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. 🙂





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)





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!





Gizmodo and Laptop compare the XO to the EEE

28 11 2007

According to Gizmodo, “people” are comparing the US$400 Asus EEE with the sub-$200 XO OLPC:

OLPC’s XO Laptop and Asus’s Eee PC have been bloody rivals in people’s minds, whether or not the totally comparison’s fair… Laptop Mag aims to settle a running thread in our own comments: Which super cheap laptop reigns supreme?… In their conclusion, Laptop kicks XO … and hard: … So if you’re buying for yourself, Eee’s the best bet by a good stretch.

Oh dear. The thing is, the XO was never meant to be bought “for oneself” – from its inception, it was intended to be bought in lots of several thousand, for children in developing countries only. The fact that it’s been made available in the US for a limited period of time is merely to advance this eventual goal.

So this really is a short-sighted comparision, rather like comparing a screwdriver with a hammer. These two machines are aimed at completely different markets, and the XO has many practical aspects for reaching its intended market that were completely missed by the Laptop review.

One important aspect that was missed is durability. I’ve seen demonstrations of the XO dropped repeatedly from a height and running without problems. What a student would do with half a dozen small, shiny bits of EEE if they accidentally or intentionally attempted the same thing with it, I’m not sure.

Then there’s the battery life and lifecycle. The XO can carefully conserve its battery using its black-and-white “reflective” mode, and last a full day of school. It can be charged using solar or manual power, and you can buy extra (or replacement) batteries for $10. The EEE can’t do any of those things.

These are practical – if not vital – considerations for developing countries without flourishing tech-support departments or reliable electricity supplies. The XO elegantly screws itself into a niche in this respect. The EEE bangs its way in like a hammer: with more power, to be sure, but with rather less finesse.

I’m not saying the XO is perfect… but I just don’t think the comparison by Gizmodo and Laptop is at all fair!

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Power on the Go!

5 09 2007

Steve Wheeler is attending the M-Learning sessions at the ALT-C conference along with a few other edubloggers, and recounted one of the issues they explored in their session on “Tensions Between Personal Space and Social Space”:

By far the most important issue for our small group was the problem of finding somewhere to top up your battery when it goes flat. How could this be achieved…?

One method an educator could already employ is the use of the portable power pack. These are essentially a portable, large capacity battery, usually with a couple of outlets for dispensing power for various devices (the largest models are capable of powering a laptop for several hours) including USB ports which are capable of recharging most mobile electronics. However, these can be somewhat heavy and bulky – about the size of a large external hard drive unit – and therefore somewhat contrary to the idea of mobility!

I recently purchased three very small, portable and cheap mobile power units which I can recommend to other mobile educators. The units are powered by rechargable AAA batteries, and can be recharged themselves by plugging them into a USB port (the unit becomes a AAA battery recharger… neat!). They each dispense sufficient power to fully recharge several mobile phones (or PDAs) to full capacity; and should even this capacity prove insufficient, normal AAA batteries could be used to replace the rechargable ones, providing additional power.

The units are tiny – only slightly larger than four AAA batteries side-by-side; and each unit (minus batteries) costs less than $10, including shipping, from this site: http://dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.3205
. For the greatest capacity, I’d recommend using good-quality 950mAh
rechargable Ni-MH batteries, which would provide a total potential power capacity of almost 4000 mAh.

There’s also a bit of an additional gimmick – there’s a built in LED flashlight in each unit, so it doubles as a long-duration torch. Illuminating stuff indeed. 🙂

There are also solar-powered versions of this portable-power concept. This model, for example, has two USB ports (and could thus be used to charge two mobile devices simultaneously).

Main Product Picture - click to enlarge
Click for full-size view

However, these solar models generally take several hours to recharge an internally-sealed battery. This is why I think a rechargeable power source with easily-replacable batteries is more flexible and reliable for most situations.

If anyone else has ideas on how to ensure mobile learners can power their devices on the go, I’d be very keen to hear from you! Please post your comments! 🙂

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