Tuesday, June 8, 2010

eLearning Africa 2010, mLearning is gaining momentum



1778 delegates from 78 countries attended this year’s eLearning Africa in Lusaka, Zambia. The conference included 60 sessions in 10 parallel conference stands, 4 plenary sessions and 20 pre-conference events.



One of these pre-conference events where dedicated to mLearning. Is was lead by Niall Winters and Yishay Mor, London Knowledge Lab, UK and Caroline Shakwei Sawe Mbindyo, AMREF, Kenya . The aim of the workshop was to provide participants with the capacity to design mobile learning activities. The focus was on how to how to support the integration of mobiles into practice and personal support and guidance for learners.

The number of activities related to m-learning had increased compared to eLearning Africa 2009. During the 2 days of the main conference 3 sessions was dedicated to mobile learning and some other sessions included presentations about m-learning.

Comments about some of these below:

One of the parallel sessions the first day was called: “Showcasing Mobile Learning in Africa”. The first presentation was made by Steve Vosloo, Shuttleworth Foundation, South Africa . He presented a project called m4lit, mobiles for literacy.



The title of the presentation was “The Cellphone Is the eBook Reader of Africa”. The inpiration for the project was from Japan where they have books on phones. About 70 % of mobile phones in SA have Internet possibilities, however many phones are very simple, often 128 pixel screens.

The IM-system MXit is used for distribution of short novels. Each novel is divided into short chapters, about 400 words. The readers have the possibility to make comments on the novel and discuss and "vote" about the content. The novels are appreciated by the readers, and the usage statistics in impressing.

In the project "Incorporating a Mobile Interface in a Blended
Learning Programme for Mathematics Teachers"
Ingrid Mostert, Stellenbosch University, South Africa Moodle, the open source learning management system Moodle with a mobile interface, was adopted as the programme’s learning management system.

Although the majority of teachers still access the LMS via a computer, incorporating a mobile interface made it possible for certain teachers to take part in discussions who would otherwise not have been able to. Various adaptations will be made to the blended learning model. "Firstly, more specialised training will be given during the residential course where teachers will be shown how to access Moodle from their cell phones and will clearly understand the different types of communication that Moodle can facilitate (personal messages, chat session and forum discussions). Secondly, if possible, teachers will be assisted in downloading Moodle’s mobile client onto their cell phones. Thirdly, scheduled chat sessions will either be between smaller groups or will have a specific topic. Lastly, the way in which the LMS is structured will be made even simpler to make navigation easier."


Ritta Vänskä, Nokia, described another SA-project where MXit was used, in this case for learning of 10:th grade math. MXit was combined with learning material in Moodle.



In phase one the system was tested in 6 schools and 280 learners and now in phase two in 30 schools and almost 4000 learners. The evaluation results from the Phase 1 showed that the usage of this kind of service among learners is very popular and according to the research this kind of learning method really impact learners’ attitude toward mathematics, and showed how learners are doing maths exercises 24/7, also during their holidays.

The next session was about “Improving Mobile Learning Environments”. The session focused on showcasing “a range of smart and low cost solutions that have been implemented to improve mobile learning environments.”

The project ICTBITES was presented by me. In the ICTBITES project mobile phones was used both as communication tools and as media players for in-service teacher education. The mobile phones empowered the students, the complete material for three academic courses was the hand of the students, and they used the mobile phones for reading e-mails and search for information on the web.



The last presentation in the session was made by Robert Pucher, University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien, Austria and was called “Utilizing Low Cost Mobile Phones for mLearning.” He emphasized some of the well know, but sometimes not so often mentioned, keys to learning, repetitions and emotional involvement. He presented a project where simple audio files are used as supplements to learning materials in traditional courses. Students can download these files to most mobile devices and listen to these files at any location or while on the move. Listening to such an audio file can be efficient repetitions way to memorize learning material.

What is “appropriate technology” for learning? John Traxler, Learning Lab UK made the first of the presentations during the second day in the session "Mobile Learning"..."how can mobile phones add real value to the student’s learning experience?”

John Traxler discussed what is appropriate from a number of different angels. In his abstract he mentions that “education systems and institutions have seldom developed their own sustainable, scalable technologies anywhere in the world. It is unlikely that any parts of Africa will be any different”. Instead one has used “have used technologies for purposes for which those technologies were not intended or designed or sold.”

