Mobile Museum Experiment

A few weeks ago, I visited a 'Mobile Museum.' Now contrary to what you might expect from my website here, this museum was mobile in the sense that it moves. It's kind of a museum in a truck consisting of portable exhibits in various stages of the prototyping process for the Oslo Children's Museum (written about here). There were about 15 6-7 year old kids playing with these exhibits and toys on the top floor of a school building.

I made this visit with the informatics students I had been working with, and we had the goal of running a simple testing session for our mobile museum device. I'll explain our process below along with a few interesting observations.

To get a sense of how 7 year-olds could understand and use mobile phones to accomplish a simple game, we gave several children camera phones and had them look for and collect photos of as many 'blue' objects as they could. We had some findings that were both interesting and amusing. I've included the pictures taken by the children along with the observations.

One child began stacking as many blue objects as he could into a pile and then took a picture of the pile. When then prompted to try to collect as many different pictures as he could, he responded, "oh, I should take a picture of the whole room?" This was his photo:

After a girl had taken several pictures, she found a blue marker and began drawing new blue objects. She then took photos of each of her new drawings. Here is one:

I also noticed that the children in the task seemed more open to interacting with strangers. Though they generally ignored the adults in the room, the context of this task had several children walking up to take close up photos of blue clothed adults:

Another significant observation, was that the children really did not appear to have any problems with the technical understanding of how to use the camera phones. We passed out both an iphone and a more traditional nokia phone. After a quick demonstration, the kids were off on their own taking photos. Here are three minutes of video from the event:


-- Rolf Steier


Mobile Projectors and Future Mobile Learning Interactions

Within the past couple of months, I've seen a few examples of a new mobile technology - mobile projectors. These are the same type of projectors that you see in conference rooms, classrooms, and home theaters. They throw images and video from a computer onto a wall or screen. Well now these devices are becoming mobile. Here's a review of one such projector that is about the size of a mobile phone or ipod. I believe pretty confidently that within the next few years, these devices will a part of many mobile phones. In fact, one such mobile phone/ projector already exists.

First of all, this technology just seems inherently cool to me - being able to project digital content from phone directly onto any public surface seems inspiring. Also, though, I find myself wondering what the potential implications could be for mobile learning interactions. One of the commonly mentioned constraints of mobile phones for learning is the small screen size. Social learning interactions especially become problematic when multiple people are sharing such a small screen. A mobile projector can effectively eliminate this constraint.

In a museum, I could imagine a group of children exploring an exhibit together. If a question or point of confusion arises, a child could access relevant resources through her phone and then project her findings onto a wall to share with the group.
I could also imagine a group of children exploring an exhibit about the skeletal system. One child could find a relevant image and project it onto the shirt of a friend - mapping the content onto themselves.
I could even imagine museum spaces supporting impromptu presentations... A visitor projects supplemental information on top of a work of art to generate discussion.

These are just my daydreams of course, but I would like to explore the implications that this technology may have on face to face mobile learning interactions. Maybe there is a simple study or experiment that could be conducted to explore these issues. Thoughts?
--Rolf Steier


Lois Roth Award

I recently found out that I would be receiving the 2008 Lois Roth Award. This came as quite a pleasant surprise to me. The award is connected to the Fulbright organization and honors Lois Roth, a former Fulbright grantee and cultural diplomat. In any case, this was quite an honor and it is really encouraging to have this support for my project!

Read More Here

--Rolf Steier


Considering Physical Space in Museum-Based Mobile Learning

I've been busy working on a paper for the past few weeks, and I've just submitted it to a conference on mobile learning. The title for the paper is the same as above (Considering Physical Space in Museum-Based Mobile Learning) and I'll post the abstract below. It was based on a post I wrote several weeks ago here.
For now, here is the abstract, and I'll wait until it gets reviewed before sharing more of it.

This paper addresses current conceptions of mobile learning in museums with an emphasis on the relationship between physical space and mobile learning. The goals of the paper are to introduce a perspective that considers museum space as supporting and enriching mobile learning interactions and to propose the development of design principles for future museum and exhibit designs.

-- Rolf Steier


A Mobile Connection Between Museums And Games

In the past 2 weeks, several experiences have converged around one larger idea that I have become pretty excited about - connecting an online game or virtual world to the museum experience through mobile based characters.

So to begin, after visiting the Teknisk Museum (see here, and here, with possibly more to come), I was really thinking about those remote controlled boats in the flooded climate exhibit. The staff person expressed that they were often not used as fully as intended. Children were supposed to use the boats to "travel around the world" viewing the impact of climate change at different parts of the exhibit. He felt that kids were often preoccupied with just driving the boats, and weren't grasping the larger experience. Whether or not this exhibit was succeeding is debatable, but what really intrigued me was this idea of children guiding something around a museum space. It also reminded me of some previous work - namely, the notion of Teachable Agents.

Teachable Agents are avatars, computer characters that children "teach" in order to learn. The idea is that this interaction allows children to gain the benefits of learning by teaching. I also believe that teachable agent interactions are inherently more engaging and fun because the learning is a little more removed and playful. **

So my thinking was, removing children from the role of learner and placing them in the role of guide or teacher may be more fun and engaging, as well as enhance learning in the museum. Then my mind jumped back to my Fulbright project. Mobile Phones!

