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!

Another Free App Turns Your Phone into a Wireless Webcam

28 08 2007

SmartCam is an application that runs on your phone and your PC, linking them so that the video captured by your mobile is transmitted to you PC for recording or video conferencing.


I previously blogged about Wwigo, a free application which turns the camera in your Nokia mobile phone into a Bluetooth wireless webcam, and for the time being, SmartCam is also restricted to Nokia S60v3.0 handsets. However, a J2ME (mobile Java) version is anticipated for the near future, which should allow hundreds of other handsets to also extend their functionality this way.

Best of all, SmartCam is a free and open source application, so (unlike Wwigo) there is no watermarking of your video footage, and no proprietary restrictions.  Definitely worth downloading and trying! 🙂

via PocketPicks

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Textbooks or E-Books?

24 08 2007

There’s been some debate in the edu-blogosphere concerning whether or not schools should buy textbooks for students, with Stephen Downes asserting that all school textbooks should be replaced by electronic resources (which would basically allow the knowledge to be made available to students for free).


From a mobile learning point of view, one of the obvious benefits of digital texts (or remotely-accessible knowledge websites) is that they’re *so* much more portable! I remember my uni days lugging a bag full of law and math textbooks to and from classes – what a chore! In terms of the content I was reading, there’s probably not much that couldn’t be reproduced digitally. And it would have been terrific to have been able to take *all* of my textbooks around with me, rather than having to select just the texts I felt I would need the most, because I just couldn’t physically carry all my textbooks at once.

I can definitely see the value of electronic, free-for-education resources, but there’s just a few bits of the paradigm missing for me:

  1. Annotating/Note Taking. One of the ways I use textbooks is to scribble notes in the margins, highlight paragraphs of particular value, and insert my own notes between the pages to supplement the textbooks content: for example, if the teacher provides a better explanation of a concept covered by the textbook, it is useful to insert the “missing page(s)” myself. How could this kind of learning activity be replicated in an electronic textbook or on a website? How do I highlight paragraph 10 of a webpage for later reference so that I can flick through my notes and visually notice that there’s something relevant there that I should remember, as I can do with the pages of a text book?
  2. Access to Online Content. A book is a very mobile repository of knowledge. Once I’ve bought it, I can take it anywhere, and I can access the information in the textbook for free. This is not necessarily so for an online textbook: if I need to remotely access some content and I’m not able to use a free campus wireless service (e.g. on the bus), my only connection options are via a commercial mobile operator, which can cost plenty of money. In some situations, I may not be able to access an online resource at all (e.g. in a rural or regional setting). Putting the knowledge on a website may make it “free,” but is access to that resource going to be free (and easily available)?
  3. Power. A textbook needs no power source, and it can therefore be studied at length in situations where mobile devices needed to access the same knowledge with the convenience of a textbook may be inadequate. There are now “e-ink” e-book readers which have much better power cunsumption that laptops or PDAs, but these lack wireless and internet capability and are only monochrome (though colour versions are being developed). A student’s day may involve an hour-long bus or train ride to school or college; an 8-hour day of college; and another hour-long ride home: realistically (conservatively, even), 10 hours of usage of one or more textbooks would be expected in a day without an opportunity to recharge an electronic device. If we replace textbooks with e-books or websites, how can we ensure students have power to access theor e-texts all day long?

Just some of my thoughts… if we can overcome some of these barriers, I think replacing textbooks with e-books may well become all the more feasible. 🙂

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Using a Mobile Phone as a Free, Wireless Webcam

10 08 2007

Wwigo - Preview WindowIf you own a Nokia mobile phone with a camera there’s a chance you might be carrying around a wireless webcam in your pocket. A free, newly released (beta) software bundle for Symbian 60 v.3.0 and v.2.0 mobile phones now allows you to use your mobile phone as a webcam for your laptop or personal computer.

Wwigo, from software developer Motvik, is a free application which turns your mobile phone camera into a wireless Bluetooth webcam. It installs a “receiver” application on your PC as well as a webcam application on your mobile phone, and the video captured by your mobile is wirelessly transmitted to your PC. The video that is transmitted to your PC can be used in Skype, Yahoo Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, YourTube and Grouper applications for vlogging or video chat, and the quality is as good as – or better – than any off-the-shelf dedicated webcam.

