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Posts Tagged ‘mobile

Is it passé to say that mobile is important?

After all, practically everyone in the first world has at least one mobile device, you can order practically anything with your phone, and your phone connects you to practically anyone.

Unless you are in school, even in the first world.

No phone zone.

Far more articulate scholars and thought leaders have written and spoken about the importance of mobile in education. They are merely a search away — on your phone no less. However, most schools have, or remain, no phone zones.

So how about something more emotional to connect with that idea. You probably sleep with your phone near you. What happens if you drop it? BuzzFeed found out with this prank.

Video source

How important is mobile in schooling? You can and should seek answers from rigorous academic research and reflective practice. But the answers should also connect with you as an individual and with each teacher and student.

Take someone’s phone away or threaten to harm it and see what the reactions are. Their phones are their lives. So why should their use in schools be any different?

One of the people I learn from outside the realm of education is Beth Kanter. I subscribe to her blog‘s RSS feed.

ABC 10/52 by Skley, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Skley 

Recently she shared what she learnt from a presentation by Sree Sreenivasan.

ABC was “Always be Charging” – imagine the stories we will tell our grandchildren about sitting in airports near the plugs to recharge our phones.

ABC, always be capturing. He said use your phone as a notebook and take photos.

And finally, always be connecting. That is share (selectively) what you capture so you can connect.

These are simple but astute observations about current life.

These are also why educators need to be ABC: Always be contemplating or always be considering ways to go mobile and to connect better with other educators and their learners.

Greenbot led with an article about the fifteen things we seem to have forgotten to do because we now have smartphones.

How about fifteen things we can do or do better? I contrast their cannots with the cans in my own series on how they affect teaching or learning.
1. Cannot make phone calls. Can communicate in many other ways.

Successful N800 video call by rnair, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  rnair 

When is a phone no longer a phone? When it is too smart to be just a phone. It is a messenger, updater, tweeter, emailer, orderer, reminder-er, etc. Messages may be shorter, but they can be so much more efficient and no less meaningful.

And when you need to hear someone’s voice, you still can. Better still, you can see their faces too.

Instead of insisting there is just one way to communicate, teachers should take the smartphone cue and learn the other ways their learners have already adopted.
2. Cannot remember phone numbers. Prioritize your brain for better things.

Memorization might be one basis for learning, but it is not the only way.

Memorization is a case for just-in-case learning of stable information. We used to remember phone numbers in case we needed them for use later. Dumbed down memorization, rote, is one extreme path that many still take thinking that it leads to academic success.

Memorization does not prepare you for just-in-time and situational learning of volatile information. A smartphone, wearable device, or something similar can be used to collect, record, or process data, or provide performance support. The devices help us deal with more important things instead of fussing over trivial ones.

Educators might refer to important things such as higher order thinking skills (HOTS). Memorization has not gone away; it has simply been outsourced to the phone.
3. Cannot read a map. You can interact with one.

Toward Lonsdale Street satellite view - by avlxyz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  avlxyz 

Maps attempt to put a three-dimensional space (actual world) into a two-dimensional one (flat world). Both paper and electronic maps suffer from this and place an unnecessary cognitive load on the user.

However, tools like Google Maps offer street views which are attempts to recreate the real world as seen by human eyes. Smartphone maps allow users to overlay useful information like traffic, restaurants, points of interest, etc. Tapping on these overlays might reveal more information in the form of user-provided photos or reviews.

Traditional maps are important to the cartographer. Smartphone maps are important to you.

Old maps, like schooling, are one-size-fits-all. Electronic maps, like education, serve the individual.
4. Cannot balance a checkbook (cheque book). You can learn to be financially literate.

The article is US-centric, hence the spelling and the antiquated reference. I have a cheque book that is about a decade old and looks as good as new.

Balancing your finances is as much a mindset as it is a skill. Neither bundled pieces of paper nor apps alone are going to make you fiscally responsible. That said, smartphones with the right apps allow users to keep track of finances, set up expenditure alerts, and manage funds quickly and safely. Paired with financial literacy programmes, these apps are powerful ways to teach self-management.
5 & 6. No need to write in cursive/Write legibly. You can write in other ways.