What about a teachable agent on a mobile phone? A more engaging, learning centered tamogotchi. Or, to put it another way, a more interactive remote controlled boat.

So in my mind was a mobile phone based character that children take around with them in a museum - teaching (and learning) as they experience exhibits, but also providing a narrative for a museum experience (who is this character?) But what if this mobile teachable agent, this character, exists outside of the museum?

This is where my thinking was, when the next day, I stumbled onto a blog from another museum and technology designer - Nina Simon - and read an article called "What Cross-Platorm Gaming is Doing for Books... and Can Do for Museums" about a book series that overlaps with a video game. This is exactly what I had been thinking about! An online game, that extends in to the museum. Great!

But, as if this wasn't enough encouragement, the following day, I happened to find out about a lecture that all of my fellow researchers were attending at the university. The talk was by professor Jay Lemke, from the University of Michigan, and he spoke about something called Transmedia Literacy. Now my understanding of this idea is that we now are exposed to, and participate in, cultural artifacts that span across different forms of media. Lemke's example was Harry Potter - our understanding of Harry Potter is shaped by books, movies, video games, fan fiction, etc - and each of these media contribute to our understanding of who Harry Potter is. Our literacy refers to the ways in which we are able to observe, participate with, and contribute to these media. Lemke ended his talk by asking how education can better engage with these transmedia experiences.

SO, this talk immediately brought me back to phones and museums. I'm imagining a child at home, playing in an online virtual world. Through this character, they're able to interact with other children also playing the game. The child can also take the character with them (through their mobile phone) to the museum. At the museum, the character becomes a teachable agent. The child guides the character around (just as in the game) and teaches them from the various exhibits. As the character (and the child) gain knowledge and interact with exhibits, new skills and abilities become available in the virtual world. In this way, the learning experience exists outside the museum, and becomes more engaging and fun.

-- Rolf Steier

**(Two years ago I investigated the motivating factors behind a particular sports video game. In this college football video game, the player must control all of the aspects of their character's life - playing in the football games, practicing, going to classes, passing tests to remain eligible for the games, etc). The thing that convinced me that teachable agents may be so engaging was that a friend of mine found himself "playing" this game by studying for his character's chemistry test, rather than studying for his own real life exams.


LEGOS! - Oslo Teknisk Museum - Part 2

To continue my reflection on my recent trip to the Oslo Teknisk Museum (see Part 1) I'm going to describe a second temporary exhibit - the "Lego Festival." I've always been a big Lego fan - as a child, and more recently as a designer seeking simple prototyping tools.

The exhibit was on the second floor of the museum, and there was a fairly long line at the bottom of the staircase of people waiting to be granted entry. We were able to slip past by promising to only observe and not "play."

The space consisted of several large tables of lego structures organized as a colorful city model.

The space was crowded as well, with many parents hovering along the outside as their children examined the the creations.

Some parents seemed to be quite involved in the play as well - working over the shoulder of their child.

The most interesting space of all was probably the "construction table." Apart from the rather formally organized existing structures, were a few tables with huge piles of Lego pieces laying in the center. This is where children were doing the actual building before their creations were moved to the cityscape.

Technologically, this exhibit was pretty basic as lego has been around forever. BUT the social interactions happening in the space were just so much more developed than anything else in the rest of the museum. Children were collaborating, sharing pieces, discussing their creations. I got the sense that some of these interactions were occurring across family groups. Socially, this was great, but it also felt like a larger scaled version of an at home activity. This is perfectly fine, of course, but it did make the other, more elaborate and impressive exhibits seem solitary by comparison.

How can other exhibits and museum experiences create social learning environments like these Legos? My hope is that mobile technology may be one way to provide this extra social layer to the phenomena of existing exhibits. Maybe mobile phones can help create exhibits as social communities.

How? I'm not certain yet, but if you have ideas, let me know.

-- Rolf Steier


Oslo Teknisk Museum - Part 1

Yesterday, I visited the Norsk Teknisk Museum - a a science center not unlike like the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa - with a combination of interactive science and technology exhibits, child-oriented exhibits, along with more historical exhibits on the history of industry in Norway.

I'm going to break this visit up into 2 or more posts, as I took quite a few pictures, and would like to capture a few different directions of thoughts and observations. I actually made this trip to the museum with a few members of the master's class that I'm working with. It was nice to have people to interact and discuss our impressions with. I'll start with the exhibit that most impressed me. This was an exhibit called Klima X (about climate change around the world). It was very very cool.

You enter the outside of the exhibit space, and it's not unlike a bowling alley. There is a giant shelf of yellow rubber boots. You take your shoes off, place them in a cubby and put on some boots. At this point, I didn't know what to expect. [Click on all the pictures for larger versions]

You round a corner and walk down a dark ramp, and the water level on the floor rises to just over ankle depth. You're now in the exhibit.

The entire exhibit is flooded, and there's a lot going on. Around the walls of the space are texts and projections revealing the impact of climate change around the world. There is a large chunk of ice melting on a platform. Rain occasionally falls over in one corner. Visitors are driving remote controlled boats around the exhibit as well. Below, you can see that "parking" a boat inside some of the columns gets video to play.

