M-Learn
April 2007

M-Learn

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M-Update

Taiwan University gives mobile info access

Tamkang University has launched a platform that will give students, faculty members and administrative staff access to the school's Web portal via heterogeneous mobile devices such as smartphones and wireless-enabled personal digital assistants (PDAs).

The school has three campus sites in the country. Tamkang University's portal, which went live in December last year, was conceived to provide a range of services for the school's patrons and employees. Students can go to the portal to manage class messages, monitor student club activity updates as well as to check for test results and reserve library books. Despite the availability of wireless coverage at all three premises, the university said that it only recently made its portal compatible with a range of smartphone devices, using technology supplied by software vendor Sybase.

Tamkang University's portal can be accessed via smartphone handsets based on Palm, Symbian and Windows CE mobile operating environments.

M-Project

MobilED: Cellphones as an educational tool

The Meraka Institute, the Helsinki University of Art and Design in Finland and the University of Pretoria in South Africa have, over the past 18 months, been working on a project dubbed MobilED, where they are investigating the use of mobile technologies and services for formal and informal learning.

The first module that has been developed is the audio-Wikipedia – an online encyclopaedia – from which anyone can receive and upload information. Children send an SMS with a key word. In response, they receive a callback and a speech synthesiser reads the contents of the requested Wikipedia entry. A fast forward and rewind function has been added to make listening to the entry easier.

In the pilot projects kits have been supplied, which include a cell phone and speakers, so that it can be used in the classroom. Piloting has so far taken place at Cornwall Hill College and Irene Middle School, both in the Centurion area, where the project will run for a further two years. Further pilots are planned for more rural areas, possibly in the Northern Cape.

As with Wikipedia, there is an interactive element whereby entries can be added to. At the end of each section there is a prompt, giving the option to either continue or to add to the entry. Should the user opt to add to the entry, the system records comments and saves them as a wav file. The additions are then added to the downloaded version of wikipedia, which the project uses.

Currently all call costs for the pilot are being covered by the CSIR project. The next step that is being worked on is to use MMS. This would greatly reduce costs and add to the functionality of the system. Another area currently being researched is the incorporation of an instant messaging service such as MXit, which is already highly popular amongst South Africa's teenagers. Doctor Maths is a MXit project that offers high school learners support with their maths syllabus.

MobilED has proven that cell phones can be very useful where there's no other access to information sources. Libraries or Internet connections no longer need to be the sole access point for educational information for children.

For more on the project, Merryl Ford can be contacted at mford@csir.co.za.

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