The premise is wrong. How many people actually wrote legibly in the days before the smartphone?

Schools, for the large part, still insist kids learn how to use pens and pencils over typing, so the writing persists.

I say this as one who was schooled with fountain pens and enjoyed the art of manuscript writing. If there is a need for writing, it might only to be to pen one’s signature. But advancements in biometrics should remove that some day.

When kids leave the schooling system (or when they step out of it each school day), they enter worlds where they can type, audio record, video record, draw, animate, and so on. These are so much more complex and richer than just writing.
7. No need to take good pictures because of Instagram filters. You can do and learn much more.

Video recording by Onefound, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Onefound 

With smartphone photos, you can backup, tag, edit, share, comment, and tell a compelling story. You can get feedback, and if you heed it, then take better photos. You can do all these in a fraction of the time it took with film.

Doing all these requires an open and sharing mindset. There is nothing like doing to ingrain this system.

But I draw the line with obsessive selfie-taking if it becomes less about sharing and more about narcissism.
8. Cannot set an alarm clock. Yes, you can… and more.

You can still set not just one, but multiple alarms on your smartphone. You can let the the smartphone set the right time, keep track of time zones, or serve as a stopwatch, countdown/up timer.

Integrated into apps, smartphone clocks remind us to look up from our screens, stand up from our work desks, and cue any event in life. Paired with behavior modification, these can nurture better life habits.
9. Cannot do basic arithmetic. Why would you want to?
See point 2.
10. Cannot wait in line. Wait, you mean we can better wait in line.

Texting Congress 3 by afagen, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  afagen 

We can while our time away by reading, gaming, chatting, listening to music, watching videos, working, ad nauseum. These do not replace full blown instances of entertainment or education, but they make use of what I like to call interstitial learning time [1] [2].
11. Cannot just use the toilet. You can do more business than you expect.

41/52 - Some Alone Time by KJGarbutt, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  KJGarbutt 

Seated relatively comfortably, you can extend your interstitial time (see point 10).
12. Cannot just read a book. You can read several.

You can carry hundreds of books in a device no heavier than just one book. You can have a book read to you. You can interact with media elements, learn to read non-linearly, and develop literacies beyond just text.
13. Cannot just turn on lights. You can have greater control.

You can monitor your home and access your computer remotely. You can schedule electricals to be switched on or off on schedule. You can be there without being there.

You can also be there without being there with online resources, mobile-friendly MOOCs, and video conferencing.
14. Cannot be productive. Yes, you can.

media stacking by Will Lion, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Will Lion 

The device that many like to call distracting is simultaneously an enabler. You can install apps that are time and/or location aware to limit use when not appropriate.

Distractions are not problems. They are opportunities to develop discipline and self-management.
15. Cannot stand up straight.

It is hard to argue against this one. Fear-mongerers like to mention problems with eyesight, ignoring people in social situations, and other ills. How about the danger of not looking where you are going or driving?
So where does this leave us?

The original article suggested fifteen things we no longer seem to be able to do thanks to the adoption of smartphones. Perhaps some of these things we should no longer be doing because they are no longer relevant or because they hold us back.

This part of my reflection on my visit to London for Bett focuses on travel tips.

Mobile power
As with any trip, I brought a power pack for my iPhone. The iPhone was a thirsty beast when I was getting directions, taking photos, and surfing for information, so it helped to have a portable oasis.

Local prepaid SIM
Before leaving for London, I asked around and did my research online for a suitable prepaid SIM. This wiki was a good start, but its information might not be current.

I settled on Three’s PAYG All In One 15. It might cost GBP15 if you live in the UK and can get a free SIM, but it will cost you GBP20 if you buy it over the counter or from a vending machine like the one below.

The SIMs from the vending machine come in a three-in-one pack (normal, mini, nano sizes). The SIM is set to go; there is no need to activate them by calling a number, scratching top up cards, or typing in codes. Take out your old SIM, put the new one in, restart your phone, and start surfing/using your new number.

This prepaid plan gave me 3000 SMS, 300 minutes of calls, and unlimited data over a month. You cannot tether the phone and thus share your Internet connection. However, you can if you have a jailbroken phone like mine.

