The joy of text

September 7, 2007

We were interested in Kevin Linch's experiences ("Lecturer taps into the text generation", August 31), having published research on using mobile phones in lectures. We also found students were enthusiastic about the approach but witnessed some unexpected effects. In one of our systems, students could text in comments and questions, which were displayed "live" on a projected display for the class to share. In some cases, a question posed by one student was answered, via text, by another.

We also encountered a small number of inappropriate comments as our system did not filter texts and all texts were anonymous. Then there were strange messages from spam texters outside the classroom. Remember also that not all text messages arrive instantly.

While mobiles used in this way may benefit all students, they might have particular application in "digital divide" contexts. For example, in South Africa, where we trialled one prototype, many students are unlikely to afford PCs and broadband connections in the near term but have access to a mobile phone. Coupling these with powerful remote servers enables technology impoverished students to participate in digital learning, via lecture-based texting; by being sent regular educational text messages; or by using a text message-based search engine. The true "text generation" are the billions of people without access to conventional computing facilities who are eager users of mobile devices and services.

Matt Jones
Future Interaction Technology Lab
Swansea University

Gary Marsden
Computer Science Department
University of Cape Town South Africa

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