Saturday, December 5, 2009

Evaluation of pilot project in Tanzania involving use of mobile phones and Moodle

The project "ICT-Based In-Service Teacher Education for Secondary School Teacher in Tanzania" (ICT BITES) was set up to deal with a shortage of qualified teachers in Tanzania. The project was initiated by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training in Tanzania and is funded by SPIDER, The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions.

There is a special focus in the project on in-service education of "Licensed Teachers", teachers with only a few weeks of formal teacher education.A number of these licensed teachers are enrolled in an education program run by the Open University of Tanzania

The project is described at and there is a demo how mobile phones are used in the project at

December 3:rd of 2009 an evaluation of the pilot project was made. 15 of the 18 students who had participated in the introduction meeting in January also participated in the evaluation. Of these 15 students, nine had been supplied with mobile phones by the project. The evaluation meeting was conducted in connection to the students’ last face-to-face meeting in their teacher education, taking place at the Teacher College of Mpwapwa.

During the four hour long evaluation meeting the students discussed in groups and answered questions individually. For group discussion the students were divided into four groups.

Group discussion one
The group work focused on the use of the mobile phones as learning tools, some questions were suggested for discussions:
  • What communication tools facilitated the learning process in the pilot test?
  • Where did you use the mobile phones?
  • Was it better to read the text on the mobile phone screen or to listen to the voice interpretation?
  • What were the pros and cons with having learning material as text and voice on mobile phones?
  • Did you use any alternatives to SMS for text based communication?
  • Did you use any different facilities of the book-reader, such as soft scroll, bookmarks etc?
  • Did you demonstrate the mobile phone material to colleagues at your schools, and in that case, what was their reaction?
Following are some of the answers given by the student groups:

Group 1 meant that the mobile phones facilitated the learning process. Phones were used for Internet searches, e-mail and sending SMS to fellow students.

Group 2 compared the text and voice interpretation of the material. In their opinion the phone screen was too small for extensive reading, but e.g. on the bus, where the study guide is too big to handle, they found it to be an attractive alternative. The voice interpretation they said worked even in a noisy environment, thanks to the earphones. Group 2 agreed with group 1 that the mobile phones facilitated the learning process.

Both group 1 and 2 considered not being able to discuss with a teacher or ask questions to be a “con” with having the course material as “voice" (listening to lectures instead of meeting them face-to-face).

Group 3 commented that they had not been able to use the Moodle system as they as students had not been provided with ID:s and passwords to the system. Regarding the course material on the mobile phones, they preferred the voice to the text. They had shown the material on their mobile phones to colleagues in their schools, and the colleagues shown great interest.

Group 4 also mentioned that the mobile phones had helped them in getting access to additional learning material from other sources, this through Bluetooth, e-mail and messengers.

Individual questionnaire
The next activity was for the students to individually answer a questionnaire about what they thought could be improved in the case of a scaling up of the project. Following are the questions given to the students. The student’s suggestions are presented in italics.

1.Logistics: As we know only a small number of students have access to the type of mobile phones needed to download material, thus several practical issues in relation to this may arise: Should there be downloading stations at the university? What about the problems associated with viruses and USB’s? Do the students have access to Internet cafés? What about the expenses involved etc?

A. How should students get the learning material (in electronic form)?

  • There should be downloading stations at the university and at the regional centres.
  • The students should get all the learning material in electronic form. This can be done by downloading from the Internet, or through e-mail, storing on a flash memory, storing on computer laptops or on mobile phones.
  • Downloading stations at the university or at Internet cafes can be used to reduce the airtime cost. Laptops are good because one can write notes, and the screen is bigger compared to phones.

B. What tools for communication should be used? Pros and cons?

  • Mobile phones are easy to use and cheap, but the air-time cost is a problem.

2.Content: Another question which may be good to address is the question of the content of the support. We have discussed models whereby students could gain access to previous exam questions etc. Would this be useful? Is it realistic?

