Student Technology Survey Results – Mobile Devices

By Matt Cornock

This is the first of a series of posts which look at data collected from the surveys of Year 1 students who attend my induction sessions. In this post I look at the trends in mobile phone ownership and we discover which phones students actually use in 2013.

Method

All Year 1 undergraduate students and Year 1 MA Social Work students in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work are invited to attend a practical induction session about our institutional VLE. In this session I spend about an hour discussing the wider role of technology for their degree programme before they are asked to complete a series of tasks familiarising themselves with the VLE. The first of these tasks is to complete a ‘Learning Technologies Survey’. Though the survey is a required part of the session, students may opt out of their results being used for research. Some students also do not complete the induction due to absence or other commitments.

Response rates

The most recent survey has a response rate of 43% (80/188 students). In 2012 this was 76%. I am yet to formally calculate the response rate for 2011, but it was on a par with 2012 (probably in the range 65-75%). The cohort makeup has changed between the years with a greater proportion of undergraduate students contributing due to a new degree being introduced in 2012. More rigorous analysis by different groups will not feature on the blog, but will be saved for an academic paper or presentation should I ever get round to it.

Mobile phone and smartphone ownership amongst students

The interest in students’ mobile phone ownership springs from an increased interest in mobile learning. The University supports the Blackboard Learn Mobile App and as a result, being aware of how many students are engaging with their VLE resources via mobile, or indeed have the potential to engage with resources and/or learning activities via mobile, is of great significance in allocating support and designing for mobile learning. The results below show a marked trend in the increased ownership of ‘smart’ phones with good internet connections and app capability, such as iPhones and Android (note: Android was available as an option in the survey as ‘Android or other ‘smart’ mobile phone i.e. with good internet connectivity’). Blackberry, once popular as a relatively cheap smartphone amongst teenagers (mainly for the free BBM – BlackBerry Messaging), has suffered a decline in popularity in recent years. Within our 2013 student cohort, Windows Phones have yet to emerge (just one person owning), though may have been registered when bundled in the ‘other’ category in 2011 and 2012.

Graph showing ownership of mobile devices for 2011, 2012 and 2013 cohorts. Of note is iPhone ownership changing from 17% to 46% over the three cohorts. BlackBerry ownership falls from 28% in 2011 to 9% in 2013. Android and other ownership increases from 21% to 35%. Only one respondent had a Windows Phone, this in 2013. Standard mobile phone ownership has reduced from 21% to 14% to 8% over the three cohorts.

This brings the net ownership of a smartphone to 89% of respondents, up from 78% in 2012 and 65% in 2011.

Applying results to practice

It is worth noting that other Departments may have different results depending on their cohorts, and even within cohorts there may be substantial differences depending on seminar groups, for example. As expressed in my ALT-C short paper, having an understanding of your group of students will help inform your local policy around the support and provision of learning technologies. For my Department, we have not quite reached a stage of ubiquitous ownership to rely on mobile learning or expect it as standard practice. Such considerations exist about: a) different apps for different devices; b) support for different devices and students’ capabilities in using their phone; c) materials or activities that are best engaged via mobile; d) cost of connectivity if wireless not available; e) students’ willingness to use their phones for academic work. Saying that, some students will undoubtedly be using the VLE on their mobile, and in some circumstances this doesn’t prove to be a good experience (certain issues with item textbox links for example, which are good practice in browser view, have problems in the mobile app). However, where mobile engagement is not going to disadvantage a student, or forms an alternative method to undertake a learning activity, mobile learning could be encouraged. Examples include:

  • Mobile-friendly revision quizzes
  • In-class Tweeting (more on Twitter engagement in subsequent blog posts)
  • Mobile document viewing
  • Mobile blogging (e.g. on placement)
  • Note-making (e.g. short text notes, audio notes or photos)
I’ve observed recently students using their mobile phones taking snapshots of things on their computer screen, and presumably they do the same for books in the library, where they want a quick copy. Mobile phone cameras often have the resolution and quality needed for ‘scrapbook’ approaches, but I think I need to do some investigation into whether there is an app available to support this practice with the ability to record accurate referencing data too!

Summary of results for 2013 cohort

Device Respondents owning
Apple iPhone 46%
BlackBerry 9%
Windows Phone 1%
Android or other smartphone 35%
Standard mobile 8%

Conclusion

Students own mobile phones, the majority are internet connected and capable of running apps. The use of phones will vary amongst students, so an understanding of your own students’ use and competencies is useful before rolling out a mobile learning task that may disadvantage those without the device or skills to complete it. Mobile devices should not however be ignored, and indeed in class may be useful for students to check resources, take notes or interact.

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