Math4Mobile: Social, Mobile Math tool

Graph2Go ScreenshotSolve2Go ScreenshotSketch2Go ScreenshotQuad2Go Screenshot

Here’s a set of great free Java midlets for learning about several secondary-level mathematical concepts, such as graphing of various equations, equation solving, sketching graphs, fitting graphs to data, and quadrilateral geometry: Math4Mobile.

The functionality of each application has been based on sound pedagogical principles: for example, the development page states the development team’s understanding that “learning is a social-cultural process and teachers and peers are part of the individual cognitive process”. The social-constructivist aspects of teaching and learning theory are reflected in the functionality of these midlets – they integrate with the multimedia messaging capabilities of phones, to enable graphs, diagrams and work to be captured and shared between peers, teachers or mentors. The midlets take full advantage of the mobile phone keypad for interaction and data input, and each one is supported by a set of lesson plans/learning activities that utilise each midlet.

All of the midlets work on mobile phones supporting Java 2 Mobile Edition (J2ME) with a screen resolution greater than 128×96 pixels (which, by my recent research, includes the vast majority of mobile phones sold in Australia within the last two years). Technically, the implementation aligns favourably with best practices in mobile application design.

Math4Mobile is a project of the Institute for Alternatives in Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa. Thanks to Arik, from the development team of Math4Mobile, for bringing this to my attention, and well done!

Maths can be a challenging subject especially – when some students have out of date math books and calculators. Studying hard sometimes isn’t enough: get the help you need with new applications that are available now.

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Learner-Centric Design of Digital Mobile Learning

Learner Centric Design of Digital Mobile Learning,” [doc] [pdf] (which I co-authored with my colleague Margaret O’Connell), received the Best Paper Award at Queensland University of Technology’s “Learning on the Move” conference which I attended yesterday (despite a raging flu!).

This paper provides a model for digital mobile learning approaches that are underpinned by sound educational design, developed using a learner-centric activity model of mobile learning, and implemented through best-practice considerations that are informed by our experience of delivering computer-based learning.

Many thanks to my co-author Margaret for her educational design expertise; our peer reviewers, for helping us polish the paper, and the conference organisers, for putting together a fantastic event and recognising our paper amongst so many excellent contributions.

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Find Out About Anything… Anywhere.

Early in our August Community Networks Forum (where the current theme is m-learning), respected educator Stephen Downes made this comment:

I think the killer educational resource for PDAs (and esp. pre-packaged content for PDAs) will be photo-recognition.

When the built-in or string-camera in the PDA is presented with an object (say, a flower) it will be able to recognize the object and present appropriate learning materials (matched to the person’s previous learning, etc) and materials from the community.

That thought was eerily prophetic… for last week, Google annouced that they had bought photo-recognition software company Neven Vision, a company that produces a product called i-SCOUT, which they describe as a “visual Google”:

The image recognition algorithms can recognize anything from an ipod to a picture of the Mona Lisa to the flower in the above picture. Link this to a database of images and you have yourself a pretty nifty search platform for anyone sporting a camera phone.

Perhaps one day, we may have mobile devices capable of telling us what we’re looking at and providing us with learning opportunities relating the world around us to the learning paths we’ve set for ourselves:

It’s the ultimate fulfilment of situated, immersive, contextualised and connected learning, and it could be just around the corner…

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Immersive Situated Learning

Here’s a post I created with a diagram to try to explain the concept of educational QR Codes to some of my esteemed colleagues:

The closest thing I’ve seen to the idea of taking a picture of something, and obtaining Just-In-Time learning on it, is Semapedia. Its Wikipedia article describes it thus:

Semapedia is a project which uses semacode nodes to connect Wikipedia articles with their relevant place in physical space.

Placing physical semapedia tags on real-world objects allows people with smartphones to use their built-in cameras to decode the Wikipedia-URL from the semacode. The phone can then use its internal browser to display the Wikipedia article of the physical object to the user.

Semacodes are barcodes that can be read using a normal camera phone (equipped with the right decoding software-many available for free). I’ve been an enthusiastic proponent of the use of 2D-barcodes in education for quite a while (see my blog: here, here, here, here, and here). 2D-barcodes can be used to form a ubiquitous interface between the “real world” and data repositories on a user’s mobile device or the Internet.

In the case of Semapedia, you place barcodes on realia – say, on the swing tag attached to every plant in a nursery. If a learner takes a photo of the barcode, the phone can “reinterpret” the barcode as a URL – in Semapedia, the URL of the Wikipedia article corresponding with the plant. In a learning context, however, richer target URLs could be assigned, such as a page with links to a number of learning resources on the relevant topic. Here’s a diagram of the process (click for full size version):

The software to both encode 2D barcodes and decode them is widely available for free – try it out! I have even been lobbying various Australian mobile phone vendors and service providers to pre-install the appropriate software in Australian handsets, as they do in Japan. That would *really* open up some options for educators. smile

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Four R’s Model and Mobile Learning Activities

Repost of posting to EdNa forums, with other commentary here. A summary of previous theorisings on this model, here and here, supplemented with diagrams.