A: What would be the most important (additional) content for successful studies? List!

  • Encyclopaedias.
  • More questions.
  • Previous exams. The content should cover the syllabus of the courses.
  • Computers to the learners.
  • More courses.

3.Organisation: It seems that most of the initiative has to be on the students to organise themselves into study support groups. How do we assist in this work? What about the idea of student mentors? How do students find each other? Etc.

A. How should study groups be organised?

  • Students taking similar course should form groups.
  • The mentors could help the students to organize themselves into study groups.
  • The groups could submit questions group wise not to give the teachers too big a workload.
  • Workshops and e-mail, SMS and phones.
  • Meetings at least tree times a year. Regional centres could be used.

B. What should be the role of the student mentor?

  • To spread information and knowledge and to coordinate his fellow students to the source of information and knowledge.
  • To help others in difficult areas in their studies.
  • To assist students in the use of e-learning.

C. How should student mentors be rewarded?

  • Wages/payment and/or equipment such as laptop, projector and mobile phone.
  • Accommodation and transportation.
  • Promotion.
  • Certificates.
  • Chance to additional studies.
  • By gifts from the supported student, the gift will depend on the support capability.

Group discussion two
In a last round of focus group discussions the students got the opportunity to present their general thoughts about the project and to discuss what should be done differently in an extended ICT-BITES project? A special focus was on how interaction and communication could be improved.

  • The project should be seriously conducted so not to waste money and time.
  • The use of mentors should start as soon as possible.
  • Face-to-face meetings should be more often.
  • Frequent communication using different tools should be encouraged e.g. Yahoo groups.
  • Air time should be provided at low cost.
  • Bigger memory cards, e g 8 GB would make it possible to put encyclopaedias, lexicons etc. on the mobile phones.
  • More courses, such as science courses.
  • Other tools with bigger screens and/or higher capacity could be tested.

Evaluation of the meeting

The workshop itself was then evaluated; most students said that they felt they’d had the opportunity to present their views about the pilot project and the possible scaling up of the project. They also noted that not all involved partners in the project were present during the evaluation meeting and that meetings should have been conducted more often. The circumstance that seven of the students in the pilot were not provided with mobile phones, which they had been promised, was also commented on.

The students continued with their preparations for their final exams, Bengt and Shadrack went back to Dar.

Friday, June 5, 2009

m-Learning at e-Learning Africa 2009. "Use what is Available!"

"E-learning Africa", a major e-learning event in Africa, this year gathered 1315 participants from 60 countries. 80 percent of the delegates live on the continent. Above is a picture of the conference venue, hotel Le Méridien President in Dakar, Senegal. Below is the "amphitheatre" (photo by Christophe Batie).

The conference included 4 plenary sessions, 60 sessions in 10 parallel conference strands, 21 pre-conference events, some other activities and an exhibition.

During eLA of 2009 in Dakar, Senegal, m-learning got more attention than in previous conferences. (During eLA 2008 m-learning activities were very few, like I mentioned in a previous blog post.) In eLA 2009 two pre conference workshops and two conference sessions were dedicated to m-learning!

One of the pre conference workshops, which I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to attend, focused on development of java applications for mobile phones" Introducing and Teaching Mobile Application Development" and was led by Matt Wilks from Canada.

The other workshop, sponsored by SPIDER, Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions, which I was involved in, had an applied approach. We called the workshop "M-learning for All". On the introduction slides we tried to emphasize that some of the problems often mentioned in connection to e-learning in Africa such as accessibility, power and affordability problems can be addressed by m-learning and usage of mobile phones. In the picture below I am demonstrating learning material on a mobile phone from the ICT-based teacher education project mentioned in previous blog posts (photo by Christophe Batie.)

During this workshop the Bangladesh Virtual Classroom, a combination of TV-broadcasting and SMS interaction was demonstrated by Annika Andersson and Rizvee Bhuyan.

