Archive for the 'Mobile Technology' Category

Free SMS voting using intelliSoftware SMS Gateway service

Technology -
Technology - "Future Vision"
Originally uploaded by $ydney

Previously I written about Using a Learning Apps (xLearn) textwall for SMS voting for £25/year, but what if you haven’t got £25 to spare? How about free SMS voting*, and when I say free, I don’t mean free for the first 15 votes like SMSPOLL.net or free for the first 30 votes like PollEverywhere.com, I mean free for as many responses and polls you like!

*excluding the price to send a txt msg

I’ve been think about free SMS voting for quite a while, 4 years in fact! Back in 2006 one of the first blogs I regularly read was David Muir’s EdCompBlog. At the time I worked at the University of Strathclyde in CAPLE and David was in the Faculty of Education. His blog was great to find out what was going on at the other end of the institution, something Brian Kelly regularly highlights.

In October 2006 David posted his experiences on Moblogging: Turn it on again where he was able to mash a free SMS textwall using intelliSoftware SMS gateway. At the time I left a comment asking if David had:

thought about parsing the text messages for voting? i.e. students text ‘pgdes2blog Q1B’ to answer B in MCQ for question 1 etc? (Anonymously said …)

As it happened David had but neither of us was in the position to come up with a solution back then. Roll forward 4 years (with a Twitter voting solution inspired by David in between) and the old grey cells get a jump start after David posted some reflection on his student induction 2010 style in What did they need to know?. David mentioned he used his free textwall solution again collecting responses on this blog.

Both of us realised that if David was collecting responses on a blog that it would be easy to reuse my earlier Learning Apps solution to grab and parse the responses (using RSS). In fact it was so easy all I needed to do was change one line of code.

So below is an alternate version of XVS – SMS voting using Learning Apps:

*** RSSvs – SMS voting using RSS ***

With this version you can submit any RSS feed and it will extract/graph the number of occurrences of an answer option after a question identifier in the post title. Here is an example of a response chart which is generated from this test blog

So potentially you could use anything for voting which somehow creates results as an RSS feed. But how can you use this for SMS voting?

How to use RSSvs with intelliSoftware  

Unlike the Learning Apps textwall it doesn’t have a native RSS feed for the SMS inbox, but as David has already demonstrated it is possible to automatically forward messages sent to intelliSoftware as an email which can then be used to publish a blog post. This is possible because a number of blogging platforms allow you to create posts from emails (e.g. Blogger: How do I post via email?). Here is how to setup your intelliSoftware account:

  1. Create a blogger account and enable mail-to-blogger (taking a note of your personal mail-to-blogger address)
  2. Usual form filling. Important: Username will be your message identifier i.e. students have to start their response txt with your username so keep it short and meaningful
  3. Once registered login and select ‘Preferences’ in ‘My Account’
  4. In the ‘Forwarding’ tab enable ‘incoming message forwarding’, choosing forwarding type email and entering your mail-to-blogger address.
  5. In the Advanced Settings for this you can also modify the email template. Important: Make sure [Message_Text] is included at the end of the ‘Email Subject’, you should also remove [Message_From_Number] to prevent students mobile numbers being published.

Collecting and displaying responses

When you want to ask a question give users the options and instructions like “to vote for option ‘A’ send a text message to 07786 XXX XXX with ‘xyz #q1 A’ (where 07786 XXX XXX is the mobile number found in the Trial Service section and xyz is your username created with intelliSoftware).

The question identifier (in this example #q1) can be anything you like as long as it starts with ‘#’ and the options can be anything you like (a, b, c … 1, 2, 3 … etc).

To display a response graph visit the  RSSvs Site and enter the rss feed for the blog you are collecting responses on and the question identifier.

Important Tip: If you are using Blogger Blogspot you can increase the number of items returned by adding &max-results={and a number}. For example: http://rschetest.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss&max-results=200 

Once the form is submitted you can swap between the live results and a static chart. (the url of this page can be included in PowerPoint slides allowing you to link directly to the results) Below is the format it uses:

http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.org.uk/mashe/twevs/rssVS.php?id={see note}&tag=q1&options=-&type=live

idis an encoded version of your RSS feed url.The encoded id is fixed so can be reused

tag – your question identifier

options – optional number to restrict the number of options displayed

type – setting to ‘live’ displays the chart with realtime updates. Leaving blank displays the static chart

 

As intelliSoftware have been providing their SMS forwarding service for free since 2006 I would encourage you to have a look at some of there paid for services. Lots of developer tools to look at and the Multimedia Messaging Service MMS looks interesting too.

