22 02 2010

Over the last week or so, I’ve been keeping up with the story of the US school that activated the webcam on a student’s Macbook while the student was at home, and took photographs to allege that the student was handling drugs (which the student asserts were actually candies).

In the half a decade I’ve been involved with mobile learning, the issue of student ettiquette in classrooms and schools has surfaced frequently. It is sometimes asserted, for example, that mobile phones and other portable digital devices are “intrusive” in classrooms; and they are cited as being problematic when it comes to the recording of playground fights and bullying, or to secretly record peers and teachers inappropriately.  While these issues concerning student use of mobile, portable, and ubiquitous devices are frequently discussed, the inverse responsibilities of schools and teachers are rarely, if ever, discussed.

Students at work on their laptops.

Students at work on their laptops.

But these issues now need to be properly addressed.  This incident will almost certainly whip up fear in educational communities worldwide – particularly amongst students and their families.  Many educational institutions have long-standing “student policies” on the use of mobile devices on campus; but almost none would have public policies on how mobile devices may be used by organisations when the student leaves the campus.

Turning on webcams when students and their families have a reasonable expecation of privacy is just one way mobile devices might be abused by educational organisations.  Unsolicited or overly frequent instant or SMS messaging, GPS tracking, or content/communications monitoring are amongst other issues that may need to be addressed in the wake of this incident.

The internal enforcement of policy would be another issue to address.  The school being sued for this particular incident has claimed that these laptop webcams were only used to try to retrieve lost or stolen laptops, could only be accessed by two personnel, and they were activated exactly 42 times, ever.  But none of that explains how someone else gained access to a laptop that was NOT stolen or lost, used said device to watch a student’s activities, and ultimately decided to take photos of those activities to confront the student.

I’m concerned that unless public mobile technology policies are put into place and enforced, this incident will have a chilling effect on the growth of mobile learning.  Students and families will be suspicious of institution-issued or -accessed devices, and from educational institutions will be afraid of issuing said devices due to resistance and/or being accused of inappropriate use of these devices.  In the words of this article on Arstechnica:

“School-issued laptops are becoming more and more common these days, but thanks to the action of one high school, students and parents might have second thoughts about bringing them home.”

That would be a terrible shame.   This school may have a lot to answer for for the damage they’ve done to the reputation and advancement of mobile learning.

Report: Sydney AUC iPhone SDK Workshop

1 02 2010

There has been considerable activity at the University of Canberra with the implementation of Apple-based systems for supporting teaching and learning.  With the University installing a new lecture recording system, staff here in the Teaching & Learning Centre have been focused on ways to optimise the capture, editing, and delivery of videos from all sources (including learner-created, teacher-created, and lecture-recorded).

Amongst the many ideas for content delivery we have been investigating iTunesU and the use of iPod Touch and iPhone devices for accessing content on-campus (or at home) for later review and reflection.  With that in mind, I applied for one of the Apple University Consortium (AUC) scholarships to attend last week’s iPhone Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) Workshops in Sydney, and was delighted to be accepted.

The three-day event was hosted at Clifton’s Training on George Street, and the facilities were excellent.  There simply wasn’t a technical glitch the whole time we were there, which meant we could focus on learning instead of troubleshooting.  The facilities were adequately spacious, well-lit, quiet, clean and modern.  A shiny new Apple Powerbook was provided to each participant from the AUC’s own “Classroom(s) in a Box” – this was a simple and flawless way of ensuring all participants were up and running in mere minutes.

The main trainer trainer was Nicholas Circosta, a 21-year-old Honours student from Murdoch University and a founding partner in start-up software development company Codelity.  Nick’s interest in all things Apple has naturally led him to apply his studies in Software Engineering to developing all manner of cool, useful, and whacky iPhone apps.  It was a privilege to have someone so knowledgable and talented as our trainer, and he made learning iPhone development heaps of fun.  I’m no Apple fanboy, but talking with Nick I couldn’t help but be somewhat infected with his enthusiasm for all things Apple!  No surprise, then that he’s been headhunted by Apple themselves and will shortly be heading over to begin working for them in Cupertino.

