Posted in Uncategorized

Death of the Desktop and Gaming as We Know It

deathofthedesktopIn the past week, I’ve made two observations about how technology is going through an advancement surge. What I mean by that is that there are big changes happening, and it seems like it’s happening incredibly quickly–at least in my eyes.

The first occurrence was last week. My dad called  us because he knew my husband and I had something he didn’t have–more computer knowledge than him. I found it a little ironic, my dad was my first computer teacher in the early 80s when Apple II first came out. My dad, being an educator, was progressive enough to know that these were going to be the wave of the future, and in some respects, he was an e-teacher–an early computer teacher. But here was my first computer teacher asking for help. He admitted that he had let his skills lag, and he was now “a dinosaur”, and didn’t have a clue what he was doing anymore. His desktop had died, but he wanted to retain a lot of information that was still on his old hard drive. My husband declared the desktop was indeed dead,  and suggested that if my dad bought a new desktop, we could probably install the old hard drive as a secondary hard drive in the new computer, and that way he could still access the information.

I took my dad to the local Best Buy and Staples to do some comparison shopping. What struck us both is that there were next to no choices at either store for desktop models. Almost everything was either a laptop, a tablet, or one of those sleek all-in-one units. Considering that my dad wanted and needed one of those BIG desktops–not one of the compact ones, the choices were even more limited.

The irony was that once we brought the desktop back to my house to see if we could install the old hard drive into it, we discovered that it didn’t have a bay inside the casing to accomodate it, but it also essentially only had a motherboard, a power source, a fan, a Blu-ray disk drive, and the hard drive inside. That was it. It was a LOT of wasted space for something that was fairly powerful. The machine also came with the “blessed” Windows 8. I’ve had my hesitations about upgrading to it myself, but my dad had no choice, and the poor chap has been using only Windows XP and Windows 2000 up until now, so he was REALLY behind. Our solution to the hard drive issue was that my husband bought a contraption that you can enclose the old hard drive in a special case, and it turns it into a USB-connected external hard drive. So, that part of the problem is solved.

The Windows 8 solution is not. Dad is struggling to figure it all out, and is perplexed at how Windows 8 works in general. He’s not up to speed with the idea of using cloud-based apps for anything, or even using cloud-based storage.  Since my husband and I are still using Windows 7 (and we’re safe for now), we can’t advise him on how to use it, even though we can give him some advice on apps and cloud-based apps in general. What’s frustrating for my dad is that my mother is even less computer literate than him (she’s been condeming computers for thirty years now), so she’s REALLY thrown by how to use Windows 8. I sent Dad some online resources including an e-book on how to use Windows 8, and he bought another book, so hopefully he’ll be the expert soon enough.

The second indicator to me that things were changing technologically was the closing of our local GameStop store. Now, to be fair, I live in a very small town–one that’s small enough that I questioned why we even had a GameStop in our town to begin with. We liked that store better than the one at the local mall because we got more personalized service, and we liked the staff there. I was only surprised to see that it had disappeared almost overnight the other day when I passed by the shopping center where it was located. I’m sure the store didn’t get enough traffic to warrant it to stay open, so that wasn’t a surprise. I was just surprised that it was done without a lot of fanfare. Related to that, since the store wasn’t there, my son was itching to get a new game for his Nintendo 3DS, and we ended up looking online for choices. Granted, my son is fussy about what games he likes and doesn’t like, so choices seemed slim. But even from my own tastes, it seemed like there weren’t a lot of choices. Here was a portable gaming system that didn’t have many games, even though it’s the most current Nintendo portable gaming system on the market. That didn’t make sense to me. As I later found out, Nintendo is working more and more on putting out games that can be accessed through the 3DS’s wi-fi connection–in other words, accessed through cloud services, and saved on the device’s flash drive or on the SD card that you can install. THAT’S where all the new games were!

As I thought about my dad’s predicament in catching up to the 21st century and my son’s need for more games, it occured to me that more and more access to media of any kind is becoming dependent on mobile services and cloud services.  Really–think about it. As I was finding out from my dad, he could only install or update his Microsoft Office if he subscribed to Office 365–the cloud service. Microsoft has adopted cloud services to deliver its services, as has Adobe. Subscription services are pretty much the main way–and soon the only way–one can get access to this software and applications. It’s rare that anyone gets DVDs to install software anymore–it’s downloaded off the Web now. The same thing was happening with my son. He had better access to games for his device through Nintendo’s cloud services than if he paid for a micro-disk.

