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 If you want to figure out your Blue Angel from your Wizard, have a look at the wiki (at 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 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!

Friday, November 3

mobile learning myopia?

I am very enthused by how many educators are starting to think seriously about mobile learning. There is great stuff happening out there. But at the same time I am increasingly depressed by comments I keep stumbling over in forums, and by certain published research studies that seem to be missing the point entirely.

It seems that several strains of myopia are afflicting the educational community

myopia strain 1: No-woods-in-sight-because-of-all-the-trees

People getting all worked up about minutiae: how the keyboards are so small, or the processor is so slow, or which brands of device are the best ones without noticing the major shifts in learning styles (and media consumption) that are happening at the same time

surely that is the most important thing of all?

myopia strain 2: It-may-be-OK-for-your-learners-but-mine-are-different

For some reason many people in HE don't seem to grasp that lessons being learned in schools, in work-places or in FE may actually be relevant to them or their learners. (I think this is often connected with them struggling to think outside the rather old-fashioned box of how HE traditionally delivers learning)

maybe if the learning works well, the delivery ought to adapt itself to follow the learning?

myopia strain 3: If-we-haven't-researched-it-enough-it-can't-be-useful

I get invited to research conferences every now and again, and there really seems a firm belief that more (and more and more) research is needed to show how we can use mobile learning. But the people saying this normally haven't got a clue about what is already happening out there in hundreds of places of learning. The evidence - though not well written up - is there already, and it is being actively used right now.

research reinforces and justifies what we are doing - but we don't need to wait for it before improving our skills and techniques. take a risk!

Of course there are some wonderful HE people, as well as some very switched on researchers. But sadly they seem to be in the minority when it comes to mobile learning. What's happening? Are we going backwards as we get more mainstream?

Monday, October 16

more PSP learning please!

I am just back from the handheld learning conference in London, where I showcased our content authoring, and in particular the PSP materials.

It seems we have tapped into a latent, and unfulfilled need. We know that there are a lot of PSPs out there. What we didn't know was that there were so many people interested in using them for learning. Fantastic news!

(the hits on my blog have escalated by about 10 times since posting about our PSP content authoring)

But now the tricky bit. As PSPs stand, they have great batteries, a fantastic screen, good video playback, but no real educational content. Certainly nothing to compete with the games I can buy for it.

I have met a couple of people in the UK already looking to use the PSP as a glorified memory stick in education. They are about to start trialling PSPs with a couple of schools - but as their website isn't live at the moment, I will not post any links.

This is a good idea, but seems like only the beginning. What we need is tools for educators to be able, more simply, to create more relevent, more meaningful content of their own - personalised to their learners.

At the moment, our PSP authoring isn't scheduled to be included in the release version of Mylearning author. Mostly, because we don't have many teachers interested.

I am sure they exist, so if you are one, and if you think it ought to be included, please post a comment to let me know. The more momentum we can get, the more likely I can get it into the next release!

Wednesday, October 11

Make your own Playstation (PSP) resources!

Wow! This is a hot-off-the-press sneak preview.

I have just seen some of our mobile learning materials running on a PSP!

We have been dabbling with it for a while, but what I am looking at right now is materials, built by a non-technical author, using our Mylearning authoring tool.

The games were intended for display on a PocketPC, but the team here in cambridge have been reconfiguring our mobile framework, and now it runs just fine on the PSP as well!!!

It looks awesome. (if I say so myself)

Yet another step forward to give authoring tool to the masses, so they can transform all sorts of mobile devices into learning tools!

So far, I know that they have been used on TabletPCs, UMPCs, PCs. PocketPCs and Whiteboards - but this is the first real gaming platform to be included.

Huge thanks to Juan, Ivars and Chris who helped make this rather out-there dream into a reality!

Put those podcasts to work on your PDA!

I am part of the team creating several different mobile learning tools. We make:
  • mobile content
  • tools to help teachers make their own mobile content
  • platforms to help people use SMS and MMS as educational resources
as well as spending much of our time exploring the pedagogies around mobile learning.

That was a rather long buildup to a very specific bit of news. One of our tools, Mylearning author, creates interactive content for mobile devices. But we never made enough use of audio. Sure we included sound effects and voice overs, but audio was always an extra.

I guess we were still struggling to shake off the prejudices of "e-learning on your PC".

Today, I am very pleased to announce that our author also lets you add in audio files. Not audio plus text, or audio as a background, but pure, podcast-style audio files.

We have had learners recording their own pep-talks, to remind them of things they learned before.

We have had recordings of lessons, or public talks

We have a few online e-learning courses that include podcast summaries.

