EDUCAUSE Report on Undergraduate Student use of Technology

29 10 2009

The latest edition of “The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009” has just been released by the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. This report provides insights into the ways in which students use, and would like to use, various technologies in their own lives and in their learning.

Some of the “m-learning” findings across 39 institutions include:

  • students are switching from desktop PCs (71% in 2006, down to 44% in 2009) to laptops (65.4% in 2006 to 88.3% in 2009).
  • one-third of students own and use Internet services from a handheld device, with another third of students owning or planning to acquire a handheld, internet-capable device in the next 12 months.
  • “Asked to select the three institutional IT services they are most likely to use, if available, from an Internet-capable handheld device, responents who currently own a handheld device and use the INternet from it selected as their top three e-mail system (63.4%), student administrative services (official grades, registration, etc.) (46.8%), and course or learning management system (45.7%).” (pg 11).

via Tony Bates’ e-learning & distance education resources





Australian uni goes mobile!

23 10 2009

An article in the respected Australian newspaper has showcased the new mobile student support website recently implemented by Curtin University of Technology. Dubbed “CurtinMobile,” the service was developed in response to the growing use of, and demand for, supported mobile platforms and services:

Chief information officer Peter Nikelotatos said 99 per cent of Curtin’s students had mobile phones and 75 per cent of those phones were web-enabled.

“What we wanted was an application layer that recognised that our students were using netbooks and smartphone devices more and more and they wanted to be able to access a lot more information through these devices rather than desktop PCs,” he said.

In addition to the current provision of mobile student information and services, Curtin is looking into the future use of mobile devices for learning:

“Areas that we want to explore a lot more are integration opportunities with our learning management system and a lot more around emergency and critical incident management and integration from an international perspective,” [Mr Nikelotatos] said.

What is *your* institution or organisation doing to cater for the growing use of mobile, web-connected, devices? The mobile device industry is the fastest-growing sector in the IT and web markets, and making good use of mobile platforms will soon be as important for universities asmaking good use of the internet.





On-Campus Wireless Internet

15 06 2009

The topic of easy-to-use, reliable wireless access to the internet came to the fore today, so I thought I should write about it.  I heard from a number of people on our Yammer social network that they believed that our institution’s wireless service was difficult to connect to and only available in scattered areas around the campus.  That this appeared to be the opinion of the majority (with some exceptions) caused me considerable concern, as in my opinion, student wireless access should be considered priority infrastructure for any self-respecting further/higher education organisation.

From a teaching and learning point of view, campus-wide internet access – or even access that targets social and learning spaces such as refectories, libraries, lecture rooms and labs – is what truly blends together online and face-to-face learning.  It means that while they’re on campus, a student can access their online learning just by turning on their netbook or iPhone.  They can contribute to class online discussions while eating lunch or access their readings before class, using the technology they already have with them: their laptop, netbook, or other wi-fi capable mobile device.

Some of you may be thinking “can’t students just go use a computer lab?”  To some extent, they can.  However, most students don’t choose a library or computer lab as their preferred environment for group projects or study groups unless they’re forced to.  In most of those locations, there are restrictions on noise levels, food, drink, physical access, and software installation/configuration.  If students can get together at a campus cafe or in a refectory to work together, they will.  By way of example: every day the refectory at my university is full of students working together, because that is their preferred space to do so.

But they can’t get internet access there – not without an apparent struggle.  I work in an office just above the refectory, and one of my colleagues (in the same office) reports that there’s no signal.  Even if they can get a signal, the process of actually logging in and getting network access is difficult or impossible for the apparent majority.

Then, of course, there are all the affordances of the internet that could be brought into learning situations.  Students can look up definitions or supporting materials in lectures, using a wiki to collaboratively create lecture notes, or blogging an experiment or other learning experience, live from a student lab.

For mobile learning – and even for flexible learning – at any educational institution, equipping formal and informal learning spaces (such as social spaces) with fundamental enabling technologies like wireless internet access has to be at the top of the priority list.  It even makes sense from a budget point of view, as every laptop a student brings in and uses takes pressure off the student labs.  This, in turn, reduces the amount that has to be spent on standard-image, admin-locked, physical lab computers… and frees students to use their own computers which can be configured to best support their particular program of study.  That’s what I call win-win!





Reflections: Are You an "iJustine" or an "eJustine"?