These are only two of several observations I’ve made lately that we’re going through a technology surge of sorts that are making what we’ve known and loved for years are quickly becoming obsolete.  Tablets, smartphones, and laptops are pretty much the standard now, pushing mobile to the forefront even more. Touch technology is becoming more prolific, even for the all-in-one desktop computers that are out there, putting it on the same level as its mobile counterparts.  Even the gaming world is getting the clue, with more games downloaded to smartphones and other mobile devices rather than buying the software.  Who buys DVDs or Blu-ray disks anymore when we can download movies and other videos from Netflix or iTunes?

Cloud-based and flash-memory based technology seem to be taking over! Soon enough, DVDs, CDs, and SD cards are going to obsolete like the 5 1/2 inch floppy disks, VHS tapes, tape reels or punch cards! Seriously–think about it–in a year or two (okay, maybe a little more than that), all those things might be GONE.

It’s great that technology is advancing in leaps and bounds like it is. No one is more excited about these advances than I am, in most cases. But I wish I could keep up sometimes! It makes me feel bad for my dear dad, who is getting left in the dust by these advances.  I’m sure he’s not the only one.

Posted in Uncategorized

Digital Tablets for Kids–Child’s Play, or should we take it seriously?

Just within the last month or so, I’ve been made aware of two tablet computers made for especially kids–and ones that weren’t something like a glorified LeapFrog or VTech toy. There is a place for LeapFrog and VTech-type tablets for the preschool/early elementary school set, but the ones I list below were recent ones that I became aware of targeting the grammar school demographic.

The first one I saw was the Tabeo tablet. I read about it in the following CNET article:

Toys ‘R’ Us unwraps $150 Tabeo tablet for Kids

The Tabeo, according to the article, is an Android-based tablet that includes drop-safe bumpers, wi-fi, and parental controls, and will only be available through this toy selling-enterprise.

The other kids’ tablet that I came across (and I don’t remember how–perhaps watching TV with TechCommGeekSon?) is called the Meep Tablet, which is being released by Oregon Scientific.

You can find the product website here:

Meep Tablet

It, too, is a tablet that runs on an Android OS, has drop-safe bumpers, wi-fi, and parental controls, and it appears that it is sold only through Oregon Scientific.

What would be appealing about these tablets, which are targeted for the ages 6 and up crowd? Part of the appeal would be the price– about $150 for either tablet. Yes, the parental controls and such are nice features–no denying that, but what else? Neither item has much memory, and if kids are going to use these tablets for games, then they need a lot more memory than what a first generation iPhone had. While memory cards can be added, why go to those lengths? Why not just put decent memory chips in the devices in the first place?

Being that I’m an m-learning TechCommGeekMom, I also tried to think about how such devices would be good at a school setting. Could they be used in a school setting? I suppose they could be on some level, and it’d be a decent investment for a school at just $150 a pop. Schools could control the content, using the parental controls. The bumpers used to protect the devices would allow for some longevity for the devices as well. The devices still have video and web cameras, and are still wi-fi enabled. Since they run on a version of Android, they could download Android apps.

But is buying either of these devices worthwhile? Since only the Meep in available now, and the Tabeo is coming out in a few weeks, we’ll have to see what the big reviews say. I wouldn’t mind reviewing them myself if I could get a hold of each of these, so in the meantime, I can only go by what each manufacturer has promoted.

But in thinking about the age group of “6 and up”, and thinking about my own son and how I would want to invest money in a tablet for him (if he wasn’t usually borrowing my iPad), why would I bother to get a kiddie version that’s barely expandable or that could be updated with later software, and had more memory?

My first thoughts turn to the idea of the rumored iPad mini. Oh, if that was out there (and I had the cash), I’d buy that in an instant for my son. Why? Well, first of all, it’s no secret that I LOVE my iPad. I love the variety of apps available–both educational and for games for him. Since he has to use my iTunes account to download apps (and I don’t give him my password), I can supervise what  goes on the device and what doesn’t. That seems like parental control to me. I would be able to use the “Find iPhone” app to track him as well, as needed. It also would much more internal memory, I should think, than what the Meep or Tabeo is offering. Even if it only had a 8GB or 16 GB memory, that’s better than the base memory offering of Meep or Tabeo. Additionally, there are already school programs out there using iPads, so adapting to iPad minis would be an easy transition for many schools, and be easy for kids to use due to its smaller size for smaller hands.