Using a Learning Apps textwall for SMS voting for £25/year

I’ve written about the different ways you can do electronic voting without buying clickers a number of times from creating a simple wi-fi system, to using services like polleverywhere.com, to even using Twitter (more on the latest on this one in a separate post).

For the ‘eAssessment Scotland 2010: Marking the decade’ conference we ran a poster competition and not wanting to collect lots of slips of papers we thought it would be good to have a SMS vote. Having seen the Learning Apps (formerly xlearn textwall) being used at other events and knowing it allowed data to be exported via RSS it was the ideal candidate. Using the same concept for voting via Twitter (TwEVS) of counting the occurrences of options after a hashtag it was easy to just substitute the feed from Twitter search with the one from Learning Apps.

Wanting to add a bit more than just a static Google Chart I was interested to see if I could get the graph to update automatically without browser refresh. After looking at a couple of options including the Javascript plotting library ‘flot’ I came across a post by Sony Arianto Kurniawan on Create Realtime Chart Without Page Refresh using FusionCharts Free and Ajax (prototype.js), which worked a treat.

The advantage of this home grown solution is it gives you some flexibility in how it is used in particular using the space before the question identifier for users to explain why they think their answer is correct. You can access the voting site using the link below (here is also the source code for download).

*** XVS – SMS voting using Learning Apps ***

Instructions

  1. Rent a textwall from Learning Apps (xlearn) for £25/year (this solution only requires you to receive messages so you won’t need any additional credit unless you plan on contacting students via SMS)
  2. Once created login to the xlearn admin panel and click either ‘Text Wall’ or ‘Inbox’ and note/copy the code after ‘http://xdalearn.co.uk/rssfeed/Feed?id= (might be 12 random characters)
  3. When you want to ask a question give users the options and instructions like “to vote for option ‘A’ send a text message to 07XXX XXX XXX with ‘xyz #q1 A’ (where 07XXX XXX XXX is the mobile number and xyz is the short code provided by Learning Apps).The question identifier (in this example #q1) can be anything you like as long as it starts with ‘#’ and the options can be anything you like (a, b, c … 1, 2, 3 … etc)
  4. On the XVS site enter your textwall RSS id saved earlier and the hashtag identifier without the ‘#’ (in this example it would be ‘q1’). You can also optionally set the maximum number of options to graph. The reason you would use this is to try and prevent any malicious uses like sending rude messages.
  5. Once the form is submitted you can swap between the live results and a static chart. (the url of this page can be included in PowerPoint slides allowing you to link directly to the results) Below is the format it uses:

http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.org.uk/mashe/twevs/xvs.php?id={see note}&tag=q1&options=-&type=live

id - is an encode version of your textwall RSS id. It’s encode to try and prevent direct access to you entire text wall. The encoded id is fixed so can be reused

tag – your question identifier

options – optional number to restrict the number of options displayed

type – setting to ‘live’ displays the chart with realtime updates. Leaving blank displays the static chart

One last thought. As this solution uses RSS feeds to pull the voting results, just as with the Twitter voting example, it would be very straight forward to combine the two (already a feature of polleverywhere.com, but something I’m not interested in doing).

Free Events: Developing Mobile Applications and QA/QE in e-Learning

A couple of events have hit my inbox which I think are worth sharing:

Developing Mobile Applications for Education [DevCSI]

logo-devcsi Date: 21 July 2010
Start time: 09:30
Location/venue: Hopkins Building, University of Reading

This is a free one day DevCSI workshop organised in conjunction with IT Services: Academic Services Directorate at the University of Reading is aimed at developers, web developers, systems administrators, who are interested in developing applications relevant for education on mobile devices and / or how to develop mobile friendly web content.

