In 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.
It became very apparent to me in the last week that I could not live without mobile technology. You would’ve thought that I would’ve learned it during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But it hit home much more for me this past week, and I’ll tell you why.
My husband went off on a trip to visit his family in South America. He hadn’t been there since 1997–a time where we had been merely dating. He was away for nine days. Now, for those who are separated from loved ones often enough, nine days might not seem like a lot. My husband and I have been apart for two to three days at a time, but we have never been apart for as long as nine days since that last trip he made in 1997 below the equator. We also didn’t have a child to consider at the time he last went on such a long trip–a sign of times changing. I hate the idea that we were going to be separated for so long.
The other sign of the times changing was that as much as I missed him terribly, I was able to communicate with him while he was down there. Now, the last time he went down there, he and I would sometimes talk by email or by Windows Messenger, but it wasn’t frequently, just because internet connectivity was limited down south, and it was expensive even back then. I wasn’t on a cable coaxial connection back then, but rather a dial-up modem, so time was money.
Internet infrastructure and technology has improved over the last 16 years, fortunately for us. This time, while we did use email, we also texted and used Facetime. We could send photos and video to each other in real time. How? I made sure that my husband brought his smartphone and my extra iPad on the trip, not only to help keep him entertained on the plane with digital movies, books, magazines and games, but so that we had a way to communicate easily too. My father-in-law had installed wifi at his house (it helps that my younger brother-in-law, who still lives with his father, is a computer geek), and so my husband and I could share live conversations on Facetime (he’d call up my iPhone). We’d also be texting each other when needed for quick bits of information during the day, emailing and instant messaging as well. It helped ease how much I was missing him during the trip.
What definitely convinced me that I could never live without mobile devices was the night that my husband was returning from his trip. He was at the airport which had wifi (although it was not strong and somewhat spotty), and to kill some time late at night before his flight, my husband called me on FaceTime to have a video conversation. We could talk more freely than we had during his last trip away. He was amazed at the clarity of the video communication, and there was a moment while we talked when I could see in his eyes that he missed me as much as I missed him. It happened faster than fast, but it was something that could never be communicated with words in a text, email or instant message. It might not even be communicated the same way in a digital photo or video. It was talking in real time that captured it, and it was captured in my brain forever. That’s something that can’t be done that easily with a desktop or laptop. I don’t think that moment would’ve even been possible with a laptop–it would’ve had to have been done with a smartphone or tablet to have happened.
I talk about how mobile technology is the wave of the future–or really, the wave of NOW–in e-learning. I still believe that. But the other night, hours before my husband began his journey home, I learned an important part of mobile technology. Mobile technology is not only to be able to capture video, audio, photos or have a conversation of an event going on anyplace, anytime, but the actual impact of being present for learning in real-time during such an event is everything. It’s the next best thing to being there in person. A conversation between a person in a South American airport and another sitting on a couch in Central New Jersey using streaming video and audio wouldn’t have been possible years ago. It is now.
Criticisms of m-learning often relate to the use of social media, implying that there is a lack of real communication between people because of the presence of social media. I disagree. If anything, it’s helping to bridge the gap, so that moments like my video conversations with my husband can be possible. They don’t have to be between family members, but they can be with colleagues on a project just as easily. Yes, video conversations have been around for a long time too, but not like this. If my husband had wifi in other places he travelled while visiting his family, he could show me in real-time what was happening around him. Now, the wifi infrastructure down there isn’t even close to what we have up in the States, and even here in the States, as I have mentioned before, we could have better support and availability of wifi around the country for better communication. Just think about that for a moment. If wifi infrastructure was strengthened globally, we truly could have a better “anytime, anywhere” experience not only to talk to each other but to learn from each other.
You will never be able to take a mobile device away from me, that’s one thing I’ve learned for sure!
Hello all, and excuse my absence of late! If you hadn’t heard (ha!), Hurricane/ Superstorm Sandy hit the eastern coast of the United States, and headed straight for the state of New Jersey in particular. That means it hit where I live.
