News clipping – Sunday Tribune – 3 October 2010

Mobile learning set in motion

Mobile learning, which encourages learning on cell-phones, is getting a practice run at three schools – with a view to roll out the project countrywide.

With more than 39 million cell-phone users in South Africa, academics believe, if monitored correctly, M-Learning can reduce the high level of children who cannot read proficiently in Grade 5.
“Cell-phones are more accessible to South African pupils than computers and we can turn the large amount  of time spent on cell-phones by young people into constructive learning. It can be a powerful tool in the hands of pupils,” said Lucy Haagen, of the M-Ubuntu project. The academic from Duke University in the US is running this initiative with South African Theo van Rensburg.

So how does it work? Haagen said:
“An example of how cell-phones can aid learning is when we sent pupils to a local mall to interview the public for a subject they are learning in class. This required them to record the interview and they then had to write a short piece on their interviews, using the Microsoft facilities on their phone. Exercises like these encourage pupils and you see them flourishing as they master new technology.”

Twenty smart phones were donated for the project, but corporate sponsorship was needed to expand it. Haagen said two models were being explored for further rollout.
“First, giving phones out at schools to pupils is an option. However, the cell-phones will have restricted access and will be used in a closed system, so there will not be room for abuse. Second, we are looking at installing systems in pupils’ phones to use on their own.”

Van Rensburg said a good example of mobile learning was Dr Math on MXit.
“Tutors help pupils, who log onto MXit with various maths problems, with almost 6000 pupils utilizing the site. But the focus is on maths and we think cell-phones can be used to encourage reading, “ he said.

Mobile learning has drawn support from teachers and even the national Science and Technology Department.

Derek Moore, a content developer in eLearning at the University of Witwatersrand, agreed mobile learning could be beneficial.

By Charmel Bowman