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Mobile Technology In Education

Mobile Technology In Education


It is almost universally acknowledged that computers are essential for 21st-century students. To most educators "computer" means a PC, a laptop, or, in some instances, a personal digital assistant (PDA); cell phones, on the other hand, are more often regarded as bothersome distractions to the learning process. However, it is time to begin thinking of our cell phones as computers—even more powerful in some ways than their bigger cousins. Both have microchips and perform logical functions. The main difference is that the phones began with, and still have, small size, radio transmission, and communication as their core features, expanding out toward calculation and other functions. This has happened at precisely the same time as the calculation machines we call computers have expanded into communication and other areas. Clearly the two are headed toward meeting in the middle; when all the miniaturization problems have been solved, the result will be tiny, fully featured devices that we carry around (or perhaps have implanted in our bodies).

For now, most educators still see the computer and the cell phone as very different devices, with the tiny cell phone being a much more personal (and ubiquitous) accoutrement, especially among young people. With dropping prices and increasing utility, it is almost a foregone conclusion that not too far into the future, all students will have a cell phone, quite possibly built right into their clothing. Ski parkas with built-in cell phones are already on the market.

The cell phone has proved so useful that there are 1.5 billion around the world, with half a billion new ones sold every year. The US and Canada, are the only places where PCs still outnumber cell phones. In the rest of the world the mobile reigns, with countries often having 5 to 10 times more mobile phones than PCs.

In some countries—including the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, and the Czech Republic—cell phone penetration is greater than 100%, which means that individuals own and use two or more of these devices. Cell phone penetration in Asia continues to climb: Hong Kong and Taiwan have already surpassed 100% according to one prominent survey. Moreover, students in China, the Philippines, and Germany are using their mobile phones to learn English; to study math, health, and spelling; and to access live and archived university lectures, respectively (BBC Press Office 2005).

Cell phones are not just communications devices sparking new modalities of interaction between people; they are also particularly useful computers that fit in your pocket, are always with you, and are nearly always on. Like all communication and computing devices, cell phones can be used to learn. So rather than fight the trend of kids coming to school carrying their own powerful learning devices—which they have already paid for—why not use the opportunity to their educational advantage?

Designing Cell Phones as Learning Tools

Can cell phones really provide their owners with the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes that will help them succeed in their schools, their jobs, and their lives? There are many different kinds of learning and many processes that people use to learn, but among the most frequent, time-tested, and effective of these are listening, observing, imitating, questioning, reflecting, trying, estimating, predicting, speculating, and practicing. All of these learning processes can be supported through cell phones. In addition, cell phones complement the short-burst, casual, multitasking style of today's "Digital Native" learners. Using cell phones as learning devices, whether in or out of school, requires a good deal of rethinking and flexibility on the part of educators. Yet given the opportunity, students will quickly embrace, use, and make the tool their own in various unexpected ways—just as they have been doing with all useful digital technology.

Feature Segmentation

So what and how can students learn from their cell phones?

A useful way to answer this question is to consider the capabilities that phones in use today possess, and to see what each capability brings us. With half a billion cell phones sold each year, the devices are hotbeds of feature innovation—the major features being voice, short messaging service (SMS), graphics, user-controlled operating systems, downloadables, browsers, camera functions (still and video), and geopositioning—with new features such as fingerprint readers, sensors, and voice recognition being added every day. In addition, optional hardware and software accessories are available as both input mechanisms (e.g., thumb keyboards and styli) and optional output systems (e.g., plug-in screens and headphones).

Voice Only

The most basic phones—those with voice capabilities only—are still the most prevalent in the world, although they are fast being replaced and upgraded. They are basically radios that pick up and send signals on certain predetermined frequencies.

Is there anything students can learn on a voice-only phone? Languages, literature, public speaking, writing, storytelling, and history are just a few of the subjects that are highly adaptable to voice-only technology. Of these, language is probably the most obvious. Given the huge demand and market around the world for English lessons and practice, it is the one kind of learning that is already readily available on cell phones. In Japan, you can dial a number on your cell for short English lessons from ALC Press's Pocket Eijiro or Japanese lessons from Enfour's TangoTown.

In China, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and others are providing cell phone English-language training. One company, MIG China Ltd. is even subtitling pop songs with their lyrics, highlighting each word as it is sung. Companies such as Ectaco provide language games via mobile phone "flash cards," as well as dictionary and phrase book software to aid in foreign language proficiency. And the Canadian corporation Go Test Go has developed English vocabulary testing software. While many of these sites have quickly moved to the mixed media that the phones in their regions support, much of what they offer can be made available easily on voice-only phones. Creating an interactive voice-only cell phone learning application today requires no more than the simple technology used to direct help desk callers, development kits for which are available for under $500.

