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One month with the Nokia N800

Last month, I wrote on my latest handheld acquisition: the Nokia N800. I wrote a little on my initial experiences, and pondered its use in education. Now that I’ve had this for a month, it’s time for an update.

nokian800.jpgUnlike most electronics produced by Nokia, the N800 is not a phone. It is an Internet Tablet. It can connect to wifi networks, but it cannot connect directly to a 3G (UMTS) or EDGE network. Supposedly, a 3G version for Sprint is in the works, and should be released in 2008. For those who need telco network connectivity and cannot wait for the Sprint version, you can tether it to your cell phone via a Bluetooth link.

Positive experiences

The N800 has a gorgeous display. At 800×480, the resolution is high enough for most applications. Because so much screen resolution is packed into a small space, smaller text on Web pages can be harder to read, but the devices contains well-placed zoom-in and zoom-out buttons to enlarge text and graphics.

screenshot-2007-09-27-22-07-17.pngThe built-in Web browser (Opera) renders most pages beautifully. For those pages that do not render properly (or where certain features are missing), a Gecko-based (used in Mozilla and Firefox) engine is available through the MicroB project. The Gecko engine, however, is a little bit slower and more prone to crashes.

The device also contains a simple, but surprisingly capable RSS reader. Fresh content can be displayed on a home screen widget; and, the RSS application loads all needed graphics and properly renders all content in a highly-functional (and readable) interface.

claws-maemo.pngThe built-in email application is deficient on many levels, but it is possible to install Claws Mail through a couple clicks from the maemo.org repository list. Several Claws plugins are also readily available. For the uninitiated, however, configuring Claws can be quite painful.

The device can also be used for multimedia playback. Assuming you have the proper codec installed, video playback is good. MP3 playback is flawless. Again, by clicking through the repositories listed at maemo.org, installing additional codecs is quick and simple.

Finally, the hardware seems solid. With casual use, you can expect the battery to last a day. It can remain on standby for up to a week. The built-in wifi antenna is also superb, and does well at detecting and connecting to access points with weak signals. Whereas my laptop can only detect 12 wifi networks from my home, the N800 detects 23.

Drawbacks

The device doesn’t boast full Java support. This means I cannot use Java-based applications such as Oracle Calendar (my university forces me to use it). Support for Java is a much-needed feature for a future OS release.

Although the device transfers data at a rapid rate, Web browsing is not as swift as I would hope it would be. As previously mentioned, the built-in Opera browser lacks compatibility with some Web sites. MicroB is more compatible, but still very buggy.

Gizmo ProjectAlthough Skype released a client for the device, they haven’t provided support for the built-in Web cam. My guess is because, due to memory limitations, N800 code would need to be tight, meaning that Skype developers cannot get away with obfuscating their binaries with meaningless code. Failure to incorporate such a feature makes Skype look bad. Perhaps now is a good time for them to consider opening their standards? Video calls are still possible by using the built-in “Nokia Internet Call Invitation (Beta)” application, but you’re limited to calling other N800s.

Wishlist

As a traveling presenter, I would like a device smaller than my laptop to play PowerPoint (or OpenOffice.org) presentations. It would be great if a future edition of this device had a video-out solution. The onboard chipset already supports video output, but Nokia chose not to include the connecting hardware. Adding video-out support should be a small addition.

The device needs to ship with international character sets. Packaging Latin, Greek and Cyrillic characters are a good start, but Arabic and East Asian characters should be shipped in the base package, too.

Finally, upgrading the device’s firmware is a pain in the neck. Nokia and the development community periodically release new OS versions and fixes, requiring firmware flashing each time. Although most user data is retained, this causes most applications to disappear. It would be nice if Nokia provided an option to reinstall application and library packages (if available and compatible with the new kernel, etc.) after each update.

Does the N800 belong in schools?

Inspired by devices such as those built by Noah and Ozing (see also this EF article), I continue to evaluate if the N800 has a place in schools. In places with limited electrical or network connectivity, content and curricula can be distributed via SD cards and charged less frequently than laptops would need to be charged. The battery shipped with the device is sufficient to allow moderate use throughout a school day before needing a recharge.

The N800, however, is not designed for children. It is designed for hackers, technology mavens, and other nerds. Perhaps, then, it can find a home in higher education? Given the expanding developer community and (mostly) open platform, maybe successor products could become the OLPC-parallel, “$200 palmtop” for college students in developing and “developed” countries.

But wait! The N810 is coming…!

As my luck would have it, less than a month after my N800 arrived, Nokia announced a successor product, the N810. Apart from integrating a GPS receiver, a keyboard, and a swifter processor, there are not many differences from the N800. The built-in keyboard, however, should make it a much more attractive product to educators and other markets. More on that device once I get my hands on one…!

"My World" rumors persist

From Ars Technica:

Rumors of Google’s plans to create a virtual world that rivals that of Second Life have popped up once again over the weekend. The company could now be collaborating with Arizona State University to test the 3D social network, which may be tied into Google’s current applications of Google Earth and Google Maps.

By targeting the higher education social networking crowd (at least initially), can we expect this to take education by storm? Whereas Second Life is based on an invented (and inventable!) world, My World appears grounded in the real world –and more purpose-driven. Would such a grounding help to bridge virtual learning environments with reality?

