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Posts Tagged ‘mobile

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Taskmaster is not just entertaining, it can be educational if you let it.

This video looked like a task, but it was actually a cleverly disguised ad for Google’s speech and text translation tools. 

Such tools are now more accurate than they were before and are practically de rigueur for current phones. They should not be considered novel or even exciting.

They have good education potential because they can be used formally (e.g., in class) and informally (e.g., while travelling overseas). This is an example of how mobile tools are assistive.

However, the edtech trap is to only call such tools teaching enhancements. That might be true from a teacher’s point of view. The equally (if not more) important view is how they might enable independent and meaningful learning by students of a new language.

I updated my mobile devices to iOS 15 and one of the upgrades is mobile Safari web extensions. 

Extensions have been available for desktops browsers for a while and these allow me to customise how my Chrome and Safari browsers function. I could not wait for the same to happen for mobile Safari.

I immediately installed Adblock Pro because I hate unwanted ads, unnecessary pop-ups, and sneaky tracking.

Taking control of my web browsing experience is like learning how to fly and operating by sound rules. Everyone should learn how to do this, but not many bother because they think this is difficult. It is not. It is easy as toggling switches on or off.

I share my referral code (3DEB32) should any reader or blog wanderer wish to do the same.

Barely a month (week?) goes by without headlines about the link between using mobile device and some harm, e.g., poor mental health. We do not call those headlines a form of gaslighting because so many of us have bought into them.

Thankfully, this critique, Flawed data led to findings of a connection between time spent on devices and mental health problems, bucks the trend. That article summarised recent research and concluded: 

…simply taking tech away from (young people) may not fix the problem, and some researchers suggest it may actually do more harm than good.

Whether, how and for whom digital tech use is harmful is likely much more complicated than the picture often presented in popular media. However, the reality is likely to remain unclear until more reliable evidence comes in.

The thesis of the article: “The evidence for a link between time spent using technology and mental health is fatally flawed”.

The thrust of the article was that studies in the area of mobile device use and harm relied on self-reporting measures. It then argued how such measures were logically and methodologically flawed.

First, we do not pay attention to what we do habitually. Such activity is background noise, not foreground work. As a result, it is difficult to accurately remember how frequently we use mobile devices or apps.

Next, the author shared how he and his colleagues systematically reviewed actual and self-reported digital media use and discovered discrepancies between the two. He also outlined his own research of using objective measures like Apple’s screen time app to track device use. He concluded:

…when I used these objective measures to track digital technology use among young adults over time, I found that increased use was not associated with increased depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. In fact, those who used their smartphones more frequently reported lower levels of depression and anxiety.

The author revealed that he used to be a believer of what the popular media peddled about the harm of mobile device use. But his research revealed that the popular media were simplifying complex findings: 

The scientific literature was a mess of contradiction: Some studies found harmful effects, others found beneficial effects and still others found no effects. The reasons for this inconsistency are many, but flawed measurement is at the top of the list.

We cannot simply read headlines, form conclusions, and craft far-reaching policies of mobile use, e.g., limit kids of age X to Y minutes of iPad time. Why? The measurements for the evidence of harm are flawed and the results of studies are mixed. 

We need to be critical readers, thinkers, and actors. We could start by reading beyond the headline, i.e., actually read the whole article and not propagating articles without first processing it carefully. This is more difficult to do than casually sharing a link, but it is a vital habit to inculcate if we are to be digitally wise. And with most habits, doing this gets easier with practice.

This opinion piece by two academics about digital access as a universal right and basic utility could not be more timely. But I seek to balance it with some critique.

The article cited a statistic that might surprise those who view affluent Singapore from the outside:

According to Professor Jean Yeung’s recent Straits Times article on her study of a nationally representative sample of over 5,000 children aged six and under, although the Wi-Fi penetration rate is near universal in Singapore, 8 per cent of families in her study who lived in rental units did not have a connection, and 44 per cent lacked a computer or a laptop at home.

The authors pressed with this statement:

As local media reports revealed, the home-based learning experience was highly uneven across families.

Whereas affluent families fretted over higher order concerns such as the quality of online instruction and children’s excessive screen time, less well-off families grappled with basic problems of device ownership and Internet access.

I agree, but I think that that we should not be looking for equality, i.e., treating everyone the same. We should be striving for equity, i.e., provide more help and resources for those that need it more. This is not just a semantic argument. It is a pragmatic one because it shapes the actions we take.

