European Apple Leadership Summit – Part 2

This is the conclusion of my report on the European Apple Leadership Summit, which took place 11 January at the Mayfair Hotel in London. Three impressive case studies were highlighted:

University of Plymouth teaches iOS programming
It all started couple of years ago in Computer Science lecturer Nick Outram’s programming class. A student announced that his project was going to be to make an Apple App Store app, with the stated objective to make money on the sales. Nick didn’t know what to expect, but within a week or so, the student had created the app. Apple rejected it at first, but after some fixes, the student app passed. Not only so, but by the end of the term the student had earned £2k. Suddenly, people wanted to make apps. Nick started up a CPD class for students, charging a modest amount. In addition, the university began to offer 3-day app workshops to external developers.

University of Leeds Medical School loans iPhones to students
Gareth Frith of the Leeds Medical School reported that when the medical school CETL wanted to innovate, they decided to loan pay-as-you-go iPhones to students. Preloaded with the most important learning materials: the Oxford Handbook and the BNF prescription manual, students used their iPhones for information access anywhere, even in clinical training. The medical school plans to continue and expand the programme.

IMD Business School in Switzerland launches paperless courses with the iPad
Iain Cooke of IMD reported the executive business school was looking for a way to reduce the hassle and cost of printing 1000 sheets of paper per student per week,which was the norm. Their solution: paperless courses were launched with course materials and apps supplied on loaned iPads. Iain reported a savings of 10 Swiss Francs per student per day, and the programme paid for itself in 6 months just on the cost savings of printing alone.

I won’t go into detail about the app-making workshop I attended, except to say that I made a simple RSS -feeding app with the Apple SDK in about 15 minutes. But there are so many things which must be in place before one can quickly make those apps, that I can’t say it is a simple matter.

In sum, Apple made a pretty good claim to a history of technological innovation for education. Judging from the comments of other attendees, I was not alone in that positive opinion.

And it is only right to say, “Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Steve Jobs.”

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

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European Apple Leadership Summit – Part 1

On 11 January 2011 I attended the European Apple Leadership Summit at the Mayfair Hotel in London. This was a by-invitation-only event; my invitation was based on a few things, one of which is my work on the SPIDER project, looking at iTunes U as a distribution channel of open educational resources (OER). This meeting was Apple’s chance to make the case to those in leadership in European higher education that Apple software and hardware should play a role in educational technology. They mostly let case studies do the talking.

A Paperless Conference

This meeting was a one-day conference — keynote, invited speakers, and individual workshops. Apple did not hand out any papers nor post any charts in the lobby listing where each workshop would take place and who was signed up where. Rather, they gave all attendants an iPad for the day. I actually received an iPad for Christmas, and said to the nice Apple lady, “I have my own.” She said, “You’ll want ours, because it’s pre-loaded with conference stuff.” Indeed it was. There was a custom-made app for the conference, showing the Twitter stream, a little movie welcoming me to the event, bios of all the speakers, agenda for the day, list of delegates’ institutions, and an interactive survey to be filled in at the end. Because I signed into the app, with the same email address by which I registered for the conference, it knew who I was and which workshop(s) I signed up for, so it gave me a pop-up window telling me I had 10 minutes to get to my next session and displayed a little map showing me which room to go to. It did not work perfectly, but it was pretty close, and therefore pretty impressive. Of course I used the iPad throughout the conference especially to tweet. It was also a good chance to check out some of the new apps created by featured educators and speakers; while speakers were describing how they made these apps, I could check them out on my iPad. A couple of negatives about giving me an iPad: I had planned to take notes on my own iPad. If the Evernote app had been installed on the iPad they gave me, I would have been sorted; as it was, I quickly decided to take notes by liberal tweeting and a few paper scribbles. Another negative was that I would have liked a list of other delegates’ emails, or at least the emails of the speakers. But I handed in the iPad at the end of the day and had no list of delegates; of course I made contacts on my own, but it’s nice to have a list of delegates’ emails given to you. If this had been a proper academic conference, I would have thought the app should be tweaked to send a delegates’ list if desired.

