Monday, 6 September 2010

An Inkling of the future of books

The book, that tried, true and often loved form of media that has been with us for such a long time may have a competitor: at least in terms of academic texts that students are expected to buy for their courses. The company Inkling has come up with a very compelling model of that allows distribution of books, supports collaborative learning between students, and addresses the vexed issue of cost.

Maybe sometime soon, we will see students going to class and actually taking their text books with them because they can annotate the text, share and discuss ideas, and the iPad books have interactive content as textbook makers start to exploit the affordances of the tool (see The Elements).

Watch this space.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Cloud Computing: An IT or Educational decision?

As many institutions move towards the adoption of cloud based computing, one sees a great deal about the need to manage various types of risk. For example, in a recent article from Educause they identified a number of institutional risks:
  • 'Operational risk — service or business failures
  • Financial risk — surprise support or integration costs
  • Compliance risk — failure leads to liability costs and reputation damage'
 From the perspective of the individual user, staff and students they noted that for the 'User view' one needed to consider:
  • 'Reliability, privacy, security — similar to operational risk
  • Utility — functionality
  • Simplicity — which requires interoperability'.
Now I have quoted directly from the article because it highlights what seems to be a gap in the thinking/ planning process. Educational issues seemed to be lumped under utility which is loosely considered to be issues of collaboration and communication (email to alumni for example). It is only much later in the process that educational issues start to get addressed more seriously. For example, how the various cloud services integrate with the manner in which staff and students use the various technological tools for teaching, learning and engagement. Many of the articles I have been looking at seem to take a very technological approach and while that is important, surely the ultimate users (staff and students) need to be a part of the process very early on. I would be interested in hearing from anyone that has already been down this path and is willing to share their experiences, from an educational perspective.

In closing this post, we have all seen the discussions about what is wrong with the iPad, no USB, the need to sync with another computer, and no really familiar file storage system (e.g., see HERE). However, cloud computing and iPads seem to be a near perfect match, the cloud being where all of the collaborative services are available for sharing, communication, file storage, and interaction. Now all we need are really fast wireless services freely available on campus and in the city - as we have here in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

ICEL 2010

ICEL 2010 is an international conference that is being held (for the first time) in Penang, Malaysia with attendees from 19 countries. What is clear is the extensive interest from developing countries in the use of mobile learning. I was very interested in the presentation by the second Key Note speaker, Laura Czerniewicz, from the Centre for Educational Technology (CET) University of Cape Town, South Africa who presented on The digital native in a new era- apartheid or democracy? Her presentation may be found HERE.

One of the things that was very interesting was the finding that the development of computer literacies is virtually the reverse of the western world: with the more impoverished students coming from mobile phones, often relatively low level technology (the so called vanilla mobile phone), to the desktop or notebook computers. The demographics and data also challenge the statements from the likes of Tapscott and Prenski, in particular. The South African data indicates that it is experience with computers rather than age per sec that is the determining factor in the concept of a digital native. She also introduced the term the 'digital elite', describing those people how have had extensive access to technology and have become very confident in the use of these technologies. There didn't seem to be a correlation with age, unlike the statements of the two authors mentioned above. 

I find that this mirrors my experiences in Hong Kong. Students from the mainland come to Hong Kong with very little experience in the use of computers, and the assumption that because of their age they should be computer experts. However, they are not, reinforcing the findings that the individuals described as 'digital natives' by Prenski are in fact extremely diverse, and in higher education we need to be cognizant of  this information and address these particular student needs.  

All in all, an interesting conference with a diversity of views from developed and developing countries. ICEL 2011 will be held in Kelowna, Canada. 

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Using Mahara on the iPad and iPhone

The previous post considered what kind of device the iPad actually is. However, as a number of writers have already indicated, there are some limitations on what can be done interactively in webpages displayed on screen due to Apple's rejection of certain technologies.

With considerable thanks to the Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC) technical Officer James, we now have a working version of a patch that allows students to customise their Mahara pages to create a view on an iPhone or an iPad. If you go HERE or to the URL you can download the code to help use Mahara with small mobile devices made by Apple. I trust it is useful.

Feedback welcomed and kudos to James on a quick and easy fix to make the devices more customisable by the learners.

Friday, 28 May 2010

iPad - first impressions

This is really a very interesting and different device to enter the educational market, not that it was designed with education in mind (of course). I have been asked on numerous occasions by people who discover I have one here in Hong Kong to describe what it is like. It is a struggle. Let me say what it isn't first. It isn't:
  • a fully fledged computer;
  • a fully functional notebook that you take on the road with you; 
  • a low powered notebook; or
  • a phone, it is too big!
The first thing one really notices is the stunning screen (think reading a book or watching a video). The second, is the ease-of-use and just how intuitive and fast the iPad is. So, if it isn't a net book, notebook or a fully fledged computer what is it? I am still considering this question myself.

 I have the simplest least costly version of the iPad. It is very user-friendly (being extremely simple to use), very easy to read online newspapers, comics and books with, surf the Internet, handles e-mail and VoIP communications such as Skype very well,  accesses Google maps, and everyone I have shown it to his captivated by what they see and touch.  The range of applications being developed for the iPad mean it is impossible for me to list them all here. I think the quality of the screen and the ease of use are likely to overcome some of the disadvantages (which don't seem to be reflected in the sales) such as the lack of a USB port or a camera. For my mobile learning project starting in September I am now wondering if the ease-of-use, larger screen, speed and low price (compared to the iPhone) make a better choice for the project: providing somebody has developed a cable that allows one to plug in a camera. Only time will tell.

