SA universities should 'embrace' apps

2013-07-08 09:15
(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town – A number of apps have been launched overseas that allow students access to free university classes, books and virtual campuses.

Kirsty Chadwick, founder of The Training Room Online which designs and develops e-learning material for the corporate, industrial and private sectors, spoke to News24 about how these apps work and how universities in South Africa could possibly benefit from it. 

According to Chadwick, a lot of South Africans would like to study, but often work constraints and affordability makes it difficult.

"With an app classes could be available at a time that suits the student, for instance while travelling on the train or bus, on their way to work, or over a lunch hour.  An app is portable, allowing the student to travel with their device so that they can study at anytime and anywhere."

Chadwick said there are currently no South African universities that makes use of an app for learning and she is only aware of the e-learning apps that they have developed for the corporate environments.

She said an app can be useful to students as it would let them be in contact with their university whenever they need to.

"This can be especially useful for recapping lectures. Students can attend a lecture and then notes and highlights for that lecture can be accessible from the app.  This would be very beneficial as a teaching aid."

Test their knowledge

According to her another advantage is that students can test their knowledge of the course by completing a quiz on the app and viewing their results.

Chadwick said courses can also be delivered in multiple languages.

On the question if she thinks it will take some of the burden off universities she said online testing and marking can be largely automated which would save lecturers a lot of time.

"With the mobility and time-freedom that comes with having an app based course, students would not need to plan for transport and accommodation. They could simply go over their coursework or complete quizzes during travel time or lunch breaks at work."

How it would work


Chadwick said each app would have to be carefully planned and developed around the course that it is addressing. To create a generic app would be limiting. 

"As a concept, the app would have the ability to track the student’s usage, so that reports could be generated to make sure that the courseware was being accessed. 

"Course material would be delivered in the most practical or functional format, and this could include PDF files, video files and audio files. 

"Finally, quizzes and questions based on the courseware would be presented. It is very much like a classroom environment, but delivered through a device."

Chadwick said the app would be slightly more modular and information will need to be downloaded. The course could be divided into multiple sections which the student could download and use on demand.

Costs

According to her the cost to develop such an app will depend on what needs to be done. If the app needs to perform many functions and hold a lot of data, then the time taken to develop it will increase, and with that, the development costs will increase too.

"Because an app can be delivered multiple times, the cost to the student and to the university would be significantly less."
 
Chadwick said because we are moving into an ever increasing digital and app driven world, it is logical that students will feel comfortable if they receive their education through a medium that they are familiar with.

She said the challenge is always to make an app that is visually appealing, easy to use and fulfils its purpose correctly. 

"That is why we do not use a cookie cutter approach to our software.  Each app is planned out carefully – from inception right through to its delivery."

On the question if the app would be suitable for all smartphones Chadwick said: "It depends on how we need to deliver the content. Content that makes use of extensive video would need a smart phone with higher capabilities.

"Currently the smart phone market is progressing so swiftly that most content is able to be displayed on the smart phones available."


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