There are interactive components in the space as well. Polling questions are projected onto a wall, and visitors vote by placing their right or left foot onto a pedestal (below). The results of that round of voting, along with the average results from the history of the exhibition are displayed as well.

A greeter by the entryway hands out the boats and remote controls. These are two of my project partners.

A few observations and comments on the exhibit...

First of all, the boats were really popular. Several times I was amused to have a kid steer his boat into my legs, and I think this playfulness enhanced the atmosphere for the kids as well as the crash victims.

Talking with the staff person we learned that 'many children don't get it' - that the boats occupy their attention at the expense of the larger themes of the exhibit. When I asked what they 'don't get,' I realized that perhaps I was missing something as well. Apparently the boats are supposed to let children "travel around the world" inside the space and see the implications of climate change in these different environments - a concept i really like. But why would this aspect of the exhibit be unsuccessful? (at least according to the staff person). Using technology elements to connect exhibits together is something I've explored before (see my master's thesis project), and I'll continue to think about this issue in the context of mobile phones.

Also, in retrospect, other than the flooded floor along with the boats, the actual texts and rest of the space are maybe not particularly innovative. BUT, this was an incredibly exciting place to be in. It seems that this extra experience of sloshing through water, really transforms what is primarily a text and video experience into something exciting and even a little emotional. I didn't see any portion of the exhibit that visitors manipulate temperatures or water levels in order to observe changes. If I were designing the exhibit, I would include some simulation (whether physical or digital) to allow people to play with the system - to develop an understanding of the relationships between these environmental factors (Sim-ClimateChange ?). I also must add that the text was mostly in Norwegian with some shorter English explanations as well - so its quite possible that missed certain elements. This small potential missed opportunity in no way diminished the impact of the experience. This was a cool and inspiring exhibit!

I'll post more reflections and pictures from the rest of the museum soon.

-- Rolf Steier


Studying Museum Social Networks

I've seen many examples of the ways in which digital technologies make it very easy to study the social networks of organizations and institutions. Studying email messages lets businesses follow the paths that information takes through their organizations - to answer questions such as 'who interacts with who?' Social networking websites like Facebook let researchers study people's friendships and relationships with each other.
How can we study social networks in a museum space? Do we even want to? A recent chat with Rich Ling, led us both to conclude that mobile phones might be a great way to study the social networks that exist inside a museum. This is more of an idea, than a specific plan, but...

Imagine we are able to give phones to everyone inside a museum. These phones would be both location aware (where in the museum is the user?) as well as proximity aware (who is the user next to?). With these phones, I'm really proposing a research methodology to examine the social network inside a museum. For this study, then, lets also imagine that we have a group of school children visiting the museum with specific small group tasks. We would use the information captured through the phones (described above) as well as visitor dialogue and action (possibly captured through the phones as well), to gain a detailed understanding of the social networks in the museum.

We would be able to learn: who is interacting with whom, the types of interactions as well as where in the museum these interactions are occurring.

With this information, we would be able to:
  • identify the places where collaboration most occurs, and design and enhance those spaces
  • understand the role that museum staff have in visitor interactions in order to help them better facilitate learning (and play)
  • design school group activities that are grounded in the way children move through a museum
  • refine the use of mobile devices in museums
  • refine exhibit placement within a museum spaces
  • gain a better framework of social learning in museums

Why not?



InterMedia 10 Year Jubilee

InterMedia, the research center where I am based, celebrated its 10 year anniversary last Thursday. It was a really nice event, with a few talks, as well as an exhibition demonstrating some of the technologies and research developed by the center. I was particularly interested in a few mobile technologies that were presented. Two of them used GPS phones to turn public spaces into interaction points. I'll have to describe these in more detail later - but one embedded audio texts at coordinates around the city - so walking into a particular space with your phone gets a text playing. The designer stated that there were no real learning goals, but it's easy for me to imagine creating learning interactions with the technology.

One funny anecdote -- totally relevant to mobile technology interactions -- During one of the talks, the speaker's computer began "ringing," and the presentation slide was interrupted. He was receiving a Skype call. Anyway, the speaker declined the call, and the computer began ringing again. This repeated one more time, and the audience continued to laugh. It was a funny moment, raising questions of privacy and what it means to be available for communicating - is it rude to answer a computer call in front of others? I made sure my phone was on silent. It turned out that the skype caller was in fact the next speaker - trying to connect to give his talk remotely.


*EDIT - Reading this again, it really doesn't seem to be that funny. You'll just have to trust me.


QUESTION - How can a physical space support mobile phone use?

I think it's time to start asking some questions before I attempt any answers for this project. Again, the general themes include: mobile phones, children, museums, learning, play, design, and public space, among others. I'm exploring how to design "mobile learning spaces" - which I will probably need help defining soon. Today though, I'm going to temporarily put aside a few of these themes and ask:

How can a physical space support mobile phone use?

I believe that we often approach mobile phone interactions and designs from the phone's point of view, or from a user's point of view (there is nothing wrong with these perspectives of course). We think of mobile phones as being small and adaptable to any situation or place. We always have the phone in our pocket, and can access our social network or information just by taking it out, and making a call, or browsing the web.

