OLPC XO Laptop getting glowing reviews…

8 10 2007

The alway-entertaining David Pogue (New York Times) has reviewed the One Laptop Per Child XO Laptop and his official verdict is “it’s amazing”. If you’re wondering what the fuss is all about, check out his video review here or in the video player below. I *really* want to try out the XO for myself, but sadly, the “Give One, Get One” offer appears to be restricted to the USA. :(

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/PM33EEAszHA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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Getting Answers on the go!

8 10 2007

Just a few days ago, Yahoo! Search announced that they would be integrating Yahoo! Answers with their mobile search service.

Yahoo! Answers is a website where you can ask *any* question (well, within reason) and have it answered by a community of over 95 million users worldwide.  I explored this concept in depth earlier this year, rising to one of the highest ranking members on Yahoo! Answers in Australia (and even being profiled on the Yahoo! Answers Australia blog).

In general, a question posed on Yahoo! Answers will get replies within a matter of a few minutes, from a range of opinions, ranging from genuine experts through to users trying to “game” the system (users get “points” for replying, so there can be a number of junk replies to any given question).

My thoughts at the time were that this “informal learning” paradigm would be well suited to the mobile medium – short questions and brief answers, with an around-the-clock, global answering community.  However, at that time, the service was not yet mobile – accessing Yahoo! Answers on a PDA browser was pretty much impossible, let alone a mobile phone.

Yahoo! Search’s latest announcement means that the brief answers submitted to Yahoo! Answers will now be accessible using mobile search… which brings part of the Yahoo! Answers paradigm to mobile devices.  It’s only a matter of time now before users should be able to submit questions for answering using the mobile devices too. :)

Keep an eye out… in the future, Yahoo! Answers may provide you with a personalised question-and-answer service in the palm of your hand. :)

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Don’t be Dazzled!

6 09 2007

So Apple launched the next generation of their iPod range today, including a touch-screen iPod that looks and works pretty much exactly like the iPhone… but, er… without the phone. And without a camera and Bluetooth (but, just like the iPhone, it has a sealed internal battery and no support for additional memory card expansion). Oh… and without email. And all this on Apples’ closed, proprietary platform.

But already I’ve heard the clamour of excited educators, some touting Apple as somehow being at the forefront of mobile learning. Brent Schlenker extolls the new iPod Touch:

“Can I here [sic] anyone say “Ultimate mobile learning device”? I had heard of schools testing iPhones with wi-fi only (they disable the phone service but utilize the wi-fi with the on-campus wireless network). Maybe we don’t give every kid a laptop. Maybe we give them each a Touch…without the impending molestation charges of course. “

Oh dear. It seems to me that in this case, the iPod Touch’s remaining functionality – basically, a wi-fi web browser and a media player, with no expansion capabilities – are being vastly over-valued.

Yes, it is possible to learn on a (small) web browser… but seeing as this one will only work if you have wi-fi access – and not if you wander out of school and down the road – a large chunk of the “mobile” in “mobile learning” seems to go out the window with the Touch. Away from a wi-fi access point, all you have is, um, an iPod: you can play music, videos and view photos.

You can’t even take photos, record audio, or make videos (not that you can record videos on the iPhone, either, mind you); and independant remote resource creation, documentation, and sharing tasks like moblogging become completely impossible. This from the same post, however:

But who the heck even WANTS a smartphone anymore when you can have an iPhone or a Touch? I mean really, people! Aren’t you just a little embarassed when you have too pull out that dinosaur Treo or Blackberry in front of your iphone toting colleagues? Your geek cred is on the line.

When Apple make a phone that will allow me to do the things I’ve always been able to do on my current Smartphone (record a video; send an MMS; add my own applications), I’ll give the people who own one a great deal more “cred”.

Tony Vincent asks:

“With so many iPod choices, which does your school choose?”

and my honest opinion is “none of the above” – in my opinion, neither the Apple iPhone, nor the iPod Touch (which has no additional features over the iPhone, and loses many) is a serious learning device, or even a serious working device… let alone the “ultimate” mobile learning device.

Don’t be dazzled. All that’s shiny (and these are *really* shiny) is not gold. :)

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Power on the Go!

5 09 2007

Steve Wheeler is attending the M-Learning sessions at the ALT-C conference along with a few other edubloggers, and recounted one of the issues they explored in their session on “Tensions Between Personal Space and Social Space”:

By far the most important issue for our small group was the problem of finding somewhere to top up your battery when it goes flat. How could this be achieved…?

One method an educator could already employ is the use of the portable power pack. These are essentially a portable, large capacity battery, usually with a couple of outlets for dispensing power for various devices (the largest models are capable of powering a laptop for several hours) including USB ports which are capable of recharging most mobile electronics. However, these can be somewhat heavy and bulky – about the size of a large external hard drive unit – and therefore somewhat contrary to the idea of mobility!

