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 .