I initially started to write this while I was sitting in my car, writing on my iPad while my iPhone was getting recharged using the car battery, but I’m finishing it up on my laptop almost a week later. Hurricane Sandy hit my home, and we were without power for almost four days. A tree fell on our house, but fortunately not through the roof. There was a state of emergency in my town for a couple of days whereby no one was allowed in or out of town. Unless you were emergency personnel, you were not allowed to drive the streets. While we were lucky to get power within a few days (especially with very cold weather setting in), there are still thousands without power where I live, and even those who have lost their homes entirely. I was actually one of the lucky ones. So, you can understand why I might have had other things going on this week. 😉
Originally, I really struggled with an idea of what to write about this week, but this hurricane made some things very clear, and they are things that needs to be strengthened as a global necessity, not just as a local necessity. This storm made the following very evident to me: mobile technology and social media are critical in this day and age.
I only knew what was happening in the “outside world” and was able to make connections with my cell phone–a smartphone. Granted, the 4G network was incredibly slow, especially in the beginning, because everyone locally was doing the same thing. Something was better than nothing. Since I didn’t have power for my TV or radios, my phone was everything. It made me wish I had a MySpot mobile wifi connection created from my cell phone so that I could transmit the wifi signal to my other devices, but having at least the 4G did the job.
In the end, everyone who knows us had a way of knowing that we were okay. Between my husband and I, we texted my brother-in-law, my father-in-law in Ecuador was able to call my husband, and I had sent notes on Twitter and Facebook to let people know we were okay. There wasn’t much more that I could do. Until we had full power and Internet capabilities, I could only recharge my phone on a car recharger and send out the occasional note to update our status on social media. Saving battery life was essential to make sure that we could always be able to communicate. So writing up a blog entry was less important than making sure that our loved ones knew what was going on around us.
We were without electrical power for almost four days, and they were four of the longest days and nights I can remember. You have to remember that I live in a first-world country, where having constant supplies of electricity not only for powering things is commonplace, but it also runs things needed for basic survival, such as keeping perishable foods cold, and providing heat on cold nights (and we had some very cold nights). At my house, having had some Scouting training (I was a den leader for my son’s Cub Scout group for almost 5 years), and just even having a fireplace, we had some advantage. We had done some preparation so it wasn’t so terrible–just terribly inconvenient. There are others, such as my sister, who didn’t have power for more than a week. (She stayed with my parents who had power restored quickly.) There are still work crews from all over the Eastern Seaboard and the MidWest who have come in and have worked around the clock, and continue to do so to still get the rest of New Jersey power again. It is still not done. We’ve become a society that is dependent on its electricity, for sure. But we also have become a society that mostly depends on the power of internet connectivity and having means of communication powered by electricity.
Every day that we’ve had with power since it’s been restored, I’ve tried to remind myself about the many people in my state who have lost their homes and/or still don’t have power. I was greatly inconvenienced, but in the end, even with the tree falling on my house, I was still blessed and one of the lucky ones. My town, overall, didn’t sustain the kind of damage that other towns did. The big pond/lake and our town was drained before the storm in order to prevent flooding, and that worked. We didn’t have the water damage or flooding that other places did. Most of the damage we had was due to wind damage, so there were a lot of downed trees that took down power lines. Once trees began to be removed, and crews fixed the wires, then things started to get back in order. As I write this, there is still gas rationing in part of the state, which people need for their cars or even for generators to power their houses until regular service is restored. We’re not quite back to “normal,” but we are fairly close. Schools are starting to open back up for classes tomorrow after a week’s absence, many are returning to work, and shops are opening up again. New Jerseyans may have never been through something like this, but we are a resilient group of people. There is an expression that was often said well before the storm of “Jersey Strong.” That, we are.
