Monthly Archives: October 2009

Carnival of the Mobilists #196


Carnival #196 is now up at

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Handheld Learning 2009, Day 3, Research Strand and Grand Finale


The last day of Handheld Learning 2009 was also my busiest one, as I spent most of the day chairing the mobile learning research strand. We had 22 interesting papers from a variety of speakers, who came from countries including India, Mexico, the U.S., the U.K., Italy, Scotland, Ireland, and the Netherlands. The papers covered the areas of theory, research, and application, including topics such as mobile learning frameworks, assessment, developments in mobile learning hardware and software, and mobile learning for science, language arts, and special needs populations.

Most of the papers will be published in the Spring 2010 issue of RCETJ, but I will give you a flavor here of the types of papers presented. John Traxler kicked things off with a very interesting and illustrated talk that addressed the tension between educational institutions aspiring to provide students with the technology for learning, and supporting students using their own devices. According to John, resolving this tension is crucial for innovation, inclusion and transformation, but we don’t have the answer quite yet.

Next up were Robin Deegan, who discussed usability issues peculiar to m-learning applications, and Nicola Bedall-Hill, who shared her initial findings from a study involving GPS devices,  and asked if mobile tools may also possess many of the characteristics of a ‘boundary object’  in that” their meanings are constructed through discourse and practice.” Lucianne Brown discussed her findings from a study that used mobile phones for learning reading.

Following a brief break we had two more long paper presentations, one by Scott Perkins and George Saltsman, who discussed the implementation of iPhones and iPod Touches at Abilene Christian, and the other by Jane Lunsford, who talked about mobile learning for student support.

The long papers were followed by three round tables with a total of 16 papers. Presenters and their papers included:

  1. Phil Marston (Further Development of the Context Categories of a Mobile Learning Framework)
  2. Karl Royle (Teaching Kids How to Hold Productive Learning Conversations Using Pictochat on the Nintendo DS)
  3. Marco Arrigo (Mobile Learning for All
  4. Rhodri Thomas (Mobilising the Open University); presentation slides
  5. Domizio Baldini (Mobile Science Laboratory: A Project)
  6. Andy Pulman (Mobile Technology as a Mechanism for Delivering Improved Quality of Life)
  7. Peter van Ooijen (A Novel, Image-Based Voting Tool Based on Handheld Devices)
  8. Arturo Serrano (Implications on the Evolution of 4G to m-Learning)
  9. Rowena Blair (Fun, Fizzy and Formative Approaches to Assessment: Using Rapid Digital Feedback to Aid Learners’ Progression)
  10. Lyn Pemberton (Language Learning with Mobile Peers)
  11. David Avery (Digital Mythography: Towards A New Mythology For Our Times
  12. DivyaViswanathan (New Metaphors from Old Practices. Mobile Learning Technologies That Could Revitalize Education)
  13. Marco Arrigo (Integrating Handheld Devices in Secondary School Curricula: A Two Years Experience)
  14. Keren Mills (The OU Library in Your Pocket)
  15. Judith  Seipold (Mo-LeaP – The Mobile Learning Projects Database)
  16. Steve Bunce (Nintendo DS Consoles as a Tool for Enquiry)

As I stated earlier, most if not all of these papers will be published in early Spring 2010. Suffice it to say that even though the round table format is something that was new to many presenters and participants (unbeknownst to me until right before the conference), everybody made the best of it and with a little tweaking we can have even better sessions next year. It was good to see that there was a substantial amount of interest in mobile learning research this year, as all of the research strand sessions were very well attended.

The conference was concluded by Ray Kurzweil’s keynote via a live HD video feed. Instead of me trying to recap what he said more than a week after the fact, you can see the speech for yourself here. It’s worth watching …

Carnival of the Mobilists #195


Following plenty of action at CTIA Carnival #195 is at Always On Real-Time Access AORTA, where host Chetan Sharma describes the past week’s mobile blogging as an eclectic mix of viewpoints.

