In a few short days, the impact these mobile devices have had on the students at Nangwanda Secondary School has been profound. 97% of these students never touched a mobile phone before this week, but now their mechanical functioning of the phones increases exponentially every day. And they just love using these devices! They are highly engaged and you can see their minds transforming right before your eyes as they attempt to solve new problems in new ways.
The smartphones we are using have the Blackboard Mobile Learn application installed along with content developed by Stanford University and the Seeds of Empowerment team. The mobile learning exercises developed by the research team allow us to measure the cognitive functioning and technological aptitude of the students.
As our team has already experienced several times this week, the loss of electricity is a huge challenge here in Newala. This is one major reason mobile technologies, which are easily portable and energy-efficient, will be so important in advancing education in the developing regions of the world. Companies, such as Blackboard, must think of out of the box ways to tackle this and other issues that we don’t usually face. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Since the Blackboard Mobile Learn application is a web-based platform, we are using a specially designed decentralized ad-hoc network solution that doesn’t require an existing internet connection. That means that even when the internet connection is unstable (or non-existent like it is here), the application can still function by connecting to the server sitting right here in this classroom and not one that is hosted in another location.
We will continue to test and refine this model, but for this school and this number of users, this configuration has worked great so far. And that is a promising sign!