Is it possible to be “device agnostic?” A conversation, not presentation about digital teaching & learning

Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

Is it possible to be “device agnostic” in higher education teaching and learning? This session invites audiences with various roles in teaching, learning, and innovation to unpack this question through discussion prompts, front-loaded with recent research. This discussion will be generative, with attendees contributing to a shareable resource and recommendations.

Extended Abstract


Just a few years before the Coronavirus pandemic, the EDUCAUSE Center for Research and Analysis published results of their survey on students’ experiences in face-to-face classes, reporting that 70% of the 44,000 student participants indicated a ban or discouraged use of mobile devices in class (Brooks & Pomerantz, 2017). In just five years’ time, use of mobile devices in higher education has gained traction (Gierdowski, Brooks, & Galanek, 2020; Colin, Eastman, Merrill, & Rockey, 2021) and is even centered in institutional efforts to provide equitable access to instructional materials, including devices (e.g., California State University’s CSUCCESS). The 2020 ECAR found that students connected an average of two wifi-enabled devices per day for their academic work, including tablets and mobile phones.

With this evolution in instructional materials, along came also targeted efforts aimed at enhancing and deepening the teaching and learning experience (e.g., Fresno State’s DISCOVERe); but like many initiatives, uptake and implementation has varied by individuals and programs. 

However, students are using mobile devices even if instructors are not.

In a recent meeting, an instructor well-reputed as an excellent, charismatic, and effective teacher proclaimed, “My teaching is device agnostic.” This statement broke the brains of learning designers, academic technologists, and media specialists who heard it. On the one hand, such a statement can be true: Many digital materials can be accessed by any wifi-enabled device, and the content of these materials may be why they were selected for instruction, more than the vehicle used for their delivery (e.g., video; LMS). However, those of us who work in these spaces also know that the user experience is different in a mobile app than in the web interface. When users encounter difficulty, they may not know whether it is device or design error. But, if both of these perspectives on teaching and learning devices are true, this begs the question:

Is it possible to be device agnostic?

This Conversation, Not Presentation session will invite audiences with various roles in teaching, learning, and innovation to unpack this question. The session hosts bring viewpoints from administration, instructional faculty, media, academic technology, and learning design, as well as insights from the student experience. 

To make the conversation interactive, we will unpack the main question through a series of discussion prompts that invite contributions from multiple perspectives in the audience. We will make heavy use of the conference platform tools, such as synchronous chat and video conference microphone (e.g., Zoom mic). We will also use Google JamBoard to capture in-session responses to our prompts. 

Session Outline

  1. Welcome/Overview: Our goal is to unpack this question, share related research, and leverage the diverse expertise at OLC Innovate to collect useful resources and make recommendations for supporting teaching & learning with mobile learning in mind.

  2. Poll: What roles are in the room? What perspectives do you bring?

    • What device(s) are you using to attend this virtual conference?

    • What device(s) do you use for your own teaching, learning, & work?

  3. The problem/inquiry: What does it mean to be “device agnostic?” Is it possible?

    • Defining “device agnostic” (from the room)

    • What the research says. Unpacking the problem: does it matter?

  4. Discussion prompts

    1. What makes mobile devices and computers the same? What makes them different?

    2. When, or under what conditions, can instruction be device agnostic?

    3. When, or under what conditions, can the learner experience be device agnostic? When can’t it?

    4. As administrators, learning designers, technologists, and media specialists, what recommendations can we make or resources can we offer–for learners? Instructors? Third-party vendors? Device manufacturers? Other teaching & learning support staff?

  5. Closing thoughts


We hope that attendees will bring their expertise in their professional roles, as well as their personal experiences with digital teaching and learning to this session, and that takeaways include the following:

  • Unpack the question: Is it possible to be device agnostic? When, for whom, under what conditions, with what benefits/consequences (if any)?
  • Survey some related research and resources.
  • Consider multiple perspectives.
  • Generate recommendations and resources for use in our respective campus roles.