Phillipa and Ryan are a little puzzled

Frustrated students are starting to doubt the future of progress. For the past two weeks I’ve inflicted a Mobile code hunt on their them, in attempt to demonstrate that mobile phones have potential outside the walls of the classroom.  They’ve sat, squinted and swore for an hour trying to figure out how to download a QR code reader to their Mobile phones so that they could find the answers on a QR code.  This morning, of the 20 students, only one managed to download the reader (the other students phone models did not support the code or they had no air time). While it was clear that many students were adept at managing their phones and could work around a small screen, the problem of a common platform made me doubt the possibilities that mLearning holds for whole class learning. The range of different phone models makes it extremely difficult to supply instructions on how to configure the phone.

mLearning certainly holds enormous pedegogic and practical potential.  But whether the phone has the ability to act as “a classroom in your pocket” will depend on the degree of uniformity amongst phones. The wide variety of phones amongst students meant that nobody was able to assist each other, as each had a different phone. Background of the mobile phone owner will also play a part in their ability to master the tool. It was interesting to note that students that had some business or other experience beyond the classroom were able to make better use of their phone.

Ah well, back to the drawing board, more prototypes, more thought is required.

Digital Pocket Knives

QR Codes I’ve been wondering, when the mobile phone has shown such an amazing penetration rate, why students aren’t using their mobile phones as a digital “pocket knife” for personal and lifelong learning? Although our Internet penetration here in South Africa is disturbingly low, we are not “backwards” with cell phone adoption. The penetration rate in South Africa is an estimated 70% (only 17% of the population has a land-line), but cell phones use seems mainly tied to entertainment and personal communication purposes.

Today, with my PGCE class, I thought that I’d explore whether my pre-service students would haul out their phones and access data, URLs and email addresses. I created a gallery of 7 social media applications with associated codes to guide their introduction to each medium, and then left them in groups to figure it out.  I stuck my head out a few times (had to duck to avoid debris being thrown at me) and discovered that  great confusion reigned.

Only a few students owned phones with a QR code reader installed. Most phones were dinosaurs with no camera or (typically for a student) had no airtime left. Those that were able to complete the task with their digital “pocket knife” kindly dictated the content of the QR codes  to the rest of the  reluctant bunch.

Two observations

1) No one enjoys feeling like an idiot. Very little support or structure was given to students to make this fairly obscure concept more manageable. Learning curves are never fun, and it’s useful to think about ways that I could have made this learning curve a little less steep.

2) There seems a reluctance to see the mobile phone as something more than a phone. Despite many phone owners out there, few students were able to download the necessary apps to enable their phone. Maybe they resented the intrusion of “work” into their “personal” spaces? Perhaps Maybe user attitudes towards mobile learning need to be changed before people will want to start learning about how they can use their mobile phones.

What future does the mobile phone have, for learning? The availability and afford ability of mobile devices (when compared to desktop computers) should make these digital “pocket knives” a high demand device in a classroom? Or are they a threat?  Are you using your mobile devices for personal and lifelong learning? How do you feel about taking your phone out for learning something? Should learning tools remain tethered within classroom walls? Are mobile phones as sharp as they appear or are the blunt butter knives, keeping us fed and entertained. Perhaps the digital pocket knife is a silly analogy. Is it a utopian dream to expect mobile phones to usher in a new age of learning?

Certainly the exercise left me with more questions than answers. Be interested to hear what you think.


Linking spaces to information


I’ve accessed my blog via my phone’s camera using this QR code. And while this sounds impossibly complicated, I’ve just learned how this works in the last half an hour.

QR codes combine simple creation with easy access to QR code readers. Create the code using a QR-Code Generator and then point your mobile phone code reader (you will probably need to download an appropriate one) and voila – with a cashier like scan the QR reader will beep and a message should appear that points you to the encoded destination. Much like any other scanner, a QR reader recognizes the QR image, and responds appropriately.

There’s a buzz about Augmented Reality applications on Android and iPhones. But for those of us with dinosaurs, we can also participate (to a limited degree) in this spaces to information hype. Apart from better echos, I’d like to see QR codes being used alongside a sign in a museum, garden or gallery to give more information about the item. A QR code could be included by a teacher at the end of a presentation, set of notes or round the classroom, that would lead into a class activity.

QR codes “support experiential learning, bringing scholarship out of the classroom and into physical experience” ( things you should know about QR Codes ). While the Desktop brought multi media into the classroom, mobile phones (and other smart devices) are taking the classroom into the world and reconfiguring the way that we can incorporate media into our teaching. Start looking for QR codes on shoe adverts, scooter posters , buildings, out in the wild or even on your bookshelf.