Thursday, March 23, 2006

UMPCs and their contribution to mLearning

I followed with interest the hype around the launch of Origami on various websites & blogs including Endgadget & Palmaddict.

Two weeks ago, pictures of the actual Ultra mobile personal computers (UMPCs) became available along with more details about their capabilities. A good article on the models available can be found at I4U news
I have mixed thoughts about how useful UMPCs will be for mobile learning in my context. For business professionals, I think that UMPCs will open up a whole new area for exploring professional development using UMPCs. This is especially the case for business people who are on the go as part of their work and who tend not to be office based. The bigger screen size and multi-media playback capabilities supported by access to the web increases the content dissemination aspect of mLearning. However, there is more to mLearning than just access to content.
In my context, I think that the following will be the barriers to adoption of UMPCs for mLearning.

  • Cost of the device will be prohibitive to the average apprentice. Unless I can find a generous hardware distributor who is willing to part with a class set of UMPCs (around 20 will be a good number). Asus, Founders and Samsung, I hope you are reading this blog!
  • The UMPC will have to be especially robust to stand up to the conditions the average apprentice will put on the machine. A mobile phone would live in the user’s pocket, but the UMPC is too large to fit into a pocket & will have to lie on a flat surface somewhere while the apprentice is working. Opportunities for covering the device with flour or for liquids to be spilt on to it will be high. Dropping the devise on to a hard concrete floor will not do it any good either.
  • It will mean learning how to use a new device. I have always been taken by Helen Barrett’s catch phase of using familiar tools to learn unfamiliar tasks and using familiar task to learn how to use unfamiliar tools.

I can see the advantages that moving on to a UMPC would bring:-

  • Larger screen size than on post PDAs & mobile phones
  • A Windows based operating system
  • Mobility but need to check on the battery power
  • Multimedia content
  • Has WiFi & Bluetooth
  • PDA, digital still / video camera, iPod rolled into one machine

Current elearning packages will run & we can develop more interactive learning packages to run on UMPCs which are either web accessed or on CD ROMs or on memory cards. In the next few years, UMPCs will become more mainstream and they will provide a good platform for a whole host of mLearning applications. For the moment, they offer us a glimpse into the future when ubiquitous, converged devices will become the norm for the mass market.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Using sitemeter, tagging and culling bloglines

I installed sitemeter on to this blog at the end of October last year. It’s a free service and a weekly email is posted to my email to remind me to check up on this blog’s visitor traffic. Apart from the initial excitement of seeing the number of visitors increase steadily (now over 200!), I have learned the following from using site meter.

Sitemeter does a cool job of counting the visitors to your site. You can also:-
  • display your site visitors by location / country of origin (listed or as dots on a world map),
  • the page on your blog they enter by,
  • amount of time and number of pages the visitor reads and
  • how your visitor found out about your blog (referrals - search engines, aggregators).

I have found the last application a good learning exercise on the use of tagging. Although the bulk of the visitors to my blog enter via search engines, many enter via tags put up by blog readers on aggregators like and Following the links back to the source often brings up interesting related sites, blogs etc. that I can then add on to my own aggregators.

This month, I have had to do a vicious selection exercise on bloglines to trim down the number of blogs I follow as some of them accumulate into the 100s of articles in just a couple of days. The large volume really means that I end up skim reading the majority of the articles. I am therefore not doing much justice to the writers of the blogs & also probably missing important bits that I should be taking note of.

I am now down to several really good reflective blogs, some of my favourites are blogs by archichoke (who are you?), Barbara Ganley, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Leigh Blackall and Jeremy Heibert.. I have also kept semi commercial blogs like Palm Addicts (which does a good summary of many of the other commercial blogs like Endgadget and some of the Treo blogs like Treonauts), Techcrunch and I have also taken to checking on other subscribers to the blogs I follow on bloglines to see what blogs others follow & this has helped me consolidate my own list of blogs to keep reading.

This all leads towards a distillation of information that is pertinent to what I need to find out now. However, I still trawl the web, googling or blog hunting whenever I have a few minutes to see what is out there. A surprising amount of information is being generated and I always find something interesting, relevant, thought provoking, new or applicable to my teaching context.