Review of the cheapest ubiquitous learning tech I’ve yet seen: Talk Time

Talk Time A4

The basis for this blog is that the steady miniaturisation of digital technology means that in the near term, we will find it embedded in so many of our everyday tools, objects and environments that it truly becomes ubiquitous. If we take this as a given, then as educators, it is our responsibility to be considering what learning will look like in such a world, am I right?

I’ve had the chance this week to play with a learning tool that fits squarely into the early days of exactly this kind of scenario: Talk Time Boards sold by TTS in the UK. Imagine if you will, a classroom, library, hallway, hall etc where much of the wall space is covered by A4-size writing and drawing zones covered with notes, sums, drawings etc. Then imagine that each of these zones also feature digital audio recorders with buttons built right in… I can hear the creative pedagogue in you getting excited already – especially when you realise the price is only $10 each (slightly more if bought non-bulk).

At that price, the cost to a school to put even 4 in every classroom is pretty minimal, especially when the potential advantages of having ubiquitous voice recording and playback available around the learning space are so many. I’m thinking these advantages would apply to teaching oral literacy, reducing the amount of times you as a teacher has to repeat instructions for tasks, assisting auditory learners, assisting visually-impaired students … please add your ideas in the comments.

In use? Classroom-class simplicity is a very important factor in why I’m so taken with this tool. Place on a table, or hold, whatever suits the task. Hold the record button while talking, push the green button to hear it, right on the board, attach to wall – thats it. Students can use it without thinking. It’s also extremely light and portable – so it could conceivable travel anywhere your students do, making it available to augment learning moments if and as required.

I must say that the 10-second model I’m testing however really is too limited for meaningful work. By the time a student pushes record, composes thoughts, starts talking etc its done. Fortunately there is a 30 second model, and I guess for longer recordings, the separate and similarly low cost I-Memo is the next step (has 2 hour recording).

My only other concern is battery life? This is not mentioned anywhere I can find, but short of carefully slitting the board open and putting in a new one yourself, this is the one thing you may want to wait for someone to find out in practice before buying. I have plans to lend the two I have to a classroom shortly, so over the 10 weeks of the coming term we may find out.

The TTS website lists about 28 variations on this ‘embedded audio recorder as learning tool’ theme – have a search yourself on the international catalogue (ICT products from page 775) HERE. You’ll see some images with ideas there of how they can be used also.

- Turns out also there is a Talk Time resource pack that gives you 25 assorted talk time boards for around $80.

So what are these super popular tablet computers capable of anyway?


Its hard to deny that in the book that tells how computing has become more and more mobile such that its already almost ubiquitous, the current chapter would be titled ‘tablets’. While they have been around for some years in various forms, the recent maturation of mobile operating systems such as Android and iOS to match the slate style has seen an explosion in the adoption rates of tablet computers. The iPad is selling over 1 million devices a month, and it seems that conversely, about a million different Android tablets get announced each week. The Dell Streak, Asus EePad and Samsung Galaxy are all examples of high profile Android tablet computers that will be released in the next 4 months. There are also education specific initiatives around Android tablets in the shape of the Marvel/OLPC $99 project, and India’s $35 slate. Of interest also is what HP releases in the way of a ‘PalmPad’ tablet that will run the WebOS they bought along with Palm.

Ok, so enough about the hype of devices. What can they do? And specifically, what can they do for learning? Not having access to an Android tablet yet myself, my observations are based on the using the iPad. For a list of Android education apps though, go here.

I’m aiming then to post semi-regular articles on what these tablets can do, starting today with this example: iBrainstorm (free from the appstore). This app (an others like it) allow you to map out ideas, plans and thoughts visually. Where it really provides a new experience is that, being available on a tablet, all the work is done by direct touch, just as we would have once done pre-PCs. So we get to arrange notes and draw in a paper-like way, but with all the advantages that working digitally brings – such as instant sharing and storage of the brainstorm session. And, you also get to instantly collaborate. iBrainstorm allows other devices (iPhones or iPod touches as you’d expect from this platform) to connect via bluetooth and create their own sticky-notes which can be passed to the main iPad with a flick of the finger.

In a classroom, I can just see the group work possibilities. You could have four – five students summarising a topic, with up to four students creating sticky-notes of key points and flicking to a fifth student with the iPad tablet who then arranges them. I am really hoping that in near future the developers will add a video-out capability so the work could be projected to a big screen to show the brainstorm taking place live – that way the whole class could contribute.

