QR Codes: Here Today, but Gone Tomorrow

8 11 2010

I’ve been writing about QR Codes in education for the last five years (http://mlearning.edublogs.org/?s=qr+code), on this blog, as well as in a few published and formal papers. Recently, I have been seeing some buzz around QR Codes in education, and without meaning in any way to discourage people from trying out QR Codes (or other present-day locative technologies like RFID tags), I thought it might be time to update this blog with my latest thoughts on them.

QR Code shirts I wore to the 2007 MLearn Conference

QR Code shirts I wore (+stamps and cards brought) to the 2007 MLearn Conference

While I was very interested in their potential when they were almost unheard of in the western hemisphere, I now believe they provide an interesting technology for situated mobile learning in the present day, but I increasingly think will be supplanted by visual searching (e.g. Google Goggles) and mobile text recognition (both typeface and handwritten) within about five years.

The former technology, visual searching, allows mobile devices to visually “recognise” shapes of objects, logos, etc. taken with a mobile phone camera, and use that to retrieve information.  This would ultimately free tagging from any single barcode standard, and allow physical objects to be tagged with ANY consistent visual symbol.  In a few years, this technology will become much more accurate, particularly as imaging resolutions continue to increase and mobile processing becomes faster and more powerful.

Simultaneously, improved text recognition will allow retrieval of, or access to, web-based activities or resources simply by typing or writing our a URL in human-readable form and pointing a mobile phone camera at that URL.  This would completely bypass the need to create a QR Code in the first place, as well as having the advantage of knowing where your phone browser is taking you.  A QR Code could, for example, lead to a hidden virus or phishing site, but its actual destination is obscured by its graphical, barcoded representation.

I still see QR Codes as being a useful tool for mobile and situated learning in the present day, but I have never been content to simply look at the present without looking towards the future; and in that future, I see QR Codes becoming rapidly redundant.

Just some thoughts from an ed tech who has been thinking about these issues for a long time. :)





University of Adelaide’s Faculty of Science going Mobile

13 09 2010

From next year, the University of Adelaide’s Faculty of Science will be moving towards mobile delivery, with all first-year students provided with iPads, and textbooks replaced by digital materials.  They will be the first Australian University to begin delivering in this way, and this is the first step towards an overhaul of their teaching strategies, including moving to fully online delivery of first-year Science courses from 2012, according to Professor Bob Hill, Executive Dean of the Faculty. To help ensure that teaching materials and activities are compatible with the iPads, teaching staff will also be receiving the devices.

iPad in use

I have a modicum of skepticism about some aspects of this planned course of action, however.  Firstly, the focus on iPads might force thinking around mobile learning into a iPad-shaped box, rather than encouraging the development of mobile learning activities and resources to suit a wider range of devices.  This is already apparent in the kinds of materials they describe as being prepared for their iPads:

“The aim is to transfer all learning content to an electronic version which includes many currently printed textbooks for first-year students sometime in 2012.”

Aaargh.  Transferring learning content to computers, including textbooks, does not equate to e-learning.  Transferring learning content to mobile devices is unlikely to result in quality mobile learning.  The REAL task here should be to develop new learning activities and resources that target the required learning outcomes and utilise the affordances of mobile devices, rather than thinking that an electronic textbook on an iPad is somehow better that a paper-based textbook.  Instead, the focus appears to be on the *delivery* of content, rather than ways in which students can interact with, and create on, iPads:

“The online material will take a variety of forms with students being able to access lecture notes, audio, background documents and textbooks through tailored web-based apps. This is in addition to all the student services currently available through the MyUni website such as timetabling, video downloads, slides and email.”

THERE IS NOTHING NEW or innovative about ANY of those content sources or activities.  All that’s happening is that they’re being displayed on a shiny new device, instead of a laptop or a desktop computer, and they’re accessed through “app” buttons.  Contrast that philosophy with a learner-centric pedagogical model in which learning activities are developed that use key affordances of the iPad: for example, designing activities where students annotate or complete worksheets or experiments using an app like Noterize; or focusing on using mobile devices equipped with cameras to document science experiments or field trips using blogs, images, and video.

I hope the University of Adelaide will take time to consider how learning with technology is much more than learning ON technology.  A successful mobile learning strategy requires working with the inherant strengths and limitations of mobile devices to enhance learning and engagement – not just trying to do the same thing as before with the new tool!





iPad Apps for Visual Creativity

12 08 2010

There’s a pretty decent post over at the AppStorm blog, which has posted its reviews for the “30 Essential iPad Apps for Designers and Creatives“.

Adobe Ideas 1.0 for iPad

Adobe Ideas 1.0 for iPad (a free app on the iTunes Store)

While I’m not a massive Apple fanboy, as a graphic designer who has extensively used Wacom graphics tablets for digital sketching and drawing, I can certainly see the advantages of doing freehand creative sketching and drawing using a device like the iPad.  As an educator, I’m also a big fan of “student-created content” for learning – the idea that when students create things, they learn from that experience.  The apps described in this article are great for designing charts, diagrams, graphics, illustrations, images… and more.  All of these creative affordances of the iPad (combined with these apps) could be used to support a myriad of learning activities.





