Thursday, April 01, 2010

Learning on mobile phones

The mobile phone has been promoted by some as more appropriate learning tools for the developing world. They are present in much greater numbers than laptops are likely to ever be and they may be more appropriate technology because they address existing needs as identified by the people.

Conversely, their small screens and limited keyboards limit what can be done.

What would a good learning app for a phone look like? It need not be a visual block programming language but could be.

The pencil and paper amplify thought. We can create a music score, diagram or text of greater complexity on paper than we can hold in our head. The computer, like pencil and paper, allows us to store and inspect our project. Unlike paper, it also can 'play' our project. TamTam, Record, Etoys and Physics are examples that utilise the computer as a player.

The screen is how we transfer a project of great complexity inside the device to the limited representation which is inside our heads. The eye is well adapted to find a smaller piece of information in a larger project and concentrate our attention on it. Does it have to be the screen? A small screen is a problem.

The iPhone has a resolution of 480-by-320-pixels at 163 ppi , I would need glasses but its not that small a screen for young eyes. TurtleArt has a number of features which adapt it to small screens.

  • named stacks of blocks
  • collapsible stacks
  • zoom in and out
  • scrollable canvas
  • save and individually restore stacks in trash
Collapsed stack of blocks

Zoom (lower right)


Sugar uses the frame as a way to conserve screen space.

The Sugar frame (dark border) only visible when required

I do not think that the phone is too small a platform for serious work. I hope that somebody will create a phone app which follows the educational principles of Etoys: authoring always on, low entry, wide walls, high ceiling and collaborative. It might not be a visual programming tool though.

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