Uniqueness in Mobile Teaching Environment Design Methodology
This is a theoretical methodology, aiming to provide practical guidance by establishing a series of consolidated frameworks for designing a mobile teaching environment (MTE) tailored to a specific institution’s settings. This paper also tries to apply the proposed theory to reality by providing a case study on Nan Tien Institute (NTI) so that a practical guidance will be given to NTI for its MTE’s implementation.
It is the authors’ understanding that by no means there would be a standardized designing method in MTE, which is usually sought after by MTE designers as their convincing reference. As a matter of fact, under the magic of age of standardization, MTE designers tend to follow the empirical experience, rendering one of the critical points ignored – uniqueness that their institution holds, which will be incarnated in this paper as the major benchmark.
The intention of the framework is to help MTE development methodology designers to reorganize and reexamine the institution’s information regarding MTE for the precaution and proactivity.
The frameworks are constructed based on their uniqueness in various dimensions; however, this does not deny any other form of methodology in this regard. It is well advised that any other form of methodology should take a close consideration of the uniqueness for its validation.
Upon the placements on frameworks, a concept of “weight” is introduced to leverage the varied importance of the proposed uniqueness. This is used to quantify the result of placement as a whole. An application on NTI was provided to exemplify the ideas.
It should be noticed that this paper aims to provide quantitative solution, yet it is based on qualitative data due to the insufficiency of validated data. Therefore, the further follow-up researches are welcome to contribute to this database establishment.
KeywordsMobile teaching environment Methodology design Uniqueness
Nan Tien Institute (NTI) is an institution established by Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Order from Taiwan and registered with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) of Australia to provide tertiary education to students all over the world. It is also one of the five higher education institutions funded by Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Order.
Provide quality higher education in the twenty-first century for local and international students.
Nurture compassion, creativity, adaptability, flexibility, and morality in students through a holistic approach to learning.
Enrich cultural and community life and promote the philosophy and harmony of Buddhist wisdom in public life.
Encourage students and staff to work cohesively in harmony and make a constructive contribution to humanity and society.
Provide a conducive environment for learning and foster self-awareness and self-education, applying the philosophy of Buddhist wisdom in daily life.
In September 2010, NTI became a higher education provider and started the class of the first group of students on March 2011. To achieve our goal above, NTI tries to provide the most up-to-date technology and way of teaching for students to learn as they need. Also as a new institution, NTI tries to follow the trend of cloud computing era to provide the online education to students who learn by distance. The trend of teaching method is changed from the single way of face-to-face delivery in the classroom to interactive communication through all sorts of multimedia networks. Students will learn from any environment as long as they can reach the material of what they want to study.
There are several factors making NTI a unique institution. Firstly, the number of the courses is limited; thus NTI is continuously enriching its course structure. Secondly, the disciplines of courses are unique in order to be distinguished from the courses of other educational institutions. The third is that the geographical location of NTI is not in the high-density population area. Local student number growth will be limited by the size of regional community. Furthermore, NTI is sponsored by the charity donation of devotees, which is reliable yet may not be sufficient for exponential growth in its initial stage as a commercialized institution.
Online education through MTE seems to be a way to resolve the challenges NTI has and also be following the trend of education transformation in the world.
As a new and unique institution, the first attempt is to discover a way of how NTI can conduct an online education with limited resources and geographically disadvantaged situation and other disadvantages.
In this paper, we, as the MTE development methodology designers, have been encountering several difficulties, such as user’s resistance, inaccurate cost forecasting, inability to foresee the risks, etc. The authors believe these issues are universal to education industry; therefore, this paper is established to deal with them and is summarized to propose a systematic methodology to fit in institution’s uniqueness, with application on our own.
2 Methodology: Framework Establishment
This section reincarnates the idea and theory of the foundation for this paper by establishing a set of frameworks. These frameworks aim to provide MTE development methodology designers the guidance of how to properly and correctly understand a specific institution regarding MTE according to the parameters summarized through uniqueness .
These frameworks are formed with two axes each, of which reading is qualitatively presented for simplification of placement operated by MTE development methodology designers.
Institution development scope
Course content cost
Institution’s technology acceptance level
The above list ranges from the strategic level to the operational level, with inclusion of both institution and technology dimensions. They are universal to most of the education providers, yet each education provider has unique situation that draws attention to.
It is important to understand that currently it is costly to accurately quantify the impact or risk in the frameworks created below, and the dimensions used in the frameworks are, by no means, fixed. MTE development methodology designers are encouraged to justifiably develop their own frameworks with dimensions.
