Mobile learning conference in the Asian Pacific: things I learnt in Singapore

View from the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, Singapore

View from the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, Singapore

A group of us from the Institute of Learning Innovation (Gráinne, visiting fellow Mark Childs, and I) have just attended MobiLearnAsia 2013 conference in Singapore. The conference was organised by Crimson Knowledge, a Singapore-based education company. This was the second year the conference has run; it was bigger this year, and covered new ground such as supplying iPads for every attendant at the pre- and post-conference workshops. Gráinne was a keynote speaker; Mark and I presented sessions, and together we delivered two days of pre-conference workshops.

The conference was attended by a mixture of corporations and educators from every level and sector, including military trainers and independent consultants, mostly from Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia, and Thailand, but also including China, the US, and the UK. At the academic conferences I have been been attending in recent years, corporations have been present but their sessions aren’t necessarily very well attended, possibly being seen as less learning, more commercial. While at this conference, I realised that it is really necessary for academics and corporations to communicate more, to be aware of the way the other views trends in learning and technology, and to help shape priorities of each sector. One really valuable corporate connection I made was with Kevin Chan, founder of Coursepad. Kevin let us use his app called Micepad to support our pre-conference workshops on the 7Cs of Learning Design, M-Pedagogy, and Augmented Reality/Virtual Worlds.  The app was well designed to form a support around the workshop, giving a central place for photos and notes to be gathered, a simple way for discussions to happen on the iPad (Mark acted as eModerator to keep an eye on questions/comments coming in on the app), and even just to have a quick profile of each attendant. The app also had a feature whereby you can email to yourself all the gathered discussions, for your own further review.

There were many ways in which I felt we in the UK are far behind countries such as Singapore and South Korea, who are really putting money into education and who are not afraid to bank on the side of technological innovation. Yet I felt we from the UK and USA brought good things to the table, especially in the form of research into learning innovation and a consideration of digital literacy, among other good things.

There were some impressive and successful case studies of mobile learning being implemented large-scale. One Australian university in attendance (University of Western Sydney) has distributed 11,000 iPads to its incoming students. They spoke of deploying learning designers to help instructors adapt their material and pedagogical approaches to the iPad. Designing learning for mobile is often thought of after the iPads are bought and paid for. I guess that’s ok, as long as the learning design happens at some point!

One  case study was presented in the graveyard shift of the first day and hence attended by only a handful of us, but it made a big impression on me.  A UNESCO programme to teach literacy to women in Pakistan did not seem to have much impact with traditional teaching methods, i.e. gathering the women every day at the literacy centre for 2 hours of lectures and teaching. At least half of the women dropped out after 3 months, and of the remainder, not many passed the final exams. But when they decided to hand out simple inexpensive mobile phones to each student, things changed. The women had never had mobile phones before. They received SMS messages which they dutifully copied into notebooks and studied for spelling and grammar. The message content was about hygiene and food preparation, so there was that to learn as well. Then once a week, the women gathered at the literacy centre to discuss what they learnt over the week and take the lessons further. Now there is much lower dropout rate and much higher exam pass rate. It is a simple use of simple mobile technology, which hit the right nerve to engage and empower these women.

One thing I considered during the conference was: for how many more years can we have a mobile learning conference? Five years? Fewer? I have no doubt that mobile learning is not only here to stay but will become the predominant technology mode in learning. The reason for this is the ubiquitous quality of mobile devices. They are always in our hands, pockets, or pocketbooks. And this is the reason why I’m not sure for how much longer we will refer to ‘mobile learning.’  It will just be learning. But for now, it is still necessary to think about the affordances of mobile devices and how they can fill gaps in tech needs for learning. It is still necessary to consider how to help students strategically use mobile devices for the flexible learning best suited to our 24/7 society. It is still necessary to consider what pedagogical approaches are well served by mobile devices. Until it all just becomes ‘learning.’

And what we cover in our Technology-Enhanced Learning module in our MSc in Learning Innovation will now need to be altered & widened to include the view from Singapore.

Many heartfelt thanks to Crimson Knowledge — Patrick and Vivian particularly — for inviting us and looking after us, and for allowing us to join in the picture of mobile learning in the Asian Pacific.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist & SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

New Institute of Learning Innovation papers at ALT-C 2013

The Institute of Learning Innovation will be well-represented at ALT-C 2013 conference: Building new cultures for learning.

