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Tony Harkins
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« on: October 24, 2007, 02:30:25 PM »

I'm a teacher in a Scottish secondary school and I'm currently proposing to the senior management a pilot scheme for the academic year 2008/2009 where one class, who go to all subjects together, are equipped with a handheld/mobile learning device.

Looking at the hardware possibilities I've narrowed it down to the following:

1. PDA such as the EDA or one of the Acer devices. Pros - battery life, portability and connectivity. Cons - inability to run standard software
2. Sub notebook / UMPC - Pros - runs standard OS and apps. Cons - battery life and size/weight
3. Linux device e.g. Nokia Internet Tablet or Asus EEE PC - Pros - price, open nature of software. Cons - incompatibility with Windows devices and standard software.

I plan to do a hands on test with pupils to gauge their impressions and attitudes to devices, asking questions such as:

Do you prefer keyboard or touch screen?
Do you prefer Windows or Linux?
What sites do you want to visit and software do you want to use in school?
What would you use this for at home?

At the same time, I'll allow staff to get hands on, ask them to think about possible uses in their own subjects areas.

I have a couple of questions that I'd be grateful for any responses to.

Does anyone know of a company that would lend me a trial model of an EDA? I'd rather not pay £400 for a device that we may not eventually plump for.

Are there any other devices I should be considering?

If a one year pilot with one class was successful, we'd look to extend it in subsequent years. What implications are there for hardware/software. E.g. the PDA market seems to be shrinking although the smartphone market is expanding. If UMPC's really develop to a stage where they are ultra-portable with long lasting batteries, would the benefits of a full blown OS not outweigh the advantages of PocketPC/Palm type devices? Are there then risks in training and developing staff and pupils for a platform that may become obsolete?

Many thanks for any insights?

Thanks

Tony
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stu_mob
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Stuart Smith, University of Manchester

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« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2007, 03:13:48 PM »

Hi Tony

I would encourage you, if it is a pilot, to also consider the devices that students alread /have in their pockets/bags - e.g. mobile phones, games devices and Ipods. There are the obvious advantages of no hardware outlay!

I might tread on a few toes here (won't be the first time here though Wink but I think the concept of the PDA is passing. Multipurpose small devices are probably the future, a look at the high end of any technology shop and you will see devices with various connectivity including the mobile network and Wifi. Devices like PDAs, gaming device and mobile phones are going to be short lived, comparatively speaking.

Of course as these devices become more affordable and available, schools (who generally ban phones etc) have a problem because the devices their students use will be far more complex than the narrow definitions in currently place.

Lots of reports that suggest students are engaged via mobile devices.

You last point about obsolesce is interesting. Its a risk with fast moving technology like mobile devices. So you should plan for upgrades and training as part of your long-term model.

Cheers

Stu
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Tony Harkins
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« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2007, 10:38:50 AM »

Thanks Stu,

I'd agree with the ipod, phone idea. I can't understand why modern languages teachers in particular aren't embracing these devices for speaking and listening. Add an iTalk and your ipod becomes a voice recorder, loads of phones can act as voice recorders and I've been listening to MP3's on my phone since 2001 and the Siemens SL55. Start to think about revision notes, poetry, downloadable content from experts etc and there are huge opportunities.

Screen size and data entry can be a problem though on some small devices. I think as well as audio visual resources I'd like pupils reading and writing using blogs, wikis and forums and accessing Moodle sites to support their learning so while lots of different devices solve small parts of the problem, I'm not convinced I've seen one that solves them all.

As always its about the teach and not the tech, and all the ideas and devices could work in different ways at different times. Fortunately forums like this one exist to keep discussions and ideas moving along.

Cheers

Tony
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jont
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2007, 09:44:08 AM »

Hi Tony,

Whereabout in Scotland are you?

Obsolescence - I dont think it matters much what you opt for it will soon look dated and old hat, but the pupils themselves will determine what devices they carry/use. (theres only so much room in their pockets)

But if you can get your learning/teaching materials into a suitable form to utilise what they already have you may get more out of your funding,

Remember also that personal mobile devices are PERSONAL so one device/application/combination of functions wont be ideal for everyone. (as much as organisations/LEA would like everyone to use exactly the same device a view which seems to miss the point of personalization)

I partly agree with Stu on the idea of traditional PDAs dying, or at least becoming a niche market. But one device for everything is not the answer for everyone. Most multifunction devices are a bad compromise at everything they do - whether that is due to size, interface , form factor, battery life ease of charging, which cables you need etc etc

I still have a PDA (well multiple PDAs actually) and a phone and an mp3 player and each does its own job better than a combined device.

The question you have to ask is do you have a good reason to use mobile devices? and in all those reports you see suggesting "engagement" are they really engaged or just responding to the interest being taken in them because they are doing something new..... ( I am not trying to start fires here, just throwing in some healthy cynicism :-) )

"Standard software"  I am always amused by the phrase unable to run standard software. For a small device the interface of desktop software is not suitable. Most people now use at least 17" screen to run their windows apps , try going back to 15" for a day.... not much fun.  For a small screen device different interfaces and interaction techniques are needed (Microsoft seem to be slowly realising this). 

