UNESCO Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning: Latin America
The first paper, Turning On Mobile Learning in Latin America: Illustrative Initiatives and Policy Implications, describes a range of mobile learning programs and explores how these programs address educational needs in the region. It also surveys national and local policies related to mobile learning and analyzes their impact.
The paper reveals that many Latin American governments have sidelined education initiatives that use or call for mobile phones because they have already made substantial investments in one laptop per child (or 1:1) programs. For example, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela all have national and mature 1:1 laptop programs, and many students in these countries use school purchased laptop computers. By contrast, programs employing mobile devices are nascent at best, particularly at the national level.
The paper alludes to debates unfolding in Latin America regarding the cost of mobile learning programs—which use mobile phones and not computers—versus 1:1 laptop programs—which use laptop computers exclusively. Conventional thinking holds that while mobile learning programs might be cheaper to launch (due to the lower prices of mobile handsets), 1:1 laptop programs might be more cost effective over longer periods of time (mainly because laptops do not require on-going subscription fees and are less easily lost).
The paper states that new ICT in education initiatives, if they are to be implemented successfully, require substantial funding. Governments usually need to improve telecommunications infrastructure, purchase and distribute equipment, develop digital content, train teachers, and provide maintenance and technical support.
Given that major efforts are already underway to advance 1:1 laptop programs in Latin America, the paper concludes that many governments “consider their educational ICT agenda to be saturated, and that mobile learning initiatives will need to wait until there is more ‘room.’” Generally, the feeling in the region is that education systems should more or less ignore programs that utilize large numbers of mobile phones until ambitious 1:1 laptop goals (often articulated years ago) have been achieved.
What do you think?
- Are programs that use laptop computers and programs that use mobile phones an either/or proposition?
- Is it redundant or wasteful to have 1:1 laptop programs as well as, for example, a 1:1 mobile phone program?
- How should countries that have made substantial investments in 1:1 laptop programs proceed when considering learning initiatives that call for mobile phones?
The second paper Mobile Learning for Teachers in Latin America: Exploring the Potential of Mobile Technologies to Support Teachers and Improve Practice looks at how mobile devices are being used, or could be used, to support the work of teachers and enhance their professional development.
The paper devotes significant space to contrasting two major initiatives: Bridge IT and EMIA-SMILE. Both seek to improve teaching and learning practices in classrooms. Interestingly though, the initiatives rely on very different approaches. The BridgeIT project focuses heavily on training teachers to plan lessons that employ interactive and student-centred learning activities. Mobile devices—equipped with a library of videos aligned to particular subject curriculums—are provided only to teachers. By contrast, the EMIA-SMILE project gives mobile devices directly to small groups of students in order to direct collaborative and inquiry-based learning. The EMIA-SMILE project is less reliant on teachers and, unlike BridgeIT, does not invest substantial resources training them. Instead, the instructional pedagogy is mostly embedded in the mobile devices themselves.
The paper found that a majority of mobile learning projects ask students to interact directly with handsets and that, generally speaking, this approach is considered effective for promoting experiential learning and building twenty-first century skills. These assumptions, the paper concludes, may explain why the vast majority of mobile learning initiatives in Latin America focus on students rather than teachers as the primary users of mobile technologies.
What do you think?
- Should students as opposed to teachers be the primary end-users of mobile technologies?
- To what extent can instructional methodologies be programed into mobile devices?
- How reliant should mobile learning initiatives be on teachers?
- Is it possible to design a mobile learning project that is “teacher-proof”?
- Is this approach advisable or even desirable?