Benefits for students

Mobile devices are not a panacea for replacing or radically redesigning existing curricula. In fact, many educators who have incorporated them into their classrooms use them to support and enhance existing curricula. For example, mobile technologies can enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services. This is the goal of the Mixable application, launched at Purdue University in the United States. 60 Mixable – a web and mobile application – enables students to leverage the social media and sharing tools they already use, such as Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox, to discuss and share information relevant to their coursework. Even without a purpose-built application, mobile devices that enable access to social networking sites can be used by teachers and students to share resources, as well as to provide a forum for support, discussion and collaboration.

Mobile devices also allow educators to personalize educational content for students. Rather than using a static textbook, teachers can incorporate applications or mobile-accessible content tailored to each student’s skill level or progress. Similarly, small-scale m-learning programmes can promote development of curriculum at the local level to suit the cultural idiosyncrasies and particular needs of local children or the continuing education of the populace. 61

The rapid adoption of mobile phones, along with the increasing availability of other mobile devices, can also provide literacy benefits. Particularly in developing countries, investments in mobile applications or devices can be more cost-effective than procuring and distributing physical textbooks and other printed resources, especially in rural areas. In many countries, mobile devices may be the only channel for effectively distributing reading material. As e-readers continue to proliferate and decrease in price, they offer a new avenue for lowering the cost of providing educational materials to students worldwide.

Literacy is often a key goal of m-learning initiatives. Colombia’s Ministry of Education, together with the Ministry of ICT, and the Organization of Ibero-American States, has designed the largest mobile learning initiative in Latin America. With 1.67 million illiterate people aged 15 and older, the government plans to distribute 250,000 mobile devices and accompanying SIM cards in the project’s first stage. These will be pre-loaded with six modules of interactive and self-directed educational content designed to increase users’ literacy and basic skills. The devices and cards will be delivered for free, and no internet connection will be necessary to access the content. The first stage of the project was expected to be implemented in 2012. 62

Even the ubiquitous mobile feature phone (not a smartphone) can be a powerful medium to distribute reading material. Worldreader, a non-governmental organization (NGO) best known for its distribution of e-readers to improve literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa, also offers an application for feature phones and smartphones that provides access to public domain books, as well as contemporary fiction and non-fiction. 63 Yoza Cellphone Stories is a project to support reading and writing by South Africa’s youth by making a variety of reading material available over mobile phones. 64 The literature available over Yoza – including mobile novels (“m-novels”), Shakespeare plays, and poetry – resulted in 300,000 reads over its first year, as well as generating 40,000 comments in social media. 65

In addition, mobile devices provide a medium for developing “information literacy,” or the ability to find, use, and communicate information effectively and ethically. 66 By providing expanded access to information sources and improved ability to communicate with other students, teachers and subject-matter experts, mobile devices can greatly expand students’ ability to grow into sophisticated researchers and critical thinkers.

Developers are producing an ever-increasing number of educational applications for mobile devices intended to address a wide range of subjects, skill sets and demographic groups. One Chilean application, for example, is intended to increase access to higher education. Chile has one of the highest graduation rates for secondary education in the region, but enrollment in post-secondary education shows significant gaps among different socio-economic groups. One of the reasons for this disparity is that students from lower-income groups perform poorer on the Prueba de Selección Universitaria (PSU) -- the national university admissions test -- compared with students from higher-income groups. This gap has been partially attributed to a lack of access to test preparation materials. PSU Móvil is an application developed to provide free access to packs of exercises, games, and podcasts, sorted by topic. It also contains a calendar of important PSU dates, deadlines, and diagnostic results for completed practice exercises. 67

In rural and remote communities, the connectivity offered by mobile devices can substantially strengthen educational efforts. For example, SMS messaging can be used as a one-to-many tool for teachers to distribute information, assignments, or assistance to widely dispersed students. Students and educators can take advantage of social media platforms and other collaboration tools to form virtual communities that support, assist and challenge each other. Social networking is not limited to one or two platforms. While Facebook may have 1 billion or more active users worldwide, 68 other networks also are highly active. MXit, a social network based in South Africa, boasts nearly 50 million users, who send an average of 750 million messages daily. 69 MXit users are primarily African, with only 10 per cent located elsewhere.

While this section has focused on the use of mobile devices for delivery of educational content and services primarily in a classroom setting, m-learning can be targeted at learners outside the traditional school system. For example, mobile learning services can be oriented toward vocational education and training, as well as professional learning and development. The lessons learned in the provision of mobile education services to primary, secondary and post-secondary schools can be applied to other scenarios, and vice versa.

61 Gaudry-Perkins, Florence and Lauren Dawes, “mLearning: A powerful tool for addressing MDGs,” MDG Review (April 2012) at 9, available at http://www.meducationalliance.org/sites/default/files/mlearning_article-mdg_review-alcatel-lucent-gsma-april_2012.pdf .

62 UNESCO, “Turning on Mobile Learning in Latin America,” (2012), at 19, available at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002160/216080E.pdf .

63 Worldreader, “Worldreader Mobile,” available at http://www.worldreader.org/what-we-do/worldreader-mobile/ .

65 Yoza Project, “Yoza Cellphone Stories: Quick Overview,” (August 2011), available at http://m4lit.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/3_yoza-cellphone-stories_082010_to_082011.pdf .

66 EDUCAUSE, “Information Literacy: A Neglected Core Competency,” (March 3, 2010), available at http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/information-literacy-neglected-core-competency .

67 UNESCO, “Turning on Mobile Learning in Latin America,” (2012), at 19-20, available at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002160/216080E.pdf .

68 Facebook, “Key Facts,” (October 2012), available at http://newsroom.fb.com/content/default.aspx?NewsAreaId=22.

69 MXit, “MXit Statistics,” (March 2012), available at http://site.mxit.com/files/MxitStatisticsMarch2012.pdf.

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