The day will include introductions / advice on developing:

  • for Iphone/IPad Platforms
  • for Symbian enabled devices
  • for Android devices
  • mobile device friendly web content

More information about Developing Mobile Applications event

Quality Assurance and Quality Enhancement in e-Learning Conference [HEA]

Date: 2 Jul 2010
Start Time: 10:00 am
Location/venue: Fielder Centre, University of Hertfordshire, England

This one-day conference will explore challenges facing the sector in relation to assuring quality whilst also enabling quality enhancement and innovation through technology enhanced learning (TEL).

Technologies impact on all aspects of the learning process, including teaching, assessment and communication. In light of changes in technologies and the changing role of e-learning within higher education, guidance and policies associated with quality assurance and quality enhancement of technology enhanced learning (TEL) need to be considered and reviewed.

Presentations will include a keynote from Professor Colin Raban, Director of Quality Enhancement at the University of Derby and dissemination of consultation findings from the HEA funded QAQE project.

The day will also include networking opportunities and participatory sessions to explore practitioner needs.

More information about QA/QE in e-Learning conference

3 reasons why not to buy the Apple iPad (and at least get an Android device (or nothing at all))

Reposting from the latest edition of RSC NewFeed

It is not surprising that an Apple device has got a number of educationalists all misty-eyed on it’s use within education, but before you put in that proposal to buy a brace of iPads to try out in the classroom please read this post and consider the alternative.

Apple have a long history if releasing products that define the market, establishing a new baseline for user expectation. Two recent examples of this are the the iPod which has become the colloquialism for mp3 players and the iPhone which has sent ripples through the mobile marketplace in terms of shinny, touchy, app driven devices.

One of the latest devices to emerge from the Apple lab is the iPad, a lightweight, 10” display, tablet device which borrows heavily from the iPhone in looks and uses the same operating system app store combination. Whilst this device has divided commentators as whether it is a ‘device to far’, early signs show there is a demand for it (for the early adopters anyway). But before you scrape together some money for that purchase order there are four things you should know about the iPad, which might mean you will want to consider the alternatives. The alternative I have in mind isn’t one particular device, but an emerging range of devices which use the rival mobile operating system, Android. This brings us to reason one choice.

Choice

There are two important choices you should be aware. Choice over hardware and choice over the applications you can run. Apple have a very good reputation for producing devices that are very reliable. This is in part related to the fact that they control both the hardware and the software (mainly the operating system, but also quality control over 3rd party applications) used in their devices. Whereas there are a number of manufacturers using or planning to use the Android operating system only Apple produces devices with the iPhone OS. So if you want something other than a 10” display or a built-in camera you’ll have to wait for Apple to release it (and if they iPhone is anything to go by Apple will start with a low baseline and gradually improve the specification to maximise sales). So while there is limited choice over which Android powered tablet you can buy right now, this looks set to change very rapidly, the number of variations meaning you are more likely to find a device which has a specification to need your needs.

The second choice to be aware of is the applications you can download. Apple have complete control over which ‘Apps’ it deems appropriate for download via iTunes. Whilst the majority of us are probably grateful that applications like Slasher and iBoobs were rejected, questions were raised over the rejection of ‘Freedom Time’, which counted down the minutes until the end of the Bush administration, and ‘Podcaster’, which allowed you to download podcasts to the iPhone. This is not to say that the official Android Marketplace of applications has come under similar fire, particularly when applications which allowed you to use the data connection from your mobile to download content/surf the web with your PC. The big difference is that with Android you are free to download and install 3rd party applications without having to ‘jailbreak’ your device.

Openness

Related to choice is openness. Openness is not just about whether or not the operating system is open or closed source, it is a deeper aspiration towards a wider philosophy of community. Whilst it is impossible to full escape the corporate nature of the world we live the Android operating system has been built and contributed to by a world wide community of programmers and users. I fully recognise that there are economic motivations behind both Apple and Android devices, but I feel the balance behind the iPad is more about making money than contributing to society. This brings us to the final reason cost.

Cost

An entry level iPad (16GB + Wi-Fi) currently retails for £429. This is not including the extras you might need because of the proprietary data connection. So if you would like the option to connect to an external display you’ll need the VGA adapter and even if you just want to view you photos straight from your camera on a bigger screen you’ll need the iPad Camera Connection Kit.

