Thursday, February 12, 2009

M&Ms Learning

A couple of days ago my sister-in-law sent me email about KenKen, a math puzzle game modeled after Sudoku. This NY Times piece is a good read on it (with a link to the site), particularly on the teaching approach embedded in KenKen - teaching without teaching. The students learn by working the puzzles, first simple four by by puzzles, then more complex puzzles as they improve. I've played it a lot the last couple of days, getting as good as an eight by eight puzzle. The nine by nine seemed overwhelming. I don't know if most kids would get hooked on something like this. But if they did, they'd learn a lot - about logic, algebra and factoring numbers. For the student who does get hooked, it's all very sweet, learning without studying, getting smart through play.

The design is extremely clever. I wonder if we could come up with this sort of thing in other domains, economics for example.

A few days ago I got a Blackberry Storm. I was thinking of getting an iPhone, but the rest of the family has Verizon as the provider so the incremental cost was just too great. I probably shouldn't admit this, but I've always hated cellphones and PDAs, though I've had a variety of them over time. Hearing on the connection, reading the screen, manipulating the buttons, all have been issues for me over time. The Storm is a step up. I could get to like it. The audio, both for listening and speaking (it has a voice annotation function) is very good. The navigation is fairly intuitive. The camera is excellent; it produces very high quality images. Reading email on it is quite good, very good clarity of the font and the scrolling is smooth. The touch screen typing in landscape mode - I've seen reviews where others have raved about it - is ok for me. It is still clunky and occassionally I put too much pressure on the screen, but I feel less of a ditz doing that than I did with my old Treo, tapping at it with my stylus and squinting to make sure I was getting the right letter.

So, I began to think of the Storm as a portable learning device, m-learning seems to be the craze so how would it work? Imagining myself as a student, would I be ok with it instead of a laptop? For me the jury is out. It's a more likely substitute in the field than in the classroom. I downloaded several of Google's mobile applications. Synching the Calendar and Maps worked fine but YouTube wouldn't play the videos. I tried listening to Public Radio online. The Storm does not have RealPlayer but it has Windows Media Player installed, however it didn't seem able to connect. (There are Internet Radio Stations that do play on the Storm, but of course if you want particular programming that may not solve the issue.) Perhaps these problems are temporary and I'll figure them out. The browser seems to work well but some of the Javascript stuff on Web pages doesn't show up at all. I couldn't play KenKen on the Storm. Bummer. I'm wondering whether unless everything goes xml if using a portable device means there has to be translation services or you miss out on the content.

At this point I have lots of portable devices: a Kindle, iPod, Tablet PC, and the Storm, for recreation as much as for work. Each either does a unique function or does its function so much better than the alternative that so far I wouldn't give any of them up in the name of convergence. There is, of course, also the matter of cost - of the device, of connectivity, and of content. The connectivity part is the one I least understand in terms of relating what we pay for wireless broadband versus the cost to the providers. If this is to truly become a learning instrument, the connection charges for the student have to come way down.

My sense is that m-learning is like candy. The idea is appealing, but it's still short of a real meal. At least now as compared to a few years ago, it melts in your mouth, not in your hands.


Jupe said...

Think you should have bought an iPhone. You can unlock them to run on other carrier networks. The only way m-learning can be implemented on these devices is through video (youtube style) or via games. Browsing the Internet is painful - so typical e-learning modules and technologies like Sakai are out - unless of course they are modified to work more like social networking apps (like facebook mobile).

Lanny Arvan said...

Browsing as reading it does quite well. Browsing to do something interactive, even to simply follow a link, is clunky, you have to make the view larger and then you see only a portion of the page.

Let me give a different perspective. Since there is an increasing amount of content put out in the xml that works well in this form factor. For quick info --- scores in a basketball game, that sort of thing --- it is really good. For reading magazine articles, you can't keep the flow because of the need to refresh so frequently with each taking some time. The kindle, in contrast downloads the content ahead of the use. That, I believe, is the issue.