Nick demos adding an image to an iPhone app.

Nick demos adding an image to an iPhone app.

Nick was assisted by Louis Cremen, a mobile developer and teaching member at the University of Wollongong’s Faculty of Informatics.  Louis provided excellent support during the “hands on” practical coding parts of the course, as well as great perspectives during teaching and discussion.  When Nick goes off to Cupertino, Louis will be taking on the main teaching role for future iPhone SDK Workshops run by AUC, and we were very lucky to have both experts supporting our class during this transitory handover period of the course.

The course was divided into 10 modules of varying size and increasing technical complexity.  The course content was designed to be approachable for those with little experience in coding Apple applications in Objective C; and was really ideal for the mixed experience levels in the class (which contained everything from post-doctoral through to minimally-experienced developers!)  The first day focused on fundamental concepts of iPhone development (I shall never forget the  Model/View/Controller Song from last year’s WWDC), the language (Objective C) and the development environment (XCode+Interface Builder+iPhone Simulator).

We finished the day with a look at the basic structure of an app in development and the concept of “Views” created through both code and Interface Builder.  On Day 2, we got into the guts of development and did plenty of coding based on Nick’s examples, achieving things like storing data between sessions, enabling multitouch, and having a look at the various ways to implement 2D, 2.5D, and 3D graphics.  By the third day our brains were pretty much bursting… but we were pushed harder conceptually, exploring the Core Animation and Core Location frameworks.  Nick allowed us some free programming time at the end of the session, even putting up a nice prize for the participant who could code the best app in the last 3 hours of the day. 🙂

This was only my second ever AUC event (the first being CreateWorld09), but if this is an indication of the quality of AUC events I will definitely be hoping to attend more in future.  First class training begins with first class trainers, and Nick’s ascendancy into the realms of Apple itself provides some indication of his energy, enthusiasm and talent in iPhone development.

This iPhone SDK workshop is being held again several times this year – in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth.  While I don’t believe it’s possible to get into the Melbourne workshop any more, if you are able to attend the Brisbane or Perth workshops I would highly recommend them.  See the AUC website for more details.

The Genie in the Bottle: Unleashing the hidden power of personal mobile devices for learning (November 2009)

11 11 2009

Leonard Low
University of Canberra, November 2009

ABSTRACT: Since July 2007 there have been more mobile phones in operation in Australia than there are people; and when you add in the other mobile, digital devices that ordinary Australians own – such as media players, digital cameras, and portable computing devices – it is apparent that there are tremendous tools for personal and lifelong learning in the pockets of our students.  Unfortunately, there is an equally enormous mental rift between the way these devices are perceived by most users (who usually view these devices as being for entertainment or personal communications only), and the way they need to be perceived if they are to be used to their ultimate potential: as digital “pocket knives” of tools for creation and learning.  This paper draws a comparison with personal computer users who view computers as primarily an entertainment or communications device; discusses user resistance to the intrusion of “work” into their “personal” spaces; and makes the case that changing user attitudes is just as important as training user skills, if we want to unleash the hidden power of ubiquitous mobile devices for personal and lifelong learning.

Author’s Notes

Educators have contemplated the possible benefits of using mobile technologies for learning for decades, and hundreds of scholarly articles have been published in recent years on the potential affordances of mobile devices for facilitating, supporting, and enhancing learning. With so much interest, speculation and research into the use of mobile devices for learning, and with such broad availability and affordability of mobile devices, why hasn’t there been a corresponding surge in the use of these devices in educational contexts?  Why aren’t students already using their mobile devices for personal and lifelong learning?

Two dominant strategies have emerged in relation to ownership of digital devices for mobile learning: one in which a uniform set of devices is provided to all learners to overcome barriers of platform diversity and device access, on a temporary or permanent basis; and an alternative strategy which leverages the mobile devices already owned by students (regardless of interoperability) for learning activities.  I believe there are problems with both strategies – problems which currently present psychological barriers to the adoption of mobile devices as learning tools, despite their many affordances.

