This Edu-Netbook *might* be the best yet.

17 02 2010

The Mirus Schoolbook Convertible looks like it’s a decent step forward in the design of a low-cost mobile computing device for education.

Mirus Schoolmate convertible netbook/tablet: designed for learning.

Mirus Schoolmate convertible netbook/tablet: designed for learning.

It’s a step up from existing netbooks and even the OLPC because it features a convertible design – the screen can be swivelled and locked flat so that it turns into a “tablet” computer, which responds to both the built-in stylus and to finger touch (like an iPhone).

The finger-responsive touch screen is particularly useful in an educational tablet computer because of the device’s utility as an ebook reader.  Nobody wants to be holding a stylus to turn pages while reading an ebook, and this innovation allows stylus-free ebook reading.  However, a fully finger-based design (like an iPad or iPhone) wouldn’t be optimal: the stylus is much better than a finger for more precise tasks such as drawing accurate diagrams or writing handwritten notes.  And while I’m listing features that make this device better than Apple’s upcoming iPad for education, I should also mention that this device has a built in webcam (the iPad will not). 🙂

The design also features a liquid-resistant design just in case there’s an occasional spill or run through the rain – scenarios that are possible (or probable!) in a classroom, school yard, or school bag.

Like most netbooks, however, this device doesn’t have a massive amount of processing power or hard drive space; but it doesn’t really need it for the tasks it would most commonly be used for: accessing web-based activities and resources, working on homework or assignments, reading ebooks and basic communications and connectivity.  Indeed, having reduced processing power means it’s far less likely to be used for playing the latest computer games rather than used as a learning tool.

After analysing the product features and reviews of it that are sprinkled across the web, I suspect that this device could be better in a classroom than any edu-netbook I’ve previously seen.  The one specification that could probably do with improvement is the 5.5 hour claimed battery life.  Some netbooks are now obtaining usable durations of 8-10 hours, and this would allow it to be used for a whole day without requiring a charge.

All in all though, this is a most capably specified  device – so much so that I’m considering buying one myself to try out more rigorously.





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.





Video Recording and Streaming on ALL iPhones

15 12 2009

Gear Diary has just informed me of some good news, just in time for Christmas. Historically, Apple have maintained strict control of the capabilities of the iPhone, by restricting the use of certain functions and preventing developers from using them in “approved” apps. This is the reason that older model iPhones (the original iPhone and the previous model, the 3G) could not install software to record or stream video, despite having a camera built in that was quite capable of the task.

It seems that Apple have recently relaxed their control of some private APIS, and this means that developers have been able to create approved apps that can be installed even on older iPhones to allow them to record and even stream video.

Hopefully, this signifies a change of heart at Apple that will allow developers to more fully embrace and exploit the full power of iPhones past and present!

(via Gear Diary)





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)





The Genie in the Bottle: Unleashing the hidden power of personal mobile devices for learning (November 2009)

11 11 2009

Leonard Low
University of Canberra, November 2009

ABSTRACT: Since July 2007 there have been more mobile phones in operation in Australia than there are people; and when you add in the other mobile, digital devices that ordinary Australians own – such as media players, digital cameras, and portable computing devices – it is apparent that there are tremendous tools for personal and lifelong learning in the pockets of our students.  Unfortunately, there is an equally enormous mental rift between the way these devices are perceived by most users (who usually view these devices as being for entertainment or personal communications only), and the way they need to be perceived if they are to be used to their ultimate potential: as digital “pocket knives” of tools for creation and learning.  This paper draws a comparison with personal computer users who view computers as primarily an entertainment or communications device; discusses user resistance to the intrusion of “work” into their “personal” spaces; and makes the case that changing user attitudes is just as important as training user skills, if we want to unleash the hidden power of ubiquitous mobile devices for personal and lifelong learning.

Author’s Notes

Educators have contemplated the possible benefits of using mobile technologies for learning for decades, and hundreds of scholarly articles have been published in recent years on the potential affordances of mobile devices for facilitating, supporting, and enhancing learning. With so much interest, speculation and research into the use of mobile devices for learning, and with such broad availability and affordability of mobile devices, why hasn’t there been a corresponding surge in the use of these devices in educational contexts?  Why aren’t students already using their mobile devices for personal and lifelong learning?

Two dominant strategies have emerged in relation to ownership of digital devices for mobile learning: one in which a uniform set of devices is provided to all learners to overcome barriers of platform diversity and device access, on a temporary or permanent basis; and an alternative strategy which leverages the mobile devices already owned by students (regardless of interoperability) for learning activities.  I believe there are problems with both strategies – problems which currently present psychological barriers to the adoption of mobile devices as learning tools, despite their many affordances.

In the first instance, a school or institution may provide, sell, or direct students to purchase a particular mobile device, for example, an Apple iPhone, for the purpose of study.  In cases where devices are loaned to students on a temporary basis, students generally have very little time to develop proficiency or fluency in the use of the device.  Better outcomes are evident in cases where students are allowed to retain devices for longer periods of time to develop proficiency and personalise devices to suit individual usage preferences, but the expense of buying these “standard” devices (either for the organisation, or for the student) can make this strategy difficult to implement.

In the second scenario, an educator may draw on the mobile tools that students already own.  One major difficulty with this approach is the wide range of mobile devices owned by students, which are as divergent in capabilities for communications and networking, media playback and capture, and application customisation as you can imagine.  However the perceived advantage with this approach is that it allows students to use the tools they are already most familiar with for the purpose of learning.

This paper looks at this particular issue – the use of personal mobile devices for learning – and posits that the “personal” nature of these devices is a double-edged sword: it improves flexibility and reduces cost of participation, but at the risk of students feeling like learning is imposing on their “personal spaces”.

TBC…





Mobile Learning Research Workshop

11 11 2009

I’ve been kindly invited a mobile learning research workshop at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) in a couple of weeks, facilitated by Laurel Dyson and Andrew Litchfield, members of the Technology and Education Design and Development (TEDD) Research Group at UTS.  Laurel and Andrew have been involved with quite a bit of recent research into mobile learning, with a summary of their research contained in this ASCILITE paper: http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet25/dyson.pdf.  In this workshop, we’ll be working together to share our experiences in m-learning, develop at least one ARC Discovery Grant proposal for 2010, and possibly other m-learning projects (e.g. ALT-C), and to launch an Australasian Special Interest Group around m-learning.

I thought I would share some of the Key Research Questions here, as I prepare for my involvement in this workshop.  Some of these questions point at topical issues in the development of mobile learning strategies – issues that all mobile learning developers and researchers will need to grapple with:

  • How can we best incorporate mobile technologies into designs and strategies for improved learning?
  • What are the best approaches to achieve sustainable, low-cost mobile learning?
  • How can mobiles enable more engagement and interactivity in lectures?
  • Interrogating anywhere anytime learning
  • What are the best-practice mLearning activities for each discipline?




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