Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Summer Break

I am looking forward to the summer break. In New Zealand, this goes from just before Christmas until the middle of January. Many Kiwis leave the cities to spent time at the beach or by the lake in their baches / cribs. Apart from the usual festive celebrations with family and friends and a massive catch up with reading etc. towards my studies, I traditionally go on several tramps (hikes, backpacking / bushwalking) with a group of friends. All the trips are into the Southern Alps, tramping for 3 to 7 days involving some climbing up to passes or saddles, camping by mountain streams and hopefully good views of mountain tarns, snow clad mountains and alpine flower filled valleys.

Tramping is a good way for me to reflect on various aspects of my learning over the course of the year. I find I return to work & studies with renewed vigour after particularly challenging but rewarding trips into the NZ mountains. I suppose it’s because I have been able to leave a lot of extraneous thoughts behind & the long walking days provide me with an opportunity to revive, renew and nurture the intuitive side of my brain. This poor area of my brain is often hammered over the course of the year by too many doubts cast by bureaucratic structures and the demands of maintaining academic integrity. However, out in the big outdoors, all the edifices put up by institutions and administrators seem to become minuscule compared to the majesty of the mountains and the challenges presented by track conditions, river crossings and the changeable NZ weather. My physical & mental self has to give of it’s all to get to the next summit / saddle/ col and then on to the next camping spot. My back brain is librated to do it’s thing! I have taken to taking along a piece of paper & a cut down pencil (I am a minimalist tramper – nothing that weighs more than a gram & is not useful is carried in my pack) to record flashes of inspiration that seem to cascade through my brain as I work my way up another hill.
Will be back blogging by the end of January. Thank you to the readers of my blog & a good Chrismas & a happy new year to all.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

eLearning 2.0?

As a follow up on my blog last week on Web 2.0, I have been reading several articles about eLearning 2.0. eLearning 1.0 being the much more structured, institutionally organised version of current forms of eLearning compared to a more ‘free form’ view of how learning can take place in the schools and workplaces of the future with eLearning 2.0..

Several writers steer clear of using the term eLearning 2.0 as elearning is evolving rapidly with the influx of Web 2.0 innovations. The overall message is clear for educators. Opportunities to take learning to the learners, at their time, venue and convenience are now possible using a myriad of Web 2.0 applications. The emphasis in learning (especially for adult learners) is to changing to provide opportunities for learners to connect & to build their own content. Our task as educators is to work out:-

  • what fits into our particular learning context,
  • what teaching / learning philosophy we are using to help learners learn
  • the level of expertise our learners have with new technology,
  • the type of learning that we would like to foster with our learners
  • the depth with which our learners are willing to delve into the complexities of working with emergent technology tools
  • the most ubiquitous delivery interface (ie desktop computer, laptop or tablet with WIFI, PDA, mobile phone) that is appropriate to our learner profile

As educators, our responsibility also lies in ensuring that technology is used as a tool to enhance learning for our learners. We need to:-

  • keep up with the play,
  • evaluate the possibilities of new applications with regards to their uses in teaching or support of learning both within and outside of our subject context
  • be prepared to put time into experimenting and trialling new applications before we unleash them on to our learners
  • be willing to think outside the square
  • ask hard questions of our institutions about their preparedness to take on new ways of interacting with students for administrative and record keeping processes

Other questions revolve around our philosophies on the appropriateness of introducing the use of technology into our teaching. Although technology is often viewed as a tool, the overall pervasiveness of technology in our daily lives will need to be analysed. Questions include:-

  • Is technology also changing the way in which we interrelate with our peers, colleagues, students, family etc? My answer is YES but how is it impacting on individuals. What is the degree of change? Who are the change agents?
  • How is this push by technology to always be connected changing the way in which work, social networking, education are being viewed?
  • For example, is microlearning a valid construct that may become mainstream in corporate and workplace learning settings?

A good summary of the implications of Web 2.0 technology on education provides examples of how educators could make use of currently available Web 2.0 software. However the article does caution that there is a vast plethora of software out there that may become overwhelming. There is also encouragement for educators to try out the software to find out the possibilities in education. Another article by David Baird discusses the promises Web 2.0 bring for social networking. Examples of how flickr can be used in the curriculum are provided. So lots to think explore, digest, think through and perhaps apply into my teaching for the next year.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The impact of Web 2.0 on education

Over the year, I have been following with interest, the development of Web 2.0. A good summary is found in a paper written by Tim O’Reilly. Web 2.0 emphasises the use of the web as a platform for ‘social software’ with the users of the software generating the content. Blogs and WIKIs are the most common examples of the application of Web 2.0 for educators.

The prospects that web 2.0 offer education have also been discussed on the blogs of George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Jay Cross. Essentially, Web 2.0 web based software has the potential to change learning from educators transmitting and students absorbing of knowledge to being able to both teacher and student being able to connect with, evaluate, re-engineer, innovate and apply knowledge.

Web 2.0 is a continually evolving platform. I found Steven Brook’s edugadget via the edublogger’s frappr site. Steven is one of 4 Kiwi edubloggers who are registered on frappr. Frappr itself is a good example of a Web 2.0 software application as it allows many people with a similar interest to post their contacts so that they can then make connections with each other. The edublogger frappr site came through Steven Harlow’s blog which I follow via bloglines. The whole process of how my learning about Web 2.0 has progressed is another example of how the social networking aspects of Web 2.0 work.

Steven’s edugaget had a link to a site he had set up on Ning to check out how many Web 2.0 pieces of software any reader of his blog would be familiar with. This really opened up a whole new area of exploration for me! To keep up with the ever increasing number of software applications that are being launched as web 2.0 applications, I now follow techcrunch. Not all of the items of software launched will survive. However, users are the ones who are driving the way in which Web 2.0 works, so applications that meet specific user needs and are user friendly to use are the ones that are becoming more main stream.

The exciting thing for me is that many of the ways in which mobile technology is evolving is also in synch with what is developing with Web 2.0. Software that allows the people to find each other like friendster, blog, share photos via flirkr, play, download and create podcast on odeo and collaborate on writing webpages like Writely are also being made available via mobile phones. At some stage in the development of mobile technology & Web 2.0, one hopes that there will be the opportunity for educators trying to build platforms for mobile phone based portfolio collation to tap into available software to get the task done. An integrated package would be the ideal but trialling with software that is free to use and accessible via the web is a good way to work out the logistical challenges.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

eTXT trial results

Well, I have had an exciting couple of weeks. Each morning, I used eTXT™ to post out questions to participants in the trial. I would check about 11am each day to see how many responses to the questions posted in the morning have been received. Participation rates were good. 10 of the 19 participants continued to put in answers for most of the questions and 2 other participants texted in intermittently.

In summary, in week one, I texted 2 food safety questions a day to participants along with a short text message explaining what to look for in the question type.. I trialled multiple choice, short answer, fill in the blank, sorting and matching questions types. In week two, I texted out questions on how the participants perceived the food safety question from week 1. Questions included what question type the participants preferred; how each question type displayed on the mobile phone screen; which questions were easiest to read and which were easiest to respond to plus how many questions a day would be manageable in a workplace situation.
The main findings from the trial was that participants preferred questions that were easy to read and easy to respond to. Participants were prepared to view questions that required scrolling on their mobile phone screens if the answers to the questions were in turn easy to input. Multiple choice questions were favoured most, followed by sorting and matching question types. Although short answer and fill in the blank questions displayed well on mobile phone screens, participants found it difficult to compose text messages that would fit into the 160 character limit to fully answer these questions. Participants also had a preference for no more that four questions a day to be delivered to their mobile phones.

