Smart phones as tools of education
There has been a surge of technological progress in the last decade that has swept the entire world, bringing about massive change in the life of human beings. The cause is the advent of computers, followed by internet, followed by cell phones. The basic human need for communication is so intense that every new invention, new discovery is harnessed for communication purposes. The concept of a tiny portable phone that can be carried anywhere and serves the purpose of communicating directly with anyone anywhere was just what human beings wanted to support their instinct. With added values like radio, songs, messaging, the little device became a marvel. Further development in technology added more and more features to this device and today, we have a smart phone version becoming smarter day by day. The current smartphone is like a mini computer with internet facility, connecting an individual to the entire world. It is like a wireless live wire in the pocket or handbag. It is like a detached organ of the human body, trying to find its place within. With various apps and social media channels, it has succeeded in engaging human beings as nothing else till date. When young or old alike are obsessed with the little wonder-phone, why not tap it for positive purposes like a tool for education? The aim of this article is to discuss the use of smartphones as tools of education.
Multi-functionality, portability, connectivity and storage capacity are the features that allow a smartphone to be used as a tool of education. The functions include special mobile friendly software called apps, messaging facility, email facility and internet browsing. Connectivity implies connection with other people in the world via telephone, voice message, typed visual message ( SMS), audio/video message (MMS), email and social media channels that are all supported by the internet connection. Smartphones also have a memory which can be expanded by inserting an SD card. Smartphone has a built-in camera and the ability to crop the photograph and make changes. Now let us see how these features can be applied for educational purposes. Smartphones have built-in calendars and calculators which are also useful to students. Google maps are useful for subjects like Geography.
Smartphones have built-in features but what make them smarter are apps. Students studying a particular course together can form groups on Whatsapp and exchange examination dates, important instructions, deadlines for formalities, assignment questions and many other things. They can discuss topics by chatting together. They can share typed matter as well as images. Notes can be transferred from mobile phones to PCs or laptops. If students forget something at home, they can access it by using the Team viewer app. Instead of taking notes in the class, students can use an app called Recordroid for creating audio recorded notes which can be sent to computers and viewed later when they have time. myHomework is an app that lists home assignments and gives deadline alerts. If students find something very useful on the Internet but do not have the time to read it they can get Instapaper. This app turns any webpage into readable offline content, so students would be able to read it later, even without an Internet connection.
Internet on smartphones enables students to find meanings of words in dictionaries, quick translations on Google, books, references and of course information on every topic under the sun via search engines. Students can order books or stationary items online and get home delivery. Special apps are available for students. At times, students can use the camera for getting pictures of notice boards. They can get photographs of places and objects when they go on study tours, visit museums etc. They can also record lectures and listen to them later.
Smartphones are smart teaching tools as well. Teachers belonging to one institution form Whatsapp groups. They too can exchange messages and information or browse the net for additional information on a topic. Sometimes, a teacher teaching a particular subject forms a group for all the students. Teachers can send assignments and projects, important instructions and communicate with students. Students can also ask questions to teachers. All these activities have no norms of time or day. Sundays and holidays, day and night, messages and mails flash from person to person incessantly. Teachers and students can share files by using drop box or Google drive. Home assignments can be submitted to teachers through file sharing. Eyenote app is useful to teachers for file-sharing. Calculators on phones can help teachers to prepare results. "Compared to textbooks and lecture notes which can be considered static, apps can be made dynamic as they incorporate animations, real-life videos, audio and interactivity (touch and response). Apps allow customised and subjective learning" (Tan &Teo 55-75)
Some apps are specially designed for teachers. Margins app allows teachers to prepare class notes easily and quickly. Teachers can download the Personal Attendant app that records to-do lists and helps to prepare lesson plans. With the Attendance countdown app. teachers can track and record attendance of students. The all-purpose TeacherKit app turns a teacher's smartphone into a full-fledged personal digital assistant. It is able to record the grades of students, rank the students according to their grades, keep track of their attendance, and anything else a teacher needs. With Flashcard Deluxe and FlashcardMaker Pro, teachers can download a huge number of flashcards for classroom teaching. The Wolfram Alpha app is a kind of search engine. Teachers can search for questions with readymade answers and charts and graphs for various subjects. Nortcliffe et al. (2011) discuss the tutor use of smartphone audio apps for giving intrinsic and extrinsic feedback and found that students appreciated feedback given this way.(Woodcock, Middleton and Nortcliffe)
Parents of children studying in the same class form groups and make wise use of Whatsapp. The pre-condition is of course that the concerned smartphone user must have entrance to the internet and must have the essential apps installed in the phones. Parents can also communicate with teachers and vice versa.
Until now, smartphones were restricted to higher education; there are several disciplinary issues that prevent smaller children from possessing smartphones. However, researchers predict a bright future for smartphones in the educational sector. "Within five years every child in every grade in every K-12 classroom in America is using a mobile learning device. Research can be contributed by informing and shaping the implementation of these mobile technologies." (Norris, Smolka and Soloway 268).Smartphones are new in the area of Distance education. Researchers are trying to find ways of implementing smartphone technology for distance education.
Smartphones are lightweight, portable, energy saving, and low cost. Smartphones are indeed powerful learning tools but many students are not aware of the power that they hold in their fists. A smartphone is nothing less than a mini computer. With a number of personalized apps, it is transformed into a very useful gadget. Smartphones help to bridge the gap between teachers and students. More apps for learning teaching activities will be developed in the future. Every gadget has advantages and disadvantages. Users must be discrete and smart to turn smartphones into powerful educational tools.