(this is part two of this blog post; read part 1 here)
Enriching field work with Google Glass
Researchers at VU University Amsterdam (VU) and Utrecht University (UU) already have experience with Google Glass. At VU, Mathijs Hofmijster had the national rowing team row using a modified version of Google Glass (Dutch) while a rowing app provided them with real-time information on their performance. At UU, Wim Back uses Google Glass to have his students perform their entrustable professional activities (EPAs), such as diagnosing a possibly crippled horse. They report their findings via Glass and the lecturer supervises remotely. It takes some time for users to get used to the device, but there is a lot of enthusiasm and the experiments generate a lot of attention, which may help with setting up a commercial application. Hofmijster and Back both see great potential, though they admit that Glass is not the ultimate goal, but only a stepping-stone in the development of wearable technology.
Lessons learned: Even lecturers have a learning curve
During a panel discussion on lessons learned, the focus quickly turned to areas for improvement in mobile learning. A logical development, as the panel members were already convinced of the didactic benefits. In an appropriate twist, the public was able to vote using their own mobile devices on the question of which area they thought required most improvement. Another success for SURFnet, which developed this interactive app specifically to enable the use of mobile devices for voting and facilitate interactive event participation. The results showed that user-friendliness and quality were the main concerns, followed by didactic embedding. Few were worried about costs. In the experience of Cees Lourens, Faculty of Humanities information manager at the University of Amsterdam, lecturers are sometimes initially hesitant to start using mobile education. ‘Even lecturers have a learning curve’, he posits. ‘But we can offer them good support. Interest has grown since the pilots and now they’re calling for more.’
SURFnet’s Maurice van den Akker announced that on 1 January 2015, SURFnet will kick off a long-term ‘Customised Education’ programme (Onderwijs op Maat), which could foster a greater focus on the didactic embedding of mobile technology. Until now, the BYOD task force had mostly been driven by management considerations.
Sylvia Moes, media innovation manager media at VU University Amsterdam, provided technical support for her lecturers’ field work activities. ‘You cannot expect them to both teach and solve technical problems at the same time. That would stand in their way of experimenting with mobile education.’ Though Moes is ready to scale up activities, she has run into resistance at the institution. ‘Despite the success of the pilots, purchasing iPads is not a foregone conclusion,’ she says.
Henri Bal contests the notion that we are ready now that mobile technology has become widely available. As a professor at the Faculty of Science at VU University Amsterdam, he has extensive experience with researching new methods of measurement, ‘from sports people to traffic situations’. ‘Devices are mushrooming like crazy’, says Bal, ‘and they all need to be integrated with a wide variety of cloud services. It’s not easy. Plus, the data collected is about people (or sometimes horses), and must not be made public on the Internet. Energy efficiency is also important. 4G could help in that regard, as the transfer times are shorter, but reports are contradictory. There is still an awful lot to be done.’
We are further along than we think
The innovation seminar concluded with a keynote address from tech journalist David Lemereis. He refers to himself as a ‘science fact-watcher’ – that is, a person who collates data to demonstrate that the future is already well underway. Lemereis believes that in 10 to 15 years, everything – and he means everything – will be intelligent and interconnected. ‘We are heading towards not the Internet of things, but the Internet of everything.’ He then presented an impressive series of existing products that support his hypothesis. How many maths teachers are already familiar with the Photomath, a free scanning app that solves algebraic equations? And just imagine sewers with sensors that inform the municipal authorities when pipes should be opened or closed, pacemakers that communicate with doctors via WiFi, LCD windows, a wrist-drone that can fly off to take selfies, pills with microchips, concrete mixed with graphite that has electric properties and can give an automatic signal if the bridge is cracked… In fact, all of these products are all already commercially available.
He continues with a number of predictions, including unlocking education, which is probably what generated the most interest among the audience: in the future, online education will enable all students to use personalised teaching materials adapted to suit their personal learning style and rhythm. Developments such as mobile technologies are contributing to a future in which everyone will learn in the way best suited to them.