19 05 2008

One of my favourite tech bloggers, iJustine (Justine Ezarik) posted a YouTube vid of her having a conversation with her alter-ego, “eJustine” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S1BnyY3RWc):

For those of you unable (or unwilling) to view the video, the scene is of iJustine coming across eJustine, who’s busily updating her Facebook, sending e-cards, and “maintaining her social network”. iJustine uses her iPhone to hook up with some friends who are going to eat out together and then head to a concert, while eJustine declines the invite as she has to keep up with her online “friends”.

Which Justine are you? eJustine, who’s digitally immersed and values her online and virtual relationships and channels as much – or perhaps even more – than her real-life ones? Or iJustine, who uses technology as an enabler – a tool to enrich her real life with authentic experiences and in-person relationships?

It’s particularly revealing that iJustine utilises her cellphone as her preferred technology platform: a digital tool that makes her mobile, and enables her to connect, communicate, reflect and share while she goes about her (real) life, rather than chaining her down away from the world.

And all of this goes to the heart of why I’m so interested in mobile learning.

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Mobile Internet: the Tipping Point reaches Oz

18 04 2008

According to an annual study conducted by the University of Adelaide and mobile phone company m.Net as part of a larger international study, the number of Australians (aged between 18 and 50) using their mobile phone to access the internet has doubled in the last twelve months to 40%. In addition, 60% of respondents citing improved mobile services and lower mobile internet data costs as being a reason to change mobile carriers.

The researchers believe these figures indicate the tipping point has been reached for Mobile Data Services (MDS) in Australia, with the use of MDS to become commonplace in the next 6 to 12 months.

I imagine that with a critical mass of consumers willing to change mobile carriers for lower mobile data costs, mobile carriers will need to price mobile data more competitively in the near future; which would, of course, entice even more mobile phone owners to start using mobile data services.

This is great news for mobile learning in Australia, and the good news for educators in the United States is that the international study also found that while the US still lags behind Australia in the use of MDS, it’s closing the gap…

(reported in The Australian IT via Mobile Marketing Watch)

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Edublog$ Magazine: A Matter of Common Cents

1 02 2008

James Farmer launched the Edublogs Magazine earlier this week, featuring “news, information, interviews, highlights, and techniques from around the Edublogs Network and the world of education” – to a mixed reception. Several edubloggers thought this was a useful venture, but there were other commentators who saw this as “an obvious commercial move at the expense of egalitarianism in blogging“.

Frankly, like Graham Wegner, I don’t see what the fuss is about. The “magazine” has an unintrusive banner for James’ “Edublogs Campus” service for institutions, but I don’t see any other advertisements anywhere else. There’s no AdSense, there are no external banner ads, there are no flashing Flash advertisements exhorting us all to “Click here for a free iPod”. What in the world are you whinging about? And, frankly, SO WHAT if James wants to make some money from offering related edublogging services? He does it full time – don’t you think he might, perhaps, need money (like you and I)?

It seems like common sense to me. If James wants to make money from his area of expertise offering a related service to institutions, what’s wrong with that? Teachers make money from teaching, for goodness sake – are educators so egalitarian that they provide their professional services for free? I don’t think so… how many DOZENS of blog posts and media articles have I read now where teachers or union officials have sighed how undervalued and underpaid teachers are? And I’ve consistently agreed – I think teachers do incredible, valuable work that deserves far more recognition.

So I don’t see a difference between teachers deserving that recognition for the education services they provide their local communities, and James providing an education service for the global community. He deserves better treatment than demands he become more “transparent” or “egalitarian”.
cash300330.jpgbethany price
Edublogs is a free, world-class, supported blogging platform with tens of thousands of users. Despite the large user base, every request for blog support, maintenance, and improvement that I’ve sent to James over the last two years of edublogging has been attended to with a level of dedication I’ve NEVER experienced from the providers of my essential utilities – electricity, water, gas, or telephone connection. It doesn’t get much more “egalitarian” than that, folks, and surely a measure of gratitude and recognition is in order.

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Principals Trying out Cell Phones

22 01 2008

Dean Shareski passes on an email from a local principal:

I’m sure we are not going insane, but some would probably disagree. Carla and I tried something new and, well a little bit rebellious today. We invited the grade 8/9 ELA class/students to bring their cell phones into class (if they didn’t have one we used mysask for text). Our goal, using cell phones for learning. Our objectives, appropriate use of cell phones (manners and ethics), using the calendar/scheduling, using text to discuss literature (lit circles), tracking progress and assignments/projects, and engaging the new learner. Guess what, it worked like a charm and the kids are peeing themselves with enthusiasm. Welcome to Web 2.0!!!! I needed to share.

