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CHAPTER 6. mLEARNING ON THE COMPAQ iPAC

CHAPTER 6 MLEARNING ON THE COMPAQ IPAQ

The original proposal contained the development of a didactic environment and the production of a course for a wireless palmtop. The device listed in the proposal document was the Ericsson MC 218. Ericsson discontinued development of this device in the period between the submission of the project and its approval.

The first meeting of the project Board of Management substituted the Compaq iPaq for the MC 218. This decision strengthens the project as the Compaq iPaq is the most popular and wide selling Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) on the market.

This meeting also produced the project's definition of mobile learning. It is couched in these terms:

During the course of the project to date it has become apparent that there are several interpretations of mobile learning. These include wireless LAN (WLAN) technologies and the combination of mobile phone and laptop computer supporting a learning event (a partner suggested the phrase "battery learning" to describe these combinations). The meeting accepted that these scenarios may be defined by some as mLearning and accepts that there is an element of mobility in each. The meeting constructed a grid contrasting mobility with functionality such that these scenarios score high on functionality but low on mobility. The project places its research at the opposite end of the grid whereby the emphasis is on mobility and the testing of functionality with devices clearly in the mobile technology arena. The meeting felt this would lead to a truer exploration and evaluation of the issues, positive and negative, of a mobile learning experience.

Thus the project definition of mobile learning coincides with the review of the literature presented in Chapter 4 above as considering that the term mobile learning should include learning scenarios with mobile phones, palmtops and PDAs, but regarding laptop computers as outside its focus.

Thus the development of learning scenarios and distance learning courses for PDAs, like the Compaq iPaq, is central to the project and as most of the work described in Chapter 4 is on the development of scenarios for palmtops and PDAs it would be quite unrealistic not to have a central focus on development for PDAs.

Illustration

The Compaq iPAQ is a handheld computer giving full internet access and a wide range of functionality which the project is harnessing for learning. It has a touch sensitive screen that can be activated with a stylus and has a fold-out keyboard that enables easy typing input.

Here is an illustration of the latest model:

Compaq iPAQ 3650 Pocket PC

Limitations

The screen size of the Compaq iPAQ or of any handheld palmtop or PDA is small and has inherent difficulties for the presentation of course content in a distance learning context. Most people using them, however, appear to be able to read data from them with a certain amount of ease.

The concept of mobile learning has a central relationship to mobile telephony and the absence of a telephone contact, and the necessity to use a mobile telephone, with them is an important consideration.

Decision

A central part of mobile learning as detailed in the literature search presented in Chapter 4 deals with handhelds, palm tops and PDAs. There is very little development at this stage for mobile or cell phones. The project decided therefore to put a major part of its development effort into explorations of didactic constructs and course provision on the Compaq iPAQ.

Development of system for Compaq iPAQ

Fagerberg, Rekkedal and Russell in their, Designing and Trying Out a Learning Environment for Mobile Learners and Teachers describe the development of the didactic environment system for the Compaq iPaq at NKI in Norway thus:

This paper summarises the work package carried out at NKI Distance Education during the year 2001 of the EU Leonardo Project, "From e-Learning to m-Learning".

Development of the wireless Compaq iPaq

The concepts, distance education, e-learning and m-learning are discussed with reference to NKI Distance Education philosophies, views on learning and experiences in developing learning materials for distance education and online learning.

During 2001 NKI project team studied International experiences concerning m-learning, analysed technological solutions and pedagogic/didactic needs based on our internal practical experiences and results from previous surveys and evaluation studies among our distance students.

The technical solution chosen was to try out the use of a Pocket PC/Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) in combination with a mobile phone for distribution of learning content and communication between tutor and students, between students and for students’ communication with the learning material. As technologies develop so fast that the specific technology available changes from one week to the next, it was important that the solutions chosen had some generic basis, i.e. also that the specific brands of PCs, mobile phones and keyboards etc. should not constitute any substantial restrictions concerning generalisability of our experiences.

When we had to make our choice in late spring 2001, we found that after analysing functionality of different brands of PDA/Pocket PC, we chose to build our learning environment around the Compaq iPAQ 3630 and 3660. The mobile phones chosen were Ericsson T39 and Ericsson R580.

