We started out on our mobile journey about a year ago when I got my first smart phone. Immediately the power of what you could do with such a device was obvious to me; emails, calendar appointments, web browsing and so on. It wasn’t just about the convenience of not having to wait for a computer to turn on and log into a network, it was the flexibility and portability as well.
Browsing around the internet, it became obvious that the best websites were the ones which offered tailored versions for mobiles. Not so much cut-down, but streamlined, all the information and graphics were there, just presented in a portable view. Sites like Amazon and Gizmodo do this really well, sites like Gamespot not so much. The next step was obvious: build a mobile version of our VLE which would work as well as Amazon mobile.
Trying things out inside Frog is easy and a quick search found some code which automatically resizes the browser.
<meta name = “viewport” content = “width = device-width, height = device-height” />
That’s all it is. It sits in an HTML brick at the top of each mobile page. I’ve built a separate set of pages for our mobile platform which I think works better than redirecting users (Gamespot I’m looking at you). From our VLE login screen, there’s a separate button set up to take a user to a mobile login page. The site is built entirely in Frog bricks, we use ‘IF’ statements to separate content and provide a link back to our main Frog site.
Some of the little features we’ve included are:
- An ‘App Store’, which has direct links to recommended apps.
- A Tinyurl address for the mobile site, which shortens the url to something memorable.
- Everyone’s timetable on the front page, providing information as quickly as we can.
- A mobile version of our blogs.
Play time’s over
The site went live without any formal training, simply one day the link was visible. What followed took me by surprise!
After a few weeks of the mobile site being live, I’d been trying out different things, such as links to our rewards system, our staff search and similar things. I wasn’t that happy with the display of the rewards system on my phone, so I removed the link until I would have a chance to reconfigure it. Within 30 minutes, I had emails, phone calls and teachers knocking on the door. So many of our staff were using the mobile site they had come to rely on it! The fact they could no longer add rewards during break duty was a major issue for them.
As one teacher explained to me “In the morning before registration I’m waiting for the computer to turn on, so I deal with my emails using my phone – I used to have to wait until I had a free period. It’s saved me so much time.”
We conducted an informal survey on Frog to find out what type of phones everyone had. The results were quite surprising. Half of our teachers and about two thirds of our students had their own smart phone.
Another bit of informal research was also being carried out. Our assistant head with responsibility for parental involvement had noticed that the vast majority of emails he was getting ended in “Sent from my…” Our parents had gone 3G too!!
The mobile site is now firmly part of our VLE at Cramlington. I’m left in no doubt it will continue to grow. We’re building our own apps, although it will only be for things that work better as an app, as the cross-platform publishing issues are a nightmare. We’re also experimenting with Google Docs for collaborating through these devices.
What the mobile site has done for us is make teaching and learning portable. Laptops offer flexibility, not portability. You can’t walk down a corridor with a laptop while accessing the internet. Alright you can, but it’s very awkward.
With students able to access our VLE via a mobile device, they can be in any part of the school (or at home). They can record or photograph their work and instantly upload it. They can be assigned work, access materials and respond to questions. They can listen to podcasts, view video tutorials and make even their own – and they can do all of this without needing a PC.