Category Archives: Mobile Technologies

Pedagogically driven…?

Over the past few  years I’ve frequently heard the comments; “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the pedagogy”, or in relation to the advent of ultrafast broadband; “we’ve got to drive it from the teaching and learning.” These are well intended sentiments, but why is it that the technology still dominates much of the discussion, and so often becomes the starting point by default? And just what do we mean by letting the teaching and learning lead? How would you explain that to someone outside of education – or, for that matter, someone inside?

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now and this week I had a chance to share some of my thinking with Russell Burt, principal at Point England School. I’ve captured our jottings at the whiteboard in the diagram above (click on it for a larger version). Key points are:

The fundamental activity of students as learners is shown in the ‘process’ line, consisting of:

  • Learn – This is the part of the learning process where learners are exposed to intentional teaching, access to content, the development of pre-requsite knowledge and skills etc.
  • Create – this is where learners work with, manipulate and re-present the information they have gathered in the ‘learn’ scenario. This may be done independently or collaboratively, and may involve a range of tools and environments.
  • Share – where learners communicate with others what they have learned, being especially aware of the audience. May involve a celebration of some sort, and feedback where appropriate.

These three things are underpinned/supported by a comprehensive assessment process – both for and of learning. The assessment band is deliberately shown this way to emphasise the fact that it isn’t driving the learning, but is an integral part of the learning process.

Below that are the three principles that we think are key to developing an effective, future-focused approach to teaching and learning:

  • Ubiquity – focusing on learning that happens anywhere, any time, any pace and through/with any device. Learning is no longer confined to the ‘box’ of the classroom, the ‘fences’ of the school yard, or the period between 9-3 in a school day. It also reflects the underpinnings of life-long learning.
  • Personalisation – learners in charge of their learning, with the ability to make meaningful choices about all aspects of what and how they learn. Also recognises the imperative on teachers, as learning designers, to recognise that all learners learn differently and in ways personal to them. 
  • Collaboration – recognising that the ability to work with others is an essential skill in a future-focused world. Acknowledges the theoretical underpinnings of social constructivism and connectivism, and the need to recognised and work with each other’s strengths (and weaknesses).

The layers below this illustrate the way the services and infrastructure supports our intended learning outcomes/teaching approaches. Working from the top, it becomes relatively straight forward to see how the teaching and learning may drive the technology decisions. Take this example for instance:

Beginning in the ‘learn’ area, a school decides it is important that students have unfettered access to a broad range of online resources and materials to support learning in the classroom as it is required (just in time).

Acknowledging the ‘ubiquity principle, the decision is that access should be available anywhere on the school premises, but shouldn’t be confined to the school day and school premises.

This leads then to decisions about mobile, internet capable devices, school-wide wireless, cloud-based content servers and filtering solutions that aren’t unnecessarily restrictive.

Although this isn’t a particularly detailed explanation, and there are a range of other factors and possible scenarios that could be developed to meet the original ‘learning’ need, you’ll get the point. The important thing is that the model is an attempt to initiate some dialogue about how we articulate our teaching and learning needs, and how they can then be appropriately supported by the technologies available to us.

Gadgets and toys

If my house is anything to go by there’s been a significant increase in the number of electronic toys and gadgets that have appeared over the past few years, most notably mobile phones and gaming consoles – as well as the usual computers and laptops. The numbers increase again every time my childrens’ friends come to stay or play, each with their own phone(s), MP3 player or PSP etc.

Of course, based on such a snapshot it would be easy to make assumptions and apply these across the board – which is why it’s useful to read reports like the recent PEW Internet report on Generations and their gadgets, based on a survey of 3,001 American adults (ages 18 and older) conducted between August 9 and September 13, 2010.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Cell phones are by far the most popular device among American adults, especially for adults under the age of 65. Some 85% of adults own cell phones overall. Taking pictures (done by 76% of cell owners) and text messaging (done by 72% of cell owners) are the two non-voice functions that are widely popular among all cell phone users.
  • Desktop computers are most popular with adults ages 35-65, with 69% of Gen X, 65% of Younger Boomers and 64% of Older Boomers owning these devices.
  • Millennials are the only generation that is more likely to own a laptop computer or netbook than a desktop: 70% own a laptop, compared with 57% who own a desktop.
  • While almost half of all adults own an mp3 player like an iPod, this device is by far the most popular with Millennials, the youngest generation—74% of adults ages 18-34 own an mp3 player, compared with 56% of the next oldest generation, Gen X (ages 35-46).
  • Game consoles are significantly more popular with adults ages 18-46, with 63% owning these devices.
  • 5% of all adults own an e-book reader; they are least popular with adults age 75 and older, with 2% owning this device.
  • Tablet computers, such as the iPad, are most popular with American adults age 65 and younger. 4% of all adults own this device.

