Will Mobiles Be THE Tool of The Future?

306544780_4dc16c0405_m.jpgWe debate which mobile devices (e.g. PDA, ipod, mobile phone) to use for mlearning? And it is good to hear differing opinions from people like Stuart Smith and Nick Cowie on the use of mobile phones. But more importantly, we have others reflecting on whether they should be letting their students take their mobile phones out of their bags. Unfortunately, in most circumstances, if teachers want to use their student’s mobile phones for learning they will not be allowed to because it is against school policy! [image by bb_matt]

So tonight it was nice to come across a video podcast interview by Robert Scoble with Elliot Soloway, faculty member of the University of Michigan and founder of GoKnow Learning (Educational computing for mobile handheld computers) that discusses both policies and the future of mobile phones in education.

Elliot points out while many schools think laptops are the solution he believes that mobile phones will be the tool of the future in education.

His reason include:

  • Mobile computing is what kids are doing any way and soon 100 % of students will have mobile phones
  • Most schools have poor IT support which is why their computers do not work.
  • Internet works 50 % of the time in schools which means teachers have to plan two lessons (Internet and no Internet).
  • Price of mobile phones is decreasing.

Elliot also explains that:

  • Education is about meeting the requirement of their curriculum; there will need to be blending of the curriculum with the mobile phones.
  • It will not be a painless process; there will be a tear between the old and the new ways.
  • Schools will eventually need to change their attitudes towards mobile phones.

Check out the video podcast interview by Robert Scoble with Elliot Soloway here!

My thoughts – will be interesting to see in 4 years time whether the mobile phone has become the tool.

Please Wait a Sec, Just Need to Check Training Info on My Mobile Phone?

1082346485_c8c75d8bfc_m.jpgMost of your training is in the workplace but all your work mates are busy, no-one has time to remind you what to do, and you have asked the same question too many times before. WHAT you going to do? Phone HOME or better still access the answers on your mobile phone! [Image by outlan2000]

In Australia the shift in vocational training and education is away from campus based to delivery within the workplace, i.e. on-the-job training. These learners are going to need training material to support their learning. M-learning (mobile learning) used effectively will assist in their training needs and my first post in this week mlearning series will examine how.

What We Know

Most mlearning work with learners, regardless of the training area, have highlighted the power of videos for instructions. Learners can watch videos, at their own pace, as often as required, while actually preforming the task e.g. practicing how to tie knots, cutting hair, setting up or using equipment.

Opinions differ on text based material on mobile devices from those who believe the zoom feature of the iPhone means that material developed for the web will need little or no change for use to people that believe the exact opposite (e.g. limited amount of text per screen, essential text only).

How It is Being Done

Mobile technologies are undergoing rapid change, and organisations embracing mlearning will need to factor this into their equation. A solution for today, may not be the best in a years time so the key will be to ensure training materials are adaptable to a range of devices (e.g. mobile phones, PDAs, iPods).

Examples of m-learning in workplace training include:

  • Trainee hairdressers in the UK are learning how to cut hair (Watch the video to see how) – by mobile phone. Read Stuart Smith, who is involved with this work, thoughts on mobile learning and choosing the mobile device.
  • Workplace trainees from Pilbara Iron are learning how to use machinery – by PDA. Watch this video interview of Bob Hunter, from Pilbara TAFE, where he explains and demonstrates why he uses PDAs with students.

Want to read more on mobile technology and m-learning?

Check out last week’s posts on:

  1. Are UMPCs Going to Convert Courses from Paper Based to Digital?
  2. Mobile Web Usage is Increasing – How Will You Use It With Students?
  3. You Need Spyglasses – Are you Serious?
  4. Barcodes, RFID and NFC technology – use in education and training explained in Sue language!
  5. What can we do about policies that are stifling innovation in educational uses of technology?

What can we do about policies that are stifling innovation in educational uses of technology?


My final post for this week’s series on mobile technology focuses on the great challenge and barrier facing uptake of m-learning: our organisation and Government policies on the use of technologies with students.

Yesterday Dianne posted this comment “All of these devices are banned under our student code of behavior, although if cellphones are turned off and out of sight, they are not confiscated” in response to my post on How are we going to effectively use the mobile devices in our student’s pockets?. The constraints placed on Dianne with the use of mobile phones is not isolated, it is a global issue, and is not limited to mobile devices, increasingly, as educators, we are being preventing from accessing Internet sites which would enrich our students’ learning experiences [Image by Johnmulk].

Take for example my children’s schools. Both schools have implemented a Phone Policy which at one of the schools has been extended to include related technology such as PDAs. So as a teacher in these schools if you want to be innovative and actually use any of the mobile devices to engage your students you can’t because you will be contravening school policies.

As Darren highlights in Pay Attention a simple activity like giving your students 10 minutes to send a text message to someone outside the school to find out

  1. What they had for breakfast?
  2. What is the weather like where they are?
  3. The one thing they last purchased.

With the added challenge that students get bonus points given messages back from people in other countries using language other than English is a powerful way to engage and empower our students’ learning.