I recently purchased three very small, portable and cheap mobile power units which I can recommend to other mobile educators. The units are powered by rechargable AAA batteries, and can be recharged themselves by plugging them into a USB port (the unit becomes a AAA battery recharger… neat!). They each dispense sufficient power to fully recharge several mobile phones (or PDAs) to full capacity; and should even this capacity prove insufficient, normal AAA batteries could be used to replace the rechargable ones, providing additional power.

The units are tiny – only slightly larger than four AAA batteries side-by-side; and each unit (minus batteries) costs less than $10, including shipping, from this site: http://dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.3205
. For the greatest capacity, I’d recommend using good-quality 950mAh
rechargable Ni-MH batteries, which would provide a total potential power capacity of almost 4000 mAh.

There’s also a bit of an additional gimmick – there’s a built in LED flashlight in each unit, so it doubles as a long-duration torch. Illuminating stuff indeed. :)

There are also solar-powered versions of this portable-power concept. This model, for example, has two USB ports (and could thus be used to charge two mobile devices simultaneously).

Main Product Picture - click to enlarge
Click for full-size view

However, these solar models generally take several hours to recharge an internally-sealed battery. This is why I think a rechargeable power source with easily-replacable batteries is more flexible and reliable for most situations.

If anyone else has ideas on how to ensure mobile learners can power their devices on the go, I’d be very keen to hear from you! Please post your comments! :)

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A Bit of Personal Reflection: Facebook as a Learning Tool?

30 08 2007

Sue’s comment to this blog post about Mobile Facebook, asking for ideas on how Facebook could be used as a learning tool, prompted me to experiment with the possibilities in Facebook and Facebook Mobile.

Fbiphone1

But while both Facebook and blogs owe their original pedigree primarily to social (as distinct to working or studying) motivations, I’ve grappled with some initial reservations, thinking about opening my existing Facebook profile to my colleagues across the Australian (and International) Flexible Learning Community.

It’s not that I don’t trust y’all with all of the details I have posted in my private profile. Okay, actually, maybe I don’t. :)

The solution, of course, is simple – create a whole seperate profile to log into during work hours – a professional Facebook presence, devoid of (too) personal revelations and socialising temptations. Just as a savvy blogger will have a separate personal blog and a professional blog (and never the twain shall meet), so too is it a good idea to create a seperate account on Facebook that is designed to enable communications and professional networks, without the colourful clamour of Facebook friends.

I guess I will have to do a similar kind of thing with most of these social web tools, despite the inconvenience of having to have seperate passwords and administration for each one. Indeed, it’s looking as if I’m actually creating two completely different worlds online: a network of professional social sites, and a network of personal social sites… two very different mes, with the occasional convergence (e.g. my Flickr account).

Right. Hopefully, that was the hard part. Now to figure out the best ways to use my (Serious) Facebook – and (Serious) Facebook Mobile – accounts, to support and enhance learning… hmmm. Featuring news, RSS feeds, and surveys, Jacinta Gascoigne‘s Facebook page appears to be a good place to start…

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Another Free App Turns Your Phone into a Wireless Webcam

28 08 2007

SmartCam is an application that runs on your phone and your PC, linking them so that the video captured by your mobile is transmitted to you PC for recording or video conferencing.

SmartCam

I previously blogged about Wwigo, a free application which turns the camera in your Nokia mobile phone into a Bluetooth wireless webcam, and for the time being, SmartCam is also restricted to Nokia S60v3.0 handsets. However, a J2ME (mobile Java) version is anticipated for the near future, which should allow hundreds of other handsets to also extend their functionality this way.

Best of all, SmartCam is a free and open source application, so (unlike Wwigo) there is no watermarking of your video footage, and no proprietary restrictions.  Definitely worth downloading and trying! :)

via PocketPicks

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Capture and Edit Video On-The-Go

28 08 2007

This little device doesn’t look like any video camera I’ve ever seen before, but it’s an innovative little camera that also allows the user to edit video (with a library of special effects and the ability to composite captured footage) without needing a PC.

The mi VDO FX (“my video effects”) can also capture and mix in a “soundtrack” of audio from a connected iPod or MP3 player, and can increase its memory using a built-in SD Card slot. Not bad for just US$99 each, soon to be available from these online stores: http://www.b2lounge.com/ and http://www.evolutionshops.com/ .  I’d love to get hold of one of these to see if they’re suitable for educational use, with students creating their own mobile presentations!

B2Stuf via Gizmodo

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Could 3D GPS Enable Game-like Situated Learning?

