Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Customised forms on mobile phones

Attended a presentation at the local Vodaphone HQ by Ruth Bruce from the Kinross Group and Craig Wilson from Black Coffee software this morning on their Applications message service (AMS) software. AMS provides the facility for forms to be filled in via mobile phone and sent back to a web based front end from which form templates can be formatted / edited and viewed. Data collected on the forms can be sent, received and shared.

Basically, forms are formatted on the AMS front end. Forms can be set out to allow strings, dates, gauge (slider to allow for input), choice (multiple choice with options for only one or many options), and text box (will allow 160 characters). Forms are disseminated to mobile phones via download by each individual phone with access via username and password. The form framework lives on the phone and data entered each time is sent back to the company that requires the form to be filled in. Photos collected on the phones can be attached to the forms but it means that the messages will be more expensive. More info on the AMS wiki which includes user guide and quicktime movies of how to use the AMS.

There is an annual cost to use AMS based on number of uses, a message cost and the usual mobile phone date usage charges. If you want forms to be formatted for you, there is a one off cost for each form but the AMS seems to be quite straight forward to use and CPIT has the infrastructure to deal with any forms that are sent back in CVS or XML format and should be able to do the conversions ourselves. This platform has many potential uses and since launch 4 months ago has users in the real estate, health and equipment servicing sectors.

From the point of view of our current mlearning project, the AMS is a substantial improvement on using etxt . We will be able to sent out formative and summative questions in a ready to fill in format instead of sending out questions just as unformatted text messages and then students having to text back question number and answer. The question types we use can be increased as entry of answers in simplified using the various form filling formats provided. I can also see a use in using a short standardised from to be attached to each portfolio item that apprentices send in for their assessments that provide details of the photo / video / text file that can then be later collated towards their final eportfolio.
For mlearning in general, short pieces of content which are interactive (ie allows students to enter answers to questions etc) could be downloaded by students for revision sessions, extra information, assignments, formative assessments etc. Forms could also be set up for students who need to fill in reports while they are out on field trips, completing internships / work placements or for gathering of assessment evidence. So AMS will be something worth investigating as part of our ongoing pilot.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Trends for mobile phones in 2008

Had a browse through a forbes article on eight trends for mobile phones for 2008 which I found via the mobile – weblog blog I follow via bloglines. Of interest to mlearning applications are the mobile net becoming useful, 2008 will be year of the bad touch screen as various mobile phone manufacturers play catch up with the iPhone (my Treo 700wx has a good touch screen but does not allow zoom in etc) and the dawn of the casual computer.
For the mobile net to really take off, wifi via phones needs to be standard, otherwise its too expensive to access the web on a phone. However, most phones (including the iPhone) are still attached to telecom providers who are not keen to give up their revenue streams from uses using the ‘higher end’ capabilities of their phones.
Touch screens make handling multimedia easier. For our project on compiling portfolios using mobile phones, we are mainly using the mobile phone as a evidence capturing devise. We have not been able to use the phone to actually complete the compilation of the eportfolio due to the technical limitations of a small screen, difficulty in manoeuvring around desk top based software using mobile phone keys and memory capacity of an average phone.
The dawn of the casual computer provides a degree of optimism. Ubiquitous computer access has been around for a while but lugging a laptop around & hauling it out every time you needed to check up on things is not really cool. However being able to access information by bringing out your phone is seen to be standard practice. So doing short bits of learning on your mobile phone, whether it is just surfing the web to find answers to a question or looking for a restaurant to go to becomes second nature.
I followed up the above with a look around the web to see if there was anything else interesting on trends for 2008. The usual collection of 2008 trend predictions for the year includes 2008 trends from trendwatching with a summary from marketing web, reuters had one and there was also one from a retail marketing blog. All mentioned mobile phones in some form or other plus social networking (of the internet type). The convergence of both mobility and internet based social networks are two areas that mlearning should keep exploring.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Over a hundred posts & still blogging aka why I blog

Noticed when I put up a post last week that I have now posted over 100! When I first started blogging, I really only wanted to learn how to use a blogging tool. However, the process of blogging has provided me with a great deal of learning, pleasure and reflective opportunities along with helping me to warm up for other writing tasks.

Others have written about the advantages and disadvantages of blogging, their application to professional development and their use in promoting a company as a thought leader. So what follows are some thoughts specific to my context.

I have found the advantages of blogging to really be worth the hour or so I spent every fortnight or so putting together a blog. One of the major advantages has been that I have been able to archive many resources that are pertinent to my mLearning research. I probably use the blog most often for finding links that I know I have blogged about and also to compare my current thoughts on a topic with the thoughts I put down in the blog a while back. It’s a great way to re-visit things that work and to also build on resources that have been gleaned from a wide variety of sources but now stored in a one stop shop.