This leads my thought stream into thinking about Nexus 7 tablets, Nook HD tablets, Samsung Galaxy or Kindle Fire HD tablets. Why not get those for a child? They are smaller Android-based tablets as well, right?  Well, the prices tags are a little higher, that’s for sure. In most situations, however, several of these tablets are not THAT much more money, and yet there would be more flexibility in these devices.  I was just even reading a rumor that Microsoft’s Surface tablet may come in a variety that’s in the $200 range. Talk about flexibility compared to some other tablets, even if it’s still more of a PC than a tablet! Why wouldn’t a parent invest in that type of tablet instead, knowing that there are more apps, more downloadable programs, and more memory with these machines?

Business Insider recently posted this article comparing tablets, and it’s worth a read:

The Only 7 Tablets Worth Buying Right Now

Of course, my money is on the hopefully impending iPad mini. But even if that never comes to fruition, these other tablets provide some good bang for your bucks.  I think cheap childproofing bumpers and kid-friendly can be found on eBay and other retailers, if that’s a concern. But I see these other mainstream tablets being a better investment, as they can grow and upgrade with your child better than one “made for children”.

My child is part of the demographic that the child tablets are targeting. He’s now 11, and is a very different child than when he was 7, 8 or 9 years old. His tastes and needs have changed in just a few short years. Heck, he’s even upgraded his Nintendo DS two times in the last three years, because he wanted better memory and flexibility with the DS apps offered, as well as more powerful hardware. He might not put it in those terms, but even he knows the game. (No pun intended there!)  Looking at tablets for growing kids should be looked at the same way–a tablet, for the investment, should be able to grow with the child, and a regular tablet would better suit those needs. With a regular tablet, not only would there be personal flexibility with games and apps, but more opportunities to use it for educational purposes–for homework, classwork, etc.

And that’s TechCommGeekMom’s take on that. If some manufacturer wants to send me one to be put through the TechCommGeekSon wringer, or if someone has had a different experience with a made-for-kids tablet, let me know. I’d be glad to share your experiences in a post here.

Posted in mobile, singular experience, Uncategorized

Project Tin Can: Good Communication or just a Tin Can Alley?

Something I’ve been hearing about lately is something called, “Project Tin Can,” and it’s been a topic that seems to come back again and again in reference to m-learning. “Oh, I think great strides are being made with ‘Tin Can’,” or “I think ‘Tin Can’ might help to solve that problem in how it relates to m-learning,” I’d hear. I knew it has to do with how scoring and assessments are done, but what is it beyond that? Why should I even begin to pay attention to this?

Of course, I had to start doing some research, because if this is a hot topic that affects m-learning, I need to be on top of it, right?

First, if one doesn’t have an understanding of SCORM, one has to understand that first.  SCORM, for all you technical communicators that don’t know, is best explained by Rustici Software, which works very closely with the ADL who set these standards:

SCORM is a set of technical standards for e-learning software products. SCORM tells programmers how to write their code so that it can “play well” with other e-learning software. It is the de facto industry standard for e-learning interoperability. Specifically, SCORM governs how online learning content and Learning Management Systems (LMSs) communicate with each other. SCORM does not speak to instructional design or any other pedagogical concern, it is purely a technical standard…. The SCORM standard makes sure that all e-learning content and LMSs can work with each other, just like the DVD standard makes sure that all DVDs will play in all DVD players. If an LMS is SCORM conformant, it can play any content that is SCORM conformant, and any SCORM conformant content can play in any SCORM conformant LMS.  (See http://scorm.com/scorm-explained/ for more details)

Okay, so we have a set of standard for e-learning so that all content can work together congruently.

Great! So, why mess with what works?

Well, SCORM was developed about a decade or so ago, and while it’s worked great, a lot has changed in how educational content is delivered. A decade ago, we didn’t have smartphones in the same way that we do now, and tablets were still thought of as either pads of paper or slabs of slate that you wrote on with chalk. Mobile devices took off in the last few years much faster than anyone anticipated.  Obviously, if there are new means of technology, there are also new means of learning and delivering learning content to learners.  ADL, the SCORM proctors, realized that they need to stay ahead of the curve and start looking new solutions as mobile technology started to integrate into daily life.