Undertaking the eTXT™ trial was a very good experience. Although eTXT™ was very easy to use, the type of questions, the number of questions that can be posted out on each day and the user experiences in responding to the various question types was very enlightening. Much work needs to be done to ensure that questions are written so that they are easy to understand, display well on mobile phone screens and are simple to respond to and mark.

Trialling formative question types has provided important information on how to best use eTXT ™ to support the mlearning at CPIT. Text based mobile phone communications supported with synchronous voice interaction with distance students are solid platforms to begin with. Future developments to extent the uses of mlearning with work-placed based learners can now be spring boarded for CPIT from projects next year to offer either food safety or bakery unit standards.

Friday, November 18, 2005

eTXT trial week 1

Week one of the etxt trial has progressed well. I am especially encouraged by the prompt replies I am getting from my apprentice participants. Last week, I texted all the apprentices who had volunteered to help with the trial. This group of apprentices came to CPIT on a second year block course back in August. I introduced the concept of the mlearning trial to the class of 16 apprentices while they were at CPIT. All in, a 5 minute session. 10 of the apprentices filled in a form volunteering to be part of the trial. Of the 10 I texted last week, 9 replied, with 8 agreeing and 1 declining to take part. All replied within the space of 2 hours of the text message being sent out to them.

During week 1 of the trial, at least 5 of the apprentices replied to food safety questions being sent out to them. I had already posted several messages to them to say that it was not compulsory for them to answer the food safety questions. So the response has been very heartening.

Text messages work better than email messages as apprentices are connected to the phone all the time. They check their phones for messages at every opportunity and I have noticed that smokers tend to check phone messages while they are on a smoking break. Several years ago, an apprentice told me that the only way he could get a break at work was to become a smoker. Otherwise, the bakers at his bakery worked from 2am to noon without a break! I think that the realities of the workplace, especially in a trade like baking, mean that being provided with the opportunity to take snack sized bites at completing work towards their unit standards works well. After a 10 to 12 hour day of hard, physical and often hot work that also demands maximum input from their cognitive senses, bakers are often too tired to make the effort to put in more hours in front of a computer to do work necessary to completing their qualification. Providing some incentive and motivation by way of sneaking in some learning moments using mlearning will hopefully pave the way for more reflective learning to take place when the time does come for the apprentice to ‘hit the books’. Therefore, I see mlearning as a good way of starting apprentices on an on going cycle of working towards their qualifications. In my context, mlearning should be used as a support tool, not be the primary way in which content is delivered to apprentices.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Keeping up with how mobile technology is progressing

I have been lurking on the Oxford University moodle discussion site on next generation mobile applications. The site facilitators include Tomi Ahonen, Ajit Joakar and Peter Holland. Tomi is well known for his work on forecasting future applications for mobile technology. Ajit has written a book called the Open Garden which discusses how to build commercial applications on the mobile internet and how innovation can be fostered within the mobile internet.

So far, the people who have introduced themselves on the discussion site are working mainly in the ITor telecommunications industry in mainly technical and marketing positions. So it has been an interesting perspective for me to have a look at the commercial aspirations of various individuals and companies..

The discussions range from the mundane to ones that really provide good information into the present applications of mobile phones. In particular, there have been several posts that have discussed the ramifications of present applications, using what we can do now to launch pad more innovative ideas and applications.

One of the most important things I am learning by checking on the discussions since the forum started at the end of August has been how quickly a community has built up. The other thing I have picked up is the positive energy and enthusiasm evident in various posts. The technology that allows so many people who have a common interest to come together to share their thoughts and ideas is really good to experience.

How can I replicate this for my apprentices? I would like to see that the community of apprentices that is formed becomes a support group that helps apprentices work through workplace assessment issues, evidence and portfolio gathering challenges and other topics that apprentices would like to discuss with each other. As it is, many apprentices are isolated in their workplaces where often they are at the bottom of the workplace hierarchy. Their struggles, which might seem to be extremely difficult for each individual, can often be more easily surmounted with the support of their peers.

Block courses that apprentices attend once a year could be use as the seeding points for a mobile community of apprentice bakers to start the process. The technology is literally in their hands as all of them have a mobile phone. They only need a platform for their discussion forum to take place. However, writing emails / moblogs are not something that the majority of apprentices would relate to. Perhaps we could start a discussion forum using audio /podcasting formats. Would it work? How could the discussions be threaded? How are we going to archive & then display the discussions on a mobile phone? Again, more questions than answers.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Starting on eTXT but still looking out for alternatives

Well, I now have access to eTXT. My research proposal for trialing mlearning formative questions should be approved by the beginning of November. Meanwhile, I am having a play with eTXT. Its easy to use although I have to use the eTXT web as the Novell based Groupwise email platform is not supported by eTXT.

Cost are NZ$99 to set up the system. After that, it’s a NZ$10 a month charge and a charge for each SMS posted.

So far, I have transferred various contacts etc into my address book. I have also drafted formative questions on food safety and the evaluation questions for the trial on Word. Copy and paste works well so when the time comes, there is very little time required to mass txt all the research trial participants.

I am happy with how easy eTXT is to use. However, the limitation on 160 characters and the use of text only have placed constrains to my plans to use mlearning in a more creative way. I am following with interest Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) Studytxt initiative. Peter Mellow, a 2004 flexible learning leader, has set up revision questions on anatomy for his students. Students need to pay between 30 to 50 NZ cents to download the questions. Questions are text based as with eTXT.
The University of Applied Sciences in Austria, in association with Nokia, have been working on an interesting mobile learning engine (MLE). The MLE allows multimedia images to be downloaded to student mobile phones. MLE itself can be downloaded from the site. There is also a copy of the paper in English presented at the 2004 Multimedia Applications in Education Conference. Learning objects for MLE are written in XML. This allows for the creation of interactive questions. Questions written for dissemination on mobile phones can also be viewed on a computer. I plan to have a more in depth look into MLE as it provides greater synchrony with my visions of mlearning.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Writing content for mLearning 2

Following on from my last blog, I have been working on constructing formative questions to be trialled on etxt. There are distinct limitations to the size (160 characters) and overall format (text only). However, working within these, it is still possible to provide a range of question types. These include multiple choice, short answer, “cloze test” / fill in the blanks, sorting and matching question types.

During the trial, I will probably send out 2 questions a day over a working week. A total of 10 questions. After that, it will be a case of asking participants

  • which question type they preferred.
  • how many questions they would be able to respond to during their working day.
  • would having all the questions sent out on the same day be manageable?
  • how each question type displayed on their mobile phone.
  • which question type was the most difficult or cumbersome to read.
  • which question type was the most difficult or time consuming to put in an answer to.

I also did some further exploration into the methods for disseminating comic strips to mobile phones. Only 3G capable phones receive the comic strips due to the amount of data that has to be transmitted. Specialised software is required to convert conventional pictures into the comic strip form suitable for transfer via cell phones. There are some good examples on uclickmobile of what is possible with current technology. Clicking on the examples at the bottom of the uclick mobile website brings up good examples of their daily comic mobile cast. Short snippets of content for learning are ideal resources for conversion into a graphical / comics presentation style. Who wants to read dense screens of text on food safety when a simple comic could convey they same message? The comic strip format would be suitable for short, discreet learning outcomes or be used as adjuncts to larger learning units.