As an educator my attitudes over the years have changed. The policy in my organisations is mobile phones must be switched off in class. I have changed from the days when I enforced phones must be on silent, and would confiscated student phones if it interrupted class too much, or offer to answer their calls. I freely let students use their phones – amazing they can be responsible – they don’t disrupt the class – and it is far less disrupting than confiscating phones.

On a side point – you can’t have different rules for teachers and students – if mobile phones are banned in classrooms because your organisation believes they are disruptive then that means teachers also should not be using their mobile phone in class! WALK THE TALK or change the TALK!

It is time to take action!

Policy makers need to stop stifling innovation in the educational use of technology. Stop blocking video sharing sites like YouTube, podcasting sites like Podomatic, social networking sites like Twitter etc, reconsider views on mobile devices. It is far better to educate our students on appropriate use of these technologies than ban/bar their use. If we are going to overprotect our students, lets also stop them crossing roads.

Image is by Lynetter – refers to the fact that mobile phones are the divining rod for the digital age.


How are we going to effectively use the mobile devices in our student’s pockets?

So far in this week’s series on mobile technology in education I have discussed:

  1. Are UMPCs Going to Convert Courses from Paper Based to Digital?
  2. Mobile Web Usage is Increasing – How Will You Use It With Students?
  3. You Need Spyglasses – Are you Serious?
  4. Barcodes, RFID and NFC technology – use in education and training explained in Sue language!

With m-learning and mobile technology the choice is to either supply the mobile devices that the students use OR take advantage of the mobile devices that the student’s already have.

Ideally we should be taking advantage of the mobile devices that the student’s already have but how are we going to do this effectively?

Our reality is our students have different mobile devices with a wide range of capabilities (from only capable of playing music to web browsing, video calling, music and video downloads, and streamed TV).


1. Mobile Phone showing multimedia options, 2. PSP Front, 3. flashpod (4), 4. Apple iPhone, 5. Control remoto del iPod Video vs Ipod Shuffle

Number and types of mobile devices in my class of 21 students is:

  • 19 had Mobile Phones – phones ranged from very basic to 4 students with a Motorola V3X which is capable of web browsing, video calling, music and video downloads, and streamed TV
  • 7 had PSP (PlayStation Portable) – the main use of a PSP is for playing games however PSP do supports music, video, photo, web browsing and wireless connectivity
  • 3 had Video Ipod
  • No. with mp3 players was not counted – but would expect to be high
  • No.of digital cameras was not counted – but I should have

With their range of devices we can not use “one size fits all” approach instead we will need to use a range of m-learning approaches (e.g. podcasting, moblogging) while making sure we do not discriminate or disadvantage any student.

It is not possible to do justice to all m-learning using student mobile devices in this post – so I will be doing a series of posts on this topic next week.


  • Are you currently taking advantage of your students mobile devices? If so, how?
  • What issues do you have with getting students to use their OWN devices?

Mobile Web Usage is Increasing – How Will You Use It With Students?

This week I will be doing a series of posts on the use of mobile technology in education. Yesterday I asked the question are UMPCs Going to Convert Courses from Paper Based to Digital?

So today – I want to know how do you plan to use the Mobile Web with students?… and I will show examples of how educators are currently using it with studmtwitterents.

What is the Mobile Web?

The Mobile Web refers to accessing the Internet from mobile devices such as mobile phones, smartphones (full featured mobile phone with personal computer functionality – no touch screen), Blackberry and PDAs (handheld computer – many have phone functionality – has touch screen e.g. Pocket PC, Palm Pilot).

Companies are now creating mobile specific web sites (i.e. mobile version of their web sites that works better on mobile devices) so that their site loads quickly and are usable for small screen with limited navigation.

The Mobile Web usage will increase in importance because:

“Mobility right now is like the Internet was in 1996; then everyone discounted the Internet, or worried that it would just encourage employees to play games”. Smartphone and PC Magazine

How Educators are Using the Mobile Web

Monash University

Monash University gives their students in Australia, Malaysia and South Africa who are studying Web Systems the option to access their course material on PCs or PDAs (running Windows Mobile 5 or Windows CE).

This is what it looks like on PC


This is the same page on a PDA


If you have a PDA check it out for yourself at Walkabout u-Learning

How I use the Mobile Web with Students

  • Currently I access the Mobile Web in classes on my PDA – if I can not answer a question – I can instantly google the topic
  • The college is currently setting a wireless network – eventually I hope that students will be able to access the Internet on the class set of PDAs 89238359_e959ece3c7_m

Challenges of the Mobile Web

If accessed on a mobile phone there are only 12 button keypad – with no mouse for navigation

  • If you access the mobile web through your phone it is not cheap – good news costs decreasing. So in the short term I would not expect my students to pay to use it on their phones. Also good to know Australia is ahead of America with the Mobile Web!
  • We also need to realise people use the Mobile Web differently from the Internet on a computer. So if we plan to take advantage of it we need to take this into account!
  • Screen size on typical mobile is 160 and 240 wide and 200 to 360 pixels

Check out this great SlideShare by Nick Cowie where he shows how much you would see on a mobile device if the web site does not have a mobile version on their site. Also check out my podcast of Nick Cowie talking about the Mobile Web.

