Augmented reality and print-based materials

This week, the mobile tool we have been asked to write about it augmented reality (AR).  In a nutshell, AR  superimposes digital content – often rich, multimedia content – over a real-time environment.

But what if that environment is a static, existing piece of paper, not a (re)created book, not a location and not an ‘artifact’.  As a librarian, that is the question I ask: how can augmented reality software enhance the print material we already have in our collection.   There is a growing collection of literature and research on how augmented reality will ‘disrupt’ the publishing world and impact how future books will be structured and overlaid with AR content. Until this future becomes our reality, academic libraries have millions of books that could be enhanced and enriched.

Though my technical knowledge is limited, it appears the software is already available. A blog post in The Pixel Farm talks about using a new software app called Junaio that allows users to create an AR experience by using ‘natural feature recognition’: “natural feature recognition works by detecting pre-defined visible patterns within a space.  In terms of natural feature recognition, content creators can upload arbitrary patterns and “train” Junaio to recognize their own markers

So, what would happen if we put these markers in some of the key discipline texts already housed in a library?  The potential is to make any book an AR text.  Of course, potential doesn’t always mean practicality, but it’s an interesting concept.

In exploring the AR’ing of existing print-based materials, I found an interesting proof of concept paper written in 2010 by academic staff at The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand entitled: Enhancing learning for engineering trade learners: Augmented paper-based materials in course design .  Engineering is a logical discipline where adding 3D schematics and models to print-based descriptions and texts would allow an instant combination of research and manipulation, leading to enhanced learning.  Researchers inserted AR targets into print-based course materials that were delivered in a distance learning course.  The ‘problem’ the researchers were attempting to address is stated is:

One of the biggest problems facing distance education providers that offer engineering courses is the lack of contact learners have with physical artefacts such as tools and components, and the lack of experience they have of physical engineering processes. The assembly and disassembly of components in an engineering system can be better explained and demonstrated when the learner has access to a 3-D representation of the individual components and their positions in space.

The concept is incredibly interesting and I think while the results were inconclusive (for software and non-response reasons) on the first go-around, the idea was sound.

I think it would be a wonderful collaboration between academic libraries and the IT department to have students develop 3D models as part of their coursework to enhance existing core print-based material in libraries.  Using a mobile device, print material could quickly become AR enriched.  This would help out libraries whose budgets are already strained with the variety of formats and technology that need to be supported, and ultimately benefit students.

aha! Moment

I just had my aha! moment.  The time when all the coursework in the Mobile Learning in Education class came together and I thought “now I get it”.  It’s great to have these moments; it makes me excited about my profession and learning.   And the aha! moment came when I least expected it; while reading Chapter 12 “Using mobile technologies for multimedia tours in a traditional museum setting.”  in the 2009 book  Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training

There was so much about the article that I found interesting that I’ll have to note it in point form:

  • The best and most comprehensive definition of learning I’ve come across recently: Learning is a process of active engagement with experience.  It is what people do when they want to make sense of the world.  It may involve the development or deepening of skills, knowledge, understanding, awareness, values, ideas and feelings, or an increase in the capacity to reflect.  Effective learning leads to change, development and the desire to learn more. (Museums, Libraries, and Archives Council (MLA) of the UK, 2004)
  • The notion of ‘free-choice learning’ which is non-linear learning, personally motivated and as the phrase implies based on the individual’s choice of what to learn and when.  To me, this embodies my goal as an educator and parent – to encourage curiousity and a love of learning
  • How the four identified categories of engagement behaviour – browsers, followers, searchers and researchers – was used in such a meaningful way to inform the design of the mobile multimedia tour.  These four behaviours are also found in library users and our challenge has generally been how to develop space and services that can meet the unique delivery preferences of each group (aka how to provide differentiated learning with resources that are designed around general ‘models’). 
  • That mobile devices can facilitate the personal, physical and sociocultural dimensions of learning by the vary nature of the device – personal, mobile and networked.
  • How mobile devices can tell ‘different’ stories without requiring any changes to the physical space or physical layout.  This is also where mobile devices have such huge potential to impact how the library can make accessible information that is often contained, constrained and siloed  by its very format and the physical infrastructure required. 
  • The development of tours of learning geared to different levels – for the museum, it was a tour through their collection.  For educators (and librarians) it can be a tour through a subject matter, an experiment, a moment in history.
  • The need to preserve a ‘sense of place’ when designing mobile learning – making it contextual and related to something physical
  • And, finally, the technology.  All the ‘cool tools’ we studied in this course could be used in the design of a multimedia tour of learning – QR codes as markers linking rich information – apps, ebooks, websites, visuals, audio – located in the cloud.  Augmented reality layering rich content and interactivity through the journey.  Fun and engaging formative assessments (what the article calls ‘personal challenges’) to ensure deeper and lasting learning.
  • The functionality and portability of mobile technology is what truly makes it transformational. 

What I take away from this project at the museum is the potential interplay between the role of educator as facilitator of learning through selection of content and design of the learning experience, the individual learning journey of the student, and the continued support of the facilitator to ensure opportunities for additional or deeper learning are present. 

And all delivered through a rich, engaging experience using mobile technology.

Musings on a cloud……..

Our discovery tool last week was cloud computing and the impact and/or role this new information management structure may have on education and mLearning. 

Understanding cloud computing and how it impacts the way I work is easy for me on a personal level; explaining it not so much.  You see, in the library world, we are used to the majority of our digital content residing ‘out there’ – somewhere else.  Our biggest challenge over the last number of years is how to stream in our onsite print collection and digital resources – purchased or open access, print or visual or audio – into one seamless interface and discovery tool for our user (or student, or patron).  It takes a lot of work, a lot of software and a lot of integration.  So, we are used to thinking about information in the cloud, but in many clouds, not the ‘library cloud’.  And I think this is where the difference may lie in what cloud computing truly is, and how it can impact and benefit education and mobile learning.

Cloud computing centralizes the information, apps, software and other resources a school, or school board, or school district may use and makes them accessible to their target audience through any device, at any location and at any time.  Education resources are accessible for “just-in time” learning, “serendipitous discovery” learning, and “fillable time” learning (hmm….I’ll have to find some more of these descriptive mobile learning phrases).  They can be device agnostic, depending on the policy of the school system, so available to all learners and teachers, regardless of the mobile phone or tablet or PC they happen to have. 

And centralizing this information ‘out there’ can open up the world of best practice learning to students from schools that do not have the infrastructure to support an in-house IT department or manage all that software (and hardware).  This is incredibly important for education in the developing world.  Neelam Dhawan,the Managing Director of HP India, has high hopes for cloud computing to help combat illiteracy and low levels of education. In a recent article, she is quoted as saying: 

“Take CBSE, you can have the courseware and the books on the cloud. You could have an NCERT cloud or an ICSE cloud. Students can download the courseware from wherever they are. We can have videos of the best teachers teaching the courses on the cloud. And any school can simply view these videos.”

She says if students need books, they can simply print it from the cloud. With cloud, everybody will have to pay far less, since it is shared by millions of students. “These experiments have to work; otherwise we will never get a society that has uniform access to education.” 

Another great idea and application of cloud computing to extend mobile learning in the developing world  The project is an initiative of some members of the Forum of Young Global Leaders and its mission “…is to empower “The Bottom Billion” youth through universally accessible, demand-driven and market-oriented educational mobile applications by synergizing an open source technology platform with a cooperative ecosystem of education and health content providers, academic institutions, developers, telecom operators, sponsors and end-users.”

The project will be building an open-source, cloud based system to host the uploaded apps.   While I am not a tech person, I can appreciate what technology can do and how it can change the way we learn and interact with information (and knowledge).  Initiatives like these are exciting for they give us a sense that we can, using mobile learning and emerging technologies, truly make a difference, expand access to education and do it in a sustainable way.

I’ll be checking back on to see how they are progressing and read about their experiences.  It will be an interesting story to follow.

Reflections on writing my mobile learning advocacy paper

As part of the course in Mobile Learning in Education (College of Education, Graduate Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign), we were tasked with writing an advocacy paper for the use of mobile devices in education.  How we narrowed our topic was up to us and the possible learning areas we could write about quite broad.  In short, a perfect assignment.  The proviso was that it was to be short and presented in a format that could be viewed on a mobile device.  This was where I got ‘stuck’.

The topic of my advocacy paper is how mLearning can be used in conflict zones to deliver english-languge education.  The country of focus was Afghanistan and the agency that I was ‘pitching’ the project to the Aga Khan Development Network/Aga Khan Education Services (AKES).  A link to the paper is here:

Eventually deciding on this topic was like taking a road trip without a map; each new article, or blog post, or conference presentation I wrote took me in a new direction.  I knew I wanted to write about mLearning in international development (see my previous post), and I have always admired the work of the Aga Khan Foundation (working at their new Global Centre for Pluralism would be considered my ‘dream job’) but there was so much possibility.  In every education initiative I read, I could see how mLearning could enhance the project.  Eventually, I came upon a small paragraph on AKES’s work in Afghanistan and I knew that was my topic – learning in conflict zones.

There is not a lot of freely accessible information on the use of mLearning in conflict zones, but there was ample material on mLearning in development that could provide connections and a bridge. Time, as always, was the biggest impediment to producing something deep and thoughtful.  And most of my time was deliberating on how exactly should I structure this advocacy paper taking into consideration the ‘audience’ and the provision that the paper needed to be able to be read on a mobile device.

From our earlier learning, the presentation of content is very different for mobile lessons.  Visuals, short segments, and engaging presentation is important for mobile delivery.  Heavy text-dominated papers are not. 

But who the audience is, and what the ultimate outcomes are have to take priority.  I can be flashy, but if my audience wants me to cut to the chase, prove my case with background, proven research, statistics, a complicated or comprehensive plan etc., then text is the best way to go.  In my (limited) experience, this is how non-profits operate.  Prove it in 35 pages and we’ll consider it :-) 

Eventually, I decided to use a blog format that would mimic to the best of my technological abilities (which I learned are very small) a short print proposal.  To keep it mobile friendly, each page contained only short, general information with some links providing additional content. 

Maybe I’m still too traditional, but I feel that I short-changed depth and meaningful content for the delivery format.  Maybe not…..  In any event, this is something that I’m going to mull over in the remaining weeks of the course.  I am sure that as I learn more about developing mobile learning applications, the marriage between content and delivery will become more clearer and more comfortable.

I’m looking forward to it!

mLearning and International Development

This past week we have been looking at how mobile devices are being used to deliver education in what is commonly called ‘developing’ countries.  This is the area that first moved me to take a course on mobile learning; to understand how technologies can empower and build capacity for the world’s poorest citizens, primarily women and children, in a meaningful, lasting, and culturally appropriate way.

According to the Millenium Development Goals 2011 report, in 2005 1.4 billion people lived on under $1.25USD a day.  That figure includes 51% of the population in Sub-Suharan Africa and 39% of Southern Asia.  The numbers are shrinking – between 1990 and 2005 the poverty rate dropped from 46% to 27% – but this is primarily due to China and India developing into economic powerhouses.  What the figure does not tell is to what degree the poor are getting poorer, the income gap widening and access to services such as education disappearing for some populations.  The report notes that:

Being female, poor and living in a country affected by conflict are three of the most pervasive factors keeping children out of school. Of the total number of primary-age children in the world who are not enrolled in school, 42 per cent—28 million—live in poor countries affected by conflict.

Reporting on youth literacy, the report reads:

Nearly 90 per cent of all illiterate youth live in just two regions: Southern
Asia (65 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (47 million).

These are the same regions that report the highest poverty levels.  Education can help give this population a different and empowered life.  Mobile devices may offer the best hope of reaching the hardest to reach. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there were 3.965 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the developing world in 2010.  That is 70 out of 100 households have a mobile phone.  In Africa, the figure is 45.2/100 households, or 360 million subscriptions.  Low compared to other regions, but that is 360 million people, plus their neighbours and family members, that use mobiles, compared to only 10.8/100 households who have access to the Internet.

The mLearning stories and projects highlighted in GSMA’s report mLearning; A Platform for Educational Opportunities at the Base of the Pyramid are truly inspiring and give hope for the use of mobile devices, specifically low end mobile phones, in providing educational opportunities in the developing world. The BBC World Service Trust’s english lessons by voice and SMS in Banglandesh received 3 million calls in 9 months. Mobilink’s SMS for Literacy project for young women in Pakistan has been extended with the partnership of UNESCO.

