A Bit of Personal Reflection: Facebook as a Learning Tool?

30 08 2007

Sue’s comment to this blog post about Mobile Facebook, asking for ideas on how Facebook could be used as a learning tool, prompted me to experiment with the possibilities in Facebook and Facebook Mobile.

Fbiphone1

But while both Facebook and blogs owe their original pedigree primarily to social (as distinct to working or studying) motivations, I’ve grappled with some initial reservations, thinking about opening my existing Facebook profile to my colleagues across the Australian (and International) Flexible Learning Community.

It’s not that I don’t trust y’all with all of the details I have posted in my private profile. Okay, actually, maybe I don’t. 🙂

The solution, of course, is simple – create a whole seperate profile to log into during work hours – a professional Facebook presence, devoid of (too) personal revelations and socialising temptations. Just as a savvy blogger will have a separate personal blog and a professional blog (and never the twain shall meet), so too is it a good idea to create a seperate account on Facebook that is designed to enable communications and professional networks, without the colourful clamour of Facebook friends.

I guess I will have to do a similar kind of thing with most of these social web tools, despite the inconvenience of having to have seperate passwords and administration for each one. Indeed, it’s looking as if I’m actually creating two completely different worlds online: a network of professional social sites, and a network of personal social sites… two very different mes, with the occasional convergence (e.g. my Flickr account).

Right. Hopefully, that was the hard part. Now to figure out the best ways to use my (Serious) Facebook – and (Serious) Facebook Mobile – accounts, to support and enhance learning… hmmm. Featuring news, RSS feeds, and surveys, Jacinta Gascoigne‘s Facebook page appears to be a good place to start…

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Another Free App Turns Your Phone into a Wireless Webcam

28 08 2007

SmartCam is an application that runs on your phone and your PC, linking them so that the video captured by your mobile is transmitted to you PC for recording or video conferencing.

SmartCam

I previously blogged about Wwigo, a free application which turns the camera in your Nokia mobile phone into a Bluetooth wireless webcam, and for the time being, SmartCam is also restricted to Nokia S60v3.0 handsets. However, a J2ME (mobile Java) version is anticipated for the near future, which should allow hundreds of other handsets to also extend their functionality this way.

Best of all, SmartCam is a free and open source application, so (unlike Wwigo) there is no watermarking of your video footage, and no proprietary restrictions.  Definitely worth downloading and trying! 🙂

via PocketPicks

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Capture and Edit Video On-The-Go

28 08 2007

This little device doesn’t look like any video camera I’ve ever seen before, but it’s an innovative little camera that also allows the user to edit video (with a library of special effects and the ability to composite captured footage) without needing a PC.

The mi VDO FX (“my video effects”) can also capture and mix in a “soundtrack” of audio from a connected iPod or MP3 player, and can increase its memory using a built-in SD Card slot. Not bad for just US$99 each, soon to be available from these online stores: http://www.b2lounge.com/ and http://www.evolutionshops.com/ .  I’d love to get hold of one of these to see if they’re suitable for educational use, with students creating their own mobile presentations!

B2Stuf via Gizmodo

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Alex Hayes' Presentation on M-Learning

27 08 2007

I gotta share this, it is fantastic.

Alex Hayes, who’s been involved in promoting, leading, and innovating flexible and mobile learning for a number of years, has just posted up his retrospective on the last 2 years of mobile learning, which he will be presenting at the National TAFE Construction Conference, September 5-7 2007, hosted by my very own Canberra Institute of Technology.

Leigh Blackall describes Alex’s slideshow thus, and I must concur:

“It is a beautiful presentation, innovative in its creation, extensive, participatory, self explanatory… … A celebration!”

Alex has put in a lot of work, gathering opinions from national and international teachers, mobile technologists, educational technologists, researchers and more. His experiences – and the other experiences shared in this slideshow – provide some great insights into where we’ve come from… and hint at where we’re heading to with m-learning.

Great work, Alex!

Alex Hayes via Learn Online

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Could 3D GPS Enable Game-like Situated Learning?

27 08 2007

GPS (the Global Positioning System) uses satellites to help users to navigate, with accuracy as good as half a metre or so. But while most of us are happy to have a simple 2D or “tilted” fake 3D GPS display to guide us, Asia is developing GPS systems that look more like first-person video games:

Provia A1 GPS Navigator by HTMS

If this technology becomes more widely available, it could be terrific for educators. Imagine being able to create virtual “learning checkpoints” which exist in a student’s GPS/cellphone/PDA that they can visit to “collect” learning experiences. These checkpoints could show up as different hovering icons in the 3D display, rather like this screenshot from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where an “enterable doorway” icon is shown behind the character:

A learner could physically walk around locating checkpoints, which could trigger all kinds of activities on their mobile device: for example, a video or animation (e.g. explaining a feature of their physical location), a link to an internet resource, a discussion (perhaps using video or audio), or an assessment. A learner could also simulate walking around physically – it would be just like walking around in a video game – to visit or preview some of these resources without actually being there.