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Handheld Learning 2009, Day 2:Where Is the Handheld Learning? Part II


 Day 2 of Handheld Learning 2009 and the first day of the conference part featured a variety of speakers. Funny (or ironic) part, there wasn’t a whole lot of talk about mobile or handheld learning, as the session titles indicate (Reflections on Learning, Creativity and Innovation, Games for Learning, Social Media for Learning). Maybe a sign of things to come??

In the afternoon I saw parts of the Games for Learning and Creativity and Innovation sessions, while trying to follow what I was missing in the other rooms online. Talk about an information overload!!

Games for Learning

I attended this session before the break, which consisted of three presentations on mobile learning games. Best one of the three was the presentation by the Waag Society on their Games Atelier project, a logical progression of their Frequency 1550 project. In Games Atelier, the concept of Frequency 1550 is still present, but Games Atelier consists of a set of tools that can be used to create your own games that can then be played. As James Gee said in his speech earlier today, you learn even more from creating/modding games than playing them.  The presenters demoed the tools, which look good but unfortunately aren’t free. They also discussed a game played with students played in New York and Amsterdam in to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of the relationship between New York and Amsterdam, called the Island.

The work that’s being done by the Waag Society is some of the very best I’ve seen in mobile learning, as it takes advantage of the affordance of mobile technologies, while still being able to tie what students do on the go to classroom learning. In contrast, some handheld/mobile learning projects in which learners are stuck in the classroom with mobiles sometimes seems to be an oxymoron, as the devices aren’t even used to bring the outside world into the classroom.  

Creativity and Innovation

Phyllis Hillwig discussed Mobile Opportunities in the US. Having followed mobile learning in the US since 2001, I feel that I have a reasonably good grip on the field, and I was somewhat surprised by some of Phyllis’ statements. Most of what she said sounded very familiar to me, including the question of “how” we can be successful in the US, which is complicated because of where today’s content is created and resides, and how we pull together content, pedagogy, user experience, cognitive science (unloading working knowledge into long term), etc. I think this is a universal problem, not one that is unique to the US. In addition, she noted current trends in US education, including budget and achievement gaps, and mentioned the Koontz report, Pockets of Potential. The most surprising statement Hillwig made was that “mobile learning is not focused on much yet” in the US, despite the fact that there have been a substantial number of mobile learning projects in the US, going back to the Palm Education Pioneer Project in 2001. I do agree with her that the US can learn a lot from other countries in Europe (UK, EU countries) and Asia (e.g. Korea and Taiwan) with regards to a “mobile learning culture”. I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that term, but in the large scheme of things it seems to make sense.

Linda Hahner‘s focus was on the importance of application design that is educationally appropriate. She flew through a bunch of apps and discussed what was wrong with each of them. I wish she would have shown some examples of how things should be designed, other than pointing to her own site that, according to her, shows how things should be done. Now I’m no expert on visual design, but I do think her session could have been a little more balanced and not a “rip-the-ipod-app” diatribe.  

Naomi Norman: presented on two projects she is working on at Epic for the British Army that run on the Nintendo DS platform: one that addresses Entry Level 3 Numeracy basic skills for new recruits; the other, vehicle maintenance training for Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. While the first one, Numerika, seemed pretty basic drill and kill, Epic did a good job of researching their clientele and its needs ahead of time, providing math instruction within context, using a minimum of text (but just enough) and on a platform that makes sense for a variety of reasons (robust, portable, anywhere/anytime and opportunistic learning, motivation for repeat learning), especially when comparing it to the way math is taught currently using workbooks. The vehicle maintenance training looks like much more of a guided problem-solving tool, which is interesting because it can be used as a stand-alone or on the job.

Tony Vincent: discussed the use of iPod Touch apps to create comics (ComicTouch and Strip Designer), using images from the web (including Google Maps and Street View) and iPod Touch screenshots. For all of the details on how to do this, see Tony’s blog post. This was one of very few presentations I attended today that focused on mobile learning, and a good way to end the day. 