A selection of Android alternatives include (a longer list of Android devices is here):

NameFeaturesPrice
Dell Mini 54.8″ 800×480
225g
152/78/10 mm
Wi-Fi/BT
TBC
Click for full-size viewEken M0017” 800×480
345g
207/119/12 mm
Wi-Fi
£75
Archos 77″ 800×480
350g
203/107/12 mm
Wi-Fi
£130
WeTab11.6” 1366×768
800g
288/190/13 mm
Wi-Fi/BT
€449

If I haven’t swayed you with my ramblings on ‘choice’ and ‘openness’ hopefully when you realise that you can buy 3 Archos 7’s or over 5 Eken M001’s for the same price as an Apple iPad maybe you’ll think again.

Mobile Learning: Some resources, tools and statistics

I was looking for resources for a potential mobile workshop and came across the slides below from Judy Brown.

There were some resources I wasn’t aware of and others so good I thought it would be useful to extract these here:

Ever wondered what devices students are carrying around with them? On last site which might give you an indication is GetJar.com’s mobile market share stats. According to GetJar data Nokia and Sony-Ericsson have almost 60% market share, Nokia having three different models of phone is the top 5. More information on how these stats are derived is here.

ManufacturesMarket Share
Nokia28.96%
Sony-Ericsson 28.5%
Samsung13.98%
LG8.4%
INQ4.13%

UK Manufacture market share December 2009

DevicesMarket Share
Nokia E716.23%
Nokia N954.76%
LG KU990 Viewty4.23%
Nokia E633.05%
Samsung GT S5600 Preston/Hailey2.84%
Total market share21.11%

UK Device market share December 2009

If you would like to see an example of an institution embracing mobile technology, Judy highlights Abilene Christian University’s ACU mobile site. Using this and a number of applications specifically developed for iPhone/iTouch ACU students have access to a range of tools and resources including learning content, classroom communication (including a virtual EVS/clicker), ebooks, podcasts, notetaking tools, and gradebooks.

If you are wondering why ACU are only catering for one platform they gave out free iPhones and Ipod Touches. Some might see this as a marketing gimmick but if you start looking at the University’s Vision for Mobile Learning, it looks like they are embarking on a very serious endeavour. In particularly I liked this statement:

It’s not about technology; it’s about communication. It’s not about control; it’s about convergence. Social learning theory tells us that humans learn best in community - when they feel connected to others. And community forms when people explore and collaborate together, connecting their experiences - convergence. Any technological solution aimed at increased learning must enhance communication and convergence. If it doesn’t, it’s likely to be pedagogically irrelevant. ACU Convergence and the 21st-Century Classroom

MASHe review: Mobile technology, mobile connectivity

In this second MASHe review I’m going to look back at some of my posts on mobile technology. This is obviously a very broad topic, elements of which were covered in the first review on electronic voting systems, but I’ve identified some specific areas including mobile connectivity; and mobile hardware (phones and netbooks) to theme this post. 

Mobile connectivity

Connectivity is tied to the hardware you use to connect. Broadly mobile connectivity is being achieved through phones or dongles. In September 2008 I posted ‘I don’t need your network, I’ve got Mobile Broadband’, which highlighted that students were potentially less reliant on wireless networks provided by institutions, instead using either their phone or mobile broadband dongle.

Since then networks are beginning to show the strain as they start reaching capacity, not helped by the popularity of streamed media like on demand TV. Interestingly whilst mobile data usage is up it is thanks to the phone and dongle and not, as highlighted in my original post, built-in to laptops which are still the domain of the ‘pro-user’.

One device which wasn’t around back then was mobile wireless routers such as Mi-Fi. These make it possible to create your own wireless network using mobile networks for the data connection. So if you were worried about students accessing dubious content whilst on campus via their phone, now they can do this and share the Internet connection with their friends (hopefully this will mean institutions will focus on e-safety rather than relying on blocking sites).

Mobile and VLEs

A couple of months later I revisited this topic with the post Mobile Internet, Mobile Life, Mobile Learning. This post highlighted the increasing popularity of accessing the Internet through mobile phones. This is further evidence that staying connected is increasing important particularly as we require more ‘on-demand’ access to media, our social networks and data we store ‘in the cloud’.