Even more exciting: perhaps GPS units could also upload location data for each student involved in a particular learning stream , so that you could see the avatar of other learners physically or virtually visiting various checkpoints on your GPS simulation. If you were physically at a site with other learners, you could identify them from their avatar, and could have a real-life discussion about the location you’re visiting; if you’re visiting virtually, you could ask questions of real-life people, actually at the scene, who could upload their own images, videos, or comments from the site to help other learners.

Provia A1 GPS Navigator by HTMS

And unlike a video game, where you run around collecting fake points and accomplish made-up missions, imagine immersive, real-life games where students collect real and authentic learning towards actual qualifications… 🙂

Technabob via Gizmodo

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Mobile Assessment Made Easy

25 08 2007

There’s some great news from the Australian Flexible Learning Framework, the national organisation which promotes flexible learning opportunities in the Australian Vocational Education and Training system.

Not only has the Framework successfully drafted a further 4 year strategy to continue to support teachers and trainers Australia-wide (congrats and hurrah!), but work has begun on improving tools for conducting assessments using mobile devices.

This work will build on a previous Framework project which produced the QTI m-Player. a free mobile assessment tool compatible with the international Question and Test Interoperability Standard (QTI). According to the Framework Press Release:

Peter Higgs, Manager of Learning Technology at TAFE Tasmania said: “The first version of QTI m-Player looked at quizzing and not uploading assessment outcomes and results onto an organisational system.

“The new functions will include the ability to send assessment information, including photo attachments via secure e-mail to upload directly into a Learning Management System.

“Assessors will no longer have to manually enter the data into their administration systems and process the results once they get back to the office,” said Mr Higgs.

The work is being supported and funded by the AFLF’s New Practices In Flexible Learning project. The M-Learning community looks forward to hearing more about this work in the year ahead!

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M-Learning: Create. Share. Interact.

24 08 2007

Check out this terrific video of Dr. Eliot Soloway, Professor and “Golden Apple” award recipient (Teacher of the Year) at University of Michigan, being interviewed on his vision of learning of the future. He thinks the cellphone will eventually revolutionalise learning, and his opinions on how this will happen align closely with my own.

“Mobile computing is what the students are doing anyhow… They’re doing it already outside of school – why not do that inside school?”

Soloway’s insights encompass all aspects of learning: not just using mobile devices as a method of delivering resources, but as a way for students to interact, share, and create new knowledge. It’s inspirational stuff, and not just because the message is right on-target, but because Soloway’s enthusiasm is infectious.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.podtech.net/player/podtech-player.swf?bc=6c41b555215a410f8c2a885208c82891&content=http://media1.podtech.net/media/2007/08/PID_012261/Podtech_ElliottSoloway.flv&totalTime=1653000" width="320" height="269" wmode="transparent" /]

Podtech via Ideas and Thoughts from an EdTech

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Textbooks or E-Books?

24 08 2007

There’s been some debate in the edu-blogosphere concerning whether or not schools should buy textbooks for students, with Stephen Downes asserting that all school textbooks should be replaced by electronic resources (which would basically allow the knowledge to be made available to students for free).

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From a mobile learning point of view, one of the obvious benefits of digital texts (or remotely-accessible knowledge websites) is that they’re *so* much more portable! I remember my uni days lugging a bag full of law and math textbooks to and from classes – what a chore! In terms of the content I was reading, there’s probably not much that couldn’t be reproduced digitally. And it would have been terrific to have been able to take *all* of my textbooks around with me, rather than having to select just the texts I felt I would need the most, because I just couldn’t physically carry all my textbooks at once.

I can definitely see the value of electronic, free-for-education resources, but there’s just a few bits of the paradigm missing for me:

