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 (http://www.cite.hku.hk/people/dkennedy/mToken/). 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!