May 20th, 2008

Cell Phones have easily surpassed Bubble Gum as the accessory posing the biggest nuisance for educators across the world. But will Android and the open source mobile movement change that?

An MIT professor says yes: “Its portability, context sensitivity, connectivity, and ubiquity… would make it ideal for learning games from elementary school all the way through college.”

That professor is Eric Klopfer and in his recently authored book, Smart Mobs, he argues that, “mobile learning will have roles where it is preferred in education’s future.”

Preferred. That’s right. Forgot your Android phone little Johnny? Don’t have your iPhone little miss Cindy? DETENTION! Alright, perhaps we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves but lets stop to think about the SIMPLEST way that phones could be integrated into the classroom….

The Calculator.

When Google announced the Top 50 Applications, there didn’t seem to be any distinctly education-based application winners. And in the comments, one user seems to be peddling his own version of an (non-winning) Android calculator – HandyCalc. From the video below, you can see that it does indeed pull off a lot of the same tricks a scientific calculator can:

So why didn’t it make the cut? Well, if you’ve taken a Calculus course in the past decade, you’d know that a must have to complete pretty much any assignment begins with two letters – TI – as in the Texas Instruments scientific calculators that rule the industry. Yup… the same Texas Instruments that is a member of the Open Handset Alliance.

If Texas Instruments isn’t one of the 4 undisclosed ADC winners – they may not have even entered due to the obvious conflict of interest – you can guarantee they are at least working on a calculator application. They would be certifiably insane NOT to have something in the works. Why? We’re glad you asked.

Even the somewhat aged TI-83 calculator runs about $100 at Amazon.com. If you’re a parent looking for a phone for your teen, would you rather have to buy your kid a TI-83 and a seperate cell phone or one single (Android) device that doubles as a phone and graphing calculator? There ya go… Android just saved you $100.

Actually, this could be troublesome for Texas Instruments as their line of TI calculators have become a brand juggernaut and huge revenue generator while competitors are eager to offer open source (and free) alternatives. Sure, they’re listed as part of the OHA for being, “a leading manufacturer of wireless semiconductors,” and not for their calculator prowess, but we think you get the point (or ray, or line segment).

That potential $100 savings is just the tip of the iceberg. A calculator application itself doesn’t utilize the tools inherent in Android that could be the most valuable for educators. Combining the growing multimedia capabilities of mobile devices with user interaction, and real time news/data could provide an outstanding platform for educational tools across all ages and areas of study.

Unfortunately, the proliferation of mobile devices as learning tools will be hindered by two main factors:

  1. the digital divide
  2. the total convergence of mobile

The widening gap between the haves and have-nots is already a sore subject in education. Sure, use your Android graphing calculator if you have one, but facilitating an entire class with a prerequisite of an open source mobile device is screaming lawsuit if you’re planning on instituting it at the public level. Private schools could certainly adopt more easily, but what if your family’s chosen carrier doesn’t offer a device with the required applications?

There are plenty of hurdles to jump but the ironic part is the technology creating the potential is also creating more potential hurdles. How much easier can cheating get than having instant access to everyone else in your classroom? With the touch of a button you could send the data in your Android calculator to everyone in the class during the middle of a math class. Actually scratch that – why not just share a document at once and work on the problem together, jotting down notes and plugging in answers for all to see in real-time?

Android will undoubtedly aid the education sector, but how the world will adapt to the incredible potential that Android exhibits can only be predicted.

[Source: RWW]