Adaptive mobile web services facilitate communication and learning Internet technologies

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  • 208 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON EDUCATION, VOL. 49, NO. 2, MAY 2006

    Adaptive Mobile Web Services FacilitateCommunication and Learning

    Internet TechnologiesEvangelos Sakkopoulos, Miltiadis Lytras, and Athanasios Tsakalidis, Member, IEEE

    AbstractThe broad acceptance of mobile technology hasundoubtedly created new opportunities in communication. Theproposed environment attempts to enhance the information flowamong the members of a department and, furthermore, to pro-vide a test-bed mobile Web application for students undertakingInternet technologies courses. The key ideas are to support theeducational process to provide auxiliary access to educationalinformation sources, such as announcements, course schedules,grades, and user directory details. As a second system integrationstep, additional mobile Web services were introduced, such as ap-plication forms of the departments administration office, projectassignment, and discussion groups. Technological evaluation andstudents feedback indicate that the proposed solution is bothefficient in communication perspective and effective for studentinvolvement in the mobile Web initiative. Future steps includemultimedia messages (MMS) integration and third-generation(3G)-based information delivery.

    Index TermsInternet technologies, mobile communication,mobile education, mobile Web services, Web development.

    I. INTRODUCTION

    T he WorldWide Web (www) is an enormous source of in-formation, which is renewed and increased continuously.Since the amount of information changes and enlarges rapidly,many new challenges are created for mobile Web environments.Being able to access the wealth of information available on theWeb from a mobile device is valuable in many day-to-day situ-ations, e.g., when checking timetables, looking for product in-formation, checking e-mail, transferring money, or accessing anintranet while traveling. Mobile Web access is considered to bea key enabler for mobile Internet services. Even though manyof todays mobile phones include Web browsers, accessing theWeb from a mobile device has not become as popular as ex-pected. Users often find that their favorite websites are not ac-cessible or not as easy to use on their mobile phones as on theirdesktop devices. In fact, users often feel that the use of mobileWeb access to seek for information is either time consuming orin vain. Even users with previous desktop Web browsing experi-ence face difficulties in coping efficiently with mobile applica-tions [1]. An elaborate discussion of the mobile era challengesinclude user distrust in mobile solutions, security concerns, andmobile technology limitations as presented in [4].

    Manuscript received January 15, 2005; revised February 28, 2006.The authors are with the Computer Engineering and Informatics Department,

    University of Patras, Patras-GR26500, Greece.Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TE.2006.873985

    However, the broad acceptance of mobile technology has un-doubtedly created new opportunities in communication. Thereare 1.5 billion mobile users in the world today, and sales arerising. For instance, mobile short messages (SMS) have metwide acceptance as a means for instant alerting in a cost-effec-tive way. In addition, taking into consideration that the vast ma-jority of mobile phones support Internet browsing, mobile Webservices have grounds to flourish. Particularly in Greece, mo-bile phone technology is very popular with an estimated usagepenetration at over 85% of the young population.

    In parallel, a number of Web-based environments [2], [3] havebeen developed to support the learning process in many disci-plines and at all levels of the educational system. Unfortunately,the effective incorporation of such learning environments intomobile phone technology is still a challenge for educators, stu-dents, and developers.

    In this paper, a mobile Web service solution to support edu-cation activities is proposed that utilizes mobile Web technolo-gies and SMS. The environment enhances the information flowamong the members of a department and provides a mobile Webapplication development platform for students undertaking In-ternet technologies courses.

    The environment has been introduced to the department com-munity following a progressive penetration strategy. At first,the key idea is to support the educational process by providingauxiliary access to and mobile notifications about educationalsystem information sources. As a second step, extra mobileWeb services were introduced, such as application forms fordocumentations from the departments administration office(hereafter referenced as the secretariat) project assignmentand thesis title announcements. Services were organized intogroups so that users would have the necessary time to inte-grate the new services into their daily agenda. Web services(WS) technologies1 enable simple Web applications to performquite complicated business logic processes. WS technologiesare utilized in the second group of services to interact withback-end systems that facilitate the secretariat and laboratories.Any mobile application submitted is received initially by acorresponding Web service, which next discovers the appro-priate WS processes transparently. WS discovery is extensivelydiscussed in [5].

