Friday, August 27, 2010

iPad - iCommunicate, iCreate, iShare and iLearn?


Students in the Civil Engineering course have to buy a calculate worth some where around $400NZ. The calculator has very limited use in class, basically calculations and programming only. The course itself is very hands-on. Students meet once in a week for a 4 hour lecture followed up by a practical session using the equipments for surveying and many calculations that follow later.  In the practical session the students record data they would have taken using these equipments and is later used for calculating 'things' (sorry I have no knowledge of surveying hence wouldn't pretend to know what they calculate from the data collected) needed from it. Data is recorded on a sheet of paper and is later (when the students have returned back to the classroom) checked by the teacher. The reason why it couldn't be checked out in the field is, students are not at the same location they could be few hundred meters apart doing their own bit in groups. This creates a few problems for the students and teacher alike:
  1. teacher is unable to give feedback or check for accuracy. This is only possible after the students are back in classroom. The students miss out on being able to correct their mistake and take readings and data again.
  2. Because data is recorded on a sheet of paper it limits what calculations could be done out in the field.
  3. other problems not relation to practical sessions:
  • the 4 hour lecture. I did a quick survey in class with the students and they admitted that they find the 4 hour lecture overwhelming and boring. The staff teaching the course reflecting on his 4 hour session stated standing in-front of the class talking and going through PowerPoint presentations and pdf's to deliver the required knowledge to the students.
  • 'Learning' and 'assessment' are seen as two distinctively separate process. Learning is where the teacher is in-charge - talking and explaining and lecturing most of the time (Teacher - active, students - passive participants). Assessment, students are expected to recall and regurgitate the knowledge 'learnt'.
The iPad .....

iPad was designed primarily as a 'consumption' device- watching videos, pictures, reading book, browsing the net and as a portable gaming unit. The apps designed for it available on the App store however take this even further. It potentially turns it into a portable computer that not only allows content to be received but can engage the user into creating it too. Some key elements not available on the iPad however make it a bit difficult, for example:
  • lack of a camera (no photos or videos)
  • iPad runs a mini or lite version of a browser Safari and now many other available on the App store. This creates a problem for using applications like Google Apps and other -  they need a full browser to function properly. We can however overcome these limitations by using Apps from the App store, like Documents on the go,  Documents 2, Connect - these apps allow you to connect to cloud platforms like Google, download the documents edit and sync it back. Some even allow you to create a document on the iPad itself and can later be uploaded to a cloud storage. Blogging that is a crucial tool we use in our course. However again because iPad doesn't have a full browser blogging is made difficult and the lack of a proper blogging app on the store compounds the issue. We can do email blogging but this means we'll be restricted to text only. Other digital artifacts like pictures and videos are critical elements when blogging to engage students in cognitive processes.
Vox has been the best blogging platform for use in class, well at least for me, Blogger is close but not as good. However Blogger is flexible when it comes to blogging on the iPad unlike Vox. It gives you a HTML compose window and throws an error message when you try to change to WYSIWYG saying "the browser you are using is not supported."

What we are doing with it?

16 Civil Engineering students and 2 staff teaching the course received an iPad (Wifi version 16 Gig) each for use this semester.

The concept map on the left outlines few tools we'll be using in the course. Others tools will be added as needed. m48 is an App that can be downloaded for free from the App store. This is the same calculator students buy for around $400NZ.

Documents 2 is a free App again from the App store that allows the user to create/download documents from Google docs to edit, this can be sync'ed back to Google Docs. Students setup a Blogger account for use in the course. My experience with Blogger has been: it's hard to create or get the student community going hence Google Buzz will be use to and an auto-feed will be activated meaning every time the student make a post on their blog a message will be posted on Buzz hence all the students can see and participate*. The teacher can also use it to initiate discussions and to engage the students. To make things simple Google Mobile App for iPad will be used, this adds a short cut on the iPad making access easier. Buzz Buzz is another app that can be used to access and post to Google Buzz only.

So what do these Apps do?

Let's call it Web Surfing 2.0  - the old way was browsing the net using a web browser, FireFox, Internet explorer, Opera, Safari etc. The browser was the portable to accessing information. Apps on the App store for the iPhone do the same but each service have there own version and with customisable options. You select the services you want delivered when you open the application on your iOS device. It has a more personal touch to what a browser can deliver. NZ Herald have an app for the iPad, TVNZ also have an app for portable Apple products. Will this change the way we have browsed the web since its invention, only time will tell. Portable devices have replaced desktop and laptops as the leader when it comes to accessing the web according to recent research done in USA.