The other thing I have found really useful, is checking my sitemeter every week or so. I have had the sitemeter set up for about a year and a half. The most frequent search terms that find my blog are on ‘limitations of Web 2.0’ and ‘activity theory’ although anything to do with ‘mlearning or eportfolios and apprentices’ usually also brings up this blog. I check the site meter each week and find links via the ‘by referrals’ summary of recent visitors. These have directed me towards interesting areas that I would not personally think about checking out. Each week, I will find links that are real gems, some which I will blog about but many I will archive in my ‘to explore further’ folder. These events always bring home to me how much more interconnected the world has become. It also reinforces for me the need to be always ready to look at how other people have approached things and how ideas in other contexts well removed from areas that I have contact with, come up with similar views, ways to do things or approach the problem from a totally different paradigm. This approach has really broadened my thinking about how I go about conceptualising the various projects I now work with. It has also given me a broad spectrum of ideas to draw. In my role as elearning facilitor and staff educator I work with diverse groups of tutors, all passionately teaching their subjects to a wide range of students. Being able to expand my database of possible solutions to challenges put forward by tutors has been a real asset. Especially when I can usually also provide tutors with actual documented examples of how the solution is being used by other teachers.

Blogging has put me in touch with kindred spirits. In some ways, I am sad about having to use the internet to touch base with people who are working on projects like mlearning for workplace learners. I am a person who enjoys having face to face conversations with like minded people. However, in the real world, I would probably never have had the opportunity to connect with the diverse bunch of people I now have on my contact list. I can now just email the right person to find out an answer to a question that I am struggling with or who can be a shoulder to lean on when things are getting overwhelming.

Another aspect of blogging is that it forces me to keep in touch with the developments in the areas that I have an interest in. Blogging provides the motivation to organise the things I find I need to follow up when they turn up on my bloglines. It gives focus to my readings, both on and off-line and also makes me read in a more structured way, so that I can summarise my thoughts better in writing when it comes time to put my thoughts down on my blog.

So, here’s to the next 100 :)

Friday, February 01, 2008

What we need to learn and what have apprentices learnt in the workplace?

Doing a catch up on blogs and artichoke’s post on mismatch between correlation and causation caught my eye. Just coming off three weeks of intensive data analysis of my interview data and working on building a model of how apprentices belong, become and be bakers. So the blog held some resonance with my current thoughts and the headspace I have been steeped in.

A link in the above blog to Stephen Downe’s post on things you really need to learn also provided me with some food for thought. Especially in light of the recent speeches in New Zealand by both the Prime Minister (raising the school leaving age) and the opposition leader (boot camp for young offenders) about what government will be doing with young people who leave school with no school qualifications.

As I build narratives of apprentice stories, about how they found little connect at school, about how an apprenticeship had provided them with purpose in life and about how almost all of them are now passionate about a trade they all pretty much fell into; I find links, agreement and contradictions between the 10 things that Stephen has listed and the things that apprentices have learnt or have had to learn in their first three to four years in the workplace.

So here are some thoughts:-
  • Predicting consequences:- when you are at the bottom of the rung in a workplace, you very quickly learn how to predict consequences within your defined place in the hierarchy. Basically, you learn the consequences of your actions / or lack of actions very quickly via the way in which your bakery products turn out and learn to not take that course of action again. If you are slow in this area, you have lost your apprenticeship.
  • Reading:- I often see a great improvement in the ability of apprentices to read and write between their first and third block courses. This is because they have had to hone their literacy skills in a meaningful and situated manner. They don’t have to write an essay on a topic they have no clue about but they have to fill in forms and complete work that are important towards completing their apprenticeship.
  • Distinguishing between truth and fiction:- very prosaic for most apprentices. It either works or it doesn’t! the evidence is concrete in a work environment that is production focused in producing large quantities of product that have to be consistent and good quality day after day after day.
  • Empathy:- I see a developing empathy between young people and their parents and workmates. That everyone works hard, moans little and gets on with the job. Young people realise that their parents are not lying when they say how hard the workday has been when they themselves put in 12 to 16 hour days in a physically and mentally demanding job.
  • Creativity:- apprentices really enjoy this aspect of a trade, to be able to put their own stamp on a product (as in finishing it well). Its one of the things that make them excited about their work, the opportunity to have their ideas listened to and to be able to then go ahead and actually produce something that looks good, tastes yummy and sells well with a healthy profit.
  • Communicate:- yes, most have to come to grips with this, otherwise, no one else will speak up for them at work. They have to be able to make themselves heard and to succinctly state their case. Otherwise, the boss has other things that are more important to do.
  • Learning to learn:- strategies that work in the workplace include working out who to learn best from for specific skills or tasks, when to ask questions, working out what your strengths and weaknesses are so that you can work on your weaknesses. Third year apprentices articulated these skills which I thing was quite a meta-cognitive feat for many of them.
  • Stay healthy:- yup. Got to go to bed early enough in order to get up at 3am to go to work. Got to rest up on day offs to be ready for the week’s physical challenge. Got to drink more water in the bakery and eat at regular times. These are kids that would have had no breakfast when they went to school and a lunch of packet chips and a bottle of fizz.
  • Value yourself:- I see taking responsibility for themselves as big pluses of an apprenticeship. Third year apprentices are planning ahead to extend their career, travel, to widen their horizons before they settle down and have kids! Barely in their 20s and they are planning ahead for their families.
  • Live meaningfully:- comes through in statements like “ I have got a trade now and it’s something I can depend on … where ever I go ….. for the next few years …. For the rest of my life…” the trade also gives purpose to young people who left school with few prospects along with providing them with a vocational identity that they take pride in.

Over the years, I have seen the difference between year 1 and year 3 apprentices when they come to CPIT on block course and its been a real privilege to be able to dig deeper and to try to fathom some of what goes on during those three years.