 

 

'Globe' iPad app. Photo by kenco on Flickr.

 

News from Pearson Publishers

A very senior person from Pearson described how they are producing their textbooks in format suitable for all e-book reader devices: Kindle, epub for most e-readers, and media-rich epub for the iPad. She identified the iPad as the best vehicle for textbooks, because one can have colour photos and embedded movies and sound. The Open University, for example, has produced many free e-books (available on their iTunes U site) with embedded audio and (I believe) embedded video as well. The question I have here is: yes, iBooks displays multimedia-rich e-books beautifully. iBooks is Apple-only. Will there be an iBooks-type software for Windows computers and for nonApple handheld devices– how long will it take for something like this to appear?

There is more to report from this event. I shall write more in a future blog post.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo



E-Books: Permeating and Complementing

Beyond Distance first began to research the use of e-book readers in higher education back in 2008 at the beginning of the DUCKLING project. From our research, distance students overwhelmingly reported that accessing course materials on the e-reader was a very flexible, convenient study method which helped them target the most relevant readings, well suiting their busy, on-the-go lifestyles. Yet, especially in the earlier stages of the project, I wondered about the long-term viability of e-books and e-book readers. E-book reader prices were not terribly far off from the price of netbooks, and publishers did not seem to be in a rush to make books available as e-books.

Photo courtesy of ceslava on Flickr

Today, especially since the UK launch of the iPad in May and Amazon dropping the price of the Kindle in June, the scene looks very different. But it isn’t just the low price of the Kindle or the cool tech of the iPad. It’s the fact that huge players like Apple and Amazon are managing to persuade publishers to make books, even textbooks, available as e-books. It’s also the fact that Amazon wisely made its Kindle App (the programme which nicely displays the e-book) freely available for iPad, iPhone, Android, and both Mac and Windows computers (and it seems to be do-able in Linux as well).

So now, students can take their reading list, check titles on a growing list of online e-book vendor websites including those of W H Smith and Waterstones, and download the e-book right now and likely for a lower price than the paper version. If they are lucky enough to have a reading list filled with the old classics such as Plato’s Republic or Huckleberry Finn, the e-books are free. Some good sites for free e-books are Project Gutenberg, Manybooks.net, and feedbooks.com, and most of the e-book sales sites also feature free e-books.

E-books won’t be pushing paper books out of the picture anytime soon. However, with their mobility, convenience, instantaneous delivery, and (usually) lower prices, they have managed to permeate the marketplace and complement the use of traditional books. They are here to stay, and their presence and use will only grow.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

iTunes U in UK Universities

I was surprised to read – in the listserv used by members of the Association of Learning Technology, a British-based but international organisation – an animated discussion of iTunes U in UK universities.

What surprised me was the deep concern felt by some correspondents about relying on a huge American company, Apple, to provide the vehicle for accessing albums containing British academic material.

Admittedly, my own view of Apple is coloured by long and valuable use of the company’s products. And my view of iTunes U is particularly favourable because of its outstanding success at the Open University, where a very wide public continues to download over a million ‘albums’ a month, about 27 million to date.

To some extent, I suppose, I have an inside view of iTunes U at the OU, because one of my family is a leading member of the team there. I’ve seen the care that goes into selecting material and presenting it.

Recently, with four BDRA colleagues, I wrote a paper* about OERs and we included a section about iTunes U at the OU. I wanted that because I see quite a few parallels between the albums and OERs being offered now by many UK universities. All of them are free to users. Creating them requires fairly similar processing and rights clearance. Few of them consist of a complete course or even a large part of one, yet all offer opportunities to get acquainted with a field of study.

Now the University of Leicester is thinking about moving into iTunes U as part of its educational mission. Without the OU’s huge resource of multi-media material to draw on, Leicester may think twice before committing resources to the creation of more than a fairly small number of albums, enough to establish a presence. Perhaps it will draw on OTTER’s products. Leicester may look for more evidence to emerge first about the benefits it would gain in the new higher education marketplace about to be established in the UK following the Browne Report and news of the government’s cuts in university budgets. If Leicester looks for ways of advertising more widely its academic products, iTunes U may be a channel it turns to, one that Martin Bean, the OU’s Vice-Chancellor, certainly rates very highly.

