Here are the slides from my presentation at ALT-C 2012 this morning.
The tablet computer is not a new idea, but recently has had an impact on learning and teaching across a range of institutions in the UK and elsewhere. In this session I will try to tackle the following questions.
What do we currently understand to be a tablet? What is the primary functionality? How are tablets being used right now for supporting, and enhancing learning and teaching? What sort of learning activities and scenarios are making best use of the tablet format? Are these devices for content consumption, content creation, interaction, or all three? So where next? Where will tablets take us? Do institutions purchase tablets for all their students? Or do we let or require students to buy and bring their own? And if the latter what does this mean for how we organise provision?
I will conclude with a personal reflection on the overall direction of travel, and where I believe we may finish up.
I have been talking about using mobile devices for a long time now, well before I started working at Gloucestershire College (and all that MoLeNET stuff), well before my time at the Western Colleges Consortium (and that Mobile on a VLE presentation).
Despite protestations about screen sizes, lack of power, inferior operating systems, we are now seeing the rise of the mobile device as the next big step in computing.
The first computers were BIG and clunky and you didn’t just use them, you booked time slots to use them.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers!”
Attributed to Thomas Watson of IBM, but in fact no evidence to say he ever said it.
Computers then became the mainstay of business, something to do business on.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Ken Olson, president/founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.
With the rise of the personal computer and importantly the explosion of the internet in the late 1990s, not only did we see computers in the home, we also saw a lot more personal computers in education.
Laptops at this time were expensive, but small portable ones were available, I really liked the Toshiba Libretto that I bought at that time.
In 2000 I was working at @Bristol in the centre of the Bristol Harbourside, one project we worked on was using the HP Jornada and using JetSend technology to “squirt” URLs to the device that would then access the webpage over (what was then) a spiffy wireless network.
It was at this point that I could really see some real benefits of using mobile devices for learning, and using devices that weren’t laptops.
Over that decade we did see the emergence of the laptop over the desktop, more and more people would buy a laptop rather than a desktop for their main computer.
During that time I did a lot more work on using mobile devices for learning, focusing on multimedia content on devices such as PDAs, Media Players and mobile phones.
I remember in about 2001 driving up the M5 and getting stuck in one of those traffic jams in the early evening. My wife was watching the Matrix on my iPAQ PDA. I had converted a ripped DVD (uh oh I know) that I had converted into a MPEG1 video file, placed on an IBM Compact Flash Microdrive and played it back on the iPAQ using PocketTV. As she watched the film people in the cars looked into ours in awe and curiosity about what was that glowing light in our car. Of course today everyone can do this, but at the time it was both clever and geeky!
“I’m not convinced people want to watch movies on a tiny little screen.”
Steve Jobs of Apple in 2003.
The seminal presentation of mine, Mobile Learning on a VLE, at the JISC 2006 Online Conference really got a lot of people thinking about using mobile devices and put my name out there as a leader in mobile learning.
There were many others at that time who were also following the same journey as myself, people like Mick Mullane, Lilian Soon, David Sugden and others. We were all very passionate about using mobile devices for learning.
Despite our passion, we still heard the resistance from practitioners (and sometimes from learners, but usually practitioners) that the screens were too small, they weren’t powerful enough, battery life was too short.
We, with others, were very much involved in the MoLeNET programme and that has had a huge impact in FE in kick starting the use of mobile devices for learning.
Mobile devices in the last few years have also dramatically changed too. Mobile phones have moved on from phones that just made calls and SMS, to mobile computers. Apple have also changed the landscape, first with the iPhone, then the iPod touch and now the iPad.
“There are no plans to make a tablet, it turns out people want keyboards…. We look at the tablet, and we think it is going to fail.”
Steve Jobs of Apple in 2003.
Innovation now is in the mobile sector of the market, these are the devices that our learners are buying and using.
Often when people mention mobile learning they automatically think about mobile technology, notably mobile computers, specifically Windows Mobile PDAs and iPhones.
For me it is a different philosophy, much more about learning when mobile.
It was walking around different colleges which made me realise that when it came to mobile learning, it wasn’t about getting PDAs running learning content (though I am sure there are scenarios which they would enhance and support learning), but was much more about using the devices our students already have.
These could include
One end result of this was a presentation I gave at the 2006 JISC Online Conference, available here, which looked at how to use a range of consumer mobile devices for learning. I also made a video of the presentation which was made available to delegates at the conference for their mobile devices.
Since then, three years later, the market has moved forward quite dramatically, it is now even easier for learners to access audio, video and web content on their mobile devices. Devices such as the PSP, the iPhone, the Nintendo DSi are more widespread and are also much more connected and can play a lot more content.
One of the key factors has to be how easy is it for the learner to access that content?
Another barrier to overcome is to realise that the mobile device is only one tool that a learner may use for learning. So though a learner may listen to audio, or view video on a mobile device, assessing their learning may take place using a traditional computer or a pen and paper. For me mobile learning is not about learning on a mobile, but learning when mobile.
A (paper) notepad can be used when mobile, though mobile devices do allow for a more interactive, collaborative, engaging learning experience.
Certainly this model is how my institution is moving forward in terms of mobile learning.
As part of our Glossy Project (part of the MoLeNET programme) we are looking at the differences between learners using their own devices and the college providing devices.