He also mentions that “Seeing sustainability at a national level in these terms is by no means easy because it probably implies the kind of ‘big government’ that would characterize the UK or Sweden but not the US or South Africa, the kind of ‘big government’ prepared to commission and then evaluate evidence and then change policy and allocate resources. In countries with ‘small government’, sustainable educational technology is in the hands of businesses or social enterprises, and the mechanisms to support and sustain initiatives are different and less obvious.”

Paul Birevu Muyinda, Makerere University, Uganda, presented “A Model for Mobile Learning Adoption and Implementation in Africa (MLAIMA).



Maja Braun from Germany's international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, presented information about their educational radio programmes, which now also will be distributed over the net, possible to access with a mobile phone.





Is it difficult to from the presentations at eLA draw conclusions about where m-learning is heading in Africa. One trend seems to be to "use what is popular among the youth" like the MXit program used in some projects. Another trend is integration with the popular open source learning management system Moodle, used several of the projects reported. Use of audio files was mentioned by some.

Some other reflections, the discussion about where and for what purpose m-learning, and specially mobile phones, are an appropriate technology I think should be continued and widened. Mobile phones have several characteristics that are different compared to other media for learning like TV, radio, computers or books. Mobile phones are immersed in the daily life of the user and "always on", familiar to many more users than computer systems.

But mobile phones are not the best learning tool when you would like to work with and compare material from different sources, the screen is to small. Learning with mobile phones might create a high cognitive load. They are not very good tools for typing text, but good tool if the input is voice or one can use the camera.

Also there are several aspect of mobile learning which are different in e.g. rural Africa from Europe and US. Some of the problems often mentioned when discussing e-learning in Africa like accessibility problems, power problems, band width / Internet infrastructure problems, affordability problems, low availability of PC’s and limited knowledge how to operate PC’s and computer networks. Some of these problems can be addressed by m-learning and usage of mobile phones.

More studies should be made evaluating these special m-learning characteristics, in a general learning applications and in African context!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Evaluation of pilot project in Tanzania involving use of mobile phones and Moodle

The project "ICT-Based In-Service Teacher Education for Secondary School Teacher in Tanzania" (ICT BITES) was set up to deal with a shortage of qualified teachers in Tanzania. The project was initiated by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training in Tanzania and is funded by SPIDER, The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions.

There is a special focus in the project on in-service education of "Licensed Teachers", teachers with only a few weeks of formal teacher education.A number of these licensed teachers are enrolled in an education program run by the Open University of Tanzania

The project is described at http://sites.google.com/site/ictbites/ and there is a demo how mobile phones are used in the project at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkf1PjvAwlw



December 3:rd of 2009 an evaluation of the pilot project was made. 15 of the 18 students who had participated in the introduction meeting in January also participated in the evaluation. Of these 15 students, nine had been supplied with mobile phones by the project. The evaluation meeting was conducted in connection to the students’ last face-to-face meeting in their teacher education, taking place at the Teacher College of Mpwapwa.

During the four hour long evaluation meeting the students discussed in groups and answered questions individually. For group discussion the students were divided into four groups.

Group discussion one
The group work focused on the use of the mobile phones as learning tools, some questions were suggested for discussions:
  • What communication tools facilitated the learning process in the pilot test?
  • Where did you use the mobile phones?
  • Was it better to read the text on the mobile phone screen or to listen to the voice interpretation?
  • What were the pros and cons with having learning material as text and voice on mobile phones?
  • Did you use any alternatives to SMS for text based communication?
  • Did you use any different facilities of the book-reader, such as soft scroll, bookmarks etc?
  • Did you demonstrate the mobile phone material to colleagues at your schools, and in that case, what was their reaction?
Following are some of the answers given by the student groups:



Group 1 meant that the mobile phones facilitated the learning process. Phones were used for Internet searches, e-mail and sending SMS to fellow students.



Group 2 compared the text and voice interpretation of the material. In their opinion the phone screen was too small for extensive reading, but e.g. on the bus, where the study guide is too big to handle, they found it to be an attractive alternative. The voice interpretation they said worked even in a noisy environment, thanks to the earphones. Group 2 agreed with group 1 that the mobile phones facilitated the learning process.

