Wednesday, 10 February 2010

2010: The year the mWorld becomes mainstream?

I have deliberately used a provocative title based upon all of the articles that are appearing touting the rise of mobile computing in 2010, moving from the fringes of education to the center. But will it happen in higher education in the West? I am inclined to agree with Tony Bates when he suggests that the revolution will occur, but not where we might expect it to.

On a trip through Rajasthan in 2008, a relatively desolate place of sand and scrubby trees with little sign of habitation, I was constantly amazed to find a mobile presence - a connection to a mobile network on my mobile phone. More recently, attending a UNESCO event in Paris (Dec. 2009) I was intrigued and very engaged when the presenter talked about the impact that a project funded by Nokia was making on the lives of farmers in developing countries. Can you think of a more contrasting image to that above? Farming practices that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, supplemented by real-time instant updates via a mobile phone to market prices for produce in the city.

In developing countries, where a small fraction of the population has access to a traditional library, the mobile phone provides a link to the internet for a much larger proportion of the population. The concept of learning via mobile phones is compelling, because that is the medium of communication and collaboration, providing access to the wider world, to markets, improving the fundamental aspects of peoples lives. In one sense, in developed countries we are too rich - we have so many other avenues by which we can access information, and so many alternative means available to us for collaboration.

Arguments for appropriate pedagogy when considering the use of technology in teaching and learning occasionally miss the point - pedagogy does not exist in a vacuum, anywhere. The local context, perceived educational needs and motivation, and the educational intent and knowledge of learning design of the teachers who design and develop learning activities are also key drivers that impact on the adoption of any technology - most especially mLearning. Having said that, it is clear that there is an unstoppable change occurring, with small mobile computing devices (netbooks, laptops and mobile phones in particular), outselling desktops. Mobile phones now have features that just a few years ago required a desktop with an ethernet connection. There seems to be an opportunity or two here to engage students with the technology they always carry and is always on.

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