“Have you switched on your mobile phones?” could be the first question teachers will ask students in class sometime in the near future. Although, there is resistance from educational organizations to let mobiles intrude into campus, educationists are taking the view that they need to be more adaptive. And rather than reject a trend, embrace it. Besides, why not let students use a mobile – which they have already paid for – and take advantage of it?
Bangalore’s Seshadripuram First Grade College is setting an example of how mobile technology can be used in education – and it did not even wait for students to purchase their own mobiles. The college distributes low-cost handsets to students after disabling services such as gaming and uses them to administer multiple-choice tests, record attendance etc. The system allows the college to create and administer tests, track results and evaluate students. At the end of each day, students return the handsets to the college administration. For a small college it is a brave and visionary step to integrate mobile technology into formal education.
A July 2011 study released by the Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project showed that more than half (52 percent) of 18 to 29-year-old US adults owned smartphones. This is indicative of a global trend. Not surprisingly, educationists are attempting to integrate mobile technology in a blended learning environment that includes multimedia tools, computers and the Internet to create new teaching methods.
Mobile Assisted Learning is helping Millennials use voice recognition, text, multimedia, NFC, GPS, downloadable education apps, Bluetooth and browsing capabilities of mobiles to pick up languages and subjects, like math and history. The mobile technology is also helping them record observations and complete assignments.
Imagine what technologies such as Augmented Reality can do for education, as students can now simply point their phones at places and objects to learn more about them. A study by Ambient Insights, a company that forecasts market opportunities for the US Mobile Learning Products and Services (2010-2015) industry, noted that amongst the major drivers for education products on the mobile are the growth of app stores and content distribution channels, the growing number of native learning tools and an explosion in new learning content. Today, academic testing for Graduate Management Admission test (GMAT), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Law School Admission Test (LSAT) Medical College Admission tests (MCAT) etc., are available on mobile handsets.
Practically anything in a classroom can be enhanced using a mobile phone, if educators invest adequate time and attention to the design. Mobiles can be used for listening, interacting, recording, questioning, reporting and responding – which is what learning is about. For mobile-savvy Digital Natives, education will look quite different from what it did until the early years of the 21st century.
Mobile technology can also be used for other purposes on campus: to send a message to parents of students who have been missing classes; send reminders to students about due dates for returning library books; report and prevent bullying on campus using imaging and texting tools; and alert students on changes in lecture locations. Educational institutions can also utilize mobiles for sending alerts for campus disturbances and intrusions and incidences that can place life at risks. Ironically, it is incidents of violence on campus that have led educationists to begin considering the advantages of using mobiles. Many colleges have taken mobility to the next step: they have begun to manage communication for fresh intakes and applications over mobiles.
The scope for innovation in the area of education using mobile technology is immense and remains under exploited. There are four distinct areas for innovation in the education space:
1. Given the shortage in the trained number of teachers and the lack of classrooms in several parts of the world, innovation in mobile technology can be an ameliorating factor.
2. Underserved students can be provided a better quality of education using mobile technology through innovative education design that not only improves delivery but cost as well.
3. Using mobile technology, innovators can enhance and improve current education processes, making it more interactive, engaging and interesting.
4. Finally, innovative mobile apps can be developed to assist in routine administrative and marketing functions of educational organizations.
To help address emerging challenges, the Centre for Mobile Education at the University of Guelph in Canada has joined hands with Research in Motion (RIM), the makers of BlackBerry, to support innovations for delivering programs that propel science and technology. The goal is to ensure innovating thinking, encourage entrepreneurs to develop ideas around education and mobility and help academia discover new applications for tools developed by RIM that can be used to create the future of mobile education.
The question is truly simple for those who want to ride the mobile wave: What can you do as an innovator to ensure that cell phones, currently hidden in school satchels and student pockets, are brought out to aid education?
The author is Director, Enterprise Sales, India, RIM