Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less
According to a recent Gartner report, mobiles will be the most common way for people to access the Internet by 2013. Perhaps more important for education, Internet-capable mobile devices will outnumber computers by 2011. The available choices for mobiles are many — smart phones, tablets, laptops, and the newest class of devices like the iPad that blends the functions of all of them. Access to the Internet is less and less dependent on location, as users increasingly connect via 3G and similar networks. The devices we carry are more capable with each new release, and the boundaries between them more and more blurred. In the developed world, mobile computing has become an indispensable part of day-to-day life in the workforce, and a key driver is the increasing ease and speed with which it is possible to access the Internet from virtually anywhere in the world via the ever-expanding cellular network.
Mobiles continue to merit close attention as an emerging technology for teaching and learning. The devices available today are multi-functional and robust, but the story of mobiles is no longer about the devices we carry. Instead, mobiles — in whatever form we choose — are always-available doorways to the larger world. In Australia and New Zealand, adoption of mobile devices has moved very quickly, but the infrastructure to support connectivity continues to lag behind. Efforts are underway in both countries to improve broadband and cellular access both in terms of where it is available and of how much it costs, but coverage is far from universal, and plans are still priced so as to limit everyday use.
For many people all over the world, but especially in developing countries, mobiles are increasingly the access point not only for common tools and communications, but also for information of all kinds, training materials, and more. An ever more common pattern is for people to look to mobile computing platforms as their device of choice, as they are cheaper than desktop or laptop computers. For this group, mobile computing devices are more affordable, more accessible, and easier to use than desktop computers, and provide more than enough functionality to serve as their primary computing device.
Users increasingly expect continuous access to data and services that not very long ago were available only while sitting in front of a computer linked to the network via a cable. In addition to software for email, communication, and calendaring, new tools allow users to manage personal information (such as Evernote, Nozbe, and TripIt), collaborate and easily access and share files (Dropbox and Outpost are two of many possible examples), or keep abreast of social networks (Limbo, Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare) — and generally make checking and updating work, school, or personal information flows something easily done on the fly.
Thousands of applications designed to support a wide range of tasks on virtually any smart-phone or tablet operating system are readily available, with more entering the market all the time. These mobile computing tools have become increasingly essential aids in daily life, giving us on-the-go access to tools for business, video/audio capture and editing, sensing and measurement, geolocation, social networking, personal productivity, references, just-in-time learning — indeed, virtually anything that can be done on a desktop. With the increased screen real estate, battery life, and input device options offered by the iPad and its counterparts, mobiles are a viable alternative to heavier, more expensive laptop computers. Whatever device is used, the power of mobiles lies in their ability to access the Internet through the growing cellular network.
Relevance for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Enquiry
The portability and Internet-capability of mobile devices makes them ideal as a store of reference materials and learning experiences, as well as general-use tools for fieldwork, where they can be used to record observations via voice, text, or multimedia, and access reference sources in real time. The potential of mobile computing is being demonstrated in hundreds of projects at higher education institutions. At the University of Melbourne, Quickpoll is used to work with students in large group lectures, drawing them into discussion in a way that was not possible before. The University of Auckland offers a mobile library application that students can use to search for or renew books, find specific libraries on campus, and see new additions to collections. Twitter and Facebook integration increase the application’s appeal and reach. In a report entitled Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, researchers conducting a three-year mobile learning project at Unitec in New Zealand concluded that mobiles are a powerful means of disrupting traditional learning patterns and enabling constructivist approaches for deeper learning.
Mobiles embody the convergence of several technologies that lend themselves to educational use, including electronic book readers, annotation tools, applications for creation and composition, and social networking tools. GPS and compasses allow sophisticated location and positioning, accelerometers and motion sensors enable the device to be used in completely new ways, digital capture and editing bring rich tools for video, audio, and imaging — more and more, mobiles encompass it all.