What if we switch perspectives for a moment and think about the place's role in this interaction? There are some obvious factors - a noisy space such as a concert or party would restrict at least the audio functionality of a phone. Other spaces have social limitations. In a movie theater for example, you might run into some trouble making a call. I'm ultimately looking to design museum spaces that support children's use of mobile technologies, but lets think a little more broadly to begin with. I've pasted some of my initial thoughts below - How can a physical space support mobile phone use? What dimensions of a space effect the use of a phone? Do you have thoughts or intuitions to add to my brainstorm list? Please record them in the comments section below (and don't be shy)!


Space Factors:
  • noise levels
  • privacy
  • safety (dangerous place?)
  • light levels (see screen)
  • multi-tasking (ex. driving car)
  • lack of information (no map? use phone)
  • social disturbance (ex. movie theater)
  • reception/ signal strength
  • co-presence (why call if they're within earshot?)
  • physical barriers (walls)
  • waiting places (ex bus stop)
  • confusing space (hard to find or meet someone)
  • social norms (ex. rude in a restaurant)
  • exciting phenomena (rather send picture from concert than classroom)


3 Lessons From Video Games on Science Thinking In Museums

I just read this wired.com article - How Video Games Blind Us With Science - and found some great parallels to my own studies. The article describes how kids playing online games are unknowingly using the scientific process:

The researcher noticed that kids would collect information as they collectively tried to accomplish a task. For example, how do they beat a boss? Which spells work best? They would then organize these various pieces of data to create a set of rules or model for how that boss worked.
Often, the first model wouldn't work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they'd collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. "They'd be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive," Steinkuehler recalls.

That's when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.
The researcher, Steinkuehler, concludes that these kids are using the scientific method (collecting information, generating hypotheses, testing and refining these hypotheses) in order to figure out the hidden rules of the video game world - very much the same way that scientists figure out the rules governing our own real world. She concludes that "Video games are becoming the new hotbed of scientific thinking for kids today."

I believe that the interactions and experiences described above should guide the ways that science museums approach and promote scientific thinking. I think there are 3 lessons that museum designers can take from the article and the findings.

1) Social Interactions - These kids are working together. They're using various chat programs and digital communication methods to solve problems, to have debates about there theories etc. How can museum spaces better foster these types of "scientific" discussions, conversations, and social interactions? Exhibits that use digital technologies to support group problem solving would be a great start. Maybe mobile phones could help children gather data to solve problems in a museum space.

2) Process over Content - I believe that the role of museums should be to encourage scientific thinking. By providing children with a method and framework to solving scientific problems, children will be better prepared to approach science later on in more formal settings such as schools. (See Preparation for Future Learning). Ultimately these types of experiences will have a greater impact on children than simply throwing facts and information at them. The key is to make sure that kids are able to take this new "scientific thinking" and transfer it to other experiences.

3) Play and Motivation - These video games are fun.The article suggests that the kids believe they're cheating, and not performing science. In any case, these games are fun because it is intrinsically rewarding (there are of course extrinsic motivators as well) to complete a task or to beat a boss. How can museums utilize these motivating factors to make museum experiences more fun and engaging, while highlighting the scientific thinking involved in the interactions?

I don't think museums should become video games, but perhaps there are some lessons to be learned about the fostering of scientific thinking.



A Quick Look Back - My Fulbright Application Personal Statement

As I get begin to get settled both in Oslo and as a Fulbright student, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back on what I was setting out to do a year ago when I applied. I stumbled accross my "personal statement" recently as I was sharing it with another student going through the application process. This is more to remind myself of what I've been thinking, but here it is:

I have recently come to recognize that my life is dominated by the activity of looking for, and acting upon, connections. Whether these connections involve academic classes, school projects, travel, or social relationships, there seems to be a guiding force, leading me towards bringing together these different areas of my life. This point really struck home for me, when I realized that I had designed my master’s thesis project, literally, around this very idea. To demonstrate this connecting force in my life, I would like to briefly describe this project, and how it has pulled across many of my other experiences.

This master’s project was the final task in my Learning, Design, and Technology program, in the School of Education, at Stanford University. The project was based on a learning problem faced by children visiting science museums. Children tend to view museum exhibits as isolated experiences, as “islands” of science phenomena. However, scientists draw on a broad array of experiences, experiments, and data to generate questions, and grand conclusions. The goal of this project was to get children to think like scientists by approaching science museum experiences as though the exhibits are connected and related to each other. My design solution involved digital technology, an interactive map that encouraged children to seek and record connections between different exhibits.

This project, itself, was drawing on my own past experiences as a museum volunteer and employee, as a product design student, as a child very excited about maps, among others. One particular travel experience also seems especially relevant upon reflection. Traveling with a family friend around Iceland a few years ago, the topic of science museums came into conversation (I was currently employed by one in my home state of Florida). In any case, I asked if there were any Icelandic science centers to show off the wealth of local natural phenomena. He responded, rather boldly, “The whole island is a science museum!” He was absolutely correct. In the span of a few days, I had traveled from volcano to glacier to geyser, and traveling from place to place in Iceland had given me time to reflect on the relationships between the experiences. It is also apparent to me now that perhaps the Icelandic people view learning opportunities as being embedded in nature, a perspective quite different than what I’m used to seeing as an American. I wish I could say that this short conversation directly influenced my master’s project, but only reflecting back now do I recognize the connecting experiences that guided my project.

