What are Mobiles?


Mobiles as a category have proven more interesting and more capable with each passing year. The mobile market today has more than 4 billion subscribers, more than two-thirds of whom live in developing countries. Well over a billion new phones are produced each year, a flow of continuous enhancement and innovation that is unprecedented in modern times. The fastest-growing sales segment belongs to smart phones — which means that a massive and increasing number of people all over the world now own and use a computer that fits in their hand and is able to connect to the network wirelessly from virtually anywhere. Tens of thousands of applications designed to support a wide range of tasks on virtually any smart-phone operating system are readily available, with more entering the market all the time. These mobile computing tools have become accepted aids in daily life, giving us on-the-go access to a wide range of tools for business, video/audio capture and basic editing, sensing and measurement, geolocation, social networking, personal productivity, references, just-in-time learning — indeed, virtually anything that can be done on a desktop — and arguably more.

In developed countries, it is quite common for young people to carry their own mobile devices. In the upper grades, it is not at all unusual, indeed commonplace, to find schools in which every student carries a mobile, even if they are not allowed to use them during class. The unprecedented evolution of these devices continues to generate great interest, and their increasing capabilities make them more useful with each new generation of devices. The ability to run third-party applications represents a fundamental change in the way we regard mobiles and opens the door to a myriad of uses for education, entertainment, productivity, and social interaction.


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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Connecting content to the real world, cell phones as classroom clickers, Animoto, Evernote Research, Google Voice. (See Pages 10-11 for more details.) http://issuu.com/iste-sigilt/docs/fall_newsletter-_2009- jan.morrison jan.morrison Feb 4, 2010
  • Using tools status-updating programs like twitter to help parents know what is going on in the classroom or support youth to publicly self-reflect. Down the road if youth trust youth to have them within schools it should be there access to the internet and all it offers at a personal level - e.g. research, group coordinating, etc. - bjoseph bjoseph Feb 5, 2010
  • - guus.wijngaards guus.wijngaards Feb 6, 2010 The growing importance of the use of mobiles in developing countries: The 2009 ITU Development Index, Measuring the Information Society - shows that two-thirds of the world's cell phone subscriptions are in developing nations. Mobile penetration among youth seems to be higher than one might suspect. What this might mean for the delivery of education in developing countries is quite unclear.
    Example: text2teach project in the Philippines (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20090319-194940/Teachers-now-using-Text2Teach-technology) which provides a way for teachers to request educational videos via text message, with the videos delivered to a television at the school via satellite.
  • Mobile technology brings the ability to work on the computer in any classroom, and even out of the classroom, on transportation or clubs or other places that students are beyond the school, if you think about smartphones. With the advance of smartphones, people who live in remote places where it would be very hard to take the internet with optic cables, now can have access through cell phone technology (thinking of places in the Amazon for example). - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 6, 2010
  • Mobile technology places learning in the hands of the student. That automatically shifts the locus of control from the teacher to the student. - alice.owen alice.owen Feb 7, 2010
  • Mobile devices that can be used for education clearly transform the experience in time and place. this is their most important impact I believe. There is much discussion about extended learning time, though not much money to pay for it or inclination on the part of the adults in education to pursue it. Mobile devices will enable extended learnign time. Of course, inasmuch as the form factor facilitates teaching and learning through rich multi-media, social networking and user created content, it can also be transformational over the static methods of teaching and learning that are currently bound by classroom seat time today. However, I would hasten to say that the ultraportable cell phone is probably not the best answer in education as the screen size is too limiting. Tablets, netbooks, etc. woudl seem better equipped for interactive reading and multi-media. - chris.brown chris.brown Feb 8, 2010
  • Of all of the 'topics' for discussion on the Horizon wiki here, this is the one of the most interest and relevance here at the World Bank. For us, ICTs = mobile phones in most communities. Most of the populations that we deal with that are not yet 'connected' will in all probability have their first experience using the Internet through a mobile phone of some sort. Mobile penetration is very high in our target populations, especially among teachers. Even in many poor communities in developing countries, youth access to a mobile phone is much higher than many people might believe, http://tinokreutzer.org/mobile/. This is an emerging area of research interest for us, http://go.worldbank.org/2Y63OQHOG0. We are currently mapping projects in developing countries using mobile phones (for lack of a better term) and hope to have this to share in time for next year's Horizon report. - michael.trucano michael.trucano Feb 8, 2010
  • I agree with an earlier statement that mobiles bring computer and internet access to students in and out of the classroom. Several schools in my district are currently experimenting with the itouch as a means to improve literacy and vocabulary.- marisa.hartling marisa.hartling Feb 9, 2010
  • There's great potential for democratising educational innovation across first and third worlds (as Michael points out) - perhaps the biggest barrier here in the UK will be that people are used to associating access to computing power with access to a desktop. The mobile games market is well-established now with clear and varied business models, which makes it possible for learning games to be a practical consideration on this platform - stephen.breslin stephen.breslin Feb 10, 2010



