A $100 One-PDA-A-Learner (OPAL?)

20 03 2007

Dr. Paul Trafford of Oxford University has got me thinking with his idea for a $100 PDA for education. He’s already put together the figures to show that it’s already possible – yes, right now – to put together a $100 PDA package for students (even his older figures from last year put the package price under US$150, the current cost of manufacturing an OLPC laptop), which could include a local version of Wikipedia, packaged up for complete searching and reference using Tomeraider software.

Seeing as he’s managed to put together a $100 learner PDA without the global consortium the OLPC project has entailed, he now has me thinking what one could put together in a custom $100 PDA, built and designed from scratch, and based on an open platform architecture. After all, it’s already possible to build a complete, though basic, mobile phone handset for $25… and an open-platform, Linux-based handheld device was recently launched by electronics company Grundig, featuring a 2-megapixel camera, sleek clamshell design, mp3 player, microSD expandable memory, FM radio, and wireless connectivity – all achieved with a single chip (minimising production costs). The feasibility of a Linux-based handheld device is further supported by the fact that most Motorola phones have been running Linux as their OS since 2003, not to mention many Samsung models. Even GPS can (and has been) be integrated with a Linux-based handheld device, and according to some analysts, Linux is expected to be one of the dominant OSes in the handheld market by 2010

Dr. Trafford has his own wishlists for what might be included in such a tool – veering away from a telephone-like device towards more of a PDA-like device, and I agree that a PDA-type interface could provide a good deal more flexiblity in terms of learning activities and interfaces.

Whatever the form factor, I personally would like to see an informationally connected – or at least, Internet connected – low cost device, which leads me to the latest internet buzz over the development of a “Google phone“. Among Google’s 20-odd research projects, they’ve confirmed they are working on an informationally-connected handheld device:

Isabel Aguilera, head of Google’s Iberian operations, was quoted last week in Spanish news site Noticias.com as acknowledging the existence of a part-time project by some Google engineers to develop a mobile phone.

In her interview at http://tinyurl.com/2feypv/, translated from Spanish, the Google executive said her company “has been investigating” developing a mobile phone that works both as an internet access device and as a way to extend internet use to emerging markets customers.

A handheld internet access device? From the world’s current leader in information access and connectivity? Designed for emerging market cutomers (i.e. low cost)? From an educator’s perspective, this sounds like an exciting prospect, and should investigation lead Google to actual design and implementation, I’ll certainly be following any news keenly. Google have been making it abundantly clear that mobile technology is their current priority for continued growth, and have proven it through their creation of mobile widgets for mail, maps, news, and searching; their recent purchase of Neven Vision also hints at their interest in creating new tools that will enable the use of image recognition to perform “visual searches” and discover information about objects using a camera phone.

It’s all very interesting to think about. I’m mulling Dr. Trafford’s ideas around in my head, and I’ll certainly blog some ideas of my own as they synthesise more substantially.

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The "Mobile Learning” Gadget Giveaway!

17 03 2007

In a fortnight, the Mobile Learning blog (right here!) will be turning one year old! To celebrate, I’m giving away some free m-learning gear, and entry is open to anyone in the world (prizes include postage).

Up for grabs are five portable digital MP3/WMA player/recorders, each of which also includes FM radio and file storage (USB memory stick) capability. Using a built-in microphone, they record audio with noise reduction to compressed format, enabling them to hold up to 36 hours of recorded audio, and have a small LCD screen which can display embedded ID3 information (such as artist and track title) and even song lyrics (or the text of podcasts). Battery life is rated at approx. 10 hours of usage on a single AAA battery, and I’m including two batteries with each prize pack to get you started. iPod-style earbuds are also included in the prize pack, as well as a CD of drivers and software to use with your player.

Using a digital audio player exactly like this, you could create and deliver m-learning strategies such as these (jut for starters):

  • record an audio podcast, and make it available via your blog or iTunes
  • record a class or lecture, and make it available to your students via your organisation’s Online Learning System or web site
  • download and listen to a podcast
  • download an audio e-book or convert a CD e-book to mp3 and listen to it while you’re jogging, cooking, or just about anywere
  • tune in to an informatiove FM radio program; you could even record it for later review or for sharing with others who may be interested in the material
  • plug your player into a friend’s computer to give them a copy of any of your audio learning resources
  • copy other files to your player to transport between desktop PCs or to share with other learners
  • capture learner assessment, such as a client interview or an oral quiz, for later review by yourself or the learner

But hey, I won’t get offended or anything if you just want to use it to enjoy your music on the move. 🙂 Entry is open to anyone around the world. But to win one of these players, you’ll have to Get Social:

  1. You’ll need an account in a “social web” (Web 2.0) site such as a blog, wiki, Flickr account, or MySpace page (to mention but a few of the thousands of options!). Only entries created and hosted using a social web site will be considered for a prize
  2. Create an entry or a piece of content that links to your favourite post here in the Mobile Learning Blog, and say why it’s your favourite. There are now over 200 posts here to choose from! I will give extra credit to creative or innovative entries; and to mobile-capable entries (such as podcasts or mobile web pages).
  3. When you’ve finished your entry, add a comment to this competition page with a link or URL to your entry (so I can find it!).

That’s it! Entries close 6th April 2007, and I will choose and announce the winners the following week. Good luck, and have fun getting social! If this competition gets a good response, I’ll post more competitions like this in future.

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Workshop Activity: Paper Blogs

16 03 2007

I came up with this activity to demonstrate to teachers what (mo)blogs are, how they work, and why they can be such a powerful strategy for empowering and engaging learners. I’ve used it on a number of occasions – first for a Social Web Professional Development Day in July 2006, and most recently, last Friday, at a Professional Development workshop on M-Learning, for the University of Canberra. I’m pleased to see it has also been used by others I’ve taught it to, as a fun and accurate way to explain blogging – and it doesn’t even need a computer!

UC Mobile LearnersObjective:

To provide a hands-on, interactive explanation of (mo)blogging, and the way that blogs can be used in education as powerful learning tools.


For a group of 6 or more workshop participants. The bigger the group, the better and more fun.


  • A5 sheets of Paper – one per participant, and preferably in many colours
  • Writing implements – lots of colours of ballpoint pens and/or colourful textas
  • Post-It Notes – I use 47.6 x 73mm ones. If you can find some colourful ones around this size, so much the better. 🙂


  1. Place the Materials (listed above) in the middle of the activity space. Explain that this represents a Blogging Site: a place that provides you with all of the tools you need to set up and publish a blog.
  2. Invite participants to choose a sheet of Paper for themselves in any colour, as well as a pad of Post-It Notes and some Writing Implements. Explain that this represents how blogging sites allow users to customise the appearance of their own blogs, and personalise them.
  3. Tell the participants that they are about to write their very first blog post. (I like to get participants to blog about “Food and Drink” for this activity, because everyone has their own favourites, and it makes this exercise more fun; but you might have your own topic in mind). Ask them to write a paragraph or so about their favourite food or drink, and to draw a picture of it.
  4. Ask participants to also “tag” their post, by adding some summary information at the bottom: for example, whether this item is served hot or cold; whether it is a food or a drink; or whether it is served as an entree, main course, or dessert.
  5. Now everyone puts their posts back in the middle, and you invite participants to each take someone else’s post. Ask them to comment on the content, by writing their comments on Post-It Notes and sticking them onto the original post: for example, do they agree or disagree with the original poster’s favourite food? Do they like the picture that the original poster drew? Tell them that blogs allow this kind of commenting” by readers, which can help learners to consider new ideas and reflect on their own in new ways.
  6. Get participants to keep putting their commented posts back into the Blogging Site for others to read and comment. They are allowed to review their own blogs at any stage and remove comments they don’t think are useful, or comment on each others’ comments, too. When this has gone on for a little while, and all of the blogs have at least a couple of comments on them, get everyone to put all the blogs back in the middle and to find their own. The multicoloured paper helps to make this much simpler. 🙂 They should have lots of fun reading their comments!
  7. Explain that this is what social software, such as blogs, is all about: sharing and exchanging ideas to build new ideas and new knowledge.
  8. Get everyone on their feet, and ask anyone whose food or drink is (or could be) served hot to stand on your left, and everyone else to stand on your right. Explain that this demonstrates how “tags” or “categories” are used to organise information in blogs, which are usually also searchable, to make it easy to discover new information in other people’s blogs.
  9. As a final (optional) activity, ask everyone to write another (brief) blog post on another favourite food or beverage, and to come and stand in front of you when they finish. Explain that most blogs allow readers to subscribe to them in various ways – with RSS being the most popular – which allows readers to be immediately informed if a blogger updates their blog, without having to visit each site.