A start may be made by using a slide show concept which is contains a small amount of text and a simple diagram to extend on the short text description that is provided. The slide show could also be supported by an audio file as most G3 phones now have the ability to also be used as MP3 players. The slide show could then be supported by a short 2 to 3 minute podcast.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Writing content for mlearning

I have been exploring guidelines for putting content on to mobile phones. It’s all part of my last course towards completing the Graduate Cert. in Applied Elearning. This last course requires a project to be completed that is relevant to each student which uses some form of elearning technology. I am working on a mlearning project using mobile phones to deliver formative assessments to students. Therefore, one of the important parts of the course is to work out how best to display multiple choice and short answer questions to students.

As a start, I intend to use short txt messages. There are limitations here on the number of characters (not more than 120) and small screen size of mobile phones that only have a txt messaging function. I am keen to push the envelope to see how this technology can be improved. Using flashcard type displays will be an option.

Moving beyond just using SMS txting, I am attracted to the concept of using more visual displays. These do not necessarily have to be colourful displays done in flashlite but simple scrolled comic strips. The Japanese have a lucrative market in manga comics distributed on cell phones as reported by all about mobile life. There is also a link from mobile life to test if manga is displayable on your mobile...

I have also found several good articles on how to set up content on to mobile phones
This web page has an especially succinct guide on developing content for mobile phones. Another good resource has been one on how to make small devices look good with other articles via the main page of an opera group on development of mobile content.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Displaying content on mobile phones

Blendededu com recommended this juicystudio site for it’s clear guidelines on how to set up a web page / web site. I would highly recommend the site to all educators preparing sites that require on screen reading. The original objective of the juicystudio site was to prepare a site that would be suitable for viewing by the cognitively impaired. However, the guidelines provided are very sound and relevant to many other users.

Only some of the guidelines set out in the article above are pertinent to displaying text on to cell phone screens. I think that the guidelines on structure are especially important as navigating through text or websites displayed on a cell phone screen needs some practice. Having clear cut navigational guidelines helps to keep the scrolling on a cell phone screen down to a minimum.

After mulling through the above article, I did a google search to find out if there would be any similar guidelines written about how text or webpages should be laid out for easy access and small screen readability. Several PDA / book reader type software came up. I have been using palmreader on my Treo180 for sometime now. Before that, I used cspotrun. Both are serviceable, straight forward to download and use readers for ebooks. I found that they both provided clear displays, it was easy to navigate from one page to the next. They both had usable functions for moving between pages / chapters etc.

eBooks will be a challenge to replicate on the smaller screens of most cell phones. Looking at screen after screen full of text on a small screen does not appeal to most users. I then found this site from that explains how using ‘rapid serial visual presentation’ – RSVP, could help display text on a small screen much more efficiently. RSVP allows each word to be ‘flash carded’ on to a cell phone screen one after the other. Software that allows RSVP to be used is downloadable on to a cell phone from Buddybuzz is the work of B. J. Fogg from Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab. The buddybuzz website is also a really fine example of a clearly set out and visually attractive website.

I will need to try this out to see how applicable this is to mlearning. I can see that it will make a big difference with regards to display and readability. However, will the reader be able to retain a long sentence, or the stem and distractors of a multiple choice question to actually make a response at the end of the reading? We will need to test it out on our students to find out. We might still have to display the whole paragraph / multiple choice question after the same content has been displayed using RSVP. The students can then read the content / question first using RSVP and still have a reference to look at when a response is required to the content / question.

I will be interested in finding out if anyone has used RSVP for mlearning applications as at the moment, RSVP provided by buddybuzz is linked to several newsfeeds and blogs. I am not sure if all content for RSVP has to be set out in a specific way. I have emailed the folk at buddybuzz to find out and look forward to their reply.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Possibilities with mlearning tools

I have been keeping an eye on the Mlearnopedia site. The site is well worth visiting as a good introduction to mlearning. The site for developers is a particularly good place to find out about the technicalities of putting material together that is suitable for mlearning. There are good links to various companies like Go-test-go, Macromedia , Hotlava and Devdirect that provide platforms for the development or delivery of mlearning material.

I registered and had a play with winksite’s free mobile website development. The process of setting up a site that is accessible via a web enabled phone, PDA or PC is very straight forward. Most of the sites that have been set up are text based. The sites come up on a pop up window on my PC in a mobile phone / PDA window display. Clicking on some of the ‘full article’ links tends to bring up a standard website. I have not (as yet) tested this on a web enabled mobile phone to see how these sites actually load up onto the phone.

A pretty nifty tool that is user friendly and has loads of potential for use. Winksite also offers single click access via mobile devises to mobile chats, blogging, syndicated feeds, a simple process to share field notes, meeting agendas, etc. However, for use with mobile phones, web browsing capabilities need to be available. I can see that sites like Winksite will increase as more people start using their mobile phones and PDAs for simple text communications like email and blogging. Many of the articles I now read on PalmAddicts and Treonauts have been composed on WAP capable PDAs or smartphones and posted directly on to the websites or blogs.

The use of this form of communication opens up many opportunities for educators. In particular, the ability for groups to work together to gather, collate, reflect on and present their learning in a form that is readily accessible and synchronous. At the moment, I have a group of second year apprentices on their block course. These students come from a variety of cities in New Zealand More than half the class of 14 have WAP capable cellphones and almost all have pix capable phones. They take photos of their products and then show these photos to each other on their phones. Maintaining this sharing of pictures and information is now possible when the students return to their home towns. Portfolio collection and collation can now become a peer supported exercise. Our goal is to provide the platform for it to take place and then to provide the forum for the portfolio to be show cased (and assessed).

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Mobile phones as cognitive tools

An article by David Jonassen titled Technology as Cognitive Tools: Learners as Designers provided me with lots of ideas to think through. The paper presents the view point that the application of technologies (like using computers for teaching and learning) as instructional tools should be reconfigured. Technology, the hardware and software to create teaching / learning sessions, should instead be thought of as ‘cognitive learning tools’. Technology should be given to the learners, for them to use as tools for knowledge construction. Instead, technology is now mainly used by teachers, instructional designers etc as a media for disseminating content.

As quoted from the paper above, “cognitive tools are both mental and computational devises that help to support, guide and extend the thinking processes of users.” Jonassen’s argument is that we should be using the capabilities of computers in particular to enhance learning opportunities for students. Instead of just using computers to provide content, students should be using computers to create their own content.

George Siemen’s latest paper titled Connectivism:Learning as Network Creation also goes down a similar path. This paper is an extension on his previous work on the concept of ‘connectivism’ as an updated adjunct to theories of constructivist learning. The ability to form networks is part of how learners construct meaning for themselves. These networks are formed not only within the learner, but are now also more likely to be formed externally by the learner to various sources of information, expert blogs, wikis, creative commons resources / websites etc. The learner is also able to contribute more easily to the knowledge formation of others by posting their material on blogs, wikis, websites etc.

Both of the above articles focus on the use of computers that are based in an office or home. The wider use of mobile phones extends the implications of the above articles into a mass market. Whether or not mobile phone uses realise it or not, they are all contributing towards changing the way in which the mobile phone is being used along with opening up opportunities for connectivism. We in education need to be aware of these implications. As the mobile phone changes from being ‘just a communication device’ for voice, text & pictures, we need to think about ways to use the mobile phone as a ‘cognitive tool’ and how this use would impact on connectivism for learners. I intend to mull over these concepts, so more of this in the near future!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Games, education & mlearning

A blog by Greg Costikyan via the mobile-weblog brought into focus several important things that I needed to think through. I have always had an interest in the use of games in education. I was familiar with the work of Marc Prensky on the use of games for learning, well before attending his informative session and workshop at last year’s efest. Living with two teenages also means that I have been continually exposed to the evolution of PC based games, game consoles and multi-user game platforms.