Both group 1 and 2 considered not being able to discuss with a teacher or ask questions to be a “con” with having the course material as “voice" (listening to lectures instead of meeting them face-to-face).



Group 3 commented that they had not been able to use the Moodle system as they as students had not been provided with ID:s and passwords to the system. Regarding the course material on the mobile phones, they preferred the voice to the text. They had shown the material on their mobile phones to colleagues in their schools, and the colleagues shown great interest.



Group 4 also mentioned that the mobile phones had helped them in getting access to additional learning material from other sources, this through Bluetooth, e-mail and messengers.

Individual questionnaire
The next activity was for the students to individually answer a questionnaire about what they thought could be improved in the case of a scaling up of the project. Following are the questions given to the students. The student’s suggestions are presented in italics.

1.Logistics: As we know only a small number of students have access to the type of mobile phones needed to download material, thus several practical issues in relation to this may arise: Should there be downloading stations at the university? What about the problems associated with viruses and USB’s? Do the students have access to Internet cafés? What about the expenses involved etc?

A. How should students get the learning material (in electronic form)?

  • There should be downloading stations at the university and at the regional centres.
  • The students should get all the learning material in electronic form. This can be done by downloading from the Internet, or through e-mail, storing on a flash memory, storing on computer laptops or on mobile phones.
  • Downloading stations at the university or at Internet cafes can be used to reduce the airtime cost. Laptops are good because one can write notes, and the screen is bigger compared to phones.

B. What tools for communication should be used? Pros and cons?

  • Mobile phones are easy to use and cheap, but the air-time cost is a problem.

2.Content: Another question which may be good to address is the question of the content of the support. We have discussed models whereby students could gain access to previous exam questions etc. Would this be useful? Is it realistic?

A: What would be the most important (additional) content for successful studies? List!

  • Encyclopaedias.
  • More questions.
  • Previous exams. The content should cover the syllabus of the courses.
  • Computers to the learners.
  • More courses.

3.Organisation: It seems that most of the initiative has to be on the students to organise themselves into study support groups. How do we assist in this work? What about the idea of student mentors? How do students find each other? Etc.

A. How should study groups be organised?

  • Students taking similar course should form groups.
  • The mentors could help the students to organize themselves into study groups.
  • The groups could submit questions group wise not to give the teachers too big a workload.
  • Workshops and e-mail, SMS and phones.
  • Meetings at least tree times a year. Regional centres could be used.

B. What should be the role of the student mentor?

  • To spread information and knowledge and to coordinate his fellow students to the source of information and knowledge.
  • To help others in difficult areas in their studies.
  • To assist students in the use of e-learning.

C. How should student mentors be rewarded?

  • Wages/payment and/or equipment such as laptop, projector and mobile phone.
  • Accommodation and transportation.
  • Promotion.
  • Certificates.
  • Chance to additional studies.
  • By gifts from the supported student, the gift will depend on the support capability.

Group discussion two
In a last round of focus group discussions the students got the opportunity to present their general thoughts about the project and to discuss what should be done differently in an extended ICT-BITES project? A special focus was on how interaction and communication could be improved.



  • The project should be seriously conducted so not to waste money and time.
  • The use of mentors should start as soon as possible.
  • Face-to-face meetings should be more often.
  • Frequent communication using different tools should be encouraged e.g. Yahoo groups.
  • Air time should be provided at low cost.
  • Bigger memory cards, e g 8 GB would make it possible to put encyclopaedias, lexicons etc. on the mobile phones.
  • More courses, such as science courses.
  • Other tools with bigger screens and/or higher capacity could be tested.

Evaluation of the meeting



The workshop itself was then evaluated; most students said that they felt they’d had the opportunity to present their views about the pilot project and the possible scaling up of the project. They also noted that not all involved partners in the project were present during the evaluation meeting and that meetings should have been conducted more often. The circumstance that seven of the students in the pilot were not provided with mobile phones, which they had been promised, was also commented on.

The students continued with their preparations for their final exams, Bengt and Shadrack went back to Dar.



Friday, June 5, 2009

m-Learning at e-Learning Africa 2009. "Use what is Available!"



"E-learning Africa", a major e-learning event in Africa, this year gathered 1315 participants from 60 countries. 80 percent of the delegates live on the continent. Above is a picture of the conference venue, hotel Le Méridien President in Dakar, Senegal. Below is the "amphitheatre" (photo by Christophe Batie).




