Use What Works.

Use what works. That’s what it always comes down to for me, especially when people are talking about technology. That’s why I got interested in this comparison between iPads and Netbooks in a 1:1 project. This first article in a promised series focuses on cost. Yes, I do admit that cost is always a factor, a concern and a pressing interest from supervisors and those who control the purse-strings. Yes, it’s important to not flush away money (my bank account and pitiful pension contributions can attest to that).  Isn’t there something else to consider though – the experience?

The article concludes with a rousing support for Netbooks, and in the current way education works, it makes sense. Yes, Netbooks are cheaper, provide more bang for the buck, may even be a better tool for the job. Maybe the iPad, or any other tablet if you want to cut costs, works better for collaboration (in fact, I’d suggest based on how I’ve seen it work, it does). Anytime you have a keyboard you inevitably have one controller of the device. With tablets, I’ve seen first hand how people are more willing to share duties on it – searching for something on Google, then passing the tablet to a colleague, then collectively watching a video. I’m not saying that people can’t do that on a Netbook, they absolutely can, but intuitively, they treat them differently. I think people treat different computers, well, differently.

For the purpose of the comparison, they needed students to create media. I’m still not sure on how good a media creation device the iPad is. I think the iPhone has much more capabilities for better media capture out of the box. Certainly the form factor of an iPad is a draw back for media capture.  I’m actually going to be a bit of a snob and say that neither a Netbook nor an iPad are ideal. I’d say buy a fleet of Netbooks, then add a dedicated video/audio multimedia machine with the savings. With all that said, I think the iPad is a much better device, for surfing the web (even with the Flash embargo, most well designed modern sites that use Flash have an alternative available) and for consuming media. I also feel that the iPad despite it’s heftier price tag is a more enjoyable experience rather than a Netbook. Most of my Netbook issues are that the whole device is cramped and poorly laid out. It’s why I didn’t buy a Netbook two years ago and instead bought a larger laptop. Ultimately, that was probably a wrong decision as the laptop is not a great device either. Needless to say, I like the time I’ve spent with the iPad and other Android based tablets, I haven’t liked the time I’ve spent with laptops and Netbooks.

My dad, who’s always been a tradesperson, told me very early on, use the tool that works. In fact it’s been words to live by for me. I grew up using a 386 PC for games and Macs (a IIci that cost me a bundle) because they provided better audio tools at the time. Later I programmed using a PC that I built myself because the integrated programming environments were Windows only (this is pre-OSX). Even more recently I use the tool that works for me in the situation. I am lucky to be able to do that though. I realize that not everyone has the luxury or access to do this. I’m only here as a reminder that a dedicated tool for something is usually better than a multitool. Of course, your mileage may vary.

QR Follow Up

I haven’t had any luck with getting any hard numbers about click-throughs for the local QR campaign run by Mohawk, but coincidentally, a report on QR code activity (PDF) has been made public and I found out about it through this article about using QR codes in social media. RWW then published an article today claiming that barcode scanning (both traditional and 2D QR type codes) are up 700%. While that’s interesting, it’s not indicative of whether this is a real trend or marginal activity. If activity is only at 1% of the population, an increase of 700% is not necessarily significant (7%). The quote towards the end of the article does note “80% of US consumers surveyed expressed interest in scanning mobile barcodes”. Again, that’s within the Android marketplace, which may be skewed towards consumers who are technologically early adopters.  It is significant when you start to tie all these loose ends together – there clearly is a trend developing where people are using barcodes and QR codes to link real objects to virtual information. Those that are not doing this now are at least interested in doing this in the future. Now, what will be the killer app for this sphere?

Mobile Technology Friendly Programs

So, Mobile Technology is a marketing scheme to attract students, eh? I find the original article, and the subsequent corresponding article (sorry about the paywall, but you get the drift) a little suspect. Sure, the programs mentioned are using Mobile Technology, maybe they are even using it well (and there’s no way to tell at this juncture). But what’s their relation to IvyWise? Is this a thinly veiled attempt to drive enrollment to those courses?

Abilene Christian University has increased it’s bandwidth capacity to allow for more mobile devices to connect. Not a sexy statement, but certainly aimed at letting students use the networks for their own research and purposes. They also have a whole initiative about mobile devices. Again, the University as a whole entity has a good holistic approach to technology and mobile technology in particular.

EDIT: And here’s a blog post with links to 45 Higher Ed Mobile pages.

State of Web Development (and Learning Online)

So the State of Web Development 2010 is out and a few results are surprising. The one result for the sector one works in was interesting: in 2008 10% of responses indicated they were involved in education, while 7.7% for the 2010 results. Are there less web designing/development going on? Or have those previously been involved in web design now moved over to e-learning?