While I had heard of Tin Can, it most recently was brought to my attention by Chad Udell of Float Learning. Float Learning is hot on the trail of TinCan, as evidenced by their May 2012 newsletter. Chad posted this link on Twitter to the following article by Reuben Tozman of the edCetra Training Blog: Instructional Design Tips for Tin Can, which talks about how Reuben and his company started to use Tin Can to start using methods that had their foundations in SCORM for a project, but ultimately needed the flexibility of Tin Can to evolve and progress with the project. I also looked at this article by Ben Clark of Rustici Software, as posted by Aaron Silvers of ADL on “What is Project Tin Can?“, which basically outlined what Tin Can was in broad terms, but it wasn’t completely clear to the “lay person” like me.

The most helpful thing in helping me understand what Tin Can is was to listen to episode #7 of “This Week in M-Learning” with RJ Jacquez and Rob Gadd, which can be found either on this website or on iTunes. They had Aaron Silvers and Jason Haag of ADL as guests on the show, and being that both Aaron and Jason are very much part of and deeply into the Tin Can project, they were excellent sources to consult.

The following are the notes that I took from the conversation (and hopefully I’m summarizing and paraphrasing most of the conversation correctly–let me know if I have any inaccuracies):

First and foremost, both SCORM and TinCan API (as it’s now known) are not standards, but rather they are specifications. SCORM is a widely adopted and used specification, but it’s still just a specification, not a standard. That’s an important distinction to make up front.

From there, it was explained in the podcast that Project Tin Can started around 2008, when ADL started looking at whitepapers and various resources to determine how they were going to develop new standards within SCORM to develop a platform that could move forward rather than a specification. With social media starting to have a stronger presence in the world, especially on mobile, something was needed that wasn’t being pre-defined or pre-described yet was something that SCORM tried to addressed. For example, how could people have ubiquitous access to online data? How could a self-sustaining, open source system be created in the process to build this new specification/platform/standard using as many ideas as possible to push the evolution of the system continually into the future?

Tin Can API–the end result thusfar of that research–is a major component of tracking of learning activity in next generation of SCORM.

RJ asked a major question in the podcast, which was, “What is the big deal of Tin Can?” It’s a valid question, after all. Aaron, Jason, and Rob (who is using Tin Can at his mobile technology firm) explained that Tin Can allows for mobile SCORM tracking to work optimally, both offline as well as online. The spec is meant to help level the playing field so that the content can plug into new platforms without losing content in transfer, giving it far more flexibility and ease to help mobile technology use SCORM specs.

It was noted that the need to be simpler was key for implementation; it needed to be more flexible than SCORM, so the concept behind Tin Can is not only to use it for e-learning and m-learning, but to provide deliverables of different code libraries that go beyond online learning. It was noted that Articulate Storyline is using a simpler version of Tin Can rather than SCORM, but it’s more capable in its deliverable, and Blackboard is using a form of it as well.

Another big point was that Tin Can API can be initiated with informal training and not start with an LMS (Learning Management System). The idea is that learning not initiated with an LMS would take credentials from social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Google (I believe Pinterest and Klout have these kinds of sign-ins). The idea is that by obtaining credentials from such sources, the content from a Tin Can-compliant app would already knows who you are. In other words, if you are already authenticated through a single sign-in ID, the app will be able to collect activity and log it. It was noted that not a lot of overhead to search for content, and Tin Can would allows smaller companies to do it for their projects.

So, the burden is lighter than SCORM. An LMS isn’t needed but it can integrate with an LMS; it is not specified to be a stand-alone but rather could expand the capability of any enterprise system by taking data about what you are doing in one place and allow other systems can see how you are performing, making it interoperatable and ubiquitous. Tin Can is meant to find a common ground to help look at data in context, helping disparate systems talk to each other.

