Apps and Research

I’m writing this and the next two posts a while after the fact. Not because I didn’t want to, things just really got away from me. So if these posts seem a little less detailed you now know why.

My first session of the day was in regards to the suite of My ACU tools. We discussed the philosophy behind the web-based tools developed and used at ACU. We covered the reasons why they developed web tools rather than native and what languages and backend they used to develop them. This was great information, especially with the development in mobilising Sakai that we are looking at doing. Dennis gave me a quick run through their newest tool, Heads Up, which looks like a great tool for use in the classroom for group work and problem based learning.

Most of the afternoon was a truly mind-blowing session about the research being undertaken at ACU with Scott Perkins and Bob McKelvain. I would honestly say that mind-blowing is not an overstatement – I truly think that this one conversation was worth the whole trip to the states.

Scott gave me a great overview of the work that has been done and walked me through some of the results. They are fantastic and completely validate the work that ACU have done over the past 5 years. The positive responses from the students alone really justify the expense and the effort. Then Bob went through the ‘phase 2’ research, and how they are looking at beyond satisfaction and enthusiasm to the actual impact of mobile learning.

Some of you from an educational background may already be familiar with website www.nosignificantdifference.org which basically states that there is no significant differences in student outcomes between alternate modes of education delivery. Which is interesting and a little confusing. Anecdotally and from the data provided by students themselves they more often than not report that they have learnt more and engaged better but this is rarely reflected in an arbitrary measure such as test scores. And this is the research often cited as having no significant difference, but what are test scores actually measuring – it’s fairly low-level thinking like recall because you can’t measure much else using a multiple choice test.

So may there is no significance difference at that low-level of thinking, but what about the higher level thinking – analysis, problem solving, etc?? Well, we’re not measuring those results so how can we tell? This was the mind-blowing moment for me, bathed in light things made more sense and became clear.

Students report feeling more engaged in the learning when using technology because they are, but on a much higher level of thinking that goes beyond simple recall. The content is clearer because they understand it rather than remember it.

Bob is doing some great work developing tools to measure this higher thinking and is working with a number of academics researching this in very different subject areas. With a few preliminary results in the initial results are really interesting – because there is significant difference.

I had a great conversation with Bob and Scott and it really was an eye-opening experience. My role operating outside normal academic life has meant that research to me was a sideline or an add-on. But this kind of research could actually be the driver for change rather than the technology we have depended on to do this job over the last decade or so. For someone who is really passionate about the potential for new technology to improve what we do and how we live, I feel a little more validated than I did before I left. It’s nice to get that warm, fuzzy feeling every now and then.

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