The ‘on-demand’ culture is influencing education with flexible delivery and blended learning, but as I highlight in the ‘mobile internet’ post certain systems like the virtual learning environment seem ill prepared. There have been some developments in this area and Blackboards announcement last year of a mobile version of their system is probably evidence that manufacturers recognise that mobile optimisation is a must have feature.

Netbooks

I’m probably pushing the ‘mobile’ theme with the inclusion of netbooks, but for me it a very interesting market and one that I’m surprised hasn’t really taken off with students. For the uninformed netbooks are laptops which have been on a diet (slightly smaller, lighter, not as powerful). They first appeared on the market in November 2007 and now virtually every computer manufacturer has a netbook range.

I’ve visited netbooks twice on MASHe. First in September 2008 in Ultra mobile, ultra cheap – Netbooks and then again 6 months later in Ultra mobile, ultra cheap – Which netbook now?. If I was going a follow up post now it would probably be called ‘Ultra mobile, reasonably cheap – Which tablet netbook?’ and in 6 months it would be ‘Ultra mobile – Which tablet?’.

So why haven’t netbooks taken off as a student owned device? Probably because they can get a better spec’d laptop for a similar price and whilst student ownership of laptops is high very few bring them on campus (for various reasons including: storage, lack of desk space with power, using campus desktops instead, not part of teaching/learning).

So it appears manufacturers have realised there market is in the middle ground. Not the high-end titanium clad portable powerhouse  or the low-end portable and cheap, but a medium priced portable second PC which looks nice and has a touch screen. Gong by a recent consumer electronics fair (CES2010) manufacturers are betting on tablet netbooks as filling this market (which maybe of interest to academics looking to replace their conference PC ;)

So if netbooks and tablet netbooks are going to be of limited appeal to students what about ebook readers? Probably not for the foreseeable future. I would argue that the majority of students are looking for multi-function media rich devices like their phone or iPod. 

Phones

A potential challenger to Apples dominancy is the Google backed Android operating system. This is an open source project and the community is working hard to compete against iPhone/iPod Touch. Already a number of manufacturers have phones (and even tablets and netbooks) running Android and the platform potentially has a lot to offer. In August last year I wrote Android Mobile OS: Pandora’s box of accessibility opportunities, which gives an overview of the Android project and it’s philosophy highlighting what is already possible in terms of accessibility. Just as there have been a number of educational ‘apps’ for the iPhone, Android is already being used in this area (one use which I covered in the last review was for electronic voting).

Mobile futures

So what has this review shown? Mobile technology has been and will continue to be an important part of life and learning. This is highlighted in the recent Horizons Report, which reconfirmed mobile computing as having a large impact on teaching and learning and I’m sure it will be a topic I’ll revisiting again and again.

ALT-C 2009 I: Mobile technology - proximity push and voting/polling on Android

Abstract-Waves Blue
Abstract-Waves Blue
Originally uploaded by fabioperez

Just back from ALT-C 2009 having been asked to present a session with colleagues on EduApps (this resulted from JISC RSC UK’s donation of an EduApps stick to all conference delegates and ALT members). Over the next couple of days I’ll be making a series of posts to highlight some of the best bits.

For my first post in this series I’m going to highlight some of the ideas presented by my colleague Adam Blackwood at RSC South East. Adam, amongst other things, is a mobile guru and in his session he highlighted some interesting tools [Click here for a copy of Adam’s slides and his Mobile Technology Summary Sheet].

Proximity push using TextBlue

First there is TextBlue.This company specialises in ‘proximity marketing’, using Bluetooth to push information primarily to mobile devices. This company has a range of products from plugin dongles for your laptop to ‘broadcasters’ which can push content out for up to 1000 meters.

Adam demonstrated how this technology could be used to push learning content to student owned phones (or any Bluetooth enabled device). The only restriction you have on the file types you can use is what is viewable on the student’s device. You probably also want to keep file sizes down because of the transfer time so the 30 minute podcast might be out of the question, but this technology could be ideal for distributing quizzes etc (something you could easily create with Mobile Study, which is free).

