(For week 13.)
This week we had a great guest speaker Paul Kim, from Stanford University. He has been doing abundant studies in mobile learning.
Most of his research is conducted in developing countries where children have few accesses to education, even fewer accesses to life of average standard. Paul developed a kind of mobile device with his group and sponsoring companies, and handed out these devices to each child. Kids were allowed to explore them without teacher's guidance, and in all cases they successfully got familiar with the use of devices through discussion and collaboration. Children can play different games in the mobile device, which involves the knowledge of math, language, etc. There are hundreds of levels in these games. Children can advance to next level by some efforts, but there is always another next level waiting to be achieved. Even Paul himself cannot achieve the highest level. It is such a great motivation for children to challenge, so as to keep learning.
These places for experiments are often poor areas. In some of them, electricity is available for only two hours a day. However, mobile devices need to be charged, and children have to connect their devices to a computer for updating of game programs inside. Paul talked to some univesity, residents and so forth in that area, to establish simple charging stations and computer service centers for all the kids. There are even some cute bicycles on which children can ride to charge their devices. The problem of sustainability seems almost solved.
This is really an amazing work that does help provide education to less developed regions, and gets satisfactory results. We may ask why it is mobile learning method that has been chosen, rather than popularizing computers or some other technologies. Paul considered that people in those areas do not have steady access to the Internet, electricity or even schools. Consequently, the benefits of Internet-based programs cannot reach these populations. Mobile technologies, on the other hand, are more economical, portable and flexible than traditional conputers.
I agree on its protability and flexibility, but cannot help doubting whether mobile technology is economical enough. Paul said each of these devices costed $50. Much less than a computer. However, although those children picked as Paul's experimental subjects have got access to mobile learning devices, many other children do not have the chance. If we think of generalizing mobile learning to all the developing world, who will take the charge of providing those devices and services? Obviously Paul cannot afford the large amount. $50 is not very much to US citizens and many other populations, but it can mean a lot to most of people who are still struggling on the poverty line. So, I really want to ask that in what circumstances can this mobile learning method be able to generalize?
Elizabeth Buckner & Paul Kim. (May 15, 2010). Storytelling among Israeli and
Palestinian children in the era of mobile innovation. (to be pulished in) AECT
2011 Educational Media and Technology Yearbook. Volume 36.