Thus, in many senses, I have been just like the children that I observed and researched in designing my master’s project. I noticed children running from exhibit to exhibit, totally engaged in each place, but seeming to forget about the previous interaction when finding something new. After introducing my design solution, children are encouraged to reflect and approach these exhibits as though they are related. Similarly, the actual process of creating this design project has forced me to reflect, and approach my new experiences as though they are connected. Iceland is most certainly an “island,” but it took the design of my connections exhibit for me to stop treating my experiences there as isolated.

I consider myself to be a designer, and my ambition in life is to be a designer of “learning things” – whether these things be toys, classroom tools, or museum exhibits. I’ve realized that this design process is really about looking for and creating connections, from thing to thing, person to person, and place to place.



Oslo Children's Museum

So a second museum opportunity has presented itself to me recently. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a planning meeting for a new children's museum here in Oslo - the Oslo Barnemuseum (barne means children in norwegian).

The project seems to still be in the planning and design phase which is really exciting for me. The opportunity to be involved in the design of an entire museum - from the ground up is a great opportunity. This is actually my favorite phase in the design process - taking a given framework and generating ideas, concepts for exhibits and exhibitions - really just being able to be creative and innovative. It's not clear to me yet what role I'll be able to take, but several of the designers seemed quite receptive to my interest in mobile technologies.

I also will hopefully get a chance to work with some human computer interaction students at the University of Oslo to design some concepts for the museum. The Barnemuseum also is looking at the Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose as a source of inspiration. This is great news for me, as CDM is where I did much of my master's work at Stanford. My first few weeks as a Fulbright grantee have been very promising.



GIDDER - A Mobile Phone, Learning, Museum Opportunity

An existing research and prototyping project using mobile phones, museums, and kids - just what I came here to work on.

I've reserved the first few weeks of my Fulbright stay to meeting people and finding out what projects others are working on. So far, I've been impressed with several of these ideas that happen to align very nicely with my own interests - so this is quite exciting.

The first such project is called GIDDER (for Groups in Digital Dialogues - but there is also a Norwegian double meaning that I'm still unclear about) and is led by a woman named Palmyre Pierroux here at InterMedia.

GIDDER is a kind of mini-curriculum, activity, and platform that spans from the classroom to the art museum and back to the classroom again. As I understand it, High-school-aged students explore wiki-based information from the art museum that they will be visiting- identifying exhibits of interest. They then travel to the museum, and working in small groups, use their mobile phones to blog pictures, thoughts, and experiences back to the wiki. Then, back in the classroom, the students review and reflect through the wiki.

I'm now told that there may be a new iteration of this project, and that I might get a chance to contribute. A possible direction that really appeals to me is exploring innovations around ways that the phone supports face to face interaction within this structured activity. In any case, it was quite a pleasant surprise to find an existing undertaking that so closely aligns with my own stated interests and goals.

-- rolf


Giving Iphones to Students - a university as a mobile learning space

A NYTimes article from yesterday (Welcome Freshman, Have an Ipod) points out that some universities are giving Iphones and Ipod Touches to students.

The article brings up some of the pros and cons of mobile devices in formal academic settings. These mobile devices may provide more distractions in classrooms, but may also provide new learning opportunities for students. Personally, I'm all for new learning opportunities, even if there are a few distracted students as useful applications are developed. In addition to this apparent conflict between distraction vs resource, the article acknowledges that this is a new field:
"Experts see a movement toward the use of mobile technology in education, though they say it is in its infancy as professors try to concoct useful applications. Providing powerful hand-held devices is sure to fuel debates over the role of technology in higher education."
This point, is one that excites me most - the chance to innovate around mobile phones and learning is huge. There is also a hint that non-classroom uses (what I'm most interested in) may be the most compelling. According to the Times, university officials are, "drawn to the prospect of learning applications outside the classroom, though such lesson plans have yet to surface."

Again, a great opportunity to design something new.

-- rolf


OBSERVATIONS - Mobile Phones as Motivators in Norway

Yesterday, while taking the subway (Tban) back to the center of town, I was speaking with an older gentleman - also a runner. He was giving me advice on adjusting to life in Norway. In the middle of our conversation, his cell phone beeped, and he reached into his waist pocket to read the text message. (This actually happened a few times on the train). In any case, he read the message and said “ah yes, a workout.” He went on to explain to me that he has an arrangement with one of his friends where they text each other their running workouts after they complete them. He said that this was a way to stay motivated - that knowing he has to report to someone makes him more likely to keep up his training.

So he's using his phone as a tool for social motivation. The really interesting thing is that he arrived at this use on his own, just as my colleagues at the Persuasive Technology lab were conducting a similar study among ourselves - (see Enrique's article here, which I also just mentioned last week). In any case, it seems that there is pretty strong anecdotal evidence that mobile phones can use social motivators to support the achievement of self-selected goals.

-- rolf


Of Fish And Phones

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a wonderful place, but it also has a great opportunity to enhance its stated mission to 'inspire conservation of the oceans' through simple mobile phone technologies.

