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Professor makes classroom mobile


Most college students have two things in common – hectic academic schedules and access to a mobile device. 

Professors and instructors are often wary of mobile devices distracting students from the educational experience, but one USF instructor hopes to marry the two.

Shelly Stewart, an eLearning facilitator and web development instructor, developed the first mobile-ready online course in USF history.

The flagship mobile ready course is Web Design Technologies, a javascript programming course taught online.

Stewart said the idea came to her when she observed students are constantly on the move with cellphones in hand.

Educational material integrated into mobile technology enables students to conveniently review course material, she said.

“They can pull it up on their phone-anytime, anyplace,” she said. “And if they just have 15 minutes they can take that time to get a little bit more reading or review in.”

She decided to implement her idea when she learned she would be teaching a web design class this semester, she said.

Her course is fully compatible with the Canvas mobile app.

The textbook required for the class, for example, is available as an e-text that students can access through their phones.

However, Steward understood students would only absorb the course’s material if the application was practical, she said.

“When my students do go out and work, or want to even create their own (web)site, they’ll be able to do that with the skills and knowledge that they’ve learned,” she said. “It’s all very applicative.”

Steward said it is important for her as a teacher to introduce and familiarize students with the basic concepts, so they can be prepared for more advanced courses.

Mobile compatible websites, and therefore mobile designers, are becoming more common as people increasingly surf the web on their mobile device. 

The students design their own websites that are compatible with mobile phones during the course, she said. Students enrolled in the class are encouraged to visits each other’s websites.

“We have a little learning community going on,” she said.

Stewart said she thinks the design of her course could also be used for classes outside of computer sciences. 

She designed the mobile platform to be easily utilized by other instructors, no matter their level of web design knowledge, she said.

She said she is not worried by the prospect of students being distracted by their mobile phones.

“The way I look at it, I could be sitting here right now thinking of 10 other things, and I don’t even have a mobile device,” she said. “If they want to have a break and look at Facebook, fine. Just come back and be ready to think and focus on what we’re doing for this class.” 

Christopher Akin, the director of USF’s web services and an administrator of USF mobile app, said he is optimistic of the implications of mobile-platform courses.

“I applaud the ingenuity,” Akin said. “I think it’s relevant.” 

Stewart said the course is still a work in progress and she will continually ask students for feedback. The first impressions from students have been positive so far, she said.

“Every single week, I ask them to reflect on their experiences in the course,” she said. “And fortunately they’re very honest with me. I take their feedback very seriously-good or bad. I modify the course, hopefully, to make it the best experience possible.”

The course is publicly accessible through the Canvas app even to students who are not enrolled in the class.