If you think that having computers and Internet connections changed education, just watch what's going to happen as mobile devices get integrated into pedagogy. Location aware devices that are always on and always connected are increasingly used by students and teachers.
Peggy Johnson , Executive Vice President of Qualcomm, talked at the SIIA Ed Tech Industry Summit on May 24, 2010 in San Francisco on what is happening with mobile in education, what the future will be like, and what are the stumbling blocks.
Stumbling blocks continue to be battery life, cost, non-standardization, and device size. Johnson pointed out that Qualcom's Mirasol Reflective screen uses about one-third of the battery power as LED screens with increased brightness, even in bright sunlight. Look for devices in early 2011.
In fact, there will be 1.8 billion 3G users around the world by 2014, out of a total population of about 6.7 billion. Not bad for a technology that is still only three years old.
Emerging markets will account for 50% of 3G in 2011. If you go into the depths of Africa, you will find that the four necessities of life are food, water, shelter, and a cell phone.
With ubiquitous 3G access, mobile devices are becoming the 21st Century textbook, allowing for highly interactive learning. Students around the world can communicate with each other, with teachers, produce videos, and interact with personalized and adaptive learning at any time and in any location.
A Qualcomm sponsored program, Project K-nect, provided cell phones to at-risk ninth graders in North Carolina. In one project, students worked in groups to solve math problems, created and posted videos of how they solved the problems, and then critiqued each others' videos. Students primarily used the cell phone to for learning activities, creating content, looking up information, and creating communities to discuss problems. Test scores increased 30%, primarily because the cell phone made the lessons more interactive while also extending learning time beyond the school day.
As phones have become more location aware, augmented reality applications will really enhance learning. Imagine going looking using the phone's camera to look at a tree, but also seeing the tree's name, and its role in the ecosystem,, looking at a building, and learning about its architectural features, or looking at an exhibit in a museum and hearing its significance right on the phone. These are all existing applications today.
Two ongoing stumbling blocks are the non-standardization and, in the US, the cost of data plans. With desktops, Windows and Intel were the standards. In mobile, there is Palm (now part of HP), Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry, and Android. While Johnson's hands were tied to pick a winner, it was pretty evident that she felt that the Android platform had the greatest chance to emerge as the biggest winner. Having one development platform open to all developers will provide a huge push to innovation.
She also noted that basic smart phones sell for $20 (US) in India with data plans at $5 per month. These are 1/10 the cost of similar plans in the US for the same capacity and capabilities. In terms of the cost of data plans, Johnson said that US schools and communities may be able to use eRate funds in the near future. There is also the chance that a slice of the wireless spectrum could be reserved for education. Community WiFi could become more widely available. And wireless companies could start feeling more competition and be forced to lower rates. However, until some of these happen, the high cost of data plans will continue to be a drag on using mobile devices in education.
With 35 mobile slate devices (like the iPad) being shown at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it's no doubt, though, that we are at an inflection point.