Just before leaving for Oslo, I was able to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, and I must say that it was a very cool place. The aquariums and habitats were huge and the animals were weird and amazing. The jellyfish, in particular, stood out, as did my all time favorite, the sea otters. The aquarium, itself, was on the bay - and so was nice to be embedded in this more 'real' environment.

In any case, I was visiting the aquarium with this perspective of mobile learning spaces in the back of my mind. As engaging as the place was, I do think that there are opportunities for mobile technologies to enhance the experience. I only noticed one mobile phone of note in the entire aquarium, and it was sitting in the bottom of the tank to the right (see picture). This was a small exhibit on how junk provides hiding places for creatures. A home for a crab?

So where was the opportunity for mobile phones? An exhibit called “Vanishing Wildlife” presented fishing industries around the world – and detailed species that are harvested with non-sustainable practices (dolphin safe tuna, being one example). The goal of the exhibit seemed to be behavior change - to get visitors to consume fish that are sustainable, while avoiding those that are collected in a way that harm the environment.

So here is a perfect opportunity to utilize kairos in an exhibit design element. Kairos is the principle “of presenting messages at the opportune moment” – (and also the basis for much work at Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab). Mobile phones are always with you, so they can be useful in identifying and acting at this moment.

So more specifically, we have an exhibit with aquariums and fish, as well as signs and interactive displays presenting this “vanishing wildlife.” One can see the fish up close, so the engagement is strong. The information is clear: Pacific Halibut are good, but Atlantic Halibut should be avoided. The problem is, I’m not making any buying or eating decisions right now. I’m in an aquarium, not in a restaurant or grocery store. How can I possibly be expected to remember these distinctions? Through the principle of kairos, perhaps I can be reminded or informed of this information again when I’m able to act on it. The exhibit actually does have pocket-sized cards that list the good to eat and good to avoid species. These are great, and I think an excellent start, but someone going out to a restaurant will almost certainly remember their phone. They would probably be less likely to remember the Seafood Watch pocket guide.

An ideal solution could use a simple text message service with which you could request information from anywhere. I envision a scenario looking like this:

You enter the exhibit and see a yellow fin tuna swimming by. You watch the footage of dolphin UNsafe tuna being caught on a fishing boat. You see a few other species and read about why some of the fishing techniques used to catch them are unsustainable. You’re now convinced. You want to make sustainable fish buying decisions. You walk over to the Seafood Watch station. Pocket guides are available, but you can also add a new contact to your cell phone. You type in the phone number, and save it as Fish Guide. Two weeks later, you find yourself at the seafood counter of your grocery store, but you can’t remember which fish are recommended. You send a text message with the word “help” to the Fish Guide number saved in your phone, and seconds later, a list of recommended fish are automatically texted back to you. Based on the recommendation, you buy some pacific halibut. Now you’ve been able to contribute to the sustainability of the fishing industry, and the Aquarium has been able to expand its influence and teaching to outside its own walls.


*I must note that the Seafood Watch website does in fact, have a mobile phone guide. This guide, though, is just a website compatible with mobile phone screens. Since most people still don’t use their phones to browse the internet, I think that I text-message system would be simpler and reach a wider audience.


Texting For Health - an article by labmate Enrique Allen

I've finished traveling and moving into my new place in Oslo, so I have many thoughts and ideas to catch up with. In the mean time, my friend Enrique Allen (from Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab) wrote a great article about text messaging and health for the Discovery Channel Website. Check it out .



How To Design A Learning Space

I helped Dan Gilbert to create this process chart as a tool for his Designing Learning Spaces class at Stanford University:

(Click To Enlarge)

This is a map that students would follow as they design their own learning spaces - the main project of the class. Now, this process was designed for the context of this class, but I believe it presents a nice general process for designing any learning space.

The basic process is that one begins by understanding the learner - who they are, what they believe, how they act, etc. One then moves toward figuring out what the learning goals are - what they will be learning and doing. The next step is to generate many many ideas and possible solutions for how the space can support this learning. These ideas should be shaped by the understanding of who the learner is. Then, through a process of prototyping and refinement, these steps are repeated until solutions can be proposed. Along the way, there are particular skills, questions, and tools to be used to accomplish each step. In Dan Gilbert's class, this process was applied to projects with outside partner institutions such as museums and schools.

But - how does this relate to the design of "mobile learning spaces"?

For my own research-design project, I'm seeking to understand children's mobile phone use in order to design learning interactions in public spaces. I view this project as fitting nicely within the learning space design process - the distinction being that I'm looking specifically at mobile technologies. The questions I'll be asking are: How can I design public learning space such as a museum so that it supports the use of mobile phones and mobile technology? And, how can I design mobile technologies and interactions that enhance learning in such a place. I don't have a good answer for these questions yet, of course, but my first step will be to understand who these children/ learners are, and how they use mobile phones.



IDEA - Museum Positioning System

Recent talk about the capabilities of the new iphone gps system have me thinking about new mobile learning spaces. Of course, gps enabled phones existed for a little while now, but the iphone has certainly grabbed the attention on this technology. The specifics of the recent debate are whether or not the iphone gps system is capable of “turn by turn” navigation – giving directions, say, in a car. The consensus seems to be that this will be possible through the new third-party applications ( see quotes from apple product head, Greg Joswiak).

