Mobile learning leaders to transform education through digital publishing

Posted April 13, 2010

acuAbilene Christian University, Cambridge University Press and Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs have embarked on a joint research project whose intent is to set out a new path toward the future of publishing - from creation through distribution - by putting tools that enhance education in the hands of individuals.

For hundreds of years, educators have relied on static, standardized textbooks to deliver information to students. A new generation of mobile devices is changing the education landscape, offering students opportunities for dynamic, individualized learning. With the advent of converged mobile technologies (epitomized first by Apple's iPhone and iPod touch mobile digital devices and most recently by the introduction of Apple's iPad touchscreen computer) the three organizations have been analyzing what it means to read, write and publish in the learning space in the digital age. The three-year research project extends collaboration that has been under way for almost a year as all sides worked to understand the impact of new technologies.

These tools will be based on a core set of software prototypes the three parties are developing that will add a new dimension to the learning experience.  They will stimulate insight by presenting users with a diverse range of content – images, text, audio and video – all on the same device, engaging users with serendipitous access to information. These tools will support a level of personalization and customization necessary for effective learning.

"Our work with digital publishing and media is a natural outgrowth of our work in mobile learning," says Dr. William Rankin, ACU's director of educational innovation. "Imagine not just having 'a thousand songs in your pocket,' but a thousand libraries. This represents not just a change in the transmission and consumption of information, but also a change in culture."

Abilene Christian University is the first academic institution in the world to announce a university-wide learning initiative that leverages a new generation of mobile devices to offer students and faculty opportunities to experiment with emerging forms of social, informational and media access.

"Cambridge University Press did not become one of the world's most respected publishers by standing still. We are committed to finding new ways to deliver our content and engage students and faculty," says Eric Baber, innovations director of the Press's New Directions Group. "Just as the advent of printing transformed education, this new generation of digital devices and the access they enable will also be transformative. We welcome the new capabilities that the iPad affords learners and researchers around the world. All of our journals and over 6,000 books are already available in electronic format, including on handheld devices, and we believe that new multimedia capabilities add a layer of information and engagement not previously possible."

Together with our partners, we have the opportunity today to create the future of publishing and media for learning and education. As books move increasingly into the digital world, Bell Labs is inventing new technologies that will enhance the relationship between students, teachers, writers and publishers. Adding social communications to eBooks will create a new generation of social media," notes Bruno Aidan, Head of Bell Labs Applications Research. Bell Labs' contribution to this project represents a significant step forward for Alcatel-Lucent’s Applications Enablement strategy, whose intent is to enhance the value of network assets for applications providers," he adds.

In developing the program, the three parties will play complementary roles: Bell Labs will conduct technical research and develop the prototypes. Cambridge University Press will provide content, detail service requirements and validate integration. Abilene Christian University will evaluate user requirements, conduct technical experiments and validate usage patterns and results with a base of on-campus users.

"All of our work together – both what we've already done and what we're committed to doing over the next few years – goes toward helping students and faculty participate more richly in the creation, development, and publication of information," says George Saltsman, executive director of the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at ACU. "We know that increased access is going to change how and even where we teach and learn, and we're working to understand that."

Although the partners agree that the changes will be disruptive, they are convinced there is no cause for fear. "When printing was first introduced, many worried about the impact it would have on education, but the influx of new participants and the invention that followed changed the world for the better," Rankin notes. "We're convinced these new approaches are going to create a similar wave of creativity."


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