Handheld Learning 07: Reflections from a distance 1

As a complete mobile novice, I attended Handheld Learning 07 on the 11th and 12th October. I am still trying to get my head around much of the terminology that relate specifically to the hardware, but even in my naivity in this area of the market, adapting to the context didn't take that long. The questions we need to ask when it comes to mobile technologies in "the classroom" where ever that may be, it seems on reflection are little different to those we would or rather should ask when thinking about ICT solutions generally for schools.

In schools over the past 7 years enormous changes have occured in the ICT provision available for students and teachers to use. In our school we have gone through several incarnations, moving from the need to borrow and timetable the solitary BBC B when I began teaching in 1989, to the implementation of a 31 PC network with full Internet access within a National Superhigways initiative in 1995, and the need to rationalise, reorganise ,restructure, expand and develop this with the arrival of the NGFL in 2000. Implemention of infrastructure are not the end of a project but usually the beginning of the next phase, as technology moves and changes constantly. Since 2000 we have rolled out the laptops for teachers project, installed IWBs in every classroom, begun thinking about Learning Platform solutions, and to involve students in web 2.0 projects. As well as these we have gone through another cycle of Platform replacements, meaning we now have multiple platforms on our network and despite being PCs all running the same operating system and with identical software builds, we have a variation in technical specifications for hardware, each platform type requiring its own driver build. In the past as new software has been purchased and new tools have been bought, these were simply added to the original build. Prior to last September, due to inexperience our software management and maintenance regime, was built around a single platform build that was "applied" on every machine regardless of specification. This lead to frequent problems with stability and the robustness of the network. Driver conflicts or the absence of same leading to slow machine starts or failure. It is not essential to be a technical whizz to manage ICT in the primary school, but it does help I think if we have a little knowledge and experience of how the systems we are trying to maintain work, and taking a common sensical and methodical approach to how we design and implement solutions we want to posess and make available to our clients and users will help this. I have benefitted incredibly by having theBecta Primary FITS Framework scaffold my thinking. As a tool, it has helped me gain a much clearer picture of the Infrastructure and Technologies we have available in school,where they are and to use this to help make decisions about how we will use and direct our technical support, while supporting conversations about approaches we will take when discussing system changes with our SMT.

On Thursday RM shared the price tag of their ultra portable solution showing how important this still is to the school market, but experiences over the past 12 months, where I have worked with my technician to map, reorganise and restructure our network, leading to improved stability and robustness through establishment of individual builds for each platform, have shown that one of our main considerations before making decisions or discussing the purchase of platforms will be to consider the purposes the tools will serve, who will we use them, how, where, when and why? Perhaps even more fundemental to the planning process than this but intrinsically linked is what we will need to do inorder to make our existing infrastructure compliant and compatable with them. Software and Hardware providers are obviously keen to be in the forefront in order to exploit the new mobile/ultra portable market they consider to be just around the corner. In order to avoid some of past mistakes, I am keen that we explore widely the possible solutions available in relation to established pedagogical aims. Without doing so we could find ourself in the midst of another pilot or school based trial, rather than looking to the future and a potentially sustainable and developmental outcome.

From recent discussions and excitement about the $100 laptop, government drives for the implementation and development of learning platforms and an increasing use of the terms "anywhere, anytime learning" and "1:1 learning platform," it seems to be quite right that we and the suppliers should be excited about the potential affordances of the mobile, and the potential emergence of "mobigogy," Indeed if I was a supplier to "niche market education," I too would be firing up my sales and design team to get a slice of the action. However despite all my ravings about ICT as a tool box, there still comes a time when the technologies behind the creative potential need to be made transparent, and as a teacher and ICT subject leader, I am one of those people who will potentially need to engage with this kit. in being busy making progress, we should not see ourselves as "building aeroplanes in the sky," sometimes in order to move forward we need to step back, evaluate where we are now before jumping in. As an experienced ICT subject leader, I know how easily we can be attracted to particular products, either because of a national initiatives, or because we want to be ahead of the game, maybe even because we have seen the tool used in one situation, and because it looks so effortless there we assume can transfer the solution to integrate into our own setting. Decisions about purchasing hardware and software obviously have financial implications, cheap does not usually equate with best, though suitability to purpose may mean tools like the device designed by RM does equate with this. We need, like everyone else who is considering use of mobiles as part of a 1:1 or anytime anywhere solution to ensure that we are clear about what purpose we want the tools to serve, how and where we intend the tools to be used and that the final solution we provide meets the needs of our clients and users at the point of implementation.

