Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mobile phones in school


Can Mobile Phones Be Used To Improve The Quality Of Learning In Open Schooling?

Mobile phones have become ubiquitous. Almost anyone who can have a mobile phone has one. The amount of information and access to it has grown exponentially, thereby the potential for using varied resources for instruction and learning have increased. In this context, can mobile phones be used as an engaging tool for learning? If educational technology theory, research, and pedagogy are re-conceptualized to include the tools and knowledge that students already possess, then will students using mobile phones have better opportunities to connect learning inside and outside the school? These questions prompted in an exploratory study which was made with learners of Open Schooling in India to find out their access to mobile phones, the pattern of their current mobile phone usage and their perception on use of mobile phones for educational purpose. This paper presents the results of this study and provides a snapshot of the current status which can serve as a foundation to further planning for the implementation of ICT-related activities in Open schooling.

Among all the ICT tools available today, mobile phones has been the most popular and widespread personal technology rapidly adopted all over. According to International Telecommunication Union (ITU), by the end of 2009 there is an estimated 4.6 billion subscriptions globally. The whole world is going mobile and we are witnessing the emergence of a connected, mobile society, with a variety of information sources and means of communication available at home, work, school and in the community at large. Undoubtedly this has created interest in educators and technical developers in exploiting the unique capabilities and characteristics of mobile technologies, in particular the mobile phones, to enable new and engaging forms of learning. Sharples (2003) suggests that rather than seeing mobile phones as disruptive devices, educators should seek to exploit the potential of the technologies learners bring with them and find ways to put them into good use for the benefit of learning practice. Learners are already inventing ways to use their phones to learn what they want to know. It is hence important for educators to figure out how to deliver educational product in a way that fits into our students' digital lives and their mobile phones. Many studies (Attewell, 2005; Chen & Kinshuk, 2005; Murat, S et al, 2008) have already shown that mobile technologies have considerable potential to enhance teaching and learning across all education sectors. Their impact on student behaviour, enthusiasm, motivation and progress is well documented (Rau et al. 2008), especially in some conventional schools in the UK (Cook et al. 2007).

The current trend in mobile phone penetration makes it virtually certain that not too far in the future all of the world's student community will possess a mobile phone. Moreover the feature of being able to connect any time anywhere makes the mobile phone to be a viable and feasible personal technology for distance learners. This is a sufficient reason and motivation to explore the possibility of making the mobile phone an important tool in the educational systems of developed and developing countries. If educational technology theory, research, and pedagogy are re-conceptualized to include the tools and knowledge that students already possess, then it is imperative to have a clear understanding not only of the technology but also of the students who are using or would use mobile phones in their daily life. Open schools have so far provided less evidence of formal use of mobile phones and this provides the context for undergoing an exploratory study on the learners of Open Schooling in India to find out their access to mobile phones, the pattern of their current mobile phone usage and their perception on use of mobile phones for educational purpose.

Ownership of a mobile phone is no longer a function of who you know, but rather conforms to the conventional forces of demand and supply. Waiting lists are down and voice calls in India are amongst the cheapest in the world. This is evident from the mobile penetration rate in India and from the fact that 80% of sample learners in NIOS owned a mobile phone. The motivation to own a mobile phone by NIOS learners was primarily to be connected and contactable anytime anywhere - an aspect ideal for distance learning. SMS seems to be the most popular use of mobile functionality not only by those with mobile phones but also by those without mobile phones who perceives high usability of this function. It is believed that with increasing mobile-phone penetration, the use of SMS in both formal and non- formal education can benefit learners at a fraction of the cost of other methods. Hence this function needs to be utilised to support learning processes in NIOS for which the underlying implication lies with respect to developing an effective mobile learning design. The positive learner perception of the technology of mobile phone offers exciting new opportunities for NIOS to place learners in challenging active learning environments, making their own contributions, sharing ideas, exploring, investigating, experimenting, discussing, but they cannot be left unguided and unsupported. As Laurillard mentions (www.wlecentre.ac.uk ), to get the best from the experience the complexity of the learning design must be rich enough to match those rich opportunities. Also there are challenges with hardware such as issues of compatibility between the different types of technology as well as the different software formats and platforms. Other challenges faced are those relating to network connectivity and downtime.

Hence for many, mobile learning is effective as one element of an overall programme of learning interventions in the context of a blend rather than the primary delivery channel for content. NIOS may consider this aspect. No doubt the quality of learning can be enhanced by the use of mobile phones as learners are easily contactable than they were before.

Sushmita Mitra,
National institute Of Open Schooling, India




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