What impresses me the most when reading about these initiatives is how ‘simple’ the delivery of educational opportunities is for the end user.  Mobile phones are tools, not gadgets and not toys.  For over 4 billion people in this world, mobile devices are lifelines.

And these relatively low-end delivery methods prove that in designing learning for mobile phones, contextual, relevent content delivered in a technologically appropriate way is what matters more than the bells and whistles.

Let’s hope Queen Rania’s closing remarks in her introduction to GSMA’s report continue to ring true; that mobile devices can provide “a teacher in their pocket, a classroom in their hand.”

OLPC and the construction of identity

I remember reading about the $100 laptop back in about 2006 and immediately thinking this might be a good alternative for cash-strapped public libraries to provide computer access to its public.  Public libraries always saw themselves as playing a role (and successfully in my opinion) of helping to bridge the ‘digital divide’.   The idea was short-lived as early press suggested that the laptops were only going to be distributed to poor children living in ‘underdeveloped’ countries. But the fascination with the laptop remained.  Then OLPC came out with the Give 1 Get 1 program in 2007 which gave us North Americans a chance to try it out.  I gave my then 6 year-old daughter the laptop as a gift.  Within 5 minutes of taking it out of the box, she had it turned on and was exploring the applications.  The literacy games along with the visual and audio functions became her favourites.  But, in our Windows household, her interest was short-lived and the mesh community of users non-existent in our city.  Then we had problems with the operating system that was beyond my knowledge to correct (even after scouring the multitude of OLPC community groups). 

Our interest in the technology waned over time and, combined with the business politics and pressures OLPC was facing from dominant players in the computer industry (Intel, Microsoft….), it just dropped off our radar as another good idea lost in development politics and the prevailing neo-liberal market strategy. If anything, I had to thank OLPC for revolutionizing the laptop by being the precursor to netbooks which I have used as my primary computer for going on 2 years now.  

Then I enrolled in a course on Mobile Learning in Education through my Global Studies in Education degree program at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaigne.  Coupled with the course Global Issues in Learning, I had the foundation knowledge to understand a student paper entitled “A post-structuralist analysis of One Laptop PerChild’s impact on the subjectivities of third worldcommunities” .  It came together for me reading that paper and now I see how revolutionary the XO laptop really was, and could have been (will still be?) for education and empowerment in the developing world.

And the reason is simple.  It is not the hardware, though durability and low-power are necessary for sustainability, especially in harsh climates and terrain.  It is not the saturation of the technology in the community – that every child must have one.  That provides some guarantee of inclusiveness and non-discrimination, but research has shown that for mobile phones at least, they are often shared within and between families.  It is not the focus on early education, though capturing the natural curiousity of children is an important feature of the XO laptop.  It is that it gives the children in developing countries choice to determine who they are and shape their own reality; it gives them power.  To quote from one line in the paper: power allows individuals to create their “…own regime of truth through which she can construct her own identity.”

The construction of identity is made possible by connections to others, through the Internet or through the local mesh network.  It is supported by constructivist learning, of which the OLPC education theory is based on.  And what is most ‘disruptive’ of the XO laptop is that it uses open-source software that, ideally, allows the user to create their own technology ‘universe’.  Control is given to the child.

Benjamin Mako Hill makes the argument for constructivist learning and free, open-source software beautifully in his essay post One Laptop Per Child Liberation.  He writes:

Constructionism and free software, implemented and taught in a classroom, offer a profound potential for exploration, creation, and learning. If you don’t like something, change it. If something doesn’t work right, fix it. Free software and constructionism put learners in charge of their educational environment in the most explicit and important way possible. They create a culture of empowerment. Creation, collaboration, and critical engagement becomes the norm.

 We can help foster a world where technology is under the control of its users, and where learning is under the terms of its students — a world where every laptop owner has freedom through control over the technology they use to communicate, collaborate, create, and learn.

Education plays such an important in the construction of identity, the ability to shape own’s life, and take control of own’s reality.  Technology is becoming so widespread that it can play an important role in the empowerment of the individual.  This is where the OLPC project could have making a big difference, and not just in developing countries, but in the developed world as well.