Students in rural Nkayi learn with iPads under a research model

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Students at Mpumelelo learning with iPads. Image from mobile learning zone

Students at Mpumelelo learning with iPads. Image from mobile learning zone

An ongoing pilot mobile learning research in rural Nkayi at Mpumelelo School is testing the potential of iPads in the classroom.

Under the pilot research twenty Apple iPads running iOS 5.1 were made available to both selected teachers and students at the school. The teachers helped the students develop different usage scenarios of the devices. This included using apps that visualize mathematical equations and apps that animate tectonic changes.

This pilot project is being headed by Professor Urs Gröhbiel and Christoph Pimmer of the University of Northwestern Switzerland.
Professor Urs Gröhbiel presented a paper based on this pilot study at the just ended UNESCO Mobile Learning Week held in Paris, France that was entitled Changing the role of teachers by integrating mobile technology in a rural school in Zimbabwe. A reflection on in the light of UNESCO policy guidelines.


Below are excerpts of the interview between this writer and Professor Urs Gröhbiel on his research done two days ago.
Mobile Learning Zone : Firstly can you please tell us more about yourself?
Urs Gröhbiel: I’m professor for Knowledge Management and e-Learning at the University of Northwestern Switzerland and responsible for development and cooperation.
As a proud father of four “kids” (14-25 years old) I’m used to discuss different ideas, how mobile devices can or should be used in many different ways.

Mobile Learning Zone: During the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week you presented a paper entitled “Changing the role of teachers by integrating mobile technology in a rural school in Zimbabwe. A reflection on in the light of UNESCO policy guidelines” It is this presentation you made that I would want to know more about as this project was really interesting and inspiring to me. Can you tell us what was the format or fashion of this project?
Urs Gröhbiel: We had the chance to try out the use of iPads at Mpumulelo School near Nkayi. It was great to develop different usage scenarios together with the teachers. In pilot lessons they tested several apps in class, for example a visualiser of mathematical equations, animations of tectonic changes or anatomy and other apps.

Mobile Learning Zone : How did the school students respond to these technologies?
Urs Gröhbiel : They were very keen to use the devices. I was surprised how quickly they got a good handle on the tablet computers and the apps.

Mobile Learning Zone : There isn’t much online content for Zimbabwean students, what kind of apps or sites where the students using?
Urs Gröhbiel : Apart from the apps I’ve mentioned above we experimented with  apps on Geography, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Mail, Keynote, Pages, Dropbox, Map Program, Calculator,  iUniversity with a few subjects, a few books on iBooks, Good Reader and others. It was also important to us to show the teachers how they can research for apps and information on the WWW for their preparation and presentations in class.

Of course we animated some teachers and kids outside of class also to experiment with Piano (they liked it the most), CBB Creative Book Builder, a whiteboard, Chess and other games. We also found out that there is a lot of important information in ZIMSEC that we would like the teachers and kids to access in the future.
The selection and development of adequate content will be a major challenge in the further development of mobile learning.

Mobile Learning Zone: Were the teachers at Mpumelelo able to use these digital gadgets?
Urs Gröhbiel::Oh yes, most of them were very IT savvy!

Mobile Learning Zone : What are some of the key findings you found out?
Urs Gröhbiel: We’ve learned a lot during these five days! Some of the many preliminary findings we’ve made is that mobile devices have a great potential to support individual and collaborative learning in and outside of the classroom. Teachers and students can access a lot of information and practice more intensively after a teacher presentation. After this short pilot outreach I’m encouraged to develop

Mobile Learning Zone : What happened to the iPads when the project ended. Did they remain with the school?
Urs Gröhbiel: The school has kept the iPads to continue to use them in different settings. Two pedagogical students from Switzerland and two IT-students from India will evaluate these activities this coming summer and develop recommendations on how to use the tablets in the future.

Mobile Learning Zone In Zimbabwe older inventions like electricity at times bring all these latest technologies like iPads out of use, what was your power plan during your project?
Urs Gröhbiel::We didn’t have any problems in this area. I think that solar power is an interesting (still expensive) option to supply power for mobile devices that we should consider in the future.

Mobile Learning Zone What were the specs of the iPads and how many did you use for this project?
20 iPads (first generation, without camera) with iOS 5.1

Mobile Learning Zone : Prof Ur can you tell us how the presentation you did about this research was received at the Mobile Learning Week?
Urs Gröhbiel::We got many very encouraging feedback and questions from funding agencies, project leaders and researchers.

Mobile Learning Zone : Still on Mobile Learning Week can you please tell us any interesting stuff that happened at the Mobile Learning Week, I was following on twitter but as someone who was there I think you can give us a few more highlights.
Urs Gröhbiel::The Mobile Learning Week as a whole was a highlight – it was great to meet up with many people from all over the world and discuss the advancement of mobile learning!

Mobile Learning Zone It was good talking to you, anything else you would want to say?
Urs Gröhbiel : I’d like to encourage young people in Zimbabwe to use mobile devices and also to contribute to the development of apps and learning content.

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