We can classify mobile learning activities using an activity-based model of the “Four R’s of Mobile Learning”.

In a reflection of the “Three R’s” of the essential pre-Net Generation skills (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic), the “Four R’s” of Net Generation learning reflect the current sociocultural shifts in thinking and learning for an increasingly mobile twenty-first century. Defined from a learner-centric viewpoint, these are:

Record : The learner as a gatherer and “builder” of new knowledge

  • The learner may use a portable device to capture, preserve, memorise, note, or create information.
  • The information recorded may be in response to a prompt from the portable device itself; or in response to a stimulus from a situated learning environment or their teacher.
  • The information may be recorded to the portable device itself; or the portable device could serve as a conduit for storing the information remotely.
  • Underpinned by a Constructivist theory of learning

Reinterpret: The learner as an analyst of existing data to discover new knowledge

  • The learner may use the portable device to discover, process or enhance existing data so that it is transformed into new information, or “remixed” to enhance learning. In these conditions, the mobile device enhances or supplements the learner’s own senses or processing abilities.
  • Underpinned by a Constructivist theory of learning

Recall: The learner as a user of existing information and resources

  • The learner may use a portable device to recall information, events, experiences or stories, stored on the portable device (e.g. iPod recording), or by using the device to access information remotely (e.g.on the internet).
  • Underpinned by a Connectivist/Instructionist theory of learning

Relate: The learner as part of a social context and a network of knowledge

  • The learner may use a portable device to communicate with other people; for example, with other learners, or with a teacher (i.e. in a learning relationship).
  • The learner can use the device to communicate directly and synchronously (e.g. mobile phone conversation), or access asynchronous communication services (e.g. web discussion board or weblog).
  • They can also recommend and share resources, for example, linking mobile devices (usually wirelessly) and sending a file from one to the other.
  • Communicative and collaborative: underpinned by a Social Constructivist theory of learning

Related activities include Mobile Assessment (self, formative and summative assessment), and Teaching and Learning Support (tools to help teachers and learners, such as mobile gradebooks, rollbooks, etc.)

Mobile Learning Ideas

Record : The learner as a gatherer and builder of new knowledge

  • Moblogging: (Remote Record) using a mobile device to record audio, video, or (most commonly) images and save them to the web in a reverse-chronological format with text annotations.
  • Database/Form Entry: (Local Record) inputting data into a mobile device that can later be reviewed or assessed. Example applications include:
    • Dance moves database demonstration – uses XSForms by Grandasoft (freeware)
    • Recipe database
    • List of vocabulary/glossary
    • Database of procedures
    • Generally done on a PDA
  • Recording media: learners can record audio and video to devices like mobile phones, audio players, and PDAs. Example applications include:
    • Recording a class or lecture for later review as an mp3 file NoteM demonstration
    • Recording a mock “interview” or interaction for review or assessment
    • Recording a video (e.g. “Changing a Tyre”)
    • Done on PDA, Phone, audio device, digital camera
  • Journal Using Calendar: If an online blog is not appropriate, Outlook Calendar can be used to diarise and record events, class notes, assessment deadlines, and more.
    • Why? Because this is what PDAs were originally designed for, they perform these functions well.
    • May also be possible (though less convenient) on some mobile phones.
  • Freehand Drawing: Ability to quickly sketch drawings, diagrams, and jot notes could be useful on PDAs. MobilePencil is a good product for this.

Recall: The learner as a user of existing information and resources

  • Accessing a local Learning Object: I’m using a very broad definition of “Learning Object” – includes learning video or audio file, a learning interaction such as a Flash activity, even a document. Some examples:
  • Accessing a remote Learning Object: as above,
    but not stored on the mobile device itself, but at another location in
    “cyberspace” – a network server, a PC, or the Internet.
  • Accessing an RSS feed: what’s awesome about mobile RSS aggregators is that they allow “real time” updates of information to a mobile device.
  • Mobile Web Search: Google mobile is an example – provides mobile web search from a connected mobile phone or PDA
  • SMS-based information service: these require a bit of preparation. A service is set up by a commercial provider that enables a student to send a text to a number, which then returns some information. For example:
    • a student sends an SMS with the word “impasto” to 131234
      (example only). They then receive a dictionary definition of the term
      back via SMS.