So what does the relative lack of focus on mobile learning at Handheld Learning 2009 mean? Maybe it’s a shift of focus in the conference itself, which makes me wonder what next year will bring. Will there be a Handheld Learning 2010 or will Learning Without Frontiers do something different, e.g. combine its three conferences into one. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it’s a sign that even those who are purely working in mobile learning need to broaden their thinking and focus more on learning with digital technologies in general. This shouldn’t be too difficult to do as there already is a tendency for mobile learning to be less self-contained on devices and more dependent on the web for content, communication, and collaboration. It all comes down to providing learners with the appropriate tools to meet their learning needs, whether these tools are mobile, web-based, or something else.

And finally, the phrase coined for the day is John Davitt’s “struggleware”: apps that make students scratch their heads and think. I don’t think we have enough of those…

Handheld Learning 2009, Day 2:Where Is the Handheld Learning? Part I


Day 2 of Handheld Learning 2009 and the first day of the conference part featured lots of speakers. Funny (or ironic) part, there wasn’t a whole lot of talk about mobile or handheld learning, as the session titles indicate (Reflections on Learning, Creativity and Innovation, Games for Learning, Social Media for Learning). Maybe a sign of things to come??

Reflections on Learning

In any event, judging from the lively twitter feed, especially in the morning, opinions related to this trend were divided. Some people wanted to see more mobile learning stuff, others thought that the keynotes were provocative and forced the audience to think outside of the box. I would tend to agree with the latter, although at least some references to mobile learning would have been helpful (if you want to see any of the morning keynotes, please go here).

The keynotes kicked of with Zenna Atkins, the chair person of Ofsted, who talked about the current status of schools and technology in the UK to some extent and argued that change is needed and needs to be consumer-driven. She mentioned that mobile technologies are becoming increasingly important in schools, but not necessarily in ways intended. She mentioned that in some cases, camera phones were used by students to capture bad teaching. In addition, Like doctors, teachers will soon have pupils knowing more about outcomes/paths of their education, as some are looking up curriculum online and calling on teachers on not covering certain objectives. This consumer revolution in education will be about content, context, and how to get access. I still have some questions about what her vision would look like in reality and how it would be funded, as current educational structures and funding schemes most likely would not work.

Atkins was followed by Malcom McLaren, who admitted that he was speaking at a conference that was definitely not in his comfort zone, and proceeded by telling the audience his schooling/educational experiences, in rather colorful language. He talked about how Britain is broken, and its culture is failing many, by saying how too much of it supports the notion that it is cool to be stupid (karaoke culture), at least in the Anglo-Saxon world. In addition, he argued that failure and struggle are important to succeed. As far as the role of technology is concerned in all of this, McLaren said it was just a tool; don’t become a slave to it. Don’t let it replace experiencing the world.

Next up was Yvonne Roberts from the Young Foundation, who also talked (well, sort of rambled) about failure and grit, but said she sees Britain not as broken but as bursting with potential. She emphasized the importance of stories, and expressed the hope that testing and standards don’t drive out inquiry and children’s inquisitive nature. With regards to technology use for learning, Rogers disagreed with McLaren, calling it an ingredient, not a tool. She noted that research says that the best ratio of kids to computers is 2:1. She did not cite any research, but Yvonne Rogers made the same argument in Mobile technology for children: Designing for interaction and learning. How substantial the evidence is for this argument I do not know, but to some extent there is something to say for children collaborating face-to-face using digital tools, although I can think of plenty of examples where 1:1 ratios work well also. It all depends on the teacher and the pedagogy, not on the technology. Many in the audience disagreed with her arguments for 2:1 ratios.

The morning keynotes ended with a good talk by James Paul Gee, who discussed that video games have qualities to enhance learning that are based on solid educational research, and that formal education does not. He made the case that we learn by using experiences within which we can develop thoughts and understanding about concepts and ideas (situated meaning). He used the analogy that learning in school is like reading the manual to a video game without having seen the game, i.e. learning in school is learning devoid of context. Outside of school, kids are learning much more complicated things because something is at stake, e.g. when playing or modding video games or games like Yu-gi-oh. Gee emphasized the importance of passion and persistence. You learn if you’re passionate about something, but you can only become good at it if you put in the time (10,000 hours).

