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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Smartphone Science Class


Taking a course on a smartphone? It's not as far-fetched as it may seem. In fact, K-12 schools have been utilizing mobile devices for several years now to take photos, collect information, and then instant-message classmates, or post to discussion boards. However, the practice can certainly be expanded to be incorporated in home school distance education courses, or college-level courses. Communication can take place through phone, e-mail, and instant messenger, as well as via the web. The smartphone's media player functionality can be used for movie clips and mp3s, while the photo capabilities can be used to collect, record, and share data. It even contains an FM radio, so students can listen to radio programs. Finally, photos and logs can be shared through blog or Flickr.

Smartphone courses can be launched with virtually no special programming, and without a learning management system. The instructional content would consist of the following:

1. Audio files to listen to.
2. Text. Basic learning objectives, guiding questions, information that is sent via e-mail, instant messenger, or posted to blog.
3. Instructor-generated image files to review and to serve as models.
4. Student images uploaded or e-mailed to each other, with tags. These could be assignments.
5. Student audio / voice files. These would be left on the instructor's voice mail. These could also be posted on audioblogger and shared by classmates.
6. Student e-mail / blog entries.

Typical Week's Work:

1. Instructor sends out e-mail. "This Week's Assignment." It arrives in e-mail. It contains a link to audio files. The student listens to the instructor describe the learning objectives and concepts.

2. Link to reading. Connect to text and/or websites, for course content.

3. Instructor sends sample image / photo. Students will be asked to take their own photos. For example, photograph a sedimentary rock. Identify it. Then, send it to classmates, or post it in a blog.

4. Instructor sends instructions for writing assignment. This can be in the form of a discussion board, or observations. For example, students are asked to find an example of erosion. They can photograph it, then describe it. How has erosion happened? What are the processes? The instructor could provide guiding questions.

5. Instructor sends audio file or link to an audio file (mp3). Students listen, then respond / post their own. One option is to use audioblogger. For example, students can describe the impact of torrential rain on a slope that has been deforested.

What has been presented here is a very basic idea, but it at least gives one the awareness that such methods are possible. It is even possible for home school instructors to implement lesson using smartphones, particularly if there is a network of other homeschoolers who are working on the same unit. Using the smartphone encourages interaction, community, and internalization of the course content.

Recommended smartphone: Nokia N70
It is around $500, which is pretty expensive, but it can serve as mp3 player, digital camera, telephone, and e-mail / browser. Given the multiple functionalities, the long-term cost could be a bit less than buying all the devices separately. Granted, one sacrifices functionality, but that it may be well worth it.


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