In 2010 69% of students had used their mobile devices for web browsing during the last ten days, in 2011 initial results show that this has risen to 72.3%, In both 2010 and 2011 65% of students use their mobile phone to access their email, and that 53% of students had accessed Facebook on their mobile phone within the last 72 hours. These results illustrate that our students not only own sophisticated devices, but also use them in a sophisticated way.

In the 2010 survey the majority of students complained about their inability to access the wireless network on campus via their mobile devices, at that time you could only access campus Wifi with a laptop. The evidence collected during the survey was used to build a business case to improve the network infrastructure on Campus, and this new network was then implemented in September 2010. However while students now use the improved WiFi network on their mobile devices, the way in which they want to use their mobile devices on campus has not significantly changed.

We asked the students “if accessibility was improved at CUL, what would you like to use your mobile device(s) for? (please select all that apply)”. In both 2010 and 2011 the results were very similar. The top three answers that students gave were: Viewing timetable information (2010 & 11), Receiving Grades and Feedback (2010 & 11), Receiving Txt Alerts from Tutors and administrators (2011), Accessing the VLE (2010). The answers that the fewest number of students opted for were: Asking questions in class by txt message (2010 & 11), in class voting (in place of PRS/Clickers) (2010 & 11), Subscribing to RSS and Podcasts (2010 & 11).

It was clear from these results that while students are extremely competent at using the complex features their phones offer, and would like greater mobile access to institutional services such as grades and feedback, they are not keen to use these devices in a formal classroom setting. In both the 2010 and 2011 surveys the majority of students ticked a box that said they “did not want to use my mobile device in class as part of my education”, many students left additional comments stating that this could be distracting, and they didn’t think it was appropriate.

In his 2010 article on student mobile devices John Traxler said that “student devices unlock the dreams of agency and control and choice amongst students… Universities cannot afford, procure, provide nor control these devices, but they cannot ignore them” (Traxler, 2010). With the current funding cuts in Higher Education across the UK, coupled with the pressure from employers to provide graduates with high level computer literacy skills, institutions may expect student owned mobile devices to play a larger role in students formal education. As institutions become less able to afford up-to-date technologies, our paper examines how student attitudes may influence our use of mobile devices for teaching and learning.


Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009). The 2009 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Traxler, J. (2010), Student Mobile Devices, ALT-J Volume 18. No.2

Dr. R, Sapsford (2006), Survey Research, Sage Publications Ltd; Second Edition

“Mobile engagement or miss-dial?” A Multi-institution survey interrogating student attitudes to mobile learning

This paper was presented at the Association for Learning Technologies Conference in 2010.

Kate Reader, Mike Cameron, Sian Lindsay, Hilary Griffiths, Ajmal Sultany

City University London, Durham University, City University London, University of Bristol, City University London

The 2009 Horizon Report suggests that mobile devices will be widely adopted for learning in the next year. This study conducted at three UK HE Institutions highlights that a high percentage of our students now carry smart devices (like iPods and Blackberrys) with features like web browsing, running of diverse applications and location awareness becoming standard. There are already numerous commercial and institutional e-Learning packages and ‘apps’ for students to install and access on the go. Just as educators have been keen to exploit the ‘sea-change’ that saw social networking mushroom, institutions are now co-opting students’ mobile devices. As with Web 2.0 tools, we need to consider both the pedagogic potential, and the degree to which students are both willing and able to put their gadgets to this purpose.

Mobiles were previously reserved for personal and social use only. This study investigates whether students are willing to compromise by combining social use of their mobiles with formal education and draws together online surveys of students at three UK universities with different educational strategies, together with a review of existing literature. The paper seeks to establish the willingness of students to use their mobile devices for learning and in which contexts. We explore what devices, contracts and skills students have and consider how we might use them effectively for blended learning and more interactive face to face teaching. Are students willing to use their mobile devices to access learning materials or send and receive texts with classmates and lecturers? Will students use their credits to vote in class and bandwidth to view educational multimedia? Or will students view their mobile devices, like some Web 2.0 sites, as ’their environment, not ours”? Many students counter, “if they go on to Facebook, I’m moving out” (Salmon, quoted in Swaine, 2007). Will students also switch off their mobiles to education?

Understanding ownership, skills and attitudes to mobile learning can guide institutional approaches to adoption. Can we make productive and effective use of mobiles to meet student expectations and provide more interactive, time and location-sensitive learning? Or are we dialling a wrong number?

Click here for a full copy of the study

Click here for our presentation: