Separating – and interweaving – technology and learning

23 03 2007

Christy Tucker at Experiencing E-Learning has put into words what I’ve been thinking – and practicing – in my work promoting and supporting the use of educational technology to enhance learning at my Institute:

To reach those who are more resistant, in education or elsewhere, I think a focus on what can be done with the technology will ultimately be more effective than focusing just on the technology.

This statement resonates resoundingly with my thoughts on the work of educational technologists who support the work of teachers and trainers. By first demonstrating the application of technology, and providing a clear picture of the goal – how it might improve teaching and learning – we can help educators to better understand why they might want to become more proficient with educational technology tools, even before they start grappling with them.

Furthermore, by demonstrating teaching and learning support processes seperate from the technology, we help bring about a paradigm change in the way technology in education is treated. Many teachers still regard technology as a special tack-on to the “other stuff” they might do in a standard classroom, when really, technology should be as transparent and integrated into education as it is in other aspects of our students’ lives. Christy Tucker cites Chris Lehman, principal at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, quoted in this post on Teaching Tech Literacy to the MySpace Generation:

“We need to get away from the notion that computers are something we go use in a lab once a week. When was the last time we sent kids to a pencil lab?”

In this statement, Chris Lehman infers that technology only provides the tools of learning, and (particularly for our increasingly technology-literate students) using these tools can be as transparent as picking up a pencil. Therefore, what we should focus on in developing our staff and students is how to use these tools to achieve outcomes or goals. From the same article, this quote from David DeBarr, instructional technology coordinator for the Scottsdale Unified School District in Scottsdale, Arizona:

“Our approach is not to teach technology. Our approach is to teach it as a goal. It becomes infused in every classroom and becomes part of life. It happens naturally.”

This way of looking at technology in education has useful applications in how we support teaching and learning. Even in mobile learning, the focus should not be on the technology, but on the learning; handheld devices merely provide a ubiquitous “swiss army knife” of useful tools that a learner can use to accomplish useful goals such as research and reflection. Indeed, no other technologies are more personal, pervasive and interwoven into the fabric of our learners’ lives than mobile technologies, which strongly suggests one of their natural roles as educational tools: supporting informal and lifelong learning.

[Update: another related article on educational technology and the MySpace generation, via Ewan McGregor]

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Call for Papers: International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation

21 03 2007

Published in 4 issues per year, the International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation is edited and reviewed by a distinguished panel of international professors and doctors with acumen in education, technology, and business. Current calls for papers for upcoming editions include the following special issue themes:

There are two issues already published, with some thought-provoking abstracts online – for example, the investigation of a learner group using social network analysis, or the use of activity theory to design mobile learning interfaces and applications; as well as the usual smattering of more general papers espousing the benefits of mobile learning approaches.

If you’re involved in researching m-learning, this might be a good platform for publishing and sharing some of your work.

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Complete schematics for sub-$150 handheld (learning?) device

21 03 2007

In my last post, I picked up Dr. Paul Trafford’s idea for a $100 PDA, and he was gracious enough to add his comment:

Your thoughts on a $100 One-PDA-A-Learner are very welcome. Many thanks for picking this up. My musings on OxPDA are now more than 2 years old and since then connectivity has improved a lot, so my wishes should probably be revised.

An affordable Linux-based PDA sounds a good candidate, but brand new equipment always comes at a considerable premium. If it is to work I think it is important to bring in experiences from a broad range of initiatives, each of which can contribute at least some lessons. One project that offered much promise a few years ago was the Simputer, but it didn’t prove as cost-effective as hoped.

I’d be ecstatic to see Paul’s revised thoughts on what a $100 PDA might incorporate today, given advancements in technology in the last two years. I agree with Paul that brand new equipment generally carries abit of a price tag, but this is often the result of manufacturer, wholesale, and retail markups – a hurdle side-stepped by the creators of the OLPC by controlling their own manufacturing and distribution, rather than purchase a marked-up consumer model. Having control over design and manufacturing also meant the OLPC machines could be designed from the ground up to support pedagogical objectives – rather than the usual consumer entertainment or business objectives.