Greg’s various
presentations and writings are an excellent resource for researchers into the field of game design. Of especial interest to educators, is a link to Chris Crawford’s seminal book on game design. Although written in 1982, the precepts of game design outlined in his book still hold true and many of the ideas and concepts he puts forward have great relevance to how educators could improve in their engagement of learners.

Greg’s most recent work has been in the development of mobile games. The main gist of his blog is about how mobile phones are (as yet) not designed for playing games on. We could say the same for education, mobile phones are firstly a mobile communication devise. All the other add-ons that current mobile phones are sold with, are basically accessories to the phone. What game designers and educators are trying to do, is to use the mobile phone as a tool for their own purposes. We are therefore trying to fit in the restrictions of mobile phones, rather than thinking about how mobile phones could be configured to help promote socially constructive learning /gaming.

The other thing Greg brought up was the multiple platforms (operating systems) that have multiplied with the number of brands and models of mobile phones. Google brought up thousands of sites to download mobile games. I did a quick check of a couple like
games loft and my phone games. All of them had specific phone models you clicked on to access the games that would be downloadable onto that specific phone. It does not bode well for anyone thinking about putting together interactive learning games for use on mobile phones.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Cogitive apprenticeships & mLearning

The gist of my paper presented at the NCVER conf. last month was how mlearning could be an opportunity to use the principles of teaching referred to as cognitive apprenticeships (CA). My interest in CA started at least 10 years ago during my studies toward my BEd. I found that my teaching methods aligned well with the teaching methods that were described / attributed to CA. I then made a conscious effort to plan my teaching sessions based on CA principles and to put into practice CA teaching methods. To date, I have found this to be a very worthwhile exercise. I find that I connect well with my students in face to face classes using CA and based the development of my online teaching content on CA as well.

mLearning does provide a rich resource for using CA with distance learners. Here is an excerpt from my paper where that conveys some of the possibilities for CA with mlearners.

Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland (2005) in chapter 5 of their book Online learning: Concepts, Strategies, and applications provide guidelines on how to use cognitive apprenticeship models in on-line learning, and I am going to reiterate these with an emphasis on the guidelines that are especially pertinent to mLearning application.
  • Promote mentoring and coaching:- building a mentoring and coaching relationship between tutor and apprentice learner is improved with the use of synchronous communication via the mobile phone.
  • Support modelling and explain expert performance:- these are again much easier to do synchronously over the phone then via asynchronous text based emails. The text based email may form a base from which more modelling and explaining can take place, but apprentices respond better to verbal instructions. Mobile phone technology also provides capabilities for pictures and short text to be transmitted synchronously during phone based support sessions. These are useful techniques for supplementing voice only communications.
  • Focus on mastery within the context of the knowledge domain:- competency at practical tasks and hints / tips for conducting simple ‘experiments’ can be conveyed via mobile phone using the phone’s camera or video function. These save time in not having to prepare long text or verbal explanations on what to do or how to complete practical tasks.
  • Support increasing complexity:- Text based content provided to learners provide initial anchors from which further scaffolds may be constructed to expand understanding and application of new knowledge and skills. Examples that help scaffold the apprentice from one activity to the next, are often better explained via pictures and voice coaching than through lengthy emails.
  • Encourage collaborative learning:- contact with peers becomes more informal and immediate when SMS and peer to peer networks are used. On the current elearning courses, apprentices have resisted using text based discussion boards despite concerted efforts to encourage posting.
  • Support articulation of understanding and reflection on performance:- Using mLearning tools to build up an eportfolio is one way to assist learners in reflecting on their skill acquisition and provides them with the opportunity to show case their work.
  • Promote enculturation of students into authentic practice through activity and social interaction:- mLearning provides flexible learning options for apprentices in their workplaces. mLearning tools can be used to enhance workplace learning by helping to built supportive relationships between tutor, apprentice, workplace trainer and employer. A phone call is many times more personal and immediate than a form letter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

More learning about mlearning delivery

My blog explorations and contacts with colleagues in Australia have yielded information on mlearning projects that is relevant to what I am trying to also achieve in New Zealand.

Attendance of two recent conferences have also provided me with much food for thought. At the CTA show & share seminar, held at the University of Canterbury on June the 24th, several presenters presented interesting applications that had relevance to m-learning. One of the most important insights I gained, was the use of voice recording capabilities and mp3 sound files. As I am so much a visual learner, I had been mulling over how to distribute our current text based content over mobile phones. Well, we could use text to voice software to transfer the text into audio format and distribute content as text or sound files.

The NCVER conference (5th - 8th July) went well in Wondonga. I made contact with several people working in the flexible delivery area. Margot McNeill of the New South Wales Dept. of Education and Training provided me with several contacts of Voc. Ed. Teachers working with mlearning delivery. She also pointed me to the work of Marcus Raggus in horticulture. Which let me to the EDNA mlearning site. This site was also introduced to me by Caryl Oliver of William Angliss TAFE. The EDNA site had an interesting discussion on how to work through one of the inherent disadvantages of using mobile phones for mlearning. The small screens on most mobile phones often make it difficult to show images. Well, how about using the mobile phone as a projector?

So two important mlearning challenges – distribution of text based content and small screens on mobile phones, now have alternatives that can be further explored.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What I will be up to in Australia next week.

Next week, I am presenting a paper at the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) Australia conference. The NCVER research conferences have been part of my professional development for the pass 4 years. The conferences have provided me with a good opportunity to touch base with what Australian researchers in vocational education have been working on. I have also been able to fit in visits to TAFEs that teach similar subjects to my own and also try to work in a side trip to touch base with my supervisor at Griffith.

This year’s conference is to be held at
Wodonga TAFE. From New Zealand, I travel to Melbourne and then take a v-line train to Wodonga. On the way back, I will spent a few days in Melbourne to call in on some corporate customers and also to visit William Angliss TAFE where I have arranged to meet up with Caryl Oliver. Caryl was chosen to be an Australian flexible learning leader in 2004. Her main topic of interest has been new and emerging technologies and its applications to vocational learners in the hospitality and tourism areas. So I hope to be able to learn about some of her experiences with the use of mobile learning in a blended learning environment.

My paper is titled:- mLearning:- Opportunities for introducing cognitive apprenticeships into trade based apprenticeship training and is basically based on some of the reflections that have been collated on this blog. I will put a link in to the paper once it appears on the NCVER website.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Keeping up with the play

A couple of months using the facilities on PubSub to keep an eye out for material on mLearning has provided many interesting sites and blogs to follow. Using bloglines has been a godsend in helping to collate all the various blogs I now follow. I have now managed to get into the routine of checking bloglines a couple of times a day and to filter the information into some sort of organised fashion into the Word file I keep for assorted information. When I find the time to retrieve and read the information, the gems are then recorded on to my card index and transferred on to Endnotes. It is about the only way I can find to archive all the information I collect on the various topics I have an interest in. Magpie should have been my online nic but that was taken by someone else already.

When I started this blog, I was conscious of the fact that mobile phone technology was moving along at a fast pace. Now, I can see that it is starting to gain a real momentum and that there is an explosion of ideas, improvements, capabilities and applications. Not all of these ideas may make it into the main stream but many of the learning ideas put forward in the paper by Marc Prensky are already achievable with current phones and telecommunications providers.