2.1 Institution’s Development Scope
Regardless of the industry, the institutional development scope has been one of the most critical and inevitable factors to consider when an institution is about to make a change or planning the future (Ko and Rossen 2010). However, what really matters when bringing on the table covers various aspects, such as the institution positioning, market competition, financial situation and timeframe, etc. (Allen and Seaman 2011). Institutions have to be able to identify and understand all these factors and come up with the scope that is practically reflective to the reality.
The period for this scope, which stems from business and is becoming increasingly sensitive to IT or technology industry, has been given more attention from authors’ perspective based on empirical research (Park et al. 2013; Stark 2011). Given that the technology is continually shortening its lifecycle, it is more reasonable and realistic to scale the scope timeframe within 3–5 years. MTE, as one of the extended applications from information technologies, may need to update and enhance its settings (including institutional structure and technological infrastructure) to adapt into the possible new trend after the current period, as modern technology is evolving and revolutionizing much more quickly than expected (Hayes et al. 2012). By that time, MTE development methodology designers may need to review the scope and provide a rebalanced guidance accordingly.
However, going into all the aspects in this would increase the complexity exponentially along with every dimension added. Thus, as mentioned before, discussing two aspects is more ideal in order to achieve a purpose-oriented and practical placement for institutions. Indicated in previous studies (Lorz and Willmann 2013), scope and size have drawn more attention over the years throughout various industries and therefore have been chosen in this framework for the vertical axis and horizontal axis, respectively.
A larger institution needs more investment on MTE, including financial and human resource, etc., which may lead to lower ROI (return on investment) rate for the early stage.
A larger institution is normally making more effort and taking longer time to implement a new MTE, as the difficulty to convert the users who are used to teaching and learning traditionally may be larger than those of smaller size (lesser users). This factor may cause difficulties for initial decision-making.
A larger institution is facing much more complex user’s resistance scenario when a change occurs. It needs more contribution on analyzing the scope of change management and limitations of business continuity during the change, as a change manager has to consider the tolerance bottom line (Luftman et al. 2004) more carefully than those of smaller size. (In some cases, if the user’s resistance to a change is going out the control that managerial and operational support can no longer carry on the change process, the change manager will report to decision makers who will have to review the change decision itself and make the proper adjustments swiftly to avoid massive chaos, disorders, productivity loss, potential employee turnovers, and any other risks due to the change.)
The current institution size ranges from “small” to “large” on the vertical axis of the framework and will be analyzed with the horizontal axis, which is presented from “conservative” to “aggressive.”
An aggressive development requires more and growing support on MTE, and this brings about the risk that the investment may not be constant or sustainable due to potential subprojects that may occupy/share the resources.
An aggressive development generates bigger changes and results in issues on user adoption rate. Implementation of the MTE has to be aligned with development and handle these change management issues.
2.2 Business Objectives
Is MTE one of the must-have platforms to deliver teaching resources within the development scope? (Importance of MTE)
What is the proportion of MTE course content in the entire institution? (Online/offline content ratio)
Understand to what extent the institution is going to transfer from the traditional teaching method to MTE or online. Will MTE be a complementary (optional/selective) or strategically critical (compulsory) delivery method?
How to qualify students who study through MTE?
If the answers indicate that the MTE will be one of the main platforms and the quality of MTE in terms of academic and technical (will discuss later) will be controlled properly, the importance of MTE will be marked as high and vice versa.
The higher proportion of MTE course content means the more investment on technical infrastructure (network, servers, storage and e-content preparation, etc.).
The higher proportion of MTE course also means the more workload of daily operations and ongoing maintenance there will be, not only in technical part but also in academic and managerial part, which links back to the first question.
2.3 Course Content Cost
Cost is always part of the center of concerns. MTE development methodology designers need to be aware of the budget and tangible and intangible cost before practically implementing MTE. This part is taken out as a follow-up uniqueness from the business objectives to discuss the details of cost from different perspectives.
As mentioned above, the online/offline content ratio affects the level of attention and effort inputs, yet this section discusses attributes of the course that are planned to be delivered through MTE, which deals with the implementation and operational cost of the MTE over the time. Designers are suggested to take this into consideration well before planning it by closely cooperating with decision makers for detailed requirements in the very initial stage of the MTE development and then prepare the associated reports to stakeholders for budget approval.
The selected attributes of the MTE course are categorized as:
Lifecycle length: the frequency of the course content will be updated as the knowledge updates, depending on the content’s nature. The shorter lifecycle length of the content drives up the ongoing cost directly (Kukulska-Hulme 2012). For example, the knowledge updating period of fundamental and traditional sciences (such as maths, physics, and chemistry) is relatively longer than that of applied sciences (such as computer science, engineering, and electronics) (Martin 2013). As a result, the shorter update lifecycle of the MTE-based course content has, the more budget and the tighter capital flow it requires as time goes on.