But during this storm and its aftermath, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the importance of mobile technology and social media. Through SO much of the storm, my mobile phone was my lifeline to the outside world. Not only could we tell people that we were okay, but if we had been in serious trouble, it was our lifeline out. We would get messages and updates from friends and other resources through our phones. Was the storm over? I could track the storm either through the Hurricane Red Cross app or the Weather Channel app. Was it safe to go out? I’d receive text messages and emails from my town government to let us know what roads were blocked due to downed trees or wires. Where were there shelters if we needed heat, a warm shower and a solid meal? I could find that out as well. What markets had reopened after the storm for food, which gas stations were open with shorter lines, and where could we recharge our devices so we could continue to stay in touch and know what the news was? Different friends who had ventured out told me through social media. Having mobile devices and connectivity made knowing all that information possible. When we needed to have the tree removed from where it was leaning on our house, my husband called up our local tree guy, and his crew was out the very next day. And in a totally 21st century way, having mobile devices kept us entertained at night, as I had loaded up some old episodes of our favorite television programs on my old iPad for my son, and on the new iPad for me. (During the day, we’d be cleaning up our yard and doing other things that would take advantage of the daylight.) Without these modern technological conveniences, it would have been a lot more difficult to get through those days.
But it also got me to thinking about how that technology could have been even better, and where greater improvements could be made. Two things from the technological side were apparent to me. First, connectivity could be improved on a global level, not just at a local level. More communications infrastructure and stronger communications infrastructure are needed to create reliable wireless hotspots. While 4G connectivity was available, it was spotty, and not always reliable during the storm. My husband does not have 4G on his phone, although I have it, so we were solely dependent on my phone for information. A secondary but equally important problem was, however, that using 4G exclusively drained the battery of my phone quickly, especially when the 4G service was very slow. In a stressful and possibly dangerous situation like this storm, that’s a bad thing. I know there are several cities that have wifi service throughout the town, such as Philadelphia. We have many wifi hotspots, but they are not well connected between them, and they don’t reach to households around here. I found, once we had power and connectivity restored, that wifi connectivity on my phone or other mobile devices did not devour battery power on my mobile devices as much as the 4G did.
I started to think of places far, far away from me–and realized this is a global need. How are children in remote places supposed to get electrical power, more specifically battery power for a smart device? And even if there are miraculous power sources for these devices (which there are not at this time, especially in certain regions of the world), how would these children connect to the rest of the world? Both improving battery life/power sources for mobile devices and improving the infrastructure for internet communication are key. It all needs to be set up in such a way that it doesn’t cost a fortune, is readily accessible, and can literally weather anything. It should be similar to using a radio–we can still get AM and FM signals, but we need a wifi version of this. I know that the network services in our area, especially AT & T and Verizon, said they were doing their best to provide and repair the 4G and LTE services damaged from the storm. Okay, I understand that. But in the US, as well as everywhere else globally, we need to start thinking about how to step up the technology so that getting wifi signals are as common as getting an FM signal on a radio. I’m sure that this is technology that is being worked on, but I feel like this storm proved that point very much. Perhaps the internet access providers needed to get ready for the storm by temporarily increasing the network bandwidth and boosting those wifi signals already present. I’m sure that I will be charged an arm and a leg for the amount of data I did use during this time, and the provider companies won’t be giving any storm discounts of any kind under the circumstances.
The other thing that became highly apparent was the importance of social media during this time. It was one thing to receive text messages and emails from my local government (I signed up for emergency messages), loved ones and friends, and to have access to a tiny web browser on my phone, but social media, especially Facebook and Twitter were essential! It was an easy way for me to check in with everyone who needed to know how my family was doing, but also for me to know how all my friends and family were faring as well. Even now, those family members and friends who are still without power are posting status updates letting us know that they are safe, with family or friends with power, or if they are toughing out another cold night. As I mentioned earlier, it was through social media venues that I could see the scale of the storm, through various messages posted on a continual basis. We found out that our local supermarkets were open through Facebook with fresh food, warm place to stop, and outlets to recharge our devices. It allowed communities to come together–multiple communities–to help each other. As I write this, it continues to be working. Posts on Twitter and Facebook are still working to gather supplies for those who are in more trouble than us, provide information for those who seek a safe shelter until their home is habitable again, and moral support, too, for each other. The power of social media is incredible.
