I have not posted in a while as I have been busy finishing up my thesis. I have just submitted so will catch up with some blog posts over the next few days as it has been a busy few weeks. Below is the abstract for my thesis. If you are interested in reading the thesis (undergoing review now) then email me and I will gladly send you a copy.
Thesis Abstract: Supporting Seamless Learning: Students’ Use of Multiple Devices in Open and Distance Learning Universities
The widespread access to mobile and personal technologies, together with internet services, has created the potential for the continuity of learning experiences across different technologies, contexts and settings. These digital technologies include both fixed (desktops and laptops) and handheld technologies (tablets and smartphones). The use of emerging technologies in education is associated with emerging educational practices. Educators need to be aware of not only what their students learn, but how and why as well. However, there is a lack of awareness of how students use their different devices for learning and how Open and Distance Learning (ODL) universities can effectively support them to do so. The purpose of this exploratory study is to understand the learning habits and behaviours of students using different devices for learning. This is to determine how students move between technologies, locations and learning activities and the types of support they require. The research uses the concept of seamless learning as a theoretical framework, where students can continue their learning experiences across different contexts. A case study approach was followed. Two ODL universities were explored, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Spain and the University of South Africa in South Africa. A mixed methods design was used with a sequential explanatory strategy. Quantitative data (online surveys) was first collected from undergraduate students in each case to identify the significant variables and relationships. This data was analysed using descriptive, correlation and regression analyses. This was followed by the collection of qualitative data (semi-structured interviews) to build on the quantitative data and to explain the relationships. This data was analysed using a grounded theory approach. The results indicate the students are using multiple devices in multiple locations to perform different learning activities. Although students make use of technologies in different ways (according to their needs), some patterns emerged. Access to devices is no longer an issue as the majority of students have access to three or four digital devices for learning. Students use their devices in a variety of public and private locations, yet home is still the preferred location for study. The more portable a device, the more places it is used. Fixed devices are seen as central devices for study purposes and used for almost all learning activities. However, handheld devices are seen as supplementary devices and are used for fewer, more specific, learning activities. The results also indicate that students use their devices together to be more efficient and productive. The use of devices together can be classified as sequential (moving from one device to another) or simultaneous (using two or more devices at the same time). The movement between devices is facilitated by cloud services that enable automatic synchronisation. However, internet access is still an issue for some students. The use of multiple devices, together with the associated software and services, are affecting study habits. Conversely, most educators do not take students’ use of multiple devices into account in the design, facilitation or support of learning experiences. Students using multiple devices require both academic and technological support to succeed. The findings have been synthesised to propose a framework for student use of multi-devices for learning to assist educators to design better learning experiences or offer improved support to students. The main influencers of how frequently a device is used for learning are: i) the learning activity or goal; ii) the location or environment; and iii) the devices the student accesses and uses for learning. However, the frequency is also influenced, to a lesser extent, by the time available, the perceived importance of the device to academic success, the level of digital expertise and the device affordances. The majority of students are able to move between devices and contexts and continue their learning experiences seamlessly. However, this does mean there is a minority of students who cannot yet learn seamlessly. These students may require additional levels of support. These findings indicate that ODL universities need to refine their learning design and support services to better meet the needs of students using multiple devices.