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Posts Tagged ‘mobile

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.

The tweet below would like you know that kids (also) read books while adults (also) read from screens.

This is news if you live under a rock or choose not to observe people around you.

The tweet also claims that “the tides have turned”, meaning that adults are doing what kids do and vice versa. No, the tides have not. They ebb and flow, and you see what you see depending where and when you are.

It is not unusual for adults to use their mobile devices as much as, or more than kids. If you live in the modern world, your daily commute on public transport will confirm this. There is also research to back this up.

Kids are still made to complete books lists as part of school or homework, regardless of whether such reading is meaningful or not. They are held to the standards of the past and prepared for their teacher’s history instead of their own futures.

Kids also still go to libraries to borrow books. They do so because they have inculcated good reading habits and do so for pleasure.

So back to the tweet: An anecdote is not data; a snapshot is not representative. It is meant to be funny, but it sends the wrong message. The tides have not turned. Instead they ebb and flow, and dynamic change is what matters.

I reflected twice on getting a mobile connection while travelling in Malaysia. The first time I relied on a Digi prepaid SIM; the second time I went with Maxis Hotlink.

I just returned from a short trip, this time with neither a mifi device and nor a Malaysian prepaid SIM card.

Local telco providers have made it a bit more convenient to get connected overseas. Emphasis on “a bit“ and not on “convenient“.

If you are on a postpaid plan, you might have the option of applying for a data plan without removing your sim card and not breaking the bank. However, these options are not likely to be as cheap as getting a Malaysian SIM the moment you land in a Malaysian airport. The telco kiosks for such prepaid SIMs are typically positioned right before you hit immigration counters.

A better deal might be had with a Singapore prepaid SIM. I use StarHub and I could use my allotted local data overseas. I ensured that I had:

  • enough purchased data
  • activated the data roaming option in the app (see screenshot below)
  • activated the data roaming setting in the phone
  • ensured the APN was set correctly (see screenshot below)
  • at least $3 in the prepaid app’s wallet

Data roaming setting in StarHub prepaid app.

The prepaid app provided clear instructions and automated the APN setting. I only found out the minimum wallet amount after receiving an SMS from StarHub once I arrived in Malaysia.

$3 minimum wallet amount required in StarHub prepaid app for roaming.

Your telco might disable the tethering function. This means that you cannot share the prepaid data plan with other devices. This was the case with my prepaid plan with StarHub. However, I discovered that the tethering was enabled once connected to Malaysian providers. Your mileage might vary with the overseas country’s telco service you connect to.

It has taken years for us to reach this “seamless” state and I very much appreciate it. I can still remember a fellow traveller and I getting anxious about getting connected in Denmark just four years ago.

Note: I have not been asked to describe or promote the service by StarHub nor have I been paid by the telco to do so. I am sharing my experience as a reminder of my travel needs and to help others in their decision-making.

… or do as I do?

That was my reaction when I read this article in STonline about a local school restricting mobile gaming from 7am to 2pm.

Before I explain my reaction, I should point out that the newspaper article was a report of a report. There could be information loss from translation and there definitely was selective reporting of another report. That said, I have to work only with the information at hand.

Draconian measures by HCI on mobile gaming.

The crux of the matter is this: Students cannot use their own devices for mobile games right before school starts and during breaks.

Sometimes it is logical for students to be held to different standards. Other times it is not. For example, there are dress codes for students’ uniforms and their general appearances that teachers are not subject to.

Some would argue that the adults have matured to the point of understanding socially accepted standards of decency so that they know how to dress professionally.

If you believe that, you have not sampled enough adults. That is why we have dress codes everywhere, even at a beach.

So if standards and codes of conduct are the norm, what is wrong with a partial ban on mobile gaming?

Consider this: How would you like to be told that you cannot check your Facebook feed on your commute to work because you need to psyche yourself up for work?

Or how you like to be told that you cannot nap, gossip, or surf down rabbit holes during your lunch break?

Yes, both the students and teachers are at school and schools are walled gardens separate from the real world. So what happened to bringing the real world in?

Some teachers I know do not draw that line. I know adults who are just as guilty of walking distractedly or being overly engaged with their phones. What gives these adults the right to say “do as I say and not as I do?”

As for the adults who say “do as I say because I do not do what you do”, I ask: Just how real world is that? How (dis)connected are you?

This reflection has been brought to you by the medieval workshop of Draconian Measures.


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