Waraku Education

Ideas, experiments and observations as they occur [and I have time] relating to teaching and learning in a secondary school - special focus on ICT.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Scratch, mobile phones and Podmo

South Oz E-learning: Explore the potential

Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.

Scratch is designed to enhance the technological fluency of young people, helping them learn to express themselves creatively with new technologies. As they create Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, and they gain a deeper understanding of the process of design.

I downloaded it and had a quick play. Certainly has potential. Putting this into the context of my recent posts, I wonder what this would look like if the playing could happen on mobile phones and the sharing via the Podmo network?

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Garry’s Rambles » Mobile learning or learning in a mobile age?

Garry’s Rambles » Mobile learning or learning in a mobile age?
This has led me to the Kaleidoscope site and that has led me to a project mGBL – mobile Game-Based Learning

The result of this project is a software platform which enables the cost effective development of learning games on mobile phones. Different ways to connect the real with the virtual world are implemented e.g. graphical codes on buildings which can be read by camera phones. These games can be used stand-alone but also as support for traditional classroom-based learning processes.
The mobile phone is the portable device that students will use to connect to elements of the real and virtual worlds and to the game machine.

I wonder if the Podmo development might link in with this. Certainly the Deb Polson work does.

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Sun Mobile Phone Emulator

In 'The kids meet PODMO' post I noted that I needed to find out about the Sun Mobile Phone Emulator so that students can test their artifacts without having to have a mobile phone and bluetooth. The Emulator provided to be a bit hard to find but I think I have it.

I reckon we need the Sun 'J2ME Wireless Toolkit 2.2' and the update

I have installed this. The actual toolkit involved a simple 'spouse mode' installation. The update involved checking out the readme in the update zip file. There are 4 or 5 files in there that have to be manually copied into the stated folders where the toolkit is installed.

From the start menu run the 'KToolbar' program. This vanilla installation already contains the Mobile Media API which I think might be required to do this testing with students.

Now I need to work out
  • where to put the media that the students create
  • how to access it from the emulator
I will ask the PODMO people about this.

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Deb Polson workshop/masterclass

Last Wednesday I was part of two events led by Deb Polson
  1. Mobile Learning: Student Workshop
  2. Deb Polson – Masterclass (Mobile Learning: Designing Learning Experiences for the Natural Born Cyborg!)

Game Genres
Deb talked about game genre’s which led me to find a resource that might document these. The best that I could come across was
Unfortunately this article only focuses on video games and did not include the situational games that Deb was describing to us.

Scoot world
Scoot world, is where a number of games are hosted that require groups to navigate around an environment eg.
Explore some great Melbourne locations while on a secret SMS mission as an Agent of Scoot!
This is talking about a game made to play in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

Cipher cities
Cipher cities is like Scoot World but it is a tool where people can be the ‘dungeon master’ as Deb so nicely labelled it. It is a place where people can make our environment into a game, comment on games, rate the games and develop and online profile. Cipher Cities has not been launched yet.

Cipher Cities is a toolkit for participants (in this case, students, parents and teachers) to build creative social networks by creating and distributing dynamic mobile content to groups of people via simple web interfaces. The product provides them with simple web interfaces that give them easy access to a custom application and a dynamic database. These interfaces support users in the creation of either simple mobile narratives or complex location-based games.

Deb talked about Cipher Cities leading to the development of a version specifically for the education sector. Mobile Informal Learning Kit – MILK. One of the discoveries that she talked about was that the HOTS were achieved through the students designing and creating the games (being the Dungeon Masters) not the teachers.

This was supported from my experience with the workshop that we had with students in the morning. It was interesting to reflect on the role of the teacher while creating one of these situational games.

For the students and teachers involved, this was the first time that we had created a game using this technology and we had a very short time frame to achieve it. (Grant High School’s team report of this event) So getting any game happening so that the language of the clues and so on was precise enough for another group to play it was an achievement. I have no doubt that students left to it would achieve this without the teacher but I think that there is a strong case for teachers to interfere without taking over. The teacher
  • brings a lot of knowledge about lots of different things. This can be important to challenge students to develop a higher level thinking solution. A teacher might be able to see trends and themes in an environment that students may not be able to because of their life experiences.
  • brings questioning skills. These questions were important to overcome paralysis – making a decision about where to go next for a clue, thinking about trends and themes in the environment, etc.
  • can support the students to work as a team and become productive more rapidly. The student group had not worked as a group previously. Part of the teacher’s role here was to ensure that all of the team members were included. Directing some of the decision making initially helped to move them along. Withdrawing later was possible once some momentum was achieved.
  • knows when to withdraw because they can see that the ball is rolling now. There is the chance the ball will roll off course but maintaining some checks from a distance can achieve this.
  • is important for ensuring that all students were participating and getting benefit from the experience. This participation might mean that all students get to be heard but could also mean that we ensure that there are experiences in the game that involved a range of senses other than sight.

