Wednesday, December 10

Which book changed your life?

Mobile learning works for lots of reasons.

  • It might work for you because you can learn where you want.
  • It might work for me because my phone is the only connection I have to the internet, and my classmates.
  • It works for some of our excluded learners because it reaches them, and (if we are lucky), is part of their "ah-ha!" moment.

I love stories of those "ah-ha!" moments. The sudden thing that turned on a light for a learner who had stopped engaging in their learning. Several years ago we made an adult numeracy product (the numbers disc) that had an entire section dedicated to learner stories. Collecting them was a real inspiration.

Today I found a great one. It was nothing to do with "mobile", but all to do with "learning". I stumbled on it on one of the OU discussion forums asking which book changed your life.

'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' by Gibbon. I was 21, on state benefits, with a baby and a toddler. I kept renewing the library book in the hope that one day I might finish it.

On about the 8th renewal the librarian asked me if I had ever considered studying with the Open University. He gave me a leaflet with the contact details.

I graduated BSc Hons 2.1 nine years later.

I will always be grateful to that kind librarian. 'Decline and Fall' changed my life.


Is that inspiring, or what!

Friday, December 5

Teddies and telephones in space

It is a "proud dad" moment. teddies5_sm

My daughter has been working on a science project to send 4 teddy bears into space.

They launched successfully a few days ago, and this morning almost every newspaper in the UK today is reporting on it (with all the predictable puns):

  • Teddies Boldly Go Where No Bear Has Gone Before
  • A giant leap for bear-kind (sun)
  • Space bears are teddy for lift-off (metro)
  • Giant step for teddies as Britain rejoins space race (times)
  • British teddy bears are out of this world
  • Ground control to major Ted (guardian)

She and her friends are justifiably glowing with pride - her bear, called MAT, is pictured on the left

The teddies went up with a helium balloon, got to an altitude of over 30 km, (temperature below -50 C) and landed safely on the coast after 2 hours of flight.

They travelled in style, connected to Nova 9 (the "mothership") built by CUSpaceflight - a group of Cambridge University students inspired by low-budget space flight. Spaceship2

On board was a few cameras, a super lightweight computer and GPS chip to track it, a radio to report back to the team on the ground ... and ... in case of emergencies ... a mobile phone!

Any teenager could tell you that in case of emergencies, you need to be able to send a text message to someone to pick you up. Nova 9 was no different.

The project was part of an outreach by CUSPaceflight, and the kids - science clubs from two local schools - were experimenting with different insulation and protective layers and clothing for their bears, to keep them from freezing solid.

Find out more by Googling Teddies in space or pick a couple of these links: flight

Local TV news

Press releases

Photos and more

Friday, November 14

infinitely digital

I like when different areas of my life collide - as they did a week or so ago in Bethnal Green Working Men's club, watching four young performance poets do a show about computer games (part of the London Games Festival) It was funny and intelligent and would make a brillianr addition to Handheld Learning or Alt-C - but what would you call these guys, late 20s early 30s brought up on Pacman, Super Mario and Street Fighter? Not natives as they probably didn't have phones until they were well into their teenage years. Is it true that most computer games bought these days are in fact by this demographic? So maybe it's not the kids we should be worrying about - but the dads? One thing that struck me, in the days when we are supposed to be promoting persistence, is that it's a quality playing computer games undeniably encourages. As a developer and educationalist I need to think about all the aspects of a computer game that make it hard to leave. Ah Sonic, I really loved your spikey blueness. You can see a clip of Infinite Lives here

Friday, October 17

Handheld Learning 2008 - the movie!

I am still busy recovering from the amazing flurry of mental and mobile stimulation that is Handheld Learning.

Old friends, new friends, cool projects, scary salespeople, avalanche of new gadgets.

