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Mobile tech and education

Cyberview Mobile Tech

Published: Monday November 30, 2015
By: Faris Yahaya

The Internet is not only useful as a tool for distant learning, but can also be used as a platform for video lectures that can be accessed repeatedly and in advance, so that class-time becomes an avenue for interactive discussion.

WE are all aware of how instrumental the mobile phone has been in enhancing communication. Voice communication has been around for a long time but the advent of Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP technology has made not only voice communication very affordable, but also video communication.

Arguably even more impactful has been the rise of messaging technology in its various forms, but in particular WhatsApp, which has made the cost of texting plummet compared to the days when SMS was the only way to send a short message across.

What’s less obvious is the role mobile can play in education. It’s no exaggeration to say that mobile can revolutionise the way students learn, and not just those in rural areas — although those are the most obvious beneficiaries of a mobile-based education.

Mobile learning is not something new in Malaysia. As early as 2009, which is a long time ago in technology terms, Malaysia’s Open University was already experimenting with SMS-based learning.

Those were the very early days of mobile Internet, and 3G was still something not very common, thus the use of SMS. We have also heard about other projects, such as the Smart School project, the SchoolNet project and the EduWebTV project launched by various entities to help bring our education system to the next level.

To a certain extent, all these initiatives have positively benefited both the students and the industry practitioners, but improvements are required to ensure greater usage and adoption, as well as their effectiveness.

Fast-forward to the present time, and mobile broadband has become commonplace, opening up wide opportunities for enhancing education through the mobile platform.

Why mobile, with its much smaller screen and relatively slower Internet access compared to accessing the web through a desktop and fixed line connection?

Of course, the ideal platform for online learning would be a laptop with a solid land-line connection for every student. But that is not financially feasible. Not every child will have their own computer nor will every household have wired Internet access.

But most people, including school-going kids, do have a mobile phone these days, and the mobile account would usually bundle in some kind of wireless broadband. In short, it’s about accessibility.

There are several ways mobile technology can help with education. At its very core, it allows the Government to extend educational materials to rural areas through the use of mobile education websites. Educational institutions can do their part by making educational resources available online. Many already do.

The telcos can also do their part by offering unlimited mobile Internet access to select educational websites. This concept is already being done in Australia for children in bush areas and it has been reported to be effective.

But as mentioned earlier, the impact of mobile technology on education extends far beyond just making educational materials accessible to those in rural areas. Urban students can benefit greatly too. Currently, classroom time is devoted to lectures with usually only a few sessions devoted to discussions and interaction, usually during tutorials.

Why not up-end this approach and make lectures (in text or, better still, in video format) available online and accessible through mobile sites or apps? University students, all of whom would have a smartphone, could then access these lectures at their own time. And view the lessons as many times as they need.

Classroom time then can be used for more interactive discussions and problem-solving. Students can be encouraged to ask questions of fellow students, and teachers can moderate and participate in the discussions. Problem-solving can be done interactively and in a group discussion through mobile group collaboration sites or apps.

Teachers can easily post updates or follow-up questions to stimulate deeper discussions.

Some US universities are already trying this approach and proactively promoting the use of mobile technology for enhancing education. Making lesson materials available online is already practised by many local educational institutions, and it’s well-known that local students often form their own chat or discussion groups to collaborate on group assignments and so on.

Of course, all of this can be done via a desktop or laptop computer as well, and it can be safely assumed that urban university students are likely to have their own laptop computers. But not everybody would have a computer with them at all times, in contrast to phones. So participation in these new forms of learning can be done literally anytime and from anywhere.

Questions posed in a group collaboration project can get instant responses.

Lastly, there is nothing like entrepreneurship to stimulate innovation. The Government has various grants and funding schemes to promote technology entrepreneurship. We, in Cyberview, are also pushing mobile internet as one of our key focus tech areas in elevating Cyberjaya as a global tech hub.

There is no question that over time, we will see more and more innovative companies come up with creative ways to enhance education and address all the improvement points for existing initiatives, through the mobile platform.

Mobile technology not only helps to bridge the digital divide, which is crucial, but it will also help to enhance the quality of the education of our young people in order to prepare them for an ever-changing and increasingly competitive global market.