The next steps for NKI Distance Education in the project will be to carry out the first experiment of a partly real and partly simulated distance learning setting including evaluation, and carry out a survey among distance learners on aspects of mobility and plan and conduct a second experiment in a fully realistic setting.

The actual course chosen, ‘The tutor in distance education’ was chosen for the following reasons:

  • It is a course in the pedagogy of distance teaching, and as such represents an ideal course for combining the research on media, methods and technology with the substance or content of the learning
  • It is taught by internal NKI staff, also involved in the project, thus combining internal competence development with development work in the project
  • The fact that same staff are involved in development and teaching in the practical try outs to be carried out opens for real field research during try out and also makes it easier to transfer the experiences and results from the experiments to further developments in the operations of the NKI Internet College
  • Students taking the course are prospective online teachers in the NKI Distance Education system, their experiences as mobile learners are transferred to their teaching after completing the course

In this section of their report Fagerberg et al present their decisions to develop mLearning systems for the PDA, Compaq iPaq. In the following section they present theoretical analyses of learning using the work of the German scholar, Dichanz.

Theoretical constructs on the nature of learning

‘Distance education’ and ‘distance learning’ are well-established concepts (Keegan 1996). The ‘distance learner’ is a person who, for some reason, will not or cannot take part in educational programmes that require presence at certain times or places.

Recently terms such as ‘e-learning’ and ‘m-learning’ have entered the scene. To us, learning is an activity or process and shown as a change in a person’s perceptions, attitudes or cognitive or physical skills. It cannot be ‘electronic’ (if that is what e-learning is supposed to stand for (?)).

The terms e-learning and d-learning deserve to be analysed. For instance, the term, e-learning, seems to be used to convince users that some supernatural things happen with your brain when you place yourself in front of a computer screen. This miracle is very unlikely to happen, as learning in the real world is mainly hard work. Most examples of so-called e-learning programmes seem to be extremely costly to develop and most often covers low-level knowledge and facts based on a simplistic view of what learning is (see e.g. Dichanz 2001 "E-learning, a linguistic, psychological and pedagogical analysis of a misleading term").

However, as the term seems to be becoming part of accepted terminology, it is imperative for educational researchers and serious providers to define it and assign meaning that is in accordance with our views on teaching and learning. Seen from a university perspective, Dichanz, who is professor of education and the German FernUniversität ends his critical analysis of the term, e-learning with the following definition:

"E-learning is the collection of teaching – and information packages – in further education which is available at any time and any place and are delivered to learners electronically. They contain units of information, self-testing batteries and tests, which allow a quick self-evaluation for quick placement. E-learning offers more lower level learning goals. Higher order goals like understanding, reasoning and (moral) judging are more difficult to achieve. They require an individualised interactive discourse and can hardly be planned" (Dichanz 2001)

Even though we do not totally agree with Dichanz that higher level learning goals cannot be planned, we agree that such goals are much more difficult to plan, and that most so-called e-learning programmes do not demonstrate attention to higher level learning objectives.

Similar reflections can be raised concerning the term, ‘mobile learning’. Again, learning cannot be mobile. Learners are probably more and more mobile, and they use mobile technology. In connection with this project we would describe NKI’s main objective ‘to design and trial out a learning environment for mobile learners and teachers’ maintaining the flexibility of distance education for learners on the move. These reflections are in line with Sariola et al. (2001):

"The term ‘mLearning’ has lately emerged to be associated with the use of mobile technology in education. It seems, however, that it is used in commercial purposes rather than as an educational concept. We wonder if the term is a commercial trick to market technology and educational services or if it is an emerging concept that educationalists should take seriously." (Sariola et al. 2001, p 1)

It should be noted that, although m-learning is a new concept, serving mobile learners is not a new idea. Again, distance education has a history of more than 150 years, where institutions has offered high quality education to learners ‘free of time and place’. This means, that if we are willing to accept the concept m-learning, distance teaching institutions have provided m-learning since its invention. For example, the history of Hermods, once one of the worlds largest correspondence institutions, tells that the original idea that resulted in establishing the institution in 1898 came when Hermods as a local language teacher in Malmö started to support one of his students who moved to another city (Gaddén 1973).

