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Which technologies do learners use?

Today I have been at the JISC RSC-EM summer conference where the focus was ‘the learners voice’. In the opening presentation by Chris Hill, he played various video clips of different learners voices, and one set of such clips asked the learners what technologies they used.

The responses were along the lines of facebook, MSN (although a few said this was declining), mobile phones and games consols.

Although not a suprising set of responses it does raise a few thoughts;

All of the listed technologies are victims of institutional banning!

Interesting that none mentioned a VLE or eportfolio, tools that many claim are at the heart of learning!

All of these technologies are not complicated, or expensive for a college to use.

So have we in education tried to be too clever with our use of technology developing overly complex solutions to problems that didn’t exist? should we take a few steps back and focus on basics (like using the existing technologies well)?

In another video clip where the learner was asked what they wanted from their teachers the answer was ‘to learn how to use PowerPoint and Word properly’ -which has been my arguement for years.


Using ‘Paint’ to create simple quizes for a phone

Lilian Soon of xlearn is superb when it comes to using mobile phones with learners, and one technique that she has developed is creating a series of small image files, which you then distribute to the learners phones, and if they flick through them in sequence they have a learning object. Lilian has created a couple of video clips showing how to do this (by using good old humble paint) and what the end product looks like.

The first video, shows the end product

Source – http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1524458075866693739&hl=en

and the next shows, how this was created.

Source – http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2479360146328027324&hl=en

Another possible variation of this, would be to have images that show a sequence that has to be followed as a guide, so in say plumbing, for people learning the correct order to do thigns when doing a solder joint, a pictoral guide (that they then carry round with them on their phone) could be useful to some people, until they have learnt the technique fully.

Voice to text for free using SpinVox

There are various options for software that will convert speech to text, the best known being Dragon produced by Nuance, and I am often asked if there are any free alternatives, which up until now I have not been able to suggest.

For the last few weeks  I have been using ping.fm as a conduit that allows me to update the social networking sites Twitter, Jaiku and Facebook at the same time, and this has a feature where I can use SpinVox with it, and update these sites by talking to my phone, and what I say gets converted to text.

This made me then think about whether this could be used to allow a learner to speak into their phone and have what they say converted to text for them, and by using SpinVox directly, this is possible – you go onto the site, create an account, and then have various options, including the ‘memo’ feature which will convert what they say onto an email, of the blog feature which will send what they say to a blog.

Now I think that this is rather good and could have various educationaly uses. For a learner that has difficulty with their writing or spelling, and doesn’t have access to some of the more sophistiacted software then this can be used to overcome this problem. Or an ESOL student, could talk to their phone in English, and then see how well it understands what they are saying, to practive their pronunciation.

The voice recognition of   SpinVox is not as good as Dragon , so this isn’t a replacement for it, but the potential here for learners, to use their phones for this sort of activity is amazing.

‘Mobile phones are strictly prohibited’

Something that really annoys me, is signs like this:-

“The use of mobile phones in the reception area is strictly prohibited”, why do they need to put the word ‘strictly’ into the sign? – What is the difference between something being ‘prohibited’ and something being ‘strictly prohibited’ – and why was I allowed to take this photo (using my mobile phone) of my colleague using his mobile phone, right in front of the reception desk, without being challenged? Wouldn’t a sign written with more positive language been better – e.g. ‘The reception staff would prefer if people moved away from the desk when using mobile phones, as it can make it difficult to hear people on the phone. Thank you’

Strict prohibition of mobile phones

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

Learners ‘recording’ lectures with their mobile phones!

Last week at a MoLeNET event, James Clay pulled of an impressive stunt, where he used his mobile phone to record and broadcast live to the Internet a question posted to the panel of experts, showing both how easy it would be for a learner to do the same thing, and then how many issues this raises. James’ Blog posting on this, and the video itself is on http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/2008/09/18/live-at-the-molenet-2008-conference/

A week earlier I was running a training session on challenging behaviour and the issue of mobile phones was raised, and one attendee mentioned that he was aware of a colleague that had just been suspended because of a learner recording something on their phone (I don’t know what because he couldn’t give any details) – and this he thought was a justification for banning phones completely. Personally I don’t think banning phones completely is a sensible solution to that issue. If the tutor was doing something for which they deserved to be suspended, and a learner had the sense to capture it, then personally I think all is fair. Even if phones were banned, unless all learners are thoroughly searched on entry to the premisis, if they thought it necessary to record and report someone, then it would be very easy to do that covertly.

So looking at both scenarios mentioned above, I can foresee a lot of educational institutions, changing their policies to ‘ban’ the recording of lectures with mobile devices, but this I see will be problematic.

How do you enforce such a ban – if someone breaks it, what do you do – remove them from the course and mess up your retention data, or take them to court (I hope not).

What about learners with disabilities, there are many out there who currently legitimately record lectures so they can access them later at their own pace etc. Many use specialist sound recorders for this, but one of things that m-learning brings was the potential for them to use everyday kit (such as a phone) so they could do it more discretely, and widespread ban would damage this practice.

Which policy would such a policy go into – would it be part of the IT acceptable use policy, if it is then the problem is that this really covers the acceptable use of institution equipment and systems – with the mobile phone it is learner owned and outside of this control.

So – as James eludes to in his live broadcast – this is an issue, it is here now (only a lot of people don’t know about it yet) and it needs some considered thought across the board, and I propose that this should happen sooner, rather than waiting for problems, and having knee-jerk retrospective decision making.

We need more power scotty!


Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

Mobile learning is sweeping across education. At the same time a large number of schools and colleges are being rebuilt and have been designed to serve the next 50 years, but a lot of these rebuilds are not thinking about how people are going to charge their personal mobile devices – have they designed this into the plan?

Are we going to start seeing locker devices like this one in schools and colleges, where devices are both secure and charging at the same time. I remember when I was at school, the PE teacher had a little tin that you put your wallet, watch and keys in, as the changing rooms weren’t secure, I wonder what PE teachers will be doing in a few years time….