Awesome stuff. Damien‘s remarks in the comments are also worth reading:

I like that this principal is looking into educational applications, but I think the most important takeaway here is that s/he’s having a discussion about mobile phone manners and ethics. Although I think it’s very rude when students text during class, I honestly don’t think many of them think much of it, and probably think we teachers blow the issue out of proportion (to be fair, some do). I applaud this principal for having this dialogue outside of a punitive context and for at least considering the educational and organizational possibilities.

Wow. Educators having a dialogue with students and discussing mobile phone manners and ethics? Might those students might get insights into the acceptable use of mobile technologies (useful for the rest of their lives, no less) that they wouldn’t otherwise get from a blanket ban on mobiles at school? Great work… 🙂

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Crystal Ball: 2008 (and beyond!)

5 12 2007

This was a fun exercise, so I thought it’d be good to share! I got this email:

Thank you for your participation with the Australian Flexible Learning Framework in 2007. As the year draws to a close we inevitably turn towards 2008 with optimism and great expectation.

As part of our end of year Flex e-News we are asking e-learning commentators about their predictions for 2008…

My responses are below. Do you agree with my predictions? What are YOUR predictions for 2008 (and beyond?)

How will the internet develop in 2008?

The developments to keep an eye on are the increasing use of virtual worlds, and the use of the internet on mobile devices. With regards to virtual worlds, there are two emerging open-source projects of particular interest to educators:

  1. Croquet (http://opencroquet.org): an open-source virtual world environment, co-founded by the educational technology visionary Alan Kay as an educational virtual world tool. Not only is Croquet open-source and “made for” education (both facets noticeably absent in SecondLife), but there are additional educational special interest projects, such as Edusim (http://edusim.greenbush.us), which extend the functionality of this increasingly capable virtual world platform.
  2. Alice (http://alice.org): of particular interest to teachers of information technology, Alice is an open-source virtual world programming environment designed specifically to make programming engaging for young people and, in particular, girls and women. It does this by using storytelling as a metaphor for programming: by creating a “story” in Alice, students actually program a virtual world and learn programming conventions and techniques. 3D models created in Alice can be exported to Croquet.

With regards to mobile learning, I think the release of the iPhone in Australia in 2008 (which I predict will be 3G/high-speed data capable) will generate plenty of interest in the use of mobile devices for learning, particularly if (as in other countries) it is bundled with a generous data plan. While the first generation of the iPhone had plenty of limitations, it converges the two most commonly carried mobile devices – a media player and a mobile phone – with a terrific user experience; so it will definitely make an impact on the way we interact with media, information, and each other.

I also foresee a trend towards the subversion of operator-controlled mobile data. As mobile devices become increasingly powerful and able (like the iPhone) to render full web pages, media, and even 3D animations, mobile phones will more commonly offer wireless networking capabilities so that users can bypass expensive mobile data operators to access the internet. Simultaneously, users will subvert commercial wi-fi operators, by creating free, city-wide wi-fi networks for shared and/or public access.

As this becomes more prevalent, mobile data and hotspot operators will be forced to reduce the cost of data access, and this will make it cheaper to access the mobile web anytime and anywhere. We can also expect to see some convergences of “fringe” internet technologies.

How will VET use ICT in 2008?

Actual usage of technology tends to (generally) lag behind the cutting edge, so the bulk of ICT usage will be in areas that are relatively well-established. Unfortunately, we’ll continue to see many new web services and tools being blocked by IT managers and administrators, effectively hindering the uptake of new learning technologies such as virtual worlds.

We’ll see many more teachers actively involved with exploiting easy-to-use internet tools to support and enhance learning. The use of blogs (and media-enhanced variants) will continue to grow exponentially as tools for reflection, sharing, process documentation and assessment.

How will Web 2.0 web applications develop in 2008?

Every major web 2.0 application is moving onto mobile platforms. Facebook, MySpace, blogs, Flickr, instant messaging, you name it: if they’re not mobile already, you can bet they’re looking for ways to do it. I foresee the emergence of mobile wikis in 2008, so that people will be able to create, edit and contribute to collaborative bodies of knowledge remotely.

2008 will be a year of innovation for mobile web 2.0. I’m foreseeing a new generation of made-for-mobile web applications that don’t just port existing web tools to mobile platforms, but exploit mobile devices in their own right.

How will VET be using mobile phones / PDAs / mobile devices in 2008?

