Safe Storage and Maintenance of PDAs

14 12 2006

Here’s an informative and useful article from The Mobile Generation is Learning, concerning the maintenance of institution-owned sets of PDAs – storing them securely, keeping them charged, and keeping them properly upgraded.

This learning support team customised a large, lockable, metal cupboard by drilling holes for cables and air vents in it and running extension cables to the various shelves.

If you want to attempt something like this, then to reduce problems with the current through the system, design the powerboards to run in parallel, rather than in series (don’t “daisy chain” your powerboards).

Go to the article for more info, as well as information on keeping the PDA software and hardware up-to-date.

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Two Models for Hardware Platforms for M-Learning

12 12 2006

There are two dominant approaches that seem to be adopted by educators with regards to the issue of what hardware platform should be used for delivering m-learning.

One strand of thinking is to supply any required hardware as loaned or supplied, standard-issue equipment – such as a class set of PDAs, all of uniform specification. This helps to provide a reliable experience for learners, simplifies development and support, and to reduces such potential inhibitors to learner engagement as compatibility problems caused by disparate hardware platforms.

To remove such potential barriers to the use and sharing of learning materials is an attractive proposition for educators; but it comes at a cost. There is obviously the financial cost of acquiring a uniform set of mobile devices, but perhaps more problematically, there is a potential cost in the amount of usage the provided devices will get – generally limited to short periods when the devices are temporarily issued, or to short periods when the devices are carried by learners, which will be carried less preferentially than those mobile devices chosen by, and personalised by, the learners themselves. Furthermore, it cannot be assumed that the uniformity of equipment used within a small scope, such as a classroom, will extend further – to the scope of a whole institution, or multiple institutions – to enable sharing of mobile learning resources throughout an organisation or between organisations or jurisdictions.

Thus, resources created for use for a single hardware specification may, in the long term, inhibit the use and sharing of those resources more widely. The opposing philosophy is to develop learning opportunities that are intended to be used on equipment already used by learners – the mobile phones already in their pockets, or the portable media players they already have in their backpacks. While this requires development of mobile learning opportunities to consider a full range of potential learning delivery platforms, the benefits of such an approach include zero cost of hardware by both organisation and learner; the utilisation of devices for learning which learners are already used to operating and carrying with them, often ubiquitously; the removal of a need to possibly carry separate, duplicated, mobile devices to achieve hardware standardisation; and the ability of resources so developed to be inherently more shareable within an organisation as well as between them.

To properly address issues of cross-platform compatibility and ease-of-use that may be caused by disparities in capabilities and specifications between the digital devices used by learners, it’s vital to consider how resources may be developed to best support cross-platform use and sharing. This is where the documentation of standards, adopted across a number of organisations, may be a useful reference for developers of mobile learning content.

A range of suggested standards for M-Learning in Australia will be published here for public comment shortly. Having other educators and mobilists review the suggestions should help to refine those standards and ensure their utility.

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Coming Soon: Wireless Power for Mobile Devices

8 12 2006

If you read my previous post on “Choosing a PDA for Teaching and Learning,” you’ll already be aware of the importance of ensuring a mobile device has a good, long-lasting power supply, even if it means buying an extra battery for a device. There’s nothing more inconvenient than running out of power when you’re in the middle of some work; and having students run out of power during a field trip or situated learning activity may not just be an inconvenience, but could waste a valuable learning opportunity.

Part of the power paradigm is how a device is recharged. Pretty much all mobile devices are charged by means of a cable, with power supplied by a mains power socket or a USB port. However, each device can have different voltage, current, and plug form factor requirements, and that means that for extended periods of mobility, it’s necessary to carry a charger for each item. Furthermore, in a classroom situation, it may be necessary to recharge or power several devices at once, requiring multiple chargers for each set of classroom PDAs or media players. It can add up to a lot of bulky, tangled cords.

This could all change from the first quarter of 2007. A new technology from Wildcharge is able to simultaneously recharge multiple electronic devices with different power requirements, just by placing them on a flat, tablet-like surface. Theoretically, that would mean that this could become the only item you would need to carry to charge all of your mobile devices. The recharging platform can be made as thin as a few millimeters in thickness, from both rigid and flexible materials.


Imagine being able to simultaneously recharge your phone, PDA, iPod, and digital camera just by placing them on your desk. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction; but if it lives up to the hype, it could significantly improve the usability of digital mobile devices, and further increase the practicality and potential of these devices for supporting teaching and learning.

The other kind of wireless power for mobile devices that’s planned for 2007 release is the use of fuel cells, running on methanol. My goodness. I can already see an ethanol-powered version becoming wildly popular with young university students, providing the ultimate convergence of a social, mobile tool and an equally social, mobile hip flask…

(via Gizmodo and Crunchgear and SlashPhone)

Update 4 Jan 2007: Visteon are releasing a wireless charger for cars next week.  Looks pretty cool:

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M-Learning and LMSes

8 12 2006

Chirmside Derek at the Light in the Shadows blog recently reflected on mobile learning:

I’m interested in the open source options that allow you to text or pxt into your personal space.

