Sunday, 14 December 2008

Intellectual property in Higher Education II

After six very stimulating days with a group of very clever and thoughful people, I feel that I have learnt a lot about the issues associated with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) as applied to areas outside those of universities, in particular. It is clear that the issues around the 'first to invent' and 'first to file' are key concepts in the work that universities do. The USA and the European Union represent the two positions, respectively.

In universities, I would argue, the first to invent (ideas) is of paramount importance, and more important than 'first to file'. In universities we are encouraged to collaborate, to seek to understand the broader implications of the work we do, and ensure that we have been thorough in our articulation of understanding of a concept, interpretation of data, or creative idea. In a 'first to file' application the inventor of a process, the person to whom the intellectual property rightfully resides, can lose their IPR by virtue of not being first to file a patent or trademark etc. This could come about from a casual conversation at a conference or discussion with the wider community. Under the 'first to file' the participant of the conversation/ discussion can then patent an idea, thus effectively taking (a stronger word is 'steal') the originator's IPR. Universities and their academic staff deal in ideas, and the IPR invested in those ideas is crucial for publications, a means by which academics staff gain their affirmation (e.g., promotion, tenure). I and my colleagues have published some thoughts about the myths associated wity this problem, particularly in relation to when one leaves one university to commence work at another (see Williamson, Andy, et al. (2003), 'Issues of intellectual capital and intellectual property in educational software development teams', Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 19 (3), 339-55.
--- (2005), 'A framework for the effective management of intellectual capital and intellectual property within IT communities of practice', in Elayne Coakes and Steve Clarke (eds.), Encyclopedia of Communities of Practice in Information and Knowledge Management (London, UK: Idea Group), 364-74.).

I was left with the feeling by the end of the conference that the 'first to invent' is a precident that should be followed in that it rewards the inventor rather than some third party. What do you think?

Monday, 8 December 2008

Intellectual property in Higher Education

This might seem like a strange topic to blog about but it is one that is quite important in relation of the life of an academic in a university. How does an academic receive affirmation for their work? The traditional metric is the publication, preferrably in a high impact journal. But, creative output can take a variety of forms including teaching and learning materials, reports and university documents, and in my academic life, software. I am currently attending the Salzburg Global Seminar series (see where these and other questions are being discussed. (click HERE)

Much of the work I have undertaken (with collaborators) in software creation has been released under the conditions of a Creative Commons licence. Why do I believe this important? One, it has the potential to affirm my intellectual property (output), and create a viral licence using the creative commons mechanism that can help improve the longevity of the software, and data. This is the approach taken by the Wellcome foundation in the UK and a prime example is the Human Genome project (see the work of Tim Hubbard from the Wellcoem trust) where the data was released immediately, rather than waiting for the publication. The second reason is to look at a different metrics for thinking about academic output and creativity.

I will be publishing more on this topic as the sessions unfold and would welcome comments. It would be interesting to know if anyone has downloaded the software we have created. Is it being used and developed? Will the conditions of the Creative Commons licence be followed?

Feel free to comment.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Digital natives in Hong Kong

Digital natives
I am long overdue to make posting to my Blog. In this particular posting I'd like to share with the readers that I have some results relating to both mobile lending and the use of technology by undergraduate students. I led a recent survey which asked students about their use of technology, perceived usefulness in regards to learning, and what mobile technologies they had available to them. The results were interesting. Students in Hong Kong are no different to students elsewhere and use a significant range of technologies for both social and learning purposes. In the first graph on the right it is easy to see that students' engagement with mobile technologies is both significant and purposeful. While it is clear to see that SMS and voice calls are the dominant features of the use of a mobile phone (or smart phone) there are significant numbers of students that even use these devices for Blogging or looking at Blogs. the second graph is more significant, and looks at the technologies students value for personal learning. It is very clear that students consider technology to be a key component of their learning environment and generally very useful.

In the second graph the comparative figures shown in red are students who did not value technology for a particular task, for example, some students did not perceive as downloading lectures particularly useful. However, these students were in the minority and in this example more than 55% of students valued the opportunity to download variety of course offerings.

