The use of computers and the Internet has successfully enabled educational institutions to provide their students and staff members with various online educational services. With the recent developments in mobile technology, further possibilities are emerging to provide such services through mobile devices such as mobile phones and PDAs. By extending the educational services to wireless medium, the educational institutions can potentially bring great convenience to those off-campus learners who do not always have time to find Internet enabled computers to get the important information from their academic institutions. With the mobile educational services, both the learners and the teachers can access the services anytime and anywhere they want. This article first discusses those educational services that can be moved to the mobile platform and then describes a mock-up system to integrate these services into the mobile platform. The article will conclude with a description of the formative evaluation of the mock-up system.
For decades now, computers have achieved great success in educational institutions. Computer and Internet-based educational applications are quite popular throughout the world. However, education has already become a life long activity. People undertake study related activities anytime and anywhere they find suitable. For example, people in current workforce, who wish to upgrade their skills through some off-campus courses access content material during breaks, evenings, and on travel, and want to be informed of all the necessary notices, assignment deadlines, and supervisor advices during their busy schedule. Recent emergence of mobile technologies has started to make this task much more feasible and convenient for those learners.
The handheld devices for example, mobile phones, handheld computers, and personal digital assistant (PDA) are more portable and affordable than before. According to an estimate from Microsoft, by the end of 2002, there will be nearly 100 million PDAs in use worldwide. Sharples (2000) believed that palmtop computers could be useful lifelong learning tools because such tools could accompany learners throughout their lives, and be used to input data and access information whenever the learner feels it is necessary. Another popular mobile device, the mobile phone, has achieved 206 million subscribers in China in 2002, which is 16.19% of China's population (Wan, 2002). It is certain that in most developed countries, the rate will be even higher. The large mobile phone subscribers' base also makes mobile phones another good infrastructure for mobile educational services.
The use of mobile technology in education is rather new. There is no agreed definition for the term "mobile education" though many variants are available. For example, Lehner & Nosekabel (2002) defined it as "any service or facility that supplies a learner with general electronic information and educational content that aids in acquisition of knowledge regardless of location and time." Vavoula and Sharples (2002) indicated "three ways in which learning can be considered mobile: learning is mobile in terms of space; it is mobile in different areas of life; it is mobile with respect to time." From these definitions, a mobile education system should be capable of delivering education content anytime and anywhere the learners need it. The learners can either be full time oncampus students or off-campus students. Learning activities can be completed even when the learners and the teachers are both "mobile."
Designing Pattern for Mobile Education
As a new wave in education, Mobile learning benefits with certain characteristics (Chen, Kao, Sheu, & Chiang, 2002):
1. urgency of learning need;
2. initiative of knowledge acquisition;
3. mobility of Learning setting;
4. interactivity of learning process;