I wanted to post a summary of a discussion that I have been engaged in via email to see if anyone else had a helpful perspective on some questions that David Wiley sent to me a little over a week ago, perhaps because of my involvement with the eCANDLE project through the Rollins Center for eBusiness. I received some questions regarding my impressions regarding the most useful form of mobile learning for sharing OpenCourseWare (OCW), and in addition to giving my first impressions, I emailed several colleagues that I have worked with from Asia, Africa, and Europe in order to get their take on it as well. I will post here a summary of the questions, the responses so far, and also ask for any additional insights that anyone reading this blog might have.
When thinking about doing something with eduCommons (an OpenCourseWare management system designed to support OpenCourseWare projects) and mobile devices/mobile phones –
Which of the following ideas seems most useful / have the most posistive impact in places you have worked?
Which seems the like a waste of time?
What other ideas do you have about getting open content to people using mobile devices?
– Easy ability to download OCW to a special portable device (iPod, PSP, PDA, etc.) for use offline
– View OCW in a special format on WAP-enabled phones (web browser on your mobile phone)
– Send an SMS to a service and get OCW content back as SMS messages
– Send an SMS to a service and have the service call your phone and read the content to you using text-to-speech technology
My Initial Response:
From the USA
OK, here’s my first round of gut reactions – but feel free to take this all with a grain of salt. We’ll see if some of the people I emailed disagree with me.
As things stand, my initial feeling is that this is most likely the best option of the ones you mentioned: Easy ability to download OCW to a special portable device (iPod, PSP, PDA, etc.) for use offline.
One important note you probably already know, but which is good to mention – people are not interested in merely receiving open content (via mobile devices or whatever) but also interested in (1) contributing content – and (2) using whatever device to connect with people about the topic.
Although the stats say that there are 400 million mobile phones in China in 2006 and 6.1 million of them enabled to access the Internet – the costs are prohibitive. From what we found last summer in China, as things stand today if people do access the Internet with their mobile devices, it is only briefly to download ring tones, etc… (although we predict that will change)
As you are probably aware, the payment structures are different throughout most of the world – the majority of people buying cards that give them a certain amount of pre-paid minutes. Even, then most of what they do is text each other, because it is cheaper. That is why the SMS ideas seem more feasible than accessing the Internet (especially when people would rather text than even talk simply because of cost). It is interesting how they even have ingenious systems in certain areas for calling and not answering but letting it ring so many times – and the different amount of rings conveys a different message (in order to save money).
Unfortunately in many areas of the world there is not enough competition to drive rates lower, and so there are monopolies in certain countries, which seem to have jacked up both cell phone and Internet access prices.
Having said that, I went to a rural school in South Africa that was selected for a series of very interesting studies (sponsored by Nokia I think) using mobile technologies for very similar things that you are speaking about – only there was more participation involved on the part of the students. For instance, students contributed to a kind of Wikipedia, but with voice. I know there are also projects in place to have text-to-voice things like you mention.
I could be totally wrong, but I think the least helpful for now (and perhaps this depends on whether you are in developed Europe vs India, China, etc) is to View OCW in a special format on WAP-enabled phones (web browser on your mobile phone). But I am thinking of the developing world – where maybe in Europe this might be useful – but I don’t know enough about how Europeans currently use their mobile devices.
My recommendation is to find a specific need (like that doctor in the story I sent you) and have both searchable data bases of useful chunked content to be used in-situ as well as easy connection tools to a knowledgeable community also accessible in-situ – and with that capitalize on the specific usefulness of mobile devices for a niche group in a specific area of the world – and then build from there.
If it is not being targeted for something very specific and directly relevant like that, then more often than not people are just looking for degrees. The emphasis on degrees can not be over stated. They will get material from wherever will give them a recognizable degree, and in their spare time they will seek entertainment from their mobile devices more than seeking additional learning.
Here’s a fairly good mobile learning reading list:
Responses from Africa:
This idea is very feasible in Ethiopian context. Firstly many people are now having mobile phones. Now they use it only for communication.
I have prioritized the ideas the following option is good for the local community; to provide general education. If it is feasible to develiver the content on TV so that those who are interested can watch contents from their home TV.
1. Send an SMS to a service and have the service call your phone and read the content to you using text-to-speech technology
The following two ideas are more feasibile for university students.
2. View OCW in a special format on WAP-enabled phones web browser on your mobile phone)
3. Send an SMS to a service and get OCW content back as SMS messages
One serious problem I observed in Ethiopia context is that people don’t have access to information that can change their life, even a simple thing, a health care information, business inforamtion, etc. Now I understand that culturally contextualized inforamtion is of great value to a community than the general information available on internet. Therefore, use of mobile technologies will create more access to inforamtion and educational opportunity. Now there is a good trend in the penetation of telecommunication technology in Ethiopia. People in remote village have now a telephone service.
