For the past decade, handheld devices with mobile and wireless capabilities have emerged as the next promising generation of technology for teaching and learning. Today, handheld devices such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), portable gaming devices, and tablet PCs have already become pervasive in daily lives of students. With this trend, there has been increased interest as to how mobile technologies can be used to enhance teaching and learning. One of the challenges for educators is to examine how we can use the new innovations of mobile technologies to create learning experiences that are often limited in traditional classroom environments. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to provide innovative and practical applications of mobile technologies in a variety of educational contexts, including from K-12 to higher education and informal learning.
Types And Characteristics
In this section, a few types of promising mobile technologies and their characteristics are described. A mobile phone is a portable communication device. Besides a basic communication service, current mobile phones offer a variety of services, including: (a) sending and receiving text messages, (b) reading e-mails, (c) browsing the Web, and (d) taking and sending photos. In particular, a recent High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), which delivers “peak rates of 14 Mbps and average throughput rates close to 1 Mbps” (Rysavy, 2004, p. 4), supports even more demanding services such as video conferencing calls and rich multimedia applications.
PDAs (e.g., Palm Pilot and Window Pocket PC), featured as a small-sized touch screen and stylus, are relatively small, light, and cheap compared to other mobile technologies. While PDAs have been primarily used for organizing schedules, taking quick notes, managing a list of contacts, and checking e-mails, they have also been the most popular handheld device for mobile learning. In recent years, the capabilities of PDAs have been expanded with a built-in voice recorder, camera, MP3 player, wireless connection, and increased memory. As such, people are looking for more applications of PDAs for teaching and learning than before.
A laptop computer is equivalent to a desktop computer in terms of functionalities, but is superior to a desktop computer in terms of portability (Yang, 2005). However, there are limitations to using a laptop computer for education due to its relatively high cost and relatively short battery life compared to other mobile devices.
Tablet PCs have a touch screen which is much larger than that of PDAs, and are lighter and slimmer than laptop computers. Like PDAs, people can directly write on the touch screen of a tablet PC with a stylus. Besides this basic feature, tablet PCs offer a variety of features, including “note taking facilities, text searching, document annotation, and speech recognition” (Sharples & Beale, 2003, p. 395). They are generally categorized into two types: 1) slate models which come without keyboards, and 2) convertible models which come with an attached keyboard (Van West, 2005). A keyboard and a mouse can be also used with slate models via USB cable or wireless connection. Therefore, tablet PCs can be used like laptop computers.
The commonalities of these wireless mobile technologies are portability, connectivity, and versatility. They enable learning to be ubiquitous in and out of classrooms, provide potential opportunities for collaborative learning, and enrich learning experiences with the support of technologies. Figure 1 below shows a mobility continuum in terms of learning, system, and communication. As learning moves from individual to collaborative, the mobility of learning devices is increasing. Accordingly, it necessitates more decentralized technology systems supporting many to many communication. For instance, participatory simulations (Colella, 2000) as a type of collaborative learning requires mobile devices that allow communication channels and input systems among multiple learners. The next section discusses four types of applications of mobile technologies along this mobility continuum: (a) mobile individual learning, (b) classroom communication systems, (c) mobile computer-supported collaborative learning, and (d) participatory simulation.