You can certainly expand on and vary this activity to suit your participants, but this sequence communicates most of the important principles of blogging, without a computer in sight, and uses visual, auditory and kinaesthetic aspects to engage learners with all learning styles, which makes this a very fun activity for all.

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2007 Horizon Report: Impacts on M-Learning

28 02 2007

The 2007 Horizon Report has just been published, detailing the latest trends in educational technology, and how far they are to mainstream adoption.  This year, technologies have been classified under the following headings:

  • User-created content
  • Social Networking
  • Mobile Phones
  • Virtual Worlds
  • The News Scholarship and Emerging Forms of Publication
  • Massively Multiplayer Educational Gaming

The first three items (closest on the horizon, according to the report, with a “horizon” of three years or less) have strong links into mobile learning: 

  • Mobile devices are often used to create content.  Cellphones, PDAs, and audio recorders are convenient, portable, and often quality devices for capturing photographs, video, or audio recordings, which can be used for learning and assessment.  Content can be stored and edited on mobile devices, or, increasingly uploaded to the web – to (mo)blogs, image-sharing services like Flickr, email accounts or discussion boards.
  • Mobile devices are also becoming increasingly social, with considerable integration with “web 2.0” tools such as blogs or image-sharing sites, and the ability to read RSS feeds, instant-message peers, and interact with maps.
  • Mobile phones provide a personal device on which educational resources including video, podcasts, lecture recordings, and photographs can be both created and stored for later review.  The Horizon report provides a number of examples of the use of mobile phones in educational contexts.

All of this points to the increasing relevance of mobile learning, as mobile devices become increasingly integrated into the very fabric of our everyday educational technologies.

(via Jane’s E-Learning Pick of the Day)

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Exemplary Educational Podcasts

27 02 2007

Grazr LogoTony Vincent at the Learning in Hand blog has incorporated a great new feature into his edublog, called Grazr:

I’ve added a new tool to Learning in Hand. The new Grazr widget appears on some pages. Grazr is a free service for websites that allows visitors to “graze” selected RSS feeds without the hassle of subscribing. This means you can browse and listen to selected podcasts without leaving Learning in Hand. In the event you’d like to subscribe to a podcast you find in Learning in Hand’s Educational podcasts Grazr, you can follow these directions for subscribing with iTunes.

Grazr is a really cool little tool, which allows you to “embed” your blogroll within your blog for browsing (“grazing”).  If you’ve got a blog or website, you could use this tool to provide your students with links to podcasts and feeds to supplement or complement their learning.

Selected Educational Podcasts

Great work Tony! If you know of exemplary podcasts which should be added to Tony’s Grazr, be sure to contact him to let him know.

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(Open) Standards for Mobile Learning

22 02 2007

I’ve already submitted my research recommendations for Australian Mobile Learning Standards (for which I was selected as Lead Researcher last year), so it’s unfortunate that this article on Mobile 2.0, wasn’t written earlier, as it summarises beautifully some of the considerations that were foremost in my mind when I was writing my recommendations and would have provided some excellent quotes:

Open Applications Leverage Open Standards

…it is important to note that mobile 2.0 applications need to leverage open standards. Applications that sit on top of closed and proprietary protocols and formats are antithetical to the kind of innovation that will be key to the growth of the mobile Web. Establishing open standards around html, CSS and XML has greatly contributed to the growth and success of the medium and to its continued innovation. We are already seeing standards pay off big-time on the mobile platform as well in both the Java/JCP space (where we are finally realizing write-once-run-anywhere) and in the mobile Web.

