Thursday, January 31

Are the robots taking over? Augment your reality, don't lose it!

When is technology helping, and when does it hinder?
How can you ensure "enthusiasm for the new" doesn't blind you to what is good right now?

I'm not sure I have any perfect answers, but I spent a very interesting hour at the trendy studios at LondonReal being interviewed by Brian and Nic, who were not educators, but wanted to understand what we are up to, and exactly how far is too far to take technology

You can catch the (visual) podcast, below, or scan down the page for a few snippets

Here is a hastily transcribed synopsis, below, to help you navigate your way through:

[6-7 mins] What's mobile learning all about?

[7.30] Thinking about touch screens. Voice control. Google glass.
- what's augmented reality all about
- where's the meaning, and sense in that, and what could you do for learning ?

[10 mins] And how soon with augmented reality be real?

[14 mins] Nic the AR cynic - "is technology swamping our humanity"?
- tech is flooding us like a wave. our choice is how to deal with it
- your mission: how to use it for good!

[16 minutes] So what should we be doing differently at school to prepare for this?
- thinking about the skills you need for future life, rather than narrow focus on a few subjects

[18:30] If you have to measure schools, maybe you should be looking 10 years down the line. How many of their graduates end up doing awesome, new jobs that weren't even invented when they were at school! That's enlightened schooling

[21 mins] Singing the praises of the MAKR / maker movement. Especially some of the cool coding tools like Rasberry Pi and Arduino.

[24:30] Nic again - "Is technology making us more stupid then?"
- all about a trade-off. Using technology to help me, but not letting it remove my humanity
- we need to learn new social skills about living with always on technology. Should you answer your phone while talking to friends?
- introducing Phone Stack - the ultimate game for phone-addicted diners!

[29:30] Ubuntu. Introducing a cool philosophy that helps keep your place in live. Your success is connected to our success, my friend!
m-Ubuntu project: Several pieces on this blog, a talk I did on it at TEDxLondon, and further info here:

[34 mins] People need people. Adding a bit of "social" into a very dispersed virtual learning environment.
- technology can help fill the gaps

[36:30] Should we all be getting cybernetic implants?
- awesome medical applications
- same story as augmented reality. It can be used for awesome good, but it is up to you to maintain your humanity!!

[39 mins] So are machines taking over? Are we becoming one with the borg?
- humans have always used tools. Technology is no different.

[43:30] Your brain is very good at tricking you. Re-writing your own personal narrative
- technology can help you understand your own narrative a little better
- you can't trust your own recollection of past events!

[46 mins] Who are the technology companies to watch?
1) the big guys, like Google, Qualcomm, HP etc (who have the weight to explore the peripheries of the mainstream)
2) the visionaries. Like Mozilla, Wikipedia, GitHub (who have a bold mission they champion)

[50:30] Has apple peaked? Has blackberry died? Who is winning the mobile mega-race?
- my thoughts? People should stop over-agonising about who is top dog. In reality it is mostly irrelevant to our lives. And often very geographically skewed

[53 mins] What about MOOCs / iTunesU? Are these important? Are they game changers?
- Are they important? Absolutely
- Are they the future? Not as they are right now, though already they are doing some meaningfully open / egalitarian things.
- the next generation of them will move from "broadcast" mode to a more empowering educational model
- Another important angle is OER (open educational resources), as well as sites that help you practice, and build skills like

[57 mins] How did you end up with your job? Are startups a good place to start?
- You really need the underpinning technology skills, but after that, the real value is in all the other disciplines that get layered on top.
- Startups are great fun, but can be abusive for young techies. If you are joining one, make sure the startup REALLY gets technology, and lets you help shape it. And that you believe in the vision.

[101 mins] Find people who inspire you. Learn from the masters. Mine were all in the tradition of Adult Learning. Empowerment. Education to make a difference. People like Paolo Friere, Seymour Papert, Desmond Tutu as well as my personal mentors (that's you Dad, and Martin!)

Final word: Technology is GREAT for education. But use it as tools to do things, don't slip into the trap of letting it DO things for you.

If your educational technology starts feeling like a sausage machine, with pre-digested knowledge being shoved into you, you are doing it wrong. Turn and run away.

Tuesday, January 22

Building your own apps? Try these top tips!

