As the bell rings, the teacher reminds students that Podcasts of the lecture are available for download, and queries that come up during study review can be messaged to her number.
While educators today are grappling with new terms like “coursecasting” and “tweetup,” the mobile generation has begun to flex opposing digits in ways that imply evolution has taken another dramatic leap forward.
The benefits of utilizing technology to advance learning methods have been hashed, rehashed, and largely swallowed. What is still being seen is how institutions adapt their pedagogies to deliver educational content in a way that exploits these technologies effectively.
Generation M: Students with cell phones
Today’s students live in a world enveloped by the Web. They read their news from online publications, publish their content on blogs, and share up-to-the-minute updates using Twitter.
And for the last few years they’ve been doing all this on their phones.
In the 2009 Parent-Teen Cell Phone Survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, 75% of 12 to17-year-olds own cellphones (up from 45% in 2004).
With advances in technology, this decade has seen a leap in mobile content delivery, resulting in a new generation of mobile learners, distinct from the communities of “tethered” e-Learning.
American students spend 7.5 hours a day absorbing and creating media – as much time as they spend in school. They multitask across screens to cram 11 hours of content into those 7.5 hours. And most of these activities are happening on smartphones equipped with audio, video, SMS, and mobile applications (Kamenetz, 2010).
Student nomads: The extended learning environment
Mobile learning is based on utilizing the functionalities of both handheld computers and mobile phones. When the iPod came out, “Podcasting” created new ways to distribute content. Similarly, convergent devices like the iPhone and phones using the Android operating system are extending the boundaries of education.
While teaching methodologies were initially borrowed from pedagogies used in e-Learning, mobile learning has expanded into the converged space of Internet and telecommunications, creating a wider net of in-class and out-of-class learning opportunities. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1: Mobile learning has created a wider net of learning opportunities.
New forms of content dispersion like coursecasts, mblogs, and Twitter feeds have become popular with the ubiquitous availability of technology across campuses. These new “bytes” of learning enable both faculty and students to take education beyond the classroom experience, changing how students now conceive terms like “classroom” and “content.”
Hotspots: Mobile learning on campus
Duke University was the first to use mobile devices to access symposia, class material, and school news through iTunes. The program, called iTunesU, enabled faculty and students to create and carry course material with them on their iPods (Brown & Metcalf, 2008).
iTunes U is now used by several institutions, including MIT, Stanford, and University of California Berkeley, offering access to courses, faculty lectures, interviews, and more.
In 2008, Abilene Christian University launched the first-in-the-world mobile learning initiative. This initiative was created to provide opportunities for students and faculty to experiment with new forms of social, informational, and media access on next-generation digital platforms including the iPhone and iPad (Abilene Christian University, 2008 – 2009).
Ninth grade teacher, Ashley Wilbur from the Howard School of Academics and Technology, Tennessee, began looking for learning alternatives when she realized her students had the same English texts they had used the previous year.
Working in partnership with Emantras and Hamilton County Virtual School, Wilbur now uses Mobl21, an application which enables teachers to create and publish text, video, and audio content in the form of short quizzes, flash cards, and guides.
Teachers were able to use Mobl21 to complement courses, and make learning assets easily available to users and groups, through desktop, social platforms, and iPhone / iPod Touch.
Future-speak: teaching the digital natives
As many in the mobile learning industry state, several challenges exist that need to be addressed in order for mobile learning to have a permanent place in mainstream education. These include technology limitations of teachers, costs of devices and infrastructure, and the slow rate of adoption in educational institutions.
What is equally true is that mobile learning has moved beyond the hype. The ubiquitous availability of technology, the growing potential of smartphones, and the thousands of learning applications have brought m-learning into our daily lives.
Today more people turn to their mobile phones to look up answers, search for information, and consume e-books. Side by side with these capabilities, is a generation of digital natives steadily moving towards graduation, and bringing with them, comfortable familiarity with technology.
These developments will soon push more schools and institutions into the interactive sphere of mobile learning, enabling teachers to move from being deliverers of knowledge to the more active role of mentors in student education.
Parent-Teen Cell Phone Survey. (2009) Princeton Survey Research Associates International.
Kamenetz, Anya. A Is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution. (2010) http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/144/a-is-for-app.html
Brown, Judy & Metcalf, David. Mobile Learning Update. (2008) Judy Brown, David Metcalf. http://masieweb.com/p7/MobileLearningUpdate.pdf
Mobile-Learning Report (2008-09) Abilene Christian University. http://www.acu.edu/technology/mobilelearning/documents/ACU_Mobile_Learning_.pdf