One particular lecturer was interested in using PDAs with GPS capability. After difficulties in finding a suitable product, in the end I went for a “cheap and cheerful” product, the Acer C530, this is a Windows Mobile device with GPS capabilty built in (through a large external aerial).
Summary of features
64MB SDRAM / 128MB ROM
2.8 inch, TFT-LCD Touchscreen display with 320 x 240 QVGA resolution
108 x 58 x 16.8 mm / 122g
Bluetooth® 1.2 / Wi-Fi®: IEEE 802.11 b/g
Integrated SiRF Star III LP GPS receiver
CoPilot 6 Navigation Software with Full Maps of UK, Ireland & Western Europe
Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system
Full MS Office Mobile Suite
Includes Window mount, AC & car charger, case
EU map coverage: including UK and Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Benelux, Italy, Scandinavia (up to 100% coverage), Spain and Portugal, Russia (detailed coverage in Moscow and St. Petersburg).
The key thing with this device is that it has a rather small screen for what is quite a bulky device.
I was impressed it came with Pocket TV which is a much better application for playing back video than the included Mobile Windows Media Player which comes as standard with Windows Mobile.
So far all I have really done with the device is charge it up (well once I remembered to put the battery in it).
I have not yet managed to get the GPS working, but I know that is because I am indoors and GPS can be so flaky when you are indoors. In a previous life I had a TomTom GPS unit I used with my Sony Ericsson P910i phone and that never worked until I took it outdoors.
It’s raining, so I am not going outside.
The problem with GPS is that it kills the battery fast, so it’s nice to see that the box comes with an included car charger (not that our learners will be using that) but also that it can be charged via USB.
As for expandability it comes with a SD card slot which means at least I am not going to need to find another different memory card format as I seem to be having to do with phones.
Alas it doesn’t have sound recording capability which would have been nice, but then at the price it was much cheaper than more powerful PDA GPS options, currently £176 at Amazon which includes VAT.
The Guardian has an interesting article on how educational institutions are using mobile phones to enhance, support and deliver learning.
They were banned as a distraction in lectures and seminars, but now colleges and universities are exploiting them as learning platforms. Mobiles that double up as internet platforms and iPods and MP3 players that can download hefty video or audio files mean students own what is in effect a portable learning tool. Digital mobility is drawing in students through distance learning, outreach or aids for special needs. What’s more, the use of technology can be highly motivating, adding value and content in opening up entirely new teaching scenarios.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a passion for the use of mobile devices to support learning. I lean towards the use of portable entertainment devices as opposed to the use of PDAs. By this I mean using mobile phones, iPods, PSPs rather than the business orientated PDA (such as an iPAQ).
The PDA has many greater advantages over entertainment devices in terms of what it can deliver especially in terms of text entry and interactivity. For me though one of the key issues of any mobile device is how personal it is to the user. If you don’t own a device or even know you are going to have it for a long time, why would you use it on a regular basis or even keep it charged.
Handing out mobile devices in a classroom also seems illogical to me, why give all students a PDA when a laptop trolley (or even moving to a computer suite) would give a similar (or better) experience.
Though being on a field trip a PDA (or an UMPC) would certainly be a better choice over a traditional (heavy) laptop, more so with features such as GPS.
I also see that the mobile device as only one part of the learning design, the learning activity would not be solely delivered via a mobile device. It would be used in conjunction with non-mobile delivery and assessment.It’s also about choice.
Allowing learners to choose how, where and when they access learning has an impact on their learning compared to been dictated where and when they can learn.
As the article demonstrates I am not alone in seeing the benefits of mobile learning.
The University of Bristol is conducting research into the impact of 1:1 access to mobile learning devices at KS2 and KS4. Five schools, which are part of the Learning2Go or Hand-e-Learning projects, are being investigated.
This Development and Research project is using mixed methods to evaluate impact in terms of learners’ learning skills, attendance, behaviour and attainment. It will also review the success of the implementation and sustainability of the schools’ PDA initiatives and provide examples of emerging good pedagogic practice.
The final reports from the project will be available in Winter 2008.
The initial implementation of mobile projects is logistically challenging.
The open negotiation of contracts of acceptable and responsible use with learners and parents can be very useful in clarifying issues and building mutual trust.
When learners expect devices to be used, they are more likely to bring them to school every day and keep them charged. When all pupils in a class have their devices with them, the learning benefits are optimised.
Teachers need to play an integral role in choosing software and content to ensure that it is relevant to learners’ needs. They are then more likely use the devices.
Where possible, all relevant staff – especially teaching assistants, ICT co-ordinators and teachers – should be provided with mobile devices.
Implementation – technical
It is beneficial to ensure reliable wireless connectivity.
It is useful to consider systems for dealing with breakages and temporary loss of use of devices. This may involve planning for temporary loan stock.
Systems for storage of and access to work need to be developed. Teachers and learners need to access digital work to provide and receive feedback.
Consideration can usefully be given to possible software solutions to teachers’ issues around observing process, tracking progress and formative assessment.
Professional development of teachers
Teachers benefit from having time to explore what the devices can do before integrating their use into planned learning.
Using mobile devices is likely to increase learner autonomy. Teachers need to ensure that learners are able to evaluate resources, think critically and reflect.
It is important to consider the ways in which mobile devices are integrated with other (ICT and traditional) tools in learning at home and at school.
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