Thus, distance education institutions have provided m-learning for many years. In fact, the ‘correspondence courses’ of the first generation of distance education could be studied at any time anywhere. Actually, the introduction of the desktop computer (and other learning technologies), which required the student to study at a certain place, often also at a certain time, reduced flexibility of distance learning. It is the introduction of mobile electronic equipment and communications technologies, which reintroduces mobility to the distance learner (and teacher). Kjell Askeland (2000) goes even further, and points to the fact that, if we disregard the need for an institution to plan and conduct teaching, mobile learning started when the printing technique was invented, and students could learn without coming to schools and universities.

Again, if we accept the term ‘mobile learning’ = m-learning’, what is it? Most definitions take technology as the starting point, e.g. Quinn (2000-2001): "...(mLearning)? It's elearning through mobile computational devices: Palms, Windows CE machines, even your digital cell phone. Let's call them information appliances (IAs),...".

Others define m-learning closely to distance education, Chabra & Figueiredo (undated): "The ability to receive learning anytime, anywhere and on any device", while Harris (2001) combines technology and the flexibility concept of distance education in his definition: "The point at which mobile computing and eLearning intersect to produce an anytime, anywhere learning experience".

Sariola et al. (Ibid.) discusses the concept, m-learning, from the perspective of educational theory, technology-based definition is obviously not sufficient, and also tries to include aspects of technology. They introduce the characteristics, ‘portability, i.e. the equipment is so light that we can carry the devices that we call mobile, ‘wireless’, there are no wires in the equipment, and ‘mobility’, we are moving when using the technology. Sariola et al. notes that it is the mobility that is most interesting from an educational viewpoint. Concerning mobility, they raise the question about ‘who’ is moving, ‘why’ and ‘where’. If moving is not related to the learning activity as such, why a person is moving might be irrelevant from an educational viewpoint.

However, it is the challenge of the educational institution to satisfy learning needs for people on the move (and we could add to support teachers who move to continue their tasks concerning student support). Sariola et al. notes that conducting educational activities while moving, might deal with convenience, e.g. rational time management or expediency, e.g. the person is moving to a place relevant for the subject studied. Both situations concern NKI when designing an effective and efficient learning environment for the distance learner, although convenience has been most focussed till now.

In this presentation it is hard to agree with the authors when they claim that mobile learning has existed for 150 years and is thus identical with 'distance education'. The advent of elearning, in which students studied the whole or part of a course in front of a computer screen, brought a new electronic dimension to distance learning, which cannot be bypassed. This was a wired computer environment and what is unique and innovative about mLearning is its elimination of the dependence on wiring and the harnessing of the global presence of mobile telephones to training and learning.

Flexible teaching or teaching in the ‘extended classroom’

As stated earlier in this book there are two developments which are central to distance education;: individual based systems, prevalent especially in Europe, and group-based systems prevalent in the USA and China. Fagerberg et al take up this theme in their next section:

A number of evaluation studies among distance and online learners at NKI demonstrate that students emphasize flexibility (see e.g. Rekkedal 1990, 1998, 1999).

In our view, distance education seems to develop in two quite different directions. The solution at one end of a flexibility continuum can be described as an individual, flexible solution allowing the student freedom to start at any time and follow his/her own progression according to personal needs for combining studies with work, family and social life – ‘the individual flexible teaching model’.

This model represents a generic development of the model of distance teaching institutions and applies normally media and technologies independent of time (and place), such as asynchronous computer communication, video, audio and printed materials. The model on the opposite end of the scale, ‘the extended classroom model’, assumes that the students are organised into groups required to meet regularly at local study centres and applies technologies such as video conferencing, satellite distribution, radio and television (Gamlin 1995).

In this connection we have chosen the philosophy for the development of Internet based education at NKI: Flexible and individual distance teaching with the student group as social and academic support for learning. NKI offers more than 400 courses and over 100 study programmes by correspondence based and Internet based distance teaching and recruits 10,000 students every year. These students may enrol to any course of programme or combination of courses at any day of the year and progress at their own pace. This flexibility does not exclude group-based solutions in co-operation with one single employer, trade organisation or local organiser.

It is also clear from NKI experiences that already many of our students and teachers have experience as mobile learners and teachers. Till now this has been restricted mainly to students and teachers carrying their laptops, possibly including communication via mobile phones.

Our main objective in this part of the project has been to extend the distribution of learning materials and communication to lighter equipment, specifically PDA and mobile phone. The challenge is then to develop the system and server side to present materials in ways suitable for PDA technology, find acceptable solutions for distribution of materials and for administration to student, teacher to student/student to teacher and student to student communication.