Relate: The learner as part of a social context and a network of knowledge

  • Ad-hoc networking: Programs such as “Proximity Mail” enable PDAs within Bluetooth range (approx 10 metres) to form an ad-hoc networks allowing instant messaging. Other products also allow file exchange, and operate on the longer-distance (100m) 802.11b wireless protocol. Examples of use:
    • Learners engaged in local text-based chat in a quiet environment e.g. art gallery, lecture
    • Learners share learning materials and resources in real time,
      as they discover them in their browsers or write down their own
      learning experiences
  • Instant Messaging: the preferred communication
    channel of the Net Generation. IM types include SMS/MMS between mobile
    phones, MSN Messenger (installed in Pocket PCs), and other IM products
    can be installed which operate over wireless Internet (802.11a/b/g).
    One of the most comprehensive is Agile Messenger, which supports five of the most commonly used IM clients on Pocket PCs: Yahoo, ICQ, MSN, AOL and XMPP.
  • Voice Chat: most commonly implemented in mobile
    phones, but also possible to accomplish from a PDA with a suitable
    Messaging Client installed. Some include “Press To Talk” functionality
    that allows PDAs connected to wireless internet to operate like Walkie
  • Mobile Blogging:
    • Winksite demo (text), Moblog.UK
      demo (moblog)
  • Mobile Discussion: Asynchronous communication tool. Truly Flexible Mobile Learning – anywhere, anytime participation.
    • Winksite demo
  • Mobile Chat: Synchronous communication tool. Text-based group chat, allows group interaction using mobile phones (Winksite)/PDAs (ProximityMail)
    • Winksite demo
  • Mobile Wikis: Collaboration tool.
    • No free implementations (yet), but some well-documented reasons why these are/will be a Very Good Thing for learners.

Reinterpret: The learner as an analyst of existing data to discover new knowledge

  • Location-specific (potentially, situated) learning: PDA used as a processing tool to provide contextual information to learner. GPS, 2D-Barcodes, RFID tags connected with learning materials.
  • Data mining: searching a mobile database for trends and patterns in data
  • 2D Barcodes: a “bridge” between print/screen and mobile devices.
    • A QR Code could be a link to whole range of resources. Instead of a studentcopying down homework tasks, they can simply capture the information, or a linkto it, with a camera snap. When they get home, they gain access to, say, (or page, wheretheir resources are assembled. Some of the resources might even be mobilethemselves, such as resources developed in mobileprep – a mobile phone flashcard creator.
    • This example links to a Wikipedia page on the video game Grand Theft Auto.With a click of their camera button, the user gets access to the information directly on their mobile device:

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Models of Mobile Learning: Learner-centric vs Techno-centric

A number of models of “mobile learning”, or m-learning identify it as a subset of e-learning, including the main Wikipedia entry on the topic. These models focus on how digital convergence and miniaturisation nowallows us to access electronic resources using small, portable devices such as mobile phones, iPods, and PDAs.

The risk to my mind, however, is that educators may view m-learning through the mindset of the devices with which it is now so strongly associated – what I term a”techno-centric” approach to m-learning. The focus becomes providing learners with PDAs or mobile phones, without an understanding of the learning methodologies and activities these devices enable.

In my opinion, the focus should be on the learning process, rather than the learning platform. This position is supported by the statement “it is the learner who is mobile – not the technology” (a reflective outcome of the European 2004 MobiLearn project, cited: Sharples, M. (2005) Towards a theory of mobile learning

One way to understand this paradigm is to realise that mobile learning precedes e-learning by over a decade. E-learning became popular following an increase in the affordability of personal computers in the mid-to-late nineties.

A decade earlier (in the mid-eighties), we were

  • listening to audiobooks and lecture recordings on our cassette walkmans and car tape players,
  • calling up classmates on the phone to ask for help with homework outside of the classroom,
  • taking photos of relevant learning experiences, and
  • writing in portable reflective and visual journals – albeit on paper.

I posit that these mobile, learning activities (and many others) were no less valid than the “mobile learning” activities enabled by digital devices today.

What the new generation of mobile devices facilitate is more convenient, portable, and immediate access to very similar tools. Given this link between “new” mobile learning and “old” teaching practices, we can use our understanding of best-practice teaching and learning to stimulate and derive powerful ideas for education.

I’d like to explore the idea that practical mobile learning activities can be informed by, and derived from, our understanding of teaching and learning theory, mobile learning activities that have not previously been digitally based, and e-learning standards and practices.


Originally posted at the EdNa forum, where the topic of the month is m-learning. Other interested educators are invited to join the forum and participate in the discussions on mobile learning.

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The Fourth R…

While co-authoring a white paper for the “Learning On The Move” OLT Conference, I realised that there is, in fact, a “Fourth R” to add to my previous post on the learner-centric “Three R’s of Mobile Learning“.

Without recording or recalling any information, or communicating with others (“relating”), a learner can also use some mobile devices as a means of processing information – transforming it, performing calculations, or organising it in new ways. I’m initially inclinded to give this “fourth R” the mneumonic name “Reinterpret” – obtaining new knowledge from existing information.

Perhaps the simplest example of this “fourth R” is using a calculator: without storing or recalling any information, per se, a calculator can process input data to provide an informative result. Other examples of “reinterpreting” data include: “mining” a database for aggregate data, or using a mobile device to digitally interpret a 2D Barcode or aid or perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on text scanned with a mobile device.

Now, head over to Marg’s blog where she adds some excellent commentary from an instructional design perspective to our exploration of the Four R’s of Net-Generation Learning!

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