One of the especially noteworthy things was the awesome array of big-hitting speakers, and for those of you unable to be in London yourselves, you can see the whole thing already, online at BlipTV:


Andrew Pinder, Chairman of Becta
Steven Berlin Johnson, Cultural critic & writer
Laurie O'Donnell, Director of Learning & Technology, Learning & Teaching Scotland
danah boyd, Social media scientist
Lord David Puttnam


All of these are well worth a bag of popcorn, and some chill-out viewing time

You can also catch other snippets from the day on the handheld video channel, at

Pecha Kucha on mobile learning

I did my first Pecha Kucha this week, at Handheld Learning 2008

"your what?"

Pecha Kucha - the elevator pitch of the powerpoint world. think poetry slam, think unconferences, think on your feet!

The idea started with informal gatherings of architects showing off their works, but has been taken up by enthusiasts all over the world trying to balance "too much information" with "too many people wanting to say something" with "got to keep it fun and light".

In this case the enthusiast was Dan Sutch of futurelab, who went old-skool and laid down the original Pecha Kucha ground rules:

  • 20 slides
  • 20 seconds each
  • timed transitions (so they move on, even if the presenter doesn't)
  • lottery on who presents

I got one of the early slots, and had great fun with a romp through what we have been up to recently in our mobile learning work, as well as trying out a few theories about why some mobile learning succeeds, and others fail. (it was the perfect place for it, with at least half the UK's m-learning thinkers right there in the audience, as well as a solid international contingent!)

thanks to Dan, as well as the many enthusiasts who made it a great first experience for me (James, Markus, Andy, Jill, Jo, the SA crew ... you know who you all are!)

Monday, October 13

mlearn 2008

I'm at Handheld Learning blogging about 2008 - that's how it goes in the fast moving world of m! I'm actually watching Selena Chan, whose presentation I saw in Telford - she works at Christchurch Polytechnic in NZ with apprentice bakers. her work crosses the informal / formal divide into a new educational space in which (maybe) the two will meet and merge (ooh more ms)This was a recurrent theme at mlearn - along with a set of presentations about overcoming teacher resistance (presentations from Elizabeth Hartnell Young and Ian Watkins from Melbourne spring to mind). Two favourites for me (apart from excellent keynote from Diana Laurillard a lovely elegant model which Geoff and I used in our presentation in a rather cheeky way) - one by Debra Poulson talking about MiLK - a project from OZ which uses interactive games with kids in both formal (eg town planning) and informal (exploring a museum with your families)- she gets PhD students to make the games - and the results are really interesting - doesn't have to be Sim City to work! The other was by JulietA really enjoyable and stimulating presentation from Juliet argh haven't noted her surname! (of Mudlarking in Deptford fame) whose interests are in location / place and what the subject brings to the location – and may leave behind for others to find.. She has done projects in outside locations like Deptford but also in buildings / institutions such as the V and A museum with children – called cracks in the concrete – the other lives of buildings - absolutely fascinating. So there was definitely gold at the end of the rainbow in Telford (and Morris Dancing)

Wednesday, October 8

Geoff Stead shortlisted for Handheld Learning award!


Cool! I just found out that I have been shortlisted for a Handheld Learning Award.

I doubt it is for my blog writing skills, which are sporadic at best - much more likely it is to do with the many mobile learners out there that have been helping us refine, and reshape what mobile learning means, and how to help make it happen!


(and of course, a shout out to our MyLearning authoring, and content tools)


No use getting your phones out to vote, though. It looks like our category ("Special Achievement") is a non-vote one. Damn shame, as we have several hundred sim cards, and devices being used by learners across the country. I am sure with a bit of cunning planing I could have got all of them to vote ...



Thanks all,




ps: more info here

Wednesday, September 24

UK government pays £300m to get families online

In one of the worst kept secrets of the summer, the DCSF has announced a credit-crunch-beating £300m to buy laptops and broadband for the neediest kids in England.

Is this good news?

