Mobile phones and education

Below are notes from the eLearning Africa session titled Mobile phones offering a lifeline to learners.

M4Girls project

Mindset logoKirston Greenop, research manager at Mindset Network, presented on the current M4Girls (mobile/math for girls) project in South Africa (SA), which aims to support maths learning using a technology that is highly pervasive but not allowed in classrooms. The audience concurred that in most countries mobile phones are not allowed in classrooms and definitely not in exams.

Some project stats:

  • Nokia 6300 phones used (entry level phone)
  • 43 mini videos (2-3 mins long) loaded onto phones (taken from existing Mindset digital content). Interesting finding: the girls wanted more videos. After watching 3 minute video they asked: “Where is more?” This counters the original assumption that only short mobile movies will retain user attention.
  • 3 “mobisode” (mobile episode) animations.
  • 2 games:
    • An overt maths problem solving game
    • An implicit business development simulation game
  • All curriculum aligned
  • Grade 10 girls: 20 got phones, 20 in control group who didn’t get phones
  • 6 month project

Initial results of the project:

  • The games are of a good quality, comparable to or better than anything else on the market in SA.
  • Exceptionally high usage of the games by the learners.
  • Problem solving is collaborative. When stuck with a problem, the kids asked each other and their siblings.
  • “Teacher in my pocket”.

Challenges to watch:

  • Power dynamics between learners and teachers. Teachers want to mediate the usage of the phones and they can’t do that when the learners take the phones home.
  • Don’t constrain the phone. Ideally the girls would have prepaid minutes to go online, chat, research, etc.
  • Youth are a very discerning market. Don’t make it too educational, they will dump it.

Future plans:

  • To extend the content to teachers and parents, to involve them.
  • To speed up research and increase game features, develop levels, etc.

Full, in-depth results of the project will be available in November 2008.

Adapting tertiary education learning environments to mobile devices

Project at a Nigerian university where many students work full-time and thus need a learning experience that does not rely on classroom time. A learning repository was developed (7 undergraduate and 2 post-graduate courses) that can be accessed via a desktop PC or a mobile device (phone, PDA, etc.) The content is stored in XML and style sheets are applied when serving to different devices. Most students in Nigeria have mobile phones with internet access capabilities, thus can access the “learning on the move” service.

Limitations found in the project:

  • Power and memory limitations of mobile phones.
  • Internet connection costs.
  • User interface problems: small display, confusing layout.
  • Need to remember the importance of human face-to-face learning.

Uganda MarketInfonet

Ignatz Heinz presented on a Ugandan concept project for context-based basic skills training — literacy and numeracy — amongst rural farmers and fisher folk. In Uganda there is a high level of illiteracy, especially in the agricultural sector that makes up 80% of the work force. MakertInfonet is an internet-based knowledge management and SMS-based communication tool to provide access to market information and sound agricultural practices. The project wants to embed the learning of literacy and numeracy in everyday life contexts and so have chosen to capitalise on this existing tool that is used by many people, everyday, for their livelihood. Right now they don’t know how this project will play out, but the concept is certainly interesting. Links: INFONET-Biovision and Avallain.

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