Information Literacy Skills on the Go: Mobile Learning Innovation

Grant recipients: Alice Schmidt Hanbidge, Tony Tin and Nicole Sanderson, Renison University College

Research Team Photo

Research Team Photo (Left to Right): Nicole Sanderson, Alice Schmidt Hanbidge, Tony Tin

(Project timeline: September 2016 - August 2017)


The Mobile Information Literacy (MIL) Project developed a mobile technology, user-friendly and open-access  literacy interface that is available to course instructors and undergraduate students at the University of Waterloo (see Mobile information Literacy website). Project objectives were to develop strategies for enhancing student information literacy skills through mobile technology (m-learning) and to re-design the MIL modules to enhance usability and learning through the tool. We anticipated that 7 classes, or 150 students, would participate, however we recruited 31 classes and a total of 462 students to participate in the project. This innovative project supported the development and administration of the use of the MIL Tool and explored the best strategies, from a user perspective, for delivering and accessing information on mobile devices. The researchers anticipated that higher education communities would benefit from students’ enhanced abilities while accessing web-based information to complete academic assignments and research projects. 

Questions investigated

Research Question: Does the use of the MIL tool improve students’ knowledge of digital literacy skills?

Our findings indicated that digital literacy skills increased with the use of the MIL tool. With the MIL tool, we anticipated students would improve their information literacy skills and increase their access, retrieval and evaluation skills, to identify and access reliable, credible academic information. Our research aimed to contribute to the innovative practices of m-learning academic learning. Utilizing students and instructor feedback, the team re-designed the MIL modules and videos and developed a project website. The tool relocated to ProProfs software to increase useability of the tool and increased student and instructor satisfaction.


Study key findings include:

  • Students appreciated mobile learning. They appreciated access to a new opportunity to learn about an educational topic and the visual aspects of the learning course. They enjoyed learning with phones, the accessibility of the lessons when on-the-go, connectivity to the Internet (learners appreciated wireless internet access), and the opportunity for micro-learning.
  • Student learning was enhanced when educators integrated course materials with technology. A significant increase in information literacy skills from pre to post test occurred for students.
  • Student social contexts played a critical role in adoption of learning in mobile environments.
  • Barriers to mobile learning: small screen size, small keyboards or lack of keyboards for inputting data, lack of free wireless internet, cost of accessing Internet data.
  • Uptake of new technology would be better supported with visually appealing multimedia interactive activities.
  • Educational institutions should consider the role/training/support of faculty members when initiating m-learning initiatives.
  • There were no significant differences between the pre and posttests of first year and upper year students.

Dissemination and impact

After one year, both students and faculty benefited from the implementation of the MIL project.

  • At the individual level: Multiple course instructors introduced or changed course assignments to incorporate information literacy in their course assignments.
  • At the Department/School and/or Faculty/Unit levels: Great interest was generated by the project: We anticipated that 7 instructors and their classes would participate in the project, instead, 31 classes participated (increase of 342%) during Fall, Winter and Spring classes. Two presentations about project impacts at the Fall 2016 (Lusi Wong Library) & Winter 2017 (Main Library) Orientations.
  • Knowledge dissemination activities:
    • Schmidt Hanbidge, A., Sanderson, N., & Tin, T. (2016). Information Literacy on the Go! Adding mobile to an age old challenge. 12th International Conference Mobile Learning. Vilamoura, Portugal.
    • Schmidt Hanbidge, A., Tin, T., & Sanderson, N. (2018). Student Learner Characteristics and Adoption of M-Learning: Are we Effectively Supporting Students? In Power, R., Ally, M., Cristol, D., & Palalas, A. (Eds). IAmLearning: Mobilizing and Supporting Educator Practice. [e-Book]. International Association for Mobile Learning. Springer Publication.

Impact of the Project

  • Teaching: We continue to use the MIL App in our educator and librarian roles. The Tool will become an open access resource for both Renison and Main Campus Library. We will share our open access tool with Minute School (an online educational institute). The tool is a weighted component in courses in Social Work and Social Development Studies departments. Research projects will continue with information literacy and educator preferences for mobile learning.
  • Involvement in other activities or projects: We received a research grant for $96,815.00 (February 2017) from eCampus Ontario for a study titled, The Foundations for Academic Success Project (FAS). This grant builds upon the App development and research findings of our LITE grant study.
  • Connections with people from different departments, faculties, and/or disciplines about teaching and learning: We collaborated with resource librarians from the UWaterloo Main Library and Stratford Campus. We established collegial relationships with the librarians and educators from St. Paul’s and St. Jerome’s College. We also established research partnerships with Kyle Scholz at the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo in addition to the Office of Academic Integrity.


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