Robert, a student at Makerere University, juggles between tending his shop in Wakiso and attending lectures. He has missed some tests and classes. On the days that his lecturers miss class, he returns home empty-handed.
But Robert’s troubles could soon be history if his college adopts the m-learning (mobile learning) system currently used by students and lecturers at his university’s school of open and distance learning.
Following the Mobile Learning Object Deployment and Utilisation Framework (MoLODUF), the system links learners to lecturers and administrators. Lecturers are able to assign and grade class assignments and tests to groups and individual students, without being in a classroom environment. Learners, facilitators and administrators can also share information on class events and contacts.
The system was informed by a study carried out by the School of Distance and Lifelong Learning. According to Paul Birevu Muyinda, the lead researcher, the study was meant to inform a system that would help reduce the challenges that long-distance students face in contacting lecturers and fellow learners on class events – the way information is shared on social media platforms such as Facebook.
“Why should someone travel from Gulu to Kampala to get a lecturer’s contact or guidance on writing their research paper?”he asks.
Dr Muyinda explains that the model was first tested with all the final-year distance-learning students doing their research paper in 2007.
According to Dr Muyinda, the survey sampled 435 students and 26 key informants and involved a study visit to the Centre for Educational Technology (CET), at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
The survey studied the use of mobile devices in supporting activities provided by open and distance learning students peer-to-peer learner activities, the capability of learners’ mobile devices what learners used phones for and inaertent mobile learning patterns.
Dr Muyinda’s survey found that about 67 per cent of the distance learning students said they had either given or got information using mobile phones. A further 57 per cent had given or received aice on course works through the system, while about 30 per cent had used mobile devices to give or get guidance on learning materials.
Only 25 per cent had used the same system to access or provide administrative information. This work formed the basis for Muyinda’s doctoral research, after realising that there was inaertent use of mobile devices in learning and seeking information on administrative issues.
“They did not know they were actually using these devices in learning,” says the m-learning expert.
But the team was not certain of what devices the learners could afford and, therefore, what kind of options in which to tailor the system. About 32 per cent of the students had cell phones that supported high-end features such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
However, about 50 per cent of the students had cell phones that lacked these options while the rest (about 18 per cent) were unsure if their devices had these facilities. The findings also revealed that the students’ devices were unable to record and edit videos, audios, and images connect to the internet and install computer applications.
It was on this premise that the team opted for the use of Short Message Service (SMS) since all the phones owned by the respondents could send and receive SMS.
“We opted for the use of SMS technology to include learners with basic phones,” Dr Muyinda explains.
ICT lessons underway at Vienna College
The result was Mobile Learning Object Deployment and Utilisation Model a prototype that earned Muyinda, his PhD in 2012. The system would send a message and a link to the student. The learner would then be required to go to an internet cafeacute to open the link.
But this was still expensive for an average learner. With funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), Muyinda has since modified MoLODUM into MoLODUF.
The newer system has benefitted from the 8004 SMS platform, secured by the Uganda Communications Commission for continuing studies into how to enhance what is now known as m-learning.
The system is now used by students at Makerere’s school of Distance and Lifelong Learning, Gulu and Busitema. It will be rolled out at Makerere University Business School and the Mukono-based Uganda Christian University (UCU).
HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS
According to Dr Muyinda, the system seeks to encourage seamless learning as a way of supplementing conventional classroom learning. A facilitator thus sets a question and broadcasts it on the system.
All the registered members of the class group receive the question which is automatically assigned a code. They can then respond to the question by submitting their answer through the 8004 code, view other people’s responses and critique them while the group secretary can moderate the discussions. Learners can also use the same code to get administrators’ contacts.
WILL THE CLASSROOM BE EXTINCT?
With the trend at which e-learning and m-learning are growing, Dr Muyinda believes that conventional classrooms, could be history.
“Conventional universities, like classrooms are likely to die,” he says. He argues that students, like Robert, are busy and their learning should be supported by mobile devices.
But Dorothy Kyagaba, a lecturer at Makerere’s college of Education and External Studies, urges caution, recommending the blending of mobile learning with classroom activities.
But just how would m-learning work? Dr Muyinda is aware of the challenges of adopting m-learning especially in Uganda where the student-to-teacher ratio is high.
Taking me through an m-learning platform for an online course he is pursuing, Dr Muyinda explains that m-learning requires more time given the large classes. Facilitators have to comment on the threads of discussions and comment on learners’ blogs.
Yet he thinks the challenges can be overcome.
“[If we are to adopt m-learning] we will have to recruit more lecturers and teaching assistants.”
These, he explains, will replace the costs incurred in buying and maintaining a face-to-face learning environment such as furniture.
Source : The Observer