In what could be a sign of things to come for colleges and universities worldwide, an online university in Japan has debuted a course that students can take through their cell phones.

Cyber University, the nation’s only university to offer all its classes on the internet, began offering a class via mobile phone Nov. 28 on the mysteries of the pyramids.

For classes that students take via personal computers, the downloaded lectures play on the monitor with text and images in the middle, and a smaller video of the lecturer in the corner, complete with sound.

The cell-phone course, which pops up on the handset’s tiny screen, plays just the PowerPoint images accompanied by audio.

In a demonstration Nov. 28 at a Tokyo hotel, an image of the pyramids popped up on the screen and changed to a text image as a professor’s voice played from the handset speakers.

Cyber University, which opened in April with government approval to award bachelor’s degrees, has 1,850 students.

The virtual campus is 71 percent owned by Softbank Corp., a major Japanese mobile carrier, which also has broadband operations and offers online gaming, shopping, and electronic stock trading services.

The cell-phone lectures may be expanded to other courses in the future but for now will be used only for the pyramids course, according to Cyber University. The university offers about 100 courses, including ancient Chinese culture, online journalism, and English literature.

Unlike the university’s other classes, the one delivered via cell phones will be available to the public free of charge, although viewers must pay cell-phone fees. (The course is delivered in Japanese.)

The catch is that the lectures can be seen only on some Softbank phones. However, the service may be expanded to other carriers, officials said.

Sakuji Yoshimura, who heads Cyber University and teaches the pyramids course, said the university provides educational opportunities for people who find it hard to attend brick-and-mortar universities, including people with jobs and those who are sick or have disabilities.

“Our duty as educators is to respond to the needs of people who want to learn,” Yoshimura said.

He scoffed at those who question the value of internet and cell-phone classes, noting attendance is relatively high at 86 percent. Whether students play the lecture downloads to the end can be monitored by the university digitally, officials said.

Links:

Cyber University (site is in Japanese)

Softbank Corp.