    Furthermore, students involved have the initiative to under-stand the differences between the standard Web-based world

    1Web Service Architecture Requirements. [Online] Available: http://www.w3.org/TR/wsa-reqs

    0018-9359/$20.00 2006 IEEE

  • SAKKOPOULOS et al.: ADAPTIVE MOBILE WEB SERVICES 209

    and mobile Web. The solution serves as a test-bed for studentswho have undertaken Internet technologies courses and/ orhuman computer interaction.

    This paper is organized as follows. Section II provides themotivation for this work and presentation of related educationalmobile Web environments. Section III describes how this solu-tion affects the curriculum and the course itself, and the differentenvironment roles. In Section IV, the functional and operationalspecifications of the services are discussed, and snapshots ofthe environment are presented. Section V outlines a technologyand implementation overview. Section VI discusses work as-sessment and students feedback. Finally, Section VII concludesthe paper.

    II. MOTIVATION AND RELATED WORK

    An important foundation for effective courses in computerscience and engineering is to support and enhance communi-cation among the academic community and, especially, amongeducators and students. The latter is particularly important forpart-time students [6] and for distance learning curricula (asin open universities). Overall, the proposed approach can behelpful for educators and students who need the following:

    access to educational or Web resources when at their job; access and notices of course and project announcements

    or schedule changes; department directory service for immediate contact list

    availability; academic information flow while being away from their

    student home (family vacations, etc.) or on short-termvacations.

    In particular, the proposed environment introduces a mobileaccess mechanism to the most important and updated infor-mation about curriculum and institution facilities, such as thesecretariat. The key approach is to take advantage of the widepenetration of mobile devices in the student population. To fa-cilitate the effective use of mobiles in the educational activities,last-generation Internet techniques are adopted.

    Moreover, the environment can be utilized in the laboratory asa test-bed. Students have the opportunity to apply Web technolo-gies to an environment with business logic, which comes fromtheir everyday life. Therefore, students focus better on the differ-ences and the challenges of mobile technologies. In fact, duringthe two semesters that the environment has been launched, thesuccessful student development results are incorporated directlyinto the online system that provides the enhancements. As a re-sult, the students enthusiastically tested and accessed their ownfunctionality through mobiles. Student involvement maximizesmobile technology acceptance and satisfaction, which are fun-damental in the meansend objectives network for the solutionproposed in [8].

    In addition, the challenges in the technological perspectiveurged the authors to focus on the mobile development course.The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)-based approach isnot as simple as one may think at first. To avoid spending a longtime having developers perform hypertext (HTML) to wirelessmarkup language (WML) transformation on their own, an inte-grated development tool was utilized for automation (MS Visual

    Studio .NET 2003). The use of such a tool also provided com-patibility with several new mobile devices and protocols with afair level of automation.

    In terms of related literature, mobile education is in its firstyears of deployment. However, promising work has alreadybeen presented. Effectiveness and costs for mobile learning areconsidered in [7]. Partial results touching the effects of thiswork can be found in [9], where service provision is suggested,but no learning activity is proposed.

    III. MOBILE WEB ENHANCEMENTS IN THE CURRICULUM

    Introductory computer science laboratory courses were in-volved in this work. Instructors and students interacted withthe proposed mobile enhancements. The laboratories concernInternet technologies for students of the Technological Educa-tional Institute (TEI), Patras, Greece (TEI is a three-and-a-half-year higher education institute). Fifteen groups of students haveundertaken the course in two semesters. The proposed environ-ment was utilized by four groups interested in mobile Web appli-cations. Overall, 43 students have participated. A single groupwas chosen in the first semester, and after encouraging evalua-tion, three more groups were involved. The laboratory coursesare weekly and involve hands-on laboratory projects. Mobile In-ternet technologies have been introduced to students who hadparticipated in a relative course earlier to assure basic desktopWeb browsing and development skills. The course curriculumwas coupled by activities as shown in Table I.

