Interviews with Innovators: Mark Cox

Impact of mobile devices on e-learning and IT services planning

Dr. Mark Cox (King’s College London) explains how mobile devices are re-shaping support for e-learning in Higher Education.  Recorded at a EuroCRIS workshop, this interview discusses how student uptake of mobile devices is radically changing technology planning on campus.

Conducted in support of the JISC Observatory and as part of our Interviews with Innovators series, this interview is available in video as well as audio format. See below our interview transcript.

Link to video recording of interview with Mark Cox

Dr. Mark Cox is ISS Customer Services Research & Learning Development Manager at King’s College London. He oversees development and maintenance of the King’s research management system (the Research Gateway), and is the Project Manager of the College’s VRE Project. As part of the JISC R4R project, he has gained an extensive knowledge of CERIF, and has worked with developers to construct a ‘CERIF wrapper’ for the Research Gateway. He is also a member of the REF Data Collections Steering Group, and of the JISC RIM expert working group. For more information, see:

Transcript: Lightning interview with Dr. Mark Cox

I am Dr. Mark Cox, my job title is Research and Learning Development Manager, and my role is at King’s College London as part of the ITS Department.

Q: Could you tell us what you see as especially interesting and important over the next five years in technology?

I think the biggest thing, and unusually considering what I am actually here for today which is about research, I actually have a responsibility for e-learning at King’s College at the moment. And I think one of the issues that is likely to be quite dramatic over the next three to five years is the amount of learning that gets done on mobile devices. The whole iPad and tablet explosion I think it would be fair to say has probably changed the way that students are actually going to learn in the future. That’s what I think is one of the biggest things.

At the moment we are implementing a new e-learning system and we are looking at that rather in an ‘old-fashioned’ way though it’s not really that as it is only a couple years old: the model of students going into a student computing room and sitting in front of a PC and working with the technology that way. Of course that’s going to move to a completely different set-up now with the mobile and tablet devices.

Q: What are the challenges now that model is changing?

The challenges are keeping up-to-date with that change. There’s a big issue around cost because if you actually want to try to work out how students are going to use those devices you actually have to purchase those devices yourself. And that’s still not generally seen as something that’s almost legitimate at the University. Spending money on iPads is still seen as questionable (why are you doing that why are you buying yourself a toy?).

If the students have all got them and they’re able to connect to our e-learning system, then we’re already talking about apps on the mobile devices part of which would be to act as part of the e-learning system. Again, how do you test all these things? How do you actually deal with that?

Just keeping up with technology with technology is a challenge: three years ago we didn’t know much about iPads, and certainly not about other tablet devices, so how can we predict what the next steps will be?

Q: What do you see changing in the next three to five years, and what do you expect?

Two things I suspect will change. One is about the way that academics teach: what does this mean for the material they are going to put in place? Secondly, chances are the amount of support that we need to provide: this is now ‘bring your own technology’ and this is not something that we can control and this is not just a student computing room where is something goes wrong you just wipe the machine and re-image it. This is your own technology and if you cannot actually make it work what do you do? How do you support the student? How do you know about and deal with an Android browser vs Safari vs Firefox etc. There are lots of issues around how to keep the support for those things current.

Q: Who is involved with this sort of work at King’s College or elsewhere? Is it very diverse in terms of who is involved in looking at these sorts of challenges?

It’s fairly diverse yet moderately well linked. Certainly the IT Department effectively deal with the back-end system, the e-learning system. We’re looking at how we deal with support for the mobile devices, which is very difficult. Obviously we’re looking at what type of apps we could put in place and that potentially gives us a way to at least put some semblance of structure around this area because if you have one app that students will access then that’s at least one consistent thing that you can hold onto.

Around e-learning we have something called the Technology Enhanced Learning Forum, which is chaired by our Vice-Principal for Education so she has a big involvement in that. She has just created an new Technology Enhanced Learning Centre for which there is a director starting soon. They are going to pick up the issues around the way that you teach with technology. So I think they are looking more at what’s good practice area. Obviously we look after technology and they look after good practice.

Then each of the academic areas, each of the schools, they all have people who would be classified as learning technologists and they are the people who help their academics to make sure that the materials they put up are there in the first place and hopefully be given some sort of steer on what’s good and what’s bad.

Q: If you have a magic wand, what would you do?

I think about the finance issue, and if I could wave a magic wand and say ok we are going to buy an iPad for everyone in the University that would be one great thing. We tried to actually entertain that and buy iPads and then had them stolen, which is not good, as they are desirable objects so that’s a bit of a problem. I think I would like there to be a considerably larger amount of support for technology-enhanced learning. In the college, it tends to be a few experts and particularly people who have done it for a while and know a bit about it. What you tend to find is that sometimes they can frighten off the beginners. And these people who have done it for years say “Oh, this is the way forward: you need a repository for this”. They blind them with science. Better support across the board is something that I think would be useful.

For more discussions of technical innovation in Higher and Further Education, see our Interviews with innovators and our complete list of podcasts available from UKOLN Innovation Support Centre. RSS icon Subscribe to our podcast feed to hear the latest from innovators discussing technical developments relevant to Higher and Further Education.

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