Can you make a cellphone change the world?

Can you make a cellphone change the world?  This is the description for an innovative course at MIT.  The course - NextLab - is a hands-on year-long design course in which students research, develop and deploy mobile technologies for the next billion mobile users in developing economies.

For too many years, many universities have developed an image of being too distant from real life problems.  This course certainly changes that.   The students work on projects that seek to address real social challenges in areas such as health, microfinance, entrepreneurship, education, and civic activism.

Students addressing real challenges
Students work in multidisciplinary teams on the projects, closely collaborating with NGOs and communities at the local level, field practitioners, and experts in relevant fields.  Students with technically and socially viable prototypes may obtain funding for travel to their target communities, in order to obtain the first-hand feedback necessary to prepare their technologies for full fledged deployment into the real world.

This is a highly appropriate technological area to work in as it has such potential for bringing change to people's lives.  For example, as governments try to provide higher education to people previously without access, they require flexible delivery methods to enable students to learn from anywhere and at anytime. Online education provides the methodology but problems of convenient access still remained until mobile technology tackled the challenge.  This technology coupled with online distance education allows students to use readily available devices to learn without attending campus.  Thus, whilst studying, they can continue working or staying at home to care for their family members.  And the government doesn't have the expense of providing extra buildings for these additional students accessing by distance education.

And that just happens to be the topic of our forthcoming book in the series: Educational Design and Technology in the Knowledge Society edited by Stewart Marshall, The University of the West Indies and Wanjira Kinuthia, Georgia State University.