Brenda Padilla’s full paper was accepted, with the title ‘Student engagement with a content-based learning design.’ Brenda summarises her paper: ‘While learning is commonly conceptualised as a social, collaborative process, in corporate organisations, online courses often provide limited opportunities for communication between people. How do students engage with content-based courses? How do they find answers to their questions? How do they achieve the learning outcomes? This paper aims to answer these questions by focusing on students’ experiences in an online content-based course delivered in a large Mexican organisation.’

A short paper by Terese Bird was accepted with the title ‘China is harvesting your
iTunes U – and other findings from researching how overseas students engage
with open learning materials.’ This paper will share findings from the HEA-funded iTunesUReach project in which the use of open educational resources (OER) by overseas students was researched. This project was represented at OER13 with the poster below.

A short paper by Ming Nie was accepted with the title ‘iPads in distance learning:
learning design, digital literacy, transformation.’ This paper will share findings from the JISC-funded Places project which is evaluating the use of iPads in two University of Leicester distance learning Masters courses.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

Steve Jobs: Star of Informal Learning

The sad news today of the passing of Steve Jobs brings a deserved flurry of tributes and perspectives on his work. This morning, close to one-fifth of all Twitter comments had to do with Steve Jobs. American president Obama described Jobs as being “among the greatest of American innovators.” Besides the immense consumer appeal of the  iPad, iPod, and iPhone, there is the multi-faceted impact of Mac computers, and Jobs’ reinvention of film animation at Pixar. I would like to relate a personal story of how Jobs’ innovation both affected an industry and reveals the power of informal learning.

Steve Jobs in an early Stanford computer lab of Macs. Courtesy of The Seb on Flickr

When I studied computer programming in the 1980s, I worked on an IBM 360/370 with terminals. After graduation, I took a job with a printing company in Chicago and tried my hand at typesetting. My father was a printer; he used to set type the ancient way, with little pieces of metal held together in a mold. At my company, we used a new-fangled method called phototypesetting, a combination of computer tech and photography. I typed commands (which were strangely similar to html) at a terminal, pressed a few buttons, and out came the imprinted photographic paper dripping with fixing fluid, ready to be hung up to dry.

My husband was also from a family of printers. Once on a visit to their company, my mother-in-law showed me this little computer called a Macintosh. She demonstrated how she could set type in a wysiwyg environment, using both a keyboard and a mouse (which I could not get my head around). When I saw how simply I could select fonts and sizes and see the piece laid out on the screen, I had a feeling that everything was about to change. Indeed, the desktop publishing revolution was right around the corner, and everything did change.

The Mac was the first computer to pay any attention to typefaces. If you watch Jobs unveil the Mac in 1984 (worth a watch for many reasons), you can see how important he felt it was to get typefaces right. Jobs learned about typefaces in a college calligraphy class, which he attended after he dropped out of college. Without a degree yet with academic instinct, Jobs applied what he learnt and made it integral to the Macintosh. He famously insisted on quality design and beauty at every hidden level of all of Apple’s innovations.

First Macintosh showing off typefaces - from the demo video on YouTube

My current SCORE project about iTunes U as a channel of free learning resources ( has let me appreciate this public platform given to universities and educational institutions. It’s not all philanthropy; of course iTunes U shows off how nice multimedia looks on the various i-gadgets. And yet, my research into how iTunes U materials are used by ordinary folks has revealed their importance as informal learning resources. It’s almost as if Steve Jobs brought his academic experience full-circle, allowing lots of people to ‘audit classes’ even if they are dropouts or never accessed higher education.

Thanks, Steve, for a lifetime of innovation and inspiration.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Fellow

Different strokes for different folks

Last year, I was walking behind two students who happen to be passing underneath a large banner that proclaimed the University of Leicester as University of the Year, 2008/9. The brief conversation was thus:

Student A: “Yes, we were University of the Year.”

Student B: “What, for the whole year?”

I’ve absolutely no idea whether Student B was being funny, ironic or genuine, but the comment stuck with me. It made me laugh.