In the first instance, a school or institution may provide, sell, or direct students to purchase a particular mobile device, for example, an Apple iPhone, for the purpose of study.  In cases where devices are loaned to students on a temporary basis, students generally have very little time to develop proficiency or fluency in the use of the device.  Better outcomes are evident in cases where students are allowed to retain devices for longer periods of time to develop proficiency and personalise devices to suit individual usage preferences, but the expense of buying these “standard” devices (either for the organisation, or for the student) can make this strategy difficult to implement.

In the second scenario, an educator may draw on the mobile tools that students already own.  One major difficulty with this approach is the wide range of mobile devices owned by students, which are as divergent in capabilities for communications and networking, media playback and capture, and application customisation as you can imagine.  However the perceived advantage with this approach is that it allows students to use the tools they are already most familiar with for the purpose of learning.

This paper looks at this particular issue – the use of personal mobile devices for learning – and posits that the “personal” nature of these devices is a double-edged sword: it improves flexibility and reduces cost of participation, but at the risk of students feeling like learning is imposing on their “personal spaces”.


Mobile Learning Research Workshop

11 11 2009

I’ve been kindly invited a mobile learning research workshop at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) in a couple of weeks, facilitated by Laurel Dyson and Andrew Litchfield, members of the Technology and Education Design and Development (TEDD) Research Group at UTS.  Laurel and Andrew have been involved with quite a bit of recent research into mobile learning, with a summary of their research contained in this ASCILITE paper: http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet25/dyson.pdf.  In this workshop, we’ll be working together to share our experiences in m-learning, develop at least one ARC Discovery Grant proposal for 2010, and possibly other m-learning projects (e.g. ALT-C), and to launch an Australasian Special Interest Group around m-learning.

I thought I would share some of the Key Research Questions here, as I prepare for my involvement in this workshop.  Some of these questions point at topical issues in the development of mobile learning strategies – issues that all mobile learning developers and researchers will need to grapple with:

  • How can we best incorporate mobile technologies into designs and strategies for improved learning?
  • What are the best approaches to achieve sustainable, low-cost mobile learning?
  • How can mobiles enable more engagement and interactivity in lectures?
  • Interrogating anywhere anytime learning
  • What are the best-practice mLearning activities for each discipline?

Apple Mobile Learning Roadshow

2 06 2009

I attended the Apple Mobile Learning Roadshow last week, held at Sydney’s Maritime Museum; and I know other M-Learning bloggers will be interested to hear about this event.  It was attended by well over 150 people, and a glance over the name badges indicated that most attendees were from the higher education sector.  All attendees were loaned an iPod Touch 16GB to use during the seminar:

The device was pre-loaded with a number of “apps” (applications/software) that supported learning, most of which were “connected” (i.e. they used or required an internet connection) rather than standalone, and it was a good chance to play with a few new ones (such as this Molecular Modelling app) that I haven’t seen before.

As a designer myself, I happen to love love Apple products – but I am no “fanboy”.  I love the quality, ease-of-use, flair for innovation, and sophisticated, minimalist industrial design that Apple have built their reputation on.  However, in my original evaluation of the iPod Touch (written a full year before the Apps store was released), I was dissatisfied with the device’s lack of certain content creation tools (camera or audio recorder, for example) and its closed proprietary architecture.

Over the past couple of years, Apple have done a great deal to redress these initial shortcomings.  The launch of the Apps Store late last year meant that developers all over the world could finally create ways to use the iPod Touch and iPhone that (I’m sure) nobody at Apple could have envisioned, and opened up these devices for customisation to the needs of users – and learners.  Some of the new apps have helped overcome the shortcomings of the original devices, such as adding advanced recording (and uploading) capabilities to the iPod Touch, and improving the capability of these mobile devices to support constructivist pedagogies.

Much of the Mobile Learning Roadshow explored the various apps that have been created for the iPhone and iPod Touch (including the two linked above).  It turns out that some universities (such as Stanford and Duke universities) have gone so far as to create customised iPhone apps for accessing various aspects of student life, including courses, campus maps (working with the iPhone’s own GPS) and university information. I can see these working well to engage students and provide them with support at (quite literally) their fingertips.