There is nothing stopping you transfer files via bluetooth without TextBlue. Doing it this way is very cumbersome and the TextBlue software turns it into a one click solution. A demo version of TextBlue software is available on request – Contact TextBlue

SMS polling/voting

I’ve been aware of SMS polling/voting services for sometime. All the examples I’ve previously looked at use the model where the hosting/collation of votes has been handled by a 3rd party site. Adam highlighted a new model which puts the editing/collation software on your own phone, students responding to your mobile number, not one provided by a 3rd party.

The software to do this currently only seems to be available for Android mobile devices. There are a couple of software applications that can do this but Adam was highlighting ‘Polls’ by Pollimath:

The concept is simple; draft the opinion poll on your phone, add your voters and open your poll. Your list of voters would receive an SMS and/or E-Mail notification. They vote via the Web or SMS Reply as per the options selected by the pollster. The pollster can see the poll statistics and the voting details (who voted for what choice).  

Polling Concept
Pollimath Concept Diagram

There is a free ‘Lite’ version of Pollimath which is limited to 10 voters per poll, but at $3.95 the full version is very reasonably priced. Pollimath has some nice features like being able to send vote invitations via email as well as SMS, allowing you to use multiple input methods, and being able to view the results online. This is a relatively new application and some more work needs to be done to graphically represent poll results as well as an easier way to distribute polls links but so far it looks very promising.

An alternative to Pollimath is ‘Handy Poll’s’ by Marc Tan. This has a better graphical results view, but doesn’t have as many of the features of Pollimath.

Augmented reality

The final thing Adam showed us was some ‘augmented reality’. With this the camera on your phone is combined with your location and direction information so that additional information can be overlaid. One of the most popular working examples is Layar for Android, but the video below shows where the next generation of augmented reality is going:

Android Mobile OS: Pandora’s box of accessibility opportunities

HTC Hero Android 1
HTC Hero Android 1
Originally uploaded by louisvolant

[Update (21/10/09): Google have recently announced  more accessibility features in Android 1.6]

At the RSC we were fortunate to get our hands on one of the latest Android mobile phones, the HTC Hero. For the uninitiated Android is a Open Source mobile operating system originally developed by Google, but now maintained by the Open Handset Alliance. Android is very similar to the iPhone in terms of its multi-touch interface and drop-in add-ons. The real divergence between the two platforms probably lies in the openness.

With the iPhone, whilst it is easy for developers to code applications which use the functionality of the phone, Apple maintain a very strong control over which ones can be download from the ‘App Store’ and unless you are prepared to do some major tinkering to ‘jailbreak’ your phone you are locked in. Android is different because while they have a similar official ‘Market’ where you download approved applications, with one click you can install any 3rd party application. As David Flanders puts it “we as a global community decide what we want, NOT one where a company decides how we want it”.

So what does the community want? Well Google research scientist T.V. Raman and his colleague Charles Chen see Android as an opportunity to move assistive technology to the mobile world.  They have been working on the Eyes-Free project which has created a text-to-speech (TTS) library for android. This, like Android, is an Open Source project and already other developers have been using the TTS library in their own applications. A list of applications is available here. My particular favourites are:

Alchemy Clip - Cameraphone OCR to speech

Alchemy Clip (Web Link) | Alchemy Clip (Android Link)
Allows you to take a snapshot of a piece of text using the phones camera which is then OCR’d to be read-a-loud.

AutoTran iVoiceBrowserLite – Web browser with screen reader

iVoiceBrowserLite (Web Link) | iVoiceBrowserLite (Android Link)
Web browser with built in screen reader.

Eyes-Free Shell - eyes-free communication device

Eyes-Free Shell (Web Link) | Eyes-Free Shell (Android Link)
Turns your Android into an eyes-free communication device, providing one-touch access to Android applications, as well as useful mini-apps built into the Eyes-Free Shell. Move your finger over the screen to explore; lift your finger up to run what you stopped on. See also the Eyes-Free Config Manager (Android Link), which lists the applications from the Eyes-Free Project and enables you to set the Eyes-Free Shell as your default Home application.

Talking Dialer

Talking Dialer (Web Link) |Talking Dialer (Android Link)
Another Eyes-Free project application to help with dialling.

The vOICe – Seeing with sound

The vOICe (Web Link)
The vOICe for Android translates live camera views into sound, targeting augmented reality for the totally blind through sensory substitution and synthetic vision. Includes a talking colour identifier and talking compass.

