Do digital natives learn electronically? Or “The Panspectron and the Ivory Tower”

Can information technology help us “in the real world”, as students and scholars?  Marc Hudson attends a link-heavy lecture and comes away inspired and a bit overwhelmed.

The startling factoids come thick and fast in Professor Derek France’s talk;

  • Over 90 percent of students have a smart phone or mobile device,
  • The average number of computing devices per student is 4.3,

However, they’re not necessarily using them to best effect.  Professor France cited a report saying that students were “largely unaware of the potential of smart phones to support learning.”

The lolcats seem to be winning over the exams and essays.  It was, he said at the end of a 45 minute whistle-stop tour of apps for learning, the responsibility of academics to support these “digital natives.”

Professor France, who is Professor of Pedagogy in Geographical Sciences at University of Chester, was delivering a keynote lecture at the University of Manchester.  His presentation “Enhancing Fieldwork Learning with Mobile Technologies” – set the tone for a “Faculty Teaching and Learning Showcase.” organised by people within the Faculty of Humanities.  In plain English, that’s a day-long opportunity for academics and students to explore the potential and the pitfalls of information technology.

Professor France, clearly a web2.0 evangelist, practiced what he preached.  After an introduction that included the inevitable slide of logos of the social media behemoths (Youtube, G+, Linked In, Tumblr, Grindr*, etc) he used to find out who in the audience uses devices such as iPads in their teaching.  To participate, people send a text to one of four numbers. The results appear in real time on the screen.  In this case, of the 26 respondents there were 9 “nevers”, 7 “once a years”, 2 “once a terms” and 7 “once a weeks.”  Clearly the  University of Manchester digital revolution is still in the Sierra Maestre hils.

Continuing on the theme of interaction, the attendees then were asked to discuss among themselves for two minutes the  benefits and barriers to the use of digital technologies in fieldwork.

On the positive side – it “engages students, can save time, and aid with active mapping/real-time mapping”, Problems including signal and limited battery life.

The rest of the presentation was made up with brief pithy descriptions of some of the available websites and applications.  Professor France also made the important caveat emptor point that, such is the nature of web2.0 that not all of these companies will definitely be here forever [or indeed, for ten years/months/weeks/days]. A selection of them are below , with their self-descriptions.

Geomeasure “A simple to use area and distance measurement tool for maps. Have you ever wondered “How much acreage is that farm?” or “What is the distance between your house and subway station?”. Are you curious to find out who has the most property in your neighborhood?”
Skitch “See something that sparks an idea? Use Skitch to snap it, mark it up with simple tools, and send it on in an instant. Your bold ideas stand out even brighter with Skitch.”
Evernote “From short lists to lengthy research, no matter what form your writing takes, Evernote keeps you focused on moving those ideas from inspiration to completion.”
Splice “Splice together HD photos and videos in an amazingly simple way. Add music tracks from your iPod library, sound”
Geospike “Keep a travel journal, without writing one.”
Livescribe pens “Livescribe paper-based computing platform includes a smartpen, dot paper and … people capture, use and share audio and visual information with pen and paper.”
Dropbox “Securely share, sync, and collaborate”
Sugarsync “SugarSync is a cloud file sharing, file sync and online backup service that is simple, powerful and easy to use.”
Copy – “Copy helps keep your amazing things (like photos, videos and documents) handy everywhere, safe and easy to share with others. Get 15 GB of FREE storage …”

polldaddy “Create stunning surveys, polls, and quizzes in minutes. Collect responses via your website, e-mail, iPad, Facebook, and Twitter.”
polleverywhere “Poll Everywhere gives you the power to design and customize polls to your own specifications. Match your presentation template, use your organization’s logo…”
SurveyMonkey “Create and publish online surveys in minutes, and view results graphically and in real time. SurveyMonkey provides free online questionnaire and survey ”

Photosynth “Capture your world in 3D”
Pages “Pages is the most beautiful word processor you’ve ever seen on a mobile device. This powerful word processor helps you create gorgeous reports, CVs and documents in minutes. Pages has been designed exclusively for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch with support for Multi-Touch gestures and Smart Zoom.”
Numbers “Numbers is the most innovative spreadsheet app ever designed for a mobile device. Created exclusively for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, Numbers includes support for Multi-Touch gestures and Smart Zoom so you can create powerful spreadsheets using just your fingers.”
Keynote “Keynote for Mac makes it simple to create and deliver beautiful presentations. Updated for OS X Yosemite, Keynote employs powerful tools and dazzling effects that bring your ideas to life.”
Good Reader “GoodReader® is the super-robust PDF reader for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.Mashable describes it as “a Swiss Army knife of awesome!” With GoodReader on your iPad/iPhone, you can read virtually anything, anywhere: books, movies, maps, pictures.”
Mendeley “Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network. Make your own fully-searchable library in seconds, cite as you write, and read and annotate your PDFs on any device.”
Papership “Annotate,Manage,and Share your Papers”
Googlescholar“Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.”
Fotobabble “Photo and Audio Powered Social Media”
Fieldtrip GB “Fieldtrip GB is a mobile mapping and data collection app that is available for iPhone and Android devices. It has been developed by EDINA, based at The University of Edinburgh, with support from Jisc. It will allow students, lecturers and researchers to collect data against high quality cartographic maps.”
Storify (France: “to scoop up data, then you and/or students can reflect on it”) “Storify is the easiest way to find, collect, and share what people are saying all over the web. Join top companies, brands, and agencies as well as millions of users on the best platform for leveraging social media.”
Wordle “Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source”

The good professor concluded with one final piece of excellent practical advice.  Field work – especially on misty Welsh mountains – can be a moist business.  Investing in ziplock bags and rice will help everyone keep their digital devices functioning…

PS. Panspectron? Imagine all that technology in Minority Report. In the hands of Big Brother.

*Actual facts may vary. Always read the label.

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