The Ohio State University at Lima

Need to reach students during COVID-19 turns focus of education research

Dean Cristol on a research trip to Istanbul

Like researchers across The Ohio State University, Associate Professor of Education Dean Cristol is digging in to turn the focus of his research to find better ways to weather the implications of COVID-19. He is looking at ways to make sure Ohio students, both university and preK-12, have access to a strong education regardless of their access to the internet.

When he was doing research on ways to bring reliable access to education in developing countries, Cristol never expected that he would be looking for ways to apply the same principles in his home state in less than a year when millions of students suddenly found themselves in a virtual learning environment.

“As COVID-19 took hold in Ohio, forcing schools to teach and learn online, I began to hear that some rural students and teachers were having difficulty connecting to the Internet, similar to the same issues we faced in Bangladesh,” Cristol said. “I contacted a few rural Ohio school systems I have been working with to see if the technology we used in Bangladesh would work in their schools and the answers were a resounding yes. Now we are searching for funding to make this possible.”

According to the website, more than 300,000 households representing nearly one million Ohioans lack access to high-speed internet. In some parts of Ohio, the connectivity required to do computer-based homework does not exist. Many Ohioans, particularly in rural areas, face connectivity issues.

In 2019, Cristol was the lead researcher for the study “Innovative Delivery of Education in Bangladesh Using Mobile Technology,” which focused on using mobile learning to both increase and enrich the delivery of educational services in a remote poor rural district in Bangladesh. Cristol’s research project was one of several in the last five years using a mobile learning device that can connect to digital learning platforms and content even if there is limited access to the internet. This Aptus device is essentially an off-grid, offline virtual classroom.

Similar platforms could be developed and deployed that meet the needs of learners in the United States and that better align with American curriculum needs specific to online learning.

“My mobile learning research has shown to me that when the technical and pedagogical online teaching and learning contexts is clearly understood by the teacher and learner then many more opportunities open up to interact and develop knowledge than in traditional brick and mortar contexts.”

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Cristol has published numerous articles on mobile learning research and currently serves on the executive committee for the International Association for Mobile Learning. He is the co-editor of the Handbook of Mobile Learning and Teaching.