Course Materials for Mobile Devices:
Key Considerations

Students using their phone
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In the past term, Duke University piloted a course in introductory chemistry that replaced the standard textbook and course materials with online, multimedia content collected by the instructor from open repositories, as well as materials developed by the instructor under creative commons. The content included video clips from recorded lectures, ePUB texts and PDF files, and recorded whiteboard animations, all housed online. Students gathered at small tables during the course sessions and collaborated to solve chemistry problems, accessing the course resources as necessary during the class via laptops, tablets, and smaller mobile devices. Rather than lecture at the front of the room, the instructor circulated among the students, checking their progress, offering advice, and asking guiding questions.

The project was an experiment in selecting, creating, and using open-access educational materials on mobile devices, and in using classroom time to maximize collaborative learning, problem-solving, and application. The instructor piloting the project recognized that many students now access online course materials primarily through their mobile devices -- not through a desktop computer.

Projections by technology researchers over the past year confirm the immediacy of this trend:

  • In a May 2011 survey, Gartner Inc. reported that the amount of time people currently spend reading on a digital screen is nearly equal to the amount of time spent reading print
  • IDC reported a few months ago that by 2015 in the US, more people will access online content through mobile devices than through wired Internet connections

We are rapidly approaching the point at which most college students will access online course materials through their tablets, smartphones, or other mobile devices. Yet most faculty do not consider usability and accessibility on mobile devices when selecting or creating online materials and e-texts.

To gather a few tips for facilitating this shift, we turned this week to Rory McGreal, associate vice president and professor of computer technologies in education at Athabasca University and a UNESCO/COL chair in open educational resources, and Lynne O'Brien, director of academic technology and instructional services at Duke University. Here are some of the key steps they shared with us.

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