Monthly Archive for November, 2008

Mobile Internet, Mobile Life, Mobile Learning

The Mini-Geek in Me…
The Mini-Geek in Me…
Originally uploaded by David M*

Last month I commented on the growth in the Mobile Internet. More evidence of this was revealed on Monday (24th Nov ’08) when Neilson Online published the first results from Mobile Media View (full press release available here). They are reporting a 25% growth in the use of mobile Internet from 5.8 to 7.3 million users. More shocking is the fact that this surge in uptake occurred in one quarter (Q2 to Q3 2008). It is probably not surprising that just over 50% of mobile Internet users are aged 15-34.

So what is this mobile generation surfing for? Kent Ferguson, Nielsen Senior Analyst comments that:

It’s interesting to see that BBC Weather, Sky Sports and Gmail are amongst the few sites that have a greater reach on the mobile Internet than the PC-based Internet. This highlights the advantage of mobile when it comes to immediacy; people often need fast, instant access to weather or sports news and mobile can obviously satisfy this, wherever they are.

For me ‘immediacy’ will continue to grow increasingly important for 21st century learners. A common system found in probably all institutions is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). VLEs are incredibly cumbersome and largely unusable on a mobile device, an issue which developers like Blackboard seem to continue to ignore. In particular Blackboard cannot be used on the very popular mobile web browsers Opera Mini and Opera Mobile because of the reliance on cookies.

Open source solutions provide a glimmer of hope because they can be customised and styled for mobile browsing. This is not to say there isn’t issues, for example,  Moodle will only work with Opera Mini if the installation has cookieless sessions enabled.

There have been some projects which specifically address a mobile VLE. Notably the Mobile Moodle (MOMO) project have gone beyond tweaking style sheets and looked at the fundamental features of a mobile VLE. In particular they have been looking at new scenarios which allow online and offline interaction with Moodle. They have achieved this by developing a small JAVA based application which is run on a students mobile phone. Using this students can login to the institution’s Moodle site download mobile elements, which can include quizzes, use these offline, then resynchronising with the central site.

While I see projects like MOMO as a positive development, at the back of my mind I have the nagging question is the growth in mobile Internet another nail in the institutional VLE. When I look at projects like OU’s SocialLearn (a previous post on SocialLearn is here), you can see the disaggregation of a central system into the integration of a personal system. The fact that many of the existing web applications being used by students in their social life are already optimised for mobile usage can only strengthen this argument.

PREVIEW - Clinical problem based learning in Second Life

A couple of weeks ago our RSC was involved in the Virtual Worlds 2008 event at the University of Stirling. As part of this I was tasked with facilitating a hands-on session being given by David Burden, MD at Daden Ltd (here’s Daden’s YouTube playlist). David was highlighting his work with University of Coventry and St. George’s Hospital, London on the JISC funded PREVIEW project.

The PREVIEW project have been exploring the use of virtual worlds, Second Life in particular, as an environment for problem-based learning (PBL) for care professionals and paramedic students. The care professionals are using open-ended PBL scenarios using a chatbot engine to create characters who can guide, act out eDramas and interact with students within Second Life. Paramedic students are using fixed-ended PBL scenarios which require them to conduct patient assessment and treatment on virtual patients in Second Life. The project is best summarised by the video below:

It was the paramedic scenarios which interested me the most, and in particular the Medbiquitous Virtual Patient (MVP) XML standard used to code them. This is an existing scripting language used to create virtual patients. The format is very similar to that found in ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books (i.e. a paragraph containing plot point followed by go to page x to do A, go to page y to do B, go to page z to do C). You can find examples of these on the University of Edinburgh’s Labyrinths site.

A virtual patient example is available here. The MVP standard uses a node model. For each page rendered there is an activity node which includes related assets: data availability, virtual patient data and media. The screenshot shows you how a page is rendered from the XML model. One of the limitations of the MVP model is that each node has a limited number of options, meaning there is a closed path, potentially inadvertently leading the students to the correct answer.

By using Second Life, PREVIEW have been able to take existing MVP scenarios and make them open ended. So instead of having a limited number of options, it is entirely up to the student as to how they proceed using only their existing medical training to guide them through the scenario.

The most important thing for me is that Second Life is only being used as a medium to interface the MVP scenario, consequently the scenarios can be exported to any other platform which supports MVP. The diagram below shows how this model works.

Communication structure of the MVP and Second Life
Diagram showing the flow of information between the XML, MVP Player and Second Life

To date the PREVIEW team at St. George’s have created 4 paramedic training scenarios. A short YouTube clip explaining these is here. I’ve made my own video so you can see what one of the scenarios looks likes from start to finish:

Click to open Paramedic Scenerio

The crucial thing to remember is that Second Life is only being used to interface the MVP data. So when you click on a IV canella data is being read from the separate server hosting the MVP data. If you wanted to create a different paramedic scenario, the majority of information would be coded using the MVP standard.

It doesn’t have to stop at medical scenarios. The MVP standard is flexible enough to be adapted to other discipline areas which rely on problem-based learning. So theoretically this technology could be used for forensics, mechanical engineering, the list can go on.

To create problem-based learning scenarios for other disciplines would require scripting the scenario using the MVP standard, then creating the objects in Second Life you would like students to use to interface with the MVP. For example, if you wanted to create a scenario for forensic students you could create an SL object called ‘swab’. Then in the MVP you would create an activity node ‘swab’, which is linked to a data availability node with the associated actions/text (additional information could be coded using the virtual patient data or media assets).

And all this is going to be made open-source! Yes, PREVIEW will be making the code and the Second Life assets FREELY available in the next couple of months. Which I’m sure you’ll agree is fantastic!

If you would like to try the scenarios yourself you can by registering on the PREVIEW site. You can also take a peak by going to the St. Georges Island in Second Life.

Which netbook? Ultra Mobile Computing Buyers Guide

In September I wrote about netbooks (Ultra mobile, ultra cheap - Netbooks) and in particular what I be looking for when buying. This is one of my most popular (I’m guessing drawing in Googler’s looking for advice).

Following the recent hiatus with almost a weekly announcement of a new netbook, things seemed to have settled a bit. It could be a good time to take the plunge and get your 1st netbook. If you would like a more detailed advice the UMPC Portal have put together the 28 page Ultra Mobile Computing Buyers Guide 2008.


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

JISC RSC Scotland North & East logo

If you would like to subscribe to my monthly digest please enter your email address in the box below (other ways are available to subscribe from the button below):

Subscribe to MASHe to monthly email updates


The MASHezine (tabloid)

It's back! A tabloid edition of the latest posts in PDF format (complete with QR Codes). Click here to view the MASHezine

Preview powered by: Webthumb

The MASHezine (eBook)

MASHe is also available in ebook and can be downloaded in the following formats:

Visit to manage your subscription


Opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the JISC RSC Scotland North & East.

JISC Advance Logo

JISC Advance is a new organisation that brings together the collective expertise of established JISC services:

For further information visit

Creative Commons Licence
Unless otherwise stated this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 UK: Scotland License