Information Use on the Move

Another IET Technology Coffee Morning, this one presented by Keren Mills, from the Open University Library.

Keren spent 10 weeks at Cambridge through the Arcadia Programme, funded by the Arcardia Trust. It’s a three-year programme in to improving library services, especially moving research libraries in to the information age. She wanted to find out what people actually wanted.

When you talk about mobile libraries … people think about vans full of books. But widespread perception that mobile internet is slow and expensive.

Students are in to texts, though – 58% of OU student respondents to Keren’s survey already receive text alerts (and continue to receive some) from their bank or whatever.  A student services pilot in sending texts was successful, sending prompt SMSs to students to remind them about study, upcoming TMAs, and so on. Students felt the university cared about them and were thinking about them – even if they didn’t need the reminder they appreciated the communication. Feedback survey showed most students wanted exam date notification and results.

Mobile-friendly websites: AACS noticed people using our websites using mobile devices.  50% of student respondents access mobile internet via their phones; 26% once a week or more. Very little interest from Cambridge students – might be younger than OU ones (on average) but they’re local to the University.

The perception is that mobile browsing is expensive – it’s better than it was, but still costs.  Some better than others – Virgin currently cap 3G data at 30p/day for up to 25Mb.

Only 26% of student respondents have downloaded apps to their phone and would so so again – higher than for overall, but not much.  iPhone might be changing that. (E.g. app being developed by KMi – the Virtual Microscope project and some others.)

Use of media on phones – students view photos most (75%)! Staff listen to music more (60%), and have more podcasts/journal articles/e-books exposure.  Students don’t, probably because we don’t prompt them to.

(An interesting discussion ensued about authentication to get access to e-journals.)

OU Library have been working to make their site more mobile-friendly. They’re using autodetecting reformatting software, which tries to suss the resolution, strips out the pictures, and reformats it.  It’s the same content, navigation and so on.

Students were particularly interested in location details and opening hours, and being able to search the catalogue. So they’re trying to make that easier. Moving towards a more CSS-based system in the future.

Safari – information skills site – has recently been overhauled.  Developed some mobile learning objects for reinforcement and revision – Using their LO generator developed in-house.

Also – iKnow project – mobile learning objects, currently under evaluation.

About 33% of OU respondents have used text reference services (e.g. rail enquiries); a further 26% said they might, having heard about it through the survey.

General pattern of increased interest among OU students than others, probably because of our distributed area.

There are a range of mobile devices and emulators available in the Digilab.


The autodetect and reformat software doesn’t work well with mobile version of Safari – so the Library site treats iPhones and iPod touches as ordinary browsers. Best practice is to give people the option of using mobile or standard version.

Author: dougclow

Data scientist, tutxor, project leader, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist, online learning expert, and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in a wide range of contexts and industries.

6 thoughts on “Information Use on the Move”

  1. Evidence I’ve been gathering in a small longitudinal study of new Science level 1 student early experiences of OU courses supports the view that we’re not directing students sufficiently well towards Library resources. Nor are we emphasizing on course websites how easy it is to get access to ejournals etc online (regardless of whether they are using a mobile device or not).
    The figures that Keren showed of OU staff using mobile devices to access ebooks and journals more than the students indicates to me that the OU doesn’t want to be caught napping when students do start to demand such facilities in greater numbers than currently is the case.

    1. That sounds like an interesting study – I noticed your reports on the Knowledge Network and wondered what the overarching pattern was!

      And I agree – I think there will be a dramatic shift to multi-platform access to electronic resources. I think we’re still at the slow shallow point on the S-shaped curve, but the steep bit can’t be too far ahead.

  2. I’m not convinced yet that it is easy enough to access journal articles online, especially from a mobile device. Many mobile phones currently have internet access, but do not have WiFI access. Even if they do, logging on to the OU network (or logging on to anything) can be quite awkward, especially with the text entry methods of mobile browsers. I recently tired to access a journal article through a Google search, and then found I could not click straight though to it, instead I had to take a route though the Library website.

    I’m not blaming the Library or anyone else for this awkwardness in getting journal resources on a mobile device, but these factors are hurdles that will put people off. For every hurdle you will lose people.

    Perhaps the real answer is not to hide knowledge behind these barriers, but to start thinking beyond the journal system and put more knowledge in easy reach of the public.

    1. Oh, I’d definitely agree that open access is the Right Thing and where we should be trying to go – that’s what we’re trying to do with JIME and other activities.

      The technological infrastructure to do all the authentication and rights management is now fiendishly clever, and has (fairly recently) got to a stage where you can mostly get things with just one login to your institution. Especially with mobile devices (where you can’t physically track an IP address to an Institutionally-owned machine), it’s never going to get as seamless and easy as if there were no requirement for authentication and rights control.

      It’s definitely not Libraries’ fault – indeed, many of them (including ours) have spent huge amounts of effort to make it less burdensome to get at this stuff. I put the blame (mainly) on commercial publishers, who are the ones who require all the access control. We as academics have responsibility to shift things away from them, now that the marginal cost of publication has fallen to close to zero. (The other main costs – writing, reviewing, and editing – are generally done by academics anyway, not paid by the publishers.) And it costs more, not less, to get access to e-Journals than print ones! Madness.

      And, of course, this stuff is not reachable by the general public or by independent scholars not attached to well-heeled institutions. Which is not acceptable for publically-funded knowledge, if you ask me.

  3. My personal use of mobile devices only really took off recently when I got a ‘usable’ mobile device with an all-in contract, in my case an iphone (possibly 2-3 years away for majority of students??). Even so, I wouldn’t do more than ‘graze’ a book or article on it. IMHO ebooks are for testing if a book is worth buying. Challenge for unis is that too much movement to digital (removing print items) could be socially exclusive.

  4. In relation to journal articles:

    – for many subjects you don’t read journal articles at undergraduate level or very rarely e.g. most mathematics journal articles have prerequisites beyond what one would learn in an undergraduate degree

    – reading PDFs even on iphone isn’t especially great, especially as I often scan large parts of journal articles which is hard to do on a phone as opposed to the web or paper

    – things aren’t quite linked up enough yet accessing journal articles on the web even if you are logged into your OU account (either that or I don’t have the ninga journal article accessing skills necessary!)

    – the main problem with accessing journal articles on the iphone is having to type in your password each time to get into the OU website – typing in my password is just enough of a pain on the iphone keyboard that I don’t bother. If I do read journal articles on my phone I tend to download them off my phone and them move the PDFs to my phone

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