  1. Annotating/Note Taking. One of the ways I use textbooks is to scribble notes in the margins, highlight paragraphs of particular value, and insert my own notes between the pages to supplement the textbooks content: for example, if the teacher provides a better explanation of a concept covered by the textbook, it is useful to insert the “missing page(s)” myself. How could this kind of learning activity be replicated in an electronic textbook or on a website? How do I highlight paragraph 10 of a webpage for later reference so that I can flick through my notes and visually notice that there’s something relevant there that I should remember, as I can do with the pages of a text book?
  2. Access to Online Content. A book is a very mobile repository of knowledge. Once I’ve bought it, I can take it anywhere, and I can access the information in the textbook for free. This is not necessarily so for an online textbook: if I need to remotely access some content and I’m not able to use a free campus wireless service (e.g. on the bus), my only connection options are via a commercial mobile operator, which can cost plenty of money. In some situations, I may not be able to access an online resource at all (e.g. in a rural or regional setting). Putting the knowledge on a website may make it “free,” but is access to that resource going to be free (and easily available)?
  3. Power. A textbook needs no power source, and it can therefore be studied at length in situations where mobile devices needed to access the same knowledge with the convenience of a textbook may be inadequate. There are now “e-ink” e-book readers which have much better power cunsumption that laptops or PDAs, but these lack wireless and internet capability and are only monochrome (though colour versions are being developed). A student’s day may involve an hour-long bus or train ride to school or college; an 8-hour day of college; and another hour-long ride home: realistically (conservatively, even), 10 hours of usage of one or more textbooks would be expected in a day without an opportunity to recharge an electronic device. If we replace textbooks with e-books or websites, how can we ensure students have power to access theor e-texts all day long?

Just some of my thoughts… if we can overcome some of these barriers, I think replacing textbooks with e-books may well become all the more feasible. 🙂

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Avoiding Mobile Learning Bacn

23 08 2007

According to BoingBoing, the term “Bacn” (e-mail you want, just not now: myspace alerts, twitter followers, newsletters, etc.) was only coined on Sunday, but as of today it has been blogged over 350 times and has become the 14th most-popular search term of the day.

I guess that’s just because it’s such as useful term. I have various spam filters, but my email inbox suffers from inordinate amounts of bacn – particularly various informative and educational sites I’ve subscribed to (e.g. the Networks Community Forum and other EdNa forums), which don’t have an RSS alternative, but which I want to keep tabs on.

This is a good prompt to reflect on the importance of context for mobile learning. Just as students receiving a social phone call in class is intrusive and disruptive, so too could m-learning intrude into students’ lives. Just as most people would not enjoy getting a phone call from work just as they’re sitting down to dinner, we also need to be aware of the caveats to creating learning experiences on our students’ most personal and ubiquitous digital companions.

Quite possibly, mobile learning is, indeed, stuff students want… but is it stuff they want right now? M-learning enables us to provide students with convenience, portability, ubiquity, flexibility and contextualisation… but if we’re delivering it via students’ personal mobile phones, we also need to be courteous guests in their personal space, lest content be considered bacn!

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My Gear Bag

17 08 2007

Inspired by Mitchell Oke at Gear Diary (a great source of mobile technology news), here is the contents of my own Gear Bag. My “daily” compact mobile kit packs into a 25cm-wide mens grooming kit and weighs just 1.5 kilos, fully loaded. 🙂 The waterproof compartments help protect my gear from weather and spills, and the hanging hook (usually used to hang the bag from a shower stall or shower head) allow me to hang the bag next to me wherever I’m working, with easy access to everything inside.

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This “compact kit” can be extended by popping it in the front pocket of my laptop bag for when I need more power and screen real estate for graphics, design, or development applications; but otherwise, this kit can do the majority of the specialised tasks I need each day – document authoring and editing, web server administration, and correspondence – as well as a full range of peripheral tasks – GPS navigation, internet access and research, stereo music playback, and audio, video and photographic capture.

1. Nokia 6110 Navigator SmartPhone/GPS (works with Bluetooth Folding Keyboard)

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I can use my 3.5G (HSDPA) phone to remotely log in to the (Linux) servers I
administrate without any additional hardware or wireless connectivity.
Combined with my Bluetooth Wireless keyboard, I can do with my mobile
phone almost everything I can do with the desktop version of Putty, and
almost as fast. Actually, it’s probably the best phone I’ve owned for years… and I’ve been through 11 premium models over the last 11 years of continuous mobile phone ownership. The phone has built-in GPS navigation, so I can use it to geotag (add location information to) any photo I take with it. It has the fastest processor of any current Nokia phone (even faster than the N95’s) and a terrific screen.

2. Spare Phone Battery, and SD-Card Family Memory Cards and Adapters

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I have an extra battery for my phone, as well as a 2GB memory card inside. On the right of the phone are the range of memory cards and adapters I use – from top to bottom ,these are: microSD-SD adapter, MiniSD-SD adapter, MiniSD card, MicroSD-MiniSD adapter, and MicroSD card.

3. HP RW6828 PDA/Smartphone (works with Bluetooth Folding Keyboard)

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For additional capability, I’m using a Hewlett-Packard RW6828  smartphone running Windows Mobile 5. It has Wi-Fi access so I can tap into any wireless hotspots, Bluetooth to connect to my phone, laptop, or any PC I plug my Bluetooth dongle into, and can also be used with my phone’s SIM card for telephony and/or data connectivity.

