5 Mobile Learning Tools
I’m not the first person to announce that technology has transformed the way we learn. In the last number of years, thanks to better battery life and wireless devices, bringing one’s learning with you is no longer restricted to pen and paper. However, in the last year or two, mobile devices have become completely mainstreamed. In this article, we look at some devices that can help primary school children learn and whether schools should start looking seroiusly at them.
Laptops have been around for many years in Irish classrooms. However, it’s only in the last year or so, they have become very popular. Previously, schools chose to buy desktops over laptops as laptops tended to be more expensive for less power and they were also more easily stolen.
Prices of laptops have come down hugely. One can get a refurbished laptop for about €150. Coupled, with the onset of laptop trolleys, one can transport several laptops into a classroom and have them all charged up. Essentially, one is bringing the old-style computer room into the classroom. This opens up huge learning opportunities for children. If one has a typical class of 32 children and one brings in 16 laptops, there is massive potential for learning.
Netbooks are a more recent phenomenon. The main difference between them and laptops is their size. However, because school computers don’t need too much power these days, a netbook can perform most tasks effectively. Netbooks generally don’t have CD-ROM drives but they do have longer battery lives.
For classroom use, either product gives you all the power of a PC but with great portability options.
In late 2010, the Fizzbook reached Ireland with much excitement. This was the first laptop designed for children. It had a hard cover case in case of falls and it also had a touch screen. The screen also twisted and could be placed on top of the keyboard to create a tablet. There are other tablet PCs out there but they tend to be more expensive than the Fizzbook.
Basically, a tablet PC does everything a laptop does except it doubles up as a tablet (like an iPad). Generally tablet PCs run Windows operating system so children are generally familiar with the interface. The problem is the price. A Fizzbook costs around €600 for a basic model, which is very slow for classroom use.
On the upside, when tablet PCs mature as products and become cheaper and faster, they have the potential to completely replace Interactive Whiteboards. The touch screen on them will become a child’s personal IWB!
The iPad arrived with much fanfare in the autumn of 2010 in Ireland. The iPad is basically a touch screen computer. One can access the Internet and can use apps (little applications that can be bought from a special store). Great advantages compared to laptops are that it instantly turns on and a child can access any app very quickly. When it came out, skeptics merely compared it to a giant iPhone but this is where I see its strength: screen space. The screen space of the iPad is large enough for a child to be able to use the apps similar to that on a laptop. The smaller screen of the iPod Touch can be frustrating. The downside of the iPad is its price but that should come down quickly.
There’s a lot of fanfare around the iPod Touch for learning with a few pilot projects running around a few classrooms around Ireland and a number of schools buying classroom loads of the devices. Basically, an iPod Touch is a small handheld device that allows users to use the Internet and play apps, similar to that of the iPad above. There are a number of good apps to support curriculum subjects but not nearly enough. However, apps are being developed all the time. I have seen some very inventive uses of the iPod Touch in primary education but I’m not as convinced by them as I am with their bigger brother, the iPad. Screen space is too small to sport a full web site or a decent book.
Mobile computer game devices are fast becoming popular in classrooms. There are a number of schools in Ireland already using DS Lites in the classroom with several games available to suit children’s creative skills. For example the “Imagine” series of DS Lite games are excellent. There are also a number of brain training games around, which are very good too.
The PSP with a camera attached makes for excited Augmented Reality (AR) learning opportunities. By pointing your camera at a special QR Code, the PSP can transport children to great learning opportunities such as videos and games.
Both devices have their disadvantages in that they are only as good as the games that are available for them. As of this date, there has been nothing created for them to support the Irish curriculum, though some games tie in nicely with certain subjects.
Mobile learning is where we are heading. I believe there will be a number of criteria for the success of mobile learning devices. One will be a minimum screen space. Right now, I think the iPads and Netbooks have it right. The iPod Touches, I believe, are too small. Speed and instant access will be another criterion. The Apple products certainly have got these right. Finally, the applications or programmes that run on these devices will be crucial for their success. Windows laptops and netbooks have a small amount of Irish-designed programmes. None of the others really do.
As we’re in the very early days of mobile learning devices, it’s probably best to hold your ground. There’s a number of very interesting tablet PCs coming along. Android is an operating system that has become one of the most popular in the world and more and more apps are being written for it. We haven’t even started to talk about using children’s own mobile phones for learning opportunities. Perhaps, this time next year it will be easier to decide what product will be best for our children to learn with. At least we know the early signs of mobile learning devices are promising.