The conference included 4 plenary sessions, 60 sessions in 10 parallel conference strands, 21 pre-conference events, some other activities and an exhibition.



During eLA of 2009 in Dakar, Senegal, m-learning got more attention than in previous conferences. (During eLA 2008 m-learning activities were very few, like I mentioned in a previous blog post.) In eLA 2009 two pre conference workshops and two conference sessions were dedicated to m-learning!

One of the pre conference workshops, which I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to attend, focused on development of java applications for mobile phones" Introducing and Teaching Mobile Application Development" and was led by Matt Wilks from Canada.

The other workshop, sponsored by SPIDER, Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions, which I was involved in, had an applied approach. We called the workshop "M-learning for All". On the introduction slides we tried to emphasize that some of the problems often mentioned in connection to e-learning in Africa such as accessibility, power and affordability problems can be addressed by m-learning and usage of mobile phones. In the picture below I am demonstrating learning material on a mobile phone from the ICT-based teacher education project mentioned in previous blog posts (photo by Christophe Batie.)



During this workshop the Bangladesh Virtual Classroom, a combination of TV-broadcasting and SMS interaction was demonstrated by Annika Andersson and Rizvee Bhuyan.



MKFC Stockholm College demonstrated 3 projects using End-to-End e-Learning. (e-learning without physical meetings), below you see Kodwo Jonas Boateng from Ghana Institute of Journalism.(photo by Annelie Östlund)



In the main conference two sessions were dedicated to m-learning. In the first session "Mobile learning: What has been tried" one of the speakers, John Maurice Traxler, Learning Lab, UK, argues that African learners should "use their own devices". On one hand, millions of individual Africans choose, buy and use their own personal mobile devices. On the other hand, institutions and organisations in Africa attempt to deliver e-learning using big scale technologies that require networked desktops in secure buildings with mains electricity, software licences and technician support.



Riitta Vänskä, Nokia, is one the same trail; one should “use what is available”. She described the use of low end mobile phones, SMS, GPRS and the in South Africa very popular mobile phone IM-program MXit. “Mobile Learning for Mathematics” (MoMath) is tested in six schools in SA with about 300 pupils in total. Both browser based IM technology (MXit) and SMS technology are tested in the project. The MXit program offers an API (Application Program Interface) and some applications have been developed to exploit the learning possibilities of MXit.



(MXit is a nice product/system for IM (instant messaging) on mobile phones. Instead of using SMS, packet switching over GPRS or 3G is used. You are not limited by the SMS maximum of 160 characters, instead the limit here is 1000 characters. MXit is programmed using the Jabber protocol. There are gateways to other Jabber based IM systems to such as Google Talk. (I have been testing MXit for a while, my number is +46705513052.)



Also in the session "Mobile learning in Health and Education" MXit was mentioned, this time by Mpine Elizabeth Makoe (in the picture above) from University of South Africa. She is the holder of a grant to investigate the pedagogical potential of using cell phones in enhancing distance learning, and one of the possibilities she found was MXit. MXit can provide a platform where distance learners can be encouraged to work together as a group, to interact between themselves and their lecturers.



Carlos Tsunami (pictured above) and his colleagues had chosen "smartphones" (Nokia and iPhone) for their project "mLearning for Health Care Workers in Low Resource Settings". By using smartphones there is an opportunity to use the virtual learning system Moodle for interaction, and WLAN is used when downloading podcasts with learning material.



Jabiri Bakari (in the picture above) presented the background and the challenges in ICT-based in-service teacher education in Tanzania project, demonstrated in the workshop. . In this project a mid range phone that could run java applications, MP3 audio and Mpeg4 movie clips was selected, in other words, a phone constituting a “middle way” between the more expensive smartphones and the cheapest "voice and SMS phones".

My conclusion from the conference is that there is a growing interest for m-learning in Africa. A growing number of practitioners think it is a good idea to "use what is available" and that mobile phones hold many opportunities for learning, most of these not yet exploited! I think we should market m-learning to e-learning policy makers in a more active way.Today many policy makers still think that e-learning requires networked desktops in secure buildings!