Even so, it may well be the very simple tools that are easily integrated into classroom activities that finally tip the scale for mobiles in the classroom. For instance, some faculty are beginning to use Twitter, a short-message micro-blogging service, as an in-class discussion tool. Students participate by sending messages to ask and answer questions or expand on thoughts. Another simple tool, Poll Anywhere, turns mobiles into personal response systems, enabling teachers to quiz students, assess their understanding before, during, and after a lesson, and reveal patterns of thinking in the classroom. Any mobile will work for either of these purposes; all that is required is the ability to send text (SMS) messages.
The unprecedented evolution of these devices continues to generate great interest. They are increasingly capable tools for learning that schools do not have to buy or maintain: students come equipped with mobiles. Over time, the vast potential of these devices for learning will begin to outweigh concerns about misuse that currently dominate most conversations about their use in school settings. It is the sheer power of these devices that make them interesting, and that power derives from their ubiquity, their portability, the wide range of things that can be done with them, and their ability to access the Internet nearly anywhere.
A sampling of applications of mobiles across disciplines includes the following:
- Engineering. Students are able to use the iPhones Seismometer and a variety of accelerometer-based applications in simulations that explore the dampening effects of various construction techniques designed to increase the survivability of structures during earthquakes.
- English. Primary school students from a Language Background Other Than English (LBOTE) used mobiles (iPod Touches) loaded with language exercises to practice English in and out of school. The exercises helped the students achieve grade-level mastery of English.
- Vocational Education. Students in a work-based apprenticeship program at a New Zealand polytechnic used mobiles to communicate with their tutor while out in the field, to respond to multiple-choice questions sent via SMS, and to collect photo and video evidence for summative evaluation. The study found that as a result of using the mobiles, apprentices took greater ownership of their learning, reflected more on workplace learning, and were more thoughtful about the kinds of evidence to capture.
Mobiles in Practice
The following links provide examples of mobiles in educational settings.
Designed expressly for Australian schools, App-titude provides high-quality educational games that run on mobile devices (iPhones and iPod Touches). Student progress data are transmitted to a teacher website, where they can be used for evaluation, friendly competition, and collaboration.
In Their Hands iPads for Learning Trial
The Victorian Government, in collaboration with Apple, is exploring ways to use iPads in the classroom.
iPad-Enhanced Learning at the University of Adelaide
The University of Adelaide’s Faculty of Sciences is pioneering a digital mobile curriculum. Each incoming student is to be issued an iPad, and course materials will be gradually moved to or created for this platform over the next two years.
Will iPad Transform Med School?
Stanford University’s medical school is issuing iPads to all incoming freshmen. The devices contain course syllabi and reading materials as well as interactive applications to aid in study.
For Further Reading
The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about mobiles.
The Mobile Campus
(Steve Kolowich, Inside Higher Ed, 21 September 2009.) One year after implementing its campus-wide policy of issuing each freshman an iPhone or iPod Touch, Abilene Christian University challenged instructors to integrate mobile learning into their classes and surveyed the campus community about the results.
Pew Internet Research Report Mobile Access 2010
(Aaron Smith, Pew Research Center, 1 June 2010.) This research report by the Pew Internet Project examines mobile computing usage among Americans.
Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Childrens Learning
(Carly Shule, Cooney Center, January 2009.) This research report looks at the use of mobile devices in K-12 education worldwide and highlights their potential as tools for teaching and learning.
Smartphones Give You Wings: Pedagogical Affordance of Mobile Web 2.0
(Thomas Cochrane, Roger Bateman, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 7 June 2010.) This paper examines how mobile Web 2.0 tools can be used in tertiary education.
Using Mobile Web 2.0 to Transform Pedagogy and Engage Learners
(Thomas Cochrane, Unitec New Zealand, 16 November 2009.) This multimedia report describes how mobile technologies are being integrated at Unitec in New Zealand. Trials in design, music, and landscape courses show positive results.
Worlds Largest Open University Goes Mobile
(Press release, PR-inside.com, 29 October 2009.) The Indira Gandhi National Open University, in partnership with Ericsson, will now offer courses on mobile phones to more than 2.5 million students, allowing learners in rural India to seek a higher education.