    The ten-week course includes two hours of class lecturing andpresentations and two hours of hands-on laboratories in groups.The students are taught to provide personalized solutions forthe different roles implemented in the environment. In partic-ular, different category groups include students as users, contentproviders, and tutors as privileged users, academics, and ad-ministration members.

    IV. ADAPTIVE MOBILE WEB APPROACH

    Different navigation and presentation of the set of predefinedcontents can be generated on-the-fly based on the characteris-tics of users in the system. A review about adaptive solutions canbe found in [10]. A detailed article that discusses future trendsof the adaptive Web technologies can be found in [11]. In theproposed system, students not only utilize personalization fea-tures, but also learn to design and implement a basic, role-basedadaptation functionality. Details about the adaptation techniquesenforced are described in the following material.

    The profile records information about the activities and theknowledge state of a user. The profile used is based on the ideaspresented in [3]. The recorded actions in every category/func-tion are logged. The log statistics indicate that the correspondingcategory is valuable to the user. As a result, the significancefactor is proposed, which shows how interesting a specific cat-egory is to an individual user:

    Factor of interest = number of movements in a function/total number of movements

  • 210 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON EDUCATION, VOL. 49, NO. 2, MAY 2006

    TABLE IPROPOSED EDUCATIONAL CALENDAR

    The factor of interest is utilized to personalize functionali-ties on the mobile device so as to limit the length of the deliv-ered pages. As a consequence, categories with the higher factorare found first in the list of the presented functions. Every newcategory/function and those never accessed are presented low inthe list.

    V. FUNCTIONAL AND OPERATIONAL SPECIFICATIONS DETAILS

    In this section, the services delivered are described in detail.To create a clearer outline of the environment, a functional dia-gram is depicted in Fig. 1 for all supported roles. Views of theenvironment are presented as a paradigm in Fig. 2. The previewpages are presented using a mobile Web browser emulator. Thewhole system is developed in the Greek language. However,Fig. 2 includes translated data for demonstration purposes. Livedemonstration snapshots are also presented in Fig. 3, using dif-ferent mobiles.

    The environment provides a simple lightweight page that isboth the initial front end and the authentication page. After au-thentication, the following informative services are availableacross all roles augmenting the remaining role-specific options.

    Announcements and QuicklinksThese have a generalsection, where the secretariat and the administrator onlycan add information, and a course section for the in-structor. The user may browse within the general sectionand the courses that he or she attends.

    DiscussionsThis section is a Web forum. One maybrowse the available posts and provide answers. Newtopics can be posted on any subject.

    Personal Details and ContactsThese services are avail-able as well. A user can update personal information orchange a password. Browsing department contacts is alsopossible.

    A. Student-Specific FunctionalityThe user role that depicts the student facilities includes the

    following options.

  • SAKKOPOULOS et al.: ADAPTIVE MOBILE WEB SERVICES 211

    Fig. 1. Functional diagram for user, instructor, and administration. Rhombus indicates editing.

    Course Enrollment and Grades. Students are able to en-roll in any course from the departments course list availableat the time of access (dependent on the semester). In the se-quel, students can choose courses to attend or change an olderenrollment.

    In the Grades service, the user is able to view his or hergrades and scores to the courses chosen. If a course involvesprojects, then project scores are also available. Grades are avail-able through the course management facilities that can be filledin by instructors or directly through database interconnectionwith the secretariat systems.

    Course Schedule. This allows choosing a day of the scheduleprogram to view.

    Application Forms for documentation and Submitted Appli-cations. Students may apply for a series of documentation issuedby the secretariat. In the environment, services include requestsfor a) certificate of studentship and b) list of courses attendedand grades. Tracking of the submitted applications is availablefor applicants.

    B. Academics Using the Mobile Web Services

    The role of the educator/instructor and corresponding ser-vices are as follows.

    Announcements and Quicklinks management allows moder-ation and editions. Moderation speeds up information dissemi-nation and limits spamming possibilities....

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