Create a free SMS auto-reply learning tool

10 01 2008

I’ve previously blogged about StudyTXT, a system deployed at a number of New Zealand educational institutions (to whom it is available for free), which allows students to send an SMS and receive on-demand learning and support information on their mobile phones.

It’s a terrific innovation which has plenty of potential in academic settings. Some educators have used StudyTXT to provide brief revision “flash cards” or notes for their students on-demand; but I can also see the possibility for this kind of system to be used to play educational games or mobile quizzes.

But what about the rest of us outside of New Zealand? It’s possible for us to set up customised SMS-response systems by working with a telecommunications services provider, but this can be a pricey or time-consuming exercise.

Which is why I’m delighted to be able to share this tool with you: BaselsReply (v2.0). It’s a small application that runs on an ordinary Windows Mobile smartphone and basically turns it into a message server, with the advantage of being, itself, mobile – you can just take your message server with you and modify it whenever (or wherever) you want to!

You configure your messages by running it in “server” mode, and specifying “commands” and corresponding “replies” in the software. An incoming message prefixed with “br command” (where command is a recognised command will automatically be replied to with the appropriate response.

Use Case Studies

  1. Jane’s teacher uses an SMS reply system to provide a weekly summary of ten key terms or concepts learned during that week. Each week, Jane sends an SMS with the message “br vocab” to her teacher’s mobile. She immediately gets her weekly list of terms and concepts to aid her revision and vocabulary uptake.

    Because Jane is able to get this important information on her mobile, she can take it with her anywhere and can even reference it when she meets her classmates around the campus or if she meets her class friends off-campus for study or social time. Although each message is quite short, the cumulative effect over time is to build up a much longer list of vocabulary and concepts that Jane can both revise and reference, anywhere and any time, and she can even forward the messages to any classmates who missed a previous summary.

    Jane’s teacher Mary doesn’t need to send each individual request for the weekly list. Once she sets up the automated message on her smartphone, she can forget about it for the rest of the week while the 80 students taking her subject request the summary or forward it to each other – which ever they prefer. Mary also enjoys the convenience of being able to update the weekly summary anywhere and any time that’s convenient to her – all she has to do is pull out her smartphone and she has all the tools she needs.

  2. Ethan is an science teacher who has set up an SMS game for his students. He begins the game by asking them a question, for example: “In scientific classification, to what Family does the cat belong?” The answer is one word, “Felidae”.

    Dylan is studying Ethan’s science course. He doesn’t know the answer right away, but looks it up online and finds the correct answer. He SMSes “br Felidae” to Ethan’s mobile phone, and gets the message “Correct! Where on a cat are the carpal whiskers located?” Dylan wants to find out right away, because his teacher Ethan has offered a cool prize to the first student to complete all of the quiz questions – an autographed copy of Ethan’s memoirs! (Or, y’know, maybe something cooler)…Ethan can set up a series of questions such that each correct answer provides the next question in the quiz. The same idea could be used to generate treasure hunts or physical and mobile learning games.

Download your very own free copy of BaselsReply v2.0 and try out your own SMS auto-reply learning activities with your students! Here are the details:

basels replyBaselsReply v2.0 (152kB, Freeware)
Size: 152 KB
Date: January 7, 2008 (Updated)
Type: Freeware
• Windows Mobile 5.0
.NET CF v2.0 (install this first!)
Author: baselsw
Directions: First install the .NET CF v.2.0 on your Windows Mobile 5 (or better) device; then download and install the BaselsReply .CAB file, available here.

(via Pocket Picks)



Second Life Meets Mobile Life

12 02 2007

mobile secondlifeA new application by software developer Comverse Technology allows the immersive 3D environment, Second Life, to be accessed on internet-connected mobile devices running Java ME. SMS and video streaming can also be integrated between Second Life’s virtual world and the real one.

What does this mean? Well, for a start, Second Life characters are becoming increasingly like real people. Being able to SMS, text, and video-chat with Second Life Characters on both your computer and mobile phone is making these avatars as substantial (or at least, as accessible) as many flesh-and-blood friends and contacts.

Could it be long before virtual avatars begin to blur the boundaries between real and scripted conversation? Try having a chat with a completely automated chat generator; sometimes, it can be eerily like having a chat with a real person. Imagine being able to ask a virtual avatar questions we might ordinarily ask a teacher, and getting back instant guidance or feedback. As a test, I asked the automated chat generator “What is the meaning of life?” and it immediately shot back the very interesting answer “To pursue happiness for ourselves and those we love”. Although that’s a programmed response to a fairly common question, it might not be long until we can “call” a virtual “professor” and ask them questions like “What is the scientific name for the wolf?” or “How do I make a berry souffle?” and get meaningful, useful – and reliable – answers.