Some of the most useful innovations in the short-term will be in administration, rather than learning. Educational institutions will use SMS technologies to communicate with students – providing essential information and alerts, and receiving and processing requests for help or assistance. Some of the most progressive organisations will provide mobile portals for students to log in and use messaging, administrative and learning tools.

There are two broad approaches that will be adopted by educators for enabling mobile learning and assessment in 2008. Where there’s funding for it, some organisations will invest in purchasing or subsidising common mobile devices for students (e.g. class sets of PDAs) to make it easier to develop resources and activities that will be equally accessible for all students. Typically, this will occur in situations where many groups of students will undertake the same activity repeatedly (using a “generic” set of devices), or when students are allowed to take devices home and use them as a tool that integrates their broader lifestyles with their learning. Where this approach is used, mobile learning will be seen as an integrated, core aspect of teaching and learning methodology.

Other educators and organisations will take a different approach, and will try to develop learning approaches that students can optionally engage with using their own mobile devices, or, (if they don’t own a mobile device) using non-mobile computers. Educators or organisations that adopt this approach will tend to view mobile learning as a learning support or enhancement strategy, rather than a core learning strategy or activity.

How will VET and the wider community be communicating in 2008?

The existing methods will continue to be popular: online discussion forums and communities; blogs; wikis; and synchronous tools such as Elluminate, Twitter and SecondLife will continue to be popular. There’s no reason why we should abandon these platforms – they have a track record of popularity and success.

I’d like to see more synchronous intersections of face-to-face and online events, like NSW LearnScope’s Regional Events this year: bringing together groups of people in physical locations, as well as connecting groups and individuals online. I can see that kind of “eventcasting” becoming popular at conferences as well – the two major mobile learning conferences this year were both video-blogged after the events, so it’s not going to be long before conference sessions will be accessible online, synchronously, for those unable to attend conference sessions in person.

What technology will become obsolete in 2008?

Tricky question! Generally, as things approach obsolescence they tend to be not considered “technology”! I mean, look at the typewriter… we don’t consider that technology, but it was once considered a cutting edge machine!

Not obsolete, but fast falling out of favour is email. This year, the term “bacn” was coined to describe the mass of emails you subscribed to or agreed to receive, but which tend to clog up your inbox meaninglessly. A growing proportion of young people avoid using email, and it’s a platform that will probably be “reinvented” in the next year or two (making email as we know it “obsolete” I suppose). Such a reinvention might be something completely new, or something as simple as automatic filtering – e.g. being able to specify a different but related email account for various “folders” within one’s own email account at the time we provide it, e.g. bacn^leonard.low@gmail.com instead of leonard.low@gmail.com to automatically redirect “junk” messages away from our inbox, or possibly, to redirect the most important emails to our Instant Messaging client or mobile phone.

As far as mobile devices go, I think we’re going to see a lot of standardisation in 2008, so the mish-mash, hodge-podge variety of operating systems, memory formats and chargers will start to become more orderly. I can foresee the dominance of a handful of operating systems next year: Google’s Android platform, Windows Mobile, Symbian and (possibly) one or two others; memory card formats will be standardised, and the majority of mobile phones will be charged and data-connected using mini-USB instead of the multitude of charger sizes and shapes we have at present. We’ll see some standardisation of mobile web browsers, too… all good news for users…

Any bold predictions you would like to make?

The BIG news for educators in the near future will be the creation of social collaboration sites aimed specifically at teaching and learning! Whereas most existing educational resource sites still work on a Web 1.0 paradigm (e.g. Toolbox objects are made available to download, but users don’t/can’t share learning resources they create themselves), we’ll see the creation of website that allow teachers and resource developers uploading teaching and learning materials, lesson plans, and links for other teachers and learners to freely download, access, modify and share back. We’ll see internet sites that allow IMS-compliant learning objects to be unwrapped, viewed and even edited or customised online. This will significantly change the way teachers find and use educational resources. Instead of having to hunt across various non-educationally-minded sites like YouTube or Flickr, trying to sift out the nuggets of gold and laboriously re-aggregate them into sensible learning activities, teachers will be able to go to a single repository of content that is made-for-education. They’ll be able to share their best materials with their peers, and have their peers help to collaboratively develop resources of common interest or need.

I’m also foreseeing the use of virtual worlds on mobile devices within the next two years – in particular, I can see the open-source, cross-platform Croquet being ported to a mobile device in the near future, and possible “mashed” with GPS technology and 3D Google Maps to enable “augmented” reality interfaces: 3D renderings of the *real* world, on mobile devices, with “avatars” representing real people being tracked in real time and space via GPS appearing in the virtual world. Eventually, we’ll be able to program our avatars with the ability to operate autonomously when we’re not logged on. Our avatars will continue to exist in virtual worlds – working, interacting with other avatars, gathering and sharing information, and presenting their own “learning” to the user when they next log on.

