Monthly Archive for December, 2008

What I've 'starred' this week - December 28, 2008

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Starred Items.

What I've 'starred' this week - December 20, 2008

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Starred Items.

DIY: A wi-fi student response system

Polling Station
Polling Station
Originally uploaded by hugovk

Mobile phone ownership within the UK is regularly reported around 90% peaking to 95-97% for 16-24 year olds. While we know ownership is high, there is very little research on the type of phone young people have. Knowing the type of phone potentially allows us as educators to start tapping in to this resource. I’m particular interested in the data capabilities of mobile phones, previously posting on various topics including 3G usage. One area not to be overlooked is wi-fi access.

Wi-Fi Enabled Phones

Nokia N95 8GB Music
Nokia E71 White
Nokia N85
Nokia E71 Grey
Nokia N95 sport
Nokia N96
Nokia N78
Nokia N82
Nokia 6301
Nokia N81 8GB
Nokia N95 8GB
Nokia E90 Communicator
Nokia E65
Nokia N95

Apple 3G iPhone White
Apple iPhone

Samsung i900 Omnia White
Samsung i8510
Samsung Omnia 16GB
Samsung Omnia
Samsung G810
Samsung i780

Sony Ericsson
Sony Ericsson C905 Silver
Sony Ericsson C905 Gold
Sony Ericsson G900 Red
Sony Ericsson G900
Sony Ericsson C905
Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1
Sony Ericsson P1i
Sony Ericsson W960i

LG KC910

T Mobile
T-Mobile Ameo 16GB
T-Mobile G1
MDA Vario II
MDA Compact III

BlackBerry 8120 Pearl Pink
BlackBerry Bold
Blackberry Curve 8310 Pink
BlackBerry Pearl 8120 Titanium
BlackBerry Pearl 8110 Pink
Blackberry Pearl 8120

Windows Mobile 5/6

There is now a growing list of phones (see column) which can connect to wireless networks. Importantly, this list is not just limited to the business exec prousers with their iPhones and Blackberry’s, but also extends to free-on-contract phones which are already finding there way into students pockets. So assuming there will be a growing number of portable wi-fi devices knocking around campuses, which students are already prepared to carry with them on a day-to-day basis, how can we start utilising them?

A particular area I’m interested in is students response systems (also known as audience response systems, electronic voting systems, clickers …). Prior to joining the RSC I worked at the University of Strathclyde, arguably the first UK institution to integrate this technology as part of active collaborative learning. Having seen these systems in practice, particularly when combined with Peer Instruction (developed by Professor Eric Mazur), you cannot but be impressed with the level of engagement and learning gains students experience. [Here is a paper and video case study of what is done at Strathclyde and Mazur's Peer Instruction site]

A number of response system manufactures supply ‘virtual’ versions of their handsets. The solutions tend to be either purely web based or an application add-on. Web-based is the most flexible as it only needs a device with an Internet connection and Internet browser with basic JavaScript support (theoretically you could use anything from a Nintendo DS to a laptop). Application based requires a small application to be installed on the users device. This can be more limiting and unless the manufacturer has been incredibility busy developing different versions of their software for different platforms (you have the added complication of distributing the right software to your students).

There is also a cost associated with using a response system manufactures solution. If your institution is already using physical handsets it however might be possible that a set number of ‘virtual’ licences come as part of the package.

If you are looking for free solutions one option is ClassInHand (CIH). CIH was developed by Wake Forest University and basically turns a Windows Mobile device into "a web server, a presentation controller, and a quizzing and feedback device for a classroom instructor". Turning the Windows Mobile device into a web server means that any device with a web browser and a wi-fi connection can be used (again, anything from a Nintendo DS to a laptop). Unfortunately development of CIH appears to have ceased in 2003 and when I recently tried the software on my Windows Mobile 6 device it kept crashing :-(

One other big limitation of CIH, apart from it not working, is the reliance on the web server being hosted on a mobile device. Not every member of staff will have access to one of these and with tight budgets a purchase might be hard to justify. An equally, if not more, portable solution would be to run a response system from a USB pendrive. To my knowledge no one has done this but all the components are potentially already out there.

Similar to CIH, for a core you would want to run a portable local web server. There are a number of projects which already allow you to do this. I use XAMPP which, at the the danger of completely loosing you non-techies, creates a integrated server package of Apache, mySQL, PHP and Perl. The bits I’m interested in are: Apache - the bit which can serve web pages; PHP - which allows you programme the pages to do clever stuff; and mySQL - a database which allows you to store and retrieve information.

So a rainy weekend later here’s what I’ve come up with:

DIY wireless student response system from Martin Hawksey on Vimeo.

Here are links to the components I’ve pulled together for this example:

  • XAMPP - Portable web server
  • PHP Libchart - Simple PHP chart drawing library
  • LiveWeb - insert and view live web pages in PowerPoint

and here’s my DIY code:

If you’ve found this post useful you might also be interested in the JISC funded ‘EVAF4All: Electronic Voting Analysis and Feedback For All’ project being led by Simon Bates at the University of Edinburgh. More information on the project including the original proposal is available here.

What I've 'starred' this week - December 12, 2008

Here’s some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Starred Items.

Sage on the stage 2.0 - beyond the classroom

Originally uploaded by kafka4prez

It is fair to say transmissions style education isn’t exactly popular right now. In the era of student-centred learning, co-creation of knowledge the "sage on the stage" is becoming an endangered species. I personally believe there is still a place for ‘traditional’ lectures but only if they fit into a wider continuum of learner engagement.

What do I mean by this? It’s about looking at a students education as a whole and trying to appreciated a learners journey on a more granular basis. So instead of just looking at module outcomes or lecture topics consideration should be given to learner activity inside and outside the classroom. For example, instead of just asking students to look at a chapter in a textbook before the next class get them to perform some sort of activity around the particular topic.

The Department of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde have for a number of years directed students to perform online weekly group activities aligned to face-to-face lectures. The tasks are designed to scaffold learning. So in week one they groups of students are asked to collaborative define psychological terms. In week two students are directed to expand on these terms and collaboratively write a paragraph contextualising these terms. In week three students are required to expand on this and respond to an exam-style essay question. This pattern is repeated for each of the topics in the class. All the time this is happening the lectures are augmenting the online activity and because students are engaging with the topics earlier, instead of cramming before exams, lectures become an opportunity for dialogue. [Click here for a detailed description of the Department of Psychology example.]

This is just one example of how activity outside the classroom can be used to enhance what is done in the classroom. There are a lot more examples of activities you could use. The key is assessment, both formative and summative. Students are highly strategic when it come to their learning. Most are looking for the path of least resistance towards their final goal, usually the accreditation of their knowledge. Assessment therefore features highly is a learners game plan.

The SFC funded REAP project used this notion as a core theme when piloting the redesign of 1st year classes across a range of disciplines. One of the outcomes of this project are a set of assessment principles of good formative assessment and feedback developed by Professor David Nicol and the Assessment Working Group at the University of Strathclyde (copied in below). I believe these principles are incredibly powerful as the represent a distillation of expert knowledge, published research and practical experience.

Digital Student - More than Web 2.0

Moosh Fashion Show
Moosh Fashion Show
Originally uploaded by Ravenelle

Yesterday (Tue. 2nd Dec ’08) saw the publication of the JISC sponsored Guardian Supplement - Digital Student highlighting the experiences and expectations of students in and entering higher education. This particular area has received a lot of recent interest with a number of projects funded by the JISC Learner experiences of e-learning: phase 2, and the Denham reports on Teaching and the student experience and World leader in e-learning.

In particular I’m looking forward to the final report of The Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience. This committee, chaired by Professor Sir David Melville CBE, aims to bring ‘focus and coherence’ to this area, pulling together research to inform policy and strategy for national agencies, universities and colleges. Their remit is to "consider the impact of the newest technologies such as social networking and mobile devices on the behaviour and attitudes of students coming up to and just entered higher education and the issues this poses for universities and colleges".

I was a little disappointed so see that the Committee have decided to only focus on Web 2.0 technologies (mobile appears to have been dropped according to the Committee’s emerging findings), particularly as the inquiry state they are "looking to draw the big picture and to interpret it clearly and concisely".  Even when just considering the impact of ICT I would argue there is a whole raft of other influencing factors which effect the learner experience such as the provision/ownership of hardware, or the effectiveness of existing systems (i.e. student email, Virtual Learning Environments, network access). You could also argue that while the majority of students use Web 2.0 in their social life, it is still only a minority who experience this technology as part of formal structured learning. My concern being that emphasis is being placed on a particular technology and not the learning experience as a whole.

While I wrestle with my thoughts on this one some of you might like to read a report commissioned by the Committee on the "Review of current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education" (Warning: 141 pages). The Committee also highlight the following relevant activities:


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

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