Yesterday, as I was filming a workshop hosted by  CAIPE (Centre for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education) at which TIGER was present, I noticed a participant using an iPad placed firmly in a keyboard dock.

ipad in a keyboard

iPad in a keyboard dock

I asked her after the meeting why she used the keyboard and whether it was because it helped her type faster.

She said it did, but her main reason – as with the comment of the student above –  made me do a mental double-take. It was that using a keyboard prevented her iPad screen from becoming ‘dirty and smudged with fingerprints’.

I find this fascinating, as for me this is equivalent to strapping a team of horses to the front of a car because it prevents the exhaust pipe from getting sooty.

However, for this person, the system clearly works. So perhaps for her the touch screen capabilities of the iPad are not the most important features, as they clearly are for me.  Perhaps the lightness, portability and quick launch features of the device are more important.

I think my preconceptions were challenged in both cases, which is never a bad thing, and particularly so when it comes to technology.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

Picture courtesy of colecamp

Talking of iPads and Learning

Well, Steve Jobs and iPad 2 may make these comments seem obsolete! Just as I am writing my blog, he unexpectedly appears on stage…

All the same, I am fascinated by the online conversations among members of the Association for Learning Technology about using Apple iPads for elearning. In part this fascination is because I now have daily access to an iPad, but it’s also because these ALT members are well-informed and adventurous.  

I start with Seb Schmoller’s suggestion: Educause’s “7 Things You Should Know About iPad Apps for Learning” That gives me a quick overview, including a few examples of institutions trying them out.  

Our own Terese Bird notes a US college’s one-iPad-per-student programme and a New York Times article on use of iPads in American schools. 

Terese Bird also says she heard about a paperless course created in Switzerland with iPads that paid for themselves by saving printing costs. 

Simon Brookes sends this report on Reed College’s apparently successful use of iPads. He also mentions Stanford Medical School requiring first year students to have them. Elearning in hospital? 

Then of course there are techie views galore. I shall skip them.

Whether iPad or iPad 2, I still have the same question uppermost in my mind: what educational benefits are there? Or, to put it another way, can I think up ways of helping students who use iPads to learn more from, to understand better, to think critically about – their courses?

If Stanford, Reed and Seton Hill, just to mention three higher education institutions, have found out how to make it worthwhile for students to own iPads, shouldn’t the University of Leicester know about that? I think so. It sounds like a timely small-scale study for the Beyond Distance Research Alliance, possibly one funded by the university itself

David Hawkridge

When is a computer not a computer?

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with my colleague Terese. She mentioned this website that lists Apple as the top manufacturer of “mobile PCs”. My question was, “Is the iPad a computer?”

I think the answer falls into the “glass half full or empty” category. The iPad is clearly computer technology. What Apple have done is to take a laptop and remove or “re-spec” many of the components. So, remove keyboard, mouse, hard-drive, USB, DVD, 3D graphics, cooling fans and the ability to run “ordinary” programs. Add touch-screen, Flash memory, a proper user interface and “apps”.  The result is a machine that’s really good at the things it’s designed for, but limited in what it can do.

Of course, there are people who don’t like being restricted, and immediately try to do more than is intended. When I worked at the Computer Science Department of University of Glasgow, a favourite trick was to “mod” an Xbox – another specialised computer, this time for games. The method was to buy a new BIOS chip and attach it to the existing one, replace the silly hard drive with a much bigger one, add a USB keyboard and mouse, and install Linux. The result? A decent computer with a fantastic graphics card at half the (then) price.

With the iPad, it’s “Jailbreaking”, and it lets you run non-Apple-approved apps. (Of course, Apple are not impressed…)

There are also ways around the reduced-spec of the iPad computer. For example, the Dragon Dictate app provides (remarkably good) speech recognition on the iPad. How, one may ask, when the processor is nowhere near fast enough? Well, you record up to 60 seconds of speech, and when you press “Stop” the iPad sends the recording to Dragon’s server farm somewhere in the world, which converts the audio to text on some multi-GHz computer and then sends the text back to your iPad (a clever promotion strategy for Dragon’s PC software).

My interest, of course, is in running virtual worlds. With a project here using Second Life to create virtual genetics laboratories, I’m interested in just what one needs to use a virtual world.

