Handheld Learning 2007: And the Winner Is … PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark van't Hooft on Tuesday, 20 November 2007
handheldIt’s hard to believe Handheld Learning 2007 has come and gone. I’d been looking forward to finally be able to attend this conference, as it has built up quite a reputation during its short existence. My visit to London was fast and furious. In retrospect I have to say that the conference lived up to its expectations, and then some.

I arrived in London on the morning of October 10 and made it to the venue just in time to attend the pre-conference session called “Mobile Learning Exchange” and the Kaleidoscope Mobile Learning SIG. I won’t go into the details of these or any of the other sessions I attended; you can read about that in my blog.

Instead, I will provide my general impressions of the conference as a whole. I will do so by issuing the following awards for conference highs and lows. And the awards go to …

Top Reason for Attending: Being able to interact with people face to face, with those who I’ve communicated with virtually for the past year or two and those who I met for the first time. I talked to many interesting people and stockpiled lots of great ideas, which I’m still trying to digest. Having a myriad of conference resources online (such as blog postings, presentation slides, podcasts, and videos) are a big help in this endeavor. Thanks to all of you who were willing to listen to my ramblings at the conference and share your ideas. It was great meeting all of you and I hope to see you next year. In the meantime, there is always the Internet :-)

/kids.jpgUnfortunately, I didn’t really get to talk to teachers or students to get their take on the many types of mobile learning projects that are underway in the UK and the rest of Europe. I saw a couple of students at lunch on Friday busily tapping away on their mobiles, but when I went to visit the student project area that afternoon it was deserted. I hope the folks at Handheld Learning will try to get more students and teachers involved next year.

Most Interesting Idea I Heard: Moving towards a model of learning in which learners provide the mobile devices and institutions of learning. Several people mentioned this idea in their presentations, including Pekka Pirttiaho from Mobiletools. As Tony mentioned in his reflections, it is also refreshing to note that the conference’s main focus was learning./paradigm.jpg

Best Story Told: Bob Harrison’s account (or as he called it “update”) of his son, who suffers from Asperger Syndrome, and how he uses technology to overcome some of the challenges he faces on a daily basis as a result of his condition. The story also served as a reminder of how many schools are still obstacles to learning, especially when it comes to using digital technologies. I don’t remember all of the details, but I know the story has stuck with me. Thanks for sharing that one, Bob.

Best Presentation I Attended: Hands-on Mobile. The one session I attended that actually got us using some of the tools that presenters talked about. It was a very laid-back session with lots of opportunities to talk to presenters about their projects in a very personal and informal way, while at the same time being able to get some hands-on experiences. It definitely beats the proverbial Death by PowerPoint sessions. 

Best New Device I Saw: Samsung’s Q1 (closely followed by Graham’s “mobile” phone from the 1980s ).

Best Software I Saw: RedHalo. I think it’s strength is that it’s almost hardware agnostic. I saw it being run on handhelds, phones, UMPCs, a PSP, and a Wii!!

Most Innovative Use of Technology at a Conference: Being able to text presenters with questions during their presentations. While it didn’t always work as planned, the fact that the conference organizers had set this up shows that they are willing to practice what they preach. And of course, the use of Twitter should be mentioned as well. I tried it for a while but wasn’t as successful at it as others. Thanks to Tony Vincent for setting that up.

/security.jpgStiffest Upper Lip: According to wikipedia an attribute of the British but an idiom originating from America, and therefore it has to be included here. The award for this one undoubtedly has to go to the venue’s security personnel, whose blue jackets rivaled Graham’s (well, almost).

And of course there were some conference lows as well:

Most Obvious Absentee: Palm OS (for me this was a big deal as most of what we’ve done in the US has been with Palm OS-based devices).

Most Disappointing Moment: Graham getting his iPhone (a pre-release, no less) stolen from right under his nose the night before he was going to use it in his plenary speech (and I was sitting right next to him). However, this incident has to be paired with the conference’s Best Recovery: Graham fooling the audience the next day by passing off an iTouch for the aforementioned iPhone. Only a few of us knew what he was waving above his head (so there was a reason for the dimmed lighting in the Great Hall after all).

Closest Call: Almost not getting into the pre-conference session on Wednesday after having been on the road for 7 hours AND having pre-registered for it. I was denied access by an overeager conference volunteer who informed me that the room was full. But no worries, after she left her post about three minutes later I got into the session anyway J (This is by no means meant to take away from the fine job that all conference staff and volunteers did).

Worst Technology Moment: The wireless access on the last day of the conference. It was flaky to say the least.

In sum, while not perfect, Handheld Learning 2007 ranks among the best conferences I’ve attended in a long time. I feel privileged to have been able to contribute to its success, both in the planning stages and during the conference. Being in an environment with about 800 people interested in moving the field of mobile learning ahead challenged me to seriously reflect on where exactly we are headed in the near and distant future when it comes to pedagogy and research. These are exciting times, as this area of learning and education is increasingly making its presence felt in the mainstream.

I plan to be back in 2008 for both mLearn and Handheld Learning. Hope to see many of you there “this time it will be personal”!

/hooft.jpgAbout the Author:

Mark van 't Hooft, Ph.D., is a researcher and tech specialist for the Research Center for Educational Technology at Kent State University, and is a founding member and chair of the Special Interest Group for Handheld Computing (SIGHC) for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). His current research focus is on ubiquitous computing and the use of mobile technology in K-12 education, especially in the social studies.


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