Choices and challenges
The devices illustrated in this publication have been selected by institutions and practitioners rather than by researchers and product developers. In the main, their adoption reflects the advantages they offer to learners, but advantages for learners can also mean benefits for institutions. The reasons for adoption of these technologies reflect their:
- Wide availability.
- Ability to support a range of functions.
- Closeness to, or use alongside, desktop functionality.
- Ease of use by most learners.
- Acceptance by learners as a device for learning.
- Potential to support specific institutional and pedagogical aims.
These immediate advantages have been extended by a number of services and functions associated with mobile devices. These include:
- SMS: Bulk purchase of SMS or 'text' messages can give learners essential information and support group and collaborative activities.
- MMS: Video, audio files and images can also be added to text messages on MMS-enabled mobile devices.
- GPRS: This supports functions such as web-browsing and instant messaging on a mobile phone.
- Bluetooth®: This short-range wireless communications technology enables the transfer of data between Bluetooth-enabled devices e.g. from one PDA to another.
- Keyboard functionality: A useful addition to new generation mobile phones, which supports wider educational use.
- GPS: This is perhaps the most familiar technology that uses location-aware computing.
- MP3 playback: This enables audio files (voice or music recordings) to be played on a mobile device.
Forthcoming developments not illustrated in this guide include fourth generation mobile phones offering TV channels and video play facilities, wearable devices that can enable computer use when engaged in other activities, and increased battery life and memory.
The embedding of mobile technologies can be affected by a lack of familiarity with the functions of the device, the instability of software, and difficulties in reformatting or creating resources to fit a small screen.
Alongside these issues are the emotional factors which can affect the acceptance of any technology. For example, the case study, A digital key to productive learningin Strengthening learner involvement in the Practitioner's perspective reveals reluctance by learners to use the more sophisticated hybrid mobile phone/PDA. Resistance to the use of mobile devices by learners has not been well documented, but could be based on association of these devices with leisure and lifestyle rather than learning.
There may also be institutional factors hindering adoption of the more sophisticated mobile devices. The perception of a device as a leisure or aspirational item may argue against its use for serious purposes and the training of IT support staff and setting up of systems for booking and recharging batteries may be viewed by managers as a 'step too far'.
The perception of something as a challenge may only reflect its relatively recent development or the innovative nature of its use, suggesting that greater understanding of the potential, and firmer embedding of the practice within institutional support systems, may yet resolve the issue. A further and more potent challenge, however, lies in identifying when and how mobile technologies are best deployed, including the appropriate matching of devices with learners and learning outcomes.