Other types of voice-only learning applications exist and are growing in popularity. In Concord, Massachusetts, you can use a cell phone for guided tours of Minute Man National Historical Park, where the "shot heard 'round the world" was fired. As part of Ultralab's eVIVA project, Anglia Polytechnic University (in the United Kingdom) has experimented successfully with using cell phones for exams, with the students' voice prints authenticating that they are the ones being tested.

An immediate advantage of voice-only learning is that we know it works—for millennia it was the only type of learning humans had. While some "Digital Immigrant" adults may have a difficult time with, and even question the value of, non-face-to-face voice communication for learning, virtual relationships are now second nature to students, and often preferred.

Short Text Messages

SMS, only recently introduced in the United States, has been available on cell phones outside the country for several years. This feature has spread like wildfire among young people in Europe and Asia, with literally billions of SMS messages being sent every day around the world. Short text messages, which can be written quickly, even in your pocket (especially with predictive text), offer enormous learning opportunities.

Currently, SMS messages provide timely "learning" reminders and encouragement for people trying to change their behavior (e.g., for someone who wants to quit smoking). SMS is also the technology used for voting on the television show American Idol. Marketers use SMS for informational quizzes about subjects of interest to young people, such as movie and television stars. And innovative SMS games, many of which have strong educational potential, are attracting large playing audiences.

In schools, SMS can be used to conduct pop quizzes or spelling or math tests, to poll students' opinions, to make learners aware of current events for class discussion , and even to tutor students. Outside of school, test preparation companies such as The Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Go Test Go are already offering cell-phone-delivered test-preparation questions (for the Scholastic Achievement Test and others) at specific user-preferred times. Educators easily could use SMS technology to provide cell phone learners, individually and in competitive or collaborative groups, with data and clues in real time for analysis, diagnosis, and response, whether in a historical, literary, political, scientific, medical, or machine-maintenance context.

Graphic Displays

Just about every cell phone has some kind of graphic display, even if it shows only the signal and battery strength and the name and/or number of a contact. Most new cell phones come with far more graphic power than that—they typically sport bright colour screens that can crisply display words, pictures, and animation. Many of these screens have resolutions of 320 × 240 pixels—half the screen size of the standard computer of not too long ago—and higher. They present thousands of colors and even three-dimensional images and holograms.

Such high-resolution screens allow for meaningful amounts of text to be displayed, either paragraph by paragraph or one quickly flashed word at a time, known as RSVP—rapid serial visual presentation— with the user setting (and generally greatly increasing) his or her own reading speed. A service called BuddyBuzz offers content from Reuters and CNet using RSVP. In Asia, novels intended to be read on phone screens are already being written. Why not learning texts?

Better graphic displays also mean that text can be accompanied by pictures and animation (and, of course, sound—it is a phone). Many schools are currently using computers and handheld devices for animations in subjects such as anatomy and forensics; Bryan Edwards Publishing is one company that provides PDA-compatible animations to educational institutions. Cell phones can replace these handheld devices, especially given that many of the animations are in Flash, which currently runs on many cell phones and eventually will run on all of them. Macromedia already offers what it calls "Flash Lite" applications, including one for learning sign language. The Chemical Abstracts Service is preparing a database of molecule images that can be accessed via cell phone.

Japanese students have long learned everything from business to cooking through "manga," graphic novels that are now becoming popular in the West as well. At a recent computer show, a Japanese company handed out a manga pamphlet (about its "middleware" software) that could easily be displayed one frame at a time on a cell phone—similar to the so-called "mobile manga" that has recently become a phenomenon in Japan. It follows that in many cases, our mobile phones will be able to replace our textbooks, with the limited screen size of the phones being, in fact, a positive constraint that forces publishers to rethink their design and logic for maximum effectiveness, rather than just add pages.

Downloadable Programs

Now that cell phones have memories (or memory card slots) that accept downloaded programs and content, entire new learning worlds have opened up. Cell phone users can access versions of the same kinds of tools and teaching programs available on personal computers, and, given that the phones are communications devices, use the tools for collaboration in new and interesting ways. All manner of applications combining elements of voice, text, graphics, and even specially designed spreadsheets and word processors can be downloaded to phones, with additional content added as needed. Other tools currently available for download include browsers, fax senders, programming languages, and even an application that gives you access to your desktop computer.

Internet Browsers

Internet browsers are now being built into a growing number of cell phones, especially those that use the faster third-generation protocol (3G). Sites and options designed specifically for Web-enabled cell phones are becoming more and more numerous. Having a browser in the cell phone puts a dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia into the hands of every student. It gives them instant access to Google and other text search engines, turning their cell phones into research tools. For example, students studying nature, architecture, art, or design can search for images on the Web that match what they find in life in order to understand their properties, style, and form.

