As Nigerians take steps to explore Mobile Learning, a form of Tele-Education, SAMSON ECHENIM writes on the need to ensure that the programme is successful.
With about 74 million telephone subscribers in Nigeria, a significant fraction of whom are students, educationists at the tertiary level have begun to look for means of creating local applications that would enable mobile learning in the country‘s universities and polytechnics to enhance development.
This formed the basis for a three-day workshop titled, ”Mobile Learning for Development,” organised for software developers and lecturers by Datasphir, an Information and Communications Technology company that is focused on working within the education sector.
The workshop, held between March 1 and March 3, 2010, was facilitated by two ICT researchers from the London Knowledge Lab, United Kingdom, Mr Yishay Mor and Mr Niall Winters.
While speaking with our correspondent, Mor said the forward thinking nature of Nigerian educators in the United Kingdom had shown that if Nigerians had the opportunity to take local technology forward, the country could be a forefront of educational technology.
Mor, who noted that a lot of technology resources were available in Nigeria for free, said how to express the need for technological innovations and how to find the right tools with which to implement them posed major barriers.
He said, ”Opening the people‘s minds to the idea that they can take control of their technological environment and that they can use existing tools in innovative ways to support the learning needs of their students is the first step to take.
”This means that there must be a shift from a consumer mentality- where you think. That you can only buy or make do with what is given to you, to a designing mentality-that is the ability to say this is what I need, I am going to create what I need. That is the capacity to inspire change.”
The Director, Datasphir, Mr. Owen Iyoha, said with mobile technology becoming ubiquitous, it was necessary to indulge in new ways of having students learn and exchange course materials using locally developed mobile applications made to suit their learning environment.
He said the challenge, however, was how to design such applications.
He added that apart from trying to use technologies that had been designed for other environments, there was the need to look at ways of designing mobile applications pertinent to learning in Nigeria and in Africa.
He said, ”Rather than building on already existing applications, there is a need for us to begin to find ways of creating applications that are relevant to our own learning environment.
”It can be quite disheartening to know that Nigerians buy much of the best blackberry phones available in the world, but they do not know up to five per cent of their functions and so many other things they can be used for apart from the basics.
”So, we are beginning by getting educators who are the determinants of how these applications should look like and applications developers to sit down and understand the elementary process, design method and framework that are required to come up with applications designs for building these solutions on mobile phones.”
He said the educationists were not the ones to build the applications, but would advise the application developers on the students, learning needs as well as provide the designs to know what they wanted.
Indeed, it is high time Nigerians and of course, Africans took the bull by the horn in taking charge of their future in every sphere of Information and Communications Technology. The step taken by Datasphir is, therefore, necessary and cannot be less timely.
Tele-Education with all its regular innovation is creating new environment for training, learning and interactive discussions. It is opening path for transforming the way we live, act, think, learn and communicate. Barrier due to distance is vanishing to provide various lectures/courses in far-flung areas for the benefit and development of people across the region or continents.
In the current scenario, experts believe that Tele-Education is important for the under-developed and developing countries as it has the potential to expose the student for the multifarious learning experiences and opportunities that challenge and maximise learning potential.
Here, the learner has to take the responsibility of learning effectively and has to prepare himself for better interaction with the teacher during the session.
The ultimate aim of Tele-Education system is to transform the student community from reactive to interactive and from interactive to proactive and make them ignited. It serves as an excellent medium to develop capacity building for the region where education through electronic means can promote the well-being and development of the people.
While Nigerians watch events in this direction unfold, the Chief Executive Officer, Datasphir, Mr. Omo Oaiya‘s optimism that once the developers are able to have the education practitioners deliver the design and framework of the application, they will be able to build them locally, brings some hope.
Oaiya said, ”Here in Nigeria, there is so much we cannot do if we rely solely on our laptops because we do not have regular power supply. But with our phones, we can do so much while mobile.
”We are also catering for all the local challenges that we face to come up with solutions that are appropriate for our environment. But those solutions should be coming from the practitioners, not the software developers.”