Yes, an American company hosts iTunes U, and very well too, without charge. Amazing, isn’t it, that such a company enables UK universities, as well as American ones and some others, to promote themselves worldwide? No wonder a recent report in The Guardian stated that the UK exports a great deal via the Internet: doubtless that includes a lot of higher education: 89% of the downloads from the OU’s iTunes U are by people living abroad.

David Hawkridge

* Hawkridge, D., Armellini, A., Nikoi, S., Rowlett, T. and Witthaus, G. (in press). Curriculum, intellectual property rights and open educational resources in British universities — and beyond. Journal of Computing in Higher Education.

A Flash in the Pan?

Adobe Flash Professional is one of my favourite software programs.  I find it incredibly versatile as it can create video, interactive resources, vector art, web applications, websites, etc.  Personally I find its biggest limitation is price.  Adobe Flash Professional is expensive and is updated every couple of years (CS5 has been released this year).  Flash Professional CS3 (released 2007) introduced the launch of ActionScript 3 (Flash’s specific programming language) which allows for greater flexibility and scope.  Unfortunately for me, due to the price of Flash, I’m still running Flash Professional CS2 (released 2005).

In order to view a Flash video, website, resource or application you need to download and install the Adobe Flash Player, which can be downloaded for free, and will plug into your browser. In fact Adobe Flash Player is installed on 99% of Internet-enabled desktops and with its latest release of Flash Player 10.1 it is aiming to provide browsing across all devices e.g. mobile phones, tablet-based hardware, desktops etc.

However one thorn in Flash’s side might be Apple. Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) recently wrote this piece about Apple and Adobe’s history:

http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

What it basically boils down to is that you won’t be viewing anything Flash-based on an iPhone, iTouch or iPad. There appears to be an equal amount of people on either side of the fence when it comes to this argument and one question has been asked repeatedly: is this the end for Flash?

I hope not. For me Flash provides smaller file sizes, a range of formats, frame by frame animation, as well as interacting with other programming languages such as HTML, CSS and XML and it can be seen by a wide audience. For e-learning Flash can provide interaction, it can provide video that can be seen by the majority of users, it can be embedded into a VLE or a browser and while it does require technical knowledge to be used effectively there are commercial and open source authoring tools which allow for easier editing of Flash.

If Flash can adapt and evolve for mobile devices and with the Open Screen Project this looks likely, then I think, and hope, the only flash in the pan is the Adobe and Apple battle.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

Is the Pad a Fad?

The only Apple device I own and use (reluctantly) is a very old iPod. When my mobile phone contract expired last month, I spent a whole weekend researching alternatives to the ubiquitous to the iPhone, so popular in Beyond Distance. My post today, therefore, is not meant to add another voice to the chorus of adoration for Steve Jobs’ toys. Rather, it is about the technological promise for learning which his latest device, the oh-so-discussed iPad brought. The Economist dubbed it the Tablet of Hope, Twitter is teeming with jokes about its name. In the midst of it all I came across two accounts which felt like glimpses into a fortune teller’s crystal ball – the future….:

Here they are, two generations firmly outside the scope of formal learning, discovering new information, using it in novel ways, creating and communicating, in one word – learning. And learning intuitively, seamlessly and enthusiastically. Now when the learning technology for learning technophobes seems to have arrived, we need to create and adapt pedagogical frameworks which will make its use meaningful and efficient. As to what exactly the windows for learning opened up by the iPad might be, my guess is to do with tactile learning. After the revival of voice, brought in by podcasting, learning by touch may be another of the very primal and early ways in which human beings learn to be rediscovered as a learning technology. Tactile learning will be more object oriented, with smaller elements, with a closer blend of content and collaboration and increased use of video stories and images. The two and a half year-old and the ninety-nine year-old from the videos above are happy enough to learn using a tablet. When enough research evidence accumulates, perhaps academics will be happy to teach using a tablet. Only the future will tell…

