A few weeks ago I boarded a flight to St. Louis for a conference and met a young man who made me realize how connected we’ve become with mobile technology, across not only distance, but across cultural and social divides.
On a typical connecting flight, the person in the seat next to me will be from thousands of miles away from my home , and sometimes light years away in their social, cultural and world view. Not surprisingly, this disparity can lead to just the briefest of conversations followed by hours of reading, listening to MP3 players, or watching in-flight movies.
But within moments of putting on our seat belts, we both had our mobile devices out, making our last-minute online connections before the plane’s door was closed. I had my new iPhone and Marc had his iPod Touch. There was an immediate connection as we nodded at each others technology, and the conversation began that would last for the entire three-hour flight.
Marc offered me half of his sandwich (I had foolishly neglected to get something before the flight) and we began comparing notes on our favorite apps. I described my latest hobby using Geocaching, with the iPhone’s built in GPS capabilities. Marc countered with Trapster, an app to alert you to the location of speed traps.
I shared a picture of my ride—a two-seater—with photo altered with ColorSplash. Marc countered with a photo of his motorcycle. I tapped up Cartoon-Wars, and Marc pulled up Wooden Labyrinth.
Eventually our conversation began to enter more serious territory–learning from mobile technology. I showed him how I could view science lectures on my iPhone from MIT for free on YouTube. We ruminated how open education is truly arriving, and learning about any topic (including the Theory of Relativity—another common interest) can be fully realized for free, on-line and while in motion.
We parted ways, with me promising to listen to his favorite music, rapper Juelz Santana, and Marc promising to look into the TED talks online. It was a wake-up call for me about how mobile technology can help break down so many walls, whether economic, cultural, or just the barriers set up by seat dividers.
I’ve been waiting patiently, but couldn’t take it any longer as I’ve watched more and more friends whip out their iPhone 3G to get a GPS fix on our location or perform some other mundane task sliced, diced and served on the micro-mobile-super computer that is the iPhone 3G. I know, I’m late to the party, but from the perspective of a technophile, I have to admit I’ve felt very much like Batman’s understudy in these situations. Ultimately, I just couldn’t wait for Verizon and Apple to make nice. I honestly don’t know where to start and I’m not accustomed to blushing, so I’ll simply share where I see potential as it relates to learning apps on the iPhone in general. But first things first: I’m now convinced that any dialog about the iPhone should begin with a mandatory effort to share one’s favorite iPhone apps. In that vein, the list below highlights my top 10 learning or educational apps for the iPhone, and attempts to point out where innovation and learning potential inherent to each app might paint a picture of potential future approaches in the world of online learning experiences.
Chris’ Top 10 Eductional Apps for the iPhone
A glimpse of the future now: seamless, motivational learning that is fun, kinesthetic and fully accessible. Learn about friction, gravity, mass, angles and other principles of physics via a clever game that allows you to exercise agency on both the physical and mental level–suitable for just about any age over 4 years old. I’m completely intrigued by the category of “Doodle games” (games where you draw objects on the touch screen that instantiate themselves in the game). These games open up a world of possibilities for any subject and seem like the perfect convergence of device, content and user motivation. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention Geared by Bryan Mitchel–an extremely elegant interface that allows the user to manipulate spinning gears around variables of distance, proximity and speed.
2. Kindle for the iPhone
Of course you lose some ergonomics when compressing the Kindle into the iPhone shell, but the distribution system for e-books (especially those in the public domain) is wonderful. This app has a clever interface, lots of free books and access to the Amazon catalog via a “get book” button.
It’s not so much that my five year old adores this application (he does), but it’s what this type of application represents. For language acquisition, the approach is a highly compelling supplement and the touch screen features allow users to trace letters while listening to the sound or word.
Need to learn Chinese characters? Try eStroke Chinese Characters
This application brought back memories of the first time I realized that the Wii controllers house an acceleramator and a gyrometer to measure motion and tilt. This application allows the iPhone to react to various types of external motion. This app provides a very innovative way to learn about how motion is translated into a digital representation. You can submit your data directly to a website that associates your location with your seismograph data. Can you think of some learning contexts for this technology?
I think it is safe to say that for most of us the personal computer is the first place we go when we are looking for web-based information; however, new web-ready mobile devices are emerging with increased speed and are blurring the line of what traditionally constitutes a viable endpoint for digital content. Have you seen the new Verizon netbook? Is it a laptop, a souped-up PDA? Neither, it’s a “netbook”—netbooks have been around for awhile now, but the fact that this one was selling for under $200 definitely caught my eye.
As the computing power of mobile devices improves and they become more affordable, the demand for content that works well on these platforms continues to grow. Consequently, new possibilities for delivering E-learning content to mobile devices are redefining the E-learning industry in exciting ways.
While many user interface and usability people have given lukewarm reviews of the Kindle, the popularity of this E-book device has revealed what appears to be strong evidence of consumer demand for this type of technology. It’s hard to find fault with the practical benefits of having an ultra-lightweight E-book that holds up to 200 books, connects to the Internet wirelessly to download content and displays text in a relatively familiar format without the flicker of the CRT monitor. A sign of things to come? Many think so, like Steve Brotman in his Vcball blog.
How might a ubiquitous E-book like the Kindle and other new mobile web-ready devices reshape the world of instructional content? Smartphones like the iPhone and Palm Pre are quickly building a loyal following of application developers and end-users. The iPhone 3 will be released soon and Apple recently stated they have over 50 thousand applications for download in their App Store where over 1 billion applications have been downloaded by their 40 million iPhone and iPod Touch customers. Until the Kindle can withstand the rigors of being tethered to a 3rd grader and Mom and Dad are willing to pay for little Johnny’s new iPhone, it’s hard to imagine these types of devices displacing the book on a large scale for the K-12 demographic (although there are numerous educational applications available for this group). Nevertheless, let’s look at some examples of how mobile devices are already enabling new ways of delivering educational media.