I have found the following sites worth following for glimpses into the world of mobile phone development.
  • Engadgets provides a good start for any technology watcher. I have however tended to concentrate on the Engadgets Handheld area as this is where the mLearning action is. This is a good site to check out the hardware that is coming up and what people are doing with their handhelds.
  • provides an insight into the mobile phone world and is especially useful for keeping up with what is happening with text messaging applications.
  • Mobile weblog is a great site that chronicles developments in the mobile technology world. Although it maintains a mobile marketing focus, many of the articles describe developments that also have uses and implications for us in education.
  • I love my now ancient Treo 180 (I have had it for just on 2 years!), the Treo 650 is on my current wish list. The Treonauts blog and the Treo Addicts site provide up to date articles on how to get the best out of the Treo. Information on Treo developments, software and accessories are also provided along with the latest goss on what is happening at Palm.

If readers of this blog come across useful sites for information relevant to mLearning, please drop me a line.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Authoring systems for mlearning

My search of authoring tools specific to the needs of mlearning using mobile phones came up with very little. In a report prepared by Ericsson, detailing many of the initiatives of 2001, the majority of the software used to prepare material for delivery on mobile phones tended to be written ‘in-house’ as customised software packages for use with specific projects and specific phone types. In my last post, studystack recommended looking into the use of J2ME as a development platform for cell phone applications. A good recommendation that I will pass on to the techies at CPIT.

The majority of the ‘off the shelf’ authoring systems available for mlearning cater to the PDA market. Hot Java is one example that has filled a niche in the market by providing solutions for corporate trainers using mobile technology to meet their training needs. More established authoring tool providers like Trivantis have a version of their popular Lectora software available for developers of mlearning on PDAs. One example of an off the shelf programme is Go Test Go Inc .which is targeted specifically at the ‘test’ taking market, allowing tests to be downloaded and completed on cell phones. Hyperfactory’s project with L’Oreal provides some scope for further development and will need to be further explored.

There is a movement towards putting together authoring software for distributing learning material on to mobile phones. The move by macromedia to develop Flash Lite for mobile phones is one important step forward. Flash is only one part of the requirement for mlearning authoring software. Cameras on cell phones are also starting to be catered to, with Flickr offering download services for mobile phone cameras that allow photos to then be copy & pasted into blogs, web pages etc. and a more cell phone / pda camera friendly package on splashblog.

The ‘testing’ software discussed above can only take mlearning a short way towards my mlearning vision. The capabilities with various software offering a way to archive and work with visual material collected using cell phone cameras is also a start into how a mportfolio could be collated. Therefore, the hunt for a comprehensive mlearning management package continues.

If any readers of this blog are aware of or come across potentially useful mlearning authoring software, please drop me a line.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Should we issue a phone?

Back to blogging after a short 'break' and a full on teaching schedule in the first two weeks of the second term. One of the conundrums posed by going into mlearning is whether a phone should be issued to students who will be enrolled on the mcourse.

The interim report from the European m-learning project suggests that participants in the projects were issued with the devices. Although many of the participants were unemployed, homeless and living an itinerant lifestyle, very few of the phones issued were misplaced or damaged.

The advantages of standardising the mlearning delivery tool include:-

  • Common OS for all mlearners on the same course
  • The ability to standardise instructions for the use of the phone to complete various learning related tasks
  • Only one model to deal with from the technical support point of view
  • Easier to source one model and have it sponsored by one phone supplier / telecommunications provider.
  • The need to configure existing LMS to work with one type of phone.
  • Providing all learners with similar capabilities so that all learners can start on a level playing field.
  • Being able to choose the phone that will fit the types of learning activities that the learner profile directs the learning design towards.

However, issuing a specific smart phone for the use of mlearning might be viewed negatively by students. To start with, a substantial number of students will already have a phone, therefore, issuing a phone specifically for the use of mlearning means that the mlearning phone could be seen to be the ‘work’ phone. A number of students I have spoken to about the concept of mlearning are also very reluctant to use their existing phone for mlearning as well. They see their own phone as being a personal item that is reserved for non-work activities.

If we do decide to issue a phone the other decision that has to be made is what sort of phone will be issued? For the purposes of the pilot course, a 2G phone capable of SMS will be about all that is required. There is a wide range on the market and these can be purchased at very reasonable prices. However, my thinking is that we would probably run the pilot using the student’s existing phones. The pilot course will only be using very simple SMS capabilities and issuing a phone that is perhaps inferior in capabilities to the phones that some students already own, will be a step backwards.

However, to move the whole mLearning project forward at CPIT would eventually require us to explore the issues that will be brought about by tapping into the capabilities and possibilities of 3G phones and ‘smart phones’ like the Treo 650

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

SWT analysis of learning gap

Justifying the choice of the topic to be used for the mlearning pilot is the next step in the process of producing an elearning solution for an identified learning gap. This gives me the chance to look into the pros and cons and any other glitches that will come up in developing a mlearning solution for the learning objective.

The proposed mlearning project to be piloted will offer the following:-

  • A support system for the completion of a workplace unit standard
  • Content will be distributed in the form of a workbook
  • Templates (hard copy not electronic) will be provided for the gathering of on job evidence
    This evidence can take the form of photos, recipes, job sheets, rosters, verification sheets from supervisors etc
  • Fortnightly contact will be made with the apprentice to work out where they are at with the collection of evidence towards proving their growing competency in the skill required
  • Once a term (4 times a year) contact with the apprentice’s employer to assist them in understanding how competency standards work and to report on their apprentice’s progress
  • Formative assessments (multiple choice) will be distributed fortnightly to ensure the underlying knowledge requirements of the unit are being met
  • Summative assessments (theory and practical) will be completed on block course

The above is based on an instructional philosophy that situated learning in the workplace will work if it is supported by appropriate support systems. The principles of cognitive apprenticeships will be used during fortnightly contact with the apprentice to nudge them into better networking and consolidation of theory to practice. Social constructivism is encouraged so that the workplace takes an active role in helping apprentices complete their competencies.

Strengths of the proposal include:-

  • Strong links between what is learnt at work and what needs to be completed for competency based assessments
  • Good opportunities for apprentices to apply theory of baking to actual work practice
  • The advantage of building up good rapport between tutor and apprentice
  • Bringing employers into the picture and helping to establish a community of practice in this area
  • Base data on how mlearning and portfolio gathering works can be gathered
  • A pool of tutors who will have worked with the system and developed expertise in the teaching method

Weaknesses of the proposal include:-

  • Lack of workplace support for the use of mlearning eg. The workplace does not allow mobile phones to be used in the workplace
  • Need for apprentices to still have to put up with quite a bit of paper work and several different tasks to be completed (eg paper based portfolio, mlearning formative assessments, mlearning ‘tutorials’ via tutor contact with the apprentice, summative assessments that are completed off job)
  • Time needs to be taken to train staff to undertake cognitive apprenticeship contact via cell phone

Technical challenges, of which I probably only have a small understanding of, are:-

  • Different models of phones with varying capabilities and telecommunication suppliers
  • Dependence on an ‘outside’ firm to provide support systems for mlearning
  • Technical glitches in the system
  • Lack of comprehensive coverage in many rural areas on NZ (so an apprentice living in a small town might have good cell phone reception at work but nil access at home if he / she lives well out of town)

My ideas are firming up but there is still much to be investigated and thought through.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Identifying a learning gap

Serendipity has provided me with the next process to use in working out the most likely learning activity /outcome that could be used to set up a pilot mlearning project. The next topic on the Grad Cert applied elearning course was to identify, substantiate and present a learning gap that could be solved using an elearning solution.

