Cinderella Experts

This has been a comparatively busy week. A weeks of highs and lows.

The low was at a college I visited, where they’d spent £900+ on some software that came on a WinMob device (x 10 units = circa £10,000) but hadn’t been able to deploy the tools yet, despite having had two lots of training. Summer curtailed the first effort and an OfSTED visit curtailed the second. All is set up now to begin deploying straight after half term, fingers crossed.

The software allows a teacher to set up a graphical interface which learners can then follow – ideal for some autistics and those needing reminders of and instructions for various tasks. I can’t name the software, that would be unfair, but the tutor involved was gutted when I showed her what we could do now with an iPod Touch (current version or previous).

I showed her iConverse, which is a tool designed for young children and learners with communicative disabilities and toddler-aged children who have yet to master language. £5.99 on iTunes. She saw that it could pretty much do the job needed and with iPod Touches running at less than £200 they could have had five times as many units to play with – and with hardly any training required. The same devices could also have run the SpeakIt App which allows words to be typed in to it (or cut and pasted in) to be read out aloud. £1.99. And then of course there are all the useful FREE Apps that would make the purchase worthwhile. But now they know. Now YOU know.

I also attended the JISC e-Ped Experts meeting in Birmingham on Wednesday.

I’ve not been able to attend any of these periodic meetings for a while now, but the current scarcity of work allowed me to attend this week’s. And although I have nothing to do with any of the projects which were being reported on I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The people I met made the day for me – networking is one of the real benefits of get togethers like this.

These JISC led ‘experts’ meetings have always been good, a great chance to share information and to comment on the work of others but there was a time when I felt I was attending a dinner to which I’d not been invited. Not much has changed I’m afraid. None of JISC’s project money has gone to F.E. in England for quite a number of years now – through no fault of those working in F.E, just some political machinations. Actually, I mislead my readers as some money has gone to F.E: if they teach H.E. to more than 400 FTEs and if those 400 directly benefit, there has been the chance of funding. Still, there has been no real financial imperative to foment innovation and its spread across F.E.

That sounds like sour grapes, and I suppose it is, but as I sat and listened to some interesting and exciting new initiatives (we did have a little debate on Twitter about what ‘innovation’ was, so I’ll avoid that word if I can) but all of them were from H.E. and yet all of them had been done and are still being done in F.E. Sadly there’s no platform to shout out about these successes. Very often the tutor doing that inventive work is doing so in a silo and getting little if any support from the institution itself (even less now that there will be 25% cuts across the board). Why doesn’t Sandra get the chance to show what she’s doing with Nintendos, or Gill what she’s doing with PSPs? Why has Paul’s use of memory cards gone unsung? Jonathan’s great work with GPS and special needs learners? Is it that their work isn’t well regarded or is it just because they don’t have a platform to shout from any more?

Hopefully, the drive to be more efficient across public sectors will help funders to realise that F.E. cannot be left out in the cold like this, there is too much for everyone else (especially in H.E.) to lose by not taking note of the ‘innovations’ which are being trialled and then discarded or embedded in a whole variety of sub-H.E. subject areas.

It was great to see many old friends in Birmingham; the old Ferl team seemed to be there in force – in different guises these days, but there nevertheless. Many friends from the various RSCs too, I renewed my acquaintance with Paul Richardson, with Shri, with Cam and although no longer with RSC, with Helen. It was great to hear Ron talking about Xerte again, I learn something new from him every time he speaks. I’d like to have had more time to speak with Geoff Rebbeck, we keep seeing each other but saying nothing more than hello. And finally, it was sad that Sarah Knight couldn’t make it to the meeting, I’d so looked forward to seeing her again. Sarah is the backbone of all these meetings and the person who holds it all together.

I hope you’re feeling much better now Sarah xx.

iPad

Two very generous friends bought me a 32gb WiFi/3G iPad recently. I have thanked them personally for their generosity, but don’t feel it appropriate to name them here. You know who you are – thank you.

I had originally decided to wait for the next iteration of the iPad as I’m not a great follower of hype. However, the iPad did appeal to me in many ways: First of all, it seemed to be the fulfillment of everything I’d hoped for when the Asus ‘eee’ was first seen in Autumn of 2007. I’d wanted something small and manageable that I could work on whilst travelling. However, the ‘eee’ failed on a number of points – too fiddly keyboard, too small a screen (I can’t have it always, I know), crap battery life and a strange operating system (mine was linux). What’s more, my power pack failed fairly quickly too so my ‘eee’ has been redundant for a couple of years now.

I then tried the iPod Touch. Never mind the screen size (I know that I’m contradicting myself, but read on), actually working on it was ‘sort of’ ok. I couldn’t be too adventurous; it wasn’t a fully equipped laptop after all – and (unlike the ‘eee’) never tried to be. But the Internet, via WiFi was ok and I was at least able to communicate, make notes and access ‘stuff’ (and Apps etc.). I found the onscreen keyboard to my liking, so it worked for me.