Sakai is just one open source Learning Environment type product I have heard that has mobile connection for students: SMS (Texting) to and MMS (picture from cell phone) to a personal learning space. I’d be interested in anybody who has used this.

If this functionality in Sakai is indeed present, it’s an excellent innovation, and more interesting to me than the (still useful) Moodle for Mobiles extension, which allows mobile quizzes to be delivered to learners’ mobile phones.

I’m impressed that both of these Open Source initiatives already demonstrably exceed the innovation shown by any of the major commercial LMSes in the support of mobile learning. Blackboard’s support of “mobile learning” through its Backpack add-on is just a way to package content for off-line use on laptops, rather than engaging with the pedagogy of m-learning at all, while WebCT has no m-learning capability at all.

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Semapedia adopts QR Code

8 12 2006

Semapedia is a project to link the physical world to the digital one, through the use of 2D Barcodes. 2D barcodes are placed on physical objects, and decoding a 2D Barcode with a camera phone provides a user with the Wikipedia article on that object.

There are a number of 2D barcode “formats,” each with various strengths and weaknesses, (the major three being Semacode/Datamatrix, QR Code, and ShotCode). Semacode used to be based on the Semacode method for creating and decoding 2D barcodes; but it seems that the open Datamatrix standard, upon which Semacode is based, has not been developing and innovating as fast, and has not been adopted as quickly internationally, as the Quick Response (QR) Code format, which is widely used in Japan. As a result, Semapedia is shifting towards the use of QR Codes (although Semacodes/Datamatrix will always be supported):

We have changed our 2D code base to QR codes instead of Datamatrix codes so far. Of course, all Semapedia tags generated and distributed up to now STILL WORK and will always work. We consider experimenting with QR codes an interesting new approach because they offer several extended features than Datamatrix codes. Also, the adoption of QR codes with cellphone manufacturers and scanning software providers has increased dramatically in the past 6 months. Our goal is to connect  the real and the virtual in a meaningful and beautiful way. Going with QR codes from here inherits the promise to have more people being able to use Semapedia Tags much faster than if they were based on the Datamatrix standard.

With its obvious educational value, this move by Semapedia brings QR Code closer to becoming a de-facto standard for 2D Barcodes in education.

(via All About Mobile Life)

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Mobile Cheats: m-learning innovators?

6 12 2006

If you didn’t believe that mobile phones could be useful tools for students to access information, just look at the amount of press that the use of mobile phones to cheat in exams gets.

But I think the behaviour warrants closer analysis. I wonder if the same mobile, digital techniques that students use to cheat in the exam room could easily be converted into constructive formal and informal methods of learning delivery outside of it. Techniques such as SMS-ing a peer, storing cheat notes in phone memory – and other ingenious methods that educators have surely not yet discovered – are surely a form of just-in-time, just enough, where and when it’s needed ways to store and recover information.

Which might be exactly what we, as educators, would like our students to be able to do – though usually, well before they get to the doors of the exam room…

Part of the reason I mention the possibility of links between ways that students record information for themselves, and methods for teaching and learning, is that some ten years ago, when I was studying Law and Computer Science at ANU, I learned HTML, and applied its use to the creation of hyperlinked notes for my legal subjects. While this was well before I had any understanding of educational design or pedagogy, it was still, at the time, a groundbreaking way to bring notes into the (open book) law exams – almost without exception, every one of my peers in law school still used the old reams-of-paper-with-coloured-sticky-tabs method, or at best, a Microsoft Word document on their laptop. Today, the idea of hyperlinked notes is probably much more commonplace, even in very traditional subjects like Law. 🙂

So: how are students, savvy with mobile technology, using mobile devices to help themselves with their learning in the present day?

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SparkMobile: study notes on your mobile phone

6 12 2006

A mobile service for accessing portable, mobile study notes on demand with a cellphone can provide students with learning content on demand.


Called SparkMobile, it’s a free service available from all MMS-capable mobile phones, doesn’t require users to sign up, and works using search terms to locate and access the most appropriate study guides:

What kinds of search terms can I send to SparkMobile?

Character descriptions (example: send Jay Gatsby)

Key facts about literary works, including…

Author GenreTime/place written

Date of publication



Characters Point of viewTone


Setting (time)

Setting (place)

Falling action ThemesProtagonist

Major conflict

Rising action


Motifs SymbolsForeshadowing

(example: send Gatsby symbols)

I’ll be keeping an eye on this service – it’s an interesting model for on-demand, just-in time learning.

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