Handheld Learning Reflections from a Distance: Generic tools, and the idea of "collect, store and share"

My visit to the HHL07 was not entirely accidental, as we look to develop a handheld or mobile learning project within school. As I said previously I am a novice in this area, so please be gentle as I get my head round my thoughts. One of my concerns is how these solutions potentially fit with the infrastructure already in place, but also establishing a firm pedagogical basis and vision for the use of these tools in practice.

Visiting the practitioners village and Solution Provider's exhibition at the conference, I was interested not only in the hardware but also software applications currently being used in the deployment of kit in projects that were underway and development. Many of the projects were using "pocket PCs," but despite running Windows Mobile as an operating system, and its prebundled version of office for mobile, it seemed that there were a number of limitations within the software, that prevented students gaining the functionality required by their teachers. Many of the projects had therefore purchased and installed 3 pieces of generic software to overcome this.

PlanMaker (a spreadsheet)
TextMaker (a word processor)
Pocket Slides (similar to powerpoint)

The Wildkey environment also proved to be exciting, more than just a dichotomous key or the branching data base we might develop in the online classroom, the tool draws upon the affordances of handheld tools to enable students to get out in the field, using the tool first hand for identification of organisms. The use of addins however seem to offer much more in terms of the ability to create keys, support the design of interactive trails and collect additional data, linked to mapping and real places in order to engage students not only in the use of content but adaptation to develop their own, check it out for yourself.

I liked the view that these pieces of software seemed to bring within the context of mobile use, that fit closely with my own view of ICTs as tools. The idea of "collect, store and share," presented by their use in the PDA and smartphone environments particularly appealed to me as underpining a pedagogical perspective on their use. The notion that generic (and some specialist tools) can be used alongside preinstalled and available resources, such as audio and video recording software, the camera and web browser to collect data in various forms, audio, video, photographic, numerical and textual, before exploiting the wireless capabilities in order to bring them together for sharing and use as a group in other contexts I find particularly appealing. They lend themselves to the "read write" world, I am so fond of, a way of preestablishing the semiotic resource collections needed to develop multimodal work, not just in one subject but across the curriculum. Devices with the potential to enable students to develop and create their own material with authorship and control based on their own engagement with the world around them. The mobile platform, when not seen as a standalone tool or solution but part of a wider ICT toolkit, seems to help broaden our view of ICTs as pedagogical resources. It is the social nature of learning using these tools that I find so attractive, the new spatial qualities and dimensions that they bring to teaching and learning contexts, and the mediating role they have potential to play. I have enjoyed seeing how for example supports interaction between students, but combining this with tools that allow access for all from home, device synching and backup, through portals designed specifically to integrate mobile devices for education such as Red Halo. the possibilites seem limited only by our creativity.

This however is the crux of the issue for me. It is easy to get excited by the possibilities while forgetting the realities are often very different, and so getting my feet firmly on the ground, we need to be careful not to oversimplify things or let others do so. Personally I still have have a long way to go, and lots of food for thought, to chew over and digest. As a school still have lots to consider. Infrastructure in school is one issue, but what about external infrastructure and access, how will students access the web from home, is our neighbourhood a wireless zone, or will students be dependent on 3g access? How will we enable this, either faciltate wireless access or the funding of phone access? What about CPD? Putting the C in ICT collaborating to consolidate a shared vision for ICT development seems to be even more necesary than it was before if we are to move on successfuly with this project, and enable conversations about the wider implications of such a project. E safety must be a key and guiding principle underpinning how we approach using and deploying these tools and how we engage with our students in order to ground and link policy and practice. This really is a complex net we still need to unpick. I am sure I will have more to write and think about as we work on this iteratively.

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