Sandra Romenska, 04 May 2010

eBooks and eReaders: Advancing at Warp Speed

The DUCKLING project, a collaborative effort between University of Leicester’s Beyond Distance, the School of Psychology and the School of Education has been examining the impact on distance students’ learning of three technologies: podcasts, ebook readers, and the use of Second Life. Back in autumn 2009, we loaded learning materials onto ebook readers and shipped them out to distance students around the world, in lieu of the stacks of printed material shipped in years past and at greater cost. (For  a simple guide to change Word documents to epub documents suitable for most ebook readers, click here to download from the DUCKLING website.) As one of the learning technologists working on the project, I provided subsequent support to the students, mostly by answering their questions on a Blackboard discussion board.

In March of 2010, we shipped ebook readers to a new cohort of distance students, and I have again been providing technical support by discussion on Blackboard. I observed an interesting development in the kinds of questions being asked.

The September 2009 cohort asked questions about the different software required by the ereader (Sony Reader Library, Calibre) and what platforms these run on,  whether PDF documents display on ereaders (answer: they do, but line breaks are rigid so the document does not “flow”). Students also commented that they appreciated carrying all reading material in one package especially while travelling, and the fact that their ereader was a conversation-starter on their morning commute. Some students commented that they wished their ereader had facilities for note-taking (the Sony PRS-505 used in this project does not have this facility).

The March 2010 cohort asked fewer tech-help questions. They had many more technical comments, having already gotten to grips with many of the usability issues. Comments such as “I wish I could organise the documents according to my own design” were quickly answered by other students who had already figured it out. They downloaded their own material onto ereaders and discussed how that worked. Most interestingly to me, they compared reading documents on the ereader not with reading on paper, but with reading on other devices – laptop, iPod Touch, iPhone.  I found myself scrambling to keep up with the suggestions for software to try, sites to visit, apps to purchase. One student looked forward to the ease with which ereaders could make educational material available to students: “…education is the perfect market for ebooks I think. The amount of reading is so wide-ranging, and personally there is a desire to read tonnes of material. The access we have through Leicester for journals is immense; having the same access to the reading lists would just be good for education full stop. It will change, when is the only question.”

In January 2010 the Consumer Electronics Association predicted ereader sales will double in 2010, as Amazon announced the Kindle was “the most gifted item ever from its website” according to Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service. The Apple iPad has every possibility of being a game-changer in this field. Our students’ comments illustrate the speed at which the ebooks and ereaders market is advancing. For students looking for a convenient and cost-effective way of accessing academic material, the change cannot happen too soon.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant ZooKeeper

The beckoning Wave

‘You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment’, wrote Henry David Thoreau.

Though really torn about using Thoreau’s name and that of Google in the same piece, I could not think of a more meaningful quotation with the term ‘wave’ in it.

Not happy with just being the undisputed leaders in online searching, Google has unveiled Google Wave, a system aimed at improving online collaboration. Perhaps I should say ‘revolutionising  online collaboration’.

Beware Microsoft and Apple. Google, whose company mission is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ has just hit a home run!

Like the legendary Macworld Expo, where the Applemeister Steve Jobs has annually held court, Google launched the Wave to developers at the Google I/O Conference in San Francisco.

With the unveiling of one piece of groundbreaking technology after another at this humdrum convention venue, the Moscone Centre, has become the choice of site for ‘revolutionary stagings’ –  not unlike a Runnymede or a Bretton Woods of the technological age! 

After displacing the AOLs and the Yahoos of the ‘search world’, and then emerging from the shadow of the Apple vs. Microsoft struggle for ‘net-world domination’, the not-so-subtle message now is that ‘Google has arrived’ and it appeared to be received loud and clear.

Maybe Google staffers are just hitting back because Google was nudged from the top spot (sliding to number 4 in the rankings) of Fortune Magazine’s list of the 100 best companies to work for!!

Google software engineering manager and the man behind Google Maps, Lars Rasmussen pointed to previous communications advances such as email and instant messaging as the starting point for Google Wave – essentially, posing the question: What would email look like if we developed it today? Read it here in his own words.