Then came my love of the iPhone. My original comparison with the iTouch wasn’t good but with the advent of the 3Gs, it became a tool of choice. Because I’d mastered the onscreen keyboard earlier, there were no teething troubles either and the 24/7 (ish) access via 3G and/or WiFi made it a must have tool.

Now, before I go on, I have to say that much of this ‘Apple worship’ started in June 2009 when I got my first (there you go – I must be having another at some time) MacBook Pro. THAT is my first tool of choice. THAT is what I do real work on. But THAT struggles with the Vodafone 3G stick that I have (I blame Vodafone) – I still need something that keeps me in touch with the world when I’m travelling.

So – the iPad looked like it might be the tool I needed.

Part of me thought that it was a product that was rushed to market. Some things didn’t seem to add up. Anyway, my first touch was at Ashton Sixth Form College just before they launched their MoLeNET Academy. First thoughts: a bit heavy? A bit slippy? Brilliant graphics? Perfect size (this was what I’d hoped for – something with a reasonable screen) and – very Apple(y). Touch screen (yes please); finger scroll, two finger zoom, longish battery life etc. in fact everything I’d hoped for. But – (now I’m back to the iTouch negatives) no camera. This is a product that cries out for a camera. Open call to Apple – put a damn camera into iTouch and iPad – please.

Now, because I didn’t want to ruin the iPad before I started, I had to wait until I got the various covers and condoms required to protect it. Just why screen protectors are not supplied with the product I have no idea. But I bought one and had Sharon fit it (because [apparently] I am a fat fingered oaf!) I also bought a rubber condom to cover the slippery back surface, but have now discarded this because it was no less slippery. This is a fault. I know it’s cool and groovy (etc) but unless you have a tight grip it could easily fall on the floor (and break?). Older people, those with poor motability etc, may just find the product unusable. I replaced the condom with a leatherette pocket from Amazon:  and this was a much better choice although it does increase the bulk slightly. http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41eceW9bm2L._SL500_AA300_.jpg

So on Saturday last, I began my journey of iPad exploration.

It still feels a little heavy, but reassuringly so. It’s not that easy to just hold and work with, but with a table, or on my lap on crossed knees its fine. I’ve had to update many of my Apps (this was pretty automatic as iTunes recognised the new connection and the Apps that could be updated seemed to jump out and say ‘update me please’)! There are other Apps that sell iPad specific versions, but so far I’ve not seen the need to do this.

I think I’ll write a little more about the iPad and its use to me when I’ve had more time to play. But for now I’m neither underwhelmed or overwhelmed. Watch this space.

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GSJust before Christmas, I was given an iPhone 3GS to use as part of my MoLeNET Mentor role for LSN. It came from Italy [http://www.blogfromitaly.com/iphone-availability-italy/] and therefore requires no jail-breaking to be used with any provider.

Some readers may recall that I’d been loaned an iPhone 3G to trial last February (see bottom of post for list of related postings) .. and that I’d pretty much dismissed it as a phone: but praised it as a wonderful tool for use on the move (whilst mobile), provided that 02 could supply the necessary connectivity.

I’d pretty much decided that, apart from having no camera, the iTouch was the way to go. http://snipurl.com/twxcl (and below). And that’s the way I went from summer ’09. I inherited a 16gb iTouch after Sharon opted for the iPhone 3GS as soon as it came out. The iTouch did everything I wanted it to, provided I could get internet access via Wifi – something I was able to provide at home and whilst on the move via JoikuSpot [http://www.joikushop.com/] on my Nokia N95 and my T-Mobile Web-n-Walk data plan. Also see: https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/mobile-notes/

Sharon loved the iPhone 3GS and she enthused about it. I could see why, because many of what I had seen previously as deficiencies had been ‘sorted’ (see previous postings below). It could now do MMS, it could now do video – it was an altogether better tool and marginally better phone, but was still dogged by poor connectivity. No matter how many people defend the 02 iPhone service – I will not be convinced that it is good. Not even as good as the service offered by 02 on their other phones.

Then came the news that 02’s exclusivity would run out in the autumn and that Orange and Vodafone would pick up (have picked up) the mantle. T-Mobile would follow. Then came my Christmas present from LSN …

screenshot - not importantI’ve been out of contract now for about a year and had been continuing with the old T-Mobile SIM in my Nokia N95 8gb. I thought I’d take advantage of this situation to review my spending and to take on board some more technology. I therefore re-contracted with T-Mobile (at half the cost, but over two years) and received a HTC Touch 2 for my troubles. I’d wanted a Windows Mobile 6.5 phone to play with (and to investigate the uses for and with) and this seemed the easiest way to get hold of one. I also took out a second SIM @ £10 p.m. to include unlimited texts and 3G. So – I pay for calls and MMS on that (they come out of the £10) but get all my texts and all my Internet at no extra charge. This is sitting pretty right now in the iPhone and although I cannot use 3G until January 1st (don’t ask), it shows all the signs of being ‘well connected’.

