New education students sometimes find it difficult to master concepts that are used in their courses.
And because they do not understand concepts, they struggle with reading comprehension and to submit good, written assignments.
“The development of concept literacy – the ability to read and understand subject-specific terminology – is a major challenge for many students,” say Drs Carina America and Michele van der Merwe, lecturers in the Department of Curriculum Studies at Stellenbosch University (SU).
Dr America teaches economics and management science subjects, and Dr Van der Merwe teaches Afrikaans to education students.
Dr Van der Merwe is also a lexicographer, which is someone who compiles dictionaries.
They joined forces to develop a multilingual cell phone dictionary that can help students understand concepts used in economic and management sciences.
This “subject dictionary”, known as MobiLex, is written in such a way that students can easily access it from their mobile phones.
The project came to fruition in collaboration with SU’s Language Centre and the assistance of the Centre’s Head: Advancement of isiXhosa, Pumlani M Sibula.
Dr America says the dictionary is written specifically for students who want to teach economics and management science subjects in schools.
She adds that MobiLex explains concepts to students in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.
MobiLex is currently available on the SU website, and students can access it through their mobile phones and computers.
According to Dr Van der Merwe, the next challenge is to develop MobiLex into an app that students can download onto their mobile phones.
The concept of MobiLex was developed four years ago by their colleague Professor Christa van der Walt, to specifically address the problem of concept literacy.
“MobiLex wants to help students gain easier access to the explanation of concepts,” says Dr Van der Merwe.
“This is not just an ordinary dictionary; it is a subject dictionary that explains concepts in the way the lecturer would like them to be explained.
“The dictionary is designed in such a way that it can easily be used on a cell phone. It is also updated regularly,” says Dr Van der Merwe.
“If students sit in the class and have access to the internet, they can use their computers or phones to search MobiLex for the meaning of concepts that they do not understand.”
Dr America says if students know the meaning of a particular concept, it can improve their understanding of such a concept and develop their ability to read a specific text critically. It also helps them write better assignments.
“MobiLex can thus be a source of support to improve students’ writing and reading skills.”
Dr Van der Merwe points out that students are happy that they can use MobiLex on their mobile phones and in the classroom.
“Students say it also helps to use MobiLex outside the classroom especially if there are certain concepts that they did not fully understand during a lecture and could not look up in time.”
She says that even though the dictionary is aimed at undergraduates, it has also been extended to senior students.
They point out that in addition to economic and management sciences, MobiLex have been used successfully in other subjects in the Faculty of Education, namely educational psychology, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics and curriculum studies.
The two lecturers say they recently had visitors from Europe who were impressed with MobiLex.
They add that teachers also asked when MobiLex would be available in schools.