Monday, 19 April 2010

mLearning, Mobility and Change: Broadening the Conversation

Abstract of KeyNote to be presented at the University of Maryland.
Friday 23 April, 2010

(Tweets will be linked to this presentation)

The year 2010 is touted to be the year mobile devices move from the fringe of student learning to the centre of a personalized learning experience. There is no escaping the evidence from numerous surveys that young people see mobile phones, in particular, as their birthright, ultimately personalisable ubiquitous parts of their lives. This view of a mobile phone as an essential personal appendage is not always a view shared by many educators, particularly when disturbed by the incessant ring of a mobile phone at an inopportune moment. Mobile devices in education are often seen as distractions, or threats to learning rather than opportunities for engagement.
In higher education what are the drivers for change? There are a number of candidates. Some educators and techno-savvy innovators see opportunities for the use of rich media (video, audio, and student-initiated content creation), utilizing the social networking and technology skills of students for collaboration and engagement, while others question the need for change: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. While technology moves very fast, we as educators often do not and whether we chose to accept it or not, change is upon us.
This presentation will examine pedagogy and practice of mLearning, the need to extend basic student literacies in the 21st Century, and issues of individual and institutional change in an effort to broaden the debate about how notions of mobility and mobile devices might contribute to the student learning experience and student learning outcomes.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

To iPad or not to iPad: That is the question

iPad fever has reached its peak with opinions, first-impressions, hands-on reviews for the select few appearing everywhere, even making it to the front pages of national newspapers! Click HERE, and HERE and even more HERE from Engadget. The pundits are suggesting that it will revolutionize the personal computing experience and maybe, just maybe, kill off the mouse.

What does this mean for education? A large number of educators are scrambling to see if this (what looks like) persuasive, sexy and cool-looking device will really assist student learning. At least one (rich) institution has already indicated a very large commitment to developing iPad applications. And that is where the serious question resides: what affordances does the iPad offer that will make it the killer-product for education in addition to the rest? Read any number of writers on the use of technology in the classroom and they will talk about communication, student engagement (and not just with content), social networking and the like. Apple, however, talks about access to content via iTunes such as iBooks, movies, games and music. That is, consumption of content rather that creation of knowledge from the plethora of information that will now be available in a lightweight, attractive package. The latter is no where better exemplified by the comments by Rupert Murdoch, touting the iPad as the saviour of newpapers!

It is the work of app developers and maybe the next version of the iPad with camera (still and video), USB, and access to external media that may answer the questions and opportunities for education.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Visualising your language learning

This is not one of my usual foci, but it is a very powerful use of visualisation technologies which have been shown to enhance learning.

How do we get student to visualise the relationship between related terms when attempting to understand (fully) the nature of a concept. One more recent addition is the rather eye-catching VisuWords ( Each colour represents a particular part of speech (nouns, verbs etc), while the arrows and their colours represent the relationships (synonym, homonyms etc).

If you roll-over the the words in circles, a small window pops up with more information. Try it and see! Besides being visually appealing, it also provides a better more engaging way to visualise the relationships that are part of the concept.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

2010: The year the mWorld becomes mainstream?

I have deliberately used a provocative title based upon all of the articles that are appearing touting the rise of mobile computing in 2010, moving from the fringes of education to the center. But will it happen in higher education in the West? I am inclined to agree with Tony Bates when he suggests that the revolution will occur, but not where we might expect it to.

On a trip through Rajasthan in 2008, a relatively desolate place of sand and scrubby trees with little sign of habitation, I was constantly amazed to find a mobile presence - a connection to a mobile network on my mobile phone. More recently, attending a UNESCO event in Paris (Dec. 2009) I was intrigued and very engaged when the presenter talked about the impact that a project funded by Nokia was making on the lives of farmers in developing countries. Can you think of a more contrasting image to that above? Farming practices that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, supplemented by real-time instant updates via a mobile phone to market prices for produce in the city.

In developing countries, where a small fraction of the population has access to a traditional library, the mobile phone provides a link to the internet for a much larger proportion of the population. The concept of learning via mobile phones is compelling, because that is the medium of communication and collaboration, providing access to the wider world, to markets, improving the fundamental aspects of peoples lives. In one sense, in developed countries we are too rich - we have so many other avenues by which we can access information, and so many alternative means available to us for collaboration.

Arguments for appropriate pedagogy when considering the use of technology in teaching and learning occasionally miss the point - pedagogy does not exist in a vacuum, anywhere. The local context, perceived educational needs and motivation, and the educational intent and knowledge of learning design of the teachers who design and develop learning activities are also key drivers that impact on the adoption of any technology - most especially mLearning. Having said that, it is clear that there is an unstoppable change occurring, with small mobile computing devices (netbooks, laptops and mobile phones in particular), outselling desktops. Mobile phones now have features that just a few years ago required a desktop with an ethernet connection. There seems to be an opportunity or two here to engage students with the technology they always carry and is always on.