In my opinion, the Apps Store made the iPod Touch and the iPhone significantly more viable as an m-learning device: I could even go so far as to say that the ability to customise and add functionality should be a central tenet of practically all digital devices aiming for lifestyle ubiquity and flexibility.  Since m-learning ties in heavily with concepts of ubiquitous learning, convenience, flexibility and personalisation, I’m sure you’ll understand my initial concerns with the iPod Touch and the iPhone, prior to the opening of the Apps Store.

Some of the Apps that are currently available for supporting learning are really good.  The capacitive multi-touch screen of the iPod Touch and the iPhone are perfectly suited for interacting with 3D models and detailed diagrams, and one developer has managed to fit *all* of Wikipedia into an App that can be used offline on an iPod Touch or iPhone.  Such applications can be particularly valuable for reference, revision, learning from instruction, or for learning activities based on exploration and investigation of existing resources.

The major gripe I have with these learning resources, of course, is not with the resources themselves (which, as I said, are terrific), but with the equity and interoperability issues that accompany most advanced personal learning tools on expensive proprietary platforms.  In a mixed educational environment, there will always be students who cannot afford an iPod Touch or iPhone, making it unethical to mandate the use of these Apps for learning in situations where the same application cannot be used via some other platform to provide equal opportunity and equal access.  Unlike personal computers (which can be made available via “student labs”), it’s not *usually* possible to have “public access” iPods to correct these equity issues; and mandating that *all* students purchase an iPod Touch (for example) will never be met with enthusiasm by those students who can least afford to meet that particular institutional requirement; with even less enthusiasm when some students discover they only have one class each semester that actually *uses* the things; and with dismay when they realise that they bought an iPod Touch this year, but are required to upgrade to the latest version of the device next year to keep up with the latest Apps and/or university standards.

The other gripe I have with the Apps model is that Apple gets to be judge, jury, and executor of all applications that want to be on iPod Touch and iPhone devices.  As Cory Doctorow correctly states in this blog post, that means that it can impose its view on what should or should not be available as an App, and represents a restriction to the freedom of software and, potentially, of thought.

Personal gripes aside, things have certainly progressed a long way for the iPod Touch and iPhone.  While the presenters wouldn’t comment on the issue, I’m personally very optimistic that the next generation of iPhones and iPod Touch devices will come complete with the core functionalities lacking in the current and previous iterations of the hardware (e.g. video recording and MMS), which will make them so much more useful for all kinds of constructivist learning activities centring around learner created content and the sharing of content.

Moving right along, the presentation also looked at iTunes U, a content distribution model for iTunes targetting the higher education sector.  iTunes U allows podcast content to be distributed to university staff and students allong organisational lines – for example, restricted to a class, a department, a faculty, to anyone in the university, or to the world at large.  Stanford University recently made big news all over the world by making its content on developing apps for the iPhone public via its iTunes U presence.  The course received well over a million hits and generated considerable publicity for the university (and for Apple!).  It’s a good example of what can be done in higher education to show off great ideas and opportunities and attract students and industry attention alike.

Some M-Learning Finds from the 2007 Edublog Awards

28 11 2007

One of the best things about the annual Edublog Awards is that they provide a terrific collection of new educationally-oriented blogs- many of which I’ve never seen before. Browsing through the various categories is an opportunity to discover valuable new resources and networks. While I’m already a big fan of many well-established nominees (particularly my competitors in the Best Individual Blog section!), here are some of my latest “finds” – newly-discovered blogs who’ve posted on mobile learning:

