Monday, March 14, 2011

More 'Digital Aborigines' ::: Mobile Learning Pioneers

Smartphone technology is more than those "apps" you've heard so much about ::: Last Friday I attended an impromptu presser at RPI: some of the Japanese students reacted to the devastation in the their homeland. Smartphones and social networking (Facebook, of course!) proved invaluable! (“With Facebook and Twitter, it was the key for them to find out within a half a day if their parents and friends and family were OK or not.” –Kenji Yuasa, Showa Institute)

Monday, I prepared a radio story about a nearby school district employing smartphones in the educational process.

Fundamentally, the use of Internet-enabled technology in classrooms has two challenges. The first is student safety and privacy — preventing information that is obscene or harmful to children from being accessed by the devices. The second is classroom management — focusing student attention on the task at hand rather than the myriad distractions of the web.

With laptops, these challenges are addressed by classroom management software that provides Internet filtering and control of the student computer screens. Teachers have the ability to put all the laptops on the same page, project a single student's screen on the whiteboard to show their work, or to shut down student screens altogether. Internet filters allow schools or districts to create "white lists" of websites that students are allowed to access and to block the rest. [1]

Laptops aren't always the best solution. The Wireless Networks needed to support them can be costly for rural schools. Enter the smartphone! Rob DeLilli is superintendent of the Gloversville enlarged School District in Upstate New York - where, three weeks ago, middle school students were issued smartphones to enhance the educational experience. DeLilli got word of the Verizon program via Watkins Glen Central School District - which put smartphones in the hands of about 200 fifth- and seventh-grade students and 20 teachers in three schools in December 2009. The North Rockland Central School District in Garnerville followed in January 2010: Eighty fifth graders, along with three teachers, at Haverstraw Middle School signed on. [2]

Smartphones able to access social media networks like Facebook have played critical roles in the revolutions in North Africa and families keeping in touch in the aftermath of the Earhquake in Japan - many third-world countries use smartphones for banking and conducting other business.

In 2008, telecommunications company Vodafone and Roshan, an Afghan telecom provider, teamed up to launch a mobile-phone payroll service called M-Paisa for the Afghan National Police. Now M-Paisa has been expanded so that anyone with a mobile phone and an M-Paisa account can transfer money across the country for a small fee. [3]

In the USA, according to a recent Nielsen survey, 45 percent of Latino mobile phone users nationwide as of December owned a smart phone, devices with application-based and Web-enabled operating systems. That's well above the 31 percent of all mobile users with a smart phone and 27 percent among white users. [4]

The abovementioned school programs are federally funded through e-rate - which falls under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed into law by President Bill Clinton: the law's universal service section assists schools and libraries in obtaining access to state of the art services and technologies at discounted rates.

Here is one user's experience with a tablet computer.(Specifically, a 7″ tablet running on Google’s Android 2.1). And have a look at how to ease into Google Voice: Freeze your cell phone service!

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