The ideal is a good computer (PC, or Mac) with a “proper” gaming graphics card. But the ideal is by no means necessary. On my home PC I upgraded the graphics very cheaply and effectively using a card designed more for Blu-ray playback. For system memory, no more than 3Gb is needed, and only the cheapest processors won’t be able to keep up.

So, just how much of a computer does one really need to run Second Life? Linden Labs have been experimenting recently with “the Dragon solution” – as with Dictate on the iPad, using an external server to do the difficult bit (in this case, rendering the graphics). By all accounts, it shows promise. You have to live in the US though if you want to try it 😦

If I were to tell you that there is a specialised device just perfect for running Second Life, much cheaper than a PC, fantastic graphics capability, and lots of people already own it, you might wonder why Linden Labs haven’t rushed to release a viewer for it. Well, so do I. Maybe there’s a good technical reason, or maybe it’s political. But to my mind, the XBox 360 is just perfect for Second Life (other games machines are available!). You could even sell the viewer, retail! Maybe Rod Humble would like to comment?

So when is a computer not a computer? Well, I guess the answer is, “When it’s only the bits of a computer you actually need”.

Paul Rudman
Beyond Distance research Alliance

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

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

Online Educa Berlin 2010: The iPad

I thought OEB 2010 would be an excellent opportunity to test the iPad as a fully functional conference device, not just for participants but for speakers too.

Had I written this blog two hours ago, I would’ve described it as an abject failure. However, I’ll now reassess that initial judgement and describe the iPad as a disappointment.

The battery life and always-on functionality are brilliant, and switching between programs is fine. The Twitter and Facebook apps are as good as ever. The iPad is also very easy to use when it’s perched on a knee during a talk. I even watched a film rented from iTunes in my hotel room. It is truly a supreme digital muncher.

But …

I was trying to write a blog on our WordPress site, but the iPad – or Safari, I’m not sure which – wouldn’t let me scroll the edit window within the WordPress web page. I was furious, and in the end had to get Terese in the UK to upload my blog and pics from her end.

I’ve no idea if this is the Flash issue we’ve all blogged about. Whatever the reason, it’s not acceptable in a £600 portable device.

Then I tried to send a PDF of a boarding pass back the UK. In the end, I had to do a workaround with iAnnotate. But what if I hadn’t had the app? If I’d only had the default iPad apps? Again, not good enough.

So I’m probably now a little less enamoured of my iPad. If Apple are serious about this device as a must-have for the professional classes, then this rotten functionality needs to be addressed. Otherwise the road is wide open for the forthcoming plethora of Android tablets.

I wish i’d bought my Samsung NC10 net book to Berlin 😦

Simon Kear
Keeper of the Media Zoo

How does the iPad help students?

You may have seen already that extraordinary piece of Chinese conjuring about an iPad.

I still don’t have an iPad, but I’m interested in what the iPad can do, without conjuring, to help students. It’s an expensive item at present, but the price may come down soon and of course cheaper clones will probably appear.

I’ve just read Rob Abel’s article, entitled ‘The iPad changes the landscape of educational portable computing’, summarising a discussion of iPads during the recent huge EDUCAUSE conference in Anaheim, California on digital learning resources.

Out of Abel’s group of over 100 people, most had an iPad: they were enthusiastic about it, but comments were fairly balanced on its potential and barriers to it fulfilling that potential.

The iPad is appearing on campus, but it’s too early to say whether the apps (applications) for it will bring great advantages to education. It’s more than just an e-book reader: it’s ‘multimedia friendly’ and it connects to the Internet. It’s mobile and compatible with existing IT. Students can easily collaborate using iPads. Staff get interested in trying the iPad.

Abel’s group noted that among barriers to its adoption in education, the iPad is different from others that content providers may want to endorse. If there’s an over-supply of computing and communication gadgets like the iPad, educational institutions probably won’t want to support them all but may not choose the iPad. Abel says the session didn’t discuss much using the iPad for instruction. Teachers want text and document processing. The iPad might render e-books more attractive than books, but it’s too early to say.

The Beyond Distance Research Alliance hasn’t yet set up a project to explore the educational benefits of the iPad, nor have I seen a call for proposals for such a project. Is that a good thing? Shouldn’t we be trying to exploit, for the benefit of learners, every new technology that comes along?

David Hawkridge

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