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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 …

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 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 iear.org
  • 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 !

Mobile Learning Round-Up, Week 40

I’m getting ready to attend Handheld Learning 2009 in London, so time to blog is sparse this week. Besides the usual stuff, I will describe some of the papers to be presented at the conference’s research strand next Wednesday.

Mobile Learning Stuff:

Kindle is yet to woo users at Princeton University: “When the University announced its Kindle e-reader pilot program last May, administrators seemed cautiously optimistic that the e-readers would both be sustainable and serve as a valuable academic tool. But less than two weeks after 50 students received the free Kindle DX e-readers, many of them said they were dissatisfied and uncomfortable with the devices.” The basic gist of the story is that users in the pilot said the devices were clunky, slow, and annotation of texts is difficult and very time-consuming.

Learning through Unions is an interesting post about mobile learning not in a formal educational setting. Definitely worth a look…

According to the Creative Commons blog, the First Mobile Novel Launches in South Africa. I’m not sure what they mean by first, but nevertheless, this is an important development in a country whose adults send 250 million text messages per day. The novel is part of the the m4Lit project, which “has launched the first mobile novel of its kind, or m-novel, in South Africa. Kontax, which follows the adventures of a group of teenage graffiti artists, is made specifically for mobile phones, and is available in both English and isiXhosa. It is being released chapter by chapter on a daily basis,” and includes end of chapter polls, which are quite interesting. As of this post, three chapters have been released, and poll results can be viewed for each chapter as well.

And in a somewhat related story, the New York Times reported this week about curling up with hybrid books, videos included: “in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube, the notion of the book is becoming increasingly elastic as publishers mash together text, video and Web features in a scramble to keep readers interested in an archaic form of entertainment.” Opinions about this form of reading are still very much mixed, which is to be expected. One thing is for sure, reading a hybrid book is a very different experience than reading a text-only version.

New Brunswick Man Develops Mobile Learning Initiative for Area College. Not exactly the type of mobile learning stuff I expected to see at first, but an interesting story nonetheless.

The courses he developed, known as FlashTrack courses, made their debut in spring 2009 and are delivered to students on a single two gigabyte (2 GB) flash drive. The 15 new flash-based courses are designed for independent learners and prepare students to take a pass or fail examination.

The big advantage here is that you don’t need an Internet connection to do the courses. The downside is that you still need a laptop or some other type of not-very-mobile device to plug in your usb stick!!

Another development by Matt Cooper are “Mobile Option e-Pack courses, which are also designed for independent learners and enable students to use smartphones to download and complete diagnostic quizzes that form part of the regular course work and prepare students to take a final exam.” The main advantage and disadvantage are reversed in this case.

Matt’s courses are right in line with one of the great quotes of the week, by Geoff Stead, who posted that The real benefit of Learning with Technology is all about reach. Getting to learners where they are, when they need it, on their own terms. if you can’t do that with your e-learning you are missing the best bits of the experience!”

In either case, I think Matt hits on something very important with regards to mobile learning, and that is that the “biggest challenge in designing the mobile learning courses is to preserve a way to engage students without staying in contact with them during the course. “It is relatively simple to create a list of assignments, papers, tests and textbook readings for a student, but it can be very difficult to create a stimulating learning experience, especially when the student is working in isolation” he said. “FlashTrack lays the framework for a meaningful educational experience for our students in atypical situations.”

Mobile Learning Research:

The Mobile Campus is about Abilene Christian University’s iPod/iPhone project, and a related research report that was recently issued. Findings so far are cautiously optimistic. According to one of the comments on the article, “Bill Rankin, Director of Educational Innovation at Abilene Christian University spoke about their implementation of the iPhone project during a WCET webcast: Education to Go: Mobile Learning Today.”

