Google Docs Survey

homework in pjs

no need for a parking pass

learn at my leisure

-Respondent #3

The purpose of this survey was to gather data about online students at UAF and their experience with distance education. I sent the survey to both my ED431 and Secondary Licensure Program cohorts who are either currently, or have in the past, enrolled in online courses. The questions focus primarily on the respondents’ experiences with online courses, the platforms/applications they used, problems they encountered, and how they now feel about online education. As “extra credit,” I asked respondents to write a haiku about their online learning experience, which I have included as section breaks. Overall, I had eleven respondents to my survey, which I realize is a very small sample size, but there were still interesting data points within the responses. There are four points in particular that are worth discussion:

can’t pay attention

do not know who is talking

opening new tab

-Respondent #4

  1. Spread of Learning Applications

bar graph of commonly used platforms and applications

The sixth question on my survey asked respondents to check all the online learning platforms and applications that had been used to facilitate their courses. While I anticipated some overlap simply because most of the courses were within the UAF School of Education, the data showed that students had been exposed to a wide variety of applications. I believe this is an indication of where we are in the evolution of online learning. 10 of my 11 respondents had used both Blackboard and Google Hangout, but then they also checked three or four other applications. There does not seem to be one platform that meets all the needs of a distance course. Professors are trying new applications to enhance student learning and the overall experience. While using multiple applications for a single course can be confusing for some students (discussed later in section 3), these results are still to UAF’s credit. A willingness to progress and continuously experiment with new methods of course delivery is what will keep their distance program relevant in a fast-pace tech world.

love to learn online

be a mom and study too

but can’t see others

-Respondent #2

2. Blackboard vs. Google

bar graph comparing accessibility of Blackboard vs. Google

Seeing that respondents had the most experience with the Blackboard and Google platforms, I singled out data from my seventh survey question to focus on how accessible respondent felt those particular platforms were. While the respondents lauded the accessibility of Google as “very accessible” (9 respondents vs. 4 for Blackboard), 7 respondents felt that Blackboard was only “somewhat accessible” or “somewhat inaccessible.” This may not come as a huge surprise for those who teach or take courses through these platforms, but I think there is a bigger issue beneath these results. Blackboard is primarily an education platform, and with the addition of Blackboard Collaborate works to provide a “one-stop” experience for online courses. Google is, well, Google. It is a platform that for many is part of their daily lives, with applications that have proven to be incredibly useful for the purpose of education. To be fair to Blackboard, we are somewhat conditioned to Google’s interface. But, if universities are paying large sums of money to use Blackboard (sometimes as a primary online platform) it is worrisome that it lags so far behind a non-educational platform, and it should be receiving better feedback from the students who use it.

I circled the drain

Procrastination whirlpool

Just dive in and swim!

-Respondent #9

  1. Issues to Address

bar graph showing common issues online students encounter

Asking about accessibility naturally led to the other problems that online students encounter. For the 8th question on my survey, I had respondents check all of the issues that made completion of their online course more difficult. Unfortunately, one of the top results was “Technical Problems (machine error)” with 5 responses, which suggests that even our normalized use of tech devices and internet access is still victim to unseen difficulties. Beyond this, the next four highest ranked issues can be divided into either learning-based or instruction-based. “Time Management” (4 responses) and “Motivation” (5 responses) are learning-based issues. These are student skills necessary to the successful completion of an online course, but for those who are unused to an online classroom the lack of scheduled meeting and physically present cohort can be a stumbling block. As for the instruction-based issues, “Lack of communication with professor or cohort” (3 responses) and “Confusion over assignments and/or online applications (operator error)” (3 responses), these can be directly addressed through course design. The instructor is able to remedy these issues through increased and clear communication, and making resources available for learning about new applications. As discussed in section 1, some students may become overwhelmed when more than a few applications are used for an online course. For these students to be successful, the instructor should work to be obviously available in both the response and initiation of communication (email, phone calls, online posts, etc.), and eager to support their students through learning a new platform/application.

