iPad Apps for Visual Creativity

12 08 2010

There’s a pretty decent post over at the AppStorm blog, which has posted its reviews for the “30 Essential iPad Apps for Designers and Creatives“.

Adobe Ideas 1.0 for iPad

Adobe Ideas 1.0 for iPad (a free app on the iTunes Store)

While I’m not a massive Apple fanboy, as a graphic designer who has extensively used Wacom graphics tablets for digital sketching and drawing, I can certainly see the advantages of doing freehand creative sketching and drawing using a device like the iPad.  As an educator, I’m also a big fan of “student-created content” for learning – the idea that when students create things, they learn from that experience.  The apps described in this article are great for designing charts, diagrams, graphics, illustrations, images… and more.  All of these creative affordances of the iPad (combined with these apps) could be used to support a myriad of learning activities.





The iPad and its impact on m-learning.

23 02 2010

I’ve been engrossed in an article on the tech blog Gizmodo this morning, which reveals that Dr. Alan Kay made the following quote about the iPhone when it was launched:

Make it 5 inches by 8 inches and youll rule the world.

"Make the screen 5 inches by 8 inches and you'll rule the world".

I’ve written several posts about Dr Alan Kay in the past, but to summarise, Dr Kay is one of the greatest minds in the history of computer science. He predicted (and invented) mobile computing, the windowed GUI, and was a pioneer of object oriented programming and social constructivist learning.  And a large proportion of his work was in pursuit of a computing device to support learning – he is indisputably the first person to research and develop digital m-learning, and was involved with much of the design of the OLPC.

Dr Alan Kay’s prediction that a large, multitouch tablet will be an incredibly popular device must therefore, I think, be read in the context of his life’s work.  I believe that he sees significant potential for a device like this to make a powerful impact on the way students learn both formally and outside the classroom (Dr Kay was also an early proponent of “informal learning” – since the 1970s).

Kay’s prediction for the iPad’s success is further supported by the work of another luminary in the computing world, Jef Raskin, whose work pointed to a simple, easy-to-use “information appliance” as having the most chance of success: a computer as easy to use as a toaster.  The iPhone was a significant milestone towards that goal – and some believe the iPad will advance it even further.

When a pioneer of computing and mobile learning makes a prediction like this about the iPad, it is worthwhile taking note.





M-learning device for $60.

19 02 2010

The FLiP, made by V-Tech, is an e-book reader targeted at children aged 3-7. It features a 4.3-inch colour touchscreen, QWERTY keyboard, rugged design and over 100 downloadable titles.

FLiP e-book reader

FLiP e-book reader

A programmable, touchscreen mobile learning device with a QWERTY keyboard for $60!? Things are getting very exciting for mobile learning. 🙂





This Edu-Netbook *might* be the best yet.

17 02 2010

The Mirus Schoolbook Convertible looks like it’s a decent step forward in the design of a low-cost mobile computing device for education.

Mirus Schoolmate convertible netbook/tablet: designed for learning.

Mirus Schoolmate convertible netbook/tablet: designed for learning.

It’s a step up from existing netbooks and even the OLPC because it features a convertible design – the screen can be swivelled and locked flat so that it turns into a “tablet” computer, which responds to both the built-in stylus and to finger touch (like an iPhone).

The finger-responsive touch screen is particularly useful in an educational tablet computer because of the device’s utility as an ebook reader.  Nobody wants to be holding a stylus to turn pages while reading an ebook, and this innovation allows stylus-free ebook reading.  However, a fully finger-based design (like an iPad or iPhone) wouldn’t be optimal: the stylus is much better than a finger for more precise tasks such as drawing accurate diagrams or writing handwritten notes.  And while I’m listing features that make this device better than Apple’s upcoming iPad for education, I should also mention that this device has a built in webcam (the iPad will not). 🙂

The design also features a liquid-resistant design just in case there’s an occasional spill or run through the rain – scenarios that are possible (or probable!) in a classroom, school yard, or school bag.

Like most netbooks, however, this device doesn’t have a massive amount of processing power or hard drive space; but it doesn’t really need it for the tasks it would most commonly be used for: accessing web-based activities and resources, working on homework or assignments, reading ebooks and basic communications and connectivity.  Indeed, having reduced processing power means it’s far less likely to be used for playing the latest computer games rather than used as a learning tool.

After analysing the product features and reviews of it that are sprinkled across the web, I suspect that this device could be better in a classroom than any edu-netbook I’ve previously seen.  The one specification that could probably do with improvement is the 5.5 hour claimed battery life.  Some netbooks are now obtaining usable durations of 8-10 hours, and this would allow it to be used for a whole day without requiring a charge.

All in all though, this is a most capably specified  device – so much so that I’m considering buying one myself to try out more rigorously.





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.





Google Goggles will rock m-learning.

8 12 2009

Back in 2006, I made some predictions about where mobile learning might be heading, including the use of augmented reality or “Heads Up” data displays to provide information on a learner’s environment and allow learning “in situ,”.  Augmented reality has recently really taken off during 2009, with a number of apps on various GPS-enabled mobile phones (notably the iPhone) providing information layered over a camera view of the world; one example of this is the Layar application.

I also predicted the use of image recognition that would effectively enable “visual searches” of objects and images in the real world (and indeed, I reiterated this belief in a comment just yesterday on Stephen Downes’ blog).  Want to know more information on that bridge over there?  No worries!  Just point your camera at it, and image recognition will provide some suggestions on appropriate websites to look at.

When I blogged that idea, however, I’m not sure I expected this technology to actually become available quite so fast.  Today, Google announced a new beta application they’ve coined “Google Goggles“.  And guess what?  Their concept illustrations even features a bridge as the subject of their illustrated example – even if it is an American one rather than an Australian one. 🙂

goggles_landmark

The official Google site for the project (which is still in development) provides a number of ways Goggles can be used to accomplish a “visual search”, including landmarks, books, contact information, artwork, places, logos, and even wine labels (which I anticipate could go much further, to cover product packaging more broadly).

So why is this a significant development for m-learning?  Because this innovation will enable learners to “explore” the physical world without assuming any prior knowledge.  If you know absolutely nothing about an object, Goggles will provide you with a start.  Here’s an example: you’re studying industrial design, and you happen to spot a rather nicely-designed chair.  However, there’s no information on the chair about who designed it.  How do you find out some information about the chair, which you’d like to note as an influence in your own designs?  A textual search is useless, but a visual search would allow you to take a photo of the chair and let Google’s servers offer some suggestions about who might have manufactured, designed, or sold it.  Ditto unusual insects, species of tree, graphic designs, sculptures, or whatever you might happen to by interested in learning.

Just watch this space.  I think Google Goggles is going to rock m-learning…

(via Mobility Site)





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.