Potential learning gaps could be identified as being a:-
  • Content fit or new content area – a new topic to teach so it is worthwhile putting some effort into exploring flexible delivery options or blended delivery
  • Dynamic content – a course that has rapidly changing / developing content
    Conceptual difficulty – something that is difficult to teach in a f2f situation (eg. Handling customer complaints) or takes a long time to set up (eg. Certain experiments or simulations) or where concepts that fit the ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ category.
  • Access issues – could be equipment that will only allow 2 to 3 students at a time to view a demonstration, or very expensive / state of the art equipment that unsupervised learners cannot be let loose on or equipment / ingredients / processes that are difficult to obtain easily for hands on exercises.
  • Efficiency issues – a learning concept put onto multimedia might allow students to have multiple attempts at trying out new skills without embarrassment, challenging students with tasks that provide them with the opportunity to work out / construct their own knowledge at their own pace etc.

At the moment, it would be good to try out a unit standard that combines some concept learning with competency in a practical skill. Situating the completion of competency in the workplace will also make it more suitable for piloting as a mlearning project. Therefore, the learning gaps could do with access and efficiency issues with some conceptual difficulty thrown in to provide a major challenge for learning design to work through.

At the moment, there are many unit standards to choose from that will fit the above criteria. One option is to choose one that is small enough to run the pilot with but not so small that it takes too short a time to run. I will also need to work out how many apprentices might be working through the unit to be used so that a viable number is provided for the pilot to be tested out with. I would like to have a group of at least 10 to work with but up to 20 will be even better.

The next step would be to work out the strengths, weaknesses and technical difficulties for the above, so tune in next week for how it pans out.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Reverse engineering - interim conclusions

Here are some thoughts on my learning over the last month or so while working with the reverse engineering scenario.

Not all the capabilities that have been visualised in the scenario are now possible, although many of them are in the pipeline and should be main stream in 5 to 6 years time.

The pragmatic option would be to start small. Pick up one of the capabilities possible now with G3 phones, pilot / trial this and evaluate and learn from the experience to further bring mlearning further on into the future scenario.

To make things less complicated, I am keen to pursue the following:-

  • Get more of the staff at CPIT involved in brainstorming how the pilot could proceed
  • Ensure that staff who will be involved in teaching the pilot receive training and education on elearning teaching techniques
  • Try to find support software that will allow mlearning to be mainstreamed into the current elearning capabilities at CPIT in a seamless manner
  • Try to have the pilot sponsored by either a telecommunications provider or a smart phone retailer or a software developer. This means that all the students will be on one platform, ensuring that all the students start with access to the same features on their phone.
  • Choose a learning outcome that will be quantifiable in order to test the efficacy of the mlearning delivery
  • Ensure that all the students receive training or information on how to get the most out of the phone and out of mlearning
  • Evaluate the pilot thoroughly to work out the glitches and improve on the strengths that percolate out of the project.

Be prepared to be flexible! The technology for mlearning delivery is still unfamiliar territory but the philosophies underlying the teaching and learning process are sound (or at least something we have more experience with). So the next step is to figure out a suitable topic for the pilot.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Reverse engineering: the project team

Who will we need to put everything together?

We will really need the expertise of someone who has the networking and telecommunications skills to advise us on the technical aspects of making mlearning a reality.

Apart from that, I think that the standard project team that is put together to manage a elearning project will work well. In my context, we generally have a project manager, a subject expert and a web developer for most small projects.

For the purposes of putting together a mlearning project the following will also need to take place:-

  • All the team members will need to undertake some learning with regards to mlearning so that everyone has similar familiarity of the concepts and possibilities specific to mlearning.
  • All members must have familiarity with, have used or already use the smart phone that is chosen to be used by the learners.
  • The web developer will need to be familiar with the OS chosen, WAP protocols along with the use of software tools to develop the learning content.

The content or learning objective for the first project needs to be selected carefully. The content or learning objective should also allow for the following:-

  • Provide opportunity to explore the ramifications of converting existing econtent into mcontent
  • Text content might need to be supplied by posting students hard copies of the material to be used
  • Have the opportunity for not only tutor and student interaction but also student to student group work or discussion

On the technical aspects of mlearning, CPIT has just begun discussion with the Hyperfactory, a NZ firm that produces txt based solutions for mobile phones. Their main approach has been to use txt for marketing / promotion / information but they also have experience with training using their Hyper’CRM package with Keratase. We will need to evaluate this against more established content and assessment authoring packages like Lectora.

Looks like an interesting couple of months coming up!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Reverse engineering -hard & software tools for mportfolios

Some of the aspects revolving around the selection of hardware and software tools were covered in the section on evaluating mlearning tools. So this blog is a continuation along a similar theme.

On the hardware front, the selection of a smart phone capable of the following will be important:-
  • Normal mobile phone capabilities
  • Ability to ‘tele-conference’, ie to allow several people to link up & talk to each other and the group as a whole, this is now available in NZ via push to talk technology
  • SMS via text with possible video functions if we move into G4 technology
  • Longer SMS messages which are now possible with G3 phones
  • Capability of receiving and sending emails (although SMS would be probably the preferred mode of non-aural communication)
  • A camera providing the ability to take images to at least 3.5 mega pixels
  • Colour screen large enough to view web pages and with a high enough resolution to view video clips.
  • Web browsing capability
  • Enough memory to hold downloads of text based documents for download on to a printer / fax to print out the documents along with sufficient memory to download their portfolio on to a computer / data show / TV.
  • Standard PDA functions (diary, address book, memo pad, calculator, dictionary / glossary, measurement converter)

From the institutional / training provider point of view, the following will need to be installed or adapted using existing platforms and supported.

  • LMS that will work seamlessly with mlearning which includes the ability to maintain a student management system that will allow SMS messages to be posted to students via the tutor’s computer through to the students’ phones.
  • Content development tools, some progress seems to be made in this area with mspecht
    (thanks for the welcome to the blogsphere Micheal) reporting that Micromedia has licenced Flash to be used on Nokia phones.
  • m-portfolio tools that could be part of an existing LMS or separate software that is linked to the LMS. This should allow students to maintain a collection of text, photos, videos using their phones. The ability to manipulate and reorganise their collection of evidence should also be possible using their phones. The download of their m-portfolio via their phone onto a device (computer or data show or TV) that will allow them to show off their m-portfolio will also need to be explored.

Most of the above can be achieved using existing technology. However, there still needs to be some thinking and lots of technical development to be done with regards to modifying existing LMSs etc. to fit in with the peculiarities of maintaining a portfolio using a phone as the primary collection, collation and dissemination tool.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Reverse engineering - one pathway towards evaluating elearning tools

The first project on the elearning course I am enrolled in this semester, is to ‘reverse engineer’ a provided piece of multimedia teaching resource. This got me thinking about using reverse engineering to help tease out the issues that will arise with regards to the set up of a mportfolio based learning and assessment mportfolio programme.

To start with, here is the scenario, the vision of how I see mlearning being applied to my context.

The year is 2010. J is in a group of 8 apprentices calling themselves the Bready bunch. He is 18 years old & into the second year of his apprenticeship in a small craft bakery situated in a small town in the middle of the North Island, New Zealand. J has met his group members face to face twice, the first time in the year one block course of two weeks and the second time in the second block course (also for two weeks). Block courses are held in Christchurch, in the South Island of New Zealand. The members of the group are spread across New Zealand. 5 of the group live and work in the North Island and 3 of the group in the South Island.

In order to complete his baking qualifications, J has to complete :-
  • a distance learning course that covers the theory of baking,
  • assessments that are held during block courses and
  • gather evidence to prove his competency on a collection of work based skills.
  • At his first block course, J was issued with a G4 phone. This phone is the size of a packet of cards and weighs 100g. It flips open to reveal a full colour screen and a qwerty key pad. All the calls he makes from the phone that are related to course work are paid for through his course fees. He has to pay for any personal calls or downloads he makes.