Doing it three years

Don’t regret a single thing

Online ed wahoo

-Respondent #8

  1. Switching Roles

Bar graph comparing number of online courses taken vs. interest in teaching online courses

The final question in my survey was perhaps the most important: “Would you be interested in teaching online courses?” As online education becomes an effective credit-earning option, not only at the university level but K-12 as well, it is integral to its future that people take up the torch and teach online courses themselves. In organizing my data, I wanted to see if there was a correlation between the amount of online courses a student took and their interest in teaching online courses in the future. Basically, if this is how you prefer to learn, is this how you’d like to teach as well? For the most part my assumption was correct, those who had taken 16+ online courses were more likely to say that they would like to teach online courses in the future (4 said “Yes” and 1 was “Unsure”). One respondent from both the 11-15 and 1-4 categories also responded, “Yes.” It was heartening to see that despite all of the issues recorded in an earlier question that 60% of the respondents were interested in teaching online courses.

Complete Response Data

Overall Impression of Google Forms

Making the survey was surprisingly enjoyable. I liked figuring out how I wanted the data to come across and which question form to use. At first I thought the whole things was a bit plain, but then realized that you could embed photos and videos, change the background, and create page breaks. I did not end up using all of these features, but it makes me more likely to use it in my classroom. Even in my Home Ec class I think I could easily convert my “Kitchen Safety” quiz into a Google Form, and it would be made epically more interesting with spotting potential hazards in photos or videos. Really in any class, Google Form could be used for formative/summative assessment or just a simple questionnaire.

In the future I would like to distribute the form differently. Using email to send a long clickable link (which makes anybody hesitate), or displaying the first questions and then answering the rest of the survey elsewhere, felt clunky. Even if the whole survey made it in the email, the background was missing. Maybe if the email itself had a nice template it would come across as more professional. Emailing seems to be the easiest way to share a survey with a large amount of people, but I would rather embed it on my website, or for my class put it on Google Classroom.

I felt my lack of Excel-like program knowledge limited what I was able to do with the response data. Having to reorganize the data into new tables to make the charts was a step I had not anticipated, and which I found pretty frustrating for a bit. After a few YouTube tutorials I was able to get a few of my charts showing the data the way I had envisioned. I would need to learn more about spreadsheets if I were going to use the response data from future surveys for much beyond the basics.

Online Education survey can be viewed here

Mobile Tools

Our school’s lack of comfort with phones in the classroom is usually brought to light in parent-teacher conferences. After hearing that their student is glued to their phone during class, the parents’ immediate question is, “Isn’t there a no-phone policy?” Unfortunately, our answer is not as strong or united as it should be, “Well, you know there are some teachers that use them in class.” The kicker here is some: only some teachers and only some classes. You can bring your phone and use it to take a quiz during 3rd hour, but if it leaves your pocket during 4th hour there will be consequences. This sends mixed messages to students about the rules and procedures in place for device use, which are integral to the success of a mobily integrated learning environment.

We have reached the point in education where the conversation about banning devices in schools has gone fallow; it cannot be the solve-all for recapturing students’ attention. A more fruitful discussion lies in how to integrate devices in engaging and pedagogically sound ways. Simply allowing devices in the classroom only adds to the multitude of distractions, but using those devices to help students understand and analyze content is where we will start reaping the benefits. While laptops have already worked their way into the classroom, smartphones, for so long considered a nuisance, may need some help on the PR front. In a 2014 study conducted by Suleyman Nihat and Goktas, 1,087 pre-service teachers rated laptops as better learning tools than smartphones. The results of the study demonstrated that “Generally, the attitudes towards using laptops in education were not exceedingly positive but significantly more positive than m-phones” (Suleyman Nihat & Goktas, 2014). What I find most worrisome about this study is that these are pre-service teachers: future classroom leaders who like laptops a bit more than smartphones, but are not really excited about either. At the conclusion of their article, Suleyman Nihat and Goktas suggest that there is an urgent need for teacher training in m-learning, specifically regarding the integration of smartphones into the classroom (2014).