(via All about Mobile Life)

I’m happy to be able to say that the Australian Standards for Mobile Learning I’ve recommended favour open standards whenever possible. This should (hopefully) encourage and facilitate the development of open and interoperable m-learning applications in years to come.

My recommendations for M-Learning Standards (as well as non-technical “user guides”, co-authored by my colleagues Marg O’Connell and John Smith) are currently being reviewed by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework’s E-Standards Experts Group, the Project Reference Group, and the Vetadata Working Group. It’s a lot of people to please, but I am hopeful that this extensive review process will result in an end product subjected to considerable expert scrutiny, and thereby, of suitable quality.

When the Standards are finally approved, they will be made available via the E-Standards Experts Group website and the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. I’ll also be sure to announce publication on this site.

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Bandwagon: Online backup service for your iTunes audio library

22 02 2007

BandwagonIt can happen to even the most tech-savvy of computer users, and be a cause of frustration and expense. Having a computer hard drive fail can mean the loss of all of your music, podcasts, and audio e-books downloaded from iTunes. And once it’s been downloaded, there’s no (legal or non-technical) way to get your purchased music and audio books back – even if you happen to suffer such misfortune.

So from a consumer as well as a mobile learner viewpoint, it can make a lot of sense to have a backup. A new service, Bandwagon, is launching tomorrow, and is hoping to make backing up your iTunes library simple and reliable, by allowing you to back up your library to its online service… as long as you have a Mac running OS 10.4, that is.

As Ewan McIntosh at edu.blogs points out, “it’ll provide that online backup of iTunes that Flickr provides for photos”.

I don’t have the requisite Macintosh computer to be able to use this service, but for anyone out there who does and would like to try this out, Bandwagon are offering free one-year unlimited accounts in return for a trackback to their pre-launch post, and a logo and link to their site. 

If you take up their offer – let me know if it’s any good jumping on the Bandwagon!

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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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Google Maps goes Mobile

25 01 2007

Have you found yourself recently

  • hopelessly lost on a random street corner?
  • drooling over Steve Jobs’ demonstration of Google Maps on the Apple iPhone?
  • Wishing you could use navigable, interactive maps as part of a mobile learning activity for your students, without having to dish out for GPS handsets?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above (or, in my case, all three), you will be overjoyed to know that Google Maps is now available for mobile phones (other than the Applie iPhone), smartphones, and PDAs via a simple, free download and install.

With the same zoomable, annotated maps, integrated search, route planning tools, and photo views found in the desktop version of Google Maps, this mobile application puts the world at your fingertips. Download it by opening your phone’s mobile browser and heading to http://google.com/gmm, or find more information on this web page.

And if you’re not sure whether it’s worth the download, you can even try out the mobile version of Google Maps on this demo page, which works exactly like the real thing.

UPDATE: Google Maps for Mobiles does indeed work in Australia – as reported in this article from The Age!

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Texts and Stories for Mobiles

17 01 2007

Wattpad have launched a site enabling users to create their own digital, text-based stories, and make them accessible to mobile devices.  The text is compressed before being downloaded to the user’s phone, a few pages at a time – strategies designed to minimise waiting time for content. 

The Wattpad reader allows users to search for and browse new stories, and download them remotely.  Alternatively, stories can be downloaded to a PC and transferred to mobile phones using a cable or Bluetooth connection.  Other services, such as Winksite, already allow users to create their own mobile web content, so I guess the particular attractions of Wattbook are the remote search/browse, and the “upload from PC” options that most other services lack.

This kind of service would be well suited to providing short-ish texts (for example stories, case studies, or references), since even with the free PC upload option, I’d imagine it would be cumbersome to read anything very lengthy on a mobile phone screen.  However, I could conceivably be wrong in this assumption, as several users have uploaded the complete novel Eragon and other longish print books (e.g. A Short History of Nearly Everything, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Life of Pi) into Wattpad form.

With the PC upload option, it’d be more flexible and powerful if Wattpad were able to save images into their books (even if these could be configured to be stripped out of remotely downloaded books), but other educators may well find this a useful resource nonetheless.

(via Pocket Picks)

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