Many thousands of people are developing apps. Many of those apps fail dismally to achieve what the original vision holders hoped for. How can you increase the odds that your app will be used by, and useful for many?

The answer: learn from the gurus. Listen to those who have done it many times before.

The nice thing about building educational apps is that the financial models for them are different to normal consumer apps. Success is judged by how useful they are, as opposed to the revenue generated by shifting millions of copies. This is shared with in-house enterprise apps, where quite often the employee gets them for free, allowing the developers to focus on making apps as useful as possible, rather than stressing about pay-per-download.

What's the connection with our top tips?

The connection is that Apple have recently released an excellent guide for in house app developers, listing top tips, and advice that - although aimed at iOS developers making in-house apps, are in fact useful to ALL app developers, across ALL platforms.

The guide is divided into the four key stages of app development:

Starting with Planning: make sure you, and your people know what you are building, and all sign up to it.

Then looking at Design: great tips to help you simplify, and prioritise features, as well as interviews from gurus in this area

Next the actual Development: All you need to know to get started. The specifics here are obviously pretty Apple / iOS centric, but the sections on Web Development, and Back Office Integration are great advice whatever your platform 

Finally, Deployment: This section is pretty much 100% Apple. Very helpful if you are new to iOS development, but only of of brief interest to other app developers. 

Learn from the masters. It is a great overview that we recommend to any aspiring app developers.

If you like to print stuff out, go for the PDF version, otherwise dive in and get exploring on the online accelerator site.

Do you have any other tip tips sites you'd care to share?

Thursday, January 17

Possibly the coolest dev job in m-learning?

I have recently joined Qualcomm to set up our Mobile Learning Lab - an awesome opportunity to help shape the future of mobile learning, together with the global reach to make a difference to many learners across the world.

Our Mobile Learning Lab will be in both Cambridge, UK, and San Diego, California. In Cambridge we share the site with members of Qualcomm's research and development team - experts in augmented reality, app development, user experience design and gesture recognition. In San Diego we work closely with the Learning Technology team.

Right now, we are recruiting. Specifically, we are looking for 4 mobile and web developers with a strong empathy for m-learning to be founder members of our team, and help us to use all of this awesome mobile technology for good.

  • We are inventing and building new m-learning solutions.
  • We are working with international partners to reach more diverse audiences.
  • We are sharing what we learn, to inspire and inform the industry.
  • We want to help shape the future, not just react to the here and now

If you have solid engineering skills, are enthusiastic about using them to make a difference in people's lives, have some robust mobile experience and are unafraid to tackle new and unknown technologies, we may have the perfect opportunity for you.

Interested? 3 of the roles are based in Cambridge, UK, and one is in San Diego, USA.

Join us!

To explore some of the technologies coming out of our labs, see

ps: If you don't know Qualcomm yet, we are big (about 24,000 staff), very techie (lots of hardware engineering) and very very into mobile. In fact, if you have a smartphone, we probably invented some of the bits inside it. Most likely something to do with the modem, but increasingly we are also making the processors too.

Oh - and did I mention that we just ranked number 11 in the top 100 companies to work for :-)

Thursday, January 10

AR in mobile learning

Are you using Augmented Reality in your mobile learning? Should you?

AR, or Augmented Reality has been high on the hype-charts for several years now, but seems to be on "slow burn" when it comes to m-learning. This post is a quick update on what's happening, where, and what it means for education.

If you are unsure what AR is, here is a great explanation from those nice folks at Common Craft

So pretty much anything that helps you connect the real world around you with the digital, or virtual one classifies as augmented reality. You don't even need to superimpose it on the camera view if you don't want to. Examples like QR-codes, or bar code scanning also connect the real to the virtual, without requiring the real-live-view.

But for now, lets stick with live-view AR. One of the classic (and often quoted) examples of AR in workplace learning is this project from BMW. It isn't really being used, though. It was a demo made over 5 years ago by their R&D people, but if you haven't seen it yet, it tells a great story

Clearly an idea with merit. But what's been happening in the past 5 years? A lot, as it turns out!

Several companies (including my own) have been investing heavily to push this sort of technology out of the labs, and into the mainstream. There seem to be 2 main approaches when it comes to apps:

1: Geographical information, downloadable as layers.

layar screen images from FastCommpany
The two main players here are Layar, and Wikitude.  Both offer a free app in the app stores, and allow you to download many different layers of information that will pop up as you move your camera around.

