Mobile education contributes to the learning experience

IBM Canada and Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., are giving themselves six years to advance the craft of mobile and distributed education.

According to Sandra Hodder, project manager of the mobile computing initiative at Sheridan College, the multi-year partnership with IBM is being approached in a holistic manner.

“We’ve tried to change the whole learning environment for the programs that have gone mobile, which is why IBM would be able to designate us as a “best practices” site,” Hodder said. “We’ve moved to what one would describe as an activity-based and collaborative-learning model.”

Hodder said Sheridan redesigned and refurbished 26 classrooms specifically for mobile computing. There are work areas called “puddle tables” which Hodder describes as rounded rectangles, “so when you put your laptop there you’ve got a place for your elbows,” Hodder said.

The tables are equipped with power and network connections, and the rooms each have data projectors, document cameras, VCRs, plenty of whiteboards and adjustable chairs.

The partnership equips Sheridan students with IBM ThinkPads. The school has introduced mobile computing simultaneously across five distinct academic schools, and they plan to extend the implementation to incorporate 80 per cent of its 90 programs, involving 8,000 to 10,000 students, by 2005.

“We do mobile for a program that is willing to make it an integral part of the learning experience, whether that’s inside or outside the classroom,” Hodder said. “The faculty has loaded their course materials onto course management software.”

For September 2000, 20 Sheridan programs have been designated as mobile, including International Business, Telecommunications Management, Architectural Technology, Interior Design, Educational Assistant and Enterprise Database Management.

Students are equipped with a laptop upon registration and provided with five hours of training in their use. “Students, because they have laptops, have opportunities to work outside of class, connected electronically rather than necessarily face to face,” Hodder added.

through a students eyes

The biggest convenience, according to first year Information Technology Support Services student Matthew Trumble, is being able to work at school as well as at home.

“It’s the convenience of having a laptop with you, with all your information on it,” Trumble said. “This is the first time I have ever used a laptop.”

Trumble feels the most important aspect of learning with these laptops is learning to use one, the joy of using one, and the convenience of carrying your work with you at all times.

“The laptop will assist you with the course. It’s just nice having all your information on one computer wherever you are, wherever you go,” Trumble said.

Trumble also feels laptops make students work harder. “If you go on vacation, you have your computer with you – you still do your work.”

Trumble used the IBM ThinkPad 390E this year.

The main benefit of IBM working with Sheridan, according to John Kutcy, general manager of the education industry with IBM Canada, is to jointly evolve the state of the art of integration of technology in the curriculum.

“This is something we know works,” Kutcy said. “It’s been shown and proven to be effective in certain situations.”

Kutcy said Sheridan saw their students were looking for a technology-based education, where they could leverage the use of technology and provide stronger programs and stronger skills to the students.

“What we want to do with Sheridan is learn with them. We’ve formed this partnership around trying to figure out how we can evolve this use of technology so that other institutions can benefit as well as Sheridan as we figure out how to do this better and better over time,” Kutcy said.

According to Sheridan’s vice-president of corporate marketing and development, Ian Mishkel, Sheridan has identified mobile education and distance learning as a strategic priority.

“We believe that it’s the way in which education is moving generally and certainly the way in which Sheridan is moving,” Mishkel said. “A student operating in a mobile or laptop environment is getting a more well-rounded education than one that isn’t. It stimulates the way people approach a particular problem. It’s all about learning anywhere, anytime, with anyone.”