Thursday, November 30, 2006

Augmented reality and mobile learning

Leonard Low, who publishes the Mobile Learning blog recently posted an interesting concept for mobile learning interfaces. His idea is to have a flexible LCD screen which picks up location-based educational data via a mobile device. The student would then be able to access online resources and contacts according to his/her location, as an overlay of the view of the location itself.

As an aside, I think this is another illustration of the innovative nature of fiction - the overlay-style view he proposes looks rather similar to 'Terminator Vision' in James Cameron's 1984 Terminator movie.

Image by Leonard Low.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Passively Multiplayer Online Games for Schools?

Howard Rheingold just blogged about Justin Hall's presentation at the University of South California's Annenenberg centre.

Howard wrote:
"Justin has fun online, works online, studies and loves and plays online -- and on his phone and his Playstation. Why can't the whole thing be a game -- a social game and a knowledge game? While he goes about his day's surfing, blogging, chatting, tagging, gaming, posting, uploading, downloading, Justin wants to experience the same visible sense of goal-oriented progress he gets in World of Warcraft when he looks at his screens and sees exactly what level his activities have earned him."

He also mocked up a screenshot using Jaiku, which I am using here to illustrate this post.

He also posted a link to a video (Quicktime) in which Justin explains the concept.

This kind of concept would also be great for learning environments, allowing users to understand how much progress they have made in different areas of their work. It's easy to see how it could be added to an LMS system such as Moodle for instance. Only problem is, it's inherently quantitative (i.e. will measure time and/or number of contacts, posts, etc) but would be unable to deal with qualitative aspects.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Social software and learning

Futurelab, a great UK-based research organisation working on many exciting research projects in education technology. It's launched a series of useful publications on current hot topics, called Opening Education . They recently published 'Social Software and Learning (PDF)', an excellent overview of social software, implications of such software for education, plus a plan of action for moving towards community-based learning.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Games in education

Computer games are becoming more and more popular in the educational world. UNICEF has just released Ayiti - The Cost of Life (via Water Cooler Games), a simplified 'Sims' style game where you assign tasks to family members living in Haiti. Even playing for just a few minutes communicates how difficult it is to balance health, education and finances when you are affected by poverty. Although I enjoy games, and see that they have some classroom uses, I think there's a lot of hype around them at the moment.

Obviously games have a lot of potential:
  • creating innovative interfaces for accessing educational content - mashing up Moodle with Second Life (SL) in Sloodle, so that content can be transferred and published on both platforms (more info on SL & education here)

  • increasing student motivation - using a new kind of interface can stimulate students' enthusiasm

  • improving hand eye coordination and reaction time - these are particularly crucial in fast-paced games.

I don't subscribe to the media hysteria of 'games are evil' (check out this interesting article on the topic from the Wilson Quarterly), I do see a number of issues in using games in education:
  • gender - navigation in virtual spaces has some gender issues; often boys find it easier to navigate due to more experience in game environments. Representation of gender roles in games can also be highly stereotypical, presumably because of the skewed gender representation in the technology industry

  • hampering creativity - some innovative games such as Sims and SL allow users to transform and create during the game. However, most still rely on users following one of a number of pre-determined paths, thus reducing creative opportunities.

  • difficulty and expense of game development - commercial games are now often more expensive to produce than Hollywood movies, and thus to produce an educational game of similar quality to the entertainment sector is prohibitively expensive.

More info about games in education:
Report from the Summit on Educational Games
University of British Columbia's virtual campus on SL
A collection of research papers on games in education on Citeulike
DoomEd - a first-person shooter game for science education.

Global nomads: video conferencing

An article in Edutopia covered the Global Nomads project, which aims to get teenagers to get in touch with their peers across international borders. The school pupils get to meet via video conference, and discuss crucial topics such as HIV/AIDS, global warming and war. But it's not all school work: the students also get a chance to ask questions about family life and hobbies. The website includes a media library of short films from Vietnam, Brazil, Japan and many other countries, and a schedule of forthcoming video conferences.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lessons from an unusual social network

In the English speaking world, teenagers are all busy chatting to their friends on commercial social networking platforms, like MySpace (owned by News International) and Bebo. These platforms are full of advertising and offer little in terms of child protection or safety. Meanwhile many French speakers are using a rather unique platform, set up by a non-profit organisation, called Although it's based on rather basic technology (php), it has a huge number of users and survives on donations made by the biggest fans of the site. There is no advertising at all. Members join specific sectors based on their interests, which include sector-specific forums, bulletin boards and a number of other features. A virtual 'salary' is provided to users based on how long they stay online; the currency can be used to purchase virtual gifts or services for others, or even transferred directly to others' virtual accounts. The network is essentially organic: to invite a new member, you have to spend a relatively large sum of virtual currency to send the invite.