Cameras and Video Clips

Worldwide, 178 million camera phones were sold in 2004 (InfoTrends/CAP Ventures 2005), and in many places such phones are already accepted as the norm. Educationally—once students learn that privacy concerns are as important here as anywhere else—they are a gold mine. In class, cell phones with cameras provide possible tools for scientific data collection, documentation, and visual journalism, allowing students to gather evidence, collect and classify images, and follow progressions over time. Creative cell phone photos can inspire students' creative writing via caption or story contests. Phones can be placed in various (appropriate) places and operated remotely, allowing observations that would be impossible in person. Students can literally see what is going on around the world, including, potentially, learning activities in the classrooms of other countries.

Moreover, video cam phones have also hit the market. They are capable of taking and sending video clips. This feature extends the phone's learning possibilities even farther, into television journalism as well as creative movie-making. A terrific educational use of video clips would be modeling effective and ineffective behaviors relating to ethics, negotiation, and other subjects.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS)

The initial crude ability of cell phones to "know where they are" quickly became the basis of some very innovative applications, including mobile-phone-based multiplayer search games (more than a dozen are currently in circulation). Now sophisticated GPS satellite receivers that can pinpoint a phone's location to within a few feet are being built into many cell phones (and made available as add-ons for many others).

This feature allows cell phone learning to be location-specific. Students' cell phones can provide them with information about wherever they happen to be—in a city, in the countryside, or on a campus. So-called "augmented reality tours" have been designed and someday most schools and colleges will use similar programs for orientation. The ability of students to determine their precise position has clear applications in geography, orienteering, archaeology, architecture, science, and math, to name only a few subjects. Students can use cell phones with GPS to search for things and places (already known as "geocaching") or to pinpoint environmental dangers, as in the case of Environmental Detectives, a learning game from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Reorienting Research and Practice

In Japan, Masayasu Morita, working with ALC Press, evaluated the use of English language lessons formatted differently for computers and cell phones. He found that 90% of cell phone users were still accessing the lessons after 15 days, compared to only 50% of computer users. Another Japanese company, Cerego, strongly supports using cell phones for learning. Outside of Asia, however, the number of people learning with cell phones or doing research on cell-phone-based learning is exceedingly small.

Researchers are experimenting with mobile devices for learning—but they typically use PDAs, not cell phones. The former are often donated by manufacturers eager to find a new market for their devices. This is not the same as using cell phones for learning. There are fewer than 50 million PDAs in the world but more than 1.5 billion cell phones. Of course PDA-based research will be useful, but we will not be on the right track until educators begin thinking of using the computing and communication device currently in the students' pockets to support learning.

New Approaches and Emerging Ethics

As usual, students are far ahead of their teachers on this. The first educational use they have found (in large numbers) for their cell phones is retrieving information on demand during exams. Educators, of course, refer to this as "cheating." They might better serve their students by redefining open-book testing as open-phone testing, for example, and by encouraging, rather than quashing, student innovation in this and other areas. As these sorts of adjustments happen, new norms and ethics will have to emerge around technology in classrooms. But existing norms can change quickly when a new one is better.

Educators should bear in mind that cell phones can be used for context as well as content. Those concerned that students use their tools not only to retrieve information but also to filter and understand it are the very people who should be figuring out how cell phones can meet this goal. Just as we are designing and refining Web- and PC-based tools for such tasks, so must we design similar tools for cell phones; the resulting communication and social features of the phones are likely to be of great help educationally.

Fully featured as cell phones are, they are not powerful enough to be students' only learning tool. Students will use whatever tools do the job, provided that they work well together. Cell phones can be our students' interface to a variety of computing devices, just as they control their entertainment devices. Even if future cell phone technology does not lend itself to every learning task, it will be suited to a wide range of tasks—and there is no reason not to take advantages of those capabilities.

The Future

Cell phones are getting smaller and more powerful each day. The disposable cell phone is already patented and being manufactured; it is a mere two by three inches, with the thickness of three credit cards, and is made entirely of paper (the circuit board is printed with metallic conductive ink). Such phones, in volume, will likely cost less than a dollar each, with the air time for educational uses likely subsidized by carriers and others. Some already see mobile bills shrinking to only a few dollars as the mobile companies pay off their investments in the new networks.

Although we often hear complaints from older Digital Immigrants about cell phones' limited screen and button size, it is precisely the combination of miniaturization, mobility, and power that grabs today's Digital Natives. They can visualize a small screen as a window to an infinite space and have quickly trained themselves to keyboard with their thumbs.

Despite what some may consider cell phones' limitations, our students are already inventing ways to use their phones to learn what they want to know. If educators are smart, we will figure out how to deliver our product in a way that fits into our students' digital lives—and their cell phones. Instead of wasting our energy fighting their preferred delivery system, we will be working to ensure that our students extract maximum understanding and benefit from the vast amounts of cell-phone-based learning of which they will, no doubt, soon take advantage.

