In this issue, we are delighted to spotlight a friend and respected academic colleague, Dr Mmaki Jantjies. Mmaki is a University of Warwick graduate who developed innovative software as part of her doctoral studies to help make multilingual STEM mobile learning possible. She is now the Information Systems Department Head at North-West University in South Africa. In this interview, she shares insights into her work in mobile learning, as well as career advice for other women who may be considering a career in computer science. She’s a Woman in Mobile we admire!
G&M Newsletter: What led you to study computer science?
Mmaki: I studied it in high school as a subject. I was interested in it because there were a lot of opportunities in this area.
G&M Newsletter: Can you tell us a bit about your PhD research?
Mmaki: I was looking at a framework that could be used by other computer scientists to develop software for use in educational environments. Many computer scientists tend not to know how to do this. I wanted to explore how we could improve education through the use of mobile devices in multilingual contexts in STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
One of the things that I found is that in most developing countries, children learn in their third, fourth and fifth language. English in South Africa is like the third, fourth or fifth language for these children. So most of the time they judge [their responses to school assignments] based on the English language rather than the actual content that they are responding to because of the language barrier. Because children have so much access to mobile phones as opposed to computers, I thought: “Why don’t we tap into the availability of mobile phones?” Then they might be able to use their home language in addition to English.
G&M Newsletter: Given that your PhD focused on mobile learning, can you tell us if you have a favorite mobile learning app?
Mmaki: I can say my favorites are the ones that I developed! I thought that I tailored the apps to a situation that was unique in a context that was unique. I found that when I was working with the teachers [to introduce and use the apps in class], they actually wanted to implement them because South Africa is moving towards a paperless classroom. Also, I prefer my apps because they are multilingual and we as South Africans value that – content that is available in our home language because of what we are trying to push with multilingualism, because we come from a history of having to use only one language. We are trying to embrace multiple languages and keep them alive.
G&M Newsletter: Can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
Mmaki: Right now, in the department I work in, we are trying to re-position our research area. So, one of the things I am going to get engaged with with my students is how to improve the effective use of mobile learning and ICTs in schools in South Africa. I also want to support research initiatives that deal with anything related to ICT supporting women. Finally, working on developing applications that can support teachers and children in schools for the purpose of learning STEM-related subjects.
G&M Newsletter: What advice do you have for other women who are interested in pursuing a career in mobile technology?
Mmaki: Start with the small things before actually going on to study technology. I know someone who still uses diaries to keep records – I mean it’s a good thing – but if you want to move into the field of technology, start with yourself. I think that you cannot motivate other people to use technology to make their lives easier if you’re not using it to make your own life easier.
G&M Newsletter: Thank you so much for your time!
To find out more about Dr Mmaki Jantjies, please visit her page on the University of Warwick.