Friday, July 29, 2011

Evaluating Acer Iconia Tablets for interactive textbook project

CPIT IT have provided 2 Acer Iconia tablets for evaluation. One running on the Android OS and the other on Windows.

First up, the Acer Iconia A501 running on Android OS 3.0.1 with in-built accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, and compass. Reviews have been mixed, check this and here. Although it looks slightly narrower than the ipad, the screen size is actually the same, with the Acer’s bezel edges being slimmer across the top and bottom of the screen. The silver edges on the side of the tablet make the Acer look thicker than the ipad when the Acer is actually thinner!! We will probably have to stick a rubberised bottom to the acer as it is very smooth and therefore easy to drop. As the tablet is to be used by students in the automotive workshop, robustness and handling will need to be something we consider in choice of hardware. The on/off switch is rather small, even for my small fingers, so it will be interesting to see how the students find it.

The touch screen works well and having the ability to look into the file system, using Astro is a plus. Astro did not pick up files on a memory stick inserted into the USB slot but the generic multimedia app did. The onscreen keyboard was ok to use, providing for aural feedback as keys are hit. However the delete/backspace key is not in the usual place (top right) making it a frustrating exercise to get used to the keyboard.

It does take some time to download apps via the Wifi server though. Downloaded evernote and it works fine with simple excess to my usual evernote pages. The android evernote has also niffy link to the Acer tablet’s camera and you are able to take a picture and have it saved as an evernote page. Addition of attachments etc. also intuitive plus synching the new pages to the evernote account is almost immediate. Also able to access photos stored on usb . From the usability point of view, the Android OS evernote seems to be easier to use than the ipad evernote with respect to ability to bring files into new pages.

Also tried out a couple sketching/doodling apps on the Android based Acer tablet. Kids doodle provides for some fun with the opportunity to save the sketch and play back as a video. Doodle note is more traditional and allows you to take a picture and annotate it.

Secondly, an Acer Iconia running Window 7 which comes with a keyboard as an extra, again reviews are mixed. This could be because the onscreen touch keyboard has small ‘keys’ and is difficult to touch type on. Thankfully, the delete/backspace key is in the usual space. This Iconia is larger than the Android version, longer than the ipad and about the same thickness. Having the windows button on one side means that for all intents and purposes, the tablet will tend to be viewed landscape with the windows button on the bottom left! The touch screen works well and screen resolution for photos good. The screen tends to black out whenever you change the screen orientation though!

On the software side, the usual windows based software – Word, Excel etc. along with Paint and wordpad are available. The windows interface, adapted to touch, is familiar and executes well. Wordpad allows you insert ‘paint’ files as well as pictures etc. but not to annotate pictures easily.

The USB port is in both the tablet and the keyboard section of the ensemble. So ease of access to the usb files via 'my computer' is one feature that is a plus with this tablet. The Acer did not come with Onenote, so not able to test this out. Access through my ‘cloud’ evernote via Wifi was slowish but no problems. Using the Acer on the keyboard was straightforward, with text entry via keyboard and generally intuitive for other actions on the touch screen.

Compared to the ipad, both the Acer tablets take a bit of time to boot up with the Windows OS one taking the most time.  The ipad is definitely more intuitive to use and provides a much more satisfying user experience. Apps on the ipad also robust. Android market is more difficult to negotiate through then iTunes. So I revert to googling Android apps on a desktop and then finding the recommended Android app to download. There are recommended apps and also here, on the windows tablet, but due to corporate constraints, we may be reliant on the generic windows software tools.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Resources on other ways of knowing

In sunny and warm Brisbane this week and off home to wintry and still shaky Christchurch this evening. The main purpose for coming to Brisbane was to put time at Griffith University with my supervisor,Professor Stephen Billett to complete and hand in my dissertation. All this accomplished over long days on Monday to Wednesday to get the final versions to the printery. I picked up the three weighty copies, worked through the various forms to be filled in and dropped them off at the Griffith University Nathan campus on Friday. Now the wait begins as the markers do their bit and I await feedback on what else needs to be done before the PhD process is completed.

