Microsoft adopts QR Code as standard for Windows Live Barcode

27 10 2006

It seems that Microsoft have discovered the 2D Barcode. Expect to see a proliferation of mobile 2D Barcode products and services in the next two years, now that Microsoft have just released Windows Live Barcode (still in Beta).

The 2D Barcode standard they have chosen is the QR Code – distinguised by the three concentric squares visible in each code. Although it’s proprietary (owned by Denso-Wave corp.), it is the most widely adopted barcode format used in Japan, where over 30 million mobile phones already feature the software required to decode the barcodes. The next most popular format is currently Semacode (aka Datamatrix), which is an open, non-proprietary standard. Most popular readers (such as the Kaywa Reader) support decoding both of these major barcode formats.

Unlike other “proximity” technologies like RFID, “Smart Chips”, GPS, or magnetic strips, the 2D Barcodes can be read by an ordinary camera phone, loaded with the correct software; and can be created without any special hardware, software, or consumables. The barcodes can be printed on paper, read from computer monitors or TV screens, or even created on and read from another mobile phone. Just to prove the capabilities of this technology, I have even created a working barcoded T-Shirt.

A QR Code can store over 4,000 alphanumeric characters within a barcode. The capacity, flexibility, and inexpensiveness of 2D barcodes makes their application to education extremely diverse.

In the future, expect to see educators accopanying printed notes with automatically generated 2D barcodes on each page, linking to electronic versions available via students’ smartphones.

Expect to see 2D barcodes attached to “real life” teaching and learning realia, such as plants in a nursery (for example). A learner could find out more information about any tagged object, just by using their mobile phone to capture the Code, and either directly accessing the data stored in the code, or being directed to a URL (which could contain multiple links to related resources, including images, articles, and video).

(Click image for larger version – excepted from Low & O’Connell 2006, “Learner-Centric Design of Digital Mobile Learning“)

Expect to see learners sharing information with each other using QR Codes to encode, exchange, and store data – saving learners the trouble of manually and laboriously inputting text using mobile phone keypads.

Expect QR Codes to provide an instant context for information, so that a learner’s interactions and learning can be guided by their current situation or context, such as in this example of a tag that might one day be attached to the Sydney Harbour Bridge:

There are already a number of online tools for creating 2D Barcode enabled mobile websites, such as WinkSite… and a lot of online generators for creating your own 2D Barcodes for other sites of your choice.

I’m aware of just a few educators who are trying out 2D barcodes, but the true potential of this technology won’t be accomplished until we can get the attention of telecommunications providers – to have decoding software installed in Australian camera phones by default, as it is in Japan. I have previously tried to telephone and email Optus, Telstra, a number of other providers and industry groups including the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association and the Australian Consumers’ Telecommunication Network, but it’s been a struggle to convey to them the applications of this particular technology.

Still… Now that Microsoft are in on the game, we may see advances made in the deployment of 2D barcode technology software, even without the participation of telecommunications organisations. I’m certainly looking forward to a more connected future of learning!

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Location-based Learning with Create-A-Scape

25 10 2006

Create-A-Scape is a free resource for creating location-based learning experiences on Microsoft Mobile Pocket PCs called “MediaScapes,” and was workshopped at this month’s Handheld Learning 2006 conference in the UK.

Mediascapes are maps of areas that have sound and pictures associated with particular areas defined on them on a PC. The mediascape files are then copied to a PDA, and the sounds and pictures can be accessed – either manually, or triggered by GPS as the learner moves around the physical Mediascape.

Image of the mediascape tool interface

The program has been designed to be (mostly) simple enough to be used by children, and is accompanied by a wealth of guides and resources to assist students and teachers with learning and using the tool. The tool has teaching and learning applications in a range of educational contexts.  As a tertiary-level learning tool, for example, learners could create their own maps of an ecosystem, accompanied by spoken commentary and images collected from the field. Alternatively, it could be used in an instructional manner, with spoken instruction or sounds being triggered by the learner’s physical situation or context.

The simplicity of the tool makes it a very flexible one. Allowing general “audio” and “images” to be attached to the maps makes the tool suitable for a full spectrum of imaginative learning activities.

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Mobile Learning Ecologies

25 10 2006

I have just finished a (draft) paper on social aspects of mobile learning for the Knowledge Tree, in which I explore the connections between postmodern theories of socially constructed learning (such as social constructivism and connectivism), and digital mobile learning.

Entitled “Connections: Social and mobile tools for enhancing learning,” it draws on some of the latest research in the field of digital mobile learning in Australia – including the Learning On The Move conference at Queensland University of Technology last month, and last weekend’s Global Summit conference in Sydney.