It should be reasonable to foresee that the technological cost (e.g., content recording and uploading, network consumption for video streaming) generated through updating process may be reduced as technology’s maturity levels up, yet the physical/operational cost (such as video editing cost and academic inputs) is expected to remain the same.
Click-and-play or live streaming: MTE development methodology designers should understand the cost of different technical course delivery patterns (Carroll 2014; Ostashewski et al. 2011). Academic efforts (such as human resources cost of lecturers) occupy a considerable part of the total cost for course content. If a course is decided to be delivered through prerecordings (click-and-play), which means the academic cost is one off and fixed until this content update lifecycle ends. On the other hand, the academic cost for “live streaming” will be much higher than “click-and-play,” as the cost is counted for every session delivered (Kulich et al. 2013).
Moreover, the cost gap between these two methods grows larger when it comes to the technological aspect. For instance, the technological cost for “click-and-play” is paid off mainly by education providers in IT infrastructure (including servers, storages and network, etc.) procurement, maintenance, and upgrade; meanwhile, the cost and the requirements of connection for users are affordable, regardless of the cost on mobile devices. However, in order to maintain a reasonable level of quality for delivered course in “live streaming” pattern, the technological cost will be boosted up dramatically for both education providers and users (Rutz 2012). The courses of “live streaming” are not instantly and real-timely accessible, and this delivery method is more sensitive to the network stability than “click-and-play.” This is because there is no other time slot for content delivering when lecturers and students are seated and ready, yet the network is disconnected. Otherwise, the cost of changing time slot due the technical issues may be too much and unaffordable for both parties. Understandably, the courses of “click-and-play” are accessible whenever the users have the access to the Internet with network-enabled mobile devices.
2.4 Teaching Resources Distribution
Another uniqueness that each education provider holds is how, what, and where are the teaching resources distributed. This uniqueness is used to help determine to what extent the institution will and should rely on the MTE.
MTE development methodology designers should notice that even if the current situation or the development blueprint of the institution does not have the multi-campus included, it is still worth taking this uniqueness into consideration as proactive action for the future.
The paradigm of geographical locations. A multicampus pattern itself has necessitated the MTE. For instance, given the reputation and education quality, more often than not, regional-based institutions rely relatively more on the remote or distant education than metro-based ones (Handal et al. 2013). This is because such institutions like New England University (2011) are less attractive to students because of their geographically disadvantaged locations. Therefore, on one hand, they are developing in metro areas to attract more students to come, and on the other hand, they are also expecting to broaden student sources through innovative teaching methods, such as remote/online education and MTE.
How close/deep the interconnection and relationship among these locations and distributions are (Zeichner 2010). In most cases, the teaching resources, such as courseware stored in database or storages, can be easily accessed and shared through a secured network (e.g., the VPN tunnel). However, if the academic staff will have to travel between different locations to deliver the courses because of this shared teaching resource pattern or if the students have to travel from one location to another to attend the lecture or tutorial, these scenarios may drive up the need of MTE (Fig. 4).
2.5 Targeted Student
Different education providers have their unique marketing target according to their academic strength (e.g., courses they are offering) and preferences. However, this difference brings out the uniqueness in the user acceptance of MTE due to the situation and background they have (Kim et al. 2013), which is analyzed in this section. In order to place the institution accurately when trying to be precautious to the possible user resistance toward MTE, methodology designers are well advised to be aware of the students’ allocation and then report to the management as early as possible.
The industry has been analyzing the statistics regarding the user acceptance and resistance toward an IT product/change over the years. The research shows that the background (e.g., the degrees and majors) and the age group tend to be the most influential factors in this regard. Therefore, this section takes these two as the vertical and horizontal axes separately.
It should be noticed that MTE development methodology designers should never equate the background to courses offered in institution, however, given that there is no effective method to complete this survey, and this equation is statistically justifiable, MTE development methodology designers can make the rough judgement until relevant survey and convincible statistics have been released.
On the other hand, research shows that the age group also statistically affects student’s acceptance toward MTE. In general, given the background of students, there is a gradual increase on the curve that shows the acceptance rate, and the acceptance rate drops after a peak point (Venkatesh et al. 2003; Wu et al. 2011).