On Thursday and Friday, I trawled the library shelves at both the Mount Gravatt and Nathan libraries for books relevant to several of my other projects on studying apprentices learning using multimodal discourse analysis and interactive etextbooks on tablets.I had selected several pertinent readings and books to find, as listed in a paper by Marchand, now in the form of a book .
Was able to check out several books pertinent to understanding how people communicate and express nuances of behavior through body language (knowing bodies, moving minds), articles and books of craft knowledge and thinking through craft. Of note is a book that was referenced in several chapters on "Ways of knowing: New approaches in the anthropology of experience and learning" edited by Harris, M (2007).

So will follow up on the anthropological literature,including the area of visual anthropology and primate research on communication techniques.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

NCVER no frills conference day 2

A good showing considering the late finish last night, after a convivial conference dinner at the Bonville Golf course last night. Dr. Peter Coolbear presented the New Zealand perspective with 'Vocational education research in NZ: old issues and emerging opportunities from a funder's perspective. Presented background on Ako Aotearoa and focus and rationale of research funding. of interest is the future direction: publicly defined thresholds of acceptability of provision, more providers forming partnerships with employers and learners, genuine pathways for learners, differentiation of providers by teaching and learning not 'marketing' and increased professionalism in tertiary ed. in NZ through evidence-based improvement of practice.

Flip and I had our presentation in the next group of concurrent sessions. We provided an overview of 'learning welding: the role of peer feedback' which is available in appendix 1 of the 'using video to study workshop and workplace learning' report.

After morning  tea, attended session with Hiekle Buddelmeyer and Nicolas Herault from the University of Melbourne on 'the role of VET in preventing the scarring effect of youth joblessness. Finds VET engagement in the early stages of a career, may increase scarring effects but over time post-school qualifications does buffer individuals from scarring. Scarring defined as effects on individual through a period of un or under-employment. Full report on never.

Then a session with Darcy Fitzpatrick, NILS Flinders University who presented on 'from education to employment: how long does it take? A large study studying differences between different levels on education and length of time to obtain employment. Found higher education level does assist labour market entrants to obtain a job faster and leads to better wage gains.

After lunch, attended session on 'beyond boom and bust: apparent employment in the construction industry with Alex Maroya, Master Builders Australia and Jacqueline Homel from Australian National University. Presented on what factors influence changes in proportion of apprentices over time. A quantitative study of building apprentices from 1995 to 2010. Construction apprentices include plumbers, block layers/masons, builders etc. but not electricians and metal workers. Currently, number of apprentices who do not complete out numbers apprentices who have completed. There is poor correlation between growth rates in industry output/ employment and the proportion of apprentices and labourers. After a poor year of industry growth, proportion of labourers likely to fall. interesting data shown on effect of 2009 downturn on apprenticeships with government 'kickstart' seeming to have some effect in bringing apprentice numbers back up. More data on Australian Master Builders site.

Last session of the day with Berwyn Clayton, veteran and prolific VET researcher on 'starting from scratch: teacher to researcher and back again.Used the story of her Researh journey to provide some recommendations for doing research. Write it up, research used to inform outomes,see things from other people's perspectives, use invaluable advice from experienced others, share findings with others, establish a ripple effect and mind the political element.

Friday, July 15, 2011

NCVER no frills vet research conference

At picturesque Coffs Harbour for the annual NCVER vocational research conference hosted by North Coast Institute, TAFE NSW. The conference begins with a welcome from Francesca Beddie, NCVER General Manager.