However, because there’s no wires attached to your mobile phone, you can use and move it within a 10m radius of your PC while capturing video to your PC the whole time. And because the video is being recorded on your computer – not on your mobile phone – it doesn’t matter how much memory you have on your mobile phone; the length of the video capture is only limited by the size of your computer’s hard drive – not your phone’s memory.

My phone, a Nokia 6110 Navigator, isn’t listed as a compatible phone model, but it worked fine with Wwigo. Video quality was first class: as good as my $190 dedicated, top-of-the-range webcam at home.

If you’ve been looking for a way to record your lectures or presentations using your organisation’s networked computers, this could be the solution for you. You don’t even need to carry a laptop with you around campus: just your mobile phone and a Bluetooth USB dongle to plug into your organisation’s computers, to save your recorded sessions directly to your computer or your network.

Here’s a test snippet captured using Wwigo; the quality is somewhat degrated by the conversion on YouTube:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/aXU9-W5HDgs" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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Mobile Learning Redefined

26 11 2006

Steve Dembo, author of tech42.com has posted up a super video presentation entitled “Mobile Learning Redefined“. His “redefinition” centres around using the technology already in the pockets of students, rather than the introduction of “new” technologies. He covers a number of approaches already covered in this blog (such as 2D Barcodes, mobile web site tools, and moblogging), but also brings up a few new ideas worth exploring, such as:

  • QuizFaberQuizFaber creates multiple-choice quizzes for the mobile web
  • Flickr – features a mobile version of Flickr.
  • Mobilicio.usMobilicio.us allows you to remotely access your bookmarks, and Del.icio.us mona allows you to remotely save bookmarks
  • Remote PodcastingGcast.com allows you to call a phone number to leave a message, which is instantly published as a podcast.

Check out the video here (warning: large file, 43MB).

“Mobile Learning Redefined”

(via Learning in Hand)

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What is a Chumby?

21 11 2006

Friends of chumbyA bedside clock with a wireless internet connection? Has the world gone mad?

Ah, but it’s so much more than just a clock. I’d like to introduce you to Chumby, “a compact device that can act like a clock radio, but is way more fun”. Chumby can piggyback off your wireless internet connection to interact with the web, with the convenience and ubiquity of an “always on” device.

It’s being designed as an open platform – meaning that developers and users can create or download widgets to display photos from Flickr, news from Google, stock quotes, moon phases, horoscopes… even a daily Shakespearean Insult.

It features a touch screen, but also utilises a brand new kind of mobile interface – a “squeeze sensor” that lets you communicate with it by squeezing or tapping it. It lacks a keyboard, so it’s not intended to become a workhorse; rather, it serves as a conduit of information and functionality – an extension of Web 2.0 into the “real” world. The Chumby could awaken you, not with dodgy FM radio, but rather, with your favourite news, podcast, vodcast, RSS feed, or music. You could even create Flash-based learning interactions and have them delivered to students’ Chumbys each day.

The makers of Chumby are claiming it will hit the market at really low cost – under US$150 retail. If anyone’s interested in developing educational applications for the Chumby, the makers have a limited supply of Chumbys to give away to those most deserving – pitch your idea on the Chumby website.

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Learner-Friendly, Environment Friendly

9 10 2006

Aimulet LA --

Pink Tentacle reports that Aimulet LA, a division of Japan’s Information Technology Research Institute, have developed a cheap, batteryless audio device – that could be used for situated learning.

You hold the small wafer, with an outer shell made from tough, renewable bamboo, to your ear like a cellphone. When you stand over special LED emitters in the ground, the unit receives light signals through special micro solar cells, and converts them into audio messages that are transmitted through a tiny speaker in the device.

The product has already been used at the 2005 World Expo, where Laurie Anderson’s Walk Project installation featured the Aimlet LA to allow visitors to wander through a Japanese-styled garden and listen to poems in four different languages.

The low cost and environmentally-friendly design of the device, which won the 2006 Good Design Award for Ecology Design, means that it could double up an entry ticket, pass or ID card.

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