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Smartphone Technology for Learning

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August 6, 2011 by jonmillymiles


I’m a newcomer to smart phones… my students have had them for years, but I’ve never had a reason to get one. So when we changed broadband providers I took up their offer of a mobile and invested in a little smart-phone… WOW!!! I have hardly used my PC in two weeks hence no blogs!

So once I’d got over Angry Birds I started looking at other stuff it could do, although technically I’m not over Angry Birds, I’m officially in rehab!!

The first thing I did was use the web browsing functionality to get into our works Moodle site. Which worked! đŸ˜€ I then managed to take a photo and upload it to one of the course image galleries. The importance of this cannot be overstated: now our students have a way of capturing a whiteboard or piece of paper and having it accessible to them outside of the classroom, outside of the building. Even potentially outside of the country!!

It also enables them to share it with the rest of their course. This enables groups to work on separate topics and projects and have a “mixing pot” where they can gain opinions and feedback which is stored online for them to refer to at a later date,

But that wasn’t the end of it as I needed  to download some MS Office files and my phone didn’t support them. So I downloaded an app called ThinkFree Office Mobile which allowed me to view them. Then I found that my phone manufacturer (HTC) had an Office viewer/editor app online called QuickOffice so I eventually settled for this. I found it less cumbersome to use.

I was then able to download and view Word, Powerpoint and pdf documents held on the site. I then started thinking about our course notes… if our students could view them on their phones then fantastic, but how can we make them more accessible, so that they can get to exactly the document they need.

I did a little research and stumbled upon QR codes, you might have seen these on products or in magazines.

This is one:

qrcode

You can create these by going to a website such as http://qrcode.kaywa.com/ and within this complex pattern is a URL – a hyper-link to a website or file to download. They can be read by apps: I use QRdroid which can both read and generate these images but they don’t just have to hold URLs they can hold text, business card details… lots of stuff.

Now what we can do is to put these at the beginning of our presentations and our students can download their training notes, activity sheets, videos, even the slide-show that you are presenting and have it to hand on their mobile. You could use them to set homework or give a starting point for research. But the beauty is that once students understand what they are, you can place them on posters all around the place and they can choose to learn more. You could even have a kind of treasure hunt around the school as an orientation exercise linking to several web pages each providing information and a clue as to where to go for the next one.

The other thing that students can do with QR codes is to use them to share information. For example a student finds a particularly useful website – they can use a reader like QRdroid to generate a QR code from a URL and display it on the screen or save it as an image. This can then be uploaded to Moodle or scanned by another smart-phone and the recipient now has access to the same information.

Suddenly you start to enable mobile learning, mobile collaboration and you can begin to engender a 24hr learning culture. But I know what some people are thinking: what about those people who do not, or choose not to have a smart-phone. Well like I said earlier, up until two weeks ago I was one of those people. I can honestly say that now I will never be without one! But I do hear what you are saying.

The argument boils down to this; education should be totally inclusive, should have no barriers, it should be a level playing field.

Well I do agree with you, to some extent. But we must also understand the reality of those that we are teaching. We need to understand that teenagers nowadays use this technology as we used to read comics, magazines or listen to Sony Walkman’s (for those too young to know what these were they were the things before the things before MP3 players – they played tapes!). Culture shifts and if we do not embrace these changes we marginalize our students and byt virtue of this ourselves.

So how do I see this fitting in? Well believe it or not pretty much all of our students now have phones that can run these applications. So their use will take off, however some of our more die hard teachers will struggle to understand the benefits. More importantly some aspects of our organization actively prohibits their use on security grounds. So what do we do???

Well we do what we do with everything else. We don’t stop using electricity because it is dangerous we teach people how to use it properly, we educate them about the dangers and give them a safe environment to learn how to use it properly before letting them out in the real world to work on it. With smart-phones we teach them about the dangers of releasing sensitive information, of EMF hazards and where and when it is inappropriate to use them. We then give them the opportunity to demonstrate that they know how to use them in a safe training environment and react accordingly when things go awry.

By doing this you empower your students to learn, to socialize and to be more active in their learning. You can teach responsibility and self discipline along with a whole host of other secondary skills.

By not allowing the students to use their technology you not only lose the advantages of mobile learning, you remove the additional opportunity for a better rounded education and ultimately build resentment by removing what students see as a window to their world. We have seen this in our student population and we are beginning to take steps to change it.

Just one last thing. Follow the code!!

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