George Siemens’ paper at the Global Summit, on “Connectivism: Learning and Knowledge today” was particularly interesting. Siemens’ models of “learning ecologies” aligns quite nicely with the learner-centric activity models of m-learning to illustrate the interrelationships of mobile learners and the integrated “nodes” of content and functionality provided by the social web (Web 2.0). Siemens posits:

“Learning is the process of creating networks (see Figure 2). Nodes are external entities which we can use to form a network. Or nodes may be people, organizations, libraries, web sites, books, journals, database, or any other source of information. The act of learning (things become a bit tricky here) is one of creating an external network of nodes—where we connect and form information and knowledge sources. The learning that happens in our heads is an internal network (neural).”

Here are some “Relate” aspects of mobile learning, structured as a learning ecology, illustrating the use of Web 2.0 tools to form nodes around and between learners:

How this mobile learning ecology differs from other learning delivery approaches is in its persistence. Whereas other delivery methods – classroom or computer based – differ from mobile learning is that the networks formed by other methods is transient; learners in a classroom interact for a brief period of time; online learners are only externally “connected” while physically located in front of an internet-connected computer.

Mobile learners have the opportunity to retain a persistent network of peers, mentors, teachers, and nodes of content and functionality – to add and remove nodes, and interact with them as and when convenient. This is quite similar to the way our internal neural networks operate: we create connections of information, and access knowledge from our memory when we need it. This illustrates the potential of mobile learning to extend or augment our internal process of learning with an external process of “node gathering” – setting up persistent, on-demand resources that can be called upon by learners as their situation or context allows or requires.

This exploration also helps to visualise the importance of social aspects of mobile learning, by illustrating the synergies that can operate between a number of mobile, social learners.

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Accessory for Geologists, Biologists, and other-ists

19 10 2006

microscope%20cell%20phone%20strap.jpgI’ve seen a lot of mobile phone accessories, but here’s one that’s a little more practical than the average Hello Kitty figurine, and it’s still pretty cute. It’s a 15x microscope that attaches to your mobile phone via a lanyard or strap – handy if your work or study requires you to take a good close look at something from time to time. More photos, and an order form on this site… if you can read Japanese! (via Gizmodo)

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Flexible Learning (not) in Wikipedia!

19 10 2006

Flexible Learning. The term crops up a lot in education circles, particularly with reference to the world of educational technology, online education, and providing learners with choices about when and where they choose to learn. The specific term “flexible learning” gets almost 1.5 million hits in Google, and is interwoven into the fabric of Australian and international educational technology, as evidenced by organisation names like the Australian Flexible Learning Framework, my department, Flexible Learning Solutions, or Macquarie’s Centre for Flexible Learning. Google Scholar lists almost 9,000 books and scholarly papers on the topic of Flexible Learning, with many dating back over a decade documenting the need for implementing Flexible Learning systems and approaches in education.

That’s why I was astounded to discover that, despite a prolific edublogosphere of technology-savvy educators, experimenting with all manner of online, computer-based, and mobile tools… there is no Wikipedia article on Flexible Learning.

Despite my astonishment, I was worried about writing this post. Perhaps it’s just me? Am I the only educator in the world who makes a distinction between Flexible Learning and, say, E-Learning (which does have a Wikipedia article)? For me, E-Learning is an enabler of Flexible Learning, but it isn’t the same thing; Flexible Learning is a philosophy about giving learners choices about when and where they learn, using whatever tools (online, computer based or mobile) facilitate that choice, rather than nominally tying learning to a particular technology or set of technologies.

Anyway, I have created the stub of an article on Flexible Learning and I’d really appreciate contributions from anyone who’s interested. Please pass the word on to anyone you feel might have something to add to the Wikipedia account of what many of us consider our profession!

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Mobile Teaching with LED Projector and QR Codes

18 10 2006

TDP-FF1AUSo this mobile learning thing (you know, getting learners out of the classroom/computer lab and learning in the *real world*) is all very well… but when it comes to mobile teaching, sometimes it’s a bit inconvenient not having a board to scribble on or to quickly share information.

So for those of you who haven’t heard, I thought I’d share with you this nifty gadget, an LED-based, battery operated SVGA (800×600) light projector, from Toshiba. It fits in the palm of your hand and can operate for two hours without a power source, casting an image from 11″ to 68″ (measured diagonally).

Couple that mobility with the TV-out capability in many current mobile phones (such as my previous Samsung SGH-D600 (shown below, left), or my replacement Samsung SGH-D900), or add a video-out Compact Flash card to your PDA (shown below, right) and you have yourself a portable, multi-user, information-and-data-sharing tool.

