The value of Android

Powered By Android

As I read about the low cost tablets popping up in India like the $140 Classmate and the $45 Akash, I can’t help but wonder, would these low cost tablets exist if it were not for Google and their open source Android operating system?

It once again points to the importance that open source software plays in driving innovation. If Google had decided to create a proprietary operating system available only to an elite group of manufacturers with hefty licensing fees, would we see these kinds of inexpensive products appearing? Would we be seeing the kind of uptake of mobile devices that we are seeing right now?

Sure, you can argue that these tablets are nothing but cheap riffs on a truly innovative product (the much more expensive iPad), and you wouldn’t find me necessarily disagreeing: the iPad was a truly innovative product that created a whole new segment of products. But it is one thing to create an innovative product, and quite another to create an innovative environment that enables more innovation, especially innovation that lowers the cost barrier and allows technology to move from the elite to the common.

More is different. And by providing us with an open source platform to build on, Google has helped ensure that we will see what this different will look like.

Image: Powered by Android by JD Hancock used under Creative Commons Attribution license.


Moodle 2.2 – now with more mobile goodness

Moodle 2.2 has been released, and along with some new features (like rubrics and some tools to make getting content and tools into Moodle from other systems easier) comes an improvement to the Moodle mobile app.

When I last looked at the Moodle mobile app a few months back, it was still pretty slim in terms of functionality, which was fine. It was a first generation mobile app so I didn’t expect killer functionality out of the box. And I deeply respected the fact that, out of all the functionality they could have delivered in that first crack, they decided that it was important to give students the ability to upload media captured on their mobile devices to their courses – a signal (to me at least) that they were looking at mobile devices through a disruptive lens.

Moodle 2.2 mobile app

The 2.2 release adds another piece to that mobile app, now giving learners the ability to download course content from the course to their mobile device. I have to say, not quite as pumped about this feature as I was about the upload feature in the first go round, but I get that for many students content is the key – it’s what they come for.

One thing is for certain with this new feature – we are going to have to be ever more vigilant on issues like optimized file size and correct web formats for content as we develop our courses. We do have a fairly stringent technical quality checks for our courses, but stuff does get through.

For example, today I had to deal with a course that wasn’t backing up and restoring properly. The culprit? 2 PowerPoint presentations; 1 was 54 meg the other a whooping 102 meg. Pity the poor student in that class who decided to download that content on their mobile device. That’s 20% of my monthly data right there in those 2 files.

Anyway, not Moodle’s problem. In fact, in this feature they have given me a tool and another reason to enforce standard file formats and optimized file sizes, so I am grateful for it, and for the continued development of the mobile application. And realistically, we won’t have to worry about this for at least a year or so as we are still in the process of migrating to 2.1 from 1.9 and have decided to continue on the 2.1 path and not go straight to 2.2 when we release next year.

You can read the official release notification in the Moodle forums.


Official Moodle iPhone app released

Just saw a post in the Moodle forums that the first official Moodle mobile app was released earlier this month by Moodle HQ.

What I love about this app (and this is actually more what I love about the attitude of the development team creating this app) is that, of all the functionality they could have put into the first version of the app, what they decided to focus on was giving learners the ability to upload content captured from their mobile device to Moodle.

In other words, they have placed a high value on the ability of mobile devices as content creation devices.

From a pedagogical perspective, this is a much more interesting mobile application than one in which a leaner would be able to, say, access their grades. Not that seeing grades isn’t important (and they can still do that with this app as it provides access to a web version of your Moodle site for features not native to the app), but mobile apps can be so much more than simply provide quick access to information.

The decision of the development team to include an upload function so early into the app’s development says to me that these developers see that; that mobile learning is much more than letting learners access content. Right off the bat with the version 1 release, the Moodle mobile app puts a powerful pedagogical tool into the hands of educators, and gives the opportunity for learners to become mobile content creators.

The mobile apps will only work with Moodle 2.1+. For us at Royal Roads, this is one of the driving factors for us to upgrade to 2.1. However, using the mobile application is still a ways off as we are currently in the middle of a fairly lengthy migration project from 1.9 to 2.1, and are just about to begin involving other stakeholders outside of CTET and IT Services.  If you are from RRU and are reading this, we will be showing a really “alpha”, completely under heavy construction version of 2.1 at the CTET Open House on October 19th and gathering faculty & staff feedback.

As outlined in the Moodle mobile roadmap for some time now, Moodle has decided to create device specific applications, and the first app they have created is an iPhone app, available for download in the iTunes store. Android and iPad are up next.


MIT Launches New Center for Mobile Learning

MIT has received some funding from Google Education to launch a new mobile learning centre focusing on “the design and study of new mobile technologies and applications, enabling people to learn anywhere anytime with anyone”. Not surprising since it is being funded by Google that Android looks like the platform the center will be concentrating on, at least initially.

While I am breathless to see what kind of mobile apps will come out of the center, I am equally excited that the center will be focusing on developing and improving App Inventor for Android.

The Center’s first activity will focus on App Inventor for Android, a programming system that makes it easy for learners to create mobile apps for Android smart phones by visually fitting together puzzle piece-shaped “programming blocks” in a web browser.

App Inventor was in a bit of a limbo after Google announced it was shutting down Google Labs, and by having the lab take over the development ensures that the platform will live on, at least awhile longer. And by focusing on App Inventor, the center will continue to develop a tool that empowers learners to create their own mobile learning apps. While a good mobile learning app developed at an MIT lab is a very good thing, there is something even better about developing a simple platform and ecosystem that allows people to create and share their own mobile learning apps.


QR Codes

I’ve been messing around with creating QR codes (PDF). We’ve been talking mobile lately at work and brainstorming different strategies we can start using quickly to get people thinking mobile, while providing some useful services to the students & faculty we serve. So, I wanted to see just how difficult it was to create a useful QR code. Turns out, not difficult at all.

A little searching found a number of sites to create QR codes. After trying a few, I stumbled upon the QR Code and 2D Code Generator by Keram Erkan that generates a huge variety of QR codes, including codes that will create links to a variety of websites, send emails, and even automatically hook your mobile device to a wifi network (how useful/popular would that be for students on campus?)

So, here is my first QR code, created in about 30 seconds. I’d appreciate it if you have a mobile device to give it a try and let me know if it works (I’ve tested on my Android powered HTC Magic running Barcode Scanner). This QR should take you to my About page.

About Me QR Code