So anyway, I’m thinking… what about a turn by turn MPS – Museum Positioning System? I could imagine an experience something resembling the guided audio tours only far more interactive and reactive to users’ actions. If I decide to veer off course, or take an alternate route through the museum floor (say to avoid a crowded exhibit), then the guidance would adjust accordingly. Just as GPS car systems let you choose highway or side-street preferences, one could select different routes linking exhibits together.

I doubt that gps would be accurate enough, by itself, for this type of use, but the opportunity to develop such an application for an iphone certainly is intriguing.



“Sounds Like You’re At A Party” - Knowing Where We’re Talking To

I’ve gotten in the habit of making phone calls while walking. Talking to someone helps pass the time on a twenty-minute trek across the Stanford campus. I’ve also found this to be a great time to catch up with my family – a “kill two birds with one stone” kind of thing. During these mobile conversations with my dad, I’ve stumbled onto a tiny annoyance. Whenever I pass other people conversing on the sidewalk or on the street, my dad, without fail, will say, “Well I’ll let you go, it sounds like you’re at a party there.” It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, or what time of day it is. Now this is a pretty mild offense, but it does disrupt the conversation. This little ritual has actually modified my walking behavior. If I see people headed towards me talking, then I look to cross the street or somehow avoid the interaction. If conversation impact is unavoidable, then I brace myself. “Sounds like you’re at a party.”

As a self-described ‘mobile learning researcher,’ I’ve spent a little bit of time thinking about the above interaction. I have a few conclusions. As members of different generations, my father and I resolve this conflict between mobile interactions and public space interactions differently (see my post on Rich Ling’s "New Tech New Ties").

To me, in this scenario, the phone takes priority. It doesn’t matter where I am. I know that I’m on my cell phone. I’m in this “mobile space” where the details of my physical space really aren’t that relevant. (This of course assumes that I’m not multitasking – which I think would make things much more complicated). People walking by in conversation are just background noise.

To my father, context and place are key. He may associate phones with a specific place. One goes to a room, or phone booth to make a call. When outside of these locations, those in the shared space take precedence. So while I’m talking with him on my cell phone and he says, “Sounds like you’re at a party”, he might believe that he is now keeping me from other social obligations or perhaps he is afraid I can’t not giving him my full attention. Without more context clues, he defers to those around me.
For me, it may be ok to walk past someone and ignore them, because the phone alters my participation in the physical space. “Sounds like you’re at a party” seems to represent a shifting balance from social obligations to those in the physical space, to those in the mobile space.

So how about you? Has anyone had similar interactions or an alternate explanation?



NYTimes - Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)

This nytimes article is from back in March, but it really captures the ideas of this site. Children are using cell-phones to both maintain privacy from and stay connected to their parents. For some, texting has become a form of "digital whispering" -
After that, the back-seat chattering stopped. When Mr. Hampton looked into his rearview mirror he saw his daughter sending a text message on her cellphone. “Katie, you shouldn’t be texting all the time,” Mr. Hampton recalled telling her. “Your friends are there. It’s rude.” Katie rolled her eyes again.
“But, Dad, we’re texting each other,” she replied with a harrumph. “I don’t want you to hear what I’m saying.”

The article also cites some statistics showing that children are the ones teaching the parents how to use these devices -
In a survey released 18 months ago, AT&T found that among 1,175 parents the company interviewed, nearly half learned how to text-message from their children. More than 60 percent of parents agreed that it helped them communicate, but that sometimes children didn’t want to hear their voice at all. When asked if their children wanted a call or a text message requesting that they be home by curfew, for instance, 58 percent of parents said their children preferred a text.

The implications of these statistics are that in order to design mobile learning interactions for children, we need to adapt to the ways in which they are already using their phones.
The other quotes that I found especially compelling from Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT, described a trip with her daughter to Paris.
“Part of the idea of Paris is being in Paris,” Ms. Turkle said. But during an afternoon stroll, her daughter received several calls and text messages on her cellphone from friends back in Boston. Her daughter, she said, felt compelled to return every one.
When Ms. Turkle asked why she didn’t turn off her cellphone and enjoy the city, she said her daughter replied, “I feel more comfortable talking with my friends.”

If children feel isolated when in public spaces away from their friends, then I think that we need to design learning spaces that take into account the entire social networks that a child may bring.


Mobile Space vs Public Space - A Doonesbury Comic

Someone passed along to me the Doonesbury strip below. First of all, I think it's pretty funny. However, it also ties in very nicely with this idea of mobile phones creating a conflict between the 'phone relationships' and the relationships of those in a shared public space. This conflict was a major point in Rich Ling's book "New Tech New Ties" that I wrote about here.



