File photo: Reuters

They’re thumb-typers who think e-mails belong in the stone age. For them, Ctrl + Alt + Del is like ABC.

They watch DVDs, listen to CDs and MP3s, chat through texting and interact on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This is a profile of today’s students – the 1990s babies who literally grew up with cellphones.

So what better way to teach them then via their cellphones?

For Professor Herman van der Merwe, dean of the economic sciences and information technology faculty at North-West University’s Vaal Triangle Campus, mobile education will not only be ideal for this inherently digital generation, but it will also dramatically increase access to higher education.

Van der Merwe, who is also the CEO of the Centre for the Utilisation of Technology in Education, said the country’s 23 universities could accommodate only so many students, however, but with cellphones, education could be taken to the people – wherever they were.

“Lecture halls can only accommodate a set number of students, and teachers have timetables for classes where they can teach only for a set amount of time. Capacity is clearly a problem … (the higher education sector) can’t serve all of South Africa.

“We have to move towards a multi-mode teaching approach. We could use mobile phones, we could use iPads, we could use videos … our imagination is the limit. If you can think it, the technology is there to support you,” he said.

Van der Merwe said large volumes of books could be uploaded on cellphones, and the advantage with this was that additional applications such as audio, video clips and searching capacities could be added to the text to make the material easier to navigate and understand.

Cellphones could also be used for tests or conducting polls among students, where a teacher could ask a question and students could text back the answer immediately. This method could be set up so that the teacher could see who the respondent was for grading purposes, or they could make it anonymous if they were running a poll.

Tutorials could be delivered through video conferencing. For face-to-face tutoring, lecturers could have planned visits to particular sites to meet their students.

This type of teaching and learning, which wasn’t restricted by time and capacity, could also enable students to study at their own pace.

Van der Merwe said that if an institution developed a large assessment database, students who were doing the same course could write their exams at different times.

Because of logistics, the Department of Higher Education and Training needed information like the number of students enrolled for a particular course, the duration of the programme and graduation dates. Higher education institutions couldn’t fully enjoy the fluidity that mobile education could provide. - The Star