Using the G4 smart phone, J completes his distance learning through the following process:-

  • Course notes that contain information on the theory of baking, work sheets and assessment requirements are downloaded onto his phone monthly. J does not own a computer, so he prints out the hardcopy of all of these notes by docking his phone onto his employer’s phone/fax/photocopier machine.
  • J has to read the course notes and work through the activities that are described in the worksheets.
  • Some of the worksheets require him to take photos of his work and these are posted through his phone to his assessment portfolio site.
  • Some of the worksheets require him to work with his group on projects. At the moment, the group is working on building a 3D image of a gluten strand. This project needs to be completed next week.
  • The group is able to communicate synchronously via video linked conversation. However, due to the variability in the groups working hours, their main communication method has been via video SMS.
  • T, the technical whiz in the group has accessed a cool 3D drawing tool for their phones. D found several articles on the web & at the course site on gluten structure. These were then sent to all the members of the group or a hard copy could be requested from the CPIT library. Then T also found a university site in America that provided a template for building up protein structures. Using drag & drop techniques, each member of the group had a go at building up an image. The group was now evaluating which of the images was the most realistic / accurate and what else needed to be done to the image before SMSing the image in to their tutor.
  • Every week, revision questions in the form of mostly multiple choice and short answer questions is downloaded to J’s phone. These need to be completed to ensure that J understands the material that he has been provided each month.
  • J receives immediate feedback on his revision questions as he works through them. The feedback includes remedial work that J might need to also complete if his performance on the revision questions does not come up to expected standards. His results are also posted to his tutor.
  • J receives a phone call from his tutor every fortnight to remind him to complete projects, gather evidence of his practical work skills and generally provide him feedback on how he is going.
  • J’s assessment portfolio started out as a real mishmash of photos of the products he made at work, photos and short video clips of him completing practical tasks and SMS txt outlines. At the second block course, the tutor showed them examples of work from other students. The block course group also showed each other the progress they had made on their assessment portfolios. T as usual had all the latest whiz bang multimedia features on his & D had tagged her various items to the performance criteria in the various competency units that had to be achieved. J then did quite a bit of reediting of his work with T’s help so that it now had a much more ‘recipe book’ look about it.
  • In the third block course, the apprentices will complete their assessment portfolios. Before the third block course, the apprentices are encouraged to share their assessment portfolios with the rest of their group members, their employers and their families and friends. It is a record of their journey as they move from being novice bakers to journeyperson status in the industry.

So there’s the vision, how do we now get to it?

Monday, February 28, 2005

Evaluating m-learning tools

Helen Barrett has been undertaking an evaluation of various software tools for the set up of ePortfolios. It is a wonderful resource that any one interested in ePortfolios can tap into. However, it is based on a context of using non m-learning technology.

Undertaking a similar evaluation using m-learning tools will be a financial challenge. Not to mention a huge commitment in time. Singh summarises that the mobile system components for mlearning needs to include:-

  • Authoring tools for content capture and conversion to mobile delivery
  • Templates for the development of mobile games and simulations
  • Learning content management system to archive mobile content
  • A learning management system to track the m-learning students

The evaluation of the above will also have to bear in mind how mlearning could fit into existing elearning systems that are already in mainstream use. Some of the existing elearning components may be adaptable for use with mlearning but again, time is required to explore how all of these various components will fit into a mlearning delivery environment.

The evaluation or a suitable device for use by mlearners is made even more difficult by the number of models of smart phones that are being released into the market and the relatively short time span that various phone models are ‘in fashion’. Deciding on a smart phone operating system helps cull down the number of smart phones to be evaluated. The main choice will be between PC compatible OS and the Palm OS. Deciding on a service provider might also help narrow things down more as in NZ we do not have that many to choose from!

For choosing the correct devise, Singh identified eleven different factors to consider including cost, battery life, the size of the display screen, how data can be input into the devise, the processing power available, the storage capacity of the devise, communications options, application development tools and IT support. These factors could form part of a decision matrix to evaluate the various smart phones currently available here in NZ.

Mlearning technology is also in its very early stages of development. This is good from the point of view that any learning that takes place will improve delivery of flexible learning / ePortfolio generation via mlearning. However, it also means that there needs to be a large input of time and effort into learning about how to make the technology work.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

More on mlearning

I found a literature review on mobile technologies and learning put out by nesta future lab. There is a useful overview of existing theories of learning (behaviourist, constructivist, situated, collaborative etc) and a summary of mobile learning technologies that are currently available.

The report also provides case studies of recent examples of teaching and learning using mobile technologies that are matched with the various learning theories. The majority of the case studies describe work that has been undertaken using PDAs as the main mobile technology tool. There are not as many examples for the use of mobile phones. The report does conclude that there is a move towards combining the functions of mobile phones, PDAs, game consoles and cameras. This merging of capabilities is set to continue at a fast pace with true convergence of all of these devises in the next five to ten years.

None of the examples deal specifically with the completion of competency based learning outcomes or with portfolio development. However, the examples provide glimpses of the many possibilities the m-learning can bring into my teaching context. Some of these include:-

  • Providing ‘revision’ questions in the form of drill and feedback type questions. These could be used to revise underlying understanding of practical work based skills.
  • The opportunity to work collaboratively on projects with other students so that the social nature of learning is enhanced.
  • Use of the m-learning tool as a repository for information. Course notes, glossary of industry jargon, administrative information, templates for use in submitting reports etc.
  • Administrative functions including reminding students about when projects are due via SMS, providing students with updated records of learning, providing ready access to teaching staff for advice.
  • Web browser functions via WAP and access to course site where individual portfolio is archived.
  • Opportunity for apprentices to provide access to each others portfolio site for peer critique and feedback.

Individually, all the above scenarios are possible with present technology. Access to the various areas is not yet seamless but the possibilities for building up a ‘one-stop shop’ accessed by mobile is becoming attainable.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Where am I at with ePortfolios?

Took me quite a while to catch up on ePortfolios and how they have evolved using digital technology. The article in Educause Quarterly on levels of maturation in the use of web based portfolios (web folios) provides a good guide to the stages of development of ePortfolios.

  • Level 1 basically revolves around a scrapbook concept and
  • level 2 provides more structure to bring it up to curriculum vitae status.
  • The authors argue that a true web folio begins at level 3 whereby there is the ability for both the student and faculty to put together a working portfolio that showcases the student’s work.
  • Level 4 opens the web folio up to feedback from other parties that may include the student’s families, employers (current and potential), various mentors and the faculty.
  • At level 5, the web folio becomes an authentic / authoritative evidence that links the contents of the folio to standards, programmes and “other descriptors including higher order taxonomies.”

My interpretation of these levels is that the ePortfolio starts by being an ad hoc collection of student work. Gradually, more links are put into the work that students add to their portfolio. At level 3 and beyond, these links allow the student to receive feedback on their efforts, first from their teachers and then from the wider community that they live / work in. Along the way, students learn not only about how to select the material that they would like to showcase. They also learn about how to reflect on why they select certain pieces of work and obtain feedback from their peers and community of practice about the appropriateness of the work that they have selected. So we basically have the students construct a framework about their practice and provide them with the opportunity to tap into the knowledge base of their community.

At the moment, we collect paper based portfolios from students for two unit standards (competency based modules). One for breads and one for gateaux / torten. These are level 2 type paper portfolios where the criteria for what to collate is set down and the students produce photos of their products along with accompanying recipes and background information. Bringing this up to level three as a web folio using existing elearning technology at CPIT is not technically difficult. The main barrier would be access to hardware for students who do not own a computer.