U-Save 2020.

Consider a system we already have in place, U-Save — vouchers that eligible households receive to offset the cost of utilities. The government provides more financial aid to those living in smaller apartments and less to those in larger ones. This is based on the working principle that the less well off live in small apartments and need more assistance.

The authors of the article then proposed that a system like Wireless@SG be extended to every home:

With our Nationwide Broadband Network successfully in place, offering broadband access speeds of 1Gbps and more, extending free home Wi-Fi to residential areas will not involve more than a concerted coordination with telcos outfitting every home with modems and wireless routers.

Our other utilities — electricity, gas, water — are not free and their infrastructure needs to be maintained. Wired and wireless infrastructure need to be maintained and upgraded. The latter tend to be the first to fail and make headlines compared to the more established utilities, e.g., StarHub and M1 each had a major outage in April and May respectively during our circuit breaker (our shelter-in-place).

Making Internet services “free” will place the burden on taxpayers. The same taxpayers will also likely have to put up with inferior customer service since there is no commercial pressure to compete and improve.

The authors then addressed the need for digital devices:

The current NEU PC Plus scheme offered by IMDA is generous and well-intentioned.

Yet, as with all mean-tested programmes with conditions, coverage will fall short. Some who need it will not apply while some who apply will not be given.

NEU PC Plus programme by the IMDA.

[Image source]

They then pointed out how disadvantaged families tended to choose mobile phones over computers because phones cost less. Computers, if present at home, were old and shared.

Financial cost is not the core issue. A Chromebook or mid-range laptop costs less than a high-end mobile phone. You might even be able to buy two or three Chromebooks instead of fully-specced iPhone.

The pressing issue is that learning resources and platforms tend to be optimised for computers. Computer screens are larger and computers have more processing power, storage space, and extendibility (think peripherals).

I argue that there an urgent need to shift the mindsets of teachers, instructional designers, and platform developers. The shift is mobile first (or even mobile only). This means that content delivery, curation, and creation, as well as cooperation and communication, be designed with the affordances of a phone or slate first.

Such a shift highlights another need: Access to professional development for learning and platform designers to operate with such a mindset. If we design first for mobiles, we reach all who have access to mobile devices.

Thinking and doing mobile first is not reaching for low-hanging fruit. If designers and developers currently operate on the desktop paradigm, it can be challenging for them to do otherwise.

But if they do, they might discover how the many affordances of a phone — location-awareness, orientation in 3-D space, augmented audio and video among them — provide opportunities that level the playing field.

Almost a week ago, I wrote about my plan to embed audio scaffolds for an asynchronous online portion of my class.

Embedded audio in Google Slides.

I created four sections that relied on this simple strategy to provide what an oldish-school distance educator might call telepresence or social presence.

To test its feasibility, I did two main things.

First, I wanted to simulate the use of a wireless hotspot where bandwidth might be an issue. So I visited my resources from two Wireless@SGx hotspots — one was at a library and the other a fast food joint. The audio loaded after a two or three second wait. This was acceptable.

Second, I visited the same resources on a phone. While Google Sites does a great job with responsive web design, I was not sure if the audio in embedded Google Slides would work seamlessly. I discovered that

  • desktop and mobile browsers do not play the embedded audio by default depending on the user’s security settings
  • users need to manually play the audio on mobiles despite my design to let it play by automatically
  • the default slide selection does not work as expected

The last point needs explaining. Sometimes I use the same slide deck across different pages, e.g., slide 1 for web page 1 and slide 2 onwards for web page 2. I set slide 2 to load and play audio automatically in web page 2. However, while this works on a desktop, it does not always work on a mobile browser.

My conclusion: Advise my learners to use a laptop or desktop computer. The experience is optimised for the larger screen and a less shackled web browser.

I am not fighting it. I have started embracing my uncle-ness.
 

 
I have started using a small, wheeled suitcase to transport my wares for some of my classes. I use it when I have to travel a bit further from home and if I have more resources to bring with me.

The resources might include multiple devices, workshop materials, whiteboard markers, and a host of supporting paraphernalia. The case takes more space than my trusty backpack especially on public transport, but it is literally a load off my back.

I do not care if I start to look my age as I lug the suitcase around. I prefer to focus on the fact that the case is my mobile office.