Using Twitter in the classroom

24 02 2010

This video shows the positive use of mobile devices in the classroom to provide a “back channel”; and also discusses other aspects of mobility, such as the teacher being able to interact with her class even though she was physically away that day.

The comments are worth reading too as they provide significant perspectives and additional information on this innovative use of mobile Web 2.0 tools to support and enhance learning.





The iPad and its impact on m-learning.

23 02 2010

I’ve been engrossed in an article on the tech blog Gizmodo this morning, which reveals that Dr. Alan Kay made the following quote about the iPhone when it was launched:

Make it 5 inches by 8 inches and youll rule the world.

"Make the screen 5 inches by 8 inches and you'll rule the world".

I’ve written several posts about Dr Alan Kay in the past, but to summarise, Dr Kay is one of the greatest minds in the history of computer science. He predicted (and invented) mobile computing, the windowed GUI, and was a pioneer of object oriented programming and social constructivist learning.  And a large proportion of his work was in pursuit of a computing device to support learning – he is indisputably the first person to research and develop digital m-learning, and was involved with much of the design of the OLPC.

Dr Alan Kay’s prediction that a large, multitouch tablet will be an incredibly popular device must therefore, I think, be read in the context of his life’s work.  I believe that he sees significant potential for a device like this to make a powerful impact on the way students learn both formally and outside the classroom (Dr Kay was also an early proponent of “informal learning” – since the 1970s).

Kay’s prediction for the iPad’s success is further supported by the work of another luminary in the computing world, Jef Raskin, whose work pointed to a simple, easy-to-use “information appliance” as having the most chance of success: a computer as easy to use as a toaster.  The iPhone was a significant milestone towards that goal – and some believe the iPad will advance it even further.

When a pioneer of computing and mobile learning makes a prediction like this about the iPad, it is worthwhile taking note.





Ubiquette.

22 02 2010

Over the last week or so, I’ve been keeping up with the story of the US school that activated the webcam on a student’s Macbook while the student was at home, and took photographs to allege that the student was handling drugs (which the student asserts were actually candies).

In the half a decade I’ve been involved with mobile learning, the issue of student ettiquette in classrooms and schools has surfaced frequently. It is sometimes asserted, for example, that mobile phones and other portable digital devices are “intrusive” in classrooms; and they are cited as being problematic when it comes to the recording of playground fights and bullying, or to secretly record peers and teachers inappropriately.  While these issues concerning student use of mobile, portable, and ubiquitous devices are frequently discussed, the inverse responsibilities of schools and teachers are rarely, if ever, discussed.

Students at work on their laptops.

Students at work on their laptops.

But these issues now need to be properly addressed.  This incident will almost certainly whip up fear in educational communities worldwide – particularly amongst students and their families.  Many educational institutions have long-standing “student policies” on the use of mobile devices on campus; but almost none would have public policies on how mobile devices may be used by organisations when the student leaves the campus.

Turning on webcams when students and their families have a reasonable expecation of privacy is just one way mobile devices might be abused by educational organisations.  Unsolicited or overly frequent instant or SMS messaging, GPS tracking, or content/communications monitoring are amongst other issues that may need to be addressed in the wake of this incident.

The internal enforcement of policy would be another issue to address.  The school being sued for this particular incident has claimed that these laptop webcams were only used to try to retrieve lost or stolen laptops, could only be accessed by two personnel, and they were activated exactly 42 times, ever.  But none of that explains how someone else gained access to a laptop that was NOT stolen or lost, used said device to watch a student’s activities, and ultimately decided to take photos of those activities to confront the student.

I’m concerned that unless public mobile technology policies are put into place and enforced, this incident will have a chilling effect on the growth of mobile learning.  Students and families will be suspicious of institution-issued or -accessed devices, and from educational institutions will be afraid of issuing said devices due to resistance and/or being accused of inappropriate use of these devices.  In the words of this article on Arstechnica:

“School-issued laptops are becoming more and more common these days, but thanks to the action of one high school, students and parents might have second thoughts about bringing them home.”

That would be a terrible shame.   This school may have a lot to answer for for the damage they’ve done to the reputation and advancement of mobile learning.





M-learning device for $60.

19 02 2010

The FLiP, made by V-Tech, is an e-book reader targeted at children aged 3-7. It features a 4.3-inch colour touchscreen, QWERTY keyboard, rugged design and over 100 downloadable titles.

FLiP e-book reader

FLiP e-book reader

A programmable, touchscreen mobile learning device with a QWERTY keyboard for $60!? Things are getting very exciting for mobile learning. :)








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