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(mobile Internet) now has a higher bandwidth and is more accessible than dial-up Internet and the picture is a bit outdated, but the idea is still relevant.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






Wednesday, June 4, 2008

m-Learning at e-Learning Africa 2008


(AKWAABA,"welcome" in the Akan language)

I’m now back from “e-learning Africa” in Accra! Summarizing my impressions and following up on links to projects and products in the m-learning field, I think that m-learning didn't quite get the attention that it should have had at the conference. The potential for m-learning in Africa is huge!

Like I mentioned in a previous post, one problem with the concept of m-learning (mobile learning) is that it has a different meaning to different people, the goals are different and the approaches to the subject differ.

M-learning can be used to supplement class room based learning by introducing "authenticity" (learning on site), to use spare time on the bus etc. In the industrialized and richer parts of the world approaches like these are relevant.

But in other parts of the world, the most important aspect of m-learning is that it can be used to increase access to learning, using cheaper equipment like portable media players or mobile phones that can operate without daily access to electricity. M-learning can create access to knowledge where books are not available or too expensive, and create possibilities to keep in touch with teachers, tutors and fellow students while at a distance.


There is a functioning infrastructure for mobile communication in many parts of Africa and a potential for mobile learning which is not yet exploited.

However there were some interesting activities related to m-learning at the conference e.g. the session: "Mobile phones offering a lifeline to learners".

One project was presented where mobile phones were supplied to grade 10 school girls in South Africa The phones, Nokia 6300, were not planned to be used for making telephone calls, but were loaded with content for “grade 10 maths” and math games.The material was from Mindset, a NGO in South Africa. On their website (http://www.mindset.co.za/learn/default.asp) Mindset has resources for learning. Some of these, I’m guessing, were used in the mobile phones.The project was in its initial phase, but so far with good results! The students learn by them selves or with help from family and friends how to use the equipment and programs. (They are no allowed to use mobile phones in school.)

In Nigeria, PDA's were used in a campus project to access the same material on the PDA's as on the PC, using wireless communication. CSS were used to handle the different environments; the same web pages was used for the computer screens as for the PDA screens.

At the exhibition a company called SMSWEB (http://www.smsweb.co.za/) presented their services. They offer a system that can send messages via SMS from a web interface. Interfacing SMS to the web offer many interesting possibilities.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Use of SMS and MMS for learning

A easy to use and stable user interface in applications for learning is essential! Using SMS on the mobile phone side of the application is one alternative. Using "social software" systems like Blogs, Facebook and Twitter together with SMS could be an intresting alternative.

I tried Twitter together with Blogger, you can se the results on my "Reseblogg" (http://bnyres.blogspot.com): I send a SMS to Twitter and my SMS then shows up in the blog!



I also installed Blogger Go on my mobile; it makes it very easy to send MMS to the same blog.

There are many applications linking SMS to a web interface. Linking SMS to Learning Management Systems like Moodle may also be an attractive alternative

Applications for learning and mobile phones

I took a look at some applications for e-learning on mobile phones... I think it could be very attractive to run the user interface for a complete LMS on a mobile.

I found MobiGlam from Wales which is implementing an interface for Moodle in mobile phones (http://mobi.etrainingwales.com/tikiwiki/tiki-index.php). I got an account from the university and was able to test a simulation on my computer, it looked nice.

I also found co4mo "the Mobile Community Platform of eLibera" (http://elibera.com:8080/pages/home.xhtml) and installed it on my SonyEricsson P990i.Not many of the functions worked though. I then read the instructions for co4mo on SonyEricsson P990:

"Status: not so good, only the basic features work
Features: You can't play (or record) audio and video, No Bluetooth features, You can't use files (audio, video, pictures) from your mobile phone, You can't store files to your mobile phone, No file caching, No location features
Test report: No test report for this device avaliable"

Will this type a applications be a realistic alternative for e-learning? There are 100's of different type of mobile phones out there....

Maybe one should focus on using SMS, MMS and when where 3G is available, web applications?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Me learning?

E-learning and m-learning (mobile learning) have different meaning to different people, e.g. the goals are different, the approaches to the subject differ...

M-learning can be a way to supplement class room learning, to introduce "authenticity" (on site learning), to use spare time on the bus, etc.

But m-learning can also be a way to increase access to learning while using cheaper equipment. For example mobile phones can operate without daily access to electricity, you can use them to read and write where books are not available or too expensive, and they can be used to keep in touch with teachers, tutors and fellow students while at a distance.

The last few days I have tried to update myself on tools and applications for m-learning, especially on the matter of communication between mobile phones and internet applications.

I will publish some reflections on this blog, please feel free to comment and supplement!