Given the limitation of the browse on the iPad and other portable Apple products these apps allow the user more capabilities, for example Google Docs doesn't function properly using iOS version of Safari but other Apps like Documents on the Go, Connect etc allow you to edit and create documents. Similarly blogging has always been seen as a primarily web based event because of browser capabilities on the iPad, blogging using the browse is not possible hence Apps like iBlog, Blogit, TypePad etc enables the user to perform these actions. Moblogging (Mobile blogging) is also gaining momentum, you compose a message and flick it to your unique Moblogging email address and your blogging platform does the rest. Portable Mobile devices are changing the way we have done things, enhancing the experience and delivering a more personalised experience.

In the project above we have selected Douments 2 for accessing Documents hosted on Google so enables the user to upload to Google from iPad. Documents 2 delivers functions like font formating (bold, italics, underline etc) and basic calculations while using Spreadsheet.

Buzz Buzz is an app for buzzing - service similar to Twitter - Google version of it. It takes Twitter a step further by allowing users to share pictures, videos, links etc and it is treated as a conversation unlike Twitter which treats every post as an individual blurb. Connecting Blogger to Buzz will automatically posts updates on Buzz hence people following you can quickly see what you been up to, for students it makes a huge difference - collaborative learning.

The aim of this project is:
  1. Does the iPad provide any additional value to students in Civil engineering course?
  2. To explore its affordance for use in a student-centred learning environment.

More updates from the project to follow.

Reflections from the Lecturer

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Future of Computing and Learning ...iPad,iPhone - iDock

The problem

Okay so in brief this is the story ...... I have an iPhone, iPad, a Netbook (Dell mini 9), MacBook Pro and and Mac Mini would ask where do I use all this technology and what for:

  1. iPhone - almost everytime, probably the best investment of all the technology
  2. iPad - in meetings and as an entertainment unit
  3. Netbook - sometimes use it, haven't used it for a while now .... but are handy in conferences due ti its portability
  4. MacBook Pro - @ work and home when I need something decent to work on
  5. Mac mini - well again use it only when I feel I don't need to use the MacBook pro ......have to start it up, connect to power ........ Mac mini is always convenient, just jump on and get started....
So where does the iDock concept fit in the already long list of things at home and work?

Well the iDock is to solve the problem. The new iPhone 4 comes with a A4 processor (1GHz speed), 512MB RAM ...... well if this is the way than future phones will be much faster with bigger RAM meaning almost as powerful as a normal desktop or a laptop or even faster ...... let's put it this way, there is more potential .... the number of apps on Apple store for iPhone is growing at an exponential rate ... not just growing but growing with more features enabling the ability to do more on a cellphone. For example things possible on an iPhone: editing Videos, Audio, Pictures, Edit/Create Documents (excel, ppt, word an more), eMails, web browsing, entertainment (high end graphics better than same desktop and laptop games, geo-tagging, and more)

The iPhone (or other smartphones) will have the capability to perform complex and big tasks almost the same as a computer ...... the iDock concept does what a docking station for a laptop does .... provides more power and ability such as USB ports, monitor out, printer port etc. The iDock will do the same and in doing so convert the iPhone into a desktop computer .... better, it allows the user to carry important documents and data on the phone and still have to power to do anything at anytime...... the iDock will provide a DVD drive, USB, Firewire and monitor out this of-course depends on Apple and other smartphone manufacturers to open the platform and upgrade the hardware in future handsets to allow these capabilities ...... it's not that we don't have the technology or ability it's more that we need time and perhaps vision from leading phone manufacturers to take this further.

How it will work?

Dock your iPhone on the iDock and away you go. Plug in the peripheral devices you use for example, USB keyboard, an external monitor and perhaps an external harddrive. The iDock is a dumb unit (meaning it has no operating system), the iPhone and the apps on the iPhone is the main unit. Although the iDock may have RAM and a processor to ease the load on the iPhone processor, it is to 'enhance' the ability on the iPhone. The apps on the iPhone are like apps you have on a desktop or laptop.

The way things are moving at the moment, you wouldn't really need a huge processor to perform your tasks. Cloud computing is growing at the same rate as the smartphones are growing in power and ability perhaps leveraging off each others success and complementing each others strengths and weaknesses.

What is the future than?

The future is cloud computing and in mobile technology like smartphones. Ubiquitous computing - being everywhere and having the power of a computer and more in your hand.