My main interest in attending the conference was to ask questions, and help clarify ideas before as a school engaging with developing our own mobile project. The main message I took away from the conference was that felt I was following the right path in taking this methodical and cautious approach. Hopefully by BETT I will be looking at software and hardware more carefully in preparation for a project roll out. In the meantime, here are some of the tools on show. Each was really exciting in its own way.

The RM Asus MiniBook

Running Linux as its operating system, the RM Asus Minibook, is available in the price range of £169 and £199. This compact platform is described by RM as:

"... the perfect choice for pupils; a genuine "anywhere, anytime access" device... Smaller than an A5 pad and weighing less than 1kg, it combines the portability and quick-start of a PDA with the capabilities of a notebook. ... RM Asus miniBook is an exciting new category of device, set to fundamentally change ICT provision for pupils....

Everything a pupil requires for mobile computing

  • 7" screen and weighing less than 1Kg, it's smaller and lighter than many textbooks.
  • Robust solid-state hard drive provides fast boot-up / shut-down and preserves pupils' files.
  • Integrated webcam, microphone and speakers for easy web video-conferencing.
  • Integrated 802.11b/g wireless and optional 3G module provide great connectivity.
  • Integrated card-reader and three USB 2.0 ports provide a simple way to add additional storage and easy connection for peripherals.
  • Full-size VGA-out for connection to projectors or monitors.
  • Intel Mobile Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) technology.
The Asus was also featured and discussed in an article in the Guardian's Technology column. and Blog

The Samsung Q1

This is Samsung's new Ultra Portable PC the Q1, so new the bubble wrap was hardly off when the team exhibited, the handful they had received in time for the event.

Described as a

" Revolutionary mobile device that combines the capabilities of a PDA, MP3 / PMP, and tablet PC" The Q1 Samsung say, "offers a powerful, versatile solution for all Students and Lecturers alike. Whether you are a student or a lecturer working from the classroom or library, the Samsung Q1’s is so light and thin, you'll find storing and transporting it as easy as ABC. Whichever side of the desk you're on, you'll find Samsungs Q1 passes every test."

The Q1's specifications were something I felt a tad more at home with, sounding a lot closer to home than many of the other systems and tools. Running Windows XP for Tablet PC, with RAM a 7 inch TFT screen, a 40 gig hard drive and USB ports to add peripherals, while still being posessed of a wireless lan, bluetooth connectivity. At a price tag of around £540, I wouldn't mind one of these to play with myself.

The Nova5000 is a really interesting machine described as an appliance by its manufacturers. To see what this multipurpose toolbox has to offer it is probably easier to direct you to the online demo on their website.

Fujitsi Siemens EDA

I was lucky enough to win one of these babies in the prize draw at the end of the conference. It is a Fujitsu Siemens EDA, currently charging in its cradle it will be a little something to play with and help explore the software environments available and some of the things we can do or I saw demonstrated over the course of the conference. I am sure as time goes on it may lead to a few posts around me and my mobile.

1 comment:

John said...

Hi Simon, I was considering the HH Learning Forum as an intro to the field for me, but as an independent had to fund it myself and decided I couldn't justify the expense so great to read such a comprehensive post. It's intersting that the industry seems to be staking so much on this area when it seems obvious that manchines kike the $100 pc and the new RM machine you mention are going to be the devices of choice, rather than hand helds. Will be interested to read about your own project as it progresses.