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EDUCATE on SITE: user acceptance of mobile web applications in architectural education on sustainable environmental design

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This case study was set up with the aim of investigating user acceptance of the prototype mobile device service for the EDUCATE (Environmental Design in University Curricula and Architectural Training in Europe) Portal, analysing changes in user behaviour and evaluating how mobile access to the EDUCATE Portal functionalities could be better implemented and supported. The results obtained indicate that access to information and learning tools on mobile devices holds significant promise in promoting situated and interactive learning to both naive and expert users in the field of education for sustainable environmental design. In this context, the development of specific applications – purposely designed for mobile devices – proves to be more easily accepted by the users and could allow a more comprehensive knowledge transfer, encompassing at once theoretical (acquisition of principles), experiential (practical visualisation) and analytic(critical evaluation) cognitive domains.

To enhance knowledge of sustainability in the education of disciplines of the built environment, and disseminate knowhow and exemplars of best practice in sustainable design, a European project EDUCATE (Environmental Design in University Curricula and Architectural Training in Europe, http://www.educate-sustainability.eu) was set up in 2009 under the co-ordination of the University of Nottingham, Department of Architecture and Built Environment and School of Computer Science.

Currently in its concluding stage, EDUCATE has engaged seven European universities and several professional bodies for three years, with the aim of tackling pedagogical barriers to the integration of sustainability in university curricula and in the practice of architecture. In order to support this process, an interactive web portal was designed and developed at the University of Nottingham. The EDUCATE Portal offers a range of functionalities. Key among these, is the EDUCATE Knowledge Base (KB), which represents the collected expertise of the seven consortium partners of key concepts in sustainable architectural design, organised into: ‘Issues and Principles’, ‘Applications and Case Studies’, and ‘Tools’. Further functionalities of the Portal allow interaction between users (e.g. students, experts, professionals), such as ‘Ask a Question’, participating in a ‘Discussion Forum’, consulting ‘Readings Lists’ of topics or accessing ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.

The EDUCATE Portal was initially made accessible to all the staff and students at EDUCATE partner institutions to support teaching and learning of sustainable environmental design, and was subsequently used to facilitate an international competition on sustainable design. Under the banner of EDUCATE Prize, the competition involved 64 universities worldwide, whose registered academics and students were given access to the EDUCATE Knowledge Base.

The EDUCATE Portal was originally intended solely for use in the design studio and continuing professional development (CPD) settings. However, initial feedback obtained from an online survey of EDUCATE Portal target groups highlighted that more and more users are utilising their mobile devices to search for information and interact with others on the move.

Increasingly, web services are introducing either mobile versions of their site or special applications (apps) designed to be accessed from a mobile phone or a tablet. The relatively high screen resolution, powerful processing units and fast internet connectivity of modern mobile devices allow greater flexibility in accessing web-based information, and, critically, the possibility of situated learning, allowing users to combine cognitive learning and experience in situ.

In response to this initial feedback, a prototype of a mobile application for teaching and learning in sustainability – EDUCATE on SITE (SITuated Education) – was developed in order to support some of the key functionalities of the EDUCATE Portal. Using this mobile service, users are able to experience real-world examples of buildings and techniques described in the EDUCATE Knowledge Base and access relevant information on site. Questions can be asked and/or discussed directly on site and the camera built in to most modern mobile devices makes it possible to attach photos to illustrate questions.

The case study reported on page 3 was set up with the aim of investigating user acceptance of the prototype mobile device service for the EDUCATE Portal, analysing changes in user behaviour and evaluating how mobile access to the EDUCATE Portal functionalities could be better implemented and supported. The results obtained indicate that access to information and learning tools on mobile devices holds significant promise in promoting situated and interactive learning to both naive and expert users in the field of education for sustainable environmental design. In this context, the development of specific applications – purposely designed for mobile devices – proves to be more easily accepted by the users and could allow a more comprehensive knowledge transfer, encompassing at once theoretical (acquisition of principles), experiential (practical visualisation) and analytic (critical evaluation) cognitive domains.

This extract is from a case study by Sergio Altomonte, Markus Feisst and Brian Logan, published online at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/oer_cs_sergio_altomonte_educate_on_site.pdf under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Sergio Altomonte, Markus Feisst and Brian Logan, EDUCATE on SITE: user acceptance of mobile web applications in architectural education on sustainable environmental design, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.