[slideshare id=72591&doc=problems-with-the-mobile-web-barcamp-perth-20072055&w=425]

What are your thoughts on the using the Mobile Web with students?

  • Are you currently using the Mobile Web with your students? If so, how?
  • If you are not using it with students – how do you think you could?
  • What impact do you think Mobile Web will have in education?

Are UMPCs Going to Convert Courses from Paper Based to Digital?

This week I will be doing a series of posts on the use of mobile technology in education.

So being the first post – I decided to start off with probably the most thought provoking… the Ultra-Mobile PC (commonly termed UMPC)… and show you a school in the UK that has set up a wireless network to handle the 245 UMPCs they have purchased for their students.

What is a UMPC?

For those that have never heard of a UMPC they are 7 inch or smaller PC (=similar size to a portable DVD player) with a touch screen that you can write on with a special stylus. Unlike PDAs (i.e. Pocket PCs and Palm Pilots) a UMPC runs standard Windows operating system which means you can run Office applications on them i.e. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (usedUMPC for writing on a touch screen when using a Tablet PC). The first UMPCs were sold in early 2006.

Why the School Choose UMPCs?

Each student at Islay High School in the UK will be provided with a Samsung Q1b UMPC (40 G hard drive), with solid carry case/keyboard, head phones, two batteries and access to webcam [Image by Josh Bancroft].

Check out this photo if you want to see a cool size comparison to a DVD.

Their rationale for this is:

  • They want to shift their perspective from paper with some electronic based material to electronic based material with some paper
  • Instead of paper based handouts – notes will be held on a server where each student can access them when required
  • Using a wireless data projector they are able to wirelessly display what is on 16 student’s UMPCs onto the board at the front of the classroom

They believe the UMPC is simply a conduit which allows a greater range of learning styles to be catered for across the curriculum.

Check out this great video by Andrew Brown where Ian Stuart from Islay High School demonstrates their UMPCs and discusses how they will be used at his school.

Challenges with using UMPCs

When the UMPCs were first released they did not sell well – very expensive, had poor battery life (~3 hrs), slow processing speed and some had issues with crashing from overheating. To decrease the size/weight of a computer – your aim is to make it more mobile – means compromises have to be made.

However the Samsung Q1b UMPC does well with battery life (Ian Stuart says at 70 % screen setting 7 hrs, at 50 % screen setting 9 hrs). Cost wise it sells for $1,650 in Australia.

Check out this great review on the Samsung Q1b UMPC.

What are your thoughts on the use of UMPCs with students?

  • Would cost of each device and possible damage by students be a barrier?
  • Will the operating speed of the Samsung Q1b UMPC be adequate enough for the students?
  • What are you thoughts/concerns on replacing handouts and text books with electronic versions?
  • If you were going to move to wireless network and electronic based material – would you have chosen the UMPC?

Why I use PDAs in the classroom

New term has begun and out come the PDAs for the students to work with (PDAs are small pocket size computers that run mobile applications like mobile Word, Excel and Internet Explorer). Always fascinating to hear their response the first time they start using them, such as “Do we get to keep them?”, “How much do they cost?”, “Surely with the fees we pay we should get to keep them?”, “I have no hope of using one of these as I don’t even know how to use a computer” “Awesome – this is so cool”.

Why I use PDAs with students

microI teach students how to identify fish diseases. This means they have to look under microscopes and be able to actually identify common parasites they see. Using a PDA means they can:

  • Look at color images of parasites
  • Watch movies of what the parasite looks like under a microscope and how it movies.

When they study the anatomy of fish they can look at lots of colored photographs on the PDA as they do their dissections.

Last time I checked you can not achieve this with handouts, and PDAs definitely engaged students.

We have also discovered that having short videos (max. 5 mins) that show how to do a task e.g. how to tie a knot means that the student can watch the video at their own pace, stopping and starting as required, as many times as they like, while they do the skill. This means the lecturer can then focus on assisting students that need more help without the whole class having to wait.

Why we chose PDAs

Choose with m-learning is:

  • Do you tap into mobile devices that students have
  • Do you supply the mobile devices

For my class students needed to have a device that they could use next to a microscope or while they were dissecting fish. It needed to be small, reasonably cheap (so if something happened I would not cry too much), able to show videos and contain notes. Unfortunately not all students have a device that would meet these requirements so wipaq-rx1950-pocket-pc_190x170e needed to supply them.

Choices could have been a PDA or video ipod. However the PDA has more functionality in this situation and, one day wireless will be switched on in the College, and we will be able to use them to access the Internet in class.

I use a class set of twenty HP IPAQ rx1950 (no longer sold in Australia).

Downside of using PDAs are:

  • Time spent charging the devices – however I have just purchased a unit that charges multiple PDAs at a time (can also use for ipods)
  • Creating the material for the PDA – initially you do spend time setting up the material that you want the class to use. But really that is no different for creating any resource for class – it all takes time.
  • I use cLaunch to put icons on the front screen of the PDA so students can easily access the required resource – this takes time on 20 devices

Here is a video that shows how I use PDAs with my students, the resources and their thoughts on the use of PDAs:

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