Tuesday, 31 August 2010

WeFi: a nice way to stay connected globally, without cost

While traveling, many of us don't know where to find the nearest wifi spot, hence paying through the nose to get on the internet with our mobile devices (well, some of us, like me). Sometimes I know where the nearest hotspot is, but in many cases and especially in a foreign country, I need to really search intensely to get WiFi hotspot location information.

For all of us wanting to get to the nearest WiFi hotspot, there is a really nifty mobile software: WeFi. This easy to download application is available for Symbian, Windows Mobile and Android devices. It does not only show you where the nearest hot-spot is (a real easy to read map), it also puts newly found hotspots immediately on the worldwide map, hence updating the latest hot-spots as well. Look at the movie to find out more on the community based mapping of hotspots.

WeFi also automatically connects with hot-spots near you (but you can also not to go that route, by not putting your wifi on).

How to install it on your wifi-enabled phone and start? Simply go to www.wefi.com via your mobile internet and WeFi will recognize your operating system and send you to the download site.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Lifting conferences to become real learning environments

Many conferences tend to leave their participants a bit weary after the (too) many, rather passive sessions. Thanks to Wilfred Rubens (Dutch), I got hold of an enlightening presentation by Jeff Hurt that promotes a different conference approach.

This fits in nicely with the wonderful (and I feel completely correct) analysis by Jay Cross when he looks at reasons why the Gnomedex conference is/was always such a success.

In November 2010 colleagues and I will be organizing the 'Emerging Voices' conference (a conference on public health issues for young researchers mainly from developing countries) that is filled with new approaches (= MC battles to discuss content, speed content dating, and all the basic stuff interactive streaming, social media incorporation...). We hope to push the boundaries of the conference format and get some real informal learning going, also inside the sessions.
We will not only get the conference going, but the format will be shared online.

The above conference will be a test for a nomadic conference idea that has been brewing in my mind lately (still brewing) and that will focus on a technology enhanced learning mix.

One thing is for sure, the guidelines in the presentation of Jeff Hurt are embraced full-heartily:

Interested in Grand Challenges in Global Health in combination with Low Cost cellphones? Let me know

In the past (and present) the Grand Challenges in Global Health from the Gates foundation have given rise to a great set of interesting projects. Interesting for these funds are only dedicated to really WILD projects that have a global impact.

Next Friday, there will be a brainstorm at my institute on possible projects for this Grand Challenge, for this is the second time that a call is launched which is also linked to low-cost cellphone solutions. Most of the people in this first brainstorm will be physicians, so we will try and locate areas that are in dire need for a medical solution that involves the use of technology. The Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) where I work is a leading institute for HIV/AIDS and we are involved in many international projects, so medical expertise is assured.

In a second phase we will try and work out the WILD technological solution involving low-cost cellphones.

If any of you with expertise in mobile solutions are interested in getting into the technological brainstorming team (to jointly go for such a grand), let me know. We would love to get a collaboration going.

Topics for the call of Grand Challenges Explorations Round 6 are:
  • Design New Approaches to Cure HIV Infection;
  • Create the Next Generation of Sanitation Technologies;
  • The Poliovirus Endgame: Create Ways to Accelerate, Sustain and Monitor Eradication;
  • Create Low-Cost Cell Phone-Based Applications for Priority Health Conditions;
  • Create New Technologies to Improve the Health of Mothers and Newborns
Want to know more? Have a look at their website.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Simple voting boxes to enhance learning

From this academic year onward, voting boxes (= Audience Response System = ARS) will be used to enhance courses. We have to reasons to do this: a technical reason, and an educational research driven reason linked to pedagogical benefits.

Pedagogical reasons to use voting boxes
While the use of voting boxes in itself does not really deepen learning at first glance, it already increases interactivity in the classroom or learning environment simply because by using voting boxes (one per person, or one per group), each individual (or group stimulating peer-to-peer discussion) must think about the question and the answer. The shear fact of asking all the students to think about a certain question or answer will increase the cognitive impulse in all the students, they cannot hide behind their peers.

Other ways in which an ARS stimulates learning
There are many learning strategies resulting from the use of an ARS, I just list just five, but feel free to roam the references below for a more in-depth approach and list:
• Teacher feedback on prior knowledge of the complete student group.
• Enabling the teacher to respond to feedback of the ARS, by tailoring to the gap of knowledge that it displays.
• Activate participation in the complete group.
• Reflect and discuss the content that was put forward and the answers of the group.
• Cognitive trigger for accessing the prior knowledge of the student.

There are many other pedagogical benefits of using voting boxes in learning environments, if you are interested, look through these two papers (really great stuff).

