CTL Blog

Social Media in Higher Education: Mobile Devices

February 13, 2012 | 4 Minute Read

Every generation passes down a story of the difficulties of learning in the days of their youth. We all know the cliches. They generally begin with "that's nothing, in my day . . ." and end with a trek through freezing rain and snow across miles of frozen tundra that would have made even Ernest Shackleton wince. With its January 19th release of iBooks 2 for iPad, Apple may have inadvertently set the tone for this generation's future narrative. Imagine yourself, class of right now, sometime in the future as you lecture to your grandchildren who are complaining to you of the absurd requirements of their university. You'll listen politely until they finish and then—trying your best not to sound too patronizing—launch into the following: "Not so long ago, there was a time when a student would squeeze not just one but several hefty bound tomes of history, math, and science into a canvas backpack—splitting seams as she zippered it shut—only to then have to carry these enormous volumes across the most frigid and frightful frozen wasteland that human beings have ever laid eyes upon. Be glad you have but one device as you set out on this pleasant, spring morning."

No one knows what the future holds but iBooks 2 for iPad has given us a window into a new world of possibilities. According to the official press release, iBooks 2 supports "great new features including gorgeous, fullscreen books, interactive 3D objects, diagrams, videos, and photos" all at the tap of a fingertip (Apple Press Info, 2012). In addition, iBooks Author presents new opportunities for course customization. iBooks Author allows "anyone with a Mac" to create "textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple’s iBookstore" (Apple Press Info, 2012).

Mobile devices such as the iPad and other etablets, to say nothing of smart phones, are changing the pathways to knowledge for students as well as the options available to instructors for how they might approach teaching any given subject. A 2010 study at Abilene Christian University (ACU) by Perkins and Saltsman investigated the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of mobile learning. While the study doesn't address the fringe technologies that are now becoming realized—and how could it when technology changes exponentially by the hour—it does suggest that using mobile technology in the classroom is a viable option for the future.

In the fall of 2008, ACU distributed an iPhone or an iPod Touch (according to student preference) to all entering freshman in support of its Mobile Learning Initiative (MLI), a University-wide commitment to embracing mobile technology as an enhancement to classroom engagement. Following the MLI announcement, University faculty and administrative staff decided to supplement the initiative by conducting empirical research on its initial impact. One such evaluation was completed by Perkins and Saltsman (2010) who conducted a 29-question survey, using a six-point Likert scale with answers ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree, of 243 freshmen enrolled in a required course. In addition, 109 faculty members also agreed to complete a similar research instrument. The surveys were constructed with the intent to measure "perceptions of academic engagement and device usability" (Perkins & Saltsman, p. 49).

Results of the surveys indicated that both students and faculty overwhelmingly approve of the University's MLI, that the iPhone was the more appealing option for student engagement, and that educational exercises "can be successfully transitioned to mobile-device platforms" (Perkins & Saltsman, p. 49). Perkins and Saltsman attribute future successful uses of mobile-devices in and out of the classroom to faculty implementation. Additionally, faculty implementation will evolve with greater familiarity of mobile applications that are most appropriate for learning. The results did not clearly indicate why the iPhone was so highly favored over the iPod Touch but researchers suggested that one possibility might be the iPhone's enhanced capacity to connect students to external knowledge sources. Researchers concluded with an acknowledgment that the use of mobile devices in academia "confronts those in higher education with a choice: to continue to treat mobile devices as a nuisance and prohibit them from the classroom, or to embrace them by strategically leveraging their capabilities as mobile learning tools" (Perkins & Saltsman, p. 54).

It's clear that Apple's intent with its release of iBooks 2 is the second of those two options. Given the size of this potential shift in pedagogy, it is perhaps just a matter of time before such advances in technology are implemented on a much wider scale.


Apple Press Info. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2012/01/19Apple-Reinvents-Textbooks-with-iBooks-2-for-iPad.html

Perkins, S., & Saltsman, G. (2010). Mobile learning at Abilene Christian University: Successes, challenges, and results from year one. Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology, 6 (1), 47-54.