So… what if we could make this thing from scratch, and cut out the mark-ups? What if the project was run as an open-source platform, enabling its hardware and software to be continuously revised and improved by a community of developers? To inspire ideas about what might one day be, I refer to the Chumby project, (which I’ve previously blogged), an open-source handheld computing platform being developed as a from-scratch device with an expected retail cost of under US$150 – I reckon that would put the actual parts and manufacturing cost around $100.

Because it’s an open source project, all of the Chumby hardware schematics and component lists (indeed, even a blueprint of the PCB and assembly drawing) are freely available to their developer community, as well as the Linux-based OS that it runs. The documentation demonstrates that putting together a $100 handheld device from scratch is highly feasible. The Chumby concept certainly isn’t my idea of an ideal handheld learning device; but it does provide some inspiration for a working model of how such a device might be designed, refined, and implemented.

So… what would *you* like to see in an ideal handheld learning device? Ideally, such a question should be answered in pedagogical, rather than technological, terms, with every bit of incorporated technology in the design underpinned by a set of learning objectives or opportunities it facilitates, and justified on a (educational) return-on-investment basis.

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A $100 One-PDA-A-Learner (OPAL?)

20 03 2007

Dr. Paul Trafford of Oxford University has got me thinking with his idea for a $100 PDA for education. He’s already put together the figures to show that it’s already possible – yes, right now – to put together a $100 PDA package for students (even his older figures from last year put the package price under US$150, the current cost of manufacturing an OLPC laptop), which could include a local version of Wikipedia, packaged up for complete searching and reference using Tomeraider software.

Seeing as he’s managed to put together a $100 learner PDA without the global consortium the OLPC project has entailed, he now has me thinking what one could put together in a custom $100 PDA, built and designed from scratch, and based on an open platform architecture. After all, it’s already possible to build a complete, though basic, mobile phone handset for $25… and an open-platform, Linux-based handheld device was recently launched by electronics company Grundig, featuring a 2-megapixel camera, sleek clamshell design, mp3 player, microSD expandable memory, FM radio, and wireless connectivity – all achieved with a single chip (minimising production costs). The feasibility of a Linux-based handheld device is further supported by the fact that most Motorola phones have been running Linux as their OS since 2003, not to mention many Samsung models. Even GPS can (and has been) be integrated with a Linux-based handheld device, and according to some analysts, Linux is expected to be one of the dominant OSes in the handheld market by 2010

Dr. Trafford has his own wishlists for what might be included in such a tool – veering away from a telephone-like device towards more of a PDA-like device, and I agree that a PDA-type interface could provide a good deal more flexiblity in terms of learning activities and interfaces.

Whatever the form factor, I personally would like to see an informationally connected – or at least, Internet connected – low cost device, which leads me to the latest internet buzz over the development of a “Google phone“. Among Google’s 20-odd research projects, they’ve confirmed they are working on an informationally-connected handheld device:

Isabel Aguilera, head of Google’s Iberian operations, was quoted last week in Spanish news site Noticias.com as acknowledging the existence of a part-time project by some Google engineers to develop a mobile phone.

In her interview at http://tinyurl.com/2feypv/, translated from Spanish, the Google executive said her company “has been investigating” developing a mobile phone that works both as an internet access device and as a way to extend internet use to emerging markets customers.

A handheld internet access device? From the world’s current leader in information access and connectivity? Designed for emerging market cutomers (i.e. low cost)? From an educator’s perspective, this sounds like an exciting prospect, and should investigation lead Google to actual design and implementation, I’ll certainly be following any news keenly. Google have been making it abundantly clear that mobile technology is their current priority for continued growth, and have proven it through their creation of mobile widgets for mail, maps, news, and searching; their recent purchase of Neven Vision also hints at their interest in creating new tools that will enable the use of image recognition to perform “visual searches” and discover information about objects using a camera phone.

It’s all very interesting to think about. I’m mulling Dr. Trafford’s ideas around in my head, and I’ll certainly blog some ideas of my own as they synthesise more substantially.

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The "Mobile Learning" Gadget Giveaway!

17 03 2007

In a fortnight, the Mobile Learning blog (right here!) will be turning one year old! To celebrate, I’m giving away some free m-learning gear, and entry is open to anyone in the world (prizes include postage).