References relevant to ARSystems with good outcomes:
Kay, R.H., Lesage, A. (2009) A strategic assessment of audience response systems used in higher education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 2009, 25(2), 235-249.
Cain, J., Black, E.P., Rohr J. (2009). An Audience Response System Strategy to Improve Student Motivation, Attention, and Feedback. Am J Pharm Educ. 2009 April 7; 73(2): 21 :

Build your own online mobile survey application for training feedback (in real time)
If your students have their own smartphone, you can of course build a voting area with the smartphones as tools to enhance learning yourselves. We did look at these opportunities, and I will gladly share a possible solution, but as only a few of our students have the means to purchase smartphones of their own, voting boxes were purchased to increase learning in face-to-face settings by using technology (our choice Turning point is briefly highlighted below).

A possible smartphone solution to enhance synchronous interaction by using votes
Use a web-based survey or quiz software (e.g. polleverywhere or surveygizmo). With this survey software, you build your quiz online. After you have build your quiz or survey you either make a QR-code for it (easy to get users to the right location via their mobile), or you send them a link (use software that shortens links like TinyURL, otherwise the users must type in a lengthy link and that increases errors in typing). You then ask them to take the survey.

Using the data to your and their advantage: once they have taken the survey you download the results of the survey to a software that allows you to analyze data. The results can also be displayed in real time, which allows you to give feedback on the given answers.

Voting boxes we are using
There are a lot of voting boxes out there on the market. After careful consideration (meaning, looking at prices mostly for we did not want to go over budget on these tools), we choose to go with Turning Point devices.

The principle is simple. You install the software from Turning Point on your computer. After that that software is embedded in PowerPoint (or Mac's equivalent). Then you build a PowerPoint presentation with question slides in them (you can add a variety of questions: multiple choice, multiple answer, arrange words, numeric...) . Once you have added all the questions you have to the base PowerPoint, you plug in the receiver (USB port), and you deliver each learner with a device. Once the quiz or survey is launched, the learners only have to push a button on their device and they are able to vote on possible right answers.

Does this system work for any learning environment? Yes, you can even go international with some voting boxes that allow people from remote areas to enter their votes on specific subject matter, just like using web-based surveys. So this type of interaction can also be used in eLearning. With Turning Point the results of the voting boxes can even be linked to some learning management systems (e.g. Moodle), and immediately be added to the grading books (if needed).

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

mLearn conference in Malta, if you can go, join and let's meet

The city of Valletta on the island of Malta will be the venue of the 9th mLearn 2010 conference. The mLearn conference is one of the top mobile learning conferences around and it features high quality academic research (which reminds me I still have to post some information on mLearn2008). The nice thing about this conference is also the very open atmosphere of sharing knowledge. The conference will take place from 19 - 22 nd October 2010.

If anyone is interested, this is the paper on 'Mobile learning for HIV/AIDS health care workers' training in Peru', which I will be presenting during the conference. It is a paper on the mobile learning project in Lima, Peru that was set up jointly by the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium and the Institute of Tropical Medicine Alexander von Humboldt in Lima, Peru.

So if you have the possibility to come over and join this conference, rush over to the registration bit of the website and let us meet once we are there. By the way Malta has an amazing archeological treasure dating all the way back to the Neolithic era, and has buildings 1000 years older than the pyramids (yes, wonderful!) and I am already looking forward to strolling about the island, looking for (mostly) Roman remains. It is also a perfect sailing area... anyone interested?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Free report on Education in the Wild: geo-located mobile learning

For all you mLearning lovers out there, there is a clearly written, informative and inspiring report (56 pages) on location-based contextual mobile learning (mostly across Europe). The report is just published and it is edited by Liz Fitzgerald - Brown from the University of Nottingham and Mike Sharples has written the foreword.

The report follows on from a 2-day workshop funded by the STELLAR Network of Excellence as part of their 2009 Alpine Rendez-Vous workshop series. Contributors to this report have provided examples of innovative and exciting research projects and practical applications for mobile learning in a location-sensitive setting, including the sharing of good practice and the key findings that have resulted from this work. There is also a debate about whether location-based and contextual learning results in shallower learning strategies and a section detailing the future challenges for location-based learning.

The 56-page PDF is available FREE for download here. The report also has an amazing set of references embedded.

There’s some really nice work in the report, including case studies from maths, geography, psychology, architecture, Geocaching, zoo education and ethical issues with location-based mobile learning. It’s a fantastic resource for the community, providing a good introduction into the issues surrounding location-based learning.

So rush over and download the report to your mobile, or other device, and have a good read! And of course, also share any experience you might have with location-based mLearning. I am always eager to learn from you all!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

open academic education: people with an open PhD and master? Yes, they do it!

