Archive for the ‘cell phones’ Category

Cyborg or Cyberpunk?

July 7, 2015

In a newspaper column carried in Fairfax newspapers in January 2015, the Fairfax technology writer, Blayne Slabbert, offers an analysis of why many people are afraid of technology. To sum up his case, he argues that Hollywood has promoted movies like Terminator and Robocop, where the antagonist is an evil machine predisposed to harming human beings. This has fixed in the public mind that technology is a scary prospect.
He goes on to asset that “People have always been afraid of technology. It started with trains, planes and automobiles and now it’s phones.” How does this assertion stand up to what we know and observe, our prior knowledge? Not very well. If people were afraid of these mechanical marvels why did they appear to be fascinated by them? Why do so many people own and regularly use cars, talk and read about them, complain about rising petrol prices and traffic jams? Surely this shows that people are fascinated by technology not afraid of it. The person who does not drive or who speaks out about the evil cars cause to the planet, is seen at best as eccentric. I can not agree with Slabbert’s main contention.
Further, in Terminator II both the villain and the hero are cyborgs making for a confusing claim that all the cyborgs are evil and the original Robocop was the hero. I hope Slabbert’s tech savvy is better than his movie knowledge!
He is really writing about people who do not use smart phones, who are not on Facebook and who are fearful Internet banking will mean they will be robbed. What percentage of the public hold these views? I don’t think it has been reliably measured. Instead we have pundits who assume that older people are digital immigrants or perhaps stay at homes. The media obligingly feed these fears with stories about people who do use these technologies and are bullied in cyberspace, have their privacy invaded by agents of the state and their life savings stolen at the stroke of a key by an anonymous thief in Moldova. Perhaps this is where this fear has its beginning.
The issue is worth exploring because industries where a detailed knowledge of ICT is required, are finding that some of their employees are reluctant to engage with the world of cyberspace. My experience though is that these employees either watched Robocop and Terminator to the extent they make Arnie jokes like “I’ll be back.” or they are blissfully ignorant of this aspect of our cultural space.
I also observe that, when the situation comes to compulsion, these employees either resign or learn the new technologies – and very few resign. What is really the case in my profession – teaching – is that some teachers limit their engagement with new technology, or do not initiate the use of technology in their practice. They use email and accept student work by email attachment but do not want to use Dropbox. They let students use word processors and spreadsheets but do not teach students how to use such technologies to their fullest extent. They make up text rich PowerPoints but do not experiment with transitions or adding sound effects and certainly have little knowledge of Prezi. Is this a problem of fear or just the same old problem that some people feel comfortable in their own space and see no need to extend their practice into new fields?
Curiously, I notice this is the same with students, the so called digital natives. Many of my students use Hotmail but feel no need to accept my invitation to move on to Gmail. They can use Facebook to chat or download pictures but not to assist in their studies. They can find ways to plagiarise their assignments but not set up a simple search using boolean logic. They can use a word processor but not the spell checker or formatting tools and have never used a spreadsheet.
Could it be that these people, adults and adolescents alike, do not suffer from a phobia but simply have no curiosity about what is over the next hill? Christopher Columbus wanted to know what was over the horizon. Most people in Europe at that time, never even considered there was something over the horizon. If adults have any fear about using technology, it is more a fear of seeming less than adequate, of appearing foolish in front of their managers and their peers.


We don’t ‘low no natives round here

August 21, 2008

I have just attended the DEANZ conference in Wellington, New Zealand and been struck by how criticism of Mark Prensky’s digital natives metaphor has now become mainstream thinking. While it is high time his views were subject to scrutiny and judged for their worth, I would be concerned that some of his less well promoted ideas might be lumped in with the digital natives idea and rejected without being examined.

In particular I refer to his ideas about the merits of cell phones as teaching tools.  While Prensky’s ideas of how cell phones could be used are not developed, he is aware of the huge potential.  I’ve covered this in earlier posts to this blog and in other media, but the reports of how cell phones are being used proliferate in the media.  The New Zealand Education Gazette 11 August 2008 reports how Nathan Kerr of Onehunga High School sends teaching notes to his students’ cell phones.

However, the merits of this initiative are reduced by Kerr’s Prenskian analysis of his project.   