Up for grabs are five portable digital MP3/WMA player/recorders, each of which also includes FM radio and file storage (USB memory stick) capability. Using a built-in microphone, they record audio with noise reduction to compressed format, enabling them to hold up to 36 hours of recorded audio, and have a small LCD screen which can display embedded ID3 information (such as artist and track title) and even song lyrics (or the text of podcasts). Battery life is rated at approx. 10 hours of usage on a single AAA battery, and I’m including two batteries with each prize pack to get you started. iPod-style earbuds are also included in the prize pack, as well as a CD of drivers and software to use with your player.

Using a digital audio player exactly like this, you could create and deliver m-learning strategies such as these (jut for starters):

  • record an audio podcast, and make it available via your blog or iTunes
  • record a class or lecture, and make it available to your students via your organisation’s Online Learning System or web site
  • download and listen to a podcast
  • download an audio e-book or convert a CD e-book to mp3 and listen to it while you’re jogging, cooking, or just about anywere
  • tune in to an informatiove FM radio program; you could even record it for later review or for sharing with others who may be interested in the material
  • plug your player into a friend’s computer to give them a copy of any of your audio learning resources
  • copy other files to your player to transport between desktop PCs or to share with other learners
  • capture learner assessment, such as a client interview or an oral quiz, for later review by yourself or the learner

But hey, I won’t get offended or anything if you just want to use it to enjoy your music on the move. 🙂 Entry is open to anyone around the world. But to win one of these players, you’ll have to Get Social:

  1. You’ll need an account in a “social web” (Web 2.0) site such as a blog, wiki, Flickr account, or MySpace page (to mention but a few of the thousands of options!). Only entries created and hosted using a social web site will be considered for a prize
  2. Create an entry or a piece of content that links to your favourite post here in the Mobile Learning Blog, and say why it’s your favourite. There are now over 200 posts here to choose from! I will give extra credit to creative or innovative entries; and to mobile-capable entries (such as podcasts or mobile web pages).
  3. When you’ve finished your entry, add a comment to this competition page with a link or URL to your entry (so I can find it!).

That’s it! Entries close 6th April 2007, and I will choose and announce the winners the following week. Good luck, and have fun getting social! If this competition gets a good response, I’ll post more competitions like this in future.

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The "Mobile Learning” Gadget Giveaway!

17 03 2007

In a fortnight, the Mobile Learning blog (right here!) will be turning one year old! To celebrate, I’m giving away some free m-learning gear, and entry is open to anyone in the world (prizes include postage).

Up for grabs are five portable digital MP3/WMA player/recorders, each of which also includes FM radio and file storage (USB memory stick) capability. Using a built-in microphone, they record audio with noise reduction to compressed format, enabling them to hold up to 36 hours of recorded audio, and have a small LCD screen which can display embedded ID3 information (such as artist and track title) and even song lyrics (or the text of podcasts). Battery life is rated at approx. 10 hours of usage on a single AAA battery, and I’m including two batteries with each prize pack to get you started. iPod-style earbuds are also included in the prize pack, as well as a CD of drivers and software to use with your player.

Using a digital audio player exactly like this, you could create and deliver m-learning strategies such as these (jut for starters):

  • record an audio podcast, and make it available via your blog or iTunes
  • record a class or lecture, and make it available to your students via your organisation’s Online Learning System or web site
  • download and listen to a podcast
  • download an audio e-book or convert a CD e-book to mp3 and listen to it while you’re jogging, cooking, or just about anywere
  • tune in to an informatiove FM radio program; you could even record it for later review or for sharing with others who may be interested in the material
  • plug your player into a friend’s computer to give them a copy of any of your audio learning resources
  • copy other files to your player to transport between desktop PCs or to share with other learners
  • capture learner assessment, such as a client interview or an oral quiz, for later review by yourself or the learner

But hey, I won’t get offended or anything if you just want to use it to enjoy your music on the move. 🙂 Entry is open to anyone around the world. But to win one of these players, you’ll have to Get Social:

  1. You’ll need an account in a “social web” (Web 2.0) site such as a blog, wiki, Flickr account, or MySpace page (to mention but a few of the thousands of options!). Only entries created and hosted using a social web site will be considered for a prize
  2. Create an entry or a piece of content that links to your favourite post here in the Mobile Learning Blog, and say why it’s your favourite. There are now over 200 posts here to choose from! I will give extra credit to creative or innovative entries; and to mobile-capable entries (such as podcasts or mobile web pages).
  3. When you’ve finished your entry, add a comment to this competition page with a link or URL to your entry (so I can find it!).