First keynote from Elizabeth McGregor, Institute Director, North Coast TAFE, on 'aiming high - how can research accelerate the shift from inputs to impacts? Can research help the VET sector tell us our story? Approached the presentation from a viewpoint as a 'consumer' of research findings. Quality VET is about workforce development and there is a need to understand how individual, community and enterprise development contribute. Quality providers contribute by improving skills in use to improve regional competitive advantage through workforce participation, social inclusion and increased productivity.  Need to move beyond outputs (attainment, completion) to impact (social inclusion, productivity - high skill jobs, skills in use, agency, workplace agility, enterprise innovation). a challenge to VET research - are we asking the right questions? are we framing our answers in a way that tells the  story of  the sector's impact - in so doing  moves the sector's focus towards that impact? Are we connecting up our  rich quantitative and qualitative research data? or has the time  for a VET sector passed?

Concurrent sessions begin after morning tea. I attend the session with Regan Harding, North  Coast TAFE, Berwyn Clayton, Melinda Toze and Mark Harris, on 'professional obsolescence or technical currency in VET. defined the terms, vocational competence, industry and technical currency and professional obsolescence. Causes of prof. ob. for individuals (lack of aptitude or ability to keep up to speed, lack of awareness, confidence, denial, fear), within organization (job, relationship and systems) with on-going impacts on individuals, work teams and organization. Strategies from literature include: getting climate right, adopting strategic approach, encouraging collaborative learning, learning about, through and in practice, updating for the here and now. Challenges include structural and system barriers, career change differentiation, dual professionalism.

Second session with Hinemoa Priest and Susan Luke from Wellington Institute of Technology, 'the learner voice'. an update from last years' presentation. Takes on the stance that students are important stakeholders along with government, industry and society. Official representation on academic boards and council is insufficient. Therefore, learners' voices used to find out whether learners' are engaged, what works and what doesn't, etc. Presents case studies of Tamaiti Whangai (sports programme with mentor). findings include educational achievement as being important, students need to build a sense of who they are, confidence and sense of belonging, getting a job is important, learning environment needs to be safe, important to be valued for who you are and build a sense of self-worth. Another case study with Pacifica students where there is a need for students individual identities (as fijian, cook islander) to be acknowledged. Last case study on young learners (youth guarantees and trade academies).  Like environment - not school - study voc. Subjects but support crucial. need to include mentorship, improved study planning, expanding activities youth can participate in.

After lunch, a series of concurrent pecha kucha sessions! Attended the stream on Policy - starting with Dr. Darryl Dymock from Griffith  University on 'continuing ed. & training, alternative models and approaches' from a 3 year project just begun with Sarojini Choy and Stephen Billett and others. Why individuals participate in CET -  change in workplace skills requirements, prepare for current and future work or retain present job. Studyin goals, purposes, content, learner engagement and outcomes. Presented preliminary studies.

Then 'celebrating seams: VET in Higher ed transition with Janelle Davis from the University of Western Sydney. A visually and content interesting presentation of how  to help VET graduates transition into university mainly to provide a more  equitable and consistent system. Pre-entry courses, welcome packs with relevant info. contacts and websites, peer guide brochures developed to be student focused.

Sue Sim from TAFE NSW - TAFE strategy, presented on 'getting clever about completions'. competing tensions between students learning to get a job and institution and govt. need for completion of qualifications. pre-enrolment, delivery and assessment systems admin (early identification and counseling) and partnerships (community agencies, industries) all important to helping students complete. currently working on strategies for  apprenticeship completion.

Finishing with session with Darryl Dimock with Greg Martin, Greer Johnson  and Stephen Billett, reported on 'training and employability: older workers' perceptions. Literature suggested older workers as being reluctant to train, inflexible etc. online survey of mature age workers completed with findings - key reason for staying in  work is job satisfaction, strong beliefs in own abilities to cope with significant work changes, most comfortable  with technology, have opporunities to share expertise, there was equitable access to training, employees supportive of learning endeavours but many felt skills were under utilised. concerns from respondents were promotion opportunities similar, respect and gender differences.

after afternoon tea, Jai Waters fromTAFE NSW on passion and performance. Pertulla (2004) on passion in the workplace provided passion for work (POW) with 16 items and 5 sub scales to derive questionnaire. Used a concept of change networks and change managers to bring about change required to put in place a new financial management system for all TAFE NSW institutes. Also Schmenner's theory of swift even flow comparing degree of relative throughput to degree of variation. low/low being service factory or fast food, high high as service shop and health sector.

