U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says schools and colleges should deliver course content to the cell phones that students use to talk and text every day. Some campus officials are listening, and classes via web-enabled cell phones could be mobile learning’s next evolution.
"Kids are on their cell phones the 14 hours a day they are not in school," Duncan said in a recent interview with eCampus News at Education Department (ED) headquarters in Washington, D.C. With teenagers and young adults using cell phones constantly, Duncan said, technology officials should find ways to send homework, video lectures, and other classroom material so students can study wherever they are.
The first reported use of cell phone-enabled college courses originated at Japan’s Cyber University, which used SmartBank 3G smart phones to deliver electronic course material in November 2007. (See "Next ed-tech frontier: Classes via cell phone.") The 2,000-student university that offers 100 online classes lured students by offering the first course via cell phone free of charge if the student switched providers and bought the SmartBank smart phone.
Some American campuses have joined the classes-via-cell-phone trend, including Louisiana Community & Technical College System and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
Ball State nursing students began using mobile devices last school year, and downloading course material has literally taken a considerable weight off of students’ shoulders. Brandon Campbell, the nursing school’s lead technology services specialist, said electronic nursing manuals accessed on a mobile device replaced a two-foot stack of reading material that students once lugged around from class to class.
Campbell and Kay Hodson-Carlton, coordinator of learning resources and extended education at Ball State’s nursing school, said acceptance of cell phone-based course material was nearly ubiquitous among faculty and students.
"I don’t think we’ve had any real negative push against it or anyone refusing to use it," Campbell said. "The biggest issue is getting the initial faculty buy-in … and we were fortunate our faculty were eager to hop on the bandwagon. I don’t see why [cell phone college courses] couldn’t go nationwide, probably pretty easily."
Ball State’s 800 undergraduate and graduate nursing students are required to buy an AT&T mobile device so they can access lab books, medical dictionaries, diagnosis literature, and other resources throughout the school year. Students can download free updates of course material, but they have to pay for new text editions after that, Hodson-Carlton said. Students pay about $250 for the cell phone-enabled texts, officials said, adding that those course materials can last a student throughout his or her undergraduate studies at the university.
The convenience of nursing manuals via mobile devices has become so appealing at Ball State that professional clinicians at the university often ask nursing students to use their cell phones, Hodson-Carlton said.
"They’ve really caught on," she said.
Louisiana Community & Technical College System became one of the first institutions in the United States to use cell phone-enabled course material when officials unveiled LCTCSOnline in November. The web-based education program was launched in response to spiking enrollment–something seen at two-year schools nationwide this year. The community college system projects a 300-percent jump in enrollment this year.
With development from Pearson Custom Solutions, LCTCS will be able to cater to students without crowding its campuses with tens of thousands of new students, school officials said.
The fact that nearly seven out of 10 Louisianans have cell phones "means there are a large number of individuals to whom we can offer an opportunity to take courses, earn a degree, and have better quality of life in a more convenient way," said LCTCS President Joe D. May.
Duncan’s advocacy for cell phone use in higher education comes as smart phones–iPhones, Blackberrys, and other devices that can access the internet–become more common in college lecture halls. A Ball State University study released in April showed that 27 percent of 300 college students polled owned a smart phone, compared with 19 percent of the general population.
"Smart phones, which are simply minicomputers that often feature touch-screen applications, are popular with college students because the larger screens allow for more entertainment uses," said Michael Hanley, an assistant professor in the university’s journalism school and leader of Ball State’s mobile communications research program. "I think the communications industry will build on this popularity among technology-savvy young people, adding more types of emerging media applications."
Hanley, who called the emergence of smart phones in college a "game changer," said his twice-annual surveys of students’ cell phone use has shown that young adults use the devices constantly. Fifty-nine percent of students said they keep in touch with family and friends via text message, and cell phone camera usage has jumped from 4 percent in 2005 to 39 percent this year, according to Ball State statistics.