Setting the Bar

24 09 2007

In this inspirational lecture, one of the greatest minds in the world, Carnegie-Mellon University Professor Randy Pausch, (diagnosed last year with incurable pancreatic cancer) shares his thoughts on life and learning. With only weeks, or months, to live now, he’s packaged his incredible insights into a moving and entertaining address.

At 40m30s, he talks about one of his classes, entitled “Building Virtual Worlds” which had 50 university students from various disciplines in random, 4-member teams rotating every 2 weeks to come up with (and implement) a virtual world concept. Students were given an open book as to what they could create, with two rules: no shooting/violence, and no pornography. Pausch – who among his achievements had worked with Disney’s Imagineers – was blown away by the first cycle of concepts.

“The work was so beyond my imagination… I’d copied the process from Disney’s Imagineering lab, but I had no idea what they could or couldn’t do with it as undergraduates, and when their tools were weaker… Ten years as a professor and I had no idea what to do next… I just gave them a two-week assignment, and if I’d given them a whole semester, I would have given them all A’s.”

His mentor, Andries (Andy) van Dam, of Brown University, gave him some great advice:

“You go back into class tomorrow, and you look ’em in the eye and you say ‘Guys, that was pretty good, but I know you can do better'”.

Terrific advice in a new era of learning. The entire lecture is worth watching if you’re an educator, particularly one involved with teaching technology or teaching with technology. You can download (or view) the whole video here:


Pausch’s professional legacy as a computer scientist and educator is Alice: a free and open-source 3D development environment which provides “the best possible first exposure to programming for students ranging from middle schoolers to college students”. It particularly supports story-telling, and is designed to make programming both socially and technically accessible to young women.


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Corporation vs Community

12 09 2007

According to my favourite newspaper, The Age, software company 2Clix is suing the Australian open community forum Whirlpool for criticism made about 2Clix in forum discussions.

The Whirlpool community is (in my opinion) the single most knowledgeable community on consumer mobile and internet technologies in Australia – and, quite possibly, the world. This community is responsible for inspiring many of my ideas for applying various technologies to the sphere of education, such as my recent posting on the use of the GPS-enabled Nokia 6110 Navigator as a means of providing context to mobile content, (subsequently picked up by Stephen Downes here).

The thing about an online community such as Whirlpool is that it enables expertise to be shared between community members; and as such, both the good and the bad aspects of various issues, products, and entities are discussed. The ramifications of this case succeeding would be immense and disastrous – imagine a situation where edubloggers, for example, could not openly discuss the advantages of Web 2.0 tools vs Learning Management Systems, for fear of our provider (or organisation) being sued by Blackboard an LMS company? ๐Ÿ˜€

The almost 200,000-strong community has already responded with discussions and donations to assist Whirlpool’s founder, Simon Wright, and is quickly becoming one of the most highly publicised articles on Digg, even attracting international commentary from Technorati’s most widely-read blogs.

Some commentary from The Age:

Dale Clapperton, chairman of the online users lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said 2Clix was using the law to silence its critics.

He said if Wright lost “it might mean the end of criticising companies’ products and services online”, as “any company will be able to demand that people’s criticisms of them be deleted off websites, and if they don’t comply they’ll sue”.

Amanda Stickley, a senior law lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, said if 2Clix won there would be severe consequences for website operators as they would have to be “very vigilant in checking material on the website and remove anything that could cause injury to someone’s business reputation”.

In a statement of claim filed with the Supreme Court of Queensland, 2Clix said the comments, published in two threads between between late last year and July this year, led it to sustain “a severe downturn in monthly sales”.

It specifically referenced more than 30 comments by Whirlpool users, many strongly advising people to avoid the software at all costs and complaining that advertised features were not actually available in the product.

One of the comments cited by 2Clix read: “The software became such a problem that we threw it out recently … We stuck with it for over two years but in the end the many hundreds of lost hours of work and high stress levels was not worth it.”

2Clix claimed the statements were both false and malicious, and said it contacted Whirlpool about the matter this year but Whirlpool refused to take the forum threads down.