[Mobile learning] is a new idea, my universtiy and government institutions are interested to support the project. I am also interested to work on it.
From South Africa…
To answer your questions, it really is not that simple! To a large extent your target audience is going to determine what the most useful will be. In rural or underdeveloped areas phones with less functionalities seem to be more prevalent and one would like to reach the largest audience so sms capabilities will ensure that with WAP then being a waste of time as you are excluding a large part of your audience.
You need to remember Africa has its own set of connectivity problems and deals with challenges like poor rural connectivity, lack of reliable electricity supply, availability of PC’s (as well as, often, the know how to support a network and the hardware) Where in developed countries you are immersed in a connected and interconnected environment; that is not the case in most of Africa. Their mobile phone is their connection, often their only connection. If you don’t have WAP functionalities or any other mobile device, the first two options become rather irrelevant. The MobilED project has concentrated on rural African and have worked with the most common capacity of phones ie voice and sms. So the last two options fall within that margin. The cost implication is relatively high as you have to sponsor the cost of the call back. In South Africa specific that becomes a bit hectic as our cell rates are substantial.
Looking forward to discussing this further.
Response from Europe:
These answers are subjective but I suppose that is the point, right? I understand the question concerns the order of positive impact from highest to lowest, therefore (1 highest, 4 lowest):
1. Easy ability to download OCW to a special portable device (iPod, PSP, PDA, etc.) for use offline.
2. View OCW in a special format on WAP-enabled phones (web browser on your mobile phone)
3. Send an SMS to a service and have the service call your phone and read the content to you using text-to-speech technology
4. Send an SMS to a service and get OCW content back as SMS messages
These days and in the near future more and more people will use high-bandwidth networking features in their mobile devices, thus downloading high quality multimedia content won’t be an issue anymore. I left SMSs on the last two places because:
* they are cumbersome to write
* they are too short (case 4)
* they are probably more expensive in the long run than fixed price high-bandwidth subscription.
* their media capability is limited.
I suppose one option would be to use MMS technologies instead of SMS in order to provide higher level of multimedia.
Which ideas sound the most useful?
The first one, but I would go further and do things online.
/Which are most likely to be a total waste of time? /
Last two (SMS based) because technology is becoming obsolete. WAP based solution is also somewhat old-fashioned and if I was doing this work, I’d definitely put hands on high level multimedia content which can be even used interactively online (perhaps collaboratively with other system users).
/What other ideas do you have about getting open content to people via mobile devices? /
As I mentioned, high speed fixed price mobile networks are soon available on most of the handsets. It is therefore just up to our imagination in which format we want to provide the content. Interactivity is one key issue in the future; you can do quizzes, learning games and even evaluations over the mobile network.
One usability problem in today’s mobile devices is the screen size and low resolution. However, this problem will soon be solved with mobile projectors and/or rollable/wrappable screens. Mobile projectors are able to project a high resolution image on any light-coloured surface, thus you can set up your personal movie theater almost anywhere. Another
usability challenge is the text input, but I see that there are several solutions coming up within few years. External Bluetooth-based QWERTY-keyboards already exist and perhaps text-to-speech technologies can provide the next “killer app” on mobile devices.
There are many other interesting examples on the future mobile technologies out there, but unfortunately i don’t have time to go through all of them here. I just want to stress that you shouldn’t think of providing content via the channels that are currently used by everybody; you should develop means to provide the content via channels of the future.
Ok, Im not sure how helpful these answers are for you, but I will certainly give more information if you request it.
Response from Asia:
Very glad to hear from you.
I am not sure until now whether or not I can go to Guangzhou for GCCCE2007. I hope I can go there to see you again.
As for your questions, I don’t give you exact answers.
I have been to more than 100 universities since last year, the mobile devices are not yet considered to be used to learning. But I think it will do in future.
The following idea sounds most valuable, I think. Because the present mobile devices like iPod has as huge storage as a computer. So, we could download the content in the iPod and read them at any time.
– Easy ability to download OCW to a special portable device (iPod, PSP, PDA, etc.) for use offline.
This idea is also useful. It may be used to search the latest content.
– Send an SMS to a service and get OCW content back as SMS messages
Question for You:
Although the current OCW content may not be the most useful to your audience, imagine whatever content would be the most interesting / relevant and simply consider the technological capability…
Does one or more of these sound interesting?
Is there something else you wish you (or people in your area) could do in terms of getting content on your mobile phone or other mobile device?