The report contains a number of graphs that show the actual distribution by age of the users and owners of these technologies, revealing, not surprisingly, a higher level of ownership among younger people. Interesting in this regard was the fact that about one in 11 (9%) adults do not own any of the devices we asked about, including 43% of adults age 75 and older.

For me a couple of key things I found interesting…

  • While mobile phone ownership is high, the actual use is largely confined to phoning and texting – we’ve still to see the potential take-up realised in terms of using these for web apps etc.I wonder to what extent this is due to the plans offered by telcos, as there are certainly the numbers of phones out there that are internet capable.
  • The fact that e-reader ownership is still relatively low – and distributed across all ages. Again, the trending that is currently predicted has yet to be revealed in these stats. Perhaps the 2011 survey will be different?

Challenges, changes and trends 2011

I spent the weekend preparing a presentation that I’ll be using with some of the clusters I speak with at the beginning of the year – titled “Challenges, change and trends in 2011”. It is framed around four key questions:

  • Who are our learners?
  • What are we preparing them for?
  • How are we preparing them for this?
  • What are the implications of connectivity for learning and schooling?

I’ve drawn on the Horizon Report 2010 (NZ-Aus edition) and provided links to illustrations of each of the trends. I’ve also created a livebinder (link below) which has all of these links listed for easy access.

A personal VPN


Some interesting developments in the world of ubiquitous computing. The first is from iTwin with their double sided USB drive that splits in two easily connecting two Windows boxes over the Internet. Check out the video above for details.

The second is from Motorola, with their Atrix 4G mobile phone that can be turned into both a multimedia center, and at desktop PC when connected to a TV / monitor and keyboard / mouse. In addition, the Atrix 4G provides full Citrix remote desktop support (shown connected to a PC running Windows XP full screen). The video at the bottom of this post provides an excellent overview.

Swyping – the new writing?

I’ve been enjoying exploring all the things I can do on my new Samsung Galaxy S mobile phone over the past few weeks – but the thing that has me fascinated the most is the new form of text entry called Swype that comes pre-installed on the phone. I blogged about this some time back when I first heard of it, but have been fascinated to actually try it out – and it works.

The technique is surprisingly accurate, and, once you adapt to the approach, is much faster than traditional ‘hunt and peck’ forms of text using thumbs or fingers that have to repeatedly tap the keyboard. It doesn’t require a great deal of precision, as the predictive design determines what word you’re trying to write. This fact is borne out by recent news about the world texting record being smashed by someone using Swype input.

Swype uses other gestures to add capitalization and punctuation – and arguably this part is far harder to master than the speed-swyping.

For those who have an Android without Swype installed, the news just got better, with the release of Swype beta now available.

Google docs to go

I was pretty excited to read this morning about the new documents editor from Google which now supports editing on a mobile browser. According to the Google Docs blog it’s being rolled out over the next few days. I seem to be making more and more use of Google Docs in my work now, and this development will be something to look forward to as I also anticipate the arrival of my new Samsung Galaxy Android mobile phone in the next few days.

And let’s not forget speech…

Shortly after I posted my last post i received a tweet from DK over at MediaSnackers recommending I check out the Dragon dictation app on the iPhone as another example of how changes are occurring in the way we interface with our mobile devices. No sooner had I begun to explore that than my friend Malcolm sent me a link to a new app launched by Google that will let you talk to your mobile phone as if you are asking a friend to do something for you (see video above). It’s called Voice Actions for Android, and provides a series of spoken commands that let you control your phone using your voice.

I guess the real message here is that either way, voice or gesture, we’re beginning to see real signs of alternative forms of human interface with technology becoming more mainstream, and, as with all the other things we’re considering, the question for educators is not “how can we integrate these into our classrooms?”, but “what can we learn from the way these things are adopted and used that might inform how and what we need to be teaching in the future?”

Prepare to change the way we write?