2.6 Institution’s Technology Acceptance Level
Finally it comes to the technological side, which has been discussed over the years since mobile teaching was introduced. To a large extent, the technological limitations, such as the network bandwidth, hardware and software performance, etc., have been the bottlenecks of MTE development so far (Short et al. 2014). These are directly affecting the final cost (mainly on intangible such as adoption rate, user’s satisfaction, etc.). However, this section does not intend to repeat these pure technical discussions, as other researchers tend to focus on this aspect.
- 1.Current technical maturity of the institution: this index shows to what extent the current institution’s technological structure is formed. Several questions can be asked to the institution itself for self-diagnosis:
Are the current IT infrastructures being less problematic? From a technical perspective, if the whole IT infrastructure is designed well with little issue and ready for add-ons like MTE components, then the implementation of MTE seems to be easier.
What is the current average level of user’s satisfaction toward IT services? Even though the IT infrastructure is technically well established, users may be resistant to the IT products or services due to personal preference, non-friendly user interfaces, poor IT management or insufficient IT training, etc. This would somehow determine user’s level of cooperation when MTE is introduced to them, which in turn affects the effective delivery of MTE.
This is an index showing the overall maturity level of institution’s readiness of MTE, presenting the predicted acceptance level regarding MTE from both institution and user side.
The technical complexity level of the planned IT infrastructure with MTE inclusion. This indicates how complex the technological infrastructure will be after MTE is implemented in the future. When discussing this index, methodology designers should be closely referring to the first uniqueness – institution development scope, as the larger the scope is, the more complex the IT infrastructure tends to be.
Given the maturity level, the higher technical complexity in the future is expected to boost up a higher level of intangible cost. The institution needs to pay extra attention on the execution of MTE’s development.
3 Guidance of Framework
The placements of the institution on these frameworks do not automatically reflect or provide MTE development methodology designers the practical consultation on what and how they should be aware of and what should be done accordingly. There should be a mechanism to guide how to extract valuable information from these placements.
In fact, quantitative data is hardly accessible through these placements, given that the frameworks are not quantitatively established, and the relevant statistics are not industrially available. The qualitatively marked frameworks established in this paper have determined that simply drawing the conclusion on these frameworks as a whole seems to be unjustifiable. Meanwhile, each framework deals with different uniqueness, and it may not even the importance of the uniqueness due to the individuality of each institution. MTE development methodology designers have to stand one step back to be able to view the relationship between the frameworks and the institution’s situation and then make the adjusted judgment.
In this context, a concept of “weight” is introduced to quantify the result of placements. The MTE development methodology designer should use this to guide themselves when making decisions and reports regarding the overall risk level, financial and institutional cost, as well as MTE adoption rate, thereby building up precaution and readiness to possible outcomes after implementation of MTE.
Since each institution has its different strategic and resource allocations on these uniqueness frameworks, it is more reasonable to assign a specific “weight” to the uniqueness to reflect the reality of the institution as well as the flexibility of the framework itself. The “weight” should be given to each framework based on the importance level of the associated uniqueness (e.g., 0 for not relevant, 1 for least important, 10 for most important). When assigning the “weight,” MTE development methodology designers should be informed by the institution’s current situation and development plan to guarantee the accuracy of “weight.”
The “weight” can be used as a reference when measuring and forecasting the potential risk and outcome by applying it to the placement for a specific scorecard and then adding up the scores to receive the total score. By doing so, the purpose of quantifying the result can be achieved. However, to make this concept validated and effective, it is necessary to build up a set of benchmarks (preferably specific score) to show the score range groups representing the suggestions and consultancy. At this stage, due to the lack of supporting samples that need plenty of field studies with authorized data inputs in the further research, this paper presents a potential research topic and provides a possible guidance on its directions. Yet, by the time that the supporting database is established and the validation of this framework system is enhanced, it then will be more practical and beneficial to carry this theoretical methodology toward the further step.
4 Findings and Results
Being the first input of the proposed database, this paper applies the concept of “weight” to Nan Tien Institute (NTI) based on its visions on MTE as introduced previously, which aims to exemplify the use of this framework system in reality. The placements on the frameworks and the weights given to the uniqueness are concluded from NTI’s current strategic planning as well as the understanding of its reality.
- 1.Institution development scope: NTI’s development tends to be aggressive in the next scope period, while the authors want to build up a holistic educational niche that has relatively small size.
The placement on the framework is marked as “medium” level of risk (“small” and “aggressive”).
The importance level of this uniqueness is scaled as 10 due to its survival criticality.
