Blackboard app, technology use in classroom sees increase

The Blackboard application was downloaded more than 10,000 times in the first month of school, showing mobile learning at the University is more popular than ever before.

The app, called Mobile Learn, was launched by CITES in Fall 2012, and it allows students to access the Compass2g website on their smartphones.

This trend is not unique to the University, according to a recent study from EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research. But the University keeping up with the curve, and the technology that the University is using is right along with its peer institutions, said Dan Hahn, an eLearning professional with CITES.

“Students hold high expectations for anytime, anywhere access to course materials and for leveraging the use of their personal digital devices inside and outside class,” the study said, showing about half of U.S. students want instructors to better incorporate smartphone use.

Ramit Arora, a student representative to the Illinois Compass Advisory Group, said the Blackboard app helps students, but, in the future, he thinks the app will only get better. He hopes it will include a centralized calendar for every course.

“You’ll never miss a deadline or a midterm,” he said. “It will be awesome.”

The increase in technology use creates many new challenges for CITES, spokesman Brian Mertz said. However, he said these challenges have brought about positive changes, helping them to find new tools to use across the board.

From CITES’ perspective, the changes in technology means much more than keeping Compass running. With more people connecting to Wi-Fi than ever before, Mertz said CITES has had to think about the actual set up of the classroom and work “to make sure classrooms are flexible to technology.”

Hahn said he consults with faculty members about the Compass site, teaching them how to use it to its full potential. He said Compass makes instructors’ lives easier by allowing them to grade assignments on the site, make announcements for the course, open up discussion boards and upload course material for easy access.

Though mobile learning trends increase and technology gains popularity, one thing remains clear: Students do not want solely online courses. The ECAR study found that students “prefer, and learn most in, blended learning environments.”

Nick Roldan, a sophomore in Media, said he doesn’t mind the changes of technology in the classroom, as long as it is limited and not strictly online.

Melanie Waters, the director of Introductory Spanish Language, said her classes incorporate a mixture of online learning and face-to-face time. She said her students “really like not having to go to class,” and the technology allows them to work at their own pace and get immediate feedback.

Waters said that Compass2g and eBooks allow students to work with the material, including grammar and vocabulary, ahead of time.

“We don’t explain [grammar and vocabulary] in class anymore,” she said. “When they come to class, they are already familiar with it, and we can jump right in and talk about it.”

Waters said she has noticed an increase in students’ confidence since the change.

Leslie Looney, associate professor of astronomy, said technology is bringing about “a golden age or a revolution in teaching.” He thinks technology makes little difference for higher-performing students, but it brings up the rest of the students, giving them accessibility and a different perspective on topics easier and quicker than in the classroom.

“It gives you more interest in learning,” he said. “It makes it more fun.”

Claire can be reached at [email protected]