Palm used to understand it but they lost it as well.
Zen of Palm is worth a read no matter which operating system camp you subscribe to
http://www.access-company.com/developers/documents/docs/zenofpalm/ZenFront.html

Anyway nothing above is meant to be contentious- honest :-)

Jon





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stu_mob
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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2007, 11:54:46 AM »

I thought I was going to be more contentious LOL Wink

There is a theme on postings here and that is not one device suits all or necessarily every activity. At HHL 07 I was speaking about systems being fit-for-purpose. A lot of my work is for national services through the University of Manchester and by definition I have no idea what a student or researcher will be using. Historically we have aimed only at desktop and terminal access but I've been working on challenging that and developing services for mobile devices.

At the moment we are working on a new system for one of my services - Hairdressing Training, we are going to bring a lot of multimedia to the desktop version but the mobile version will focus on text and image based information and possibly some interaction through quizzes but primarily we will be looking at a mobile service that can work on a variety of small devices with connectivity, so students can have easy access to learning materials in the salon or on the go. They won't need everything that the desktop version will offer, so why bloat the package?

Thats what perturbs me about a lot of the mobile web packages on offer at the moment; they are promising users things they cannot deliver and users probably won't want. The full web on a small screen. Try desktop Flickr against mobile Flickr on a small screen - which actually works for the user?

Someone asked me recently 'what if my student doesn't want to use their mobile?' my reply is - it's more than likely, just as some students don't want to learn in classrooms or via desktops PCs or text books. As we move down the road of personalised learning we are going to see diversification in access - its how we respond that matters.
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Graham
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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2007, 12:32:08 PM »

Thats what perturbs me about a lot of the mobile web packages on offer at the moment; they are promising users things they cannot deliver and users probably won't want. The full web on a small screen. Try desktop Flickr against mobile Flickr on a small screen - which actually works for the user?

I don't know, I'm re-evaluating web access on small screen devices since using my iPhone. The pinch in/out is really something, which makes me think that it is a design issue.

I'm enjoying this thread and I'm conceptually in the "learning while mobile" let the kids use whatever devices they have or are appropriate camp. There are challenges to this however because whilst the concept maybe good there are still some issues in regards to implementation and yes it depends on what the goal of the initiative is.

A lot of schools are hung-up on the notion of VLE's and learning platforms but I'd suggest that these will become outdated systems. The notion of an educator preparing some online pages of content and then delivering them to the learner online via whatever strikes me as new gadgets for old teaching practices but without the personal touch. It's also opposed to what young learners are already doing for themselves with online tools such as flicker, YouTube, Facebook etc, where they are collecting media and collaborating and then putting something together to deliver to the world.

I can see, however, in practical terms because of what has been before that the prinicple of reducing the variables by settling on a single general purpose learning instrument might be attractive but I see this as a moment in time while the technology that truly enables educators to forget about machines arrives.

I hope that we'll arrive at a point where the educator is asking "what technology do I need to interact with my learners?", this may be a large screen format device, e.g. laptop, where they can review the work that learners have collated and brought together as part of a learning process.

The technology team that developed RedHalo having created a platform that allows for learners to access a personal learning space using anything are now working on server-based media conversion to future-proof learners work and also for the educator to be able to upload media, e.g. video, and have it automagically transcoded to a variety of formats for access by learners.

I'm not sure where this places Tony in his quest for choosing a device but certainly I'd echo the previous commentators in that whatever you choose will be out of date but that is never going to change because that's the nature of technology.

Start with what you are wanting to achieve and work backwards, keep to open standards where you can and remember that the digital portfolio of work being created is as important as any other work and this must be transportable and portable for the future and by the individual.
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jonmoss79
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« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2007, 02:30:08 PM »

I agree with the comment about using the technology in the pocket of the student. What is probably needed is advice to students and partents who are considering getting a device for their student or even upgrading which is very common. By engaging with the parents and outlining a range of devices that would be suitable it may have the effect of the device cohort moving in a similar direction.
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stu_mob
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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2007, 02:56:49 PM »

I think I know what you mean jons but I don't think I agree. For me the beauty of mobility is about taking the learning to the user. I don't want to tell them to have this personal device or that. It's different to something that is on loan from a school. I think it would be reasonable to say that if you have  device that can use wifi or 3g for instance and has browser access then we have materials you might want to look at. But I am probably being very idealistic again.

As I work with FE and HE I tend to meet older learners but they generally know what they want from their devices I think the trick is for us to be aware of what they are using and to discover how to bring learning to them.