Technological and technical evaluation of current wearable and mobile technologies

The development of wearable technology is perhaps a logical product of the convergence between the miniaturisation of microchips (nanotechnology) and an increasing interest in pervasive computing where mobility is the main objective. The miniaturisation of computers is largely due to the decreasing size of semiconductors and switches, molecular manufacturing will allow for not only molecular-scale switches but also nanoscale motors, pumps, pipes, machinery that could mimic skin. This shift in the size of computers has obvious implications upon the human-computer interface introducing the next generation of interfaces. Neil Gershenfeld the Director of the Media Lab’s Physics and Media Group argues: “…The world is becoming the interface. Computers as distinguishable devices will disappear as the objects themselves become the means we use to interact with both the physical and the virtual worlds.” Ultimately this will lead to a move away from desktop user interfaces and towards mobile interfaces and pervasive computing.

Mobile computing supports the paradigm of “anytime, anywhere access”, meaning that users have continuous access to computing and web resources at all times and where ever they may be. In the education context mobile computing allows:

· The extension of the classroom beyond its normal physical location.

· Access to electronic resources in situations when a desktop/laptop is not available (mobile eLearning).

· Communication with a community of learners and teachers beyond the spatio/temporal boundaries of the institution.

· The ability to do field work outside the classroom, for example data collection, experience recording and note taking.

· Location sensing facilities and access to administrative information such as timetables and room locations.

Characteristics of mobile and wearable devices:

This discussion pertains to devices such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and wearable devices, and less to mobile devices such as laptops and tablet PCs which are, generally, larger in size.

Mobile devices have several limitations, due to their small size (form factor), that need to be considered when developing applications:

· Small screen size, which can be very limited, for example on mobile phones. Solutions to this problem necessitate innovative human-computer interface design.

· Limited Performance, in terms of processor capability, available memory, storage space and battery life. Such performance issues are continuously being improved but, to counter this, users expectations are also growing.

· Slow Connectivity. Relatively slow at the moment for anywhere internet connectivity; 3G technologies promise to improve the situation. Wireless LAN connectivity, such as 802.11, provides simple and reliable performance for localised communication.

In order to take advantage of the promise of mobile computing devices, they need to have operating systems support such as

· A version of Microsoft windows for mobile devices.

· Linux for mobile devices.

· Palm for PDAs.

· Symbian for mobile phones.

In addition, mobile devices need to support applications-development technologies such as

· Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), where in the current version content is developed in XHTML, which extends HTML and enforces strict adherence to XML (eXtensible Markup Language).

· J2ME (Sun Java 2 Micro Edition), which is a general platform for programming embedded devices.

· .NET framework, which includes Microsoft’s C# language as an alternative to Java.

· NTT DoComo’s i-mode, which currently covers almost all of Japan with well over 30 million subscribers. Phones that support i-mode have access to several services such as email, banking, news, train schedules and maps.

Mobile devices generally support multimodal interfaces, which ease usability within the “anytime, anywhere” paradigm of computing. Such support should include:

· Pen input and handwriting recognition software.

· Voice input and speech recognition software.

· Touch screen, supporting colour, graphics and audio where necessary.

Standard software tools should also be available on mobile devices to support, amongst other applications:

· Email.

· Web browsing and other web services.

· Document and data handling, including compression software.

· Synchronisation of data with other devices.

· Security and authentication.

· Personalisation and collaboration agents.

· eLearning content management and delivery, which is normally delivered on mobile devices via its web services capability.

Apart from the last two, the above tools are widely available, although the different platforms are not always compatible. This is not a major problem, since communication occurs through standard web and email protocols. Current personalisation and collaboration tools are mainly based on static profiling, while what is needed is a more dynamic and adaptive approach; see part three. There are still outstanding issues regarding content management and delivery of eLearning materials, since these technologies, that we assume will be XML centric, are still evolving.

Wearable devices are distinctive from other mobile devices by allowing hands-free interaction, or at least minimising the use of a keyboard or pen input when using the device. This is achieved by devices that are worn on the body such as a headset allowing voice interaction and a head mounted display which replaces a computer screen. The area of wearable devices is currently a “hot” research topic with potential applications in many fields, for example, aiding people with disabilities. As this area is still very much experimental there are not many mature commercial products with a wide user base that may be considered, at this time, in the context of FE and HE. We will now briefly review several wearable products so that their potential can be appreciated.

The IBM Linux Watch

IBM have recently developed a wrist watch computer, which they are collaboratively commercialising with Citizen under the name of WatchPad. Apart from telling the time WatchPad supports calendar scheduling, address book functionality, to-do-lists, the ability to send and receive short email messages, Bluetooth wireless connectivity and wireless access to web services. WatchPad runs a version of the Linux operating system allowing a very flexible software applications development platform. It is possible to design WatchPad for specific users, for example a student’s watch could hold various schedules and provide location sensing and messaging capabilities.