When I took my social media class last spring, there were several purpose categories in which social media communications fell, namely broadcasting the self, the netizen, participatory culture, or how social media related to work/labor. To me, there were instances were all these purposes were used during this storm. Social media users broadcast about themselves, providing status updates on their well-being. The netizens were the local governments and other information providers such as internet news agencies, or even Twitter feeds of local government leaders (like Newark mayor Cory Booker) who kept apprised of his city’s situation by staying in constant contact through Twitter to help citizens who had extra needs. All social media users who got through the storm were part of a participatory culture, namely, they were part of the group of “storm survivors” that grouped together. It related to work because we could see how the power companies and other service companies were keeping their customers informed about the progress they were making with restoring power, and would ask customers for feedback on which areas needed more help. Even if one barely posted anywhere on any social media outlet, one could easily understand the breadth and width of this storm’s impact merely by reading the feeds coming from these outlets. I had more information that my husband at any given time because I was looking at all of this and absorbing it, whether it was for personal safety or just for information. It was invaluable, and truly emphasized the importance of social media not only now, but going forward.
Mobile technology and social media were essential in helping my family get through this storm, and it benefitted millions of others through this storm as well. Both of these things continue to be vital as the job is not done in recovering from the storm.
As technical communicators, I think you can see my point, but there is yet another point in which technical communicators are vital in pushing our agendas in our field. That is, helping to provide concise, cogent, correct, and clear information for our end users. One of the problems that I encountered with various apps and communications was that they were so poorly written and explained that sometimes it was difficult to understand the information being provided. This is part of why social media was so vital–there was more of a conversation among users to clarify what a website said, or what a communication said. So many who were providing the information were clearly not writers or natural communicators, and this in itself could be dangerous in certain situations. I’m hoping as we recover from Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy, as a technical communicator, I can try to push the agenda that experienced social media writers and technical writers are needed so that information is provided in a clear way that all people can access it easily, whether there’s an emergency or not.
I hope that technologists are working to make the means of communication stronger with stronger internet connectivity that doesn’t require much power, and that smart devices available can have stronger battery power so that recharging as often isn’t necessary, especially when needing to rely on those communication networks for information. I think social media has proven itself as a strong communication tool during this storm, and it has reinforced the notion to me that I need to continue to stay tied to it, because it’s not only connected to my career livelihood, but my livelihood at large.
Right now, I just have to try to recover and try to get life back to “normal.” Appreciating mobile technology and the power of social media make me glad to live during a time when we have these available to us. Now, I need to get back into the swing of being more technologically immersed after being mostly “off the grid” for almost a week.
As the end of October approaches, so does Halloween. And with Halloween, most people would think of ghosts, witches, vampires and other monsters along with other spooky stuff. As for me, I think of trick-or-treating and the all important CANDY. Mind you, the candy usually given out is not full-sized candy bars, but rather “fun-size” candy–usually miniature versions of the tastes we know and love.
Apple decided to provide us with a new fun-sized item just in time for Halloween–the iPad Mini. It was highly anticipated, and naturally, I sat and watched the announcement. The iPad Mini appears to be about the same size as the most popular e-reader/non-iPad Mini devices, such as a Kindle Fire HD or a Nook. It is small enough to fit in one’s hand, and Apple claims that it’s a new design–and stressed that it’s not a shrunken iPad, but rather a concentrated one. It has all the same features of the iPad 4th generation (which was also introduced during this event), but it’s as thin as a pencil and as heavy as a pad of paper. The screen size is significantly larger than its competitors even though the device is of comparable size. I’ll leave out most of the other details, but needless to say, it performs the same as the new 4th generation iPad also introduced today, and runs all the same iPad only apps. The nice thing that Apple stressed about development for iPad Mini is that it doesn’t change from what is done for iPad–what works on iPad works on iPad Mini. NICE. Everything is faster and more powerful than before, and that makes for a great experience. Its flash storage is the same as a full-sized iPad as well, coming in 16GB, 32 GB and 64 GB. That’s great in itself too.
