QR Codes: Here Today, but Gone Tomorrow

8 11 2010

I’ve been writing about QR Codes in education for the last five years (http://mlearning.edublogs.org/?s=qr+code), on this blog, as well as in a few published and formal papers. Recently, I have been seeing some buzz around QR Codes in education, and without meaning in any way to discourage people from trying out QR Codes (or other present-day locative technologies like RFID tags), I thought it might be time to update this blog with my latest thoughts on them.

QR Code shirts I wore to the 2007 MLearn Conference

QR Code shirts I wore (+stamps and cards brought) to the 2007 MLearn Conference

While I was very interested in their potential when they were almost unheard of in the western hemisphere, I now believe they provide an interesting technology for situated mobile learning in the present day, but I increasingly think will be supplanted by visual searching (e.g. Google Goggles) and mobile text recognition (both typeface and handwritten) within about five years.

The former technology, visual searching, allows mobile devices to visually “recognise” shapes of objects, logos, etc. taken with a mobile phone camera, and use that to retrieve information.  This would ultimately free tagging from any single barcode standard, and allow physical objects to be tagged with ANY consistent visual symbol.  In a few years, this technology will become much more accurate, particularly as imaging resolutions continue to increase and mobile processing becomes faster and more powerful.

Simultaneously, improved text recognition will allow retrieval of, or access to, web-based activities or resources simply by typing or writing our a URL in human-readable form and pointing a mobile phone camera at that URL.  This would completely bypass the need to create a QR Code in the first place, as well as having the advantage of knowing where your phone browser is taking you.  A QR Code could, for example, lead to a hidden virus or phishing site, but its actual destination is obscured by its graphical, barcoded representation.

I still see QR Codes as being a useful tool for mobile and situated learning in the present day, but I have never been content to simply look at the present without looking towards the future; and in that future, I see QR Codes becoming rapidly redundant.

Just some thoughts from an ed tech who has been thinking about these issues for a long time. 🙂





University of Adelaide’s Faculty of Science going Mobile

13 09 2010

From next year, the University of Adelaide’s Faculty of Science will be moving towards mobile delivery, with all first-year students provided with iPads, and textbooks replaced by digital materials.  They will be the first Australian University to begin delivering in this way, and this is the first step towards an overhaul of their teaching strategies, including moving to fully online delivery of first-year Science courses from 2012, according to Professor Bob Hill, Executive Dean of the Faculty. To help ensure that teaching materials and activities are compatible with the iPads, teaching staff will also be receiving the devices.

iPad in use

I have a modicum of skepticism about some aspects of this planned course of action, however.  Firstly, the focus on iPads might force thinking around mobile learning into a iPad-shaped box, rather than encouraging the development of mobile learning activities and resources to suit a wider range of devices.  This is already apparent in the kinds of materials they describe as being prepared for their iPads:

“The aim is to transfer all learning content to an electronic version which includes many currently printed textbooks for first-year students sometime in 2012.”

Aaargh.  Transferring learning content to computers, including textbooks, does not equate to e-learning.  Transferring learning content to mobile devices is unlikely to result in quality mobile learning.  The REAL task here should be to develop new learning activities and resources that target the required learning outcomes and utilise the affordances of mobile devices, rather than thinking that an electronic textbook on an iPad is somehow better that a paper-based textbook.  Instead, the focus appears to be on the *delivery* of content, rather than ways in which students can interact with, and create on, iPads:

“The online material will take a variety of forms with students being able to access lecture notes, audio, background documents and textbooks through tailored web-based apps. This is in addition to all the student services currently available through the MyUni website such as timetabling, video downloads, slides and email.”

THERE IS NOTHING NEW or innovative about ANY of those content sources or activities.  All that’s happening is that they’re being displayed on a shiny new device, instead of a laptop or a desktop computer, and they’re accessed through “app” buttons.  Contrast that philosophy with a learner-centric pedagogical model in which learning activities are developed that use key affordances of the iPad: for example, designing activities where students annotate or complete worksheets or experiments using an app like Noterize; or focusing on using mobile devices equipped with cameras to document science experiments or field trips using blogs, images, and video.

I hope the University of Adelaide will take time to consider how learning with technology is much more than learning ON technology.  A successful mobile learning strategy requires working with the inherant strengths and limitations of mobile devices to enhance learning and engagement – not just trying to do the same thing as before with the new tool!





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”.

TBC…





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?




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





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!





Students share their experiences of m-learning

19 05 2008

I’ve been following Dean Shareski’s blog posts on mobile learning this year. Dean’s ongoing experiences with learners using mobile phones as learning tools continue to demonstrate what’s possible when it comes to using the advanced capabilities of cellphones in learning contexts.

In Dean’s latest installment, he suggested that classroom teacher Carla Dolman be invited to do a session on her use of cellphones at the recent TLT conference. She brought along some of her students to help her, and between them they fielded the Big Questions so often asked by educators at any session on mobile learning:

“Did it change your learning? Were you tempted to use it to text or call in off task ways? Was it just a novelty? How did students who didn’t have a cellphone feel? Are you still using it for learning?”

Dean relates that not only did the students handle these tough questions, but they were even able to facilitate a hands-on learning experience, demonstrating to these educators how they shared files via Bluetooth. A favourite quote from the New Zealand film “Whale Rider” comes to mind, the scene where the tribal chieftain, Koro, addresses his granddaughter Paikea: “Wise leader, forgive me. I am only a fledgling new to flight”.

Dean’s hoping to create an online version of the students’ presentation, to share their insights with a wider, online audience. I’m anticipating it keenly. For the meantime, you can view this video of Carla and some of her students talking about their experiences with mobile learning in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhAH6nncCKw

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