If this is any indication of the kind of applications that tablet computers of any platform are capable, I for one am excited about the the kind of learning they will help enable. Of course it all depends on teachers facilitating their use – would love to hear from other teachers attempting to do so.

iLearn personalised learning unit: Journal 4


This will be the final journal of my current ‘how to learn’ unit before we hit the end of the educational year. Remember the intent of the unit was to shift the emphasis from me teaching to students learning, and especially to students taking responsibility for their learning. The unit has been aided by mobile, ubiquitous devices (in our case, the iPod touch) – chosen because of the power of such devices to put learning tools right into each learner’s hands.

First, I’ll report on how the last weeks of the unit have been going. As alluded to in the last journal, school events such as swimming and compulsory PD I had to attend have really impacted on how much time I’ve had with students, such that we will not complete the unit. Now, two things – first, this is still ok as I’d built the critical thinking/ making learning decisions throughout. Secondly, in reflecting on this I’ve realised that all units suffer from interuptions – I just need to plan less – or maybe not – perhaps I actually should keep planning ambitious units but just plan in agility for the sub-parts.

Agility really has shown itself to be the key to the success of the unit actually. Because even though I planned for reflective points every two weeks, some students only needed one week, some three to work through the ‘solution’ (app) they had found (duh!). To help manage this complexity, rather than go back to a one-size-fits-all unit, in this phase I introduced a data-base tracking where each student was up to. By displaying this at the start of each session via data projector, I could begin each lesson discussing with students exactly where they were up to. This database also includes a cell for student comments – I quiz students constantly about their app – what, how, why questions linking it back to their decision making and chosen focus area. These comments then form the basis of the review that students write once they either complete an app, or decide its not helping them.

So as we near the end of this ‘proof of concept’ run through of this unit, I must ask – did it work? I’ll answer for myself, and for the students. For me, what I’ve found is that this unit has been very hard work. Thrilling yes, exciting, but also – going uphill – ie. creating rather than just using an exisiting program, and stepping back rather than always stepping in. These are not always natural teacher behaviours, and despite knowing in my head lots about student-centred learning, the power of what is established (both for myself and my institution) has shown itself to be very strong. But I do believe in personalised learning, so I’m committed to this now.

For the students – I’ve had comments like – ‘why are we doing this?’, and ‘do I have to come?’ – exactly the kind of questions that students have always asked in regards to being part of learning support. Does this mean it wasn’t the revolutionary change the world unit I had thought? I hope I never did expect so much of it – what I did differently though when asked these was respond back with a question this time – putting the emphasis back on student decision making. I see that it will take more than one unit though to have students take full responsibility for their learning. But now they have successfully completed pro’s and con’s charts for example, they have begun to learn critical thinking. Some students have completed these independently to such a degree that I am sure they will be able to do this.

As for 2010, I’ve already started planning two additional units with the same approach but building on what I’ve learned. And I’d like to set up some ‘critical friends’ as part of this – email me jnxyz at mac dot com if you are interested!

Gathering of Educators using ubiquitous devices

Last night from 12:30am until 6:30am I attended my first full day web conference. What could have tempted me to stay up all night you ask? It was the ACU Connected event, and you can go HERE to see what sessions were held. As one of 130 educators from around the world (and two from my institution Education Queensland), we logged on to hear real life stories of Universities and Schools that are integrating connected, mobile, wireless devices into their learning activities. To get an overview, its well worth visiting this twitter summary at – it’ll provide you with the most popular links and tags that were shared.

So was it worth staying up for? Well I’d be a dill if I hadn’t made sure beforehand that it would be worth it! But yes, it was. Its one thing to read about and even take small steps oneself towards see effective teaching and connected, mobile learning come together; its quite another to hear directly from the actual practitioners involved in large scale rollouts. ACU has over a thousand students with iPhones or iPod touch’s. FHU has many more. Even some of the K-12 schools had up to 800. It was also a big help with my thinking about the small temp trial of OLPC XOs I’m managing at present. In some ways, the XO is like a big, kid friendly iPod touch… more on this in a future post.

Here’s some of my favourite quotes/ideas:

  • Effectiveness of connected mobile platforms for student use is a big debate as alot of the apps classified as ‘education’ are rote based only.
  • “treat mobile devices as full participants – media players AND content creators”
  • “don’t extend outdated pedagogies into new media”
  • Campus bookstores sweat as faculty move away from expensive textbooks to mobile readers and cheap/free learning resources (via @ruben_r)
  • MCG medical school has a youtube video showing their mobile learning
  • interesting FYI: iPhone vs iPod Touch in education – ACU finds iPhone users more satisfied/ use the device a fair bit more.
  • William_Rank (ACU) “We’re having so much virtual contact with students now that we’ve changed university policy about office hours.”
  • FHU 7 mobile learning objectives (link)
  • At FHU 87% of faculty felt comfortable requiring use of mobile device for class activity (via @allisonoster)
  • “I’m not sure that personal productivity & learning can function separately with these sorts of devices. It’s an artificial distinction.” “many see learning as seperate to personal productivity. Is there a distinction?” (via @agrie8)