Please feel free to comment on these conclusions (and the blog post as a whole)!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The pilot test, specifications and applications

For the project mentioned in earlier blogposts the following phone specifications were selected:
  • 3G/GPRS
  • Java
  • SMS
  • QVGA display, 320*240 pixels, display not smaller than 2 inches
  • Ability to play MP3 audio and MPEG4 / 3GP video
  • Memory card option, card size e.g. 4 GB Micro SD


Learning material installed on the memory cards or downloaded from the Internet:
  • Study guides in text (TequilaCat, free Java based book reader)
  • Texts in study guides interpreted as voice
  • Narrated slideshows (overviews of learning modules, produced with MS-PPT and Camtasia )
  • Auto corrected quizzes (Mobile Quiz from Mobilestudy.org, results sent by SMS to teacher mobile phone or to Moodle using Moodletxt from Txttools)
  • Movie clips with related material (Open Educational Recourses downloaded from the Internet, saved as mpeg4 on mobile phone memory cards)
The pilot group:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Channels for communication and for distribution of learning content



Back in the twenties, when listing to the radio became common in western countries, many people thought that radio would replace other media for learning. In the sixties, TV was expected to get the same role and in the nineties it was computers and the Internet that we thought would be the solution to all problems in learning.

But what really happened was that new media didn’t replace the old alternatives, it only added more possibilities. What Gutenberg did back in 1439 (or was it the Chinese much earlier?) is still very much relevant! M-learning and e-learning introduces new possibilities, but make neither books nor face to face learning obsolete. Using the media that is most suitable for the purpose is a good idea!

Also, when the Internet infrastructure is weak, like in some places in Africa, one has to play it safe and not rely too much on "high tech", but use what is available and stable! My colleague Peter showed me this picture:




Maybe the mobile phone (mobile Internet) now has a higher bandwidth and is more accessible than dial-up Internet and the picture is a bit outdated, but the idea is still relevant.

The video clip below, a demo produced as part of an in-service teacher education course, can be distributed through broadband Internet, mobile Internet, memory cards and CD's and played on computers, mobile phones with video capacity and low cost media players. (When producing for these channels one has to have the limits of the different channels in mind, in this case the small screen and the limited possibilities to interact with the material.)>

The purpose of this video clip in the course is primarily to serve as an overview of a section in a course compendium (a printed material) and to help the students to focus on the central parts of the material when they read it. The presentation can also be used to repeat and reinforce what they have already read. Also, it suits those students who are less susceptible to written text as they might prefer listening to learning material (the theory of "learning styles").

video

Sunday, August 24, 2008

M-learning and mobile Internet access in Tanzania

Yesterday we did some simple tests on accessibility to mobile Internet and the cost of using this service in Tanzania. I used a Nokia 6220 classic mobile phone with a Vodacom prepaid card. On the about 200 km road from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro, where we visited a Teacher Education College, I now and then checked the accessibility of mobile Internet and browsed some web pages. Only at one occasion I got the message “no packet switching network available”, at all other occasions Internet access was available. The cost of a 4-5 minutes “websurf”, checking the news from mobil.DN.se (a Swedish newspaper) with text and some pictures, was about 30-40 Tanzanian shillings.






I connected to Internet 10 to 15 times without any problems. I also downloaded a 1.7 megabytes MP3-file. The MP3 file, a speech synthesized webpage with about 5 minutes of voice, then was played on the mobile phone with good audio quality. Today we did the same type of tests on the roads to south of Dar, we didn’t go very far, but Internet access was OK all the way.

A coverage map for Vodacom is available on http://www.vodacom.co.tz/docs/docredir.asp?docid=3271

However, on in this map the Morogoro road is without coverage, the situation seems to be better then what is described on the map.

The coverage map describes general mobile phone access, but according to the page

http://www.vodacom.co.tz/docs/docredir.asp?docid=3441

GPRS access is available wherever there is mobile phone access.

“Vodacom Tanzania offers 3G HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) coverage in Dar-Es-Salaam, Arusha & Dodoma and a high quality EDGE/GPRS network nationwide. Video Call is exclusively available under 3G HSDPA, while MMS and Internet / WAP are accessible under GPRS. When out of a 3G area, your connection moves seamlessly into EDGE/GPRS.”