It is great news! Evidence is mounting that kids perform better at school if they can take some of that school work home, and share it with their families. Several recent reports seem to be converging on this from different perspectives:

  • DCSF's Children's plan (benefits of access to technology at home)
  • Byron report (on managing e-safety)
  • Denham's consultation on Informal Adult Learning (drawing in the parents)
  • Becta's Harnessing Technology (on how to use it well for learning)


From Extending Opportunity (the final report of the minister's taskforce):

Strong evidence exists for the potential educational, economic and wider benefits of home access to technology. Despite this growing body of evidence, approximately 35 per cent of families still do not have access to the internet and the digital divide is not being narrowed. It is clear that cost is a major barrier to access and, whilst costs of home access are falling, they will not do so quickly enough to prevent a large number of low-income families from being excluded from the educational and wider benefits of home access. This exclusion of low-income families results in an inequitable exploitation of home access and means that it is impossible for all learners and their families to experience these educational benefits without some intervention.


Needless to say, technology providers are already limbering up to promote their wares. It looks like families will be given vouchers they can spend on eligible technology and connectivity - though debate is already starting up on what types of devices should be included.

Is it just about "laptops"?

What about "mobile devices"?

How about games consoles?


Not sure about the answer - though as a mobile blog, our vote is with the "as many methods as possible" camp!

Thursday, September 18

divided we fall?

Still mulling ovr the Alt-C conference and what all the debates about digital divide add up to. Maybe (as suggested by the fringe slammers ) it's a false divide that isn't helpful - it's a dualism we can do without. But on the other hand, when we make content for e.g. mobile phones there's no question that for some people this is highly attractive, whereas for others, it's a puzzling approach to education. maybe the probelm arises when we make assumptions based on age, or gender, or where you live in the world (and the initial key note by Hans Rosling did a lot to explode some of the myths we hold about the world brilliantly).
Also thinking about all the Web 2,0 debates and whether or not I'd look good in one of those second life get ups. Whoops think I'm falling on the wrong side of a divide ...
Really enjoyed Clive Shepherd's session on the e-content pyramid. There's still plenty of scope for professional, well-designed learning materials alongside more user-generated material - and this should present a rich mix for everybody. Maybe that's the point - new ways of using technology to present learning can take its place alongside more traditional methods. It doesn't need to be a divide - just a broader choice (provided of course you've got the access).

Monday, September 15

X0 2 to have a touch screen!

It looks possible that the next generation OLPC might have the touch screen we were wishing for!ideas for XO-2

Some of the early ideas and mockups are up on the OLPC wiki site and the form factor looks superb.

Is this a good idea?

Of course!

OLPC walk a delicate tightrope between keeping the XO as cheap, robust, and low-power as possible while at the same time pushing to innovate. Theirs is a device built just for students - just for learning. Adding in one (or even two) touch screens moves their device closer to an idealised learning device!

We were lucky enough to hear David Cavallo who head up OLPC's future of learning research talking at ALT-C last week, and were pleased to hear him enthusing about the XO innovations.

Of course there is a long journey between the current announcements and a final release, but two touch screens would be a great response to new devices like the ClassMate PC - and if you believe some of the literature OLPC are creating, they are seriously considering adding these multi-touch screens.


Go OLPC go!

Friday, September 5

One day course in mobile learning - a bargain!

Anybody going to MLearn2008? It is happening in the UK this year, and promises to provide a great collection of speakers.

BUT - did you know about the workshops the day before?

Whether you are attending the main conference or not, you are still able to go to the workshops.

We are hosting Generation M, an all-day introduction to mobile learning for only £50 (which includes a licence to the MyLearning authoring tool)

If you looking for a gentle overview of all the current issues, as well as a chance to make some of your own m-learning content give us a go! ... as it says on the brochure:

Prepare yourself for MLearn2008 with a relaxed day of informal presentations and practical sessions. This exciting workshop day will provide hands-on opportunities to try m-learning authoring tools as well as hear from our fascinating guest speakers, Jocelyn Wishart, Karl Royle and Richard Everett – see and for full details of the programme.