However, exploring how a level 3 web folio can be achieved using mlearning technology is the next step I intend to investigate. Nokia’s lifeblog is one concept that may be useful. At the moment, the lifeblog is constructed to act mainly as an archive for various data that comes through the phone (SMS, email, photos). The current version of lifeblog is able to organise the archive data so that it can be posted on to an actual blog site. At the moment, this idea is interesting but a bit limited for the purposes of building up a level 3 portfolio. It is possible to put together a level 1 or a limited level 2 portfolio using lifeblog but the capabilities need to be extended to take ePortfolios up to level 3 and beyond.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

learning & teaching

I am trying here to capture some of my thoughts on where I stand with regards to teaching and learning philosophies. This writing reflects what has worked best for me in my teaching context and what fits my overall approach to life. I am always interested in exploring new teaching techniques, trying them out to see if they fit in with my teaching style and how my students learn best. However, I would not see myself as someone who jumps on every educational bandwagon that comes along. Instead I am someone who explores and evaluates new ways and then works at them to eventually use them to do things better.

I have over the years, studied, reflected on, evaluated and explored various teaching and learning theories. Almost 25 years of teaching practice has taught me that the learning about learning never stops. One of the things I have learnt, is that being a learner makes me more empathetic towards the needs of the learners. This year is no exception, I will be doing two more courses towards the Graduate Certificate in Applied eLearning and continuing on my ongoing M Phil – about to be upgraded to Phd – studies at Griffith University with Dr. Stephen Billett.

My philosophies on learning have matured over time, my leanings are towards constructivist cognition with an emphasis on social interactions. These ideas are clumped together and referred to as socio-cultural learning theories or social constructivism. My research studies are based on the work of Vygotsky, Lave & Wenger’s Situated Learning, Wenger’s Communities of Practice and Brown, Collins and Duguid’s Cognitive Apprenticeships. Of late, the writing of John Seely Brown have been influential in my elearning teaching, in particular, his article on Growing Up Digital. I have applied much of what I have learnt about teaching and learning into all of my teaching practice. At last year’s ITPNZ efest, I presented a paper on cognitive apprenticeships and their application to elearning.

I learn best by doing and am continually trying out new types of technology to see how useful they might be in my teaching context. I also find that I learn much from my students by talking to them about their attitudes to new technology and how they use these in their daily lives. In short, I have over the last few years been exploring how to use the tools that young people take for granted, to provide them with better learning opportunities. Alongside these explorations has been an investigation into how access to information via the WWW and communications technology contributes towards helping to form young people’s sense of identities.

I am setting this out so that readers of this blog will understand some of the reasons why I am going down the road of exploring ePortfolios using mlearning tools. My belief is that ePortfolios have an important role in helping young people consolidate their learning about themselves and their work. mlearning technology is evolving to a position whereby it can be useful not only a tool to transfer digital data but also as a really viable component of social constructivist learning. The really exciting bit is that the combination of e-Portfolios and m-learning into m-portfolios allows both synchronous and situated learning to take place with learners who are based in the workplace.

Friday, February 11, 2005

m-learning and smart phones

m-learning is the third thread I will be exploring on this blog. Having ventured into elearning territory by offering elearning courses on baking theory for apprentice bakers has provided me with concrete evidence that the majority of apprentices do not own computers. However, the vast majority of apprentices, own game consoles and cell phones. Therefore, exploring the concepts of m-learning and how the technology may be used to collect assessment evidence from apprentices is not too difficult a link to make.

There has been quite a lot of activity of late on the m-learning front. m-learning could be basically undertaken with several types of tools which include laptops with WiFi capability, pdas (personal digital accessories like Palm Pilots) and mobile phones. For the interim, I will be concentrating on exploring the use of ‘smart phones’. Smart phones vary in their capabilities but they are mobile phones with some or all of the pda’s capabilities. There are several reasons for choosing to hone in on smart phones:-

  • Most of the smart phone models look like phones and not like pdas.
  • They combine the capabilities of pdas – with the convenience of mobile phones.
    The operating systems used in most models of smart phones sync onto most PCs without complicated systems to be learnt and or circumvented.
  • Many smart phones also incorporate digital cameras, an important application for the purpose collecting evidence for use in assessments.
  • There are already existing pda OS based ‘learning management systems’ that can be purchased from a variety of vendors. These LMSs provide basic tools for students management, content distribution and assessment result collation.
  • We can learn from the experiences of several projects using cell phone technology, these include the original European m-learning project with much of the information disseminated via this m-learning development site, through to smaller research projects like Eviva.

m-learning is still relatively new territory to be getting into and the use of smart phones opens up more possibilities for everyone involved in education. There is an already established educational market for pdas in education. Smart phones provide the added opportunity to make use of principles for the social construction of learning to take place. Looks like exciting times ahead!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Why ePortfolios?

My thanks to Stephen Harlow for telling me about Helen Barrett’s presentation at Ultralab South which was held in Christchurch last December. The presentation helped me consolidate my learning about what ePortfolios were about.

In Helen’s latest blog, she writes about her plans to ‘retire’ by launching herself into a new research project. I look forward to following her work on the Reflect Initiative which stands for stands for Researching Electronic portFolios: Learning, Engagement, Collaboration through Technology. The details make for interesting reading on the way one direction ePortfolios could be heading.

My interest in ePortfolios stems from my teaching context. I teach bakers and here in New Zealand, a large proportion of New Zealand apprentice bakers come to the NZ Baking Training Centre for block courses. Apprentices are assessed using competency based assessments with the majority of these assessments to be completed in the workplace. The majority of the smaller bakeries are finding it extremely time consuming to complete these assessments for their apprentices, so they are lobbying to have all assessments completed off-job. This throws the challenges for gathering evidence to proof competency on to the providers who offer training to the industry. Hence my interest in looking at how technology may help make gathering evidence for competency based assessments more user friendly for apprentices and less paper heavy for bakery tutors.

I believe that ePortfolios have a crucial role to play in workplace evidence gathering for competency based assessments. One of the concepts I am exploring is the use of ePortfolios to help apprentices present a more holistic picture of their skills, knowledge and passion for the trade they are training in. Competency based standards are awfully proscribed, structured and atomistic. They break craft skills up into small achieveble competencies when often, the ability to bring all the many facets that make up an artisan's expertise is not fully understood (even by the artisans themselves, let alone the many academics studying the subject). ePortfolios provide an opportunity for apprentices to :-
  • showcase their practical skills,
  • reflect on the way in which their knowledge of the craft is growing, evolving, consolidating
  • demonstrate their changing attitudes to the trade as they move from novice to journeyperson
  • create a tangible resource as a base for their lifelong learning projects
  • store their achievements in one repository from which they are able to build new portfolios for various objectives in their career
  • share their work with their peers and their families, friends, employers etc.

I would really appreciate feedback on the above, especially from others in the Vocational Education sector who might also be working on similar projects.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Starting out

Well, I have taken the plunge and started up this blog. I am going to use this blog to

  • track my learning about how I am maturing as a elearner
  • record my reflections on how being a elearner is contributing to how I teach (both f2f & online)
  • gauge my feelings about blogging as I am still not too sure if it will work for me
  • act as an archive for my findings on elearning instructional design, eportfolios and mlearning
  • provide me with a forum to network with many others who are also blogging, reflecting and learning about similar topics.

I have been lurking around several blogs of late to see what others have been up to. I have been inspired especially by JeremyHiebert's very topical, informative and up to date blog on many of the issues that I am also researching,

I plan to put in at least one post a week, so watch this space!