All of these can now be more easily included into the mix when you make your mobile content.

Cool huh?

With huge thanks to Chris - the man who made our very first flash-based mobile content all those years ago, and who is still working magic in 2006 - this time with audios.

Wednesday, September 27

free SIM cards?

if, like us, you have a lot of mobile devices hanging around for trialling and testing, you will also be familiar with the pain of SIM swapping.

(picture the scene. You have 10 different phones you need to test your new phone game on. Each of the phones need a SIM in them to start up. But since you only lkeep the phones for testing you don't have a contract per phone.)

well, the solution to your problem may be pay-as-you-go, and every now and again the phone providers offer free PAYG sim cards.

now is one of those times: here is a free sim promotion from Orange. I haven't noticed any nasty smallprint, yet.

thanks for the link, Kelly

Thursday, September 21

Great tools for learning about IT

Many of the learners on our m-learning projects started as very unconfident users of PCs.

One of the surprise findings was that involvement in mobile learning was a very solid launch pad into mainstream ICT learning. Mobile learners were building confidence to become ICT learners.

This finding has been confirmed in several LSN reports and papers

But what next? What are the tools you can use to inspire learners, and teach them about the web at the same time?

Here is a list of some great ones. if you live on the web, you see these apps everyday, but if you are only just starting, they are probably exactly what you need to start enjoying your new journey into IT.

Forget the primitive "this-is-the-mouse-and-this-is-a-monitor-and-this-is-the-CPU" genre. This is exactly what a cautious student does NOT need. Rather, get them into photography! Help them publish their holiday snaps. Record a tune.

The list, below, is only a small selection of ideas. I have posted it not with Blogger, but with a Google Notebook. Yet another great tool to help you publish yourself online, simply:

Notebook list of great, FREE, ICT-learning applications

Wednesday, September 13

Lost in translation? Try a podcast!

About six months ago I wrote an article for a becta publication about the future technologies for learning (Full publication available for free from Becta)

In it I quoted an african lady, moved to europe, who created podcasts for her euro-family to teach them her home language. These podcasts were a surprise hit worldwide!

Today I tried to track her down - but she has gone missing. Instead, several other similar sites have sprung up around the world. It seems language learning is alive and well!

To celebrate, here are a couple of sample lessons from the world of free podcast language learning:

Shona (Zimbabwe): "introducing a friend to mum"

  • Mhoro mwanangu. Wakadini? / Hello, my child. How are you?
  • Unobva kupi? / Where do you come from?
  • KuUniversity unodzidza chii? / What do you study at the University?

Shona-2005-07-22nd.mp3 (1.2 mb)
from - an english husband and zimbabwean wife team

Mandarin (China): "preparing for the olympics"

Learn how to vit in when you visit Bejing for the olympics (as if!). In this lesson you find out about “Olympics” and “players” from Jenny and Ken.

chinesepod344_A114_20060910.mp3 (8.3mb) from - a far slicker online tuition site

English for non-native speakers: "2 words a day"

Suffice = be sufficient, be adequate, be enough or meet the needs of.

Sature = to soak something with liquid, to fill something with so many people or things that no more can be added. Supply a market beyond the point at which the demand for a product is satisfied.

JV162.mp3 (2.7 mb) from - a daily double word dose from sunny South Africa


Tuesday, September 12

m-learning in the cleaning sector

We are working with Newham college, running several trials with different work based sectors. We have been getting some great feedback from them, and I have just seen a entertaining little promotional DVD that Newham made showcasing one of the trials with hospital cleaners.

I have uploaded a vastly-compressed version of the video. It is well worth a few minutes of viewing!

If you are interested in getting a higher res copy drop me a comment, and I will point you towards the people who made it.

Feedback from the project thus far looks good. I quote from the project manager:

The experience of the project as it is emerging is that
  1. it is hugely popular with learners
  2. tutors are beginning to trust it to the extent that they are abandoning paper based materials in its favour (assessment)
  3. it is entirely suitable for the small chunks of time tutors have to operate within in the hospital cleaning industry
  4. contextualised and generic sfl and vocational materials have been developed for use at all stages of learning, from engagement through initial assessment, delivery, drill and practice, to practice assessment and preparation for national tests - and this is important so that mlearning can be introduced and continue to be used within the working environment (and as part of a blend of materials).
  5. the specific sectors of the transport and cleaning industries have a clear strategic use for this technology. There is a good fit with national strategies for upskilling staff.
  6. Partners are having no trouble engaging employers - they really see the benefits

Monday, September 11

Good podagogy

If you are on this site, I assume you know what podcasting is, and how it can be used for learning. (if you are unsure, try wikipedia)

the good news: many learning institutions know this, and are starting to use podcasting or it's younger brother "audio-based learning" to extend their reach (albeit slowly).

This blog-post is dedicated to some of the really nice sites that help you know what you need to do to get started:

add some comments if you have other good links to add.

ps: I see more and more schools are starting to invest in mobile resources: in this case ipods!

Friday, September 8

Create-A-Scape: another futurelabs adventure!

Create-A-Scape looks like a great, free set of tips and resources to enable teachers and pupils to create digitally-enhanced, personalised learning experiences.

You use HP’'s Mediascape authoring toolkit to ‘attached a collection of location-sensitive sounds and images to’ the local landscape, and then you discover tham all using mobile technology.

From what I can see, it looks like a really well polished set of tools to get teachers started. Visit the Create-A-Scape website to see for yourself.

Free SMS: "call me back"

The third world has led the way for quite a while, when it comes to creative uses of the most simple phone technologies.

Pay as you Go started there. Sending credits via SMS started there. Using private mobiles as pay phones is common there. But here is yet another great idea, this time from an operator in the Maldives

If you have run out of credit, how about being able to send a free SMS message to your friends, telling them to call you back!

This is one of a few, similar ideas being used by the Dhiragoo network in the Maldives

You know it makes sense

India’s mobile phone users increasing by 1m a week

pipidn.gif More than 1 million people a week are becoming new mobile phone users in India, reports The Business Online.

"According to the Cellular Operators’ Association of India, the number of mobile users in India has topped 110m.

About half of India’s towns and villages now have mobile reception and the Indian Ministry of Communication and Information aims to reach 90% coverage by the end of the year."

more mediaBoard-style action

At the risk of sounding a bit like a stuck record, I still think the apex of creative, constructive, empowering mobile learning with ANY phone is all about sending and sharing media. I tend to go an about the mediaBoard, in this regard, but I only just stumbled on another, game-play variant called the Go Game.

Techologicaly, it is way behind the mediaBoard. But where it scores is in the efforts that have been made to pre-create different adventures and scenarios. The Go team host the game for you, and plan out all the activities (instead of leaving it up to the local teacher).

there is a good, promo video that describes it well, as does the text, below, thanks to

PO05.JPG One of the pioneers of the alternate reality game, The Go Game has provided a cell phone driven, urban adventure game to over 100,000 players since it's first community game in San Francisco's Mission District on December 1st, 2001.

Each team is issued a Superhero lunch box with a cell phone, a digital camera and a map of the game zone inside. Clues are downloaded and solved on the cell phone (which is wireless enabled), providing instant feedback of their performance, speed, rank and time left in the race.

Throughout the game, teams will be solving clever puzzles, finding our secret agents hidden throughout the game zone, and even getting a chance to show off their creativity with photo and video challenges.

These videos and photos are the gems of The Go Game, as they offer a wide variety of creative and hilarious responses which are voted on at the end of the game by all of the players.

Wednesday, September 6

QR Codes anyone?

QR Codes have been around for a while. They are one of several different attempts to improve on barcodes, offering a small image that contains machine readable data.

You may not realise, but your phone could tell you that the one on the right says ""

QR Codes are one of several similar systems to start being used with camera-phones, and this is where it gets interesting to us mobile learners. I can embed a URL, and attach the code to a picture in the museum. If I point my phone at it, I can get taken to a mini-website with more information about that picture.

Or for the tech-savvy businessman - why not include your email or phone number in a QR Code. It will save your contacts typing them in.

But the main reason I am blogging QR Codes, is that Nokia has started shipping the reader as standard in their Japanese phones. And that this format is fast becoming mainstreamed there. Consumers are finding links on supermarket shelves, bus shelters and magazine ads.

So - if it is being taken up by industry, why not at school too?

There are (as always) many different ways to do the same things. Semacode is another variant, and hypertag is a more feature-rich and advertising-friendly approach. But for me the big take-up in Japan is a taste of mainstreaming-to-come.

If you are interested in the specifics, wikipedia has a good summary of QR Codes (of course!)

and hypertag have made a great animation, to show what can happen when your phone starts getting real digital data from the world around you!

for more on the Japan usage, see Mike Love's links on SmartMobs

mobile literacy?

What are the key skills we need our mobile learners need to have?

Have a look at this great starter-list for mobile literacy on the Keitai site.

It feels like the computer-list is quite a bit more complete than the handheld-one, but they are both fantastic starting points

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