    What I believe about learning

    I am currently working towards achieving the highest level of technology in teaching recognition that my employer (Education Queensland) awards. Known as the ‘Digital Pedagogy License, Advanced’, it forms part of the worlds best practice in this area ‘Smart Classrooms framework‘. The main thrust of the preparation work I am doing for the license is not about sounding off about learning theories, or naming the tools I use, but about real, practical ways that I believe and KNOW technology is improving and transforming my ability to lead learning. Its also been designed as an incredibly and deliberately self-reflective process, and I will over the next couple of months share some of my thoughts and the drafts of the different sections I am compiling. Here’s the first – Enjoy!

    (excerpt from a draft of my belief statement)

    I believe that ICT, while an essential component of schooling students for life in a digital world, is not as important as the learner themselves. Thus any learning experience must start with where the learner is, and be based on a relationship that both challenges and makes a student feel safe.

    I believe that ICT exists to serve learning. Thus rather than teaching ICT for its own sake, ie. where students learn specific technology skills that can go quickly out of date, I instead seek to teach life-long skills such as digital storytelling that can be adapted across technology platforms.

    I believe that the learner and their understandings of the world come first, and so choose to initially consider student needs, and then choose technology that is capable of enabling their improvement. In this way, my practice incorporates simple, mobile devices that can be taken to the small-group spaces where I work with my students, and which can be learnt in seconds such that they become an invisible part of students learning. These simple voice recorders and PDAs do however allow students to capture their learning experiences and use the technology to help them reflect and improve in ways which their learning difficulties prevents them from doing.

    Finally, I believe that I must learn with my students to be a role model for going where I in turn can ask them to go. Thus, if the world of technology is going towards ubiquitous, real-time communication, so must I. And also so must I share this world with them in responsible AND innovative ways.

    ubiquitous computing for kids – via the OLPC XO

    Having written about the One Laptop Per Child’s XO laptop project back in 2007 when it first started, imagine my happy surprise at getting to manage a small trial of this device at my school at the moment! The OLPC Australia website currently states that 500,000 XOs will be rolled out to remote communities across Australia in the coming months, and as a fair few of these will be into Queensland schools, some in-context knowledge about how they fit within the education system I work for will come in pretty handy.

    So what are my first impressions? Firstly, as the only designed-for-kids-first device of its kind, its a wonderful wonderful machine. Unlike some organisations whose rhetoric uses all the right buzz words but fails when it comes to living up to them, the XO device really does encourage creating, sharing and connecting just by its very design. I’ve only had limited time with two XOs in connected mode so far, but they are so easy to hook up via their built-in mesh networking that almost every activity can be shared between multiple students. This includes co-writing or drawing, or even controlling each others camera, or using the sonar sound activity to measure distance between machines. It really is the learning theory of connectivism personified in a device.

    Even the Sugar OS that they run has an interface of brilliant simplicity, with every activity running full screen and auto-saving, while a ‘journal’ of every activity they have done is accessible with just one button push. I’m also looking forward to using them outside regularly thanks to the special LCD screen they have that allows full readability in sunlight.

    Be sure to head over to to read up about the full vision. If mobile devices are becoming more and more ubiquitous as we know they are, why shouldn’t kids get to use ones designed for them rather than for business or universities?  We’ll see how this mass rollout goes across Australia, but if the logistics and training of teachers with the devices can be properly managed, there is a ton of potential here ready to be released.

    Mobile, ubiquitous access to 1.5 million books

    Any educators still doubting the power of mobile devices and web technologies really needs to see the following article. Not only is the around 1.5 million books that Google has scanned now available for searching and reading, but a new iPhone / iPod Touch / small-screen-optimized interface means it can now be done simply and easily from anywhere in the civilized (read cell-connected) world. Surely that must be useful for some students somewhere?
    I was only discussing yesterday with my schools librarian about what he was planning to do about physical resources vs web-based (ie cheaper, less time and resource hungry) ones… link with more info:


    Posted via email from Jonathan’s posterous

    More great tips for Educators starting with Twitter

    I’ve recently had the privelege of corresponding with several educators more experienced than I regarding micro-blogging service twitter (that has now become so much more!). There are a few things that it takes one a while to work out about twitter – but via the Oz-teachers discussion list Chris Betcher has posted this great great foreward (with links) to embarking on the ubiquitous network journey that is Twitter. Enjoy:

    “I can understand the sceptics…  I was one for a long time.  I’ve also been getting incredible personal and professional value out of Twitter for quite a while now… So here’s a few thoughts that will help you get your head around it…

