Reaching Further

A leader in mobile breakthroughs brings wireless tech to underserved communities globally.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Qualcomm Wireless Reach Angela BakerToday, there are more than 7 billion mobile connections globally and this figure is expected to grow to approximately 8.7 billion by end of 2018. “Wireless technologies hold some of the best solutions for connectivity for remote and rural geographies because they are fast, affordable and prevalent,” says Angela Baker, Senior Manager for Qualcomm Wireless Reach, a strategic initiative that brings wireless technology to underserved communities globally. Through the initiative, the company invests in projects that foster entrepreneurship, aid in public safety, enhance the delivery of health care, enrich teaching and learning and improve environmental sustainability. Formalized in 2006, Wireless Reach has grown to include over 100 projects in 40 countries, with more than 450 partner organizations. “Given Qualcomm’s expertise in the mobile ecosystem, Wireless Reach makes an excellent convener of non-profits, private

We are at a pivotal moment in the mobile education space.

organizations and government stakeholders to create effective mobile-focused projects that benefit underserved communities,” says Angela, who previously served as an advisor in the Office of Innovation at the US Department of State under Hillary Clinton, and holds a Master’s Degree in International Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University. In this interview, Angela further discusses how far Qualcomm is moving in a mobile direction, particularly in education — and why.

Victor: Tell us about some of Wireless Reach’s mobile education projects.

CREDIT Wireless Reach QualcommAngela: We have a project in India called Play and Learn that we created in collaboration with Sesame Workshop India to develop Android-based games in Hindi that cover topics related to identifying shapes, spotting the difference, recognizing common activities and sentence completion. Playing these games has led to greater gains in language comprehension, word knowledge and imagination among students ages 5-8 in underserved communities. This a powerful example of how today’s mobile platforms can be used to improve access to quality educational content and transform learning, regardless of a child’s socioeconomic status.

In Singapore, our WE Learn project is providing 3G-enabled smartphones, mobile broadband connectivity and educational applications to empower 3rd and 4th grade students from Nan Chiau Primary School to acquire and practice key 21st century skills, including self-directed and collaborative learning. The students’ teachers are also being provided smartphones as well as professional development experiences and customized curriculum that leverages the benefits of the smartphones. Having 24/7 access to educational content, web-based resources and a broad range of learning tools has resulted in students becoming more independent, inquisitive and self-directed and led to significant improvements in test scores on self-directed and collaborative learning skills.

CREDIT Wireless Reach indiaThe Making Learning Mobile project is a collaboration with Kajeet that examines the effects of student access to always on, always-connected mobile devices and the resulting learning experiences both in and outside of school. Additionally, the project provides new research on how teachers integrate mobile learning within classroom instruction, specifically within underserved schools. The three-year project is currently being implemented with fifth grade students at Falconer Elementary School within Chicago Public Schools.

To support the transformation of the learning experience for these 5th graders, their teachers were provided with additional professional development and coaching on effective ways to leverage the tablets in class and utilize their students’ new out of school Internet access to extend the learning process.

Victor: You released the “8 Essentials for Mobile Learning” report, what are some of the best strategies educators can use to introduce and utilize mobile technology in the classroom?

Angela: In our experience over the last eight years working in the mobile education space, we have seen that many educators and school leaders are excited about the opportunity to use smartphones and tablets as learning tools within schools, and want to understand the power of these devices to transform teaching and learning. However, too often mobile devices are seen as simply inexpensive laptops or workstations, rather than as ways to empower learning throughout life outside the classroom and the home.

Given this, educators and administrators should plan for the usage of mobile devices into the curriculum in ways that realize their full capabilities, in and out of classrooms. They should ask themselves, “What are the learning goals to be accomplished and who else in the student’s life – teachers, coaches and mentors – can help to enhance the learning that happens outside of the school place and time?” Needs assessments and pilot studies can help to determine what instructional and curricular materials are available—or need to be developed—and how these materials will take advantage of the power of mobile devices. Evaluation is a key strategy in improving initial efforts and establishing a roadmap for sustaining the initiative.

What are the learning goals to be accomplished and who else in the student’s life – teachers, coaches and mentors – can help to enhance the learning that happens outside of the school place and time?

Victor: How can educators successfully measure mobile learning projects in the classroom?

Angela: One of the most important components of measuring a mobile learning project is proper planning and goal setting. The evaluation process should be an inherent part of the plan from the first discussions about overall project goals to implementation strategies. In addition, the types of evaluation data or metrics that are used to evaluate project impact should be contextualized to the local environment of the school or community, and not be seen as a one-size-fits-all approach. It is also imperative that educators think beyond simplistic metrics for evaluating impact and success with mLearning projects. Since a successful mobile learning project should really transform the classroom experience for the teacher as well as the student, evaluating the impact on teacher effectiveness and student engagement is as important as the more traditional measurement conveyances of test scores or grades that do not always fully capture the impact of any digital initiative. As we know from research, enhancing teacher effectiveness and student engagement in the learning process can both be drivers to greater student achievement. A successful evaluation design in mobile learning examines a myriad of factors that are influencing the transformation of the student experience with a keen eye on linking impact directly to the project goals.

Victor: In what ways do you see mobile technologies improving education in the future?

CREDIT Wireless Reach making learning mobileAngela: We think the biggest potential of mobile technologies is enabling new learners to address needs that are not currently being met. This can be addressed in several ways, through the use of educational software or mobile applications, or, in a more fundamental way, by establishing the proper infrastructure within a community in order to provide access to mobile connectivity. For the millions of children in emerging regions who lack access to formal education, the proliferation of mobile devices opens the door to world-class learning resources. For example, through a smartphone and an Internet connection, children in Sub-Saharan Africa can access the same educational materials as students in New York City.

Victor: How can technology skills benefit students beyond the classroom?

Angela: Having access to online educational resources at all times nurtures and maximizes each student’s opportunity for comprehension. It also makes schoolwork more engaging by encouraging personalized, self-initiated learning. Access to mobile devices can foster intellectual curiosity outside the classroom, encouraging hobbies such as computer programming for fun (computational thinking skills), making clothing that are a mixture of textiles and electronics (engineering skills), or adeptly selecting players in fantasy sports leagues (statistical reasoning skills).

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors are widely regarded as critical to national economies. For example, the National Science Foundation estimates that about 5 million Americans work directly in science, engineering and technology — just over 4 percent of the U.S. workforce. We believe that mobile technology skills and the ability to learn independently can strengthen the pipeline into these fields in the U.S. and abroad.

Victor: Broadly speaking, what are your thoughts on technology enhancing education in general these days? 

Angela: We are at a pivotal moment in the mobile education space. The Internet and advanced wireless technologies have democratized learning, bringing high-quality education to all communities, regardless of income status or location. If a student has access to the Internet, they can learn and explore at their own pace. Mobile education empowers independent student learning, and Qualcomm sees the value in having wireless technology be accessible to as many students as possible.

The entire education community must work together to create a scalable infrastructure to support this new kind of learning.

Students need access to safe, affordable and equitable 24/7 learning and Qualcomm companies are in a unique position to address current challenges that both educators and students are facing. Since 2007, Wireless Reach has sponsored 40 education-based pilot projects and hosted conferences on mobile learning.

Technology has the power to transform teaching and learning around the world, but simply providing devices won’t ensure that learning occurs—or that the devices are utilized to the best of their ability. As a next step, the entire education community must work together to create a scalable infrastructure to support this new kind of learning, which ranges from basic needs such as access to wireless to cultural needs such as educating the community how mobile learning can empower students.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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