As such, tomorrow’s web users won’t just create content; they will create virtual content aggregators and creators: “agents” who share ideas and information on various topics of expertise or interest and will manifest themselves in virtual worlds, in the web, and on our mobile devices. Some such characters will become so popular that they will take on reputations of their own, independent of their owners (some of whom will retain real-world anonymity) – virtual celebrities, mentors, and heroes!

How will we incorporate this into the way we design, support and deliver learning?

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The Undiscovered Country

30 11 2007

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” — Alan Kay

When Alan Kay conceived the Dynabook, more than 30 years ago, it inspired a wealth of innovations, and is still a worthy “holy grail” for developers of mobile learning platforms today. Uniquely, Kay coupled immense technical vision and skill with equally brilliant pedagogical and philosophical considerations – his vision for the Dynabook was as much art as it was science.

In the early 1970’s, Kay had no mobile computers to work with. The smallest computers he had ever seen – the very first generation of “microcomputers” invented – were low-powered, bulky desktop machines with textual, monochrome displays, like this Datapoint 2200. Yet he had the ability to invent – technically and pedagogically – a mobile learning concept we are still pursuing, more than a generation later.

I wonder: if Alan Kay started fresh again today, would he take a new look at emerging learning models, such as George Siemens‘ theory of Connectivism… and through it, imagine compelling ways of learning that would drive the next 40 years of technological research and invention? If so, then what will be this generation’s legacy to the future of learning?

This could be Alan Kay’s greatest implicit challenge to the educational technologists and researchers of today. The vast majority of educational technologists are preoccupied with the use of today’s tools: internet-based Learning Management Systems, social web services, virtual worlds, and even mobile devices. In the struggle to master the tools of today – are we losing the vision to invent the future? Is there anyone out there proposing a fundamentally new model for enabling learning, with the power to spark our collective imaginations, the pedagogical imperative to be desirable decades before it can be achieved, and the ability to drive independant technological advancement towards the eventual fulfillment of that goal?

Somehow, Alan Kay glimpsed such an undiscovered realm, and ensuing years have slowly unfurled the petals of technical advancement that have allowed his incredible, completely fictional Dynabook to edge ever closer to reality. What revolutions for education, for technology, and for humanity, lie beyond the bounds of the mental and technological shackles we wear today – if we only dare to dream?

As surely for us as for Alan Kay, today’s most compelling dreams will determine tomorrow’s most engaging realities. The future will be just as we invent it.

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A Brief History of Learning With Mobile Computers

30 11 2007

The idea of using computerised mobile devices to support learning was formally conceptualised a surprisingly long time ago. In his 2002 paper “Disruptive Devices: Mobile Technology for Conversational Learning,” Sharples identifies Alan Kay’s Dynabook, conceived in the early 1970s, as the first serious attempt to design a computer-mediated mobile learning platform. And what an attempt it was. Although the Dynabook was a concept, the ripples of the project – and Alan Kay’s (non-portable, “interim”) Dynabook prototypes – can still be felt today, and will probably be felt for decades to come. The incredible modern-day legacy of Kay’s work at Xerox Paolo-Alto Research Labs (PARC) includes:

  • the development of personal computers,
  • object-oriented languages and programming generally,
  • the development of graphical user interfaces
  • the object-oriented Smalltalk programming language (today the underlying programming language of countless applications, including current ground-breaking educational platforms such as Edusim, a virtual world application in Croquet [which was also co-founded by Kay]), and
  • the One Laptop Per Child initiative (with which Alan Kay was actively involved, and which utilises the Smalltalk language and many of Kay’s original ideas for computer-based learning).

Just as groundbreaking as the technology itself was Alan Kay’s vision for how the technology would be used to support learning. His vision for the Dynabook was based in the then-nascent philosophies of (Social) Constructivism: the theories and models of learning being developed by his contemporaries Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner and Seymour Papert, (who had studied with developmental psychologist Jean Piaget ). Sharples (2002 p.3) distills the features of effective learning in constructivist terms via the essential elements of construction, conversation and control:

“Effective learning involves constructing an understanding, relating new experiences to existing knowledge . Central to this is conversation, with teachers, with other learners, with ourselves as we question our concepts, and with the world as we carry out experiments and explorations and interpret the results. And we become empowered as learners when we are in control of the process, actively pursuing knowledge rather than passively consuming it.” [Emphasis added]

Sharples’ mLearn 2007 presentation on the history of mobile learning summarises how the Dynabook concept would have accomplished these requirements, technically and pedagogically. It was to be an interactive machine that would be small and light enough to be carried everywhere by learners. It would have “book-like” qualities in terms of display, yet its interface would be dynamic, with the ability to create, edit and store visual, textual, and audio content. It would have high-bandwidth communication, both locally and globally, and it would cost under $500. It would be personal, interactive, and would support learning through play, collaborative learning, informal learning, dynamic simulations, and “anytime, anywhere” learning.

