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Many students now have mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and smart phones and, in some higher education institutions (HEIs), the facility to borrow tablets from the library has been introduced. This has led to a greater emphasis on mobile learning. When implemented effectively, not only does it allow greater flexibility and accessibility, there is also the potential to increase engagement, interaction and feedback. It has also shown that mobile devices can be very distracting although, over time, most learners develop strategies to deal with this. Some academic staff allow learners to collaboratively define the acceptable use of technology in their lectures which gives them the opportunity to discuss what might be distracting or supportive to learning.
Mobile devices have been used to enrich learning in chemistry lectures (e.g. using applications such as polling software, 3D visualisations such as ChemTube3D and Twitter) as well as laboratory environments (e.g. online pre-lab quizzes, electronic lab notebooks, performing colorimetric analysis). A limiting factor can be the availability of wifi however this is becoming less of an issue. In addition, teaching staff can move more freely around a lecture theatre with a tablet and can use a stylus on the touch screen to build up a diagram or scheme that can be captured electronically (e.g. using Explain Anything). Mobile devices also play a role in ‘flipped’ classrooms as they are often the means by which students engage with pre-lecture material. The potential to use mobile devices to enable learners to source information and create content (e.g. mind maps, screencasts, videos) and to collect information locally (photographs, temperature readings etc.) provides further opportunity for engagement and extending learning outside the walls of a higher education institution. The microblogging tool, Twitter, can be used during face to face sessions to facilitate real time logging of questions and comments from students but it also provides a means for learners to develop their own personal learning network (e.g. by following handles such as @compoundchem, @periodicvideos or @MarsCuriosity).
The best applications to opt for to ensure that all learners can have access in all locations are ones that have been used extensively and that are available across all common types of mobile devices (and including PCs and Macs if possible). Also, it may be worth setting aside some time towards the end of a face-to-face session to deal with initial technical problems learners have. Some studies have found that tablets are likely to be more effective learning devices in comparison to smart phones, which is perhaps not surprising. The SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model can be applied as a very useful framework to establish the extent of the change to teaching, learning and assessment that applying a new online tool or technology affords. Mobile learning is an evolving and growing area in chemistry education and the extent to which it can and is applied is expected to increase significantly.