So, is it fun-sized? It sure looks like it. Am I getting one anytime soon? No, I don’t have a need for one, considering I just got my cool new iPad 3rd generation not too long ago, and am very happy with that. But I can see a lot of benefits for the iPad Mini, especially for m-learning and use in schools. Sure, having all those cool new features alone make it great, but knowing that it has the same functionality as its full-sized counterpart, there are two features that will make it really great for education and schools.
First, it’s the smaller size. The smaller size will make the device even more portable than a standard sized iPad for students. It’ll be easier to fit in a backpack, or even to use in a classroom or on a field trip. For the elementary school students, the size will make it easier to use for smaller hands. I’m sure that typing with littler hands will be facilitated more easily on a smaller devices. It’s almost as if iPad Minis were MADE for the elementary school crowd! The size also makes reading e-books more like reading from a competitor’s device, in that it’s not much bigger than a paperback novel. The device itself allows for even more mobility than its larger counterpart. It seems to me like this will be a winner in these respects.
The second feature is the price. At a starting price of $329 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version of the iPad Mini, that’s a savings of $150 over the 16GB Wi-Fi version of the full-size iPad. Multiple that $150 many times for all the students that would be given iPads at schools… incredible savings, and maybe more iPad Minis to be bought!
Now, I’m not knocking the full-size iPad. It’s been revolutionary since its introduction two years ago. Tim Cook of Apple spouted off a lot of incredible statistics about iOS downloads and upgrades that were staggering, like 200 million devices upgraded to iOS6 in the past month, and the 100 millionth iPad was sold two weeks ago! (I wonder if it was mine? Ha ha!) Apple stressed their role in education not only with the introduction of iPads and their impact on schools, but also the impact of iBooks as well. (There is a new upgrade of both iBooks and iBooks Author available today as well). iPad full-size will always have a place, just like full-size writing pads have not gone away just because smaller writing pads can be made. There are advantages to full-size iPads, especially when doing larger scale work. Having more screen to view is easier on the eyes in that respect. Like I said, I personally wouldn’t give up my full-size iPad even if given the opportunity to trade it for a smaller one. That’s just me.
But then I think about my middle-school aged son. Having his own iPad Mini would be perfect for him. Not too big, not too small, and at a relatively affordable price, and he’s still get all the features found in the full-sized one. Or for someone who isn’t an avid computer geek, but wants something that’s more beefed up than the Android tablets and e-readers, this is an excellent choice. Or, someone who’s been wanting an iPad but couldn’t afford one, now they can in a “concentrated” size.
I think this means that the iPad Mini is both fun-sized, AND means business!
Now, will the next one be available in chocolate with nuts, caramel and rice crispies?
As the school year has started for some and will start during the following few weeks ahead, my thoughts start thinking about conventional learning and how educational technology has changed so rapidly, especially in the last few years.
Now, before I continue, I just want to preface this by saying that much of what I will be writing below isn’t based on any scientific study, but rather it’s based on my own experiences and knowledge.
I recently saw this article, and even retweeted it:
I was so glad to see an article like this. We are constantly shown articles or videos about students who are much lower functioning than this kid, who are breaking through the communication wall through various apps on iPad. But I find that higher functioning autistic kids have a much harder time as the gap is much narrower, so it’s hard to define where the fine line between effective communication and ineffective communication is. As a result, these kids fall through the cracks of the system. Seeing that the young man in this article found a solution through online studies is fantastic, and I can relate to it a lot.