It is our aim in designing the environment for the mobile learner to extend and increase the flexibility of distance education, that to some extent took a step backwards when converting from paper based to online learning, where students largely were required to study at a place (and at a time) where a computer with access the Internet was available.

The authors then proceed with an in depth treatment of the nature of learning as it applies to mLearning and other possibilities.

Views on knowledge and learning

For NKI it was clear that the learning aims, content and teaching/learning methods in our online courses and programmes generally are far away from most e-learning courses. Most examples of m-learning experiments concern e-learning on mobile devices, often WAP and/or ‘smart-phones’ (see e.g. Kynäslahti 2001, Kristiansen 2001).

To us, learning is a change in the student’s perception of reality related to the problem areas studied and increased competence in solving problems in a field, ability to differ between focal and more peripheral questions, analytical skills and competence in using the tools within a field in appropriate ways. This means that learning results are shown in a qualitative change in the student’s understanding, academic, social and technical competence. The learning is a result of active processing of learning material and solving problems individually and/or in groups.

This view is often different from what we can find in many so-called e-learning programmes, where knowledge often is seen as a larger amount of information or ability to recall and reproduce facts. In addition to cost considerations, this is why NKI in general has put little emphasis on using fancy effects in a behaviouristic pedagogical tradition, programmed learning and knowledge transmission (see Marton et al 1987, 1997, Morgan 1993 on students’ conceptions of learning, deep level and surface level approaches to learning). We also hold the view that learning is an individual process that can be supported by adequate interaction and/or collaboration in groups (Askeland 2001). With these considerations in mind the NKI solution for designing and trying out a new learning environment for online learners applying PDA and mobile communication seemed to be a sensible one. Our considerations and decisions are discussed below.

Internet based education at NKI today

The authors then present the experience of their own institution in the field of e-Learning and the transition to m-Learning.

NKI was probably the first European online college, and it has offered distance education online every day since 1987. Few - if any - online colleges in the world has been longer in continuous operation.

NKI Distance Education has today well above 200 courses and more than 60 complete study programmes on the Internet. October 2001 we had 3,000 registered active students. There will be more than 6,000 new course enrolments this year (2001). Contrary to many other educational providers where the Internet is used as a supplement to face-to-face teaching or other forms of distance education, we have followed the philosophy that in principle all communication can be taken care of through the Internet, and ideally no obligatory physical meetings should be required. (This does not mean that the students are not free to communicate by post, phone or fax or that study materials may include print, audio or video technologies.)

In connection with a previous EU Leonardo projects managed by LM Ericsson we described the programme and distribution system in Internet based learning as a ‘Multimedia World Wide Web Kernel for Distance Education’ (http://www.nki.no/eeileo/) with the following elements:

Model of the Multi Media Kernel for Distance Education.

In designing the learning environment with the mobile learner in mind, all these aspects and functionalities have to be taken into account. However, in this first pilot experiment we have not focussed on multi-media materials. Extending the functionalities to more multi-media content adapted to the PDA should be a main objective for another project.

Development and Design of the Environment for the Mobile Learner Applying the Compaq iPAQ.

As mentioned above, the aim for the NKI project team was to adapt a course so that it could be used on a wireless handheld device, in our case the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC. After some discussions we have chose the course ‘The Tutor in Distance Education’ for this project. In addition, we also put some effort into adapting the course Spice 601, Specialization Program in International Online Education, to the Pocket PC. This was mainly done to demonstrate a course in English for the Leonardo project team.

These courses were already developed and distributed as courses from the NKI Internet College. The challenge was to design a solution to try out for mobile learners.

Some background information on the Compaq iPAQ

This device is a handheld pocket PC that puts the power of a desktop PC in a sleek little to-go box that gives access to Microsoft Pocket applications like Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word and Excel. Among this software is also Microsoft Reader with Clear Type, which is one of the technologies that we wish to try out in the project. It is also possible to install third party software. One can synchronize the device with one’s desktop PC to read e-mail, view attachments, update the calendar and the device can easily connect to a mobile phone via cable, infrared or bluetooth (3870 version) for online browsing. (See http://www.compaq.com/products/handhelds/index.html for more details.) The screen keyboard is acceptable for short notes. However, many users would prefer to connect to Pocket PC with a foldable keyboard for more efficient writing. At the time of writing (December 2001) available keyboards are far from ideal concerning supporting Norwegian characters.

