May 23, 2007

David Whyley: Holding our hands

  David Whyley from Learning2Go 
  Originally uploaded by Edublogger.

Half of written communication is by email, 29% by text and just 13% by pen and paper. Think about it. How much pen and paper use is in schools? Probably the majority.

And what Dave Whyley from the Wolverhampton PDA project is going to have to do, perhaps, is help guide us along the line of spending enough time developing the pen and paper skills which are perhaps expected, while not neglecting the digital writing skills students require in the world of work. The same, of course, is true vice versa. It's a heck of a tightrope.

Authorship and sharing is all
Kids says this, and you can read an entire Demos report if you don't believe me. Most of our establishments stop the latter by forcing sharing through the conduit of a teacher. The former is all about kids wanting to create, not be fed information through, say, a Virtual Learning Environment. Businesses want creative people who can collaborate, share and create, but the laggards in our education systems want to look back, create 'new' systems based on the foundations of the old.

Is handheld technology the classroom of the future?
The classroom of the future might not actually be in a school. In fact, I'm almost sure it's not. Reading news reports and summaries of the project you would be quick to see that home use, the motivation to learn beyond the 4pm bell. It's not just gaining some of the 200 minutes per night that kids spend online for school work. It's about creating new relationships between parents and children, where parents are taking part in a 'joint hobby', learning with their child.

How is it funded?
There is a joint parent-school contribution of £1.50-£2.50 each per week, equivalent, as Dave recites, to dad missing out "one pint per week".

Why handhelds and not laptops?
They wanted something that would be cool, give the learner something cool, something that can be carried around (and not a three pound laptop which the kids can't/don't want to carry around). The kids are safe carrying things around which, to the outside viewer, well, can't be seen. Laptops entice the inevitable.
Handhelds are also great as computer devices because teachers can't see the keyboard on the first day: so kids don't end up 'typing up' handwritten reports. Above all, they don't take three minutes to boot up because they're always on. You want to video the science experiment now, not in three minutes when the experiment is over.

What can kids do with them?

  • EBooks
    - in many languages and for free on the web
  • Simulation games
  • MP3 music file playing and recording (podcasting possibilities)
  • Full PowerPoint
  • Word and Excel
  • Drawing
  • Animation
  • Gaming
  • Mind mapping
  • Picture editing
  • Music making
  • Problem solving
  • Web access
  • Video content
  • Data logging plugin
  • Running other full versions of programmes such as
  • Digital video/stills camera

Dave has been getting the kids to publish and share their work on the web, too, so that they have feedback and views from the outside world - this is something I didn't pick up on the first time I heard him last year in London, but is exactly the kind of reflex learners and teachers should have when they have achieved something, a product, from their learning.

In the classroom
Using Synchroneyes with a Smartboard, which allows the teacher to view the screens of all handhelds or computers, we can connect to a projector and refresh the screen every few seconds so that all the kids can see all the screens of all their friends as they work. Collaborative visual learning. Great for maths puzzles or foreign language work. Using the interactivity of the board kids can then explain their work while also keeping that version on their handheld, and also sending it to their friends.

Handheld learning as presented by Dave makes a compelling case. I also like the way he's introduced more than just a PDA to us, to show that handheld learning can take place with many devices, but this point could have been drawn out a little bit more... Gaming devices, bog standard mobile phones (time to bite the bullet on this challenge?), iPods. That given, he's shown how the handheld with a feedreader installed can be used to turn the handheld into an integrated "online iPod".

I'm not convinced by Dave's extolling of the virtues of podcasting through handheld technology, since the creativity element here takes place on a desktop, a Mac at that - handheld technology is just too weak to support sufficiently complex audio or video creation, this complexity being the very thing that makes the kids tick.


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Half of written communication may be electronic, but how much of that still requires a keyboard? I recognise a number of the benefits of PDAs mentioned above, but using PDAs to input text? I'm not convinced!

A really interesting counterpoint, John. There seems to be a little lack of clarity perhaps about the whole role of using any electronic device to input text (the $2000 pen) while also recognising that much of the text written in the 'real world' is destined to be shared, by email, blog or website. It's the last point that we're not very good at in schools, where the average audience of student work is still... one.

I've always said that inputting text or graphics on any device, handheld or not, is a waste of time unless we are sharing it. I guess the ubiquitous nature of the handheld has the advantage that you don't have to wait until you get to an internet connection to compose and upload your thoughts.

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