I am sure that I’ve mentioned many times before that my son is autistic, but much like the young man in this article, he is very high functioning autistic. My son is so high functioning that the actual autism diagnosis eluded us until he was 9 years old, and that was after already going through several other diagnoses and still feeling that something wasn’t quite fitting right. Through my son, while I have not gotten an official diagnosis, I’m pretty convinced that I am an Asperger’s Syndrome person myself; I have displayed so many of the same symptoms as my son, but I did not have the speech problems he had when he was younger (he’s fully language fluent now, due to early intervention and persistence). Even as a mother, I marvel at the various apps that are out there that could have helped my son when he was small, and I wish that we had access to it back when he was small.
My son is a smart boy. However, if something doesn’t interest him or doesn’t serve any meaningful purpose to him, then he’s unwilling to do the necessary schoolwork. As he’s gotten older, this has been problematic. He’s also a kid, and when it comes to mathematics, he doesn’t get the rote information down right away (like understanding his multiplication tables). But, show him how to do a mathematical function, and he can pick it up fairly quickly. He’s not always interested in reading, but he was reading when he was about 3, and when he reads something that interests him, he practically has the resource information memorized. He takes in videos like nobody’s business. Ask him anything about Super Sentai (the original Japanese Power Rangers), Kamen Rider, Power Rangers, Beyblades, Bakugan or Pokemon, and he can tell you everything about them. He also has a fascination with the sciences, especially physics, so when the Higgs Boson was recently proven, I asked him if he had heard about it, and he said, “Yeah, what about it?” and he explained what it was, and didn’t know that it had actually be proven. Keep in mind, the kid is only 11.
Yet, he struggles with school. It’s hard for him to focus, and sometimes he’s still processing things in his head when he’s paying attention in class. He can’t take notes to save his life, but he can learn from them. School is a difficult chore for him, and it takes some creativity to engage him to learn. He’s definitely capable of learning, but he can’t always learn by conventional means. He has a very difficult time with writing skills as well, which has been a struggle since he was small.
I can relate to my son on so many levels academically. I think this is why I end up being the one to do homework with him most of the time–I know how to “translate” things in a way that he can understand. I also had that same combination of hyper-focus on some topics, and total distraction on other topics, and had a hard time with school as well, even though I did well for the most part. If I had half the tools and support he has now when I was a kid, I would’ve been valedictorian of my class, I bet, but instead, I had to fight my way through much of school to get decent grades.
So, when I read the article above, I could relate to it so much because of my son, but also because of my own online experiences getting my Master’s degree from NJIT. My degree was 100% online, and despite what anyone would think, it was a very social event, yet I could pace myself the way I wanted (well, within reason–I still had deadlines for assignments and such). I want to say that the success in earning my degree and getting a straight “A” average was due to hard work and the quality of the program–which it was, but it was more. It was the delivery system. I’m very convinced that if I had done this coursework solely in a classroom environment, while I might have done well, I don’t think I would have done THIS well. Being able to set up my own schoolwork routine, read at my own pace, respond to forum threads and work on assignments at my own pace were a huge part of it. I’ve found for years that social media and just being connected to the Internet is not only addictive for me, but essential for me. It’s how I’m able to socialize more effectively and learn more effectively as well. For all those naysayers that say there’s no such thing as “learning styles,” I say, “Poppycock!” I am a living example of someone who needs to be taught more on a visual level than an audiological level; I have sensory issues but am simultaneously a sensory learner. My son is the same way.
So what does this have to do with mobile learning and gamification? EVERYTHING! There seem to be more and more studies that “typical” learners learn as much or more with mobile options and gamification methods. Imagine what it can do for special needs learning! My son is a big of a gamer, and I know at his age I love the earliest electronic and digital games myself. Even now, I’d much rather play an online game to learn than read my dry textbook. The trick for high-functioning special needs people like my son and I is that we–as I mentioned before–fall between the cracks; we don’t need things dumbed down for us, but we do need a different method to get the same information into our skulls, and everything is either over simplified and babyish (like some of the math games that he can play to get those multiplication facts into his head), or there isn’t something that is sophisticated enough that can achieve the same thing.