As Tin Can API is a spec in early stages, it’s evolving very quickly thanks to
the project being highly community-based, in which things change quickly in weeks and months instead of over years like SCORM. Between the huge community support–slightly like crowdsourcing through specific online social media and other outlets– and getting some smaller m-learning “boutique” firms jumping in now, Tin Can is gaining great momentum. Rustici Software has been doing the research for ADL; ADL proposed what they wanted from their requirements, and Rustici were fortunate to get the job of bringing it to fruition. Aaron and Jason explained that Rustici released workable prototype that was incomplete–but workable–implementing the concept of using an activity stream in the Tin Can spec. (An example of an activity stream that they gave was Facebook’s layout.) Even after the initial project was completed, Rustici continued to build it out and offered what they did as open source, and their continued work was adopted readily by the Tin Can community.

So–the podcast was pretty informative and yield some of the best information to understand.

It seems to me that Tin Can API is still something to continue to watch, whether one is an m-learning developer, or even as an instructional designer or m-learning specialist. My impression was that Tin Can is meant to eventually go beyond m-learning and e-learning, and extend into other mobile applications as mobile technology specifications and standards evolve. Single-sourcing is a huge issue in mobile technology, and it seems to be that this is a project that is very much centered on making that happen.

For more information on Tin Can API, I recommend visiting the links above, and give a visit to http://scorm.com/tincan/.

Posted in Uncategorized

To e (learn), or not to e(learn), mobile learning is the question.

[Updated 3/15/12 to include link to the webinar video.–TCGM]

Alas, poor Yorrick, I thought I knew m-learning well…

I attended a great webinar today hosted by Float Learning in which the subject of the webinar was, “Rapid Development Tools for Mobile Learning.” One of my favorite champions in the m-learning cause, RJ Jacquez, was one of the featured speakers, so I was anxious to listen and learn. During the webinar, while the hosts and featured speakers had their discussion–which I did listen to–there was also a very active chat session going on simultaneously. It was a challenge to keep up with it, but it was just as exciting, nonetheless!

Much of what the chat discussion talked about, as did the webinar, is how those who are developing m-learning materials really need to change the game, that going mobile doesn’t mean just converting regular e-learning courses for a mobile audience. As was said, who is going to look at a smartphone for hours on end watching PowerPoint slideshows go by? Nope, in this transition from e-learning to m-learning, it’s a real opportunity to rethink how e-learning is done for m-learning. iPad or the use of other tablets is not the same as using smartphones, just as mobile learning isn’t the same as learning from a desktop or laptop. As someone from the chat mentioned, with all the different phone and tablet formats, it’s almost like the height of the browser wars again. There are some great software publishers who get this, and some who don’t, understanding that there are so many formats to have to try to deal with, and again the idea of Flash dying a very painful death, this is really at the forefront of many whose job is to make these courseware conversions.

But it’s not just about converting things from Flash to HTML 5 friendly content. It’s actually about the content itself as well. A big point that was made was instructional design and content design are of equal importance right now. As I said before, no one really wants to watch a two hour lecture on their iPhone, do they? Not that it can’t be done, but it’s not very practical now, is it? Content design has to be rethought and redone–in some cases, from scratch–to convey the same information in bit size pieces that are more conducive to mobile formats for mobile devices.

The main thought was that as much as the world hasn’t completely caught onto this idea, e-learning professionals need to get on the bandwagon and truly promote what m-learning really is and “join the revolution”. Software tools are not there, and m-learning thinking isn’t quite there yet. Or at least, it’s not up to par as it should be in various learning arenas (traditional education as well as corporate education).

Or is it?

Shortly after attending this webinar, iTunes sent its weekly email of new and leading education apps. I usually just glance at it, but I noticed something that might have potential. When I opened the description, I couldn’t believe it. There was something there that could act as a model for exactly what those who were chatting in the webinar were talking about.

It was an app to learn Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (Click on the image below, and you’ll be taken to an iTunes webpage about it.)

Evidently, the company that published this app, Mindconnex Learning Ltd., is already on this, and understands what this is about. In this Hamlet app, the original text of the play is broken down into smaller, easier to manage pieces. There are sections that provide analysis and notes, character analysis…the works! It provides the unabriged text along with the learning guides needed to help understand such a complicated work in English literature. Mindconnex also has other apps for other works by Shakespeare, and not only has them created for iPad use, but also for iPhone use. How great is that? Mindconnex Learning has the right idea, and I wish them good luck as they continue to help set a standard for m-learning.

So, the next step seems to be that e-learning professionals have to get on board with m-learning formatting, which is just as much about formatting for the devices as it is formatting the instructional design to make it more usable on those devices.

Will this happen in the near future? Let’s hope so.