Laureate's push into Asia

Lloyd Armstrong at Changing Higher Education posted comments on Laureate Education CEO Doug Becker‘s move to China… to create something new, backed by financiers that include Paul Allen, George Soros, and the endowment of Harvard University:

I have long believed that real innovation in higher education will not come in the US, but from some area such as China or India where there are enormous higher education needs, and greatly constrained resources compared to those needs. It is there that the very expensive US model of higher education will run prove most ineffective. Apparently Doug Becker, Chairman and CEO of Laureate Education, is of the same opinion. He has just announced that he and his family are moving from Baltimore ( the home of Laureate) to Hong Kong so that he can establish a new Asia headquarters there.

Make sure to read Armstrong’s full post.

If the bulk of US tertiary institutions continue to stagnate due to legacy structures and cost disease, will the next leading higher education providers emerge in Asia?

A New Paradigm of Knowledge Production

My doctoral dissertation, A New Paradigm of Knowledge Production in Minnesota Higher Education: A Delphi Study, is available for purchase online or for online preview:

SPECIAL:

Download now and save! For the month of September, the PDF edition is available for download at the discounted price of $30.00 $15.00 (50% off)!

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What do you know?

The StarTribune ran a positive piece that raises awareness of David Shupe’s eLumen Collaborative, a Web-based, enterprise-level application for tracking student competencies. The project began as a response to a simple question that higher education institutions and graduates have a hard time answering: What, precisely, did graduating students learn, and what competencies have they developed?

The software allows for faculty-driven assessments via dynamically-generated rubrics, with the possibility of incorporating student-driven assessments as well. Will this signal a new trend in assessments for the 21st century? …or, do we need to push for something beyond rubrics? …beyond assessments?

Report on the second Horizon Forum

Last Friday, 26 leaders from Minnesota’s PreK-17 spectrum gathered for the second meeting of the Horizon Forum. Dr. Tom Tapper, superintendent of Owatonna Public Schools, presented a compelling argument that public education is nearing obsolescence. He states:

Today, the system of public education has a choice: it either leads change, or is led by it. The essence of our society is dynamic and is becoming innovative in nature. Changes in public education will follow, to refuse change is not an option, however, how we change is. The power to decide lies within it.

Dr. Arthur Harkins (University of Minnesota) followed with a presentation on undergraduate knowledge production and its innovative potentials in the College of Education and Human Development. The College, also, needs to decide whether it will lead or become obsolete, and that it has several alternatives:

  • Help upgrade the USA culture, starting with families and schools
  • Help massively (and selectively) encourage emigration of outstanding families and individuals to the USA
  • Advocate funding of all ‘performing’ students fro PreK through 17 to create required human and social capital. (no student debt)
  • Utilize advanced technology

The next Horizon Forum meeting will be on at 12:00pm on December 12 in Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota.

The current topic of the third forum is Human Capital Development and PreK-17 Education. More details on this upcoming event will be posted soon.

(Thanks to Tom Elko for providing notes from the meeting.)

Building a Leapfrog University v5.0

Arthur Harkins and I yesterday released “version 5.0” of our Building a “Leapfrog” University series. The document provides recommendations gathered from the University of Minnesota community on steps the University may take to transform into one of the top universities in the world. The recommendations generated by this activity run parallel to and complement the University’s own strategic repositioning process.

Future development of this memo series and its leapfrog concepts will now be conducted entirely online at the University’s community Wiki in “open source” tradition: https://wiki.umn.edu/twiki/bin/view/Leapfrog/WebHome

We invite your comments, corrections and additions to what we have written as well as direct input to the Leapfrog Wiki. We especially request your thoughts on the application of innovative and dynamic design principles to the University’s future

For your reference, previous release versions are available online at http://www.educationfutures.com/leapfrog

Contact:

  • Arthur Harkins, University of MN, harki001@umn.edu, 612/743-7528
  • John Moravec, University of MN, moravec@umn.edu, 612/325-5992
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LA Times: Colleges see the future in technology

The Los Angeles Times recently ran a story on the adoption of technology in California’s higher education institutions. Gaming and simulation technologies are being explored to provide “more individualized instruction” that cater to both emotional and learning needs of students. Carol Twigg at the National Center for Academic Transformation is looking at online education. Writes the times:

Twigg’s outlook is based partly on her center’s four-year effort with 30 colleges to redesign high-enrollment courses. The 30 projects involved such things as deemphasizing lectures and relying more on online tutorials and discussion forums, along with using computerized grading to give students speedier assessments of what they were learning well and what they were getting wrong.

The result: Student learning rose in 25 of the 30 projects. And in the other five cases, performance remained roughly even with the level in traditionally taught classes. At the same time, the cost of providing instruction was reduced an average 37%.

I’m not quite sure how student learning is measured, but if this research is accurate, the trend of rising college costs may be reversible…

Inside Higher Ed: Harvard poised to leapfrog

Inside Higher Ed reports Harvard is investigating interdisciplinary (and some would argue transdisciplinary) models of knowledge production and distribution. The school’s Science Committee issued a report with recommendations that include: transforming undergraduate science education in a hands-on environment, adjust graduate student funding structures to encourage interdisciplinary research, and infuse interdisciplinary practice into the new Allston campus.

More from the Harvard University Gazette