Pie graph showing time spent on apps compared to browser

Image Credit: www.flurry.com

As the debate continues about the most effective devices to bring into the classroom, it’s important to note that content delivery varies between these devices. How students engage with their work on a smartphone or tablet will be different from how they have previously interacted with activities on a laptop. Pretending that a smartphone is just a small laptop completely disregards how students experience an app-based interface. Even though there is a web browser available on most smartphones, an overwhelming percentage of people spend most of their mobile time in apps (Spence, 2014). Today, it is not enough for a website to be mobile-friendly. The University of Oklahoma has developed an app for their students with a focus on “a “mobile-first” culture that forces content developers to rethink how things are done when moving content to a mobile environment” (Mathewson, 2015). The school’s efforts to be “authentically mobile” will hopefully set a precedent for how we can make mobile content a viable and engaging option for students (Mathewson, 2015).

One current m-learning project that I particularly admire takes the idea of being “authentically mobile” to the extreme. The Fisheries Technology program at UAS provides students the opportunity to take courses that are pre-loaded onto an iPad:

Reid Brewer holds one of his preloaded iPads

Image Credit: uas.alaska.edu

These “off the grid” courses make you completely independent of the internet — free to take the class whenever you can squeeze it into your busy schedule. The waterproof iPads, provided as a free loan by UAS, contain all lectures, videos, readings, FAQs, and even the exams, which you can take remotely without a proctor. (“Fisheries Technology”, 2015).

Reid Brewer (shown above), an associate professor at UAS, was inspired to develop these iPad courses after spending time with commercial fishermen, who had all of the practical knowledge of their trade, but lacked access to university classes to earn occupational endorsements (2015). Now on the long hauls between port and fishing grounds, they can watch the high quality presentations that often feature guest lecturers, photos, videos, and GoPro footage through the Articulate app. Lessons are kept short and students can re-watch presentations as needed. At the end of a unit, exams can be taken securely through the Exam Soft app. When the iPad is next connected to Wi-Fi it will send the exam scores back to UAS.

I realize that taking the Internet out of the equation may seem like a step backwards in the future-focused field of m-learning. But, living in Alaska where 38% of residents statewide (81% for rural residents) do not have access to broadband Internet, it may be wise to consider how we can reach pockets of the population who lack regular and reliable Internet access (Klint, 2015). What I appreciate about Brewer’s project is that he pinpointed an education access problem, solved it in a technologically savvy way using m-learning devices and apps, and still enabled students to be mobile in the most literal sense of the word. These courses provide a framework for Internet-less mobile education that could serve as a transitional phase for those who are currently unable to participate in Internet-based m-learning.

 

References

Brewer, R. (2015, Oct 21). Using Apple iPad to deliver asynchronous college fisheries classes nationwide. Presentation at the meeting of Alaska ACTE, Anchorage, AK.

Klint, C. (2015, Jan 30). FCC says Alaska among nation’s 10 worst states for broadband internet. Retrieved from http://www.ktuu.com/news/news/fcc-says-alaska-among-nations-10-worst-states-for-broadband-internet/31016270

Mathewson, T. (2015, Oct 6). Campuses strive for ‘authentic’ mobile approaches. Education Dive. Retrieved from http://www.educationdive.com/news/campuses-strive-for-authentic-mobile-approaches/406684/

Spence, E. (2014, Apr 2). The mobile browser is dead, long live the app. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2014/04/02/the-mobile-browser-is-dead-long-live-the-app/

Süleyman Nihat, Ş., & Göktaş, Ö. (2014). Preservice teachers’ perceptions about using mobile phones and laptops in education as mobile learning tools. British Journal Of Educational Technology45(4), 606-618. doi:10.1111/bjet.12064