Last session of day from Amy Han, Institute of Technical Ed. Singapore on 'creativity and strategies: their relationship to students' approaches. Need to ensure students gain skills to conceive, design, implement and operate using problem based learning with blended learning. Used Biggs R-SPQ-2F to study students' approaches to learning (deep motives, deep strategy, surface motive and surface strategy). Study undertaken to find out students' learning approaches with the plan-explore-practice-perform pedagogical method. Uses 3 factors, short-term, course-focused (past assessment) and long-term (more self-directed). Therefore if students have a deep approach they have a strong course and long term focus. Proposes more authentic learning in classrooms to provide more real-world, complex problem solving opportunities.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Student generated content on net tablets

The CPIT Foundation has approved a grant to purchase hardward for the interactive etextbooks on net tablets project. So, we are now able to move ahead with the etextbooks / eworkbooks on tablets project. One of the objectives of this project is to not only provide tutors with the opportunity to upload content, but for students to also generate content.
Katrina Fisher (barista tutor) and Peter Sauer (automotive engineering tutor) are the two tutors involved with this project next semester. Katrina and her students will use ipad 2 tablets and Peter's class on Android tablets. I have made a request to IT to purchase both the ipads and the asus eee pad IT will be investigating Android OS tablets and have made a suggestion with the Acer Iconia Pad which also as a Windows 7 OS version. So might work on a Windows OS tablet version of the project early next year with the Engineering manufacturing team who have learning resources in the Windows environment.
Having had an ipad to play with for just on a year, I have been able to test several apps for students to generate content. These include note taking (Bamboo Paper), sketching (Doodle Buddy), post-it notes (BugMe! lite), card sorts (iCardsort), pdf annotation (pdf-notes), audio note taking (live notes lite), mindmapping (SimpleMind+) and aggregators to bring together the various items (Evernote, Scribe Lite and Catch Notes).
The equivalents of the above I have tested on our Archos are note taking and sketching (free hand note lite), post it notes (bugMe!), card sorts (flashcard maker pro), pdf aggregators (ez pdf), audio note taking (Audio Notes recorder), mind mapping (mind map memo)  and the aggregators (evernote, catch notes, emobilenotes).
So there is a good choice of apps to evaluate as to fit for purpose and user friendliness over the course of the project.
Content can be uploaded by tutors on to any of the above, or on to the photo or video players on the tablets. Plus we can also use ebook readers like Stanza for the ipad and FB reader for the Android tablets. If all else fails, we will pay for documents to go, which is available on multiple platforms. Not yet available for most Android tablets as yet with only the Archos 5 on the list (but for free).
The overall objective is to keep things simple, to explore and study the use of the apps as tools for constructive learning and for archiving / recording the learning journey, and to build guidelines for how to best use this concept to engage students, enhance learning and help students become self-directed lerners.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Microsoft interactive classroom

A month or so ago, CED replied to a memo from IT with regards to installing technology into classrooms, with the suggestion that the institution explored more ‘student centred’ rather than teacher centred forms of technology.  Basically, we were not keen on seeing more smart ‘interactive’ boards and data projectors being installed, let alone, ‘lecture capture’ systems!!
In response, our IT department have suggested an evaluation of the Microsoft interactive classroom. There is a twee offical video and this one from University of San Diego, provides the lecturer's perspective.
What microsoft interactive classroom allow for is using powerpoint and onenote to provide for student input. A bit like ‘classroom presenter’ but using desktops or laptops instead of having to use tablet computers and utilising Microsoft tools.  A trawl of reviews via Google reveals a mostly positive response with some emphasis on free download.

There is a video on how to maximise the use of microsoft interactive classroom plus resources on using onenote for enhancing learning, including this one, on teaching with onenote. Of relevance to our 'interactive etextbook projects'.