     Not available

Not only can a portable screen like this be used for presentations, or for recreating an electronic “whiteboard” for brainstorming ideas in electronic form… but it could be used to provide a mass-information-sharing platform through the use of QR Codes.  Imagine if the image on the projected screen was a QR Code, containing a URL link to a page of learning resources.  A whole group of learners could then use the QR Code to capture the URL instantaneously, without waiting for each other, and bookmark it for later reference.

Alternatively, a portable presentation screen like this could be used to display an Elluminate (interactive online classroom) session to a group of learners participating mobile-ly or wirelessly.  It could act as a central reference copy of a collaborative resource, continuously updating to display the evolution of that resource as learners contribute to it in real time.

Quite apart from group situations, a projector like this could also liberate an individual user from the frustrations of the tiny PDA or mobile-phone screen to something as large and viewable as a desktop screen – for example, how about a folding Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, interfacing with a PDA, throwing up a nice, big, desktop-screen sized image?

Finally… did I mention that it’s quite cheap compared with other video projectors?  Whereas most video projectors cost thousands, this one is advertised on the Toshiba site with an RRP of US$699 – expect to find this price further discounted elsewhere – and its LED lasts much longer than conventional, expensive projector lightbulbs (an astonishing 10,000 hours).

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Escher Mobile – Game-based mobile learning

18 10 2006

Combining elements of game-based learning and mobile learning is this neat, free resource: Escher Mobile. It’s a program that runs on Java-enabled mobile phones, PDAs, and PCs, and enables the user to create Escher-esque symmetrical images, thus enabling the learner to “effortlessly master the main crystallographic concepts: planar groups, asymmetric unit, Hermann-Mauguin symbols, General and special positions, Symmetry operations”.

Incredibly, it’s true. Not only does this application make the fundamentals of crystallography a cinch, but it’s been designed to actually be a lot of fun (e.g. the page above loads up with a web-enabled version of the application, which allows you to make crystalline versions of a cheerful rubber ducky – check out the very cool P6mm rotationally symmetrical (smirk) “Duck Crystal” – no pun intended – on the right) (click it for a larger version).

The web page makes acquiring the software on your phone as easy as possible too – it offers delivery via email, WAP or SMS direct to your phone, or a downloadable version for the user to transfer to their phone themselves.

Finally, it offers users the ability to save images created with the program, email them to anyone, or even submit designs to the Mobile Escher Gallery, on the Escher Mobile website. What a fantastic, fun, m-learning resource!

Thanks to Alex Hayes and Dr Jeffrey Crass of TAFE NSW for sharing this site with me!

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Stephen Downes – School 2.0

16 10 2006

Stephen Downes’ sketch of mobile, connected, situated, contextualised learning:

Click here for larger image(s).

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Keitai – The Future of PDAs

16 10 2006

Stephanie Rieger’s excellent Keitai mobility blog features a great analysis of trends in mobile computing and convergence, with reference to opinions on the decline of PDAs in favour of smartphones, and Fujitsu Siemens’ recent release of a purpose-built m-learning PDA for m-learning.

Stephanie points out the key benefits of PDAs, notes that divergence in product markets is almost always more important that convergence, and that cramming multiple functions into a single form factor can result in the device becoming less usable or practical for its primary purpose (e.g. being a phone). 

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Education: a viable market sector for mobile computing

12 10 2006

I was delighted to observe today that the education sector is becoming increasingly recognised as a viable market sector for mobile computing device manufacturers. Fujitsu-Siemens are set to unveil a PDA specifically targeted at the education sector, a product they have dubbed an “EDA,” or Educational Digital Assistant.

It would appear that they have developed the product specification in consultation with m-learning practitioners; the product contains such features as wireless connectivity (both Bluetooth and WLAN) to access and record materials remotely, and even GPS to enable location-based/situated learning approaches to be facilitated.

Far from trivialising m-learning, this device uses some of the most powerful components currently available on the market, including class-leading 624MHz processor, a glorious 480×640 VGA resolution display, and built-in 1.3MP still/video camera. Fully charged, the battery will support 500 hours of standby time – actual usage time will depend on how resource-intensive that use is. A full data sheet can be downloaded here.

I do note that the device lacks built-in telephony, and (as I’ve previously mentioned) I think that social connectivity for learning, and the ability to interface with peers and mentors, is a very useful thing for a learner. However, I’m appreciative that adding a mobile telephone feature to this device would considerably increase its price; and furthermore, seeing as just about everyone already has a mobile phone, and young people in particular tend to prefer a sleek fashionable phone over a large chunky functional one anyway, Fujitsu could, perhaps, be right on the money with this specification: this device seems to be intended to supplement a learner’s mobile phone for connectivity, rather than replace it.

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