Studying online and offline

In line with the above discussions on learning and studying, most NKI courses are not designed to function as online interactive e-learning programmes, although some parts of the courses may imply such interaction with multi-media materials, tests and assignments. The courses normally involves intensive study, mainly of text based materials, solving problems, writing essays, submitting assignments and communicating with fellow students by e-mail or in the web based conferences. This means that most of the time the students will we offline when studying. From experience we know that the students often download content for reading offline and often also print out content for reading on paper.

It should also be emphasized that we assume that the NKI Internet students normally will have access to a desktop or laptop computer with Internet connection. This means that the equipment and technologies used when mobile are additions to the students’ equipment used when studying at home or at work.

When planning for the m-learning environment the NKI project team had long discussions whether to develop the learning materials for online or offline study. Taken the above experiences and also cost considerations concerning mobile access to online learning materials, we concluded that the learning environment should include the following aspects:

  • Technology:
  • Pocket PC
  • Mobile phone
  • Portable keyboard

NKI distance student reading comments from his tutor in the garden of his hotel on business in Rome using PocketPC, portable keyboard and mobile phone.

Learning content and communication:

  • Learning content to be downloaded on the mobile device to be studied offline. Downloaded content to include all course materials:
    • Content page
    • Preface
    • Introduction
    • All study units
    • Resources (articles on the web, references to other resource materials)
  • Online access to the discussion forum with the possibility of as quick as possible access for reading in the Forum and writing contributions
  • E-mail for individual communication with tutor and fellow students and for submitting assignments. Assignments may be submitted as text-based e-mail or as Word or Text attachments.

Before taking the decision on distribution of course content to students via the Pocket PC, we analysed three alternative solutions that were discussed in depth. The discussions also included viewpoints on which materials and study activities were suited for offline or online work.

The authors then describe central decisions on the type of system they would design for the Compaq iPaq:

3 alternative solutions for distribution of course content

The 3 main solutions for distributing content were:

  1. The AvantGo Mobile Internet service
  2. Online access via mobile telephone to the entire course
  3. ‘Download-on-demand’ version

Solution 1: The AvantGo Mobile Internet service

Technically we could choose the solution were the student easily could download the entire course content trough ‘The AvantGo Mobile Internet Service’. From the AvantGo website:

"The AvantGo Mobile Internet service provides free interactive and personalized content and applications to your handheld device or Internet-enabled mobile phone real-time via wireless connection or desktop synchronization. With AvantGo you can seamlessly transition between wireless and offline modes to browse your favorite websites on your mobile device or select from our more than 1500 brand-name content and application channels for up-to-date news, financial, travel, entertainment, sports information and much more.

The AvantGo Service allows the user to subscribe to a large number of channels of different categories. AvantGo offers a range of products for the synchronizing of PDAs. Including a range of hosting services. Unfortunately the hosting services are only suitable for the delivering of typical news channel information such as CNN headlines or stock quotes. These services are priced according to how many users use the service each day. AvantGo then uses advertising and revenue from the information provider to generate income. It is up to the information supplier to generate their own income based on these services. The hosted services also do not cover NKI Distance Education needs of personalized content and user interaction.

To be able to deliver content to PDAs via AvantGo we will be required to install our own AvantGo server, and then deliver content via this server to PDAs. AvantGo call their server Mbusiness server. The server is capable of being connected to our current web application (SESAM). And allow us to use our own database of user names and passwords, via a connection to our LDAP server for authenticating users. This would allow NKI to deliver customized content to each user. When using the Mbusiness server it is also possible to cater for user interactions. In that case a user could write a submission to the forum system and the next time the PDA was synchronized, the submission would be uploaded to our server

The Mbusiness server is available for many operating systems, including MS-Windows, Linux and SUN Solaris. All communication with the server is encrypted for security.

AvantGo’s pricing policy is based on the value the server product will add to the purchasing enterprise. So the price is highly variable. It is not possible to get a ‘definitive’ price for the Mbusiness server without AvantGo evaluating how much ‘value’ the server will add to our organization. However, we were able to get a general guideline. The Mbusiness server would typically costs around 75,000 euros for a 250-user intranet. These are costs that would not be acceptable for use with NKI Internet students.

