This part of this series of posts on mobile learning in History in higher education in Tanzania explores, what I think are, the key benefits that this research could have for developmental purposes. Basically the links between mobile learning, higher education, and developing nations. There are a few open questions I have that will need to be reworked in this section, including:
- More evidence of mobile projects in higher education in East Africa (specifically for Humanities-based disciplines)- is there much going on in this realm?
- More evidence of Swahili-based projects
- Link between mobile learning in higher education and benefits for developing nations- besides the cost efficiency (mobile technology as ubiquitous=lower cost for technological overhead as opposed to face to face collaboration) and collaboration opportunities.
- Link between self-organizing mobile communities (medical, agricultural) and more dialogue-based communities of interest- how do we go from mobile as information dissemination tool to mobile as full-fledged collaborative environment?
Aside from those questions, away we go.
Mobile Learning and Development
Mobile learning offers nations classified as developing the opportunity to leapfrog a technological cycle by foregoing upgrading from a current computer based infrastructure of communications, the model most frequently employed in elearning. This leapfrogging process opens opportunities for developing nations to bypass stages of “technology development and to stimulate social and economic development” (Davison, Vogel, Harris, Jones, 2000). As the ICT of greatest penetration in both the developed and developing world, mobile offers the greatest advantage in terms of leapfrogging a technological cycle. While the need for computing infrastructure still remains, it is mitigated by the presence of mobile technology to lessen the digital access gap experienced in many developing nations.
Further to this technological penetration are the cultural elements of adoption. There are several instances of informal mobile learning communities appearing in developing nations related to agricultural, economic, medical conditions that establishes a cultural antecedent for a more systematic approach in higher education towards disciplinary practice in History. These generally involve informal learning communities engaging for the purposes of knowledge management and dissemination. Initiatives in this area are too numerous to mention, but include AED-SATELLIFE in Uganda, a particularly noteworthy example of mobile learning leading to expanded and efficient medical care.
Mobile technology, as the technology of greatest penetration throughout Africa, has routinely been appropriated as a learning platform for knowledge dissemination by self-organizing, self-sustaining communities. These communities are often informal, need-based networks (medical, agricultural); this appropriation and community formation represents an ingenuous and, this research believes, replicable phenomena for community building. My past experience with higher education in sub-Saharan Africa has led me to believe that Humanities-based practice, practice particularly focused on communication and collaboration, would be well served by the formation of such a community enabled through mobile technology. Mobile communities of practice would be efficient in terms of cost (particularly a Frontline SMS based solution requiring merely a laptop configured installation and server), and scalable in terms of scope (Tanzania and then the East African Community). Depending on the veracity of the community, there is no evidence to suggest that these types of makeshift solutions couldn’t scale on a national level, incorporating Tanzanian, for example, History departments throughout higher education. As such, mobile learning speaks to being inclusive, community focused, and aimed at mitigating the effects of the digital divide in higher education.
While a great deal of mobile learning in developing nations revolves around need (medical care, agricultural cooperatives, remote education), there is great application for developing nations striving to create higher education systems focused on knowledge production. This research focused on the practice of History in higher education might prove beneficial to developing nations looking to pool intellectual capital towards knowledge production. This can be done, I believe, by exploring mobile communities not at the institutional level, but rather at the disciplinary one. Calls for collaboration could and presumably would be amplified at a larger scale than the institution. Requests for peer review, discussion, dialogue, reflection, all these core facets of disciplinary practice could conceivably be served through a mobile community.
History, like most Humanities disciplines, does not provide clear linkage between expenditure (in terms of instructional overhead) and economic benefit (perceived or actual revenue) and as such is highly vulnerable to austerity measures and budget reductions in higher education. Therefore, it is imperative that mobile projects aimed at these disciplines come from within the academic community as generally no commercial alternative exists. These mobile environments need to be self-organizing, self-sustaining, and cost neutral. It is my belief that this research will begin to explore if that is indeed possible.
Further to these informal learning communities and mobile as technology of greatest penetration is the choice of location in regards to this study, Zanzibar, Tanzania. There are a variety of reasons for this choice of location, including the following:
- History as contested knowledge (relationship between Zanzibar and Tanzania; post-colonialism and national identity: What does it mean to be Tanzanian?
- Gap (economically, politically, and culturally) between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania
- Tanzania’s presence within the East African Community (EAC).
It is my belief that mobile environments for disciplinary practice in higher education in Zanzibar and throughout Tanzania can serve to explore and potentially mitigate the gap between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania through renewed dialogue and networking of practitioners of History; through this renewed dialogue, history as a contested subject will be explored leading, potentially, to a renewed focus on post-colonialism and national identity. National identity, in particular, represents a developmental need as both Zanzibar and Tanzania explore the efficiency and long-term future of their political union. This research explicitly attempts to network the community of practice for History in higher education in Zanzibar with that of the leading university on the Tanzanian mainland, the University of Dar es Salaam.
The East African Community (EAC) represents a strategic asset for exploring communities of practice for higher education in Tanzania as it allows for the following: dissemination of best practices in mobile learning and disciplinary practice from the more advanced efforts, successes and failures stemming from mobile learning in Kenya and, in regards to open access and networked resources, Rwanda. A mechanism for dissemination and promotion of Tanzanian project results, along with the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA). This promotion represents a tool for securing funding for future efforts at mobile collaboration in higher education. A natural scaling mechanism. Should this community of practice for History in higher education in Zanzibar and Tanzania prove efficient and replicable within Tanzania, the East African Community would represent an efficient grid for exporting this model throughout the region.
This research explicitly looks to capitalize on potential assets that currently exist within Zanzibar and Tanzania, namely existing technology (mobile), existing collaborations (departmental or even across universities), disciplinary practice (History, a shared cultural environment), and national and regional organizations for dissemination. This research will look to explore these assets towards developmental ends, namely increased evidence of disciplinary collaboration and research dissemination for History in Tanzania.