It promises to be a great introduction to mobile learning. If you are interested, Sign up here (we are the second one on the list, "Generation M")

Friday, August 29

Is Classmate PC the king of touch?

Something we love about the latest Classmate PC is the addition of a touchscreen.

One of the strongest "form" messages we get back from the various m-learning trials we run, is the appreciation of "touch" as an interface. That and easy access to multimedia features (like cameras, voice recording, speakers etc)

That - and the ability to work together, sharing devices.

PDA-style devices, like the many HTC / WindowsMobile gadgets have always scored really well on these, and looking at this interview with one of the classmate researchers, they are taking the message to heart with their latest version

Are touchscreen UMPCs the pen and paper for students of the future?


This may well be a critical addition, enabling Intel’s Classmate PC to emerge as leader of the pack out of the swamp of chaos engulfing OLPC at the moment ...

Come on OLPC ... don't give up just yet ...

Friday, August 22

MoleNET lives on ... £4m available for mobile learning in 2008/09

The LSC have just this second announced a further round of funding for the MoLeNET project ... banner-header£4m to support new projects, or to bulk up existing ones.


The same constraints apply as last time:

- consortia need to be fronted by an English FE college

- money is available for capital expenditure only

- colleges need to pay in 20% of the full amount they request, in cash, to fund training and support

- not a long time between now and getting your bids in (6 October 08)


Congratulations to the existing projects, who have obviously managed to show enough benefit to learners to have been able to encourage the LSC to make this new money available!


More details here:


If you want to get involved, and ARE an English FE college, start by looking at what the current projects are doing. There is some very good information out there (if you dig), with some valuable lessons learned. Make sure you can show why your bid is building on the state of the art!


If you want to get involved, and ARE NOT an English FE college, now is the time to make friends with one, to come up with a joint project, and to help them bid for it!

Wednesday, July 16

mobile learning across the commonwealth

The PCF5_logom-learning team were very excited to present our mobile learning work at the Fifth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning

This is held every two years, and has grown to become one of the world’s leading conferences on learning and global development - bringing together ministers of education, and practitioners from across the commonwealth.



We are asked to present - in 20 minutes - on how our mobile learning  might be used across the 3rd world countries represented. it was all recorded, and streamed on Teachers.TV so as soon as we get a video we will upload and share it.


The event brought together an amazing number of real innovators from across the world. Some of my top items were:

  • Community radio stations, broadcasting learning to kids who couldn't get to school
  • Learning = saving lives (HIV/Aids awareness campaigns)
  • using drama and dance to teach all sorts of other subjects
  • strong drive for more "open and shared" resources

Needless to say, being able to showcase all our mobile learning resources running on the $100 laptop (OLPC) was a huge hit!


If you want to see our presentation, see our Slideshare

Wednesday, June 25

Nokia buys Symbian ... and then gives it away!

symbian_226Nokia has just bought out the rest of the Symbian partners, giving it 100% ownership of the Symbian operating system, which it plans to "give away"!

According to the The Register:

Nokia has bought up the bits of Symbian it didn't already own and is chucking the OS into an open-source foundation along with the S60 UI layer, accompanied by Sony Ericsson and DoCoMo, who are throwing in UIQ and MOAP(S) respectively.

The BBC adds

Nokia, which already owns 48% of the UK-based firm, intends to develop its software to compete with Google's planned Android operating system.


The Symbian foundation will bring together Nokia, AT&T, LG, Motorola, NTT Docomo, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Vodafone in collaboration on a new, royalty-free open software platform for mobile phones.

Here on MobLearn we have always been Android fans, as much for the open ethos as for the technology itself, and this news certainly adds an exciting new chapter, especially given the Android delays, and the very solid userbase that Symbian already has in the market.

small "ps": although technically "open", access to the Symbian source code is not free. You need to pay $1500 to be in the foundation. But relative to the costs of having your own OS, this must seem minor.

