Features: September 16th, 2013

As six UK colleges pilot Capita’s new mobile services for the further education (FE) sector, product manager Rob Elliott explains the critical role mobile technologies are set to play in improving students’ grades.

Theo is in the second year of a hospitality course at his local FE college. Achieving top marks in his first year, he’s keen to continue his success in each of his remaining assignments to secure a good pass. He wants to stay in touch with his tutor and would prefer to access his college achievement record and timetables via his mobile phone, rather than carrying bits of paper around in his bag.

Frequently, students like Theo want to take greater responsibility for their own learning and achievement. Many will work alongside their studies to gain the experience they need to improve their chances of moving up the careers ladder. And with their lives getting busier, they are demanding more from their place of study.

The quest for top grades

For the second year in a row, fewer students achieved A and A* grades in their A-levels in 2013, placing young people under increasing pressure to deliver the very best results. This comes against the backdrop of rising unemployment among 16 to 24 year-olds. With places on apprenticeships and traineeships hard to come by in some areas, students are focussed on getting the most from their college courses and work placements.

By enabling students to engage in two-way conversations with their tutors whenever it suits them and giving them instant access to information on their progress, colleges can not only meet students’ changing expectations, but also help to boost educational outcomes.
Going mobile

In an international survey conducted by Time magazine in 2012, 84% of respondents claimed they could not go a day without their mobile device. And according to Ofcom’s Communications Market Report for 2013, take-up of smartphones has continued to increase rapidly over the past year – more than half of all adults (51%) and over three quarters of 16 to 24 year-olds now own one. The potential for using mobile technology in the education arena is enormous.

Making payments using a smartphone is becoming commonplace as users migrate away from desktop computers. This opens up opportunities for students to pay for their college fees or exam re-sits and purchase course materials using their phones. But mobile tools are also being developed that will help to improve their attainment.

Student centred learning

Mobile technology is increasingly becoming the tool of choice for hardworking students wishing to keep abreast of their progress, so it is the perfect channel for them to access information from their institution on demand.

With the right tools in place, colleges can give their students access to their timetable on the go, for example, or provide them with up-to-the-minute information on room changes or announcements for that day relating to their course.

They can find out what grade they have been awarded in their latest assessment from the moment it is entered onto the college’s system and track their attendance or achievement day-by-day, throughout their course. They could even send a quick message to their tutor if they are struggling with an assignment to ask for help or request an extension to the deadline.

In addition to this, there are solutions being developed that will allow colleges to give their students quick and easy access to all this information using their existing login details for services such as Facebook or Google. Tools such as these are set to play a critical role in helping to keep learners of all ages organised, up-to-date, informed and most importantly, motivated from the day they start their course right through to its completion.

The changing shape of education

According to a report recently published by Cisco, the number of mobile connected devices is expected to exceed the global population by the end of 2013. Students have many more options for communicating with the world than they have ever had before. And there is much that institutions can do to incorporate this into college life.

Bring your own device strategies have gathered momentum, with colleges now investing heavily in mobile access management for network security; a system which identifies devices, users and operating systems. Technology colleges in particular are becoming increasingly aware that to compete for students, a college-wide wireless network is essential, with some students having up to four devices connected to the system at any one time.

When managed well, emerging technology will see both staff and students accessing the wealth of attendance and achievement data already being recorded by colleges every day, 24/7. And this will transform the way that students like Theo approach their studies to encourage the best possible educational outcome.

A glance at the future

Students are increasingly being encouraged to become more attuned to the needs of the business world to compete successfully when they enter the workplace. As part of this, user demographics for professional networking sites like LinkedIn are reportedly experiencing a shift as more young people log in and get on board.

It looks likely that by the time Theo’s younger sister, Caitlin, starts her course at the same college in two years’ time, instead of using one PC in class, one at home for homework and a mobile for texting her friends, she will use her smartphone or tablet in all areas of her life. Caitlin will expect to be able to keep track of her progress, share it with friends or even prospective employers, helping her to secure her dream job at a market-leading hotel chain when she finishes.

In the competitive education marketplace, it is success stories like these that will give colleges the evidence they need to demonstrate the real value they add to their student’s educational journey.

Rob’s five top tips on using mobile technology in FE to improve the student experience and raise attainment:

1. Allow students to communicate with their course tutors via their mobile when they are not in college– encourage them to ask questions about assignments or seek advice on improving their performance.
2. Give students instant access to their grades so they can take more control of their own progress.
3. Enable students to view their timetable and registration marks on their mobile or tablet so they can keep a check on their attendance and punctuality throughout their course.
4. Deliver the latest news to students electronically – automatic updates on room changes or college closures in bad weather are incredibly useful and can reduce incoming calls to the office.
5. Deliver exam results and assignment grades to students’ mobiles as soon as they are available so they don’t have to wait for the post to arrive or come into college to pick them up.

For more information on Capita’s mobile services offering for further and higher education, UNIT-e mPad, visit http://www.capita-fhe.co.uk.Follow Rob on twitter @capitafhe