So what? While the full data set is far more extensive and will be reported elsewhere, these two graphs provide one with evidence that the inclusion of technology as part of the learning design is likely to result in, at the very least, engaging with students in ways in which they are very familiar and value for their own learning. This current project is now completed, the results of which will support other projects and undertakings. there is a great deal more data available from the survey including some preliminary discussions with groups of students to examine some of the findings in more detail. I am currently working on a journal article with a colleague which analyses the results in more detail. If you would like more information then e-mail me directly.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Mobile application: iCount

One of the more interesting outcomes from the trip to Thailand was the use and testing of a very simple tool called iCount. The iCount tool is designed to do just what it says, count things. When students undertake field trips they are often required to create frequency graphs of a variety of objects. For example, on this particular field trip students were required to count pedestrians, different kinds of vehicles, and/or the variety and nature of signage in the business district. Traditionally this is done with a notepad and pen or pencil, a list of things to be counted and some kind of frequency counting method involving simple strokes on paper. However, it is not this activity that is specifically valued. What is important is what the students can do with the data, the interpretations they make and the conclusions formed. The iCount tool is intended to make the first part very easy, data collection, while simultaneously putting the data into a format that can be analysed using Excel, for example. The figure on the right shows a screen captured from a PDA during the data collection process undertaken by the students on the field trip.

The iCount tool is simple in the extreme. Once the data has been captured the saved file is in the form of a .CVS file. When students download the file to their PCs and click on it, it opens automatically in Excel. The issues of transferring data from paper to electronic form for analysis disappear. Students are better able to focus on the key requirements of analysis, graphing and interpretation of the data. In discussions with students this particular tool was valued because of its:
  • ease-of-use; and
  • ability to create a file ready for analysis using Excel.
The students were very pragmatic in their use of the PDAs for data collection and analysis purposes. Implicitly, they subscribed to the KIS principle, keep it simple! They did not value any tools that were complex or difficult to use, thus requiring a steep learning curve.

Creating a file that the iCount tool uses as its source file is relatively simple also. The source file is an XML file. One of the students modified the original demonstration file in order to count different types of signage -- one of the prescribed tasks. This was about five minutes after being shown how the source files could be created. The text from a typical source file is shown below.
The XML file is of the form:

The iCount tool would seem to be one of the success stories of data collection and analysis on this particular field trip using a PDA. I have received inquires expressing considerable interest from others who have heard of the tool and want to use it in a similar way with their students. If you would like to use the tool, you are free to download it from my personal web site ( I am interested in working with people to develop the tool futher and make it even more useful and user-friendly. Please send me an e-mail if you are interested in collaborating.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Mobile learning: Preliminary data

One aspect of the trip to Thailand was to test the new Moodle Block that facilitated the upload and download of files to PDAs and smart phones. The second was to see what effect access to a server and all of the communication (e.g., upload and download of files) that support would have. Some of the data has been analysed and the results are interesting.

Did students avail themselves of the mobile server, and access it? In total numbers, there were more than 1300 accesses within four days from 67 students. Given that they worked in groups for much of the time, it was expected that some students (ie., the ones with the notebook computers) would access the server for uploading and downloading of files more than others. This was in fact the case, as shown below. The mode of access by students was 7 times. What is interesting is that more students (60) than there were notebooks (about 35) accessed the server at least once. Only seven students didn't access the server using their own login and password. The maximum number of times was 88 while a number of students just accessed once to download specific files to work on as part of their analysis.

Did this impact on learning? During classroom observations each evening the students were engaged in:
  • developing presentations on their learning and understanding using Photostory;
  • post-processing their data gathered during the day (particularly Excel data);
  • organising their extensive photographic resources taken during the day; and
  • uploading and sharing data across groups.
More data (questionnaire and interviews) will be gathered from teachers and students to look more closely for evidence of learning. Anecdotally one of the teachers commented that a great deal more data analysis work had been done before returning this year than in previous years.

There is hope yet.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Mobile to the limit

Does mobile learning work?

An interesting question. Having spent the last week in Thailand on a Geography field studies trip with 70 students and their teachers I can give a qualified 'YES'.

