Sunday, 25 April 2010

Random thoughts and updates on mobile learning

Just a few things that I've tried/I've thought about this week in connection with mobile learning:

Gave a lecture this week to a group of about 200 ESL students at our school about Mobile Learning. The whole thing was a little bit messy due to some technical issues, but I did try out using Poll Everywhere, a survey tool that allows students to post survey responses via their mobile phones and to see the results updated immediately on a powerpoint slide. It worked very well, and I can definitely see the benefit of using this in large lecture or presentation settings to get feedback from the audience (or just to demonstrate the power of mobile learning!)

In researching for the presentation, I realised that a lot of innovative work being done with mobile learning is taking place in developing countries or regions. I found out about the Janala project in Bangladesh and the Millee project in rural India. Here's a short BBC report on the Janala project.

An an overview of the Millee project.

One of my fears about mobile learning is that it might favour the more affluent, those with the more advanced mobile phones and the better contracts. However, what I think both these projects show is that mobile learning can be exactly the opposite, providing access to learning opportunities for students who don't have access to teachers, materials, computers or the internet. Given how inexpensive the most basic mobile phones are nowadays (probably £20 or less in some cases), you can see how mobile learning can be a way of reducing the distance between the learning opportunities in the developed and developing world rather than increasing them.

I've been continuing to use Edmodo with my students and it's proving very useful as a means of communication, sharing documents and links with them.  Quite a few of the students are using the mobile version (see this post for info about that) and have told me that they much prefer using that rather than the rather clunky Blackboard VLE we have set up on computers at the university. It would be great if Edmodo could come up with a dedicated app for various mobile OS systems (iPhone, Android, Symbian, Blackberry) in the same way there are dedicated apps for Twitter.  I think it would make using it a lot easier, though it isn't really difficult at the moment through the web interface.

I was asked via Twitter my opinion on location games/services such as FourSquare. It's an interesting mix of social networking and exploration of your location, you can go to various places, recommend them, become 'mayor' of places (you visit it the most), and get various 'rewards' (both real and virtual). This is largely done from your phone. I haven't had chance to explore this much, but I can see the value of this as a way of getting students to explore their environment. I think this is particularly useful in my teaching situation, where my students are in England, away from home and maybe a little nervous about getting out and about. Creating a game-like atmosphere may encourage them to visit different places like restaurants, museums, shops etc, and of course all the time using their English.

In a similar vein, I think Google Maps is also a great application for involving students both inside and outside the classroom. It's available on most mobile platforms and I've used it in my ESL classes for getting students to give directions to each other. Basically they find a place on their phone using Maps and then give directions to their partners who have to find where they have directed them.

After a short break, I've also started up my Mobile group with volunteer students from our school. I'm going to continue to give them advice and help via Edmodo and SMS about how they can use their mobile devices for language learning. And if anyone can give me any tips or advice on this (useful apps on different mobile platforms, ideas for exploiting mobile phones in class) I would be delighted to hear about them and will try to use them in class.

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