Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Distance Learning by Cell Phone and PDA

There's a blog post in the Chronicle this week about programs offering distance learning via cell phone. It's not entirely clear from the piece what exactly these programs or courses look like--clearly, students would not be completing most types of assignments on a cell phone, although there are certain types of assignments they probably could. I wonder how many students will actually use their cell phones to access the course materials (versus just using their desktop or laptop). I can also imagine students starting out eager to access these things via cell phone or PDA, but soon finding they'd rather just use a standard computer. (For one thing, although it's nice to be mobile when studying, there's also, at least for many students, a need for a quiet and comfortable study space in order to learn effectively.)

All that said, there are great ways to help students learn by making course materials available on cell phones and PDAs. The most obvious one (besides putting brief lectures into podcasts or vodcasts for downloading onto these devices) to me is to create, for terminology-intensive courses, electronic flashcards students can flip through to do some casual studying as they ride the Metro or wait for an appointment. What other ideas do you have for using these devices in your teaching? Now that Sue's here, we have the resources to start researching how to make your ideas for teaching via PDAs and phones work.


Boyd said...


(Note: This presentation applies equally to "on campus" students)
The most rigorous part of the dissertation includes the

Methods Section
Study Design
Research questions and hypothesis formulation
Development of instrumentation
Describing the independent and dependent variables
Writing the data analysis plan
Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it

Results Section
Performing the Data Analysis
Understanding the analysis results
Reporting the results.
When you enter this phase of the program, you are nearing the end of the journey. Given the difficulty of this phase, one often wishes they had previewed what was to come.
Many Ph.D candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the "methods" and "results" section of their dissertation.
This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their advisor, peers, university assistance and even Google.
This is also the time when the student asks themselves the question" HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH".
Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong.

On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation.(e.g. APA formatting and editing) It also is not unusual for advisors to encourage students to seek outside help.

If you are a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggests the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandable language by telephone and e-mail.

A word of caution: If you know you are going to use a statistical consultant to help with your "methods and "results" sections, choose that consultant early on. The ideal time to consult with a statistician is after you have a topic and have done some preliminary literature review. Otherwise you run the risk of unnecessarily complicating your study. This could result in the consultant being unable to help you, unless you are willing to start over with the problem statement, purpose of the study, research questions, instrumentation and data analysis plan.

Distance learning, and the availability of programs, has increased exponentially over the last few years with some of the most respected institutions (Columbia University, Engineering; Boston University and others) offering a Ph.D in a variety of fields. If you are enrolled in a distance learning program, or considering one, you will be interested in reviewing the reference sites listed at the bottom of this page.

As stated above, many students hit their dissertation "brick wall" when they encounter the statistics section. Frequently, a student will struggle for months with that section before they seek a consultant to help them. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates.

If I were to name a single reason why a PhD candidate gets off track in their program it is the statistics and their fear of statistics.

So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much.

I don't know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisors take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help:

To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good, however, the student will be unable to defend his/her dissertation.

It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to his/her understanding of statistics.

When their defense is successful, the question "was the help too much" is answered.

If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may wish to review the referenced sites below:


Reference sites:

Jennifer Lerner said...

As you can see, one of the interesting new problems with blogs is that we are seeing spam in the comments sections, just as we're now seeing spam text messages on cell phones. (It's ironic that we saw that on this post, since, as you know if you read the comments on the Chronicle post I linked to, there were spam comments there, too.) Wherever there's a new medium, people will find a way to try to exploit it.

Laura said...

On the idea of flashcards in cell phones, the added element of voice can allow a audio component for the flashcard terms. I know in my course on the world's religions, such an audio componant would be more valuable ("how is that foreign term pronounced?")
[Jennifer, as the "owner" of this Blog, don't you have the ability to delete comments that you feel are "spam"?]

Jennifer Lerner said...

Good point about the audio component--that's also important in medical or other scientific courses, not to mention foreign language!

(And yes, I can delete inappropriate comments, but I thought I'd leave it there for purposes of educating people about blog spamming!)