The issue has ramifications for online teaching and learning in Australia.ย  If open commentary and crititique becomes effectively banned online, the use of social web tools for reflection, discussion and evaluation would be severely compromised.

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1:1 Access to Mobile Learning Devices

7 09 2007

An interim report on a study on the educational impact of personal access to mobile learning devices has published an interim report with emerging recommendations resulting from their development and research project.

Among the emerging recommendations are findings on policy, technical issues and professional development, such as:

  • When learners expect devices to be used, they are more likely to bring them to school every day and keep them charged. When all pupils in a class have their devices with them, the learning benefits are optimised.
  • Where possible, all relevant staff – especially teaching assistants, ICT co-ordinators and teachers – should be provided with mobile devices.
  • It is beneficial to ensure reliable wireless connectivity.
  • It is useful to consider systems for dealing with breakages and temporary loss of use of devices. This may involve planning for temporary loan stock.
  • Systems for storage of and access to work need to be developed. Teachers and learners need to access digital work to provide and receive feedback.
  • Teachers benefit from having time to explore what the devices can do before integrating their use into planned learning.
  • Using mobile devices is likely to increase learner autonomy. Teachers need to ensure that learners are able to evaluate resources, think critically and reflect.

The final reports will be published in about a year’s time; the interim report can be found here in Word or PDF format.

Don't be Dazzled!

6 09 2007

So Apple launched the next generation of their iPod range today, including a touch-screen iPod that looks and works pretty much exactly like the iPhone… but, er… without the phone. And without a camera and Bluetooth (but, just like the iPhone, it has a sealed internal battery and no support for additional memory card expansion). Oh… and without email. And all this on Apples’ closed, proprietary platform.

But already I’ve heard the clamour of excited educators, some touting Apple as somehow being at the forefront of mobile learning. Brent Schlenker extolls the new iPod Touch:

“Can I here [sic] anyone say “Ultimate mobile learning device”? I had heard of schools testing iPhones with wi-fi only (they disable the phone service but utilize the wi-fi with the on-campus wireless network). Maybe we don’t give every kid a laptop. Maybe we give them each a Touch…without the impending molestation charges of course. “

Oh dear. It seems to me that in this case, the iPod Touch’s remaining functionality – basically, a wi-fi web browser and a media player, with no expansion capabilities – are being vastly over-valued.

Yes, it is possible to learn on a (small) web browser… but seeing as this one will only work if you have wi-fi access – and not if you wander out of school and down the road – a large chunk of the “mobile” in “mobile learning” seems to go out the window with the Touch. Away from a wi-fi access point, all you have is, um, an iPod: you can play music, videos and view photos.

You can’t even take photos, record audio, or make videos (not that you can record videos on the iPhone, either, mind you); and independant remote resource creation, documentation, and sharing tasks like moblogging become completely impossible. This from the same post, however:

But who the heck even WANTS a smartphone anymore when you can have an iPhone or a Touch? I mean really, people! Aren’t you just a little embarassed when you have too pull out that dinosaur Treo or Blackberry in front of your iphone toting colleagues? Your geek cred is on the line.

When Apple make a phone that will allow me to do the things I’ve always been able to do on my current Smartphone (record a video; send an MMS; add my own applications), I’ll give the people who own one a great deal more “cred”.

Tony Vincent asks:

“With so many iPod choices, which does your school choose?”

and my honest opinion is “none of the above” – in my opinion, neither the Apple iPhone, nor the iPod Touch (which has no additional features over the iPhone, and loses many) is a serious learning device, or even a serious working device… let alone the “ultimate” mobile learning device.

Don’t be dazzled. All that’s shiny (and these are *really* shiny) is not gold. ๐Ÿ™‚

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The Australian Blogging Conference

5 09 2007

This looks like a terrific opportunity to meet other edubloggers from across Australia, for an innovatively conceived and executed event. The Australian Blogging Conference will be held at the Queensland University of Technology on 28 September 2007, and will take on an informal approach, with discussions on various topics pertinent to edubloggers and edublogging.