Being able to access a virtual guide or mentor from mobile devices could make for learning opportunities – anytime, anywhere, for help with almost anything. While it’s going to be decades before virtual avatars have the intelligence to weight issues – and thus go beyond supplying simple facts or opinions – a lot of the time, all we really need are the facts or opinions, to which we can apply our own intelligence to construct knowledge and make decisions; that, too, is learning.

[Link: Second Life Reuters via Connected Learning Community]

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SparkMobile: study notes on your mobile phone

6 12 2006

A mobile service for accessing portable, mobile study notes on demand with a cellphone can provide students with learning content on demand.


Called SparkMobile, it’s a free service available from all MMS-capable mobile phones, doesn’t require users to sign up, and works using search terms to locate and access the most appropriate study guides:

What kinds of search terms can I send to SparkMobile?

Character descriptions (example: send Jay Gatsby)

Key facts about literary works, including…

Author GenreTime/place written

Date of publication



Characters Point of viewTone


Setting (time)

Setting (place)

Falling action ThemesProtagonist

Major conflict

Rising action


Motifs SymbolsForeshadowing

(example: send Gatsby symbols)

I’ll be keeping an eye on this service – it’s an interesting model for on-demand, just-in time learning.

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You say tm8o, I say tmRto…

9 11 2006

tomotaoohone.jpgI’ve been musing on my previous post about New Zealand’s education policy of allowing “text speak” in exams.

Since much of text speak is phonetically based – substituting phonetic equivalent letters, numbers and glyphs in the place of longer equivalents – is anyone aware of regional differences in text speak conventions, anywhere in the world, based on variations in regional pronunciation?

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You say tm8o, I say tmRto…

9 11 2006

tomotaoohone.jpgI’ve been musing on my previous post about New Zealand’s education policy of allowing “text speak” in exams.

Since much of text speak is phonetically based – substituting phonetic equivalent letters, numbers and glyphs in the place of longer equivalents – is anyone aware of regional differences in text speak conventions, anywhere in the world, based on variations in regional pronunciation?

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New Zealand embracing mobile culture in education

9 11 2006

New Zealand’s education system seems to be more comfortable with mobile culture than almost any other in the world.

From the education system that came out with StudyTXT, a world-first information-on-demand SMS system for students at Auckland university, comes the announcement (via Stuff NZ) that secondary school students will be able to use SMS “text speak” in written examinations this year:

The second language of thousands of teenagers, text language usually incorporates abbreviated words and phrases such as txt for “text”, lol for “laugh out loud” or “lots of love” and CU for “see you”.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is still strongly discouraging students from using anything other than full English, but says credit will be given if the answer “clearly shows the required understanding”, even if it contains text speak.

However, “in some exams, including English, where the marking schedule specifically required candidates to demonstrate good language use, text abbreviations would be penalised.”

Essentially, this new New Zealand policy begins to separate content from presentation – except in cases where the very nature of the content being examined requires a demonstration of correct English language skills. As you’d expect, the bold move is causing some controversy – even among students themselves:

Christchurch teenager Cathy Adank, a Year 11 student at Avonside Girls’ High School, said most students would be surprised to hear text language was acceptable in some exams.

“That’s great. You’ll just be able to get your ideas out quicker. It’s so much faster; you can get through the exam faster,” she said.

Close friend Harriet Prebble did not agree. “I think it’s a terrible idea. When you start progressing in the world, people judge you on the written language, and spelling things incorrectly seems sloppy and lazy and gives a bad impression,” she said.

These are both insightful comments that go to the heart of the issue. On the one hand, the move encourages freedom and fluidity of expression, and recognises the merit of the ideas being recorded, and the understanding being demonstrated, even when recorded in a shorthand form. After all, the very nature of language is constantly evolving, and in time, we may hardly flinch at the integration of “text speak” with everyday language – indeed, I wonder how many readers picked up on the first student’s grammatically incorrect, but still communicatively effective wording (“get your ideas out quicker,” rather than “…more quickly”)?

On the other hand, it’s true that appearances count, and a well-presented paper, written in neat handwriting – and with proper English spelling and grammar – currently sets a good first and final impression.

What’s your opinion?

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Cheap and Easy M-Learning Ideas

3 10 2006

From M-Learning World, in the footsteps of my previous post on “Why M-Learning is Cheap“, a series of posts on cheap and easy m-learning:

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