Solution 2: Online access via mobile telephone to the entire course

This is perhaps in principle the preferred solution. However, it requires higher speed and lower prices than we could find in Norway in 2000. It is also the most complex solution. An online version requires that we would have to redesign the entire site to fit the Pocket PC format. Before doing this we would have to make a cost-benefit analysis in front to see if the solution really is worth the effort. The other important issue is the availability of mobile communication technology and pricing. In this project we are using the Ericsson R520 and Ericsson T39 mobile phones connected with the PocketPC. These phone supports GPRS, General Packet Radio Services, and HSCSD (higs-speed circuit switched data). So far in the project our experience with this technology is mixed. It proved quite difficult to set up and connect via GPRS, and the prizing policy chosen by our Norwegian GPRS providers makes it all to expensive to use. One pays no subscription fees, however, the amount paid Mb of information transferred is presently not acceptable. For data up to 1Mb one pays 0.10 NKR pr. Kb and 0.025 NKR pr. Kb for data exceeding 1Mb.

Solution 3: ‘Download-on-demand’ version

We have developed two different "download-on-demand" versions. The first one consists of a set of zipped HTML files, which one may download to the desktop PC, unzip and synchronize with the PocketPC. The second consists of a set of ready to use Microsoft Reader files, which also are synchronized to the PocketPC. These files are available from within the web course.

At this stage of the project we focused on this alternative. The HTML version is using Internet Explorer to browse the course material offline. The other version is also an offline version, using the software, Microsoft Reader with ClearType.

The choice of solution 3 was partly a result of limited time and resources available at this stage of the project. Solution 1 needs more research to ‘the most ideal’ solution for the future, i.e. to offer a complete PDA adapted version based on the same learning materials available in the web course for standard PCs. The principle of ‘one file many versions’ (html, pdf, reader, etc.) is achievable trough the use of XML). Presently, through our preliminary analyses we found that explore opportunities, limitations and cost/benefit. Solution 2 would perhaps be there were too many limitations in mobile technology regarding transfer capacity vs. cost to be able to carry out the experiments that we wished to do. Solution 2 would also, as mentioned above, require a complete site redesign of the NKI Distance Education website.

The reason for supplying two alternatives of content is that we as part of the empirical testing are interested in examining attractiveness and user friendliness of the different solutions for the student. The student can manipulate the Microsoft Reader content by the possibility of bookmarking, adding highlights, notes and drawings and look up words directly in the PocketPC Dictionary. This means that the students can use the materials actively in ways that we recognise from students’ use of print materials and their personal notes. The student is, in other words, able to ‘make the materials his own’ while studying. It is reason to believe that these functionalities may help students organising the materials cognitively and support learning and remembering.

The decision to go for the choice of downloading content for offline study was based on previous experiences and also the following considerations: NKI Internet students study mainly offline. Communication concerns discussion with fellow students in the academic forums, cooperation on projects and group assignments, and individual communication with other students – and, most important, according to our evaluations (see e.g. Rekkedal & Paulsen 1997), communication with the tutor including submission of assignments with correction and feedback. All our analyses concluded that the students will have all these possibilities available on their desktop or laptop PCs, including online interaction with the learning materials.

When mobile – and using mobile technologies – it is generally satisfactory for the student (and the tutor) to have the course content available to study on the PocketPC. In addition, the following communication possibilities are necessary. When mobile, the student must be able to:

  • Access the course forum to read messages
  • Access the course forum to submit contributions to the discussions
  • Send e-mail to fellow students, to the teacher and to administration (study advisor)
  • Receive e-mail from fellow students, from the tutor and from the administration
  • Submit assignments by e-mail including attachments
  • Receiving assignments corrected and commented on by the tutor including attachments

To access e-mail and discussion forums, mobile phones will be used. We plan that in future versions it will be possible to synchronize discussions via the student’s desktop or laptop PC.

This software/technologies chosen are described in more detail below.

Development of courseware for the Compaq iPaq

The authors now describe the choice of courseware for the m-Learning development on the Compaq iPaq and the methodologies used in the development of this courseware.

We chose a course previously developed for Internet/web based learning, ‘The Tutor in Distance Education’ as courseware for this project. This course is one of our many ongoing Internet courses and therefore already available in a HTML version. Thus it was relatively easy to adapt the existing version of the course to the iPAQ since MS Internet Explorer is the browsing tool used. The main part of the adaptation was to create directories and file structures that insured that all content were present and worked as intended.