The 3G and 4G signal was relatively poor in East London where I stayed and also where the ExCeL Centre was located. I would often get only a 3G, one dot/bar signal. This was often not enough bandwidth to tether. Fortunately, there were lots of free wifi spots at the Centre, museums, libraries, etc.

Finding your way around
Google Maps might be your best friend. It was mine.

The Travel for London (TfL) site’s journey planner is mobile-friendly and fast, but I got more mileage out of Google Maps. It not only provided different options, travel times, and congestion warnings, it also provided greater details like walking directions and which exits to head for.

There is no 3G/4G service underground, so it is important to cache information beforehand. The eastern train lines are over ground so that might buy you some surfing time.

The Tube map and signs underground might look confusing. But they are clear when you realize that you must have TWO pieces of information: Your destination and the terminating point of your train (this also applies to the bus services).

If you are taking a more than 30-minute train journey, it is rare that you stay on one train. You train hop to get from one point to another. When underground, you might lose your sense of direction especially when moving from one platform to another. Often one platform might serve trains going to two or three end points. Make sure you get on a train whose terminating point allows you to travel to your destination.

I opted to go for an Airbnb place because hotels around the conference centre were expensive and filled up quickly.

I stayed in someone’s home for a week and used that as my base of operations and travel. Not only was the deal cheaper, I was able to live like a local and get tips from the couple that hosted the stay.

The following were added after publishing due to a revisioning problem.

London is the land of Tesco. There are thankfully more of these grocery stores than there are McDonald’s joints. But I found that some items were cheaper at Sainsbury’s Local.

These grocery stores are great for buying bottled water, snacks, and cheap meals. If you really have to eat on the cheap, Pret A Manger is a chain that seems to be everywhere.

Cash or card
While it is useful to have cash on hand, a credit card that supports wireless payment is fast and convenient. I used my MasterCard’s PayPass at the prepaid SIM vending machine, Oyster PAYG travel card kiosks, and grocery self-checkouts.

I tried watching the Apple event ‘live’ stream on Sep 9 (it was 1am on Sep 10 here in Singapore), but it did not go smoothly.

I could only watch the video using the Safari browser. The video would freeze ever so often. When it played, I could hear three voices at once as there were least two simultaneous audio translations of what was being said on stage. The brief text and photo updates at Gizmodo and TechCrunch were less media rich but clearer.

The last time the video stream froze, I tried reloading the page. I received a cryptic message informing me that I had done something illegal. I did not realize that watching an Apple event broadcast by Apple on my iMac using Apple’s Safari browser was illegal. Perhaps it was illegal to expect the quality and reliability of YouTube.

Some folks who experienced the same problems watching the event online took to Twitter and their blogs to vent [example]. I am not using this blog to vent. This is not because I am an Apple fanboy (I own Android devices and a PC in addition to my iOS devices and Macs).

I just sighed and thought how much the experience was like using most learning management systems (LMS).

The ‘live’ stream only worked on Safari. Most LMS rely on proprietary systems that often do not play well with others. This helps LMS companies control their processes and products, and create lock-in among their clients. They might tell you are are compliant to SCORM or some other standard, but the fact is that it is very difficult to move from one system or platform to another.

If you used some other browser like Chrome, you received text updates and no video of the Apple event. The updates were much slower than the ‘live’ pages or tweets from tech blogs. LMS tend to be inflexible that way. Most providers have little choice but to open themselves up to social media and Google Drive in order to stay relevant, but their core is based on giving IT folks and conservative policy makers a false sense of control.

It is very reassuring to the people who are not actually designing and/or teaching courses to hear how “feature-rich” or “secure” the LMS is. Those who need to design and/or teach are forced to learn the LMS ropes instead of relying on good instinct, educational research, and reflective practice. Learners just go with the flow because their grades ultimately depend on compliance and they might not know any better.

But more and more educators and learners do know better. They are fed on diets on cloud computing, social media interaction, YouTube videos, and Google Doc editing. The sands are shifting, but LMS providers will have you believe that their castles will stand.