In sum, themes of the morning key notes seemed to be the importance of struggle and failure, and how current educational systems are not providing students with learning that is relevant, authentic, and motivating. Students need to be passionate and persistent about their learning, but it will not be easy to get to that point. In this regard, the key notes left some big questions unanswered;

  • Technology can motivate students to learn, but how do you turn motivation into passion? (and 10,000 hours of persistence?)
  • What are viable alternatives to current educational systems, what would they look like, and how would they be funded?
  • How would we prepare pre-service and in-service teachers for such a system?
  • What roles can mobile technologies play? For example, nobody, except maybe for Gee, discussed the role/importance of learning outside of school.

All in all, the morning was interesting and thought-provoking, and while not really providing concrete solutions, it left much food for thought.

Handheld Learning 2009, Day 1 HHL Festival


I’m in London this week for Handheld Learning 2009. Today was the first day, the Handheld Learning Festival. It was very busy and somewhat chaotic, but successful. I sort of hopped from session to session to get a little bit of everything. Not sure if it was the best way to go, but here’s a brief recount of what transpired today. For descriptions of the individual parts of the day, please see the HHL program:

HHECKL: I caught the tail end of this session with Tony Vincent, who promptly got called up to the front to make one change on the Cool Wall of technology. The participants in the session picked as their top three cool technologies: iPod Touch, Nintendo DS, and Apple Tablet (wait, but that’s not out yet). By the way, no mobile phones were picked in the top three. Here is a 30-minutes qik video of the event (sound starts after 2 minutes), posted by Dave Sugden.

The Industry Showcase looked bare compared to last year. Maybe it was just me, I don’t know. We spent about 10 minutes there, then left. I know this is what brings in money, but I’m not sure what else it contributes to the conference.

Learners’ Y-Factor: I caught the first two presentations here in a room that was absolutely packed. The first was done by Burnt Oak Junior School who brought half of their school, or so it seemed. Their presentation about the use of iPod Touches in their school was good and covered the apps they used, but I was left wondering if the devices went home with the kids. Use of devices for learning is so much more limited when they don’t. The second presentation was done by kids from Oakdale School in London, who shared their experiences in using Nintendo DS for learning math and a few other things, nothing earth shattering. I left the session after this presentation, wasn’t able to get back in later on. Highlight of what I saw was Jason Bradbury, who was very engaging for adults and kids alike, and managed to coin the term “plearn = play + learn”. I found out via Twitter that Normanby were the winners; they’ll present at the main conference this week.

Pecha Kucha: I watched a few presentations here, after hearing that last year’s session was good. This year’s session was chaotic, to say the least, and I wasn’t real impressed with the presentations. During the presentations I attended the technology wasn’t working half the time and then some of the presenters just did not use the 20 x 20 rule. The sessions I saw included (and these were the coherent ones):

  • Design for web: PC v. mobile and how they reshape each other. Saw some interesting examples, not sure how it impacts teaching and learning.
  • Stuart Smith’s mobile web as the killer m-learning tool. Interesting idea, now convince me…
  • M-Ubuntu project in South Africa: using mobiles to teach literacy. The project looks very interesting, and is always looking for mobile phones to sustain its project . Contact Lucy Haagen if you have some to contribute.

Best Practices: I watched three presentations here.

Derrick Welsh showed examples of using technology for drawing in art, e.g. using the Wii to draw on top of photos, and using phones for drawing. The best part of the presentation was a question that came from the audience: How to convince art educators to use technology, as there is the perception that there is a lack of the tactile when using digital technologies. I also picked up a link to a Reuters article on mobile phones for drawing.

