Archive for m-learning
The futures of learning team, David Theo Goldberg, Mimi Ito, Heather Horst, Becky Herr, HyeRyoung Ok, Daisuke Okabe, Dan Perkel, Christo Sims, Cara Wallis, Anke Schwittay, is building a great resource:
Futures of Learning is a collective blog dedicated to the topic of new media and learning. The members of the blog are part of a project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, that is conducting an international survey of research in the field. We are focusing on two areas. One is an international review of research on how people are adopting digital and networked media. The second area is a review of learning institutions that are incorporating new media in innovative ways.
The blog recently kicked off a series on New Media Practices in International Contexts, with a post from Cara on New Media in China
Nokia announced its intentions to provide agricultural information and education content to lower-end feature handsets in India. The service, called Nokia Life Tools, will wrap an SMS data channel with a graphic-rich interface. Reuters Marketlight is the content partner for the agriculture side. Idea Cellular is the first operator to sign up. OnMobile, another Indian mobile content provider, is also on-board, contributing astrology and ringtone services.
Over time, it will be interesting to see the relative take-up of the various instrumental and expressive services on offer. In the meantime, think the fusion of a graphic interface and the SMS channel is particularly notable for developing-world contexts. (Also see the mobile-XL browser). These forms bypass the need for a GPRS-enabled handset or data plan, and stretch the capabilities of the ‘humble’ SMS.
Ken Banks at kiwanja.net has a longer write-up.
Over the years, I’ve been keeping an eye on the research literature about mobile use in the developing world. I first presented a version of this review at a conference in Hong Kong in 2005. Now, thanks to Leopoldina Fortunati’s efforts to pull together a special issue of The Information Society, the review has finally been published. Thanks also to the editors at the Information Society, and to the reviewers who provided such valuable feedback at various stages.
There’s a lot more of the literature to cover than there was when I started this back in 2005. And, since it is an interdisciplinary review, I’m sure to have missed some citations. Nevertheless, it has been a great exercise for me to get a sense of what’s out there, and to become familiar with the diverse work of an amazing set of researchers along the way.
I hope some of you find this review a useful input to your own work.
Donner, Jonathan. (2008). Research Approaches to Mobile Use in the Developing World: A Review of the Literature. The Information Society 24(3), 140-159.
This paper reviews roughly 200 recent studies of mobile (cellular) phone use in the developing world, and identifies major concentrations of research. It categorizes studies along two dimensions. One dimension distinguishes studies of the determinants of mobile adoption from those that assess the impacts of mobile use, and from those focused on the interrelationships between mobile technologies and users. A secondary dimension identifies a subset of studies with a strong economic development perspective. The discussion considers the implications of the resulting review and typology for future research.
Here is a nice piece in the New Scientist, outlining some of the ways smartphones are being used in a variety of important initiatives in the developing world: microfinance, m-banking, civil society, health surveillance, and education. The crux/core quote:
“Smartphones are probably much more revolutionary for developing countries,” says John Canny, an engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is creating educational video games that run on smartphones… “Here smartphones are a bit gimmicky. In the developing regions you have hostile conditions for a PC so phones have a lot of potential to become the computing platform for people,” says Canny.
The article starts by describing some applications which run on basic handsets, and then moves on to detail those which are utilizing more advanced functionality like photography, audio recording, and data transfer. I’d put a slightly finer point on things, and would emphasize that hardware and connectivity costs still limit the settings into which smartphones can be deployed. What the more broad-based, often occasional, applications lack in processing power they make up in accessibility and ubiquity. For example, the M-PESA system, like many m-banking systems, runs as well on a $30 handset as it does on a smart $300 handset.
On the other hand, we are seeing fascinating smartphone initiatives, where a relatively small number of devices are distributed into specialized settings with relatively intense informational needs (such as classrooms or microfinance organizations). The costs of the smartphones are often surmountable as long as the devices can be dedicated to certain high-value tasks, or shared between lots of people. As the cost of smartphone functionality comes down, and as data access becomes more available and affordable, we’ll see these distinctions blur, and the set of possibilities will continue to expand.
One additional comment on the headline, which I think does the otherwise informative article a disservice. Smartphones are a helpful and affordable way to accomplish many of the tasks for which previously one might have wanted to use a PC. But smartphones are not, as the article’s headline asserts, “the PCs of the developing world.” The developing world is now and will be characterized by a higher ratio of mobiles to PCs, but that does not make PCs irrelevant, unaffordable, or unwanted. Ask the local “developing world” hospital, or the university, or Wipro, for that matter, if they are ready to give up their PCs for smartphones.
Shareideas.org and the ICT4D section of the
World Bank’s Development Gateway both recently highlighted an application called MobilED. It is a mobile-learning application, piloted in South Africa, which allows students to (a) query Wikipedia via SMS messages (b) hear the results of the query played back to them as audio text and (c) post new entries to their own class’s wiki by recording audio off their handsets.
I haven’t seen the system first hand, but I think it is interesting for two reasons:
1) It is a hybrid media form, which complicates all the theorizing some of us like to do about text messages, mobile calls, internet sites, etc. What is it? A web application? A mobile application? A mobile web application? My bet is the kids don’t care as long as it helps them learn and is easy to use.
2) Its hybridity accomplishes something still relatively rare: it breaks down the walls between web content and SMS content. In doing so, it demonstrates a way in which some rich, dynamic internet content can be made accessible to (and can be created by) communities using relatively affordable & common basic mobile handsets. Since the worldwide ratio of mobile users to internet users is roughly 2:1, this is a good thing for both groups.