I can use this device to edit Microsoft Office documents, provide basic
editing to images, input data into custom databases, and log into
servers using shell or GUI access. Using the same wireless Bluetooth
keyboard I use for my phone, data entry is fast and easy.

4. Bluetooth Stereo Headset and Charger, Wired Stereo Headset, and Tape

The largest item in my mobile kit is my pair of wireless Bluetooth
headphones and their charger (top right). These headphones connect with
all of my mobile devices – phone, PDA and laptop – to allow me to
listen to audio discreetly, and have built-in controls so I can control
my music (volume, play/pause and next/last track) using the headset
itself. Unfortunately, unlike my phone and PDA (which can be charged using standard USB cables), my headphones need their own charger… one day I’ll probably upgrade these to a version that’s more flexible, but
they’re doing a good job for the time being. 🙂

The in-ear headset in the bottom right of this image can connect with
either my phone or my PDA/Smartphone to allow me to use either device
as a hands-free phone, or to listen to audio with stereo sound.

The small roll of tape is invaluable. I use tape to temporarily bind
cables when I’m out of elastic bands; to stick tiny memory cards to
other larger things so they don’t get lost; to do minor repairs… it’s
a lifesaver. Probably comes from my many years in theatre, where Gaffer
Tape is used for just about everything… but on a rather smaller
scale! 🙂

5. Bluetooth 2.0 Dongle and USB Memory Key

I carry a USB 2.0 Bluetooth dongle to enable me to connect wirelessly
to any desktop PC I might use. My laptop, PDA and mobile phoneare all
Bluetooth-capable, so ensuring my desktop environment is able to
connect to these is worth carrying this tiny device.

I also carry a memory stick for quickly saving files or data for later
use, and for carrying work in progress. I’d rather not have to plug in
my PDA or Bluetooth a file to my mobile phone when I could just plug
and save. Sadly, this memory stick is getting a little old (only 256MB!) and is next on my list of equipment to upgrade. It’s been a faithful and reliable work tool for quite a few years, but I have my eye on a new 8GB model…

6. USB Cables and USB Car Power Adapter

I carry two USB cables with me; these allow me to connect two peripherals to my laptop or desktop PC (choose between phone, PDA, and
digital notepad) and can also be plugged into the car adapter (in the
middle) to charge my PDA battery. Not pictured here is my the car
charger for my phone which is, as I type, plugged in in the car. It’s
necessary to power the phone when I’m using it as a GPS, as having the
screen continuously illuminated chews through the phone’s battery.

7. CD of Essential Software and Drivers

This may not look very glamourous, but digital mobility often means being able to take advantage of whatever computing devices are at hand. This includes other computers I might happen to use around my various work locations, or computers at Internet Kiosks, for example. I carry up-to-date versions of all of the software I need to work efficiently from any PC (assuming a Windows-based operating system is installed, and nothing else), as well as any drivers I need to connect a new PC with my various mobile devices.

Size Comparison

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Here’s a comparison of my laptop bag and my mobile kit. Most mobile
professionals would take something the size and weight of the bag on
the left around with them on a daily basis. I am able to do just about
everything I need to using the kit on the right, which is small enough
to fit into the spare space in the front pocket of the laptop bag (next
to the mouse and power cord for the laptop, and all my pens and paraphenalia that are also in there) and weighs just just 1.5kg, total. Each square on the mat in the image on the right is 2cm wide.

So… what’s in the Laptop Bag?

Just a couple of extra devices: but both are too big to go in the compact case.

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My laptop is terrific. It’s probably average size and weight, but
it features a built-in SD Card slot so I can copy files to and from
memory cards (for my phone, camera, PDA, and digital notepad) without
the need for an external reader. It also has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for wireless connectivity. I can have it going for about 2.5 hours with the screen on full brightness and wireless and Bluetooth going before it conks out.

The digital notepad on the right allows me to take handwritten notes, and makes a digital copy of everything I write and draw. When connected to a PC, I can instantly email a digital copy of my notes to others, and convert
my notes to typed text using the handwriting recognition software. It’s
cheap and light, so I don’t have to haul a tablet PC around to do this
simple task. Files are saved to SD Card – compatible with my laptop’s
internal reader. This tablet also doubles as a basic digitizing tablet. At home and at work I have dedicated Wacom graphics tablets, but this is a nice convenience when out and about… 🙂

Also in the laptop bag are pens, business cards, tissues, a mouse for the laptop, the laptop’s power cable, and a webcam (maybe I’ll have one built into my next laptop). Sometimes I carry a sketching kit in the bag for when I have a spare moment (I tend to prefer to listen to music, draw or compose poetry rather than playing computer games, although I have some extra games on my PDA and mobile phone too).

There you have it! The contents of my road warrior’s mobility kit…

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