(AKWAABA,"welcome" in the Akan language)
I’m now back from “e-learning Africa” in Accra! Summarizing my impressions and following up on links to projects and products in the m-learning field, I think that m-learning didn't quite get the attention that it should have had at the conference. The potential for m-learning in Africa is huge!
Like I mentioned in a previous post, one problem with the concept of m-learning (mobile learning) is that it has a different meaning to different people, the goals are different and the approaches to the subject differ.
M-learning can be used to supplement class room based learning by introducing "authenticity" (learning on site), to use spare time on the bus etc. In the industrialized and richer parts of the world approaches like these are relevant.
But in other parts of the world, the most important aspect of m-learning is that it can be used to increase access to learning, using cheaper equipment like portable media players or mobile phones that can operate without daily access to electricity. M-learning can create access to knowledge where books are not available or too expensive, and create possibilities to keep in touch with teachers, tutors and fellow students while at a distance.
There is a functioning infrastructure for mobile communication in many parts of Africa and a potential for mobile learning which is not yet exploited.
However there were some interesting activities related to m-learning at the conference e.g. the session: "Mobile phones offering a lifeline to learners".
One project was presented where mobile phones were supplied to grade 10 school girls in South Africa The phones, Nokia 6300, were not planned to be used for making telephone calls, but were loaded with content for “grade 10 maths” and math games.The material was from Mindset, a NGO in South Africa. On their website (http://www.mindset.co.za/learn/default.asp) Mindset has resources for learning. Some of these, I’m guessing, were used in the mobile phones.The project was in its initial phase, but so far with good results! The students learn by them selves or with help from family and friends how to use the equipment and programs. (They are no allowed to use mobile phones in school.)
In Nigeria, PDA's were used in a campus project to access the same material on the PDA's as on the PC, using wireless communication. CSS were used to handle the different environments; the same web pages was used for the computer screens as for the PDA screens.
At the exhibition a company called SMSWEB (http://www.smsweb.co.za/) presented their services. They offer a system that can send messages via SMS from a web interface. Interfacing SMS to the web offer many interesting possibilities.