Wednesday, December 13

Pocket PCs: storing them and charging them safely

If you are responsible for managing a whole lot of PDAs, where do you store them? How safe are they? How can you keep them charged up?

We currently own about 300 PDAs, and have had to set up and manage more than that number for other people as well. It makes you very aware of every step of the way, when it comes to setting up the devices, pre-installing good software, and getting them ready to give to learners.

Here are a couple of top tips we have found helpful:


1: storing them safely, and keeping them charged

this was our biggest logistical challenge, and we spent quite a while looking for commercial alternatives, but in the end we did it ourselves

We bought a large, lockable, metal cupboard; drilled air-vents and cable slots in the back; and ran extension leads into the multiple shelves. At first we were worried about too much power drain, but in fact the power drain is really minimal, and the cicuit copes fine with the load.

(thanks to Dom who made it, and Santa who manages it!)

2: installing the same software and settings to multiple devices:

This is ridiculously time consuming, unless you have discovered backing up and restoring to your SD card. Your PocketPC has an integrated backup utility - probably somewhere like Start / Programs / XBackup.
  • First, set up one device with all the settings / themes / contacts you need.
  • Then use the backup software to back up the entire device to an SD Card.
  • Then put the card in a new PDA, and use the same program to restore. This will replace all files and settings with those of the earlier device.
  • (of course, if you have different types of PDA, this may not be advised. It works fine when they are all the same)
We have tried many other software based alternatives, including OTA (over the air) upgrades, but none have yet beaten the SD backup on cost / reliability / speed.

3: Unlocking / upgrading / supporting different PocketPCs
which pocketPC have I got?
The more years pass, the more different brand labels I see on different devices. And the more I struggle to know which is which! But there has been one constant: the fantastic xda-developers.com. If you want to figure out your Blue Angel from your Wizard, have a look at the wiki (at wiki.xda-developers.com). You get the low down on which model is which

And what about support? From our experience, we have NEVER had decent technical support from ANY of the phone companies who have supplied the devices. This is because, very often, the support desk has never even seen the devices. They get made in Taiwan by HTC, and then come straight to you. If you want technical tips you need to rely on the world-wide community. So, for tips on how to upgrade the operating system, or fix a problem you are having try the forums (at forum.xda-developers.com). They are great.

Friday, December 8

The mobile web is alive and well ... in Africa!

We know the take up of mobile phones in Africa has been way faster than ever expected:

  • 18 months ago, there were already more mobile than fixed-line phones
  • many more people have access to a mobile phone than a landline one
  • mobile networks are sidestepping official, goverment run chaos
We also know the picture isn't all rosy, as there are still vast areas with no coverage and call charges are still high.

But with that as a background, I saw some great statistics on the BBC website today:

  • The vast majority of international visitors accessing the BBC website from their phones come from Africa!
  • Nigeria = 61%
  • South Africa = 19%
So, there may not be enough broadband and PCs around, but it is reassuring that "web on your phone" is still a really useful technology.

Thanks for the phone friendly website, BBC

Monday, December 4

A Beacon award for mobile learning!

We have had a couple of loyal, enthusiastic user-groups who have been involved with mobile learning from our earliest public trials back in 2003 right through to today.

One of them, Pembrokeshire College on the beautiful west coast of Wales, has just won a Beacon Award for their use of mobile learning.

Congratulations to Geoff Elliot and the team!

They have been doing amazing work, and deserve all the credit coming your way. (Geoff is the guy hiding at the back of the photo taken from the college news page)

For those not yet in the know, Beacon Awards recognise imaginative and innovatory teaching and learning practice. In the case of Pembrokeshire they won the FENC award with recognises the leading work they are doing allowing learners to build their own learning via collaboration and sharing.

The FENC ethos is: "Take, Shape and Share" - and Geoff's team have made that work via mobile learning.

This news is so hot off the press, that at the time of writing, the AoC Beacon site doesn't even have this years winners listed yet!

Friday, December 1

more and more hands are holding handhelds ...

I was puzzled by a flurry of messages on some of my favourite mobile learning forums and email groups triggreed by Epic, a UK-based multimedia company, who were predicting that PDAs were on there way out.

For every set of figures saying sales are waning, others tell us that business for handheld vendors is booming.

As somebody who is sitting in the middle of this debate, it feels VERY much to me like more and more people are using mobile devices for learning. In fact, I know this is true.

Every few weeks I am asked for advice on setting up mobile learning friendly environments. Or to advise on which devices might work for a specific school or college.

2 years ago this hardly ever happened.

We bought 25 Vario2's today for a couple of schools we are supporting.

Lets all just enjoy the flow, and make sure our concepts of learning are fluid enough to embrace multi-device, user-driven, multi-modal, collaborative, mobile learning!
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