Some modifications had to be done, e.g. the table of content had to be changed, so that all links to introductions, study units, articles etc. could be placed on one page. The Content Page also contains links to examples of course pages such as class list, forum page, the student’s personal NKI college page and others. Students can also a link to the presentation of their tutor with contact information. The course includes reference links to many external resources, which also are available on the PocketPC, but accessible only when online through the mobile phone. The course also includes a number of articles available at the NKI Internet College Pages. We chose to include the whole library of distance education research reports, articles, conference papers etc. available on the NKI pages. This was done mainly because the course content concerns distance education pedagogy and didactics, thus as the storing capabilities of the iPAQ was sufficient, we considered this as an extra academic service.

As mentioned, the HTML version applies Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer that is a web browser with far less functionality than the full scale PC version.The other version developed for the project uses Microsoft Reader on the Pocket PC as ‘browsing’ tool.

Microsoft Reader with ClearType is one of the programmes available to read e-books or content in the *.lit file format (MS Reader file format). Microsoft has developed Microsoft Reader with ClearType that enhances display resolution by as much as 300 percent by improving letter shapes and character spacing, making them appear more detailed, more finely crafted, and more like printed fonts. This gives powerful digital advantages like integrated dictionary support and electronic annotations, while honouring the best traditions of typography to ensure proper kerning and leading, correct margins, and line justification, to name a few. The software also gives the opportunity to read e-books, Pocket Dictionaries etc. to downloaded from the Internet and synchronized to the PocketPC via the PC.

There are several methods to produce materials in the Microsoft Reader format. One may create on-the-fly Reader files via publishing websites like eBookExpress: i

It s possible to outsource the entire or parts of the converting process. Several e-book consulting and content conversion services are available and offering services ranging from document conversion to complete e-commerce solutions. Overdrive is one example of a firm that offer ePublishing solutions, http://www.overdrive.com/ .The software builds the e-book, page-by-page, according to individual preferences to suit the device one is using.

One may also download software that converts publications into Reader files/e-books according to individual preferences. One of these is ReaderWorks. This is a third-party software recommended by Microsoft developed by OverDrive Inc. ReaderWorks is available in three versions, Standard, Publisher and Professional. The Standard version is freeware with less functionality than the Publisher and Professional versions. OverDrive and Microsoft also provides a software development kit (SDK) that software developers can use to build tools that generate Micorosoft Readerfiles. Microsoft also offers an add-in functionality for Microsoft Word that makes it possible to convert a Word document to Reader format.

We have in the project produced a version of the learning materials for Microsoft Reader using the Standard version of ReaderWorks from OverDrive Inc. This version is a freeware application with some limitations regarding commercial sale and distribution. It also lacks the opportunity to provide cover pages and marketing information.

ReaderWorks Standard includes tools to convert html, text and image files to Reader format. It also allow for making a table of content based on heading formatting of HTML documents. Our experience so far is that this is a very well functional tool that also is quite easy to use. It has an intuitive user interface with many different options and functions. We had some problems with empty meta-tags that made the conversion fail. The software also showed some problems with documents containing internal style-sheets and script language. These errors caused the conversion to fail. The HTML code causing these errors had to be manually corrected. The software supplied good reports on what kind of errors arising and where they occurred.

The Solutions Exemplified

In this important section the authors describe the differences in presentation of the wired version of the course for e-Learning and the changes that are met in using the same materials in a mobile learning environment.

As described before all NKI Internet students, whether studying a course with a mobile supplement or not, will access the course materials and communication solutions via their ordinary PC at home, at the workplace or elsewhere. Course content for the mobile supplement is downloaded to the PC and synchronized to the PocketPC, while all the communication activities can be carried out through the PocketPC and the mobile phone when on the move.

After logging into the NKI Internet College with user name and password, the user (tutor or student) opens the person’s individual ‘Personal page’. This page contains general information and lists the courses and programmes the person has access to. On the screen above the tutor has access to ‘m-learning lærer’, which is the course developed and to be tried out during the first phase of the project. The course title links to the Course Front Page.

