Monday, October 03, 2011

Exploring Open Platforms for Mobile Learning

The mobile technology field is rapidly expanding and the focus on how it can be incorporated to support learning is also growing. However, the barriers to inclusion of information communication technologies in the public schools of Nepal are still significant and the widespread access to digital content remains a key obstacle. Nepal has a poor communication infrastructure and where available, telecommunication and electricity are poorly maintained or too costly to use.
The aim of my exploratory research study is to highlight how an offline mobile learning solution may address some of the technical challenges to support one of the current and most urgent requirements to provide an access to digital content. The study investigated the deployment of previously unexplored low-spec sub US $100 open-source mobile devices (Nanonote and Wikireader) to facilitate English language learning and address the knowledge requirements of teachers in government funded public schools of Nepal.

Ben Nanonote 3.0” color TFT display, 336 MHz processor & 2GB of flash memory; an ultra small form factor Copyleft device by Qi Hardware

Wikireader - Handheld offline reading device by Openmoko. Runs up to 12 months on two AAA batteries.

Considering the context and culture of Nepal, my research aim was to develop a socio-technical– an offline mobile learning solution using a low-spec open source mobile technology. The study was carried out in four stages.
I) Before implementing the technology enhanced learning solution, it is crucial to take account of the existing teaching and learning practices and design solution based on the distinct understandings of local context to fully incorporate technology in the existing educational process. Recently, an exploratory study was conducted using teachers’ diary study method, which helped to understand the background and highlight the existing pedagogical, technological, social and cultural issues – that are useful for guiding the technological intervention in public schools of Nepal where one of the current and the urgent requirements is to provide an access to digital contents. The qualitative study was conducted in eight public schools using a pre-questionnaire and 2 weeks long English teachers’ diary.

English teaching in a public school of Nepal for year 10.
 II) A pilot study was conducted to explore the use of open-source platforms, customisation of graphical user interface, its usability and how it may be used for supporting teaching and learning. Even though this exploratory study aimed at supporting teaching and learning programming in Higher Education, it focused on better understanding the use offline mobile technologies, and on the device usability. The results provided indications on users’ perceptions towards the effectiveness of open-source platforms for supporting teaching and learning and the findings could be useful to support the adoption of offline mobile learning model to provide an access to resources and support learning. The findings indicate these open-source devices have potential to facilitate offline reading and it can enhance motivation to learning. 
III) With the overall deeper understanding of ways of teaching and learning, needs and concerns in public schools of Nepal, further studies were conducted in Nepal. As private schools are generally believed to be better than public schools, an exploratory study was recently completed which involved 20 English teachers from 10 private schools within the same district. A further study was conducted in 8 public schools from 4 different districts that use XO laptops and supported by Open Learning Exchange Nepal ( The study identified the benefits and challenges of using ICT in poor schools and investigated how the use of ICT may be helping to solve some of the concerns identified from the earlier study. These studies also helped to identify the type of digital resources needed to support English learning in public schools of Nepal. 
A computer lab in a private school.
A public school that uses XO laptop supported by OLE Nepal.
IV) Then, based on the findings from these studies, the use of low-spec and sub US $100 open-source Nanonote and Wikireader devices were explored to deliver learning resources in five schools. The evaluation adopted an approach recommended by Sharples, which is to address usability (will it work?), effectiveness (is it enhancing learning?) and satisfaction (is it liked?). For the evaluation purpose, selection of the research methods for this study was adapted from the earlier studies of adoption of mobile technology for learning by Corlett et al. and Waycott
All ready to be used in schools of Nepal by English teachers.

I'm still in the process of analysing, writing and publishing the data that I've collected so far. Due to exploratory nature of this research, data analysis has been an iterative and reflective process throughout the project and the data is being examined in relation to the Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) model.

The Framework for the Rational Analysis of Mobile Education (FRAME) model describes mobile learning as a process resulting from the convergence of mobile technologies, human learning capacities, and social interaction.

This study will also highlight the development challenges faced working with a sub US$100 device including usability issues and the lack of a standard graphical user interface. Overall this study will showcase alternative open hardware solutions to more restrictive proprietary solutions which are currently dominating the mobile landscape.

Some of the related publications so far:
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. Poster: "Open-source Platform: Exploring the Opportunities for Offline Mobile Learning", Mobile HCI 2011, August 2011, Stockholm.
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. "The English Language Teaching and Learning Challenges in Public Schools of Nepal: Teacher's Diary Study", IFIP WG 9.4 Conference, May 2011, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. "Mobile learning and low-cost hardware for ICT4D: what's right and what's copyleft?", Special Issue - IEEE Multidisciplinary Engineering Education Magazine (MEEM), 2011.
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. Poster: "Flexible learning with flexible devices: opening up opportunities", mLearn 2011, October 2011, Beijing.
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. "Offline Mobile Learning With Copyleft Hardware: A Pilot Study", Mobile Learning: Crossing Boundaries in Convergent Environments Conference, Bremen, Germany.
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. "Sustainable Mobile Learning: Open & Offline",mLearn 2010, 9th World Conference Mobile & Contextual Learning, October 2010, Malta. 
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. "Offline Mobile Learning: Open Platform, Wikireader & ICTD", Mobile HCI 2010 Workshop, Mobile HCI and Technical ICTD: A Methodological Perspective. September 2010, Lisboa, Portugal.
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. "Offline Mobile Learning: Open Platforms for ICT4D", Doctoral Consortium, The 10th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, July 5-7, 2010, Sousse, Tunisia.
  • Shrestha, S., Moore, J., Abdelnour-Nocera, J. "Offline Mobile Learning for ICT4D", IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning 2010, March 2010, Porto, Portugal.

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