MKFC Stockholm College demonstrated 3 projects using End-to-End e-Learning. (e-learning without physical meetings), below you see Kodwo Jonas Boateng from Ghana Institute of Journalism.(photo by Annelie Östlund)

In the main conference two sessions were dedicated to m-learning. In the first session "Mobile learning: What has been tried" one of the speakers, John Maurice Traxler, Learning Lab, UK, argues that African learners should "use their own devices". On one hand, millions of individual Africans choose, buy and use their own personal mobile devices. On the other hand, institutions and organisations in Africa attempt to deliver e-learning using big scale technologies that require networked desktops in secure buildings with mains electricity, software licences and technician support.

Riitta Vänskä, Nokia, is one the same trail; one should “use what is available”. She described the use of low end mobile phones, SMS, GPRS and the in South Africa very popular mobile phone IM-program MXit. “Mobile Learning for Mathematics” (MoMath) is tested in six schools in SA with about 300 pupils in total. Both browser based IM technology (MXit) and SMS technology are tested in the project. The MXit program offers an API (Application Program Interface) and some applications have been developed to exploit the learning possibilities of MXit.

(MXit is a nice product/system for IM (instant messaging) on mobile phones. Instead of using SMS, packet switching over GPRS or 3G is used. You are not limited by the SMS maximum of 160 characters, instead the limit here is 1000 characters. MXit is programmed using the Jabber protocol. There are gateways to other Jabber based IM systems to such as Google Talk. (I have been testing MXit for a while, my number is +46705513052.)

Also in the session "Mobile learning in Health and Education" MXit was mentioned, this time by Mpine Elizabeth Makoe (in the picture above) from University of South Africa. She is the holder of a grant to investigate the pedagogical potential of using cell phones in enhancing distance learning, and one of the possibilities she found was MXit. MXit can provide a platform where distance learners can be encouraged to work together as a group, to interact between themselves and their lecturers.

Carlos Tsunami (pictured above) and his colleagues had chosen "smartphones" (Nokia and iPhone) for their project "mLearning for Health Care Workers in Low Resource Settings". By using smartphones there is an opportunity to use the virtual learning system Moodle for interaction, and WLAN is used when downloading podcasts with learning material.

Jabiri Bakari (in the picture above) presented the background and the challenges in ICT-based in-service teacher education in Tanzania project, demonstrated in the workshop. . In this project a mid range phone that could run java applications, MP3 audio and Mpeg4 movie clips was selected, in other words, a phone constituting a “middle way” between the more expensive smartphones and the cheapest "voice and SMS phones".

My conclusion from the conference is that there is a growing interest for m-learning in Africa. A growing number of practitioners think it is a good idea to "use what is available" and that mobile phones hold many opportunities for learning, most of these not yet exploited! I think we should market m-learning to e-learning policy makers in a more active way.Today many policy makers still think that e-learning requires networked desktops in secure buildings!

Please feel free to comment on these conclusions (and the blog post as a whole)!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The pilot test, specifications and applications

For the project mentioned in earlier blogposts the following phone specifications were selected:
  • 3G/GPRS
  • Java
  • SMS
  • QVGA display, 320*240 pixels, display not smaller than 2 inches
  • Ability to play MP3 audio and MPEG4 / 3GP video
  • Memory card option, card size e.g. 4 GB Micro SD

Learning material installed on the memory cards or downloaded from the Internet:
  • Study guides in text (TequilaCat, free Java based book reader)
  • Texts in study guides interpreted as voice
  • Narrated slideshows (overviews of learning modules, produced with MS-PPT and Camtasia )
  • Auto corrected quizzes (Mobile Quiz from, results sent by SMS to teacher mobile phone or to Moodle using Moodletxt from Txttools)
  • Movie clips with related material (Open Educational Recourses downloaded from the Internet, saved as mpeg4 on mobile phone memory cards)
The pilot group: