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!

Could 3D GPS Enable Game-like Situated Learning?

27 08 2007

GPS (the Global Positioning System) uses satellites to help users to navigate, with accuracy as good as half a metre or so. But while most of us are happy to have a simple 2D or “tilted” fake 3D GPS display to guide us, Asia is developing GPS systems that look more like first-person video games:

Provia A1 GPS Navigator by HTMS

If this technology becomes more widely available, it could be terrific for educators. Imagine being able to create virtual “learning checkpoints” which exist in a student’s GPS/cellphone/PDA that they can visit to “collect” learning experiences. These checkpoints could show up as different hovering icons in the 3D display, rather like this screenshot from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where an “enterable doorway” icon is shown behind the character:

A learner could physically walk around locating checkpoints, which could trigger all kinds of activities on their mobile device: for example, a video or animation (e.g. explaining a feature of their physical location), a link to an internet resource, a discussion (perhaps using video or audio), or an assessment. A learner could also simulate walking around physically – it would be just like walking around in a video game – to visit or preview some of these resources without actually being there.

Even more exciting: perhaps GPS units could also upload location data for each student involved in a particular learning stream , so that you could see the avatar of other learners physically or virtually visiting various checkpoints on your GPS simulation. If you were physically at a site with other learners, you could identify them from their avatar, and could have a real-life discussion about the location you’re visiting; if you’re visiting virtually, you could ask questions of real-life people, actually at the scene, who could upload their own images, videos, or comments from the site to help other learners.

Provia A1 GPS Navigator by HTMS

And unlike a video game, where you run around collecting fake points and accomplish made-up missions, imagine immersive, real-life games where students collect real and authentic learning towards actual qualifications… 🙂

Technabob via Gizmodo

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Trying out Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for M-Learning

7 08 2007

Global Positioning Systems, or GPS, provide a means of determining a person’s location and altitude on earth to within a metre or so. They are commonly used in car navigation systems to allow the driver to receive instructions to a location, but they have other applications which are being pursued by other mobile device manufacturers such as camera makers (to enable photos to be tagged with location data about where the image was taken) and mobile phone manufactuers.

Nokia, in particular, has recently invested millions of dollars in GPS research as well as buying a number of companies associated with GPS technologies, and have started introducing GPS as a built-in feature in some of their handsets.

I recently acquired a Nokia 6110 Navigator – a slim slider phone with a large screen and built-in 2 megapixel digital camera – for free, when I renewed my A$49-a-month Optus contract, and having now used it for a month or so, it’s probably the best phone I’ve owned for years. This handset features a built-in GPS receiver, which allows me to get free voice directions when I’m driving, cycling, or walking around, as well as a full visual map display. It’s as good as many dedicated in-car GPS systems I’ve played with.

Nokia 6110 Navigator (slide open)___Nokia 6110 Navigator

Because the GPS is built on the Symbian Operating System used in most Nokias, the GPS can also be extended to work with third-party applications… and this is where it starts to get interesting for m-learning. Applications can be developed for this phone which utilise the GPS system for recording location data.

One application I’ve played with is Sports Tracker, a free application from Nokia Research Labs. This allows me to record my workouts – walking, cycling, skiing or jogging, for example – and analyse the data later. The application also displays real-time performance graphs, such as my speed at various points in the route, in both numerical and graphical form. This requires surprisingly little memory to accomplish; a 1-hour session takes only 45kB of data to record on my phone.

SportsTracker___Tracking my journey

An application like this would be immediately useful for learners in any field where analysing location, speed, or altitude over time would be useful; those involved in the Sports/Fitness industries, aviation, or delivery services, for example.

What makes the application even more useful, however, is that the data can be exported in various formats, including the industry-standard GPX format. This means that I can use the GPS data to accurately determine exactly where media I create has been created. For example, using the free progam GPicSync, from Google, I can determine the locations of my photos along my route, and view the context of the images using Google Earth‘s 2D and 3D views, which allow panning, zooming, and rotation.

This application makes GPS useful for many other areas of learning, including sciences such as forestry, botany, zoology, biology, environmental science and forensics; as well as some you might not immediately think of such as marketing and advertising (taking pictures of advertisements and their locations), architecture, and logistics.

2D view in Google Earth, showing my walking route and the locations of the photos I took. Other data can be superimposed such as roads, points of interest, and other locations in Google Earth:

2D view in Google Earth

3D view in Google Earth. 3D is activated using the controls visible in the top right corner of this image. You can pan, zoom, and rotate the image to see “around” 3D objects.

3D view in Google Earth___View can be Rotated and Zoomed

If a number of photos are taken in one location (or close to each other) they can overlap; Google Earth “splits” these when you click on the overlapping icons to make selecting the phto you’re interested in easy:

Handling of Overlapping Photo Icons

Clicking on a photo icon brings up a view of the photo taken at a location:

Viewing images in Google Earth

Update: You can now download a demo of a Google Earth KML file with GPS-tagged photos in my file-sharing box in the right margin: the file is called “Mogo Zoo Google Earth Demo.zip”

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iPoint – a flexible solution for situated learning

27 02 2007

I’ve come across this product called iPoint, which provides a fantastic way to create your own, customised maps, with your own “points of interest” on Windows Mobile devices, which can contain active web links, images, and descriptive text. I’m still playing around with it, but it just might be the most flexible, customisable situated learning software I’ve yet encountered.

Unlike other map services like Google Maps for Mobiles or Smart2Go, iPoint allows you to upload your own maps – which means it can not only be used for outdoor, public settings, but could also be used to mark up the interior plan of a museum or gallery, or even a fictitious or hard-to-reach location (e.g. the surface of the Moon, or the Starship Enterprise).

The maps are loaded onto your Pocket PC and don’t require an internet connection to explore, unless you want to take advantage of the ability of the software to embed clickable web links into your point-of-interest information for each location.

The editing tool for PCs is easy-to-use, and the maps run quickly and seamlessly on my Windows Mobile Smartphone.

Unfortunately, this is not a free product, but for just US$10, it could provide a (relatively) low-cost solution for situated mobile learning approaches, with a very easy-to-use interface for both both editing and accessing information.

I’ll update this post if the vendor, iTravel, is able to provide any information on educational pricing or bulk discounts for schools, and if I’m able to provide a fuller review.

(via SolSie.com)

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UK Vet Students using Mobile Learning

21 02 2007

From the textually.org blog:

Students at UK’s Royal Veterinary College are using smartphones to take video, view diagnostic images and access research while in the field as part of a new project called MyPad. IT Pro reports.

“The pilot project, sponsored by Orange, which began in November 2006, has 30 students trialling M3100 SPV and 15 M500 SPV smartphones and a bespoke database platform, designed to help record and process information from their hands-on training.

…The internet-enabled phones also allow students to cross-reference their notes and check research right away while working with animals.”


The way these vet students are using these mobile devices sounds very similar to the manner in which many medical students and practitioners (doctors and hospitals) are currently utilising mobile technology – to improve the accuracy of diagnosis, and the quality and speed of treatment.

While applying these methods to vet science from medical science may not seem like such a leap of the imagination, I’m aware of teachers here in Australia who are applying these same techniques to other disciplines, such as plumbing, marketing/advertising, and landscaping. In many professions and trades, capturing visual information about a work problem, or retrieving decision-support data in the field, are as valuable as they are to doctors or vets.

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Smart2Go: Best Mobile Mapping Solution for Educators So Far?

9 02 2007

01_nokia_maps_on_nokia_n95_lowresAnother free mobile mapping solution, this time from Nokia. From tomorrow (Saturday February 10th), their Smart2Go platform and service will provide mapping in over 150 countries and over 1000 cities with full support for turn-by-turn GPS satellite navigation. It will also show users Points of Interest (POI) in their area and provide routes to get them there.

What I particularly like about this solution (over, say, Google Maps for Mobiles or Microsoft Live! Maps) is that it’s a hybrid solution that minimises the cost of mobile downloads. As well as being downloadable directly to a mobile phone, map data from Tele-Atlas and Nav-Teq can also be downloaded to a PC and uploaded to the phone’s memory. Once in memory, no network connection or data plan is required for mapping, routing and navigation. This is an effective and elegant solution – although when I tried to use the PC-based MapLoader software, it did not appear to be configurable for traversing proxy servers (which will make it less practical to use in educational institutions, until this oversight is remedied).

The Smart2Go application will run on Nokia S60 and Windows Mobile 5.0 devices initially, and will come pre-installed on all future NokiaN-Series mobile phones. For mobile devices equipped with GPS, there is an optional upgrade available at a small cost to turn the Smart2Go application into a full voice-guided GPS turn-by-turn navigation system.

I won’t be able to comment on the quality of the application or the maps until I get a chance to try them out (when the product launches tomorrow), but the hybrid solution used by Smart2Go, minimising downloads, could make this the most practical solution for educators interested in providing their students with low (or zero) cost electronic maps for location-based or situated learning.


[via: Darla Mack, AllAboutSymbian, Nokia Press Release]

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Mobile Devices Enable Augmented Reality in Education

7 02 2007

Judy Breck at the Golden Swamp blog has reported an alien invasion!

alien game

According to eSchool News,

“Researchers from Harvard, MIT, and the University of Wisconsin have developed a project that uses “augmented reality” to teach math and literacy skills. The project involves teams of students gathering data on handheld computers to explain why aliens have landed, and in the process students “interview” virtual characters they encounter at certain GPS hot spots. The researchers say the project holds great potential for engaging students and teaching high-level skills.“.

Learning was never so fun when I was young. 🙂  This project makes use of one of m-learning’s most relevant strengths, by facilitating situated learning: students use their PDAs to access learning materials that are directly contextualised by their physical location.

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