It’s conceivable that someone may not be able to hold a laptop (even a low weight Netbook weighs in at 1kg), so how can we provide what they need in a format that they can readily use each and every day with minimal setup and weight? As we know, last week I had a cold; however via my device I could still keep up with news, technical websites, events, work emails and meeting requests, I could respond to queries and discuss upcoming projects with colleagues. In short I could perform well over 50% of my tasks as an employee of the College without actually having to be in the building, with a laptop with a install of Visual Studio I could pretty much do everything (save training) at home.
So if I can do it, would it work for learners?
I hear you scoff: “Yeah Tom you’re talking about Distance learning, welcome to the late 1990’s!” but hear me out. We have often talked about the success of distance learning, but I don’t think that it’s really gone the distance for learners.
To access course information, you always use laptop or find a full size pc on which to dial into your institution. For any learner who works in a hazardous environment or where power is not readily available must wait until the end of the working day before starting coursework, what happens if the learner has an evening job as well (all the more likely in a time of economic hardship)? When are they going to find the time? Distance learning should make things more convenient for the learner, not harder.
Inspiration as we all know is a curious beast and it can hit at the oddest of times; during a meeting, whilst working on a site, commuting to work, tending the garden (I’ve had coding epiphanies whilst baking), we’ve all been there doing some other task when bang! You’ve worked out the answer to that question, solved a bug in your code, found a better way to present your findings. The question is how can we capture this charismatic enigma that is creativity? That all too fleeting moment where you need to write down before it’s gone, your laptop is in the other room, you don’t have a pen and paper handy and the clock is ticking!
Phones for learning?
Recently I had to help my Grandfather choose a new mobile phone; his twelve year old Motorola had finally given up the ghost. Its feature set was the ability to have a phonebook and to make and receive both calls and text messages. It weighed a ton, was over 6 inches in length, had a huge keypad and best of all it came equipped with an external aerial! Compare that functionality with his new mobile: 5mp Camera, Video recording, video messaging, FM Stereo, High Speed Internet access, Email support, Mp3 ringtones etc. It’s important to note that his new phone is a relatively old design (about 1-2 years old), but shows how mobile telephones have transitioned from providing mobile telephony access to full on communications solutions.
This is where I think mobile devices can be the key in a distance learning environment, they are light, take next to no time to turn on, have low power usage , a long battery life and most of all are simple to use. WiFi/3g/Edge/ HSDPA ensure that the learner is connected 24/7 ensuring that they can access anything they need regardless of the location.
It doesn’t matter if the learner is on a building site, in bed at home, on a train to a meeting, or even doing their weekly food shop, with mobile learning we can provide a moldable learning solution that will offer a better fit to our students.
So whilst stuck in bed with nothing but my mobile phone and my iPod touch I did what any web professional would, I surfed the web. I thought my first port of call would be ICTHorizons.com, as I hadn’t spent much time viewing the site from a mobile device (I realise that this is a crime but the site total time spent creating the web site was less than eleven days from first idea to the site going live, which didn’t leave much time for testing on multiple devices). On perusing the research section I noticed a duff link (horror of horrors) in the article about seeK, how it slipped by I’m not sure but that wasn’t the issue causing me to frown, no the problem was that:
I was ill
It was 9pm on a Friday night
My laptop was downstairs
It was dark and I was wearing Sunglasses.
In short I had three options, one forget about it and leave it until I was back at work (unprofessional), crawl downstairs and log into the server (in my then state, unlikely) or find someway of amending the issue with the tools available at my disposal. My mobile phone a (A Sony Eriksson W890i), is not the most advanced bit of kit in the world, granted it can surf the internet quite quickly thanks to HSDPA and has a somewhat decent web browser but that’s about it, so it would not be able to aid me in my quest, so I turned to my ipod touch. With its fully featured web browser, touch screen, WiFi connection and functionality provided by third party applications, surely I could not fail.
Initial confidence was soon shattered by the fact that I was unsure how I was going to even connect to the servers, let alone the problem of amending the aforementioned dodgy link. On my laptop I would use RDP to connect to the server and then edit the file Visual Studio, but my laptop was far, far away and all I had a was a mobile device running OSX which can’t download files or really edit text, not a good start. My only option was to bet it all that some intrepid developer has created an RDP app for the iPhone, that it would work on my iPod Touch and the demo version did not enforce ludicrous restrictions (like two minute sessions etc, or local sessions only).
It was with some trepidation that I browsed the Apple application store.
A light at the end of the tunnel?
On searching the store I found an app called RDPLite and best of all it was free! (what? in this economic downturn being miserly is in fashion!) , in a couple of seconds the application was downloading and auto installing, within moments I was entering connection information and in mere seconds I was connected to our web facing server, from my bed, via wireless technology on a mobile device, with no traditional input devices like a mouse or keyboard
And whilst I was ill in bed.
I then had one of those moments that geeks and techies get, the one where you say (or in with my sore throat squeak), “that’s so cool!” The sheer impossibility of achieving this 6 years ago (granted windows mobile probably had it back then, but using it is so infuriating that I would have thrown the PDA against the wall and gone back to sleep) is tantamount to what incredible devices mobile phones/mp3 players have turned into.
Out of the frying pan
So I had achieved step one, communication with the live servers, now what? The iPod cannot download files and it only supports one application running at a time dragging and dropping to edit would be out of the question, the application did not support multiple touch to move windows etc. So how was I going to edit that link? If I couldn’t edit the file on the iPod, it meant I had to edit the file live (yes a horrendously bad idea, but I was stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one), so how was I going to do it? What does a web teacher tell you to use to write HTML code on your first day on an entry level web developer course?
I opened up notepad and navigated to the ICTHorizons.com directory, luckily the plucky little application had no issue opening up aspx pages and so I thumbed my way through the file (Even running RDP over WiFi it still takes some time for the window to refresh), luckily for me the broken link was right at the bottom, so it took a good minute or two to locate it. Once I’d found the link, it took about three seconds to amend it so that it pointed to the correct location and save. I checked the link to ensure it worked which it did, logged of the server and contemplated how far technology has come.
All in it took about eight minutes from finding the link to fixing it, not a great amount of time, but it did get me thinking, even in my befuddled state the possibilities of mobile devices to help those people and learners who are long term sick or are undertaking a course via Distance Learning.