Speaking Pad – Talking notepad

Speaking Pad (Web Link) | Speaking Pad (Android Link)
A talking notepad for Android. This notepad will speak what you type.

As you would expect with such a new platform some of these applications are still a little ragged around the edges, but I believe the Android platform has huge potential in making mobile technology inclusive, accessible and affordable.

Ultra mobile, ultra cheap – Which netbook now?

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Just over 6 months ago I posted Ultra mobile, ultra cheap – Netbooks. I’ve been meaning to revisit this post for some time. Not only has the market moved on in terms of the range of netbooks available, but on reflection my advice was some what biased leaning towards a device for me and not the average student. This post hopes to readdresses this balance identifying what I would be looking for in a netbook if I was a student.

Operating system – go for Windows

I would still recommend going for Windows. A development worth keeping an eye on is the new Windows 7 operating system due out later in the year. Originally I would have recommended sticking with Windows XP, Vista being too resource intensive for less powerful netbooks. Having loaded a beta version of Windows 7 on a netbook I was impressed with the speedy performance. So avoid Vista, get XP and if you are reading this post in a couple of months look out for ‘7’.

Connectivity - wireless + Bluetooth

I wouldn’t change much of my advice here. In fact it very hard to find a netbook without both a wired and wireless connection. Again bluetooth is useful and becoming a standard feature.

Screen resolution - at least 1024×600 (with 10” screen)

I would still recommend 1024×600 as a minimum resolution. For comfort of viewing I would also recommend a 10” screen (don’t forget to play around with toolbars to get maximum space. For example in Firefox use the Compact Classic theme and Glazoom zoom extension.

Storage - 8Gb SSD 160GB HDD

I would recommend getting a decent sized hard drive. There’s nothing more frustrating than running out of space particularly if you have lots of media like photos and video to keep. Unfortunately solid state drives, which have the benefit of no moving parts are still too expensive for this sort of size and you’ll have to nurture a traditional spinning disk hard drive.

Size - keep it compact (225×165mm 260x180mm)

As an every day device a decent sized keyboard will be essential for comfort of use and productivity. This size of the keyboard impacts the minimum size of the netbook so use 260x180mm as a guidance.

Battery Life 6 hours+

A big oversight of my original post was to include criteria for battery life. New processors (namely the Intel Atom chip) mean it is possible to get a lot more usage between charges. It is now possible to get netbooks which easily go for 6 hours while still not adding too much weight.

Cost - less than £250 £300

Unfortunately the global recession and weakness of the pound is impacting how far you money can go. I would also recommend upping the budget slightly to get a device which is hopefully suitable and robust enough for every day use.

Which Netbook would I buy (now if I was a student)?

In my original post I mentioned retiring my original netbook, which I’ve never quite got around too (although the soon to be released ASUS T91 is getting my interest). In the intervening months I have however purchased a new netbook to replace a laptop which got drowned in gin. The criteria I used for selecting a replacement potentially maps closely for what a student might be looking for (everyday use, portable, decent battery life). The device I went for was the Samsung NC-10. This device regularly gets praised for it excellent keyboard and solid build quality. For me the NC-10’s specification strikes a very good balance between being portable and suitable for everyday use and with it easily getting 6-7 hours solid use you don’t have to constantly sit next to a power socket.

Here’s a list of 5 possible contenders compiled on PriceGrabber which broadly fit the specification outlined above (click here to view latest prices):

Lenovo S10 Netbook
from £259.99
(5 sellers)
Compare Prices »
MSI Wind U100-220UK Black Netbook
from £259.99
(5 sellers)
Compare Prices »
Asus Eee PC 1000H Netbook
from £272.01
(6 sellers)
Compare Prices »
Samsung NC10 Blue Netbook
from £297.80
(8 sellers)
Compare Prices »
MSI Wind U100-221UK Black Netbook
from £298.69
(7 sellers)
Compare Prices »

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
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
Apple 3G iPhone White
Apple iPhone

Samsung
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
LG KC910

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

BlackBerry
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
HTC
HP
MWg
Glofish
i-mate
Qtek

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.

About

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

mhawksey [at] rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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