    The first advice is this…
    Don’t even think about evaluating the worth of Twitter until you are “following” at least 40-50 people.  Twitter works because it invites diversity and traffic.  If you only follow a few people, you’ll get neither and hence won’t really be able to judge whether it has any value for you or not.  So find someone you think is worth following, look at who they follow, add some people from their follow list and so on.  Don’t stop until you are following at least 40-50 people.  Yes, this will generate traffic.  Yes you will not be able to take it all in (well, maybe at 40 you still can, but not much beyond that)   That’s ok…  you don’t need to read every tweet.  As you add people to your follow list, you gradually get to a point where the messages flow by you much faster than you can deal with.  That’s ok too… it’s a smorgasbord, you don’t need to eat everything!  But seriously, if you try to “manage” Twitter by only following a few people you will never see the worth of it.  Trust me on this.

    Second bit of advice…
    Choose who you follow carefully…  take a look at their bio, see what they do. I tend to avoid the “web entrepreneurs”, “marketing gurus”, “social media analysts” and so on…  they tend to waffle about things I’m  not interested in.  I usually look for people who are educators, although I do add the occasional non-educator in order to keep some degree of diversity in the feed.  Too many people with all the same outlook on things tends to create an echo chamber where there is no diverse opinions or ideas.  So it’s good to have a few “ring ins”, just to mix things up a bit.  Once you find someone to follow, look at the type and frequency of messages…  you probably don’t want to follow someone who constantly tell you what they just had for breakfast or that they are getting their hair done, and you probably don’t want to follow someone who tweets every 3 minutes.  However, again, a little bit of diversity can be a good thing, and you’d be surprised at how often these seemingly trivial messages can help you, and to help put a human side to these people you follow.  You decide what works for you…

    Third bit of advice…
    Remember that your tweets go to everyone who follows you, and that they become part of the public record.  I wouldn’t, for example, tweet about my bad day and how much I hate my job.  I wouldn’t whine too much, swear too much, or do things that would generally have a negative impact on my “digital footprint”.  It also means that if you have followers from different parts of your life, they will all get the same tweets…  so your family (if they follow you) will read your tweets about education, and your educator colleagues will get to read your tweets about that family bbq last weekend.  This is not a problem, but you do need to think about how you structure your online social world.  
    Learn to use the @ reply system and to send d direct messages to people.  Take some time to work out the Twitter culture… like all online communities, it most certainly has one.  And if you find a conversation starting to evolve in Twitter between yourself and someone else, and you are realising that it probably isn’t of real interest to the general Twitter community, take it to another forum to keep it going…  Skype is great for this.

    Last bit of advice…
    Get a Twitter client!  If you need to go back to the Twitter homepage all the time to check what’s happening, you will quickly lose interest.  So pick a good client Twitter app that will run in the background.  I used to like Twitterific, but Twhirl is my current  favourite. Tweetdeck is pretty good too, though probably better once you get the hang of Twitter. There are plenty of Twitter tools for mobile devices too, like Twinkle, Tweetie and Twibble.  Trying to take Twitter seriously without one of these tools is just making life hard for yourself.  Get one.

    Finally, remember that Twitter is about “small pieces loosely joined”, which is really how the world works in real life.  In real life, it is the tiny, seemingly insignificant social connections that so often direct our lives in some surprisingly major ways.  Some of you have jobs that you work in because your mother’s friend’s daughter knew a guy who’s dentist sent her son to a school that was thinking about employing an extra teacher, and because of these loosely joined social connection, you ended up with a job.  Perhaps you met your husband because you went for a drink with a friend one night and bumped into a person who knew someone you went to school with and his best mate had a brother that you were introduced to and eventually married. Isn’t this really how life works?  You know it is!  Think about your life, and identify all the little serendipitous things that happened to you because you just happened to be in the right place at the right time, talking to the right person.  The more connections you make, the more likelihood you have of these “small pieces loosely joined” actually leading you into things that you never knew you wanted and that you never, ever could have predicted.  That’s what Twitter does.

    Still a sceptic?  Trust me and just try it.  Not by following three people and never looking at it again, but by REALLY trying it, with lots of people in your network, and for at least 6 months.  Then meet me back here in 6 months and tell me some of the amazing stories that happened to you because of Twitter.


    PS: for what it’s worth, here are a couple of blog posts I’ve written about Twitter that may give you some food for thought…

    Want an example of ubiquitous learning?


    Our sister-blog mlearning-world has posted a great video depicting a ubiquitous learning project – harnessing the power of the mobile phones and downtime between on-field action at sports stadiums to deliver science lessons. This is a fantastic example of how to take advantage of teachable moments – but on a massive scale! Go here to see the vid:

    Posted via email from Jonathan’s posterous