Some of the issues of this game for schools
  • Cost and access to mobile phones
    • Get SIM cards that only allow SMS (not calls) for students to put into their phones. This requires student phones that are not locked to a particular telco.
    • Ask parents to donate old phones
    • There was some talk about being able to purchase SIM cards for $2 and then just pay for credits. I went down to our local Allphones dealer yesterday and they did not know of such an arrangement. He has taken my details to investigate further. The other issue that rural people in particular may face is that we might find that the telco that can provide such an arrangement does not have the coverage to be functional
  • History has been a subject that has struggled of late with student numbers but this subject might be able to provide an excellent context for these sorts of games
  • These situational games could provide opportunities for strangers to interact. Deb cited a situation where game players were required to enter a certain area and on return to document a conversation that they had with a person from that zone.
  • As this becomes more sophisticated in our heads we will deploy the fact that mobile devices allow us to document or be creative at the time and place that you think of it

Flash animation of building development
This was a simulated environment that reminded me of the Lemonade Stand game. It also reminded me of Sim City. Games and simulations that the teacher or others have made provide an excellent tool for facilitating the conversations that are so important in the educational processes. There is certainly a place for these things. Deb stressed that these things support the learning process and should not be considered as the sole teaching tool.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

The kids meet PODMO

I took three students with me to Adelaide to check out mobile technologies including Podmo. My thanks to the DECS Learning Technologies people, especially Paul and Karen, for their support and assistance. The information that I got about Podmo is a bit jumbled.

We met Holly and some of the key words that I recorded don’t make sense when I try and use Google to help to get to the bottom of them. ‘Champagne of the ladies’, pixel play and pixel art. That’s fine because I will be bumping into Holly again in a couple of weeks when she comes here to run a workshop with a bunch of year 9 and 10 students re making multimedia artefacts for mobile devices.

Karen wore a Podmo T-shirt. She gave us some good hints regarding multimedia design constraints for mobile phones. Some of the key points were

  • - Screen sizes will increase over time

  • - Wallpapers and screen savers

  • - 72dpi for images

  • - 3:4 image ratio although some phone screens re square

  • - the Podmo server resizes images on the fly based upon the phone type it is serving – nice

  • - The GIMP was recommended as a good program for manipulating images for the mobile medium

  • - screen savers need to be a 3-5 frame animated gif

  • - videos need to be 30sec-1minute in duration - short attention span

  • - longer video stories need to be broken down into short episodes

  • - videos need to be in 3gp file format

  • - SUPER © was recommended as good free program for converting movies to 3gp

  • - There are different video encoding settings and basically it is a process of experimentation to come up with the best settings for each video artefact. Key frame rates should be about 10-15. Bit rates make a difference to file size but basically the greater the bit rate the better the product looks. Some video does not compress well and is a result of too much colour data and too much movement in the frames.

  • - Data transfer via Podmo is free so file size is really only an issue for storage on the phone.

  • - Mp3 is supported for most phone ring tones

Che talked mainly about game design for mobile phones. Some of the points I noted were
Java is the programming language and the development of these games sounded complex.

  • - Have graphics based on 100 x 100 pixels and then to vary the size of the background to suit the phones screen

  • - We saw some sprite strips and I understood better how they were used. The key thing about a sprite strip is to base them a consistent grid size.

  • - Given the smallish storage on phone devices, programming needed to be like it was in the Vic20 and C64 days – very memory conservative. Now that I can remember with great clarity

  • - Use index colours – keep colours used to the 32 colours

  • - Images need to be in png8 file format (I assume that PNG8 means 8 bits per pixel or a bit depth of 8 pixels)

  • - Do not use semi transparent pixels as many phones do not support them

  • - PNG crush can be used to compress images

  • - Paint and Fireworks are two of many possible tools that can be used to create images and sprites but turn anti-aliasing off

  • - Photoshop adds to much to the size of the images for this application

An important resource for validating artefacts created for mobile phones is Sun’s mobile phone emulator for PC. I need to find this. Efforts so far have been in vain.

A recommended site for checking out and comparing phone features http://www.gsmarena.com/

I also need to keep an eye out for the Podmo developers pack

I was encouraged by the fact that all presenters referred to their extensive use of FOSS and this included the GIMP. Teachers in the graphics area seem to be fixated on proprietary software usually citing ‘industry standards’ as one of the key reasons. I felt that a hacker mindset enabled the Podmo people to be very creative because they were comfortable with picking up different tools and using them in sometimes usual ways and combinations. Relating to this, today I was alerted to the release of Ubuntu Studio next month.

Ubuntu Studio. A multimedia creation derivative of Ubuntu. Ubuntu Studio is aimed at the linux audio, video and graphic enthusiast as well as professional.

The Podmo people gave me the impression of wanting to ensure a fair go for all parties involved. Where artists want to sell their artefacts via the Podmo network they will receive a huge 50% of the takings. It is good that they want to build respect and a fair go for artists into their business model.

We have some bluetooth dongles and the Podmo server software coming soon so we will be able to have a play. I am going to find out if the Podmo mob will sell me a XL Podmo T-shirt.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Electronic Publishing

I like the way that Cory Doctorow in the article "You do like reading off a computer screen" puts this arguement in context. So many times I hear people saying that they can't stand reading from computer screens and yet they do lots of it like someone shovelling "Mars Bars into his gob while telling you how much he hates chocolate".

It is smart to talk about the current technology of the time for publishing print and music and then to discuss how it impacted on the products produced. Did they make novels in the days of papyrus?

It puts it all into perspective.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

FOSS in South Australian Public Schools CD

A very interesting and promising project is unfolding in South Australia. It is a grass roots innovation that has achieved a lot in the last week. A group of educators and technical support people in South Australian schools are collaborating to produce a FOSS CD specifically for use in South Australian public schools. Well it is not quite a true FOSS CD as there are programs being considered that are closed source but free.

The collaboration is happening via the technical talk list and wiki . CD iso's are starting to appear for sharing and various people are working on ways to make the customisation of a CD possible for schools that struggle with skilled technical support. Consideration is being given to a core group of programs and then making it possible for schools to choose from some elective options.

I am wondering how central office will work with this. Will it be supported by them? Will they encourage this software to also be installed on all computers in schools?