27 08 2007

GPS (the Global Positioning System) uses satellites to help users to navigate, with accuracy as good as half a metre or so. But while most of us are happy to have a simple 2D or “tilted” fake 3D GPS display to guide us, Asia is developing GPS systems that look more like first-person video games:

Provia A1 GPS Navigator by HTMS

If this technology becomes more widely available, it could be terrific for educators. Imagine being able to create virtual “learning checkpoints” which exist in a student’s GPS/cellphone/PDA that they can visit to “collect” learning experiences. These checkpoints could show up as different hovering icons in the 3D display, rather like this screenshot from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where an “enterable doorway” icon is shown behind the character:

A learner could physically walk around locating checkpoints, which could trigger all kinds of activities on their mobile device: for example, a video or animation (e.g. explaining a feature of their physical location), a link to an internet resource, a discussion (perhaps using video or audio), or an assessment. A learner could also simulate walking around physically – it would be just like walking around in a video game – to visit or preview some of these resources without actually being there.

Even more exciting: perhaps GPS units could also upload location data for each student involved in a particular learning stream , so that you could see the avatar of other learners physically or virtually visiting various checkpoints on your GPS simulation. If you were physically at a site with other learners, you could identify them from their avatar, and could have a real-life discussion about the location you’re visiting; if you’re visiting virtually, you could ask questions of real-life people, actually at the scene, who could upload their own images, videos, or comments from the site to help other learners.

Provia A1 GPS Navigator by HTMS

And unlike a video game, where you run around collecting fake points and accomplish made-up missions, imagine immersive, real-life games where students collect real and authentic learning towards actual qualifications… :)

Technabob via Gizmodo

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My Gear Bag

17 08 2007

Inspired by Mitchell Oke at Gear Diary (a great source of mobile technology news), here is the contents of my own Gear Bag. My “daily” compact mobile kit packs into a 25cm-wide mens grooming kit and weighs just 1.5 kilos, fully loaded. :) The waterproof compartments help protect my gear from weather and spills, and the hanging hook (usually used to hang the bag from a shower stall or shower head) allow me to hang the bag next to me wherever I’m working, with easy access to everything inside.

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This “compact kit” can be extended by popping it in the front pocket of my laptop bag for when I need more power and screen real estate for graphics, design, or development applications; but otherwise, this kit can do the majority of the specialised tasks I need each day – document authoring and editing, web server administration, and correspondence – as well as a full range of peripheral tasks – GPS navigation, internet access and research, stereo music playback, and audio, video and photographic capture.

1. Nokia 6110 Navigator SmartPhone/GPS (works with Bluetooth Folding Keyboard)

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I can use my 3.5G (HSDPA) phone to remotely log in to the (Linux) servers I
administrate without any additional hardware or wireless connectivity.
Combined with my Bluetooth Wireless keyboard, I can do with my mobile
phone almost everything I can do with the desktop version of Putty, and
almost as fast. Actually, it’s probably the best phone I’ve owned for years… and I’ve been through 11 premium models over the last 11 years of continuous mobile phone ownership. The phone has built-in GPS navigation, so I can use it to geotag (add location information to) any photo I take with it. It has the fastest processor of any current Nokia phone (even faster than the N95′s) and a terrific screen.

2. Spare Phone Battery, and SD-Card Family Memory Cards and Adapters

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I have an extra battery for my phone, as well as a 2GB memory card inside. On the right of the phone are the range of memory cards and adapters I use – from top to bottom ,these are: microSD-SD adapter, MiniSD-SD adapter, MiniSD card, MicroSD-MiniSD adapter, and MicroSD card.

3. HP RW6828 PDA/Smartphone (works with Bluetooth Folding Keyboard)

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For additional capability, I’m using a Hewlett-Packard RW6828  smartphone running Windows Mobile 5. It has Wi-Fi access so I can tap into any wireless hotspots, Bluetooth to connect to my phone, laptop, or any PC I plug my Bluetooth dongle into, and can also be used with my phone’s SIM card for telephony and/or data connectivity.

I can use this device to edit Microsoft Office documents, provide basic
editing to images, input data into custom databases, and log into
servers using shell or GUI access. Using the same wireless Bluetooth
keyboard I use for my phone, data entry is fast and easy.

4. Bluetooth Stereo Headset and Charger, Wired Stereo Headset, and Tape

The largest item in my mobile kit is my pair of wireless Bluetooth
headphones and their charger (top right). These headphones connect with
all of my mobile devices – phone, PDA and laptop – to allow me to
listen to audio discreetly, and have built-in controls so I can control
my music (volume, play/pause and next/last track) using the headset
itself. Unfortunately, unlike my phone and PDA (which can be charged using standard USB cables), my headphones need their own charger… one day I’ll probably upgrade these to a version that’s more flexible, but
they’re doing a good job for the time being. :)

The in-ear headset in the bottom right of this image can connect with
either my phone or my PDA/Smartphone to allow me to use either device
as a hands-free phone, or to listen to audio with stereo sound.