Xybernaut Mobile Assistant

This commercial product is the most widely available multi-purpose wearable device currently on the market. It is a lightweight wearable computer with desktop/laptop capabilities including wireless web connectivity and email, location sensing, hands-free voice recognition and activation, access to data in various forms and other PC-compatible software. It has a processor module, which can be worn in different ways, a head mounted display unit, a flat-panel display, which is touch screen activated and allows pen input, and a wrist strapped mini-keyboard. Xybernaut are currently trialling the use of the mobile assistant in an educational context concentrating on students with special needs. It allows the student full computing access beyond the classroom, including the ability to do standard computing functions such as calculations, word processing and multi-media display, and in addition, has continuous internet connectivity and voice synthesis capabilities. It also supports leisure activities such as listening to music and playing games.


iButtons developed by Dallas Semiconductor Corporation/ Maxim are currently being piloted in a range of educational institutions. An iButton is a computer chip enclosed in a durable stainless steel can. Each can of an iButton has a data contact (called the lid) and a ground contact (called the base), which are connected to the chip inside the can. By touching each of the two contacts it is possible to communicate to an iButton, and iButtons are distinguished from each other by each having a unique identification address. By adding different functionality to the basic iButton, such as memory, a real time clock, security and temperature sensing, several different products are being offered. There are many applications for this technology including: authentication and access control, eCash and a range of other services. In educational contexts, these smart buttons allow registration of students as well as access to classrooms, web pages, and computers.

MIThril: A platform for context-aware wearable computing

MIThril is a wearable research platform developed at the MIT Media Lab. Although not a commercial product MIThril is indicative of the functionality that we can expect in next generation wearable devices. Apart from the hardware requirements, which include having a wide range of sensors with sufficient computing and communication resources, and the support for different kinds of interfaces for user interaction, including a vest. There are also ergonomic requirements that include wearability, i.e. that the device should blend with the user’s ordinary clothing, and flexibility, i.e. that the device should be suitable for a wide range of user behaviours and situations.

As an application of this architecture a reminder delivery system, called Memory Glasses, was developed, which acts on user specified reminders such as “During my next lecture, remind me to give additional examples of the applications of wearable computers”, and requires a minimum of the wearer's attention. Memory Glasses uses a proactive reminder system model that takes into account: time, location and the user’s current activities based on daily events that can be detected such as entering or leaving an office.

Three scenarios for education

The use of wearable and mobile devices in education contexts needs to incorporate an understanding of the technical and pedagogical considerations. Additionally, the potential applicability of usage of these devices for educational use needs deeper consideration in terms of hardware and software as well as in terms of how applications can be adapted and personalised. In order to consider these technical, pedagogic and contextual aspects in more detail, the following section will explore three possible uses of wearable and mobile devices for education: to deliver web lectures and assignments to learners, to produce a campus without walls and to supplement field study.

Scenario 1: Web lectures

The traditional lecture held in a classroom operates using a one-to-many model of communication and relies upon a didactic or instructional model of learning where information is transferred from teacher to student. With the introduction of computers and the use of communications networks some changes to the traditional lecture have already evolved, recent innovations to the format include: e-lectures and webcasting.

Exploring the potential uses of wearable devices such as handhelds or PDAs to support learning education institutions and building on these recent innovations, the first scenario explores the web lecture. The 3Com University Learning Assistant and IBM’s Web Lectures Services provide two examples of how web lectures and materials such as assignments and assessment can be delivered to the learner on the move. While workers and workplace learners are currently using these services this method of delivery of e-content has potential for further and higher education learners as well.

3Com University Learning Assistant

The 3Com University is a corporate university, which delivers training via networks as well as providing face-to-face training. The 3Com University has developed its Learning Assistant in order to provide training courses and modules including: wireless networking training and sales courses to its disparately located staff. In this way, handhelds are being used for the delivery of lectures on the move as well as providing greater functionality by also delivering sales information.

The 3Com Learning Assistant uses Palm’s for delivering learning content to the learner. Data can be delivered in text or graphical form. The assistant offers Palm Conversion Tool functionality, a simplified authoring environment and an intuitive hierarchical structure.

The 3Com Learning Assistant uses a blended e-learning model, which brings face-to-face training together with the use of ICT. The use of mobile devices not only helps to connect disparate learning communities - but also has the potential to facilitate face-to-face interactions. In this way, rather than being desk-based the learner can be on the move meeting colleagues and learners whilst learning. The pedagogic approaches used here provide the potential to adapt and personalise learning activities more closely to the learner’s requirements and everyday life. In this way, 3Com’s model brings together “a combination of instructor-led training classes, live conference events, synchronous online events, self-paced WBT [Work-Based Training] courses, training manuals, and a certification process” together with 3Com’s databases and modules.

IBM’s Web Lectures Services

The IBM Web Lectures Services developed out of in-house training for the sales staff as well. The main benefits for IBM have been cost savings. The system allows the company to reach 89,120 registered users simultaneously saving $80 million and 1,730 lectures have been developed to date. IBMs mobile solutions include: access to IBMs Lotus LearningSpace and SMS [Short Messaging Services] for delivering updated activities to the learner. In this way, the IBM web lectures can be delivered to the mobile devices such as PDAs or mobile phones.