Cheers

Stu
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jonmoss79
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« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2007, 03:04:24 PM »

Hi Stu,

I am not suggesting that the school lends out a device but a specification is laid out as to what the device should be able to do - 3G, Wifi, memory - suggestions which could make the implementation of the project smoother. The other issues is cost and connectivity, what are the best ways to minimize connectivity costs, especially when mobile. Rather than the school focussing on a device, the connectivity issues should be addressed. The school could also get the students to form the mobile learning working group, produce recommendations, device working groups etc.
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stu_mob
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« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2007, 05:41:50 PM »

Okay I didn't quite get where you were heading Jon. Personally, I think longer term its not unrealistic to see pupils supply their own devices, much in the way we did with pens and paper - back when I was small (ahh.. starting to sound like my dad now!). Schools, colleges and universities would need some money to supply devices for learners who genuinely could not afford them.

An option that often gets left out are the teachers themselves. Institutions should really look at models which ensure educators actually have and use these devices as well. I know teachers who work with students, where mobile solutions would be ideal but are left struggling with ancient phones and laptops with no connectivity .... and we then wonder why they don't want to work with the technology?

If schools were to provide some suggestions, then I think they would be best off being pretty simple and high level, otherwise they will have to be reviewed every other day.

Actually thinking about it, this probably relates to one of the biggest challenges for the public sector when it comes to the current pace of new technology. It is just too slow. Most 'official' guidance and help seems out of date before publication.
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Tony Harkins
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« Reply #10 on: November 04, 2007, 11:38:57 AM »

Many thanks for all the replies.

Jon, I am based in the city centre of Glasgow.

Re: obsolescence, of course technology will progress but I see most work being done online using web services such as Moodle, wikis, blogs, Google docs etc. So long as we have devices capable of accessing these types of app, I think more than one device could do the job.

I think the nature of how we research and work has changed fundamentally with almost universal access to the Internet. When I'm about to deliver a new course, I don't visit the local library, instead I go to the SQA examination board website for a PDF file of the arrangements, I start to make notes, quizzes, presentations using information from Google, Wikipedia and other related sites. I discuss the course on educational forums with other teachers. I make my documents available through a Moodle site, ask pupils to contribute to wikis, submit work electronically, test their knowledge in quizzes and even sometimes use a jotter!

If I contrast this with when I started teaching a decade ago, with access to a couple of text books, notes written on transparencies for displaying on an overhead projector and limited interaction with other teachers, it is two different worlds. And it is the modern connected world we wish to prepare our pupils for.

As I am in an independent school, I would propose parents purchasing the machines which would probably be less of an issue if I were in a state school. I'm in the process of obtaining the Headmaster's backing to move on with the project in principle and then I'll be discussing with other departments to think how a handheld device could add value to their subject teaching.

In terms of hardware, I received an EEE PC from RM on Friday. I opened it in the staff room and my colleagues were amazed with the size and price of the device. It's battery lasted around 3 hours before it was down to 10% left. It runs all the major web apps mentioned above. The keyboard is small but usuable for small amounts of typing. The supplied apps are useful and there are instructions online to add new apps. There are also instructions in the manual for installing XP on the machine although you wouldn't have much of the 4GB of backing storage left after installing it. I think the Linux OS is actually an advantage as it would help keep pupils focused on what the machine should be used for but still allow for some personalisation. I'm very impressed!

Tony
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jont
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« Reply #11 on: November 05, 2007, 09:09:56 AM »

Hi Tony


:-) ...thats at least two RM's arrived in Glasgow on Friday.... How many more are out there?

Jon (  based a bit out the city at Glasgow Uni)
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Michael Wilkinson
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« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2007, 03:43:48 PM »

To take this to the top again and look at the influential aspects of choosing a mobile device...
...for some time I have tried to look at how we make connections between the different dimensions of a students’ life i.e. that of their social life including leisure and entertainment and that of their learning life and I feel choosing the right device is fundamental.
In my opinion (for what it counts!) we should be aiming to provide access to a single device - one device for voice based communalisation, data communication (sms, mms, email, web), music, games - everything!
In doing so we allow a learner to embrace the social skills which have been developing alongside digital mobility, but now harness those social skills for the purpose of learning. This is strengthened by the notion that, if a student has a single and UBIQUIOUS device, then, in context / point of inspiration, they can capture a learning experience. If this device is additional to the student, i.e. seen as a learning device or an adjunct in any way, the chances of that student having the device at the point of inspiration is minimal, and thus loosing the opportunities to learn and engage is constructivist and social constructivist learning activities.

Throughout the projects I have worked on, when we have provided devices which were not truly handheld (by which I mean can be operated solely from within the palm of your hand) and not given as the students only device, then we have seen problems (especially at secondary level) with students not bringing the devices into school, never mind taking them on the bus, on excursions, holidays, their nan’s house– wherever! We are not to know what will inspire students and where they will be inspired, but rest assured – equipped appropriately, when they are inspired the resultant learning is deeper and more relevant than our traditional schooling system could every hope for.
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