Via Mobile Libraries comes this article:

Vogel, D., Kennedy, D. & Kwok, R. (2009). Does Using Mobile Device Applications Lead to Learning? Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 20 (4), pp. 469-485. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Abstract > THIS PAPER WAS AWARDED A BEST PAPER AWARD AT EDMEDIA. Assessing the impact on learning of the use of mobile devices and associated applications is a complex challenge. This article reports on progress to date in a longitudinal study using a design research approach with three cohorts of 800 students each. Results are encouraging in terms of learning enhancement through select mobile application by a cadre of students but discouraging in terms of sustained use by the majority of students. Issues raised include student appreciation of deep learning and time management as well as aspects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Results demonstrate the need for integrated, pedagogically driven instructor and institutional efforts. Next steps are presented.

Should make for some interesting reading, especially because mobile learning research studies on this scale are few and far between.

Mobile Learning Events:

Of course, I could not complete this blog posts without mentioning Tony Vincent’s Podcast Picks (presented on September 30, 2009), which is archived in two parts at ustream.tv: Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

More importantly, Handheld Learning 2009 is only a few days away, and promises to be the best one yet, with over 1,000 registered delegates. Just a few of the projects that will be reported on during the research strand include:

There will be a total of 23 papers, most of which will be published in the Spring 2010 issue of RCETJ.

Apple Exclusive Event for HHL members

Apple have contacted the Handheld Learning Community to offer members an exclusive opportunity to attend a free event they are hosting in London on March 12th. Here are the details:

The Rise of Mobility in Education

This event looks at the opportunity mobile IT devices give Educators to implement a stimulating 21st Century Learning infrastructure across their institution. More and more students are coming to school with mobile devices like iPod touches and iPhones. These devices provide easy, inexpensive access to virtually any Internet medium and augment notebook computers in exciting ways.

  • How can you use these devices for constructive purposes in the classroom?
  • How do they fit into an existing digital learning environment with notebook computers?

In this session, attendees will explore the models used to deploy mobile devices in the classroom. The briefing will be led by Gordon Shukwit, the Director of IT and Learning technologies group for Apple Worldwide Education markets. His team works globally with education institutions, government agencies and International schools as they define new learning environments. The event is aimed at Headteachers, ICT Leaders and Advisors from Schools and FE Colleges.

Date: 12th March 2009
Venue: EBC London
Time: 10:00am – 12:00pm or 14:00 to 16:00

Attendance via registration only at

See also the thread on the HHL forum.

Handheld Learning 2008 Proceedings and Events for 2009

One more from the folks at Handheld Learning:

Online Proceedings now ready!

Dear Colleague
This years Handheld Learning Conference was the biggest and most successful yet with more than 1,700 attendees, 1,000 conference delegates and 600 attendees at the Handheld Learning Awards.

Handheld Learning 2009
We sincerely hope that you’ll consider participating next year when we reconvene for Handheld Learning 2009 and return to The Brewery, London from Oct 5th – 7th.

This years event sold out very quickly and we already have many surprises in store for Handheld Learning 2009 so please guarantee your place by pre-registering here. Pre-registration is free and you will be the first to know when we open registration and call for papers.

Game Based Learning 2009 


For those delegates who have a deeper interest in the game based learning themes presented at this years Handheld Learning we have a special one day international symposium on March 20th, 2009 called Game Based Learning 2009 that will also be held at The Brewery. Our keynote speakers and call for papers will be made shortly but spaces will be limited so please register your interest here.
Thank you once again and we look forward to seeing you soon!
All the best,

The Handheld Learning Team (meet us)
The Advisory Group (
meet us)

We have reworked the conference website as a free to access online resource of digital proceedings. Here you will now find video recordings of the main room sessions and keynotes, a huge gallery of photographs, presentation slides, papers along with links to delegate discussions and reflections about the event that are ongoing. You will find everything under the Conference menu. To visit click here.
Naturally we welcome your continued participation in the event and if you’re not already a member of the Handheld Learning Community we invite you to register here and share your thoughts and reflections with the rest of the membership.