The main technical considerations relate to the ease of access implied by the use of PDAs for dissemination of information. Learners can in this way be reached remotely, enabling access to web lectures and providing up-to-date data. Providing that the web lectures can be delivered electronically and within a formalised course context standard pedagogical considerations apply.

In the context of mobile learning, new ways of learning in terms of differing locations do need to be considered. Short learning chunks or objects for example may apply here, implying shorter learning times and cycles. There are however additional considerations implied by learning on the move which are specific to using smaller devices, including the limits of a smaller screen necessitating more summarised information, affecting course development. In an effort to overcome these considerations there is a body of work that relates to the development of new interfaces, these include 3D audio landscapes, concept-based navigation and augmented reality.

One potential use for wearable and mobile devices in tertiary education may include supporting the development of collaborative learning - where groups of learners or ‘communities of practice’ [Wenger 1998] may be able to communicate synchronously (live) and non-synchronously (recorded) within groups facilitating collaborative learning on the move.

Scenario 2: Campus without Walls

The school and college campus is a mainstay of traditional education experience bringing together learning communities to provide support and services for facilitating learning. Based on a physically located notion of a single campus increasing pressures on space - due to expanding student numbers - have been placed upon the single site. Today many schools and universities are spread across two or more sites and this makes communications between individual student and tutor groups more problematic.

In the United States this problem of expanding student numbers and proliferating sites has led to an attempt to find new ways to support educational communities, one of which is through the use of wearable and mobile devices and selected software. Other models for the digital campus have been provided by corporate universities and training centres where student populations are remotely located, in these cases often online universities and a virtual campus take the place of the physical campus - and computer-mediated communications have replaced seminar or lecture attendance.

This section therefore explores two examples where ICTs are being used to augment or replace the physical campus. One of the advantages of this may be greater flexibility for the learner in terms of where they choose to study, collect assignments and how they record study data. Wearable devices like handhelds or wrist computers would allow the student to interact with data in a more casual and differentiated way. The added functionality of location sensing devices using GPS and GPRS may provide information about where the learner is located, this may provide an alternative solution for bringing larger learner groups together remotely.

While the web lecture is restricted to formats and technical specification the virtual campus may incorporate a range of learner services that may include web or e-lectures, the use of e-books, accessing assignments remotely, bringing together a single portal for accessing library resources and using mobile, wearable and mobile devices for student induction as well as for delivery of learning materials and online assessments. Examples of this include: the Handsprings to Learning project at East Carolina University and the ActiveCampus project at the University of California at San Diego.

Handsprings to Learning and OWLS

At the East Carolina University courses have been delivered to handhelds since 2000, providing course content for students on-campus and from their distant locations. Handsprings to Learning (HtL) was combined with another research initiative called OWLS (Online Wireless Learning Solutions). The success of the initiatives led to the creation of the ECU Centre for Wireless and Mobile Computing.

The philosophy behind HtL and OWLS enables study at any time, and anyplace, beyond the gates of the physical campus, allowing for greater flexibility for the learner and providing added functionality at a significantly lower cost than the price of laptop, tablet or desktop computer. The Handsprings to Learning project is based upon OWLS (Online Wireless Learning Solutions), a three-year project for developing “integrated collaborative eTools” to support distance learning at the East Carolina University. The project is now providing solutions to 20 universities and colleges and has global sponsors. Applications of handhelds include access to email, web pages, electronic resources and examinations enabling students to hot sync from their desktops. This approach to “snatch and go learning” enables mobile professionals to learn from updated content.

Aimed at face-to-face as well as distance learners, the project allows individual tutors to develop course content, using their own pedagogical models and approaches according to specific content and context of learning. These projects demonstrate how different methods of delivery of learning materials can transform how learning is developed and supported. The OWLS project offers new solutions to distance education as well as supporting collaborative learning.

One of the most recent research projects in the Centre for Wireless and Mobile Computing involves the use of QUATRA Intelligent Mobile Communicator, with the freshman class of 60 Teacher Fellows. What is being used here is a four-featured convergence device including 3G smart phone, PDA, 802.11bWiFi Connectivity and secure digital smart card with large storage memory. In this way both on-campus and distance learners can continue to communicate when they are in range of a WLAN network, as well as using interactive flash modules and sound when they are travelling. Another advantage of this type of convergence device is that it can be used to establish learning communities located virtually anywhere. This approach could also have added value for tutors allowing them to share resources, form tutor support groups and discuss pedagogies.


The ActiveCampus project is based at the University of California, San Diego and aims to “sustain… educational communities through mobile computing”.

The ActiveCampus project provides a useful model for interaction between the physical and non-physical campus. The project makes use of E-Graffitti and GeoNotes software where learners can post notes at given physical locations within the campus, so that other learners can pick up these notes when navigating in the proximity of the location at which the note was posted. This allows the learner to see past the buildings and pick out their learning groups and mentors, and more easily navigate the physical campus This project provided HP Jornada PDAs to 700 undergraduates in the Computer Science and Engineering department in order to investigate research questions relating to the sustainability of educational communities. The technical specification for this system used PDAs, wireless communications and dedicated E-Graffitti and GeoNotes software.

