Blog Post

M-Ubuntu: catalyzing co-learning with mobile phones in South Africa

The theme is cultural diversity and until now, 6th graders have written earnest but boring reports on South Africa's multicultural population. This year, Thembisile asks her teacher for permission to use her cellphone in the project.  Soon a routine assignment takes on new life as teams of young ethnographers armed with mobile phones take to the field.

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Each team focuses on a particular ethnic or racial group using mobile phones to find (gps), photograph (camera), and interview (voice record) representatives of that group.  Returning to the classroom, they write photo captions, interview summaries and their own conclusions. Digital files are bluetoothed to their teacher, who in turn uploads and sends the files to a multimedia specialist at Duke who can format their content into a YouTube video, which is then downloaded to class sets of mobile phones at both Spectrum and Ramosadi and uploaded to a storytelling.org space, an international repository of cross-cultural student videos.  

Three hundred kilometers to the northwest in Mafikeng, Ramosadi learners and parent volunteers are tending the school's  garden, which provides healthy produce to supplement  a meagre government lunch program - and provide a 2nd nutritious meal to students from the poorest families. 

Principal Sydney Teme has a larger vision - he sees the garden as a environmental literacy lab - and microenterprise - generating enough income to employ out-of-work parents.  A post to the M-Ubuntu blog puts him in touch with a teacher in Finland who offers to train his teachers in MOOP,  open-source mobile phone software for nature study in primary schools. 

He also hears from a teacher in Harlem, NYC, founder of the Edible Garden, and soon his learners and those in the Harlem school  have become M-Pals text messaging each other ideas on gardening, cooking and food culture. 

Sydney also hears from the coordinator of an NGO developing Trade-Net, a mobile-phone network connecting sellers and buyers of agricultural products who invites Ramosadi to join a pilot. 

A third post yields inquiries from the director of a service learning project in North Carolina, seeking environmental projects for undergraduates interested in global civic engagement placements during the summer term (when South African schools are still in session). 

These scenarios illustrate the power of M-Ubuntu to catalyze co-learning through peer networking, problem-based pedagogy, and digital content creation and sharing.

 

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