With Wave, Google are proposing a new communications model, and appear keen to find out what the world might think. Though Google don’t have a specific timeframe for public release, they are  planning to continue working on Google Wave for a number of months more as a developer preview. If you’d like to be notified when Google launches Wave as a public product, you can sign up here.

Just a scan of the available reviews from the blogsphere reveals generally gushing praise – with terms like ‘how frighteningly integrated’ and ‘an absolute game changer’ liberally used to greet the Wave.

Google hopes Wave will cause a rethink about what a single communications platform might look like and be able to support when it is built from scratch, but with access to the online technologies most users take for granted in this day and age.

Wave will allow multiple users to exchange real-time dialogue, photos, videos, maps, documents and other information forms within a single, shared communications space known as a wave.

Users of the system should be able to see instantly what fellow collaborators are typing and even publish a wave to a blog or web site, where the content will update instantly as the wave changes.

Google said the aim is to allow people to communicate and work together in an infinitely richer, more instant and integrated way.

Google Wave will introduce features such as concurrent rich text editing, whereby users will be able to see, ‘almost instantly, letter-by-letter, what fellow collaborators are typing into a message or document in a wave,’ according to Rasmussen

There will also be a playback feature, and Google said the technology can integrate with the rest of the web. And supporters of ‘open sourcing’ need not fret as Google also said it was planning to open source Google Wave in the coming months. ‘Developers can build extensions to Google Wave using our open APIs, embed waves in other sites, or build applications that interoperate with Google Wave,’ said Rasmussen.

Among other things, online teaching and collaborative learning potentially stands to be revolutionised in ways we only imagined before. How long before a system incorporating Google Wave gets adapted as a VLE, with opportunities for online collaboration that other VLE platforms can only wonder about?

– Jai Mukherjee (3 June 2009)

With inputs from online news sites and print news publications … since Google invited neither Thoreau nor me to the launch!

Mice and Creativity

Given it’s April 1st, I woke up this morning with the powerful urge to post a BDRA version of Orson Welles’ radio show of 1938:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_warworlds.html

Now, after having played a few pranks to relatives, friends and colleagues, the practical joke impulse has been subdued somewhat. Still, it is Fool’s Day and one needs a lot of inspiration and creativity to come up with amusing (for one) and believable (for one’s victim) pranks, I decided that my post will be about bright ideas, creativity and insight.

I read yesterday the story of the invention and evolution of the computer mouse. It all started in the 1970s with the Xerox PARC mouse that cost 400$ to which an extra 300$ needed to be added for the interface connecting the mouse to the computer. A picture can say more than a thousand words, so just take a look at the image below and you will see why people were eager to improve the technology.

 (http://www.techdigest.tv/2008/12/galleries/top_10_tuesday_6.php?pic=1#galtitle)

 Then, Steve Jobs from Apple contracted two young designers to come up with something 90% cheaper (he wanted the manufacturing costs to be no more than 25-30$), sturdier and more functional. This is where the story becomes fascinating. The two designers – Dean Hovey and David Kelley, found inspiration for the prototype of the mice we use today from the design of roll-on deodorants. In Hovey’s words:

“The first place I went was to Walgreens, and I bought all the roll-on deodorants I could find on the shelves. They had these plastic balls in them that roll around. Then I went over to the housewares area and bought some butter dishes and plastic things that were about the size I might need to prototype something. Over the weekend I hacked together a simple spatial prototype of what this thing might be, with Teflon and a ball. The first mouse had a Ban Roll-On ball.”

http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/2002/3/2002_3_48.shtml

 I have been reading lots and lots of scenarios about the future lately. When discussing change in the future and where it may come from, very often the authors of these scenarios seem to believe that the more extraordinary, “unthinkable” and unusual the sources of change and its consequences are, the more authentic and believable and “expert” their scenarios will be. And yet, to me, the story of the invention of the mouse shows how often ground-breaking change happens when little, unnoticeable, everyday things are arranged by people or by chance into novel combinations, or used for innovative purposes.

Happy Fool’s Day!

Sandra Romenska, BDRA

 the20first20mouse1

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