Giving Iphones to Students - a university as a mobile learning space

A NYTimes article from yesterday (Welcome Freshman, Have an Ipod) points out that some universities are giving Iphones and Ipod Touches to students.

The article brings up some of the pros and cons of mobile devices in formal academic settings. These mobile devices may provide more distractions in classrooms, but may also provide new learning opportunities for students. Personally, I'm all for new learning opportunities, even if there are a few distracted students as useful applications are developed. In addition to this apparent conflict between distraction vs resource, the article acknowledges that this is a new field:
"Experts see a movement toward the use of mobile technology in education, though they say it is in its infancy as professors try to concoct useful applications. Providing powerful hand-held devices is sure to fuel debates over the role of technology in higher education."
This point, is one that excites me most - the chance to innovate around mobile phones and learning is huge. There is also a hint that non-classroom uses (what I'm most interested in) may be the most compelling. According to the Times, university officials are, "drawn to the prospect of learning applications outside the classroom, though such lesson plans have yet to surface."

Again, a great opportunity to design something new.

-- rolf


  1. tweeted as well. u should get on twitter!

  2. Totally agree on new learning opportunities. Portable device with enough power + sensors is the way of the future on learning, way better than OLPC due to extreme portability, connectedness, and usage patterns.

    Can you think of a type of app that might be cool to start brainstorming/tinkering around? I was thinking some sort of sciency measuring the world thing, collecting objects/life/etc IRL and then virtually 'testing' them.

    deleted last comment, name was screwed up

  3. Hey Rolf,
    I found this online and thought you might be interested in it. They are using a Nintendo DS in disneyland that gives you location-based information. So if you are close to a ride that you have previously marked as something you like, it will pop up a wait time and a little fact about the ride. It's not really "learning" related per se, but it seemed somewhat relevant to some of your science museum work. Seems like with the iPhone or even a simpler mobile phone you could do something very similar.


  4. Hi Rolf

    I saw this article and thought you would all over it, glad to see that it made it to you. I wonder how university presidents in norway or elsewhere in scandinavia would react to that article. Does mobile technology intersect in higher ed in similar ways across cultures? I wonder, perhaps there is a cultural component that could be fleshed out for a second Fulbright!

  5. @Nick - Hey Nick, Thanks for reading this thing. I have a few different thoughts, but really answering that question is the part of the reason I'm here in Oslo. I also think it depends on the age of the learner. For kids, the nytimes article mentions an augmented reality game about aliens - I like that idea a lot.

    My first thought is that the best applications would really depend directly on the specific environment - I would imagine a mobile learning app being used in the middle of a soccer field would have more limited possibilities. It's a big, non-classroom space, but it's largely empty. On the other hand, something based on learning about ecosystems - perhaps at a beach, or in a park could enhance learning about the environment.

    Although, now that I think about it, an empty space could allow for more social learning games - which could be fun.

    Now for older learners - college students, I think that I would design a mobile application to guide and teach the qualitative research process. Pictures, notes, and audio could all be recorded and certain research techniques could be prompted. The social nature of the phones could also allow student qualitative researchers to coordinate their findings and adjust in real time. Plus, because phone use has seemingly become an activity that's socially acceptable everywhere - "mobile" qualitative research may be less disruptive. A researcher observing and taking notes in a notebook would surely be more noticeable than one sending a text message.

    These are just the first thoughts that came to mind, I would enjoy generating ideas all day...