They will not. Most LMS providers will refuse to admit they are wrong (has Apple apologized for their streaming gaffes?). Just like Apple is unlikely to admit that the other more open, more social streams were also more reliable and just as accurate.

LMS are unlikely to admit that providing feature-rich options (like Apple’s simulcast translations) are actually distracting, noisy, and harmful. They dissuade risk-taking, good pedagogy, and deep learning.

Let us not kid ourselves into thinking that LMS are about learning, much less managing it. Take e-portfolios for example. They could be about alternative and progressive forms of assessment, platforms for reflection and career-long learning, and students taking ownership of their own processes and products of learning. An LMS provider can tell you that because someone else has done the research or critical pedagogy or distilled that wisdom at a keynote. There are some LMS providers who will incorporate e-portfolio tools because it means more accounts, storage space, training, and maintenance.

Apple and LMS providers are entitled to make money off of you. They do not force you to buy-in and buy outright. Instead, they skillfully convince you what value they bring.

The difference is that when you buy an Apple consumer product, it is typically for your own or your loved ones’ use. When you buy an LMS, you are affecting hundreds or thousands of people. Can you claim to know what they all struggle with, need, or wish to be? If you cannot, you should go where they already are. They are using solutions that are social, open, and mobile.

There are numerous rules for designing web pages for consumption and interaction on mobile devices. Just as important as the DOs are the DO NOTs.

Do not simply transfer a desktop page to a mobile device. Rationale: There is less screen real estate and readability drops on smaller mobile screens.

Do not embed superfluous media. Rationale: Animations, video, and even audio are resource hogs, consume extra data, and might have unexpected results.

Take what happens when STcom embeds links in its tweets.

If you click a link on desktop browser (say via TweetDeck), Android Twitter, or iOS Twitter, the desktop version of the news article attempts to load.


On a laptop or desktop computer, you expect to get a full desktop page whether or not you are a subscriber. You can get less ad-filled reading by installing an adblocker in a browser like Chrome. My current favourite is uBlock as it has the effectiveness of the open source AdBlock Plus but with a smaller memory footprint.

Besides the old school banner ads (top) and column ads (right side), video ads or video “value adds” load on the upper right, but do not play automatically. Thankfully!

On Android Twitter, the URL causes mobile Chrome to launch, the desktop version of the page to load, and the videos do not auto play.

But I rarely use an Android. I am on iOS and consume local news via an iPhone or an iPad mini. 

On both iOS devices, Twitter will load the desktop version of the page in the Twitter app itself. On the iPhone, the desktop pages make reading very difficult, but at least the videos do not play automatically. However, on the iPad mini, the embedded videos play automatically nine out of ten times I view a page.

If I did not mind STcom using up my data allocation, I certainly mind that the videos play without my asking.

The videos come in at least two forms. Some are actual videos that can be paused. Others are ads that seem to have pause buttons, but when I tap on them, they open up full page ads that prevent me from reading the article.

Both types of videos somehow override the audio setting. I have my iPad mini on hardware controlled mute most of the time. But these videos auto play and blast their unwelcome noise late as night or when I am out in public. 

I do not always have earphones or headphones plugged into my device. When I do, the videos are loud and jarring. When I do not, they annoy me and surprise those around me. I have to resort to manually turning down the volume even though the system is already on mute.

All this makes for a terrible user experience. Given that devices like the iPad mini are popular, it is surprising that STcom did not conduct better usability studies. If STcom cared about its readers and potential customers, it should. 

The same thing could be said for designing mobile learning. The perspective to take should be that of the learner, i.e., learner-centric design. Not just in terms of interface usability, but also in terms of instructional strategy, content level, social learning opportunities, and more.

If you care, you do what it takes and it shows.

If you take this trouble, your learners will thank you for it. If m-learning or e-learning is your business, your learners will come back for more. If you ignore them, they will not only go elsewhere, they will also tell others to stay away.

Video source

Never mind that this is an Apple ad for the iPhone 5S. The examples could apply to any modern and current smartphone.

These (and more) are the possibilities and affordances that smartphones bring us. And yet some of us still try to limit it by banning it from classrooms or reluctantly using it like a small desktop computer.

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