Call me biased, but I like featuring news and research that counters the fear-driven narratives of much of the press.


Video source

In the video above, parents learnt how to play video games to connect with their kids. This is not the only way parents connect, but it is an important one. The strategy not only creates opportunities awareness and involvement, it showcases the kids’ abilities to teach their parents.

Another resource certain to ruffle the feathers of proverbial ostriches with heads in the sand is the NYT review of research revealing that fears about kids mobile phone and social media use are unwarranted.

Though not specially labelled in the article, the reported research sounded like meta analyses of prior research studies on mobile phone and social media use on well-being.

The meta research revealed that the effect size was negligible. On the other hand, studies that spread fear and worry tended to be correlational, e.g, the rise in suicide rates in the USA rose with the common use of mobile phones.

But the NYT reminded us that correlation is not causation. Furthermore, there was no appreciable rise in Europe even though there was a similar rise in use of mobile phones.

One reason the NYT has the reputation it has is because it resists the temptation to be reductionist or simply regurgitate what the rest report. This is not about stand out. It is about being critical and responsible.

I have not had to buy or borrow a dead-tree book for a long time.

I have been given courtesy copies of books I contributed to. Late last year I received a hardcover copy of a textbook for the Masters course I facilitate because no one asked for the e-version.

About a week ago, I discovered Naked Statistics at a cafe. I thought I found the e-book at our national library, but discovered that it was only a summary. Thankfully the book, in hardcover no less, was available at my local library.

E-book summary of Naked Statistics.

The last time I borrowed an actual library book was almost ten years ago; I only borrow e-books if I need to.

I was aware that I could use an app to borrow actual books without joining the queue at a self-checkout kiosk. So I downloaded the app, logged in to my library account, and scanned the barcode to borrow the book. Eager to devour the book, I read the first two chapters before leaving the library.

NLB mobile app in Apple App Store.

I had to pass through a series of scanners on my way out of the library. The first one beeped like I had kidnapped a member of the royal family. There seemed to be a delayed response between borrowing the book via the app and registering that it was actually borrowed.

The app has a low rating in the app store. None of the reviews that I read mentioned the lag between borrowing and registering. Most mentioned app lagginess and legacy issues.

I asked a librarian if I should be concerned about alarms going off as I made my way through more scanners. She brushed off the issue by saying that the scanners were too sensitive. Did I hurt their feelings by not borrowing enough paper-based books?

Two more questions. Might the lagginess might lie in how the app communicates with a central database? Could the legacy issue be old mindsets on how libraries operate?

Media outlets [WaPo] [ST] were quick to report that a study found that the use of mobile phones resulted in horn-like growths at the base of kids’ skulls.


Video source

The claim was proven false due to lapses in the research and journal review process, and shoddy newspaper reporting.

How many are aware of this? More importantly, how many were literate enough to greet the initial news article with skepticism?

Hank Green did a great job to unpack and critique the research and the news article. His brother John Green narrated a ten-part digital literacies series.

Newspapers and popular media outlets are not going to help readers develop this skillset. We must help ourselves. The devil is in the details and being digitally literate is a key component in the self-help programme.

These two tweets have something in common — they highlight relics of the past shrouded in the cloak of modernity.

Both mention current technologies. The first critiques the thinking around content delivery while the second focuses on content submission. Both hint at the change in medium and not a corresponding or upward change in method.

The tweets reminded me of an event I attended recently. I had to download a mobile app that generated a QR code which was used to take my attendance. Sounds progressive, right?

I wondered how it worked. When I found out, I was disappointed. The QR code was just my full name and the attendance taker checked this manually against a printed list.

This took longer than me stating my name and showing my identification card. This was even longer for folks who did not download the app — they had to do that first, sign in on the app (if they could remember their log in details), and then learn how to find their QR code.

Then there were some who did not bother and the attendance taker just asked them for their names. So why go through the motions of using the app and QR code when stating your name was enough?

Again, there was a change in medium (QR code) but not in the method (taking attendance). The technology was overkill for something so simple.

If, on the other hand, the QR code was tied to individual verification and the event being more selective about its participants, this might have made for sense. The method would not just have been about attendance, it would have been about selection and verification.

So this is my long-standing critique technology implementation, particularly in schools and educational institutions: Superficial changes or administrative procedures seem to come first. This is not meaningful and powerful integration of technology. For that to happen, we must put the learners and learning first.


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