Luckily for me the combination of procrastination and serendipity resulted in a wonderful, unexpected answer to a question that has been on my mind lately. Currently I am dabbling with the idea of a PhD. Although my mind keeps telling me to go for it, it also tells me to keep in mind to make a difference and not to accept 'a regular one'.

So I procrastinated by surfing through cloudscapes that were focusing on mobile learning. As I went through them I found Faridah Abdul Rashid, who teaches chemical pathology at the Universiti Sains in Malaysia and she mentioned she was into problem-based learning, using Moodle ... but what captured my eyes was her mentioning 'open PhD'. It certainly sounds very contemporary and attractive as a term.

After Google'ing 'open phd', I got directed to Lisa Chamberlin's blog. She is building a DIY PhD track, which really got me thinking. The concept of an open PhD is simple (well, simple on paper that is). What Lisa did was construct a course plan with credits, but combining courses from different educational institutions.

Lisa's blog got me to Leigh Blackall's blog on his open PhD, which is also in education focused on open education using popular media for networked learning. Leigh is a renowned open academic education advocate and yes, he is worth following (if you did not do so already, he is quite famous for his open thoughts it seems). Here are the posts referring to his open PhD and if you have the time, read up on his philosophy posts (great, really lovely mind food!).

Another link that was useful was the open Master that Parag Shah has built for himself and that will allow him to construct a master with topics that he knows will be useful to him. He published his plan for the DIY master on July 24th and you can follow his progress with the recently started master in the coursewiki he is keeping where he tells us why he takes this open course approach to construct a master in computer science (with a focus on web application development). Just like Lisa and Leigh he build a learning plan. Another incredibly smart thing Parag came up with, was to start an open posterous blog where he keeps his study notes. Why? to allow credits to be given to his knowledge creation (great idea!).

What these pioneers are doing feels much more comfortable and logical in this increasingly networked world, doesn't it! We could all benefit from this approach, also for the more formal learning we would like to follow. Setting up your own learning trajectory, sharing it along the way, discussing it with mentors and peers that have in-depth thoughts about the material, ... Yes, that looks much more in tune with what education can be like and how learning can become fun for everyone (or at least those who belief in DIY learning).

[The balloon picture is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. The description on its description page there. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The picture was taken by Friedrich Böhringer ]

Monday, 2 August 2010

AR mobile quest part 1: first steps taken for mobile augmented reality with Android phone

Sometimes the steps in between a learning applications are not mentioned, however all the steps leading up to a result or to the use of a tool can be interesting and possibly helpful. So I decided to take hold of all the steps leading up to a new Augmented Reality (AR) mobile learning application.

Why do I look at AR? Because it can make learning outside the classroom even more captivating, because AR allows a teacher/informal learner/... to add a virtual layer of information to the real world. The nice thing about AR is also that it lights up, only when a person is at a certain point. This means that as a user or a learner you only get that information that is relevant to you at a certain location and time.

So what did I do today?

  1. Today I got my newly bought HTC desire ready (well, I bought it two months ago, but I kept using my other phone while trying out the HTC desire functions).
  2. Secondly I got a Layar developer account (http://dev.layar.com/). This is building on a previous post that I wrote in June 2009 when Layar got their first big media attention. What is Layar? Layar is currently a top tool if you want to try out AR for mobile phones (iPhone 3GS and Android phones). It enables a user to build a layer onto the real world. For example: if you are standing in front of the Eiffel tower, and you are wondering where to find a good, real French bar, you take out your mobile phone, activate layar, and look through your phone to the surrounding areas of the Eiffel tower (well, words do not tell the whole picture, so feel free to take a look at the Layar movie below. But how does this work? Well the technical logic behind it is quite complex, but in simple terms: if you have a compass on your mobile phone and you have a GPS possibility, the phone will be able to calculate where you are standing AND in which direction you are aiming your mobile device.
  3. And last but not least I got a Hoppala account (you have to get a Layar developer account before you can get access to Hoppala. Now Hoppala is an easy step up to Layar, as it enables you to simply add some information to the real world by writing information that can be added to a location (also here, feel free to look at the movie on Hoppala below).

After this, I created a Layar of my own, a simple one: arlearning. I will add a link to the layar as soon as I have some content on it, but that will be for a later post.

When I was testing out Layar as it exists in my location, I stumbled upon Tweepsaround. This is a wonderful location based application, that gives you the time and content of tweets that were written nearby your location. You can even choose to go to the location (via google maps) where the tweet was sent. Really nice!
Just to give you an idea, it took me less 1 hour and 15 minutes to get all of this together (not counting the wait for the Layar developers code to arrive, as this can take a day).

Let's look at some describing videos:

Layar (this is not the latest promotional video of Layar, but the more comprehensible older one):

And now for Hoppala, the first mobile app I will be using to create a learning app:

Have fun and share if you have a layar! I would love to have a look.