Here are some of the most intriguing features from an educational point of view:
- child safety is maintained. Under 18s can only join and view certain sectors of the site, which are monitored by older, verified individuals. Occasionally younger members will lie about their age, but the community usually swiftly responds. There is a high level of responsibility and self-policing. It shows that a school-based community could effectively be moderated by older children.
- role play (RP) is pervasive: although the interface is largely text based, RP is part of the life of most sectors on the discussion forums. The moderators organise an RP session on a regular basis, based on the suggestions of the members. These RP sessions are basically long stories generated by the contributions of each user, and can be highly imaginative. In education, such an approach would be great to encourage creativity and written expression.
- rank changes according to behaviour: the moderators assess the level of participation and other issues to understand what rank the members should have. Usually enthusiastic members will rapidly rise in rank, unlocking new features and 'missions' to complete. This is an interesting 'game style' approach which could encourage pupils to use a system.
- virtual currency is usually spent solidifying social links: buying virtual gifts such as champagne, flowers, teddy bears, etc. for others is really important in keeping good relationships with other members. Such a system could be used in a school-oriented scenario to help individuals understand money management and mathematics.
- games are common: individuals will organise games or competitions from their profiles. They could be treasure hunts, to find information hidden on others' profiles, or simple trivia questions. Prizes are usually virtual currency or gifts. This ludic atmosphere could easily be transferred into an educational 'quest'.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Football, global thinking and ICT in the holidays

The Communication Initiative recently published an article which alerted me to Bring on the World, a pack of excellent ICT-based resources for informal education activities for school breaks. Using the World Cup as a basis for exploration, this pack of activities released by Oxfam helps children to think and learn about fair trade, globalisation, Millenium Development Goals and other huminatarian topics. At the same time, the activities are linked to the UK curriculum, as they involve PE, English (reading and writing), Geography, Citizenship and ICT.

Picture from Oxfam website.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Open source learning resources repository

Not all schools or other educational institutions need or want to install a learning management system (LMS), but a learning resource repository is extremely useful for keeping track of digital learning resources and better enabling sharing between teachers and learners. European Schoolnet has recently released MINOR, an open source "repository to store, manage, and exchange the multimedia assets produced by teachers", as it says in the news article they recently published. The application and source code can be downloaded from Sourceforge.

eLearning for developing countries: what's needed?

Despite many good intentions for developing countries to 'leapfrog' in technical terms, it is rarely yet the case. In many ways, this is because most technologies are designed and deployed in a developed country context, and thus have a number of limitations when trying to implement in a developing country. Additionally, many developing countries still don't have many specialists in ICT in education, and rely mainly on the precious few of enthusiastic, over-worked, pioneering teachers to drive change in their schools.

My work in SE Asia and Europe has prompted me to identify some issues which might help developing countries to deploy more cutting edge technologies in schools, despite the status quo of low bandwidth, poor infrastructure, low levels of training and support for teachers.

1. LAN-based Learning Management System (LMS) installation

many LMS have excellent features which would help schools in developing countries to make best use of their low levels of connectivity and relatively few ICT-based resources. Using an LMS with some learning content management features on a LAN is a good solution for enabling teachers to effectively share their 'homegrown' as well as externally acquired ICT resources. In addition, using LMS tools would enable students to get a 'feel' of using Internet-style applications without the need for broadband connectivity.

What are the barriers? Cost (especially in the case of commercial LMS), difficulty of installation (particularly in Open Source LMS), need for low cost LMS on appropriate platform (many low cost LMS run on Linux, which many teachers find hard to install).

2. Platforms based on mobile phone technologies

Many developing countries have very low numbers of PCs in schools, and low connectivity. However, many people are using mobile phones, and I have seen that many teachers have their own. In Thailand for instance, many people have mobile phones with quite advanced features. There is clearly potential for using mobile phones for teacher support and networking - e.g. sharing lesson plans, tips and advice. My previous post on mobile learning has other ideas.
What are the barriers? Lack of models for use of such platforms, lack of knowledge among teachers in installing/configuring such platforms.

3. Platforms with a range of content creation and synchronisation options
Due to low connectivity, schools in developing countries can benefit from platforms which can deal with offline content creation, which can synchronise/upload/download new resources and other content in a batch process. Surely RSS/XML technologies can handle this rather easily.
What are the barriers? Barriers are almost non-existent. Are there platforms out there already which have these capabilities?

4. Open content repositories with language agnostic approach Many educators in developing countries say that there is little content available in their languages. However, there are huge amounts of language-free content online in the form of pictures, maps, small sound files and other non-textual forms. But teachers and students cannot find such content due to the lack of index and search tools available in their own languages. It would be great to see more organisations taking a FOSS/OER approach to translating at least search interfaces in minority languages.
What are the barriers? Lack of capacity within developing countries to take the initiative on such issues, lack of awareness in developed countries to make such facilities available.

5. Training in dealing with low ICT infrastructure scenarios Many teachers in developing countries seem to think that they can only really use ICT if they have one or two pupils per computer in the computer lab. There are many strategies for using ICT without having a good level of infrastructure. For instance, I saw in one training session, Chris Smith using just one keyboard and mouse together with a projection screen to engage a whole group. Basically, one person controlled the mouse, and another the keyboard. Both were passed around the room so that everyone used the equipment during the session - the only additional investment needed was a very long (but cheap) cable! Other strategies such as using web applications on a LAN, backing up websites using tracker programes (like HTTracker) so they can be browsed offline when Internet connection is slow or disconnects often. There are many other strategies, but hardly any training or training content for teachers on this topic.
What are the barriers? Most training is planned still with an "ideal" situation in mind rather than a realistic view of the state of schools. Better needs analysis should be done when planning training.