So – comparisons between Symbian, WM6.5 and iPhone will follow but on first appearances WM6.5 looks and feels old and decrepit, the Nokia is still fabulous and the iPhone (if I can remember not to put my finger over the speaker/mic when calling/listening) shows all the signs of being the better tool.

Happy New Year to everyone.

Some of the following postings about the iPhone include Podcasts:

http://dsugden.posterous.com/my-first-apple-day-1http://dsugden.posterous.com/my-first-apple-day-2
http://dsugden.posterous.com/iphone-trail-day-three
http://dsugden.posterous.com/my-first-apple-day-four
http://dsugden.posterous.com/my-first-apple-day-6
http://dsugden.posterous.com/my-first-apple-day-goodness-kn
http://dsugden.posterous.com/iphone-one-week-to-go
http://dsugden.posterous.com/iphone-story-final-chapter
https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/apple-pros-and-cons/

Mobile notes

Although this post is about taking notes on a mobile device, I have to admit to using my Mac Book Pro to compose it. My apologies to all purist readers.

I am prompted to write this after reading Col Hawksworth’s recent blog post and subsequent comments. http://mindmug.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/take-note/. Half way through my reply to his post (and Jame’s agreement with Col’s frustration) I realised that I had the makings of something to say that might be useful to others. My post is not entirely unrelated – but not about the iPhone undo function – which Col has solved.

I used to be an avid note taker. At meetings, conferences and throughout my various University courses I took notes. Lots of notes. These helped me later to form ideas, plans and write reports for managers. All were on paper – at the time it would have been impossible to take a laptop with me (or in earlier times the slate and chalk) :-). When I received my first Palm PDA (back in 2002) I begun to realise that this could be a useful device for taking notes. After struggling with the script writing software I quickly updated to a WM-OS iPaq. Now this was great, all I had to do was tap away at the screen with a stick and at the end of the day synch the notes up to the PC mother-ship and there were my notes; in Word ready to spell check, add to and move on. But something was missing. As the keyboard became smaller (actually, the keyboard remained the same – but my eyesight deteriorated) it became much more frustrating to use. And – have you noticed the position of your arm when you’re tapping away with a stylus? I eventually stopped taking notes on a mobile device and resorted once more to paper.

Over the intervening two or three years my handwriting (never my best feature) had, like my eyesight, deteriorated. My scrawl was hardly legible and therefore hardly any use so, over time I became more reliant on memory: never the best of all human features. I tried laptops (sometimes too heavy, no battery life, too big for use in some places – sometimes just too laptoppy!) and thought that all my note-taking ships had come in at once when the Asus eee popped onto the market. But I fell out of love with that too.

So now what?

Well, I’m currently using the iTouch to take down my reflections on train journeys. And I’m loving it.

Why?

I think that it’s a combination of ease, of software choice and Web 2.0 connectivity. Thanks to Lilian Soon and Ron Mitchell, I’ve been persuaded to use Evernote. This sits nicely on the iTouch and on my Mac. I suspect it will also work on one of my other laptops but I’m not currently speaking to them (long story). I’m also using Dropbox on both (all actually) devices. So, I now have the ability to grab, capture and compose bits and pieces on any device and with the magic of Web 2.0, knit them all together later when I have the time and patience. But (and here, finally is the link to Col’s post) the main convenience is the finger tappingly good interface on the iTouch. Despite aging eyes, despite the screen size (which for a mobile device is excellent) I’ve found that I can manage to tap out a convincingly long piece of reflection without a problem. My Penzu personal reflections (prepared for IfL) have never been so good. My blog posts (apart from this) are often formed via Evernote and the iTouch. And why is the iTouch ok and the iPaq not so good (for me)? Because I use my fingers. Simply that. It’s tactility makes it the tool for me. I can increase the text size by spreading two fingers on the screen, I can tap away at a reasonably sized keyboard and (most importantly) my brain can keep up with my fingers in a way that it could never keep up with the stylus on my iPaq. So, now that hand, brain and device are in synch – I seem to manage perfectly well. And also because of this, I’ve not (yet!!!) had the problem James and Col describe of deleting the whole damn lot.

And finally, why am I using my Mac to write this instead of my iTouch? Well, there’s a real keyboard and it’s the right tool to do the job. The iTouch is perfect for impromptu note taking, but there’s no need to use it all the time.