Nick Short: presented “Androids in Africa”. He apologized for the looks of his presentation, done in Google Docs, but it serves the purpose and does the job, and that’s the point! His presentation was about the use of mobile devices for vet services to livestock in Africa. Native vets were already using mobile phones to text each other to help each other out, to get more vaccine into the field, etc. What else could be done? Enter the Android phone, which can also be used as a media player.

The Royal Vet College sends out teams to Africa, to do research to help local vets. This year’s team used Google’s Open Data Kit to record animal exams and Twidroid to tag sampling locations (gps). Communication done with team members and RVC experts using Twitter, email, and Google Chat for expert advice, team communications, etc. Also updated a team blog using Blogger daily to show funders what was happening. Restraints included: slow GPS, cannot change forms easily in field, questions were linear, unlike using paper; expense of devices, no picture function in ODK.

However, there are many opportunities in Africa for the use of mobile phones in Africa, using SMS, and this was a very interesting session that showed innovative uses for mobile technology and the power of mobiles to make a difference.

Louise Duncan from Australia presented: “Essential ingredients for the successful implementation of mobile learning” using iPod Touches. They include:

  • Agree on a device and a platform
  • Students need to have access to devices 24/7
  • Kids want to personalize their learning
  • Have a parent evening: share learning outcomes and get AUP forms signed
  • Learning strategies change, less paper used. Use apps like StudyWiz Mobile, an online learning environment to support learning.
  • Use of a personalized interface on the iPod Touch
  • Installing new software should be easy and quick, can download directly to iPod Touch or sync
  • Software reviews on YouTube, Learning in Hand, and
  • Some favorites: Classics, Story Kit, Civ Rev, Leaf Trombone, Wurdle, Geared, Strip Designer (combined use with Maps, Street View, and Strip Designer, see TV blog post), Brushes. Etch-a-Sketch lite
  • Give teachers a device 6 months before students get them.
  • Strong pedagogy: don’t allow into the classroom to use as toys or IM, have clear learning activities
  • Integrate within the larger school community: use for school administrative tasks such as daily bulletins or roll taking
  • But there is no camera: is this an issue? Maybe not, makes it easier to explain to parents the mobile device is a learning tool…
  • Netbook v. mobile question. What do schools supply, etc. According to Louise it’s not an either/or argument. “It’s all well and good to use netbooks and iPod Touches in the classroom but do they really improve student outcomes?”
  • Sustainable model for implementation across K-12
  • IT support is crucial
  • iPod management, uses students to help
  • Students need to be responsible for the devices (i.e. bring them).
  • Louise mentioned about students being sad when having to hand them back at the end of the year. This is one of the problems with school-supplied devices.

What they do at Louise’s school seems to work. Most of this stuff is common sense and has been done in other places.

First impressions of Handheld Learning:

  • Maybe it’s just me but I didn’t see or hear anything really inspiring or eye-opening (is this just me?). The basic ideas of mobile learning are there and have been there, but now we need a more comprehensive push of actually implementing them on a larger scale, not just in isolated projects.
  • I think the conference could use more hands-on sessions. Why are we still doing death by PowerPoint? (and that includes Pecha Kucha)….
  • Still not much talk about use of learner-owned devices, at least for K-12, and how to make that work. I think we’re still too stuck on a controlled learning environment, where schools provide devices and software, and own both. It makes mobile learning less mobile in my view.

Impressions from others:

  • @tecnoteach: Day 1 at #HHL09 was like flicking through the apps on the iphone – here, there and everywhere… (and yes, I would whole-heartedly agree with this one, my head is still spinning).
  • @NickSpeller: I agree with other posts – some good stuff going on but missing the WOW! Well done to Normanby as I understand it winners of Y-Factor
  • Response from @tomcooper: @NickSpeller don’t undersell the day today the kids were the stars!!!! the next 2 days the contrib have a lot to live upto !

Carnival of the Mobilists #194


 This week Tsahi Levent-Levi of Radivision VoIP Survivor hosts from Israel. He sums up Carnival #194 saying the best thing about it was the variety, of both content and medium, with regular posts, guest posts, interviews, presentation a round up and even a podcast.

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