Mike Sharples and colleagues from the University of Nottingham have argued that all learning involves some element of mobility - location (where), temporal (when) and developmental (age and/ or need).

On this trip, students used notebook computers and smart phones to undertake a range of activities, in the field (smart phones) and in the classroom once once they had returned to their accommodation. Did it all work?

The use of the smart phones was driven by a myriad of factors, including:
  • teacher perceptions of the use of using a smart phone (was it encouraged or discouraged);
  • students attitudes and confidence in using technology for non-social activities (in this case, collecting data); and
  • availability of the devices (only 1 between 4 students).
One of the strongest determinants was the teacher attitude, which was surprising given the nature of some of the tasks. Teacher encouragement (to use a smart phone rather than paper) was actually quite important. The second major element indentified was the utilitarian nature of the process - in the words of one student 'if the number of steps (usage) was more than just a few, it is just too much trouble'. This ment that the iCount tool was perceived as having high levels of utility. It required a single click to open the working file, allowed a single tap to record an item, and finally the file could be saved as a .cvs file for further analysis on a notebook computer using Excel later.

The presence of a mobile local area network for communication between devices, file sharing and obtaining files created by teachers was also considered 'adding value' to the learning.

The mobile LAN demonstrated for the first time on this trip proved to be extremely robust and reliable with fast upload and download times for both smart phone files and notebook computers. A number of small bugs were identified (e.g., file name length) but overall the system was seen as supporting the communication and learning - not limiting it.

More soon.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Mobile in Thailand

Mobility and learning
This next week should be a very interesting one. On Saturday I will be accompanying 70 Geography students and their teachers to Thailand to examine how mobile technologies and tools can support learning in places without and internet connection.

We will be using the software developed as part of a collaboration between institutions in Hong Kong ( Hong Kong is a fabulous place to look at the issues of mobility and learning with broadband almost ubiquitous, but what happens when you need communication between mobile computers and devices for students to share data, collaborate and communicate? The mToken system allows a LAN to be set up either on a notebook computer or a campus facility.

So, I have loaded the open-source LMS Moodle, the mToken block and the mobile eToken system onto my notebook computer, attached a wireless router and voila - instant LAN in the middle of nowhere. We will even be using it at lunchtimes between sessions for the students to upload their data to the server while sitting around the bus (to prevent data loss). The wireless LAN I am using even plugs into a 12/24v socket in the bus.

The students have many tasks to complete using a range of applications that operate on smart phones (e.g., a simple counting tool called iCount that enables any set of items to be counted and then saved as a .cvs file).

My colleagues and I will be looking at how it all goes in the field. Hopefully nothing will break!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Mobile learning

The Future is Mobile
This is being born out by a number of factors world wide. Firstly, many countries, particularly in the developing world but also in the developed world, are creating wireless networks in preference to wired environments. For example, in Hong Kong, there are over 300 wireless hot spots around the city (Starbucks, MacDonalds, Pacific Coffee) that are now free for use for any member of the eight institutions of higher education in Hong Kong. Students sitting down to socialise can now log into their university - as if they were on the campus itself (A virtual private network or VPN). This is more than just surfing the web. This means the students now have access to the resources provided by the Library, electronic journals and books that are normally unavailable when off-campus.

The range of devices that can now be used to take advantage of this access has also increased. For example, notebook sales at my institution among students far outweigh desktop sales, a fact driving the sales of computers world wide (;1027731535;fp;4194304;fpid;1). However, any wireless enabled device can be used to connect to the internet, including the new batch of smart phones (Gartner defines the devices as "A large-screen, data-centric, handheld device designed to offer complete phone functions whilst simultaneously functioning as a personal digital assistant (PDA)." see,39024665,39156391,00.htm).

Now all of this technology is one thing: using it effectively for teaching and learning is another. One recent project ( seeks to link a learning management system with any type of mobile device, notebooks, smart phones and wireless-enabled PDAs. Research is currently being undertaken to look at the use of smart phones and PDAs to improve communication, reflective thinking and data collection in field studies involving final year high school students. Watch this space!