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Colleges embrace MP4 technology for delivering instruction

University Alliance promotes live chats, streaming lecture video, and message boards through students’ mobile devices

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The Droid phone is one mobile device enabling students to study anywhere.

The Droid phone is one mobile device enabling students to study anywhere.

Four universities are giving students the chance to complete certificate and degree programs by downloading class material to mobile devices like iPhones and iPods in a distance-learning initiative that one day could be commonplace in higher education.

The University Alliance, one of the country’s largest online education facilitators, announced earlier this month that students enrolled in web-based courses at Villanova University, the University of San Francisco, Tulane University, and the University of Notre Dame will be able to watch course lectures in MP4 video format on their mobile devices.

Besides the popular Apple devices, students also can download streaming lectures to their Droid phones and BlackBerries, among other devices.

Education technology advocates say learning via mobile device marks the next step beyond distance courses on a desktop or laptop computer—technology that isn’t always portable.

The Alliance’s mobile learning program also comes in the midst of an economic downturn that has millions of unemployed or underemployed Americans looking to supplement their resumes with online education as opposed to traditional classroom lessons.

Villanova University, for example, has long offered MP3 audio downloads for students earning degrees online. But students there said video lectures on their pocket-sized mobile devices fit a lifestyle increasingly common among working students.

“I am always on the go, so the ability to download my classes onto my iPod and BlackBerry is perfect for my busy schedule,” said Dafe Ojaide, a working student in one of Villanova’s web-based programs.

The rise of mobile learning was outlined in the New Media Consortium’s 2010 Horizon Report, an annual prediction of higher-education technology trends in the next five years. (See “Report details coming trends in campus technology.”)

Mobile computing will gain traction in colleges and universities within the next year, according to the report, largely owing to advances in mobile technology and an array of educational web applications.

“Users increasingly expect anytime, anywhere access to data and services that not very long ago were available only while sitting in front of a computer linked to the network via a cable,” the Horizon report says, adding that cost also will be a factor in the acceptance of mobile learning technology. “An ever more common pattern is for people to look to mobile computing platforms as their device of choice, as they are often far cheaper than desktop or laptop computers.”

Research universities are not the only institutions looking to make mobile learning commonplace among web-based students. Houston Community College last year used a $100,000 grant to buy students iPhones and pay their monthly bills for a semester so they could use the device in their biology class.

The University Alliance’s use of MP4 technology lets students interact with peers and faculty members on shared virtual whiteboard spaces using two-way voice over IP.

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