"New Tech New Ties" - Thoughts and Response

In preparation for this project, I am finishing reading the book, New Tech New Ties by Rich Ling. Ling is a sociologist and researcher at Telenor (the Norwegian phone company) and, along with Per Helmersen, will advise me and hopefully share some knowledge and experiences on mobile interactions. Here is a brief description of the book, and the impact it might have on my research:

The main proposal of the book is that mobile phones enhance the social relationships between family members and close friends perhaps at the expense of those that are co-present (sharing the same public space). He approaches this explanation through the perspective that mobile interactions are composed of rituals. My simplified understanding of his thesis is that friends and close family members are always in contact. My brother can reach me if I am in my house, in California, or Norway. If he wants to call me to ask about a movie or share a piece of news, he doesn’t even really need to know where I am – other than that I am on the phone with him.
Similarly, Ling describes scenarios where face to face interactions are extended through mobile interactions. If I’m meeting someone for dinner, I can be speaking with them on the phone right up until the point when I bump into them outside the restaurant. We can then discuss the meal on the phone later that evening. Examples such as these show that social relationships can be strengthened through mobile interaction.
On the other hand, Ling describes scenarios where social ties between those sharing the same public space may be disrupted. How do I follow through with a ritual greeting with a restaurant host if I’m on the phone with my friend talking until she arrives?

In any case, there are some potentially strong implications for my own research on mobile learning interactions. If mobile phones do in fact enhance close relationships, then perhaps I would design a museum scenario that encourages children to use their phone to interact with family or friends outside the museum. They could send pictures, questions or engage in other forms of learning conversations. Maybe children would be doing this anyway. On the other hand, perhaps these disrupted face-to-face relationships in the public museum space should be addressed directly. If I know that mobile phones dissuade museum visitors from asking questions to each other, then I might need to design an exhibit or mobile technology that encourages these visitors to engage with each other.


Mobile Phones and Facebook - Implications for Learning

I went to the dentist’s office Friday morning. In between rinsing and spitting, the dental hygienist was making conversation by asking my about my plans and my Fulbright project. After giving my now rehearsed explanation that I’m studying children’s mobile phone use to see how they might be used for learning, She responded by telling me, “You know what you should do – see how Facebook can be used for learning. My daughter is ALWAYS on Facebook.” She was totally right, of course. The role of social media, like Facebook, has been on my mind through work this past year with the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. There were also multiple classes taught through the lab this past year on the subject. Now, my focus is still centered on mobile phone use, but there are three reasons why I believe that both technologies are important and have very similar implications for learning spaces.

1) Both Facebook and mobile phones afford social interactions that are not possible in traditional educational environments (schools, museums, etc).

With Facebook, children can maintain contact across their entire social network very easily. If a user has a question, or wants to share a recent event with their friends, they can do so instantly with everyone they know. Similarly, this user can access and respond to this information from all of their other friends simultaneously. Having participated in a class heavily based in the Facebook environment, it’s not terribly difficult to imagine the technology allowing for increased collaborative interactions in educational settings.

Mobile phones remove space (and arguably time) as a barrier to social interaction. I can call a friend across the city, or across the country and reach him or her. I don’t even have to know where they are to begin a conversation with them. Similar to the Facebook example above, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where a child visits a museum with a school group, sees something interesting, and decides to send a picture through their phone to some friend in a completely different location. This technology could start a learning conversation that would otherwise not be possible.

We see that both mobile phones and social media have the potential to expand and create new learning interactions.

2) Facebook and mobile phones are popular with children.

Secondly, and I think a point that might be easy to overlook, is that both mobile phones and Facebook ARE BEING USED BY CHILDREN. The dental hygienist from above mentioned that her daughter was “always on facebook” (as are millions of other children). Statistics from Norway (where I’ll be basing my Fulbright project) show that the vast majority of children have their own mobile phones. If we wish to design new learning interactions (and that’s exactly what I hope to do), then we must be aware of, and adapt to these significant trends.

3) Facebook and mobile phones will be interchangeable.

The third reason for both technologies having similar implications for learning spaces is – very soon, even already in some cases, the two will be interchangeable. With increased computing power in cell phones, children can and will increasingly begin accessing Facebook from their smartphones and iphones etc. At this point, the new social interactions described in point 1 will merge. A child in a room or leaving soccer practice can know what all of their friends are doing, thinking, or learning at the particular moment.

So as I explore children’s mobile phone use, I’ll have to keep other social media in mind as well. I don’t think that I’ve done justice to the potential learning interactions above, but I do hope I’ve shown that mobile phones and Facebook can both be leveraged to create new learning opportunities – and should be studied together. Do you agree? Disagree? Have another idea? Please feel free to comment below.



Mobile Voices - test post

As part of my research on Norwegian phone culture, I hope to include interviews with users in public spaces. To present these findings in a digestible way, I plan to create a weekly "what are they saying" type of document. Below is a test to get the formatting and style right for this part of my research.

Mobile Voices
Question of the Week: "How often do you send text messages?"

Big Bird Lars Miles Gomez
Television Actor Manager Stay-At-Home Pup
"Text message starts with 't'. Teeeeeeee" "Um, I don't know. I guess like ten a week." "I just send emails on my iphone."


Mobile Learning Spaces

This is an exciting time! In a month, I'll be off to Oslo, Norway to begin my Fulbright experience. My stated goal is to "study Norwegian children’s mobile phone interactions in public spaces in order to discover and design learning opportunities." I'm especially interested in exploring how mobile phones can create face to face learning interactions in museums. This project will be based at the InterMedia research center at the University of Oslo. I also plan to receive guidance from social anthropologists at the Norwegian telephone company, Telenor.

I'm sure my goal will change, and the project will probably go in many different directions. The important thing is that the grant now seems pretty official because my picture has been posted on the Fulbright website:
Current Fulbright Grantees .