I’ve just been playing with the latest version of the HTC Android phone and thinking about how devices like this, (incl. the iPhone and iPad etc) are changing our ideas of how we might interface with such devices. The age of touch typing is certainly coming to an end it would seem – especially when I view the video above which provides an introduction to “Swype“, an application which, when installed, provides a radically different approach to text input on screen! Instead of having to touch each key in turn, Swype allows you to simply trace your finger across the keys.  A key advantage to Swype is that there is no need to be very accurate, enabling very rapid text entry.

In the illustration above, the word “quick” was generated from tracing the path shown above in a fraction of a second, by roughly aiming to pass through the letters of the word.

I’ll certainly be interested to see how accurately this works when the product is actually launched – and I’ll be interested to see how it is used by school-aged youngsters. Could this actually change the way we write?

The rise of mobile…

Over the past week or so I’ve had the privilege of participating in a number of cluster meetings around the country – always so energizing to be among groups of teachers gathered to share their ideas, experiences and classroom successes!

For my part I’ve been sharing thoughts relating to possible futures we face, referencing the findings of the Horizon Report and CORE’s ten trends. Top of the list in these and other trends findings at the moment is the impact of mobile technologies on classroom teaching and learning.

Confirming the accuracy of these predictions, I keep coming across examples of where mobiles are already impacting on practice in the classroom. Just a few days after Apple released it’s iPad in NZ I was at the EastNet cluster where I met cluster coordinator, Belinda Johnston (pictured) who was recently returned from participating in the Apple Bus tour through schools in California. In her presentation to the group, Belinda explained how she’d embarked on the trip with the intention of focusing on the use of laptops in a 1-1 setting in classrooms. As a result of the tour, however, she has returned convinced about the future of mobile technologies! Belinda shared some compelling stories and illustrations from her trip to California to support her reasons for this change in direction, and is now the proud owner of an iPad, and is preparing the case for a suite of iPods in her school.

A couple of days later, just after I presented the ten trends at the Hamilton CORE breakfast,  I was in Te Aroha, visiting Stuart Armisted (pictured right) at Stanley Ave School. As a part of an extensive programme of school review and development at the school, Stuart and his staff have been exploring the potential uses of mobile phones – thanks to some generous support from Vodafone who have supplied a set of HTC Magic mobile phones running the Android operating system. Stuart is exploring the use of a range of Android Apps on the phones, and is also working closely with the developers of the school LMS, Ultranet, to enable teachers and students to interact directly via the mobile devices in the classroom.

We live in exciting times – and it’s very pleasing to see such examples of the adoption and use of new technologies that are based on sound pedagogical principals and the support of school curriculum – not simply as a result of “techno-lust” 🙂

iPads in Education

The iPad is certainly attracting interest in the education scene, with lots of questions being asked about it’s use and value etc. Graham Brown-Martin shared the following post tonight on BECTA’s ICT research network list in response to a question about the pros and cons of buying iPads for use in school;

You may be interested in joining the Handheld Learning Community & Forum that has been online for over 5 years now and has a membership of more than 2,000 practitioners who have an active interest in using mobile computing technologies, including iPads, within their teaching practice:
http://www.handheldlearning.org

An article about the iPad in education that may be of interest:
http://www.handheldlearning.co.uk/content/view/64/
Specifically this article makes the case that the desktop PC is dead and that laptops are “on death row”.

There’s a community thread about the use of iPads in schools that practitioners are now contributing to:
http://www.handheldlearning.co.uk/component/option,com_smf/Itemid,58/topic,1693.0

There is also a professional networking group on LinkedIn.com for those interested in using mobile technologies for learning:
http://www.linkedin.com/groupRegistration?gid=137892

If you Twitter there is a channel for Handheld Learning at:
http://twitter.com/hhl

Finally you may be interest in attending this years Handheld Learning Festival & Conference in London this October:
http://www.handheldlearning2010.com
The event is FREE to attend on the first day and delegates registering for the conference receive a FREE iPad.

Thanks to Graham for these links – I’m sure we’re going to see lots more research and papers on this topic in the near future!

POST SCRIPT (added 7.6.10)

Entry from Jakob Nielsen’sAlertbox, May 10, 2010: iPad Usability: First Findings From User Testing provides an interesting use case perspective on the iPad in education. The summary reads:

iPad apps are inconsistent and have low feature discoverability, with frequent user errors due to accidental gestures. An overly strong print metaphor and weird interaction styles cause further usability problems.