Thursday, August 28, 2008

Evaluating various ways to deliver multiple choice questions to mobile phones

I completed a set of comparative trials with a group of full time baking students some time back and analysed the evaluations this week. Multiple choice questions were texted to students using eTxt, on AMS forms generously provided on two Nokia phones from the Kinross group and via access to Moodle quiz on their computers.

Informal feedback already indicates a preference for the flexibility of having the questions delivered to their mobile phones instead of just being available on a desktop computer via Moodle. Several of the students were keen to have more questions provided so that they could revise their lessons whenever they had a window of time. This finding confirms the learning from Peter Mellow’s studytxt trials.

Unpacking the formal evaluations using an activity theory framework revealed some important aspects of user behaviour which I did not expect to find. If we view the completion of revision questions as the object (or objective) of the activity, the things that impact on the object include the students who will use the questions, the tools they use (mobile phones) and the signs they use (SMS & the use of ‘bullets’ on AMS forms & moodle multiple choice questions). The other things that contribute to the activity include the rules (trying to get the answers right), the community (the course the students are enrolled in) & roles (students as students, students as research participants etc).

The importance of the tool & the signs used seemed to be foremost in how the students evaluated the differences between answering the same questions via eTXT (SMS messages), AMS forms (multiple choice with ‘radio buttons’ loaded on to 2 Nokia phones) & Moodle (multiple choice with buttons but had to access the questions via the web).

Students went for the familiar. They expressed a preference for using eTXT because it was simple, they understood how to use it without having to learn a new phone system, they could answer the questions by texting the answers back whenever they had free time to do so.
As the majority of students did not own Nokia phones, they were unfamiliar with the menu system on the phones & found it difficult to find the questions. Answering the questions themselves proofed to be easy although a few students (both younger & older) needed to work through a few questions before they were comfortable.

The majority of students were on prepaid phones and did not want to access the questions on Moodle via their mobile phones. They were happy to hunt up a computer at CPIT to complete the questions but the convenience, just –in – time & nomadic aspect of mlearning then became redundant. Students had completed quizzes on Moodle before and were familiar with how to access & work through the questions. Even after I demonstrated how to access the questions via my Treo, none of the students took up the opportunity to also do the same with their mobile phones.

My learning from this is that the “learn an unfamiliar activity with a familiar tool” seems to hold true. The layout of multiple choice questions on AMS forms & Moodle is vastly superior to just receiving the question as a text message. However, the students made a choice for the familiar & by their perception, the cheaper options. So whatever we do from now on needs to be simple to use BUT also familiar.

Friday, August 22, 2008

An evaluation of some Mind mapping tools

After having a successful play with wisdomap, I did an exploration of Web 2.0 mind mapping software that might be useful. Mashable com provides a list of over 30 mind mapping tools and there are other lists at Mehta nirav com and at rev2 org. So there are lots out there and many are available for use for free. I randomly chose three others, put up some mindmaps which are adaptions of what I would usually put up on the board at the start of a session and here are the results.

Firstly I put up a mind map on research paradigms on . It was very easy to sign up (instant) and then it took 10 minutes to set up the map and save the image as a jpeg file. To share the image, you email the link to others, or invite others to subscribe to & access your mind map. This is useful if the mind map is to be used by students to set up their own mind maps.

Both Mindomo & mindmeister required registration and then the return of a confirmation email to get started.

Mindomo has a Windows type interface, so it is familiar to use & I set up a mind map on learning styles in about ten minutes. The image is not as colourful or visually attractive as Wisdomap or but it is easy to use, you can share your maps easily and collaboration on maps is possible.

Mindmeister provides good tutorials, including a short video on how to go about using the tool. The main difference between mindmeister and the rest is that it allows more than one person to work on the mind map at the SAME time. Although not as visually exciting as some of the others, the interface is easy to use. I put up the assessment map very quickly & sharing the map is also straightforward.

At the moment, I would probably stick with wisdomap as it is visually attractive, easy to use and provides the option of attaching other supporting material to the map (photos, videos, powerpoints etc). This makes it the wisdomap useful as a ‘one-stop’ revision site for some of the classes I teach. None of the above seemed to have mobile capabilities but I did download wisdomap on to my treo but only a thumbnail was displayed as the Treo only had internet explorer 6.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mobile tools becoming more mainstream

Latest blog from Jane Hart’s top ten tools reveals that there is a change in the top ten tools for learning including the entry into the list of mobile tools & services (like, fring, Qik and Utterz), mobile versions of key tools (like flickr, YouTube, Google Maps) and the mobile browser Opera Mini.

Twitter is in the 15th position, ahead of tools like youtube, igoogle & slideshare! I have not really been taken by twitter but twitter has a mass audience. One of the latest techcrunch blogs is on why twitter has not failed the power of audience. Will have another go at trying twitter out to see if it works for me :)

More info. on the mobile tools mentioned above:-
  • is a mobile based search tool. Relatively easy to use and focused on mobile sites for ease of upload & display on mobile devices.
  • fring allows use to use Skype, MSN messenger, Google talk etc. on you mobile phone. My Treo 700Wx is on the list, as is New Zealand (yeh). So will give this a go over the next couple of days to see how it works.
  • Qik allows streaming live video to you phone. Will be expensive on our NZ telecom plans but will give this a try to find out how it works.
  • utterz provides the tool to start a discussion from your computer or your phone. Utterz lets you create and follow discussions with friends or people with similar interests. Utterz can be audio, video, pictures and text. You can create or join a discussion from any mobile phone or computer. Friends can reply by voice, TXT message or on the mobile site at New Zealand is on the list, so another one to try out.

Good to be able to try out new mobile tools and by the look of things, mobile tools are an increasingly important adjunct when any social networking site launches.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The hidden lives of learners

At a NZ Association for Research in Education conference in 2001, I had the pleasure to attend Graham Nuthall’s Jean Herbison presentation on The cultural myths and the realities of teaching and learning. I had learnt about Graham & and Adrienne Alton Lee through my B Ed studies in the 1990s. Much of their work had particular relevance to me as my children were younger then & provided me with a source to apply my learning. To this day, both my children remember the sessions we had about learning smarter, not just harder.

Over the mid semester ‘break’, I read Graham Nuthall’s book, the hidden lives of learners and this brought back many memories for me of his presentation. Previous to reading the book, I have been mulling over my thoughts about the mlearning pilot and where it‘s next trial could take my research participants & myself. My Phd reflections established a link between becoming a baker and the use of technology to capture some of the essence of how young people ‘become’. The eportfolios produced by apprentices are very much digital narratives of some aspects of their journey towards becoming bakers. It records some of the skills and knowledge they have accumulated but the collection of multimedia evidence also captures some of the ‘unstructured’ pathways, methods, interactions and important life skills which are being gained as well.

The collections of evidence do not provide solid evidence of what goes on in the apprentices’ heads as they transform from immature, self focused boys into responsible, reliable, competent and mature young men. There is scope (if I can secure some research funding) to study the meta-cognitive processes as novices become semi – experts by using a mixture of what is currently taking place with the mlearning pilot and the research tools used by Nuthall and Alton Lee.