225945 Exploring the use of mobile phone text messaging to supplement discussion forums in a global distance learning program

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rohit Ramaswamy, PhD, MPH , Public Health Leadership Program, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Des Moines, IA
Graeme Storer, PhD , VBNK, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Jessica Whelan , Public Health Leadership Program, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
The need for building the skills of the global public health workforce is well documented. Distance learning has emerged as an inexpensive and accessible option to train large numbers of geographically dispersed people. Effective distance programs blend on-line instruction with facilitated discussion emphasizing application. But for the many public health workers who work in locations without everyday internet access, sustaining on-line discussions is challenging. This presentation describes an experiment using mobile phone text messages to supplement on-line discussion in a global non-degree distance education program offered by UNC, Chapel Hill. The intent of this program is to enhance management skills of NGO and government staff and is being piloted in eight countries, including Cambodia, the site for our experiment. All participants in our experiment had mobile phones, but did not have consistent internet access. We used text messages to contact participants when they were off-line. Text messages were used to send reminders, to clarify content and to ask short questions to move the discussion forward. Participants responded to discussion questions through texts, which were sent to a group micro-blogging site and forwarded to the discussion forum. Overall, the approach facilitated participation but changed the nature of the discussion. This presentation summarizes our results, particularly focusing on participants' evaluations of their learning experience, comparison of participation statistics and output quality with non-supplemented discussion, operational issues, and costs. Implications for using text messaging as an integral part of distance education programs in the future are also discussed.

Learning Areas:
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related education

Learning Objectives:
Describe the use of mobile phone text messages as a supplement to on-line discussion forums in distance learning. Assess the effectiveness of this technology in enhancing student participation and engagement. Identify operational issues and challenges and discuss how they can be addressed.

Keywords: Distance Education Development, Developing Countries

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the director of the program described in the presentation and conducted the experiment
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.