The ActiveCampus project is informed by a mediated approach to learning developed by Michael Cole from activity theory giving an emphasis to the cultural dimensions of learning:

Learning activities, spontaneous and otherwise, are heavily mediated (assisted) by a university campus through its structural configuration and its institutions. First, the campus organization itself brings people with complementary interests into close proximity, easing communication and increasing the chances of serendipitous interactions. The campus not only brings learners and teachers together, but also concentrates area specialists by organizing the campus into schools and departments of expertise… Because these institutions operate through proximity, they function less well when people are not there. Moreover it can take considerable time for someone to internalise the workings - the culture - of an institution.

This ‘campus without walls’ provides one possible model for how the virtual campus of the future may work. Not only can the learner orientate more quickly to their physical environment, they can also augment the mediation of learning through the use of a mobile device. The device can store electronic messages tagged to physical objects saving graffiti for students to collect. It can facilitate introductions between like-minded students through messaging, it can alert the learner that a mentor or friend is close by or that there is an interesting lecture or talk going on.

ActiveCampus does not replace the physical environment of the campus but does suggest a way of using technology to facilitate and mediate learning by shortening the time needed for orientation and induction, as well as facilitating serendipitous meeting and supporting communities of learning.

Scenario 3: Field trips

Field trips currently rely upon travel in groups to a remote location where study is undertaken and field notes collected and compiled; the synthesis of that experience then takes place back in the class or seminar room. The use of wearable and mobile devices for recording data therefore can be regarded as a facilitator of field trip study and may provide new models for how study is moving away from desk-based research towards more proactive and experiential learning or action research.

Two examples of how mobile and handheld devices can be used to facilitate field study are included here.

A tool for capturing museum visits

The Rememberer, a tool for recording museum visits, is part of the Electronic Guidebook project at the San Francisco Exploratorium, which is investigating the use of handheld devices to enrich learning experience for museum visitors. An important goal of the project is to allow both individuals and groups of visitors a continuum of activities before, during and after the visit, to create an extended interaction between the museum and its visitors beyond the actual visits to the museum. The Exploratorium provides an ideal testing ground for such technology, as it is very much an open space supporting hands-on science exhibits. The Rememberer is simpler than an electronic guide as its main functionality is to create a record of the users’ visit rather than assist them during the visit itself. It allows a user to select objects during their visit creating an ordered list of exhibit names that the user interacted with. The user is left with an URL to a website documenting the visit record, which is augmented with additional links to related content. The implementation of the system is achieved through PDA technology coupled with wireless technology. Preliminary evidence shows that the Rememberer tool was much less distracting to users than a guidebook tool. Ongoing research is investigating the use of such “experience recording” in a learning model which supports both teachers and learners in maintaining a record of their activities that can be shared, refined and enhanced.

CyberTracker field computer

CyberTracker is a software system developed for a PDA supporting the Palm Operating System, which enables trackers to record all the significant observations they make in the field. The user interface is icon-based enabling trackers to record sighting of animals, track observations, species and other animal activities. It is also linked to a GPS that records the location of each sighting. The tracker can also add field notes to record information not covered by standard menu. When the tracker returns to base the data can be transferred to a PC. The device is currently being used in a range of wildlife projects in over 30 countries and it has applications in other areas such as market research and social research.

Potential usage of wearable and mobile devices in education

Potential uses of wearable and mobile devices for education include a range of supplementary learning services facilitating:

· collaborative learning in groups,

· learning on the move,

· delivery of assignments,

· field trips and

· the delivery of synchronous and asynchronous lectures and materials.

Benefits may also include improved communications for and between lifelong learners, distance learners, part-time learners and work-based learners. While the use of PDAs as learning tools are currently being piloted in the UK in education for field trips and assignment delivery, this mode of learning may be expected to become more commonplace due to scalability and the ease of data dissemination as well as due to the relatively low cost of handheld and mobile devices.

For learners with disabilities this mode of delivery of e-content may provide additional benefits, for example: voice-activated interfaces for the blind learners’; visual interfaces for those with literacy and numeracy problems and cognition assistance for the elderly. There are clearly potential benefits to those with disabilities that may include location finding, induction aids, cognitive assistance and orientation for learners with disabilities on campus. These mobile devices also have the added functionality of allowing for built-in location sensing devices that may help freshman learners and those with disabilities to find their way more easily around campus.

In addition to localised orientation, wearable and mobile devices may be used to allow learners to ask questions and discover more about the physical campus and it can also allow learners to orientate themselves to tutors, support staff, learner groups and other students, thereby facilitating collaboration within and between different communities of practice. The devices can also augment the learning experience, allowing learners to access supplementary data from the Internet, access assignments and complete evaluations and assessment. Additionally the use of mobiles can facilitate better access to digital resources as well as providing for authentication and security to educational resources.