The course front page links to:

  • The course content on the server
    • Preface
    • Introduction
    • Study Unit 1
    • Study Unit 2
    • Study Unit 3
    • Resources
  • Information about copyrights
  • Tutor and class list
  • The course forum

In addition the m-learning version has a link named ‘Pocket PC’, which links to a page containing all necessary information for downloading the content in the two versions, HTML format and Microsoft Reader format.

Learning materials and communication on the PocketPC

The learning materials downloaded and synchronized to the PocketPC are presented as complete HTML files, and are, according to our subjective opinion, satisfactory for reading on the PocketPC screen. This will be evaluated during the try out.

The screen shots of the PocketPC are photographed using a digital camera. The results are not perfect, but give a reasonably good impression of how they look.

Below is presented the course content files as they appear downloaded in the HTML version:

The Table of Content Page on the PocketPC.

The hyperlinks brings the student to the course content files. The last link seen at the screen, ‘Kurs i e-bokformat’ (Course in e-book format) opens the Microsoft Reader with a second full version of the course. The Content Page also has links (not seen on the screen) that opens the PocketPC e-mail programme or connects directly to the course online for reading and contributing to the course forum.

While the course content is presented in formats adapted to the screen of the PockePC, the pages above are shown as they appear with the present solution (without having redesigned the materials on the server to fit the PocketPC). However, with some scrolling the pages are readable.

The authors then proceed with their conclusion on the provision of mobile learning environments for learners so far.

Conclusion course presentation and communication

At the present stage and with present technological limitations the NKI project team decided that we had found an acceptable solution for presentation of course content and facilities for studying the learning materials, for solving assignments and submission of assignments to the tutor. Sending and receiving e-mails also functions satisfactory.

It is the empirical try out that hopefully will give answers to how our solutions actually are accepted in practice. In connection with the second phase of the project, we will parallel to the empirical research look at possible solutions for redesigning the site to make the learning materials better adapted for online access and interaction from mobile equipment.

In this paper we have described the preparatory work, internal discussion and analyses and the development work concerning preparing for trying out a learning environment for mobile learners within the teaching and learning system of NKI Distance Education. The NKI Internet College is defined as the total system for Internet based distance education courses. The work during 2001 is carried out in close cooperation with the other partners in the project.

The solution is based on the assumption that students defined as ‘mobile learners’ have access to the NKI Internet College through a standard PC and Internet connection, and that the mobile part is seen as a supplement for students when on the move. Our technical requirements was that the mobile learning platform had to allow more advanced presentation and communication possibilities than possible through the WAP phone, concerning storing capabilities, use of colours and graphics and size of files. The decision was taken to develop learning materials, i.e. complete courses for handheld PDAs/PocketPC and mobile phone for connection to the Internet. The solutions are supposed to be generic and based on state of the art technology and also representing technologies that would give experiences of value for future assumed probable developments in software and hardware. The actual equipment used as basis and trials during development was Compaq iPAQ and Ericsson T39 and R580.

One course, ‘The tutor in distance education’ was chosen as the first practical case in developing materials and communication solutions for the mobile learner. Before starting actual try outs, the project group feels that the technical solutions chosen constitute a good basis for experimenting and evaluating an environment for mobile learners in NKI Distance Education.

The authors then proceed with an indication of the next development of their provision of mobile learning environments for learners.

Planning the Try Out

We plan to try out the solution from early January 2002. Originally we wished to try out the course among ordinary students at NKI. We have found that access to equipment among our ordinary students for the time being is too limited. Thus, the fist trial will be carried out in a partly real and partly simulated situation where one member of the project team will teach the course to an internal group of NKI employees, some members of the project team and some participants working in other projects and related areas. For the try out we have purchased 10 PDAs and a few mobile phones.

We will evaluate the results through the process applying qualitative research methods, such as diaries, interviews and discussions in the academic Forum focussing on the aspects of the mobile learning environment. Aspects to be evaluated are:

Technical problems concerning downloading, synchronization, communication with forum and e-mail

Studying on the move with the learning materials on mobile equipment (PDA and mobile phone)

Use of learning materials, usefulness of HTML solutions and e-book

Technology, such as use of screen and portable keyboards

The participants will be required to log experiences from the first experiences with the PDA and downloading till end of course, to study the materials and communicate with fellow students and participating in forum discussions via mobile equipment.


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Last update: August 2002
Editor: Paul Landers