That’s it! Entries close 6th April 2007, and I will choose and announce the winners the following week. Good luck, and have fun getting social! If this competition gets a good response, I’ll post more competitions like this in future.

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Workshop Activity: Paper Blogs

16 03 2007

I came up with this activity to demonstrate to teachers what (mo)blogs are, how they work, and why they can be such a powerful strategy for empowering and engaging learners. I’ve used it on a number of occasions – first for a Social Web Professional Development Day in July 2006, and most recently, last Friday, at a Professional Development workshop on M-Learning, for the University of Canberra. I’m pleased to see it has also been used by others I’ve taught it to, as a fun and accurate way to explain blogging – and it doesn’t even need a computer!

UC Mobile LearnersObjective:

To provide a hands-on, interactive explanation of (mo)blogging, and the way that blogs can be used in education as powerful learning tools.

Participants:

For a group of 6 or more workshop participants. The bigger the group, the better and more fun.

Materials:

  • A5 sheets of Paper – one per participant, and preferably in many colours
  • Writing implements – lots of colours of ballpoint pens and/or colourful textas
  • Post-It Notes – I use 47.6 x 73mm ones. If you can find some colourful ones around this size, so much the better. 🙂

Procedure:

  1. Place the Materials (listed above) in the middle of the activity space. Explain that this represents a Blogging Site: a place that provides you with all of the tools you need to set up and publish a blog.
  2. Invite participants to choose a sheet of Paper for themselves in any colour, as well as a pad of Post-It Notes and some Writing Implements. Explain that this represents how blogging sites allow users to customise the appearance of their own blogs, and personalise them.
  3. Tell the participants that they are about to write their very first blog post. (I like to get participants to blog about “Food and Drink” for this activity, because everyone has their own favourites, and it makes this exercise more fun; but you might have your own topic in mind). Ask them to write a paragraph or so about their favourite food or drink, and to draw a picture of it.
  4. Ask participants to also “tag” their post, by adding some summary information at the bottom: for example, whether this item is served hot or cold; whether it is a food or a drink; or whether it is served as an entree, main course, or dessert.
  5. Now everyone puts their posts back in the middle, and you invite participants to each take someone else’s post. Ask them to comment on the content, by writing their comments on Post-It Notes and sticking them onto the original post: for example, do they agree or disagree with the original poster’s favourite food? Do they like the picture that the original poster drew? Tell them that blogs allow this kind of commenting” by readers, which can help learners to consider new ideas and reflect on their own in new ways.
  6. Get participants to keep putting their commented posts back into the Blogging Site for others to read and comment. They are allowed to review their own blogs at any stage and remove comments they don’t think are useful, or comment on each others’ comments, too. When this has gone on for a little while, and all of the blogs have at least a couple of comments on them, get everyone to put all the blogs back in the middle and to find their own. The multicoloured paper helps to make this much simpler. 🙂 They should have lots of fun reading their comments!
  7. Explain that this is what social software, such as blogs, is all about: sharing and exchanging ideas to build new ideas and new knowledge.
  8. Get everyone on their feet, and ask anyone whose food or drink is (or could be) served hot to stand on your left, and everyone else to stand on your right. Explain that this demonstrates how “tags” or “categories” are used to organise information in blogs, which are usually also searchable, to make it easy to discover new information in other people’s blogs.
  9. As a final (optional) activity, ask everyone to write another (brief) blog post on another favourite food or beverage, and to come and stand in front of you when they finish. Explain that most blogs allow readers to subscribe to them in various ways – with RSS being the most popular – which allows readers to be immediately informed if a blogger updates their blog, without having to visit each site.

You can certainly expand on and vary this activity to suit your participants, but this sequence communicates most of the important principles of blogging, without a computer in sight, and uses visual, auditory and kinaesthetic aspects to engage learners with all learning styles, which makes this a very fun activity for all.

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