The introduction of mobile learning also has implications upon how course materials are developed and how pedagogies are applied. In this way, the use of wearable and mobile devices for learning may also facilitate different teaching and learning methods and approaches thereby supporting, supplementing and innovating current teaching and learning practices, for example supporting conversational learning. The wearable and mobile devices will potentially allow for a more seamless and transparent interface between the learner and datasets - subject to connectivity both on and off campus. Greater interactivity will be based upon the usability and adaptability of the devices.

Consideration of the uses and purposes for wearable and mobile devices in education.

The social and technological implications upon the learning communities need consideration if the use of wearable, mobile and handheld devices in tertiary education is to be supported and promoted on an institutional basis.

The social and educational benefits of wearable and mobile devices include the greater mobility and flexibility for the learner by potentially increasing the capacity of the learner to learn “anytime, anywhere” according to subject specificity and selected pedagogical models and approaches. This has particular benefits for lifelong learners, distance and part-time learners, as well as campus-based learners, providing greater flexibility by facilitating collaborative learning within ‘communities of practice’ - both in disparately located groups as well as in locally based groups.

A sensible institutional approach would be to pilot the use of mobile computing devices in specific contexts such as those highlighted in part two, and to progress incrementally. Educational researchers will pilot specific wearable devices to ascertain their wider application and the best context for use.

Perhaps a more central concern for the use of mobile devices in educational contexts is the need to provide stable pedagogies that can migrate for the benefit of the learner according to the device, location and learning outcomes and objectives. While mobile communications offer certain advantages to the learning communities, issues such as privacy, security and authentication are primary concerns. Another issue that needs to be addressed is the public health issue associated with wireless connectivity, while some new evidence points to the health risks attached to mobile phones clearly more informed research and debate are needed.

Hardware manufacturers and software developers are engaged in a continuous technological race to satisfy new and increasing requirements from users of handheld, mobile and wearable devices. For example, the issue of extending battery life through new battery technologies and lower energy consumption hardware will continue to affect the range of possible wearable applications. The fierce competition between mobile phone companies is evident where new features are continuously being added, many of them pointing towards the convergence of computing devices in terms of features such as web connectivity, advanced software tools and graphic and video displays. Especially in the wearable computing sector there will probably be differentiation of products for a while to come, since, as we have shown, their uses and context are varied.

At this moment in time the innovations seem to be progressing at such a rapid pace that often suppliers of these devices are trying to create new demand for products at a relatively early stage of their development. It is not hard to predict that the technological issues addressed in part one of this report will continue to be addressed and improved. Regarding standards we expect current ones to evolve in parallel with new developments, but due to the experimental nature of some of these devices, there will be periods where non-standard appliances will be piloted.

A major challenge for developers, in order for handhelds and wearable devices to be adopted on a large scale within the educational sector, is to provide intelligent and specialised software that is useful within a learning context. A first step is recognising the different types of learning scenarios such as lifelong learning, learning in the workplace and distance learning, with special attention given to individual learners and the community they belong to.

Developing novel user interfaces to overcome limitations of handheld and mobile devices is particularly important. Some examples are: (i) peephole displays, which combine pen input with spatially aware displays, enabling navigation through objects that are larger than the screen, (ii) Halo, which is a technique that supports spatial cognition by showing users the location of off-screen objects, surrounding these objects with rings at the border of the display, and (iii) map-based access to educational resources, which uses a self-organising neural network to automatically build a concept-map of learning objects.

Personalisation of the user interaction is also an important issue, where adaptation to the user behaviour is critical, easing the customisation of the interface to suit users’ specific needs within the context of the device being used. Advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence on the one hand, and information overload on the other, have led to a new challenge of building enduring personalised cognitive assistants, which adapt to their users by sensing the users interaction with the environment, can respond intelligently to a range of scenarios which may have not been encountered previously and can also anticipate what is the next action to be taken.

Finally, it is also important to investigate the social potential and impact of wearable and mobile devices so that collaborative systems can be developed to facilitate and encourage interaction between members of the community. One possible educational application of such a collaborative system may be an interactive learning environment, which supports a range of mobile and wearable devices in addition to integrating a range of learning services.

Case Study: Blazing Middle School Trails with Handheld Computers


Langley is the eighth largest school district in British Columbia, with 20,000 students, 1,000 teachers, and 700 support staff in 45 sites. District technology staff, and three classroom teachers and their students blazed new trails in technology with a successful trial program using palmOne handheld computers.

"We started by researching the potential use of handhelds as learning tools, and we were impressed with reports emerging from schools across the U.S.," says John Pusic, assessment and evaluation coordinator for the district. "We decided to evaluate how effective they would be in increasing student performance."


Pusic and Cliff Kiyooka, informatio

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