With sufficient corporate sponsorship, the organisers are hoping to make the event free for participants – just as with blogging, a free and open sharing of ideas.

(via Learning Technologies)

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Power on the Go!

5 09 2007

Steve Wheeler is attending the M-Learning sessions at the ALT-C conference along with a few other edubloggers, and recounted one of the issues they explored in their session on “Tensions Between Personal Space and Social Space”:

By far the most important issue for our small group was the problem of finding somewhere to top up your battery when it goes flat. How could this be achieved…?

One method an educator could already employ is the use of the portable power pack. These are essentially a portable, large capacity battery, usually with a couple of outlets for dispensing power for various devices (the largest models are capable of powering a laptop for several hours) including USB ports which are capable of recharging most mobile electronics. However, these can be somewhat heavy and bulky – about the size of a large external hard drive unit – and therefore somewhat contrary to the idea of mobility!

I recently purchased three very small, portable and cheap mobile power units which I can recommend to other mobile educators. The units are powered by rechargable AAA batteries, and can be recharged themselves by plugging them into a USB port (the unit becomes a AAA battery recharger… neat!). They each dispense sufficient power to fully recharge several mobile phones (or PDAs) to full capacity; and should even this capacity prove insufficient, normal AAA batteries could be used to replace the rechargable ones, providing additional power.

The units are tiny – only slightly larger than four AAA batteries side-by-side; and each unit (minus batteries) costs less than $10, including shipping, from this site:
. For the greatest capacity, I’d recommend using good-quality 950mAh
rechargable Ni-MH batteries, which would provide a total potential power capacity of almost 4000 mAh.

There’s also a bit of an additional gimmick – there’s a built in LED flashlight in each unit, so it doubles as a long-duration torch. Illuminating stuff indeed. ๐Ÿ™‚

There are also solar-powered versions of this portable-power concept. This model, for example, has two USB ports (and could thus be used to charge two mobile devices simultaneously).

Main Product Picture - click to enlarge
Click for full-size view

However, these solar models generally take several hours to recharge an internally-sealed battery. This is why I think a rechargeable power source with easily-replacable batteries is more flexible and reliable for most situations.

If anyone else has ideas on how to ensure mobile learners can power their devices on the go, I’d be very keen to hear from you! Please post your comments! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Standards and the E-Learning Guild Report on M-Learning

4 09 2007

It’s now been a few months since my report on the recommended Australian Standards for M-Learning, and their companion guide for teachers and developers, were released by the E-Standards for Training Experts Group (EEG), and they’ve both been well received – according to the EEG, the documents have become the most downloaded files on the website.

The aim of the M-Learning Standards was to develop a range of technical specifications that would support better interoperability of resources and systems between VET organisations. The latest report on M-Learning by the E-Learning Guild asserted that one of the largest barriers to the adoption of mobile learning expressed by e-learning pratitioners was a perceived “lack of standards”. The other major barrier to the adoption of m-learning that was expressed, that “content developed for other media does not transfer well to mobile devices” is also addressed by the Standards for M-Learning, and so hopefully, the Standards will help to address these perceived barrier to the adoption of mobile technologies in education into the future.

The majority of recommended standards value openness to facilitate development and sharing, with the remainder comprising of non-asserted proprietary formats which have become de-facto standards due to widespread use. (“Non-asserted” proprietary formats are “owned”, but are unimpeded for use in educational developments, as intellectual property rights are not asserted against those who use those formats).

As such, the Standards for M-Learning may help to lay a foundation for organisations contemplating the use of M-Learning, to advise formats for the best possible quality of resources and to promoteย  interoperability between both mobile and non-mobile platforms.

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An Introduction to Moblogs in Education

3 09 2007

Here’s my introductory presentation for today’s National Networks Elluminate session on Moblogs (12:00 noon AEST).ย  If you’re not sure what a moblog is, or how they can be used to support and enhance learning, you can come and join the session here when I present it… otherwise, check out the slide show below. ๐Ÿ™‚

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