(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Smart phone will be used by educators for student assessment, in real time, and might become sophisticated enough that it marks publicly available on a profile that notifies the youth of the change on their OWN smartphone, making assessment more formative, real-time and game-like. - bjoseph bjoseph Feb 5, 2010
  • I know the traditional term is mobile devices but more and more I'm thinking of these devices as "cloud devices". They really aren't full computers and they can't do everything, but they are designed to use and access the cloud where more and more of the action is. - tammy.stephens tammy.stephens Feb 5, 2010 - ninmah ninmah Feb 8, 2010 - chris.brown chris.brown Feb 9, 2010
  • There are dedicated researchers who have been designing interactive curriculum for collaborative devices (used to be PDAs, now smartphones). These activities use the devices to have students investigate a science problem, for example, and it can only be accomplished if they work in a shared environment that is accessed through their interfaces. See http://sitemaker.umich.edu/hice/home. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 6, 2010
  • I would add that I think this is not just about smart phones but also would include netbooks and other mobile devices that have yet to be invented. - alice.owen alice.owen Feb 7, 2010 iPad! - ninmah ninmah Feb 8, 2010 Agree strongly! - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 9, 2010- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 9, 2010
  • I guess I would add the theme that these are essentially multi-purpose devices and as such, they eliminate the need for other devices. As learning devices, they would not be cell-phones but something with a larger screen - perhaps tablets as many think. This is for the individual (and schools) very economical and also disruptive to some industries like PCs, software, and publishing etc. But, because they are multi-purpose and hence, flexible, they become the individual's portal so to speak to many other computing services and features offered by other devices and organizations besides the mobile maker. For example, we know that RFID in K12 has not gone over well, in part because of cost and in part because of privacy concerns. However, one can imagine a day not far off when a school issues mobile devices to teachers and students that include the now common gps functionality. While the device is mainly used as a learning device, it also allows the school to know where the child is on campus because of other software and/or hardware it interacts with. This type of multi-function, flexible device is potentially very attractive to schools on lean budgets, but price points must come down to the $200 range probably.- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 8, 2010
  • For me, the link between this category and three others on the horizon list -- augmented reality (for which it will be the most relevant device), cloud computing (the most relevant access point) and digital identity (linking of online and off-line self, especially as it is physically near to its user almost 100% of the time) -- is extremely important, and potentially profound. - michael.trucano michael.trucano Feb 8, 2010- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 9, 2010
  • Mobile devices are much more intimate and personal than other technologies, and this has implications for the way schools manage to use them: institutional attitudes towards ownership of devices and their efforts to keep them separate from young people's lives aren't going to be constructive - stephen.breslin stephen.breslin Feb 10, 2010

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • As students start to bring their smartphones to the classroom, teachers will have to choose to either use them and let students be more active in their learning process, or ban them, having to spend a lot of time on disciplinary actions (usually with little success). This will help take teachers out of their comfort zone and have to rethink their role and the role of their students in the classroom. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 6, 2010
  • Two things that challenge mobile use in K-12 are: 1) There is still a GAP of all our students having access to this mobile technology. 2) Current education policy does not allow use of mobiles in instruction. It seems that instead to taking the initiative to teach students how to use technologies responsibly it is easier to ban or block.
  • As students begin to bring personal devices to school, are we ready to open up our networks to them? - alice.owen alice.owen Feb 7, 2010
  • I don't equate mobiles with cell phones, but rather, with multi-purpose devices, which cell phones today actually are. The form factor most appropriate for education in my view is a netbook or tablet type device with a larger screen, 3/4G and/or wifi. K12 schools have always been concerned with equal access for very good reasons. In this case, as price points come down on these devices (let's say to $200 of 3G and wifi netbooks by 2012), many schools will be able to issue them to all teachers and students. I expect this will be far more widespread, combined with cloud management of educational technology programs and services than the model of knitting together multiple student owned devices (which is a management nightmare and creates uneven representation of content/experience). I hope and expect that a school issued, relatively cheap, vanilla, multi-purpose mobile device will finally be in most students hands by the middle fo this decade. With a host of available back-end software and services, this will facilitate personalized teaching and learning in a big way, incorporating user-generated content+apps.- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 8, 2010
  • For me, the two most profound attributes of the 'mobile phone' for learning is that it is a personal device (i.e. only one person uses it, and it is usually with that person), and that it enables 'anytime, anywhere' access to educational activities (information resources, people, circulation of user-generated content of any sort). - michael.trucano michael.trucano Feb 8, 2010
  • The idea of security seems to be the largest obstacle. - marisa.hartling marisa.hartling Feb 9, 2010
  • The cell phone or smartphone device with simple texting capability may be the most revolutionaly communications device ever, at least for today's generation of students. Putting one of these devices in the hands of every student with a structure where we can support the students and provide just-in-time learning assistance on a 24x7x365 basis seems like a winning proposal IMHO. - jeffrey.bajgot jeffrey.bajgot Feb 9, 2010
  • There's huge scope for this technology to support efforts to personalise learning and to recognise student voice, leveraging the depth to which they're currently embedded in young people's lives - stephen.breslin stephen.breslin Feb 10, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • I know a kindergarden teacher who tweets about what the youth are doing, and one where youth process their day through twitter. I know a project at U. of Wisc developing apps for phones for teachers to use for youth assessment. - bjoseph bjoseph Feb 5, 2010
  • The University of Michigan, which I already mentioned (link above). Some schools here in Brazil already send parents messages using SMS, and twitter (we have the school news on twitter, as well as the Science news - connected with the blogs). Students can access those on their cell phones if they wish to do so. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 6, 2010
  • http://mlearnopedia.com/component/option,com_news_portal/Itemid,152/ - tammy.stephens tammy.stephens Feb 6, 2010
  • Irving ISD has a program for our migrant students called "Academic Travelers" where we provide a netbook with wifi connectivity so they can access their schoolwork no matter where they end up living.
  • SMS notifications of exam results are increasingly found in many developing countries (e.g. Uganda, Kenya, India). - michael.trucano michael.trucano Feb 8, 2010
  • One of the most comprehensive treatments of this topic (including examples) in education in developing countries to date can be found in Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training, full PDF download of this book at http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120155. We have featured a number of prominent examples on the World Bank's EduTech blog, http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/category/tags/mobile-phones. - michael.trucano michael.trucano Feb 8, 2010
  • When we stop equating mobile only with cell phones, many examples of one to one are available to us.- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 9, 2010
Please share information about related projects in our Horizon K-12 Project form.