Bear in mind that this is GPS data, so you need to be outdoors, and positioning is not 100%. But, nonetheless, great fun to play with, and surprisingly easy to make your own layers. Fancy setting up a history trail around your town? You can upload all the data as a new layer, and share with any other app users!

2: Visual (and other) Triggers.

But what about augmenting non-geographic things? This is where "triggers" come in, and the advertising world gets even more excited.
Your phone recognises visual images, and triggers an augmented response. Apps like Blippar do this - you have probably seen their logo on film posters, magazines and product adverts. Once you have downloaded the Blippar app, you can scan any known products / posters / images to triggers some form of media to be superimposed over your camera view.

Here is a super-stylish example promoting the new Hobbit movie.

Clearly the result of some slick media work, but the great news is that this sort of magic is no longer in the realm of impossibly expensive. In fact, all the software required to make the AR, and image recognition work for this sort of thing is available for FREE.
That's right, free.

You still need a developer to build it into your app, and some media skills to create something worth showing, but the heavy technical lifting has already been done, and all of a sudden AR becomes a lot more affordable.

The question is no longer "is this possible", but rather "how could I use it for learning"

Blippar use the "one app for all our AR" idea, much like Wikitude and Layar. But increasingly you also find apps dedicated to one specific theme, embedding the same AR capability within them.

Here is a great example that has the added benefit of NOT being about product placement.
The Science Museum in London have an awesome AR trail. As you walk around the museum, you can scan different exhibits to have a real-life 3D version of James May popping up on your screen to talk to you about it. (the app itself isn't free, but you can get a good flavour of it in this video)

Think about this for learning. You don't need a talking person to pop up. You could as easily launch animated diagrams of machines, or straight video clips

The free developer kit I mentioned before is called Vuforia. It is the engine underpinning most of the AR you will see
in the mainstream media today. Right now the majority of the use cases still seem to be in the advertising space, but I'm looking forward to see more educators playing around with AR.

Have you tried AR yet for learning? What did you do?

UPDATE: A few days after this blog post, there was a public preview of Big Bird's Words, a new app for kids that uses some of the very latest Vuforia features to help (surprisingly young) kids find specific words in the world around them. This is even-smart AR, including live character recognition. Super cool!

Monday, January 7

CES - keynote preview, and my new job!

This is a big week for geeks. CES launches in a few hours, and will splurge forth a wave of exciting new technologies, as well as a wave of naff "same-olds". Those who can make it to Las Vegas to witness this consumer-tech-fest first hand will soon be suffering major information overload, while the rest of us watch all the live feeds and commentaries trying to sift out the significant trends from the hype!
The connection with my new job? I have moved closer to the source in my enthusiasm for using technology for good. Instead of waiting for CES to see what the big boys are working on, I am now working WITH the big boys, using these emerging technologies for meaningful education and empowerment!
I recently joined Qualcomm to found their new Mobile Learning Lab.
Qualcomm are BIG on mobile. So big in fact that the chances are something like 90% that your phone has a bit of their technology inside it already.
So big, that the opening keynote at CES 2013 is by our CEO, Paul Jacobs.
It only goes live later today (tomorrow morning for you Asians / Europeans), but here is a sneak preview:

I am part of Qualcomm's mission to put the mobile technology that you already have in your hand to even better use. We'll be setting up a Mobile Learning lab in Cambridge, UK, to work with the wide range of technologies already being invented across the business, and putting them to work for education and training.
Augmented reality? We've got that. Most of the top AR apps you have seen are built on our Vuforia platform. (See Vuforia, at for free dev tools)

Peer to peer? We help developers pass data between any phones or tablets, whether online or not
(See AllJoyn at for free dev tools)
Context awareness? Could your phone be more useful if it understood where you were, and what you were doing?
(See Gimbal at for free dev tools)
Super smart smartphones? Our Snapdragon chipset allows app developers to bundle some super cool tricks in their apps (gesture recognition. Eye tracking. Smile detection. . . )
If you are a mobile developer and fancy a dabble, find out how to get connected on QDevNet, the Qualcomm developer site:
QDevNEt Showcase

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