Research gets into the mix

A new MXit application to help pupils — particularly in rural areas — improve their computer literacy skills has emerged from doctoral research at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

The application is the brainchild of computer science doctoral student Melisa Koorsse. She launched the application as part of a pilot study in April and hopes to expand the tool to include other learning subjects.

The idea was sparked last year when Koorsse, who was then lecturing IT and computer application technology (CAT) teaching methods, evaluated the university’s student teachers in rural schools. She noticed that pupils had to hand in their textbooks at the end of the lesson.

Koorsse realised that because the learners had no computers or reference books at home, they were finding it difficult to remember complex concepts from one lesson to another. “I got frustrated seeing how the learners struggled to keep up with the work and wanted to find a way to give them extra assistance,” she said.

She homed in on the one thing nearly all the learners had — cellphones — and set about developing the MXit tool. The application she devised focuses on CAT from grade 10 to 12 and was launched as a dictionary: pupils can send a word they do not understand and receive an automated definition using MXit text conversation.

The tool has since been expanded to allow pupils to practise what they have learned using various toolbar graphics. For instance, they can click on a toolbar button (such as “bold”) that changes selected text, just as they would if they were working on a computer.

The two applications — NMMU CS CAT and TOOLBARZ — can be found in MXit TradePost > Games > Play Now > Applications > By Genre > Education.

“I don’t want to replace teachers or textbooks,” Koorsse said. “I just want to give learners additional support when teachers and textbooks are not available.” To assist pupils with formulas, Koorsse monitors usage closely, constantly adding new definitions.

The application now has 5 000 users, and Koorsse wants to include Excel spreadsheets. The university’s department of computing sciences plans to extend the tool to become a “broader content delivery system, like a big textbook on a mobile phone”.

The aim is to extend the service to other subjects. “We want to make a difference by using mobile technology. Learners need access to knowledge,” Koorsse said. The idea is to run the MXit service in three languages (English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa) once funding for translation becomes available.

Learners will be able to send a keyword in English and choose the language in which they would like a response. Koorsse’s doctoral study focuses on programming assistance tools to support the learning of IT in South African schools — a project assisted by the year she spent teaching IT and CAT at Port Elizabeth’s Pearson High School.

Nicky Willemse is a freelance writer contracted by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

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Nicky Willemse
Nicky Willemse works from Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Freelance journalist, copywriter, proofreader, editor, booklover, parent Nicky Willemse has over 43 followers on Twitter.

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