- 2.Business objectives: NTI has to allocate most of the limited resources into other business activity expansion and development, and the MTE seems to be in a relatively long-term experimental phase; therefore MTE will not be the major task to achieve within the scope at the moment. Meanwhile, the online/offline content ratio is marked as low.
The placement on the framework is marked as “low” level of input effort (“low” and “low”).
The importance level of this uniqueness is scaled as 3.
- 3.Course content cost: NTI tends to keep the update lifecycle of MTE-based course content “long” for multiple reasons, and the content’s form is set to be “click-and-play” to achieve the best flexibility for both academic staff and students.
The placement on the framework is marked as “low” level of cost (“long” and “click-and-play”).
The importance level of this uniqueness is scaled as 7 because the budget for this has to be controlled within an affordable range.
- 4.Teaching resources distribution: NTI has campuses in two different locations, a main campus in Unanderra Regional which hosts most of the teaching resources and a branch campus in Sydney Metro. One of its first priorities is to broaden the student source and increase its reputation and attraction. These two campuses have frequent information exchange and sharing with each other from technical and academic bases.
The placement on the framework is marked as “high” level of needs toward MTE (“high” and “regional”).
The importance level of this uniqueness is scaled as 6 due to the rapid expansion on both campus construction and information exchange frequency.
- 5.Targeted student: Currently, the students in NTI are mainly aged in their 40s or older, and most of them have non-technological background. Thus:
The placement on the framework is marked as relatively “high” level of user resistance, and therefore the cost to achieve MTE adoption and to reduce the user resistance is deemed high.
The importance level of this uniqueness is scaled as 5, as it is critical to the success of implementation of MTE in the regard of change management.
- 6.Institution’s technology acceptance level: NTI is concerned with this uniqueness, as throughout the institution, the IT development is still leveling up its service quality to a higher satisfactory standard, and before that, the user resistance generated will be the potential risk for MTE implementation and adoption. On the other hand, in response to the development blueprint and scope, the planned technical complexity level is deemed as “low.”
The placement on the framework is marked as “medium” level of acceptance toward MTE.
The importance level of this uniqueness is scaled as 9, as it is critical to the success of implementation of MTE in the regard of change management.
Framework summary upon NTI
Scale of weight (priority)
“Medium” level of risk
“Medium” level of acceptance toward MTE
“Low” level of cost
“High” level of needs toward MTE
“High” level of user resistance
“Low” level of input effort
Designers should be aware of that the MTE’s implementation should always be aligned with NTI’s development scope, so as the risk level it may face.
NTI should pay more attention on MTE, as NTI’s current situation necessitates the MET to a large extent. It can be an effective solution to NTI’s limitations mentioned previously.
NTI needs to reinforce its current IT maturity level by fixing its existing issues before moving forward. Otherwise, it would cause chaos and be more costly to fix when new challenges are introduced with MTE before old issues are resolved.
User resistance will be one of the major concerns when implementing the MTE. Designers should try to mitigate this by effective change management, selecting user-friendly MET IT systems, providing appropriate training.
NTI has to be patient for a successful delivery of MTE. This patience should be reflected in not necessarily limited to continuous financial investment but also in the top-down management support and the cooperation from both IT department and users.
By doing such analysis, the exemplification of the framework placement and idea of weight upon NTI is completed. As stated above, the result has been clear for NTI, which can be used as a reference when practically implementing the MTE in the short future.
5 Future Directions
This chapter is a groundbreaking point that introduces MTE development methodology designers a way to contemplate their way of designing, and the proposed theoretical methodology is fully flexible and varied by different needs/situations, which has the potential to help MTE implementation to be successful.
This chapter, however, has inhabited limitations by its natures of:
Subjectivity: each framework requires a placement of institution that is completed by MTE development methodology designers themselves. Even though the authors have emphasized that the involvement of management and strategy level is necessary to increase the accuracy of positioning, there are no strict rules to illustrate to what extent the involvement should be, and there is no mechanism to guarantee the authentication of the involvement.
Nonquantitative data: it is hard for MTE development methodology designers to place the institution on the framework as expected because most of the required parameters on the frameworks are determined by nonquantitative data, which has made this less completed.
Inadequate supporting data: this paper is a methodology to MTE methodology, and it requires industrial supporting data and involvement, yet missing, to validate it. However, it is believed that the more inputs from the reality, the more accurate the placement and result will be.
Ideally, the authors and concerned researchers will start the follow-up research to refine the framework as soon as the validated data has been collected and come up with quantitative frameworks as well as the scorecards of “weight,” thereby officially introducing the scoring system with corresponding solutions and suggestions. By that time, this paper and the follow-up papers would be more valuable to the MTE design methodology.
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