Amazing thinking for 1972. Many of Kay’s original ideas for the Dynabook simply weren’t possible at the time he conceived them, but have recently come to fruition – such as the Squeak Smalltalk environment which enables children to create and learn using computers (implemented on the OLPC, but boasting cross-platform capabilities). Here’s a real example of Squeak being used as a learning tool.

Both technically and pedagogically, Kay’s Dynabook was decades ahead of its time, as evidenced by Sharples’ early attempts at developing a mobile learning platform in 2002. Sharples’ “HandLeR” device was, at least, genuinely portable: a compact 800×600 tablet computer with a 233MHz processor, a physically attached camera, a wireless networking card, and a mobile phone card boasting a data connection rate of 9.6kbps(!) – rather expensive components at the time! Bob Harrison’s recollection of the 2002 inaugural mLearn conference (where his presentation entitled “Learn to Go” was accompanied by 12 Toshiba laptops on a trolley!) reflects Sharples’ initial struggles with making technology-assisted learning truly mobile. It’s interesting to consider that an average mobile phone today could exceed most of the specifications of Sharples’ prototype, which was put together just 5 years ago – at a fraction of the cost, and in a vastly more compact physical form.

Although small, pocket-sized “electronic organisers” were available in the 1990s, these had, at best, a three line text-only display. Palm Pilot PDAs, introduced in 1996, were the first multi-purpose, customisable handhelds suitable for a range of creative learning activities; and in 2001, SRI International awarded over 100 “Palm Education Pioneer” grants to US teachers who had a vision of how Palm handhelds could be used to improve teaching and learning. Many of the findings of the PEP grants have been confirmed by later “handheld learning” studies. Examples of pertinent findings include the strengths and weaknesses of various models for allocating handheld computers to students, to the degree of success with which various learning activities (e.g. inquiry-based learning or extended writing) can be accomplished using handheld devices.

In the last two years, however, worldwide sales of PDAs have declined, partly as a result of the introduction of smartphones (which converge advanced application, information and media capabilities with mobile phone functionality) and mobile phones (which increasingly generally incorporate the most basic functions of a PDA, even in entry-level models). For educators, the booming popularity of mobile phones has introduced a new paradigm to consider. Due to the expense of mobile computing equipment, past models of mobile learning have almost always meant providing students with the hardware and/or software to accomplish learning activities. But the vast majority of students already own their own mobile phone. Many recent mobile learning approaches have attempted to embrace the use of students’ own devices, despite the inherent issues of attempting to design learning activities that are equally accessible on a multitude of different, non-standardised, makes and models of handset.

Today’s handheld mobile devices have specifications and capabilities that resemble those of desktop personal computers built just ten years ago . The current crop of PDAs and smartphones have high resolution displays, processor speeds in excess of 600MHz, and memory capabilities exceeding those of premium hard drives from the mid-1990s. Instead of requiring an add-on webcam, current mobile devices often have built-in cameras, as well as the ability to create and edit documents and media: they have become powerful tools for enabling learners to create, collect, and share content.

The other new market that has reduced the demand for PDAs is in ultra-mobile and ultra-portable computers: UMPCs, tablet PCs, and small form-factor laptops. Of particular note in terms of education are the One Laptop Per Child project and similar commercial models (such as the Intel Classmate and the Asus EEE) generated by the initial ovation that greeted Nicholas Negroponte’s vision for cheap, rugged laptops for learning.

The current generation of mobile devices have brought us closer to realising Alan Kay’s vision of cheap, integrated, connected, computers supporting constructivist learning activities. As I’ve previously blogged, they can provide a digital, connected learning environment, offering compactness and convenience of information, remote and instant access to a range of people and resources, and data capabilities that were never previously possible.

Despite these advances, I don’t believe we’ve yet created Alan Kay’s visionary Dynabook. I am certain, however, that we are getting closer every day…

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