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Are smartphones a vital education tool?

New research from a University of Canterbury PhD education student says universities and schools are realising the advantages of cellphones as an integral part of learning.

Mazhar Syed says his ongoing research, supervised by Dr Wendy Fox-Turnbull, shows that 99% of university students bring mobile devices to campus. The main focus of Syed’s research is on the effect of smartphones in university education, especially for engineering students.

Syed says teachers and lecturers invariably use mobile phones informally such as for calculators and website resources, for distributing electronic versions of learning content and for improving productivity such as reminders, diary schedules and sharing calendars.

“Mobile devices render an enormous number of possibilities at all levels of educational technology integration,” Syed explains. “From teaching, learning, collaborative engagement, assessment to conducting surveys and polls.”

Syed says there will be 2.7 billion smartphones connected by the end of the year. “Smartphone technologies have triggered the acute need for education strategies, applications, and resources necessary to support anywhere-anytime teaching and learning in all aspects of academia,” he says.

“Every technology currently used in education has a defined tested strategy. The integration of smartphones in education requires the same.”

“Engineering education can greatly benefit from smartphones and tablets that offer easy access to electronic learning resources, push-pull communication, multimedia, and virtual reality environments,” says Syed.

He explains, “Built-in sensors such as accelerometers, motion detectors, proximity sensors, gyro and compass, along with high resolution cameras, can revolutionise the development of mobile applications by creating state-of-the-art scientific calculators, mobile computing platforms, data visualisers, engineering simulators, augmented virtual reality scientific experiments, data loggers, control sensors, data relay stations, and presentation devices.”

Syed says, “Additionally, engineering students can interact, input data and draw engineering and technology problems. Smartphones are highly versatile, and applications are easily customisable.

“The technology in smartphones includes strong computing power, built in sensors, high resolution camera and a high range of communication modes. These features can be leveraged to serve a myriad academic uses.”