Mobile learning devices include any device which is smaller than a laptop or netbook, contains a display of some sort, is networkable, and offers a method of input. These include:
- smart phones
- digital music players
Mobile learning devices incorporate access to the internet via 3G, Wi-Fi, and soon 4G. Some of these devices can also act as gateways to the internet by being tethered to devices such as laptops; however, the goal of mobile learning is portability which limits many laptops from this category. Such devices enable learning anytime and anywhere there is network access.
Every mobile device comes with it’s own design and development issues when creating applications that run at the operating system (OS) level. The company that created the product will often place limitations on what is and is not possible when designing applications for their device.
Along with the OS are issues with transportability between devices. Java™ was originally hailed as a solution to developer woes of transportability between devices and hardware; however Java™ has been bogged down with performance issues, version incompatibility (applications requiring a certain version to run) and overall limited adoption amongst current mainstream mobile device developers.
There are also hardware issues such as screen size, processor speed, memory, size (dimensions) and weight. With all these variables, developers will often only develop applications for one platform--despite several mobile learning device platforms in the market. Currently the most popular platform is the iOS owned by Apple, with over 300, 000 apps available in their Apps Store.
Questions to consider:
- Should online tools be modified to fit on mobile devices or should mobile devices modify online tools to work on these devices?
- Are apps like those in Apple’s App Store a positive development, since they’re customized to their devices (like the iPad), or more negative as they restrict access by other devices running on a different OS?
- Can today's classroom function collaboratively and embrace the ‘always on’ mobile devices found in the hands of many students?
- The Software as a Service (SaaS) model has turned many tools that would normally be only found on a computer, to now be running on the web. Could these new tools (Google Docs, YouTube, JayCut, Livestream, etc.) paired with mobile devices open up classroom learning?
You don't need to buy multiple devices to explore them! Take a look at some of the following emulators that are freely available on the web:
They should give you an idea of what some of the constraints are when developing an application to function on one or all devices.
If you have a device which fits into this mobile category, open up your favourite website, then use one of the emulators above to view the same site.
Using your own mobile learning device, as well as some of the emulators listed above, try to access some eLearning websites such as [UBC's WebCT Vista installation http://www.elearning.ubc.ca/lms/login-to-vista/], the [MET Moodle site http://moodle.met.ubc.ca/], or any other LMS site for which you have access.
- How well did the sites load?
- Did they fit within the screen constraints?
- To what extent could you do the sorts of routine actions you do on your computer, such as post messages to discussion forums, compose email, and enter chat?
- Did you see many differences between your device and the emulator devices?
- If you were charged with developing a LMS site compatible for both computer and mobile device access, what adaptations would you need to make?
Just for fun Using only a mobile device of your choice (e.g. an iPhone, iTouch, Android phone, Blackberry or digital camera), create a multimedia essay on the advantages and disadvantages of mobile learning. When creating this multimedia essay, try to use multiple media formats created with your device. This could include leveraging audio capture (voice memo) to add a narrative to an essay or still image.
Take note of any issues you come across. Do you see a future using devices such as smart phones for education, or are their physical sizes too limiting? Do tablets such as the iPad hold potential? Could they one day replace computers in the classroom?
What were some of your challenges you found when accessing the web with a mobile device or mobile emulator? What are some of the limiting factors that you find with mobile devices and learning? Do you see a future in mobile learning? e.g. could it one day replace the classroom?
Or, is mobile learning best suited to extending the physical classroom by enhancing what students learn IN the classroom?