Monday, June 07, 2010

Connecting M-Learning from Urban America to The World

By Akindele Akinyemi:

As education becomes more global one method that has been around for quite some time that has taken root is mobile learning or m-learning. As a subset of distance learning and e-learning it has promised a more immediate and more flexible approach to education. This is popular in places like Sub-Saharan Africa where the telecommunications industry is booming like never before. It is also gaining ground in the developed countries of Europe, North America and the Pacific Rim. Traditionally, we had large, static, and impersonal computers, institutions, and infrastructure in place for e-learning, and now mobile learning gives us learning that can be personal, portable, and flexible.

Once again urban America with urban conservatives must take the lead in making the academic connection between the United States and the Diaspora with technology. In fact, m-learning has brought e-learning to the rural communities of Africa to learners who previously had no access to education let alone technology. M-learning is the gateway to e-learning for most learners in Africa as the rapidly growing wireless infrastructure increasingly fulfills their access needs. Therefore, Africa has gone from a nonexistent e-learning infrastructure to a wireless e-learning infrastructure.

Research shows that Africans are buying mobile phones at a world record rate, with take-up soaring by 550% in five years.

Mobile subscriptions in Africa rose from 54 million to almost 350 million between 2003 and 2008, the quickest growth in the world.

For example, Uganda, the first African country to have more mobiles than fixed telephones, is cited as an example of cultural and economic transformation. While operators making huge investments in infrastructure, growth has occurred particularly in rural areas. Even with their low incomes, only about a quarter of Ugandans have a mobile subscription, but street vendors offer mobile access on a per-call basis. They also invite those without access to electricity to charge their phones using car batteries.

M-learning comes into play as part of international education because we are able to teach people in Africa or Europe from our cell phone technology here in the United States. There are projects in Kenya using SMS to support in-service teacher training that are now undergoing large-scale trials with thousands of primary teachers in districts across the country.

Unfortunately, when it comes to mobile adoption, the United States is relatively behind the curve. The broadband, multimedia connectedness now taken for granted by the typical Korean or Nordic citizen is something that most U.S. citizens are not likely to see for some time. As a result, U.S. educators are finding themselves in the awkward position of knowing that the mobile revolution is coming, without really being able to imagine what it’s going to look like or what the possibilities for mobile learning may be.

As far as urban school districts connecting with others across the globe m-learning open a new dimension of learning, exchanging educational methods and helping us consider ways that we could disaggregated the course to use content elements as components. As trend setters and innovators, urban conservatives need to push for more innovative technologies in the classroom. The reason? We may be seeing the decline of the learning lab and the rise of the multi-configurable class. After all, why raise funds for another fixed-station lab when an m-learning cart can bring that capability to the classroom? One result is growing interest in mobile chairs, desks, and displays. A second result is an increase in blended or hybrid learning as Internet access and collaborative learning are enhanced by m-learning; perhaps this is becoming the default, expected form of learning. A third is the rising interest in new learning spaces such as information commons, where wireless, mobile connectivity admits the full range of the Internet into any conversation. Why not connect this model from urban America and in urban school districts like Detroit, Flint or Benton Harbor to cities like Sao Paulo, Lagos, Yaounde, Toronto, Accra and Kingston, Jamaica?

M-learning helps with student interaction with instructors and among each other as well as enabling several students work together on assignments even while at distant locations. For those who have PDAs they already know that these devices are lighter than books and enable the student to take notes or input data directly into the device regardless of location either typed, handwritten or using voice. Not to mention that this generation loves mobile devices such as PDAs, phones and games devices. The use of PDA-based performance tools to support classroom instruction and on-the-job training alike has been well under way for a number of years, particularly in the fields of medicine and allied health, business, and journalism.

Education as a process relies on a great deal of coordination of learners and resources. Mobile devices can be used by teachers for attendance reporting, reviewing student marks, general access of central school data, and managing their schedules more effectively. In urban education, mobile devices can provide course material to students, including due dates for assignments and information about timetable and room changes.

Although m-learning certainly brings its own unique challenges, the reality is that many of the antecedents of mobile learning have prepared educational technology stakeholders for the journey ahead. M-learning is an excellent tool of learning to connect us to the world via education. This is where we are going right now.

Once again, the need for an international urban education policy is needed. While we are fighting over control of the local school boards, Emergency Financial Managers, school budget issues that should already have a 3 year cycle, silly ideological battles (left vs right nonsense), and not making education the #1 issue in our community we will fall further behind in the global marketplace when it comes to education and competition.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Akindele Akinyemi is an independent Republican who is the author of “Academic Revolution”, a series of essays dealing with the neeed for more specialized charter schools in urban communities. He has a B.S in African American Studies from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan and a M.A. in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction

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