Tariffs for Vodacom's 3G / GPRS services are not very easy to understand, but a cost of 200 Tanzanian shillings per MB is mentioned at the webpage

http://www.vodacom.co.tz/docs/docredir.asp?docid=3441






What are the possible conclusions for m-learning in Tanzania of these tests and the material at the Vodacom webpage? More information is needed!

The first question is the coverage, one has to get up to date maps of the coverage from different mobile phone operators and compare it with the map of how the population in Tanzania is distributed.

The second question is the cost, on the Vodacom website 200 Tanzanian shillings per megabyte is mentioned. In Dar I downloaded a 1.1 megabyte file to the cost of 330 Tanzanian shilling which is somewhat more expensive. Is this cost acceptable?

The third question is the download time. The 1.1 megabytes were downloaded in 20 seconds which is about 400 kbs, in Dar 3G is available. With GPRS a bandwidth of about 100 kb/s can be expected, the time to load 1 megabyte of material would be about 1 minute. Will learning material take to long time to download?

Even though more information is needed I think the conclusion is that the 3G / GPRS –services has a potential for distributing learning material and for other m-learning functions. If I understand the information on the Vodacom web page correct, GPRS access to Internet is available everywhere where there access to normal voice services. But of course, to be able to use these services students should have access to 3G / GPRS phones with possibilities to present video and voice.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Some tests of m-learning tools

Yesterday we (a group at Mid Sweden University working with teacher education) had a seminar in which we looked at different products and systems possible to use for m-learning.

One application in m-learning is film clips and other material presented on PMP:s (portable media players) and mobile phones. As the screens on this type of devices are small, special considerations are necessary when selecting and producing material. We used the commercial product Camtasia together with PowerPoint. For PowerPoint presentations we used character size 44 to make the presentations readable on small screens.

To present these on PMP:s and mobile phones the most suitable formats are probably MPEG4 (3gp) and Flash.

To make a presentations and narrate them there are several choices, commercial and “free”/open source. In addition to the commercial product Camtasia we tried the open source program Camstudio. With Camstudio one can select a part of the screen (which can form a slide show), and add narration. QCIF, 320*240 pixels, can be handled be several mobile phones and PMP:s.

With Camstudio one can produce material in avi and/or swf format. The avi-file can be converted to 3gp, for example with the Open Source program SUPER C.

We tested some material on Nokia 6220 Classic which is a 3G phone with 2.2 inches display, 320 *240 pixels, 16 milj colors. In Sweden the price for a Nokia 6220 Classic is 2800 SEK, a 4 GB memory card is 120 SEK.


Good learning activities are one of the keys to success in distance learning (and other learning). Learning activities can be small projects at the work place, but it can also be a simple quiz on for example a mobile phone. We tested “Mobilestudy”, a free service on the net where one can produce Java programs. From the website http://www.mobilestudy.org ”Create quizzes that can be downloaded onto mobile phones, students can now study anywhere, anytime. Works with most modern mobile phones. Once the quiz is downloaded, an internet connection is not needed. Download directly to the phone or via a computer.”

We produced quizzes using the Mobilestudy site and tested them in our mobile phones with good results. We used the option where the students get direct feedback from their mobile phone, but it should also be possible to use SMS to send the results to a server. A connection to Moodle is mentioned on the web site but we didn’t have time to test this feature.

Interaction between the student and the teacher/tutor is one of the keys to success in distance learning. In m-learning SMS is an obvious tool for interaction. However, a great number of SMS:s is difficult to handle on a mobile phone; the teacher/tutors should have access to SMS:s from the students in some type of web environment. The company txttools in UK offer a service of this type. From their web site: ”World class message delivery in education and healthcare, Over 30% of UK Colleges & Universities send critical messages with edutxt® Our online applications allow you to send and receive SMS text messages, securely from your desktop to a large group or single mobile phone instantly, in a way that is proven to save time and money. These cutting edge applications are web based. They are also compatible with almost every major VLE and MIS”

The module for Moodle one can download from https://www.txttools.co.uk/moodletxtInfo.do. However the SMS’s are not, as far as I could find out, integrated with the Moodle forums/discussion groups. I have got a test account from txttools, will report my findings…

Reading text from small screen might be tiring.
There several products / websites available that converts text to voice. One of them is http://vocalfruits.com . Vocalfruits can convert text material on web sites to podcasts, possible to download to for example a mobile phone. Due to lack of time we did only a very easy test of the features but we will come back with more results.