Handheld Learning U.K. - Day Two

Tony on Stage at Handheld Learning 2006The second day of the Handheld Learning Conference 2006 was held Friday, October 13. A full morning was planned with speakers taking the stage every 20 minutes! Thursday's sessions were mostly about policy and technology. Friday's sessions were more for educators and had examples of learning with handheld devices. Here are some notes I thought I'd share:

  • Martin Ripley spoke about 21st Century Learning. Martin talked about a better definition of 21st Century Learning that not only includes books, spelling, and mental math, but also problem solving (with technology). Recently Britain's science standards have been called "more suitable for the pub than for the classroom." Britain has an assessment system not unlike the U. S.'s. Instead of "No Child Left Behind," they have "Every Child Matters." From speaking to delegates to the conference, it seems that the U.K. often follows the U.S. lead in education (and I love the word delegate to describe a conference attendee--it implies that those in attendance take what they learn back to others).
  • There is one project in the U.K. that seems to be mentioned every few minutes in each presentation. It's the Learning2Go Project in Wolverhampton school that currently has 1,000 devices in the hands of students. David Whyley spoke about "The Wolverhampton Experience." The project has been a big success, especially with teachers and students. David says that teacher training is the most important part of their initiative. Wolverhampton seems to use a lot of multimedia and websites with their Pocket PCs. I've noticed many Fujutsu Siemens Pocket PCs around the conference and those are the devices that Wolverhampton students use. Wolverhampton schools have noticed better students behavior and a positive impact on reading as a result of their project.
  • Wolverhampton has five points of its vision for their mobile learning initiative:
    • Enable "learning without boundaries..."
    • Bridging learning between home and school.
    • Learners -- using technology as if it were second natures.
    • Tapping into the learners' culture.
    • Improved achievement and attainment via raised aspirations and motivated learners and their families.
  • Gerry Gray from Court Moor School spoke about teaching with Tablet PCs. Tablet PCs run a version of Microsoft Windows that you can write on with a stylus. While I think Tablet PCs are pretty darn cool, I think they are just too expensive for schools--they are more costly than laptops. In a perfectly funded world, I think Tablet PCs would be a wonderful learning tool. Gerry showed an electronic textbook that her students can write and draw on. How useful! Gerry showed many other examples of her students' work. I'm jealous of what she and her students can do with their computers! Students use Microsoft Office OneNote to make pages that can contain typing, handwriting, drawings, images, and videos!
  • "Stealth teaching" was mentioned where learning is made so fun, that students don't know they are learning. Personally, I think learning should be fun just by its very nature. Hopefully it doesn't need to be done covertly and students realize they are learning and love it. I believe in telling students learning objectives for each lesson so they know that whatever activity we're doing, there is an educational reason. I think of a video I made with my fifth grade students telling about their favorite Palm applications where, even though its the last day of school, they remember exactly what or how they learned using a particular piece of software.
  • Three gentleman from Bradford talked about their KS4 PDA Project. The school paid for the handhelds, but parents pay for the insurance. Kids talking to each other is important. It was noted that when you take students into a computer lab, 30 students can quickly disappear--you can't see them because of "all of the kit." With handheld devices, students can still see one another and does not cut off communication. They told about a great field trip experience where some students visited a museum with smartphones. The students took photos and blogged right from the museum with the devices. Then students who were left at the school would read the blog and text message the field trippers questions to ask the docents or ask to take more photos of certain items. It sounds like everyone, whether they went on the trip or stayed at school, learned a lot!
  • Professor Miguel Nussbaum from Universidad Catolica de Chile showed an exciting series of applications for Pocket PCs called Edunova. It's based on students working in groups of three. Through Wi-Fi and a server, students interact with questions where all three exchange answers and then must agree on a final solution. The teacher's Pocket PC displays a color-coded matrix showing what's going on in each group. This is going to be a great tool as it elicits student discussion and has a great teacher management piece.
  • Stephen Carrick-Davies Chief Executive, Childnet International, spoke about online safety issues. Stephen says the real danger of the Internet is that adults will focus on the dangers and forget the benefits.
  • Tony Vincent at Handheld Learning 2006I spoke about my five reasons for loving handheld computers. These include freeing the computer lab, teacher tools, free software, engaging activities, and animations. I've given this speech many times in the states, but this was first time abroad and by far the shortest time I've had to showcase why handhelds are great for teaching and learning. Aside from a few other speakers like Gerry Gray, I was the only one to really talk about hardware and software. In fact, most speakers emphasized that its not about the technology and all about learning. So true. However, teachers need to know the capabilities of the devices so they can plan learning activities! Most delegates didn't realize that they can run Palm OS applications using StyleTap and were very excited with what they saw. I wish I had more time to share other pieces of software.
  • Paula Bouw, School of Education Leiden University Applied Sciences, presented "Innovation in Education? Please, switch on your cell phones!" There has been a lot of talking of using cell phones in learning. I was told that virtually all U.K. 12 year olds and up have mobile phones, so it makes sense that schools would try to use these as learning tools. The cell phone activities focused on taking photos and movies with cell phones. Students could share these via Bluetooth. One example was making an English ABC book. She shared a quote, "A photo is worth a thousand teachers." Students know that they learn a lot from images. To me, learning activities that use cell phones seem somewhat contrived. Smartphones, on the other hand, can so much more and right now, but those aren't the kinds of phones students already have (yet). But, if all of the students already have a mobile device, why not use it as a digital camera and messaging system?
  • Representatives from Wireless Generation spoke about their mClass Assessment software for Palm handhelds. They claim 100,000 teachers are currently using mClass learning in the U.S. and growing 75% per year. What I like is that when teachers use software to help them do their job like mClass, they begin to see how handhelds could be used by students for learning. 100,000 is a lot of potential handheld-using classrooms.
  • There was very little talk of Palm handhelds. In fact, I was the only a very few speakers even uttered the word "Palm." Pocket PCs are certainly the way schools in the U.K. are going. With the Edunova system mentioned above, I can see that Pocket PCs are getting content, software, and abilities that aren't available on Palm handhelds. Furthermore, with the availability of the StyleTap platform, Pocket PC users can run most Palm OS applications. Today there really are no barriers to going the Pocket PC route. In fact, Fujitsu Siemens is making the EDA, a Pocket PC made just for schools. The EDA is rugged and comes with a suite of software much like HLE from GoKnow, including Inspiration and an animation program. The EDA syncs using software that will allow multiple types of devices to sync content called Red Halo. Red Halo will use a local school server through Wi-Fi for students and teachers to access online. The EDA will ship in January, but after talking with sales reps, it may not be available in the U.S. If the EDA is successful in the Europe, it might be sold in the U.S.
  • Podcasts for each of the keynote sessions are available online. Presentations slide shows are available as well.
I absolutely enjoyed the conference and my time in London! As you can see, I learned a lot. I'm honored to have been a speaker and look forward to being involved in the Handheld Learning 2007 conference.