Three years is an eternity in the Internet world. Just think: three years ago was when SURFnet, KPN and the Uithof signed a research collaboration agreement for the use of 4G at the Utrecht University campus. A number of higher education institutions wanted to start experimenting with mobile applications. At that time, 4G did not yet exist in the Netherlands – now it is available everywhere. For many smartphone users, including students, it is perfectly normal to have constant access to ultra-fast mobile Internet. The SURFnet innovation seminar on mobile technology in education and research on Thursday 20 November was not only an evaluation of the outcomes of the 4G pilots, but an ‘afterparty’ that also offered a glimpse at the future. Where are we headed?
MoLAN available immediately
SURFnet wireless team manager Maurice van den Akker dug up the market research commissioned by SURFnet three years ago, and noted that a lot has changed. A mobile device, for example, is no longer something to brag about, but has become an ordinary commodity. The challenges for education are no less subject to change: realising a future-proof scenario is still no easy task. But SURF has not been twiddling its thumbs. A tender procedure for ‘WiFi as a service’ is currently underway, catering for institutions that want access to a state-of-the-art WiFi network but do not wish to set it up or maintain it themselves.
Van den Akker also announced a world-first: MoLAN, a service developed by SURFnet in conjunction with KPN that allows wireless devices to connect to the campus network via 4G, is available from T-mobile starting today. Looking to the future, the next step will be the purchase of mobile data and telephony for students. SURFnet and a number of international partners are currently lobbying at European level and working on a tender procedure. The possibilities for a network-independent SIM card for research and education are also being considered – SURFnet is curious about the level of interest for such a product.
Pilot pitches: much enthusiasm, much learned
In addition to Utrecht University of Applied Sciences (HU), Utrecht University (UU) and the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU), more institutions became involved over the three years of the 4G project, including VU University Amsterdam (VU), the University of Amsterdam (UvA) the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) and Fontys Universities of Applied Science. Those involved in the pilots will present their reports in the form of short pitches – anybody interested in finding out more can ask the speakers during the meet & greet afterwards.
Alwin Distelbrink of UMCU investigated live lecture webcasting using WiFi and 4G. Although there were some practical issues to be resolved (such as devices’ preference for WiFi over 4G and software that requires reconfiguring), users were very enthusiastic. And no wonder: the next time they oversleep, they will be able to tune in to the lecture hall while still on the train. Create-IT, a research group at the AUAS, is working with other universities and businesses to develop a digital sports coach. Researcher Joey van der Bie is focusing on predicting the emotions of runners. In addition to heart rate, speed and motion, he also collects data on fatigue and emotions. Thanks to 4G, he can have test subjects run outside while he receives the data in real time. A video is available demonstrating how this works.
Frank Niesten is an advisor at the Fontys Education Centre (Fontys Educatief Centrum), and was involved in a pilot that challenged students in the technical vocational teaching programme to redesign a diesel tank in an old building into a master bedroom. A second pilot trialled simultaneous coaching for lecturers: while students taught in the classroom, they received feedback from a remote supervising lecturer via an earpiece. Niesten has high expectations for the future of mobile education. ‘All you need is a device, a digital learning environment and high-speed Internet.’
HU was one of the first institutions to carry out pilots – and to experience all of the practical problems that early adopters inevitably face. In August 2012, first-year Communication & Journalism students were instructed to find their way around the Uithof campus using augmented reality and QR codes, but returned within 15 minutes because their smartphone batteries were empty. The lecturer would like to make a second attempt, as technology is advancing. The HU Deaf Studies programme pilot enjoyed more immediate success, with students filming themselves using a tablet while translating into sign language. The lecturer observed live via HD video conferencing and provided feedback straight away, saving a lot of time. 4G makes it possible to distinguish subtle movements on a tablet screen.
Nynke Bos, education technology policy officer at the University of Amsterdam, took the visitors to D. van Hasselssteeg, where the remains of a castle were discovered in 1992. Students of Urban Archaeology used tablets to search for the ruins. The pilot revealed much about the connection between Eduroam and 4G.
Jan Haarhuis, now ICT & Education manager at Utrecht University, facilitated the pilots at the Faculty of Veterinary Science. The lecturer used HD video conferencing to observe remotely how students examined animals unsupervised. Though technical problems led to initial frustrations, in the long run the pilot enabled students to consult information, receive feedback from instructors and peers and directly access the online administration system while working unsupervised with mobile devices. If Haarhuis has his way, the next step is Google Glass.
(This is part 1 of this blog post. Continue to part 2.)