I envy my son, because e-learning is SO much more than it was when I was growing up. Heck, just having Internet access and email and social media is much more than what I had when I went to school. Getting my Master’s degree was the first time I could use such resources, and given the right tools as these digital ones, I could fly (metaphorically speaking). I want to see my son fly as well, as I know he’s capable of it. I try to find lots of physics game apps for him on my iPad, which he zooms through with ease. I need to find some age appropriate math apps, writing apps, and other apps that can help him learn without him realizing he’s learning, or at least make it more enjoyable. I want him to feel successful in whatever he ends up doing, and I want him to feel that learning is a lifelong endeavor, and that he is capable of finding the resources he needs to accomplish what he wants. We are still figuring this out, but like I said, the world is his oyster, and he needs to learn how to access it all, and I think he’s already on his way since he found the Super Sentai on his own (and yes, he watches these Japanese Power Rangers episodes on YouTube, in Japanese, sometimes subtitled, sometimes not, but he doesn’t care–he picks up what all of it’s about anyway).
Being that my son is a big gamer, he enjoys and adapts to games well. He was fortunate, this summer, that his summer school math teacher picked up on the idea of gamification, as every day my son and the other kids in his class would play a card/board game that would teach math skills. He enjoyed it very much, and there was a social skills aspect to it as well, which helped. Granted, it was not a video game or digital online game, but the principle is still the same–it was a game, and he was learning the skills he needed to learn. So many online games can teach without one realizing it, and making learning so much more accessible. Even the popular Angry Birds game–one of my son’s favorites–is actually a fantastic game that teaches physics and problem solving skills. I don’t say no to him playing Angry Birds on my iPad or iPhone. He’s learning, at least, and developing skills that may help in the future as some sort of engineer. Even as an adult, I can say that I would enjoy something more interactive online than something static or something that’s essentially a page-turner.
This is where mobile comes in. We all know the benefits of m-learning functionality, such as providing just essential information, having web capabilities to interact not only with others, but use tools like social media and researching on the web, and sharing resources is a big deal. Even the nature of m-learning is beneficial, because good m-learning design breaks things up in to small pieces than if it was done as a regular desktop course or classroom lesson. With m-learning, a child can record the class while attempting to take notes, and listen to it later while doing homework, rewinding parts of the lecture while rewriting or filling in missing information in notes.
I know for me, it was a big deal to be able to manipulate my studies to make them mobile. I would use the Microsoft OneNote app on my iPad to do initial drafts of homework assignments during my lunch hour, and then sync up my notes so that I could pull them onto my laptop later to clean them up more on my laptop at home. I could watch video or listen to a podcast on my iPad or iPhone, stop it and restart a section if I didn’t quite catch it–or even just stop so I could catch up writing notes first, then continue. You can’t do that so easily in a classroom. I could pace myself much better, and as a result, my retention was better because I could review details as needed.
This is really important for Aspies as they want to take in everything, and very often it hard to keep up because we are still deciphering and translating information given in our heads while the information keeps feeding. Sometimes our brains can’t process quite as quickly, so by the time we have a piece of information processed and we are ready for the next bit, instead of one new piece of information, then next five have happened. Keeping up and forcing oneself to keep up with the pace can be mentally grueling and exhausting. It’s not that we don’t have the mental capacity to understand the information, but rather that our internal processors are different. It’s like having last year’s processing chip in your computer instead of the latest and greatest. It’s not that the chip can’t handle it at all, but rather at a different pace. If you can gamify the information, then the information is learned on a subconscious level, and just like any video game, new skills are attained little by little as you proceed higher and higher in a game. It’s really THAT simple.
So, for you instructional designers, educational technologists and technical communicators that don’t think that gamification or m-learning makes that much of a difference–IT DOES. Believe me! Keep m-learning and gamification in mind. It not only lends itself well to typical learners, but can go miles farther for those with special needs.