  • In the LeaderTalk blog (nominated for Best Group Blog), Sean Martinson contributes his well-considered thoughts – and supporting materials – on whether mobile phones should be banned in schools, and Tim Laeur provides his thoughts on the role of Amazon’s new Kindle e-book reader in modern educational settings.
  • The TechLearning blog (also nominated for Best Group Blog) provides some nice commentary on the 2007 Horizon Report, including a quote on mobile phones in educational settings: “There is a time these will be as much a part of education as a bookbag”. Amen…
  • On dy/dan (nominated for Best New Blog) there’s a really interesting conversation in the post and comments on the pros and cons of podcasting. It challenges a lot of my own assumptions about the utility of podcasts, but it’s terrific to see various points of view!
  • Sheesh. The Butterfly Effect (also nominated for Best New Blog) documents a viral mobile game titled “The Coolest Girl in School” which purportedly encourages girls to take drugs and fall pregnant to improve their game statistics. There’s obviously a cautionary tale here, as well as a challenge – can we develop alternative viral games which provide positive and affirming simulations?
  • Rather a lot of m-learning articles on the Edte.ch blog, (nominated for Best Resource Sharing Blog)… covering things like RFID tags in uniforms, the (not) OLPC, and “the obligatory iPhone in education post“. Noice! 🙂

More finds as I trawl through the rest of the nominees!

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Voting Now Open for Edublog Awards!

26 11 2007

I’m very honoured to have learned that the Mobile Learning Blog is a finalist for the 2007 Edublog Awards. 🙂  If you’d like to show your support for the Mobile Learning Blog, come and vote for it here: http://edublogawards.com/2007/best-individual-edublog-2007/

Best individual blog
Congratulations to my fellow nominees!  In particular, I’d like to mention some outstanding Australian finalists such as Sue Waters (multiple nominations incl. Best New Blog, yaay!), Graham Wegner (Best Teacher Blog), Judy O’Connell (Best Library/Librarian Blog), and Jo Kay (Best Educational use of a Virtual World).

It’s an honour to be in such inspiring company, and I’m looking forward to continuing the terrific conversations and reflections we’ve exchanged on these terrific blogs!

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MLearn 2007 Podcasts are out!

13 11 2007

If you’d like to hear the proceedings of the MLearn 2007 conference, you can now access all of the session recordings courtesy of the Talking VTE Podcast and Stephan Ridgway.  The photos don’t usually match up with the various sessions, but the content is all there and there’s plenty of gold in them thar presentations. 🙂

Prof Glyn Davis VC from Uni Melboune @ mlearn07
image by sridgway

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Handheld Learning 2007: Equipping & Supporting Teachers for Success

1 11 2007

Wow. Watching Tim Tarrant from the Training and Development Agency for Schools in the UK. They’ve been equipping their teachers with laptops for a decade, and, in the last few years, with PDAs. They’ve also assisted with supporting and developing teachers in the use of these tools. (Slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/HandheldLearning/tim-tarrant-tda video here: http://handheldlearning.blip.tv/file/454948/).

They now have 60% of teachers with a laptop; and 1000 trainee teachers using PDAs.

This is a brilliant strategy for ensuring teachers have every opportunity to develop their ICT and mobile computing skills; and to equip them to explore e- and m-learning strategies for their classes. Australia could learn much from how vigorously the UK are investing in education, supporting educators, and thus ensuring they are ever more capable of developing valuable learning opportunities for learners.

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Edublog Awards 2007

1 11 2007

The 4th Annual Edublog Awards are now open for nominations. I’ve already nominated Sue Waters’ blog for Best New Blog; and I’ll add more nominations as I reflect on my favourite bloggers this year!

Sue Waters started her edublog on innovative teaching in April, and quickly became one of Australia’s favourite edubloggers.

It already ranks as the most-visited site on the edublogs.org domain (according to Alexa.com), responsible for 5% of traffic – a remarkable achievement, considering there are over 100,000 blogs on the Edublogs.org site.

Sue combines a passion for sharing new ideas with a sense of fun that engages her readers. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and she often takes a pro-active approach to get her peers to start using new online tools such as Twitter, or to improve their skills and effectiveness online, such as through her “31-day Blogging Challenge“.

Sue is not just a terrific achiever herself, but someone who helps other edubloggers achieve their best. To me, Sue’s active encouragement and support of others is what separates her from the pack, and the reason I’m nominating her for Best New Blog, 2007.

Good luck, Sue!

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