The Google Chrome browser use has grown over 15% over the year. When developers and designers start using a browser, this usually means the results will filter down to end users. Maybe this is the vanguard of browser change?

Only a third of designers/developers optimize for mobile devices. I interpret that as mobile devices are not a priority to develop for because either they aren’t seen as “mission critical” or that Mobile Safari or Mobile Opera browsers do a good enough job of interpreting website for the mobile platform.

The interesting thing is the early adoption of HTML 5 and CSS3 – which works surprisingly well out of the box on modern browsers. What’s disappointing about this series of results is how far behind LMS developers are from the useful tools in HTML5 (hello, canvas element!) and the usability of CSS3 (it’d be wonderful if we could write a CSS template to apply to learning space areas). I guess it comes down to the closed box system – if you’re paying for a closed box you shouldn’t be surprised when they close the lid too. I think the first LMS that jumps on the HTML 5 bandwagon will be a big winner – the canvas element alone will allow for easier ways to be creative and new ways to work on the web. Canvas Demos is a site that’s showcasing different uses of the canvas element – a lot of games are being drawn on the canvas it seems – but I’m sure you can see the ways that you could use this as a new method of getting input. Or perhaps, eliminating expensive web conferencing tools and brewing something a little more open source. Can you say interactive whiteboard?

Gen M

I was reflecting on the affinity we have as a culture for naming things – categorizing them into boxes and such. We have my generation, Generation X, and Generation Y as the one that followed us. The current generation, the one my daughter belongs in, with their focus on mobile technology should be Gen M. I hope that this generation will be more mobile, able to change gears quickly and still have a moral compass attached to themselves and each other, rather than what the M could stand for: money. We’ve seen a couple brief attempts talking about the grassroots movements brought to the forefront from youth, and a recent report about the mediated lives youth live, which is increasingly mobile and on-the-go.

User Experience (UX) and LMS Systems

I was actually searching for something else, but found this Prezi presentation about User Experience and LMSs in a mobile environment. While the presentation suffers from what a lot of Prezi presentations suffer from, a motion sickness induced ala Blair Witch Project, and I’m still wondering what the hell Banksy has anything to do with it, the presentation is a good one content-wise. I’m left with one of the few things about PowerPoint that I do like, annotation in the notes panel.

Either way, the presentation brings up a couple of ideas that maybe one might take into consideration when designing spaces for mobile learning. While North America as a whole, and Canada in particular is lagging far behind other countries in cellphone use and 3G networking, LMSs seem to be even slower to ensure that their spaces are mobile friendly. Desire2Learn does a good job of this, and browsing our D2L based site through my mobile browser generally works pretty well. I can’t say the same for WebCT or Blackboard CE. I don’t know how much work I’d want  to do in a mobile platform, but a quick check of some areas and I’m happy enough. Which is where the presentation falls a bit short – it seems that it expects users to act as if they are in front of a laptop or desktop computer… which to state the obvious they aren’t. I certainly suspect that while they’ll have similar habits, their experience being different will dictate that they act differently in a mobile platform. I think this is an area that needs further investigation, but I’m glad some people are at least looking into the idea.

Repeatedly the presentation suggests that scrolling is bad. One of web designs enduring myths is that of the page fold, where people won’t scroll down or past the bottom barrier of the page. There’s a couple of articles that debunk this idea, coming down to the idea that you must have compelling content to get users to scroll. By default, even sometimes despite the content that is presented, e-learning sites have content that has a built in scroll factor for users. They may not read it, or learn from it, but they will scroll.

Looking Forward To..

Hmm. I’ve been really hammering at my department to start thinking mobile. It’s kind of an uphill battle, but I think that overall it’s one worth fighting. For instance, we know that the developing world is mostly using mobile technology to access websites and connect. I know that Asian and European countries are way ahead of us in 3G phone usage and technology. If we are to market this institution as a place of education for the international student, it would make sense to hit them where they actually look.

I’ve been pushing to investigate ways to broadcast SMS video clips (initially I thought for second language learners, but anyone who needs vocabulary growth can benefit from it). Now, I know that you can do SMS text broadcasts (providing you know the numbers of the recipients). I know very, very little about SMS, cellphones (hell, I don’t even own one) and most of that technology. I do understand that for learning to be effective, you have to give people the options to take it whenever they can. If they’re on the bus, this gives them a twenty second clip to study. If they’re going somewhere, they could get a link to browse the clip later.