Mobile-Learning Pilot Scheme: Blackboard as the Mobile-Learning Platform

by Mei-ling Lee, Edward Chan

Today, we are living in a mobile world and our students are using their mobile devices to communicate electronically whenever and wherever they desire. To make use of the latest mobile technologies for their university learning and to take advantage of the high performance and reliable full campus WiFi coverage, CityU has launched the mobile-learning pilot scheme in Semester B 2010/11. Four departments namely EE, BCH, IS and AIS joined the pilot scheme for a period of two years. 275 units of Apple iPod Touch with 8GB memory and 127 units of Apple iPad with 16GB memory were distributed to the participating departments. The mobile devices may be given to students on per course or per class basis. On the per course basis, students can keep their mobile devices for the whole semester. On the per class basis, the mobile devices are distributed to students during the class and returned after the class.


To enable students and faculty to engage in teaching and learning activities through these devices, Blackboard (Bb) Mobile Web Services building block and Bb Mobile Learn application (app) have been incorporated as part of the pilot scheme. The building block and the app are developed by Bb to transform Bb Learn, which serves as the unified learning management system at CityU, into a mobile-learning platform. Students and faculty can download the native mobile app built for Apple iPad, iPod touch and iPhone, Android and BlackBerry smart phones from the corresponding app stores to enjoy a fresh interactive experience on their mobile devices. The mobile app gives users instant access to their courses, post comments to discussions, blogs and journals, as well as mark frequently visited courses as favorites within the app.


Testing stage

Before putting into production for the pilot group, the building block and the app have to be first installed and tried out on the test environment. The CSC has worked closely with the eLearning team of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to sort out technical and usability issues encountered during the trial phase. The testing of the building block on mobile devices such as iPod touch and iPad began in late 2010. The primary challenge we faced was a login problem immediately after installation and completion of registration settings on the test environment. Following discussions and investigation with Bb client support and advice found from subscribed client listservs, the cause of the problem was identified as being related to the Secure Sockets Layer certificate configuration settings in Apache and Bb Learn. Subsequent modifications to related configuration files solved the problem. Apart from reporting software bugs to the vendor in the testing stage, enhancement request on usability was also submitted. To help students focus their attention on the in-class activities, a special request was raised by an instructor who designed various class activities using the mobile devices. Consequently, some web site filters have been implemented to allow the devices to access designated web sites such as university web sites and Bb Mobile Learn Central servers only.




New features are great on new devices but they sometimes can be resource demanding or may not be compatible with certain releases of Bb Learn and versions of operating systems in the mobile devices. To ensure new version upgrade benefits users, we need to test not just the new functionalities of the building block and the app in various devices, but also security and performance, reliability and compatibility at both system and device level. We will continue to work closely with the eLearning team and Bb to test and implement new features accordingly as new devices with more powerful hardware and functions begin to emerge in the market every now and then.