The small roll of tape is invaluable. I use tape to temporarily bind
cables when I’m out of elastic bands; to stick tiny memory cards to
other larger things so they don’t get lost; to do minor repairs… it’s
a lifesaver. Probably comes from my many years in theatre, where Gaffer
Tape is used for just about everything… but on a rather smaller
scale! :)

5. Bluetooth 2.0 Dongle and USB Memory Key

I carry a USB 2.0 Bluetooth dongle to enable me to connect wirelessly
to any desktop PC I might use. My laptop, PDA and mobile phoneare all
Bluetooth-capable, so ensuring my desktop environment is able to
connect to these is worth carrying this tiny device.

I also carry a memory stick for quickly saving files or data for later
use, and for carrying work in progress. I’d rather not have to plug in
my PDA or Bluetooth a file to my mobile phone when I could just plug
and save. Sadly, this memory stick is getting a little old (only 256MB!) and is next on my list of equipment to upgrade. It’s been a faithful and reliable work tool for quite a few years, but I have my eye on a new 8GB model…

6. USB Cables and USB Car Power Adapter

I carry two USB cables with me; these allow me to connect two peripherals to my laptop or desktop PC (choose between phone, PDA, and
digital notepad) and can also be plugged into the car adapter (in the
middle) to charge my PDA battery. Not pictured here is my the car
charger for my phone which is, as I type, plugged in in the car. It’s
necessary to power the phone when I’m using it as a GPS, as having the
screen continuously illuminated chews through the phone’s battery.

7. CD of Essential Software and Drivers

This may not look very glamourous, but digital mobility often means being able to take advantage of whatever computing devices are at hand. This includes other computers I might happen to use around my various work locations, or computers at Internet Kiosks, for example. I carry up-to-date versions of all of the software I need to work efficiently from any PC (assuming a Windows-based operating system is installed, and nothing else), as well as any drivers I need to connect a new PC with my various mobile devices.

Size Comparison

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Here’s a comparison of my laptop bag and my mobile kit. Most mobile
professionals would take something the size and weight of the bag on
the left around with them on a daily basis. I am able to do just about
everything I need to using the kit on the right, which is small enough
to fit into the spare space in the front pocket of the laptop bag (next
to the mouse and power cord for the laptop, and all my pens and paraphenalia that are also in there) and weighs just just 1.5kg, total. Each square on the mat in the image on the right is 2cm wide.

So… what’s in the Laptop Bag?

Just a couple of extra devices: but both are too big to go in the compact case.

___

My laptop is terrific. It’s probably average size and weight, but
it features a built-in SD Card slot so I can copy files to and from
memory cards (for my phone, camera, PDA, and digital notepad) without
the need for an external reader. It also has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for wireless connectivity. I can have it going for about 2.5 hours with the screen on full brightness and wireless and Bluetooth going before it conks out.

The digital notepad on the right allows me to take handwritten notes, and makes a digital copy of everything I write and draw. When connected to a PC, I can instantly email a digital copy of my notes to others, and convert
my notes to typed text using the handwriting recognition software. It’s
cheap and light, so I don’t have to haul a tablet PC around to do this
simple task. Files are saved to SD Card – compatible with my laptop’s
internal reader. This tablet also doubles as a basic digitizing tablet. At home and at work I have dedicated Wacom graphics tablets, but this is a nice convenience when out and about… :)

Also in the laptop bag are pens, business cards, tissues, a mouse for the laptop, the laptop’s power cable, and a webcam (maybe I’ll have one built into my next laptop). Sometimes I carry a sketching kit in the bag for when I have a spare moment (I tend to prefer to listen to music, draw or compose poetry rather than playing computer games, although I have some extra games on my PDA and mobile phone too).

There you have it! The contents of my road warrior’s mobility kit…

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Mobile Blogging + GPS data = Locoblog

13 08 2007

LocoBlog Homepage

Further extending the concept of blogging beyond blogging mobile-ly (moblogging), Locoblog automatically uses embedded GPS data in uploaded images to associate each image with a location as soon as it is uploaded; these locations are then viewable on a Google Maps map embedded in a viewer’s web browser, where they can be browsed sequentially or visually (using the map).

It’s a pretty neat concept, although I’d like to see several few features added to make it a really *great* tool:

  1. The ability to add text to an uploaded image to provide commentary and context for the images
  2. The ability to add a textual description and sample image for each “journey” and display these chonologically, to allow the various journeys to be browsed like blog posts
  3. The ability to either personalise the presentation and content of each blog; or syndicate/embed the locoblog content in another, customisable blog (e.g. WordPress).
  4. RSS Syndication for each blog.

Despite having some limitations, it’s worth checking out if you have a GPS-enabled mobile or an external Bluetooth GPS receiver.

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