Geoff (with thanks to James for spotting this)

Tuesday, June 17

m-learning in South Africa

Tribal's m-learning team were invited to Cape Town to talk about innovations in learning technologies in the UK. We were part of a delegation sponsored by the DTI / TVET to build bridges between the UK, and South African education businesses

The event: CCC (a collection of FE colleges specialising in vocational training)zozo

Our message: in innovations in learning went down very well - though with some incredulity as the the budgets spent on individual students in the UK. The local minister of  education was in attendance and spent some time discussing how we might be able to help them.

Some of the slides are on our Slideshare

The mood: bizarre! There has been a swathe of investment in South African Education, though it seems to have passed the FE sector by, so they really struggle to attract and maintain talented staff. Because of this, all sorts of seemingly innocent comments by the UK delegation triggered passionate responses - with many lecturers standing up and asking the speakers for jobs!shop window

The backdrop: South Africa is in a very difficult time at the moment, with foreigners and refugees being beaten, and hounded out of all the poorer areas. I was lucky enough to be invited to several refugee centres, and to spend some time with the fascinating, but seriously concerned Zimbabweans, Malawians, Nigerians and Somalis. We wish them all well, and hope the South Africa remembers it is the Rainbow Nation!

Monday, May 19

The OLPC (X0) does windows!

Shocking news from New York Times is that the passionately open-source team behind the hundred dollar laptop have done a deal with Microsoft, so that the X0 laptop can run Windows as well as Linux.

After-shocks are flowing throughout the community, with several leading OLPC developers resigning and much angst being aired in the blogospere - as well as some misleading "microsoft buys OLPC" headlines. image

So what really happened?

OLPC has agreed to make a few modifications, so that the XO has more power, can support larger memory cards, and can therefore run Windows (as well as Linux). Total cost to the punter: around $10 more.

Why is this a big deal?

For Microsoft: Corporate market share.

They are trying very hard to be big in education, to be big in the 3rd world, and to be big on small-devices (pardon the pun). The success of initiatives like OLPC was proving that they were failing in this ambition - but now they are back in with a chance. The big compromise they have made is to accept the OLPC can be "dual boot", supporting Linux/Sugar as well.

For OLPC: Fundamental clash!

Many of the teams working on OLPC were doing it for free, for a passionate belief in Open Source, and the power of the collective mind to solve world problems. They were not in it for the money. This is starkly at odds with Microsoft's image, which is why this news is generating such a lot of fall-out.

And what is likely to happen next?

OLPC has been suffering quite a few pains recently. All the tricky bits of deploying and distributing thousands of devices to hard-to-reach places. There have also been several high-profile splits and departures in the senior teams. At the worst, this news could drive away many of the remaining enthusiasts, leaving a chronically depleted team. At best, this could drive significant new sales, and re-energise OLPC, helping them become more successful.

For a well thought through essay on the OLPC problems, from the inside, see Ivan Krstić's post

The bad news: this calls into question the roots of our belief in the power of open source to solve big problems. Sadly, power and politics always seems to get in the way.

The good news: OLPC wasn't all about software and equipment anyway - it is really all about learning. Using learning-centred technology to support 3rd world kids, and leapfrogging their life chances with education. This hasn't changed ... all that has happened is that their devices have got a bit more powerful (and possibly, expensive)

I say we focus on the learning - and make sure the OLPC keeps its learner centred ethos, regardless of the technologies

Wednesday, May 14

m-learning interview ...

Getting started with m-learning?

Interested in what works?

Jo and I were recently interviewed about all the work we have been doing in m-learning, trying to summarise what works, and what doesn't.

If you have 10 minutes to spare, sit back and have a look.

message to the m-veterans:
please send us your comments and thoughts to the blog!

Friday, May 2

OLPC review: is the $100 laptop good enough?

In theory - we all love the One Laptop Per Child initiative (OLPC). But what is it really really like?

We were lucky enough to get one from Seb at ALT-C. There are so many competing views and agendas around this little green machine that we felt the best way to review it would be collaboratively.

the entire Tribal learning technologies team got in on the act, including animators, UI designers, teachers, academics and programmers.

We also enlisted the real experts: our kids! (aged 6, 9 and 11).

So what is it really like?

In super simple summary, we think the OLPC X0-1:

  • is inspirational, embedding good educational ideas and collaboration;
  • solves several big technology challenges;
  • is great fun, but pretty slow;
  • is full of first-generation quirks;
  • has an amazingly rich seam of support info on the OLPC wiki;
  • leads the field in several key directions, but might be superceded quite quickly?

For a more detailed review check out our posting on Fortnightly Mailing

Many of the first generation quirks we spotted seem to be echoed in the justifications for the shock-double-news that the OLPC president is resigning from OLPC, and that future versions may even support Windows OS!!

Shock horror. This is sending even more ripples around the OLPC community than the news that Intel was pulling out last year, and the competing commercial devices (like classmate and eeepc) that are currently hitting the market.

I kind of agree about the quirkiness of the Sugar interface, and that the users experience could be improved ... but the shock waves are greater than this. They are probably because, until now, the Open Source philosophy has been one of the strongest glues that has held all the OLPC developers together, and adoption of Windows as a platform calls that into question.

Watch this space to see what happens....

My vote?
- OLPC will remain all open source, and will keep championing "freedom for users"
- Other, commercial devices will build on what OLPC has created, offering more and more features for less and less money
- whichever way you look, learners win, so long live the OLPC !!!


Friday, April 25

Linux "goes large" in Brazilian schools

Brazil has been stealthily growing an amazing sounding project called ProInfo

They are rolling out infrastructure, technology and software to reach 36million students by the end of this year, with more to come!

The software is Linux (KDE desktop), The technology comes as an instant "computer lab", in a couple of different flavours:
  • an inner city one (more seats per single, shared server)
  • a rural one (simpler / lower power usage)
  • a presenting one (one piece of kit with integrated projector, cpu, bundled content and DVD player)
  • an accessible one (huge screen, and extra accessibility devices connected)

I had heard rumours of this, but with no idea of the scale, or the fact that the roll-out includes open content as well.

ProInfo is not about mobility, but a parallel project UCA (One Computer per Student) is. They are about to launch a second phase, buying 150 000 portable machines. Possibly ClassMates, or OLPC.

Wow! The numbers are staggering. The vision bold. The open source world excited. We wait, with baited breath ...

Monday, January 14

$10 million from Google for cool mobile apps

The Android Developer Challenge: Google has offered $10 million to developers for the coolest, most interesting, creative applications that will run on their new mobile operating system.

Android is the google sponsored operating system that they hope will run on all future phones, and with true google flair, they are offering some no-strings-attached funding to encourage developers to get involved.

If you want some of this money, you will need to move fast, though. They have split it into two packages:

Android Developer Challenge I: Happening now. You need to apply before March 3, 2008.

The top 50 entries each get $25K to fund their work, and then they also get the chance to apply for further grants (ten $275K awards and ten $100K awards)

Android Developer Challenge II: This part will only happen once the first android handsets become available - so we are talking the second half of 2008

As always - a breath of fresh air. Lets hope that some of those winning apps are good for learning!

If you want to find out more, visit the android site

Friday, January 4

Intel pulls out of OLPC !!

The news of the week must surely be that Intel, that giant of processors, has pulled out from the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC).

There is not much information out about why, but it seems like Intel were being pressurised into stopping their own, alternative projects which they were unhappy about. or at least that is how Intel tells it.

Is this significant?

Well, yes, given that Intel dominate the current laptop market, though early versions of XO, the mean, green, OLPC machine were not using an Intel chip anyway, so this may not be a problem in the short term.

Still - it is one step backwards for joint working and co-development.

If you didn't already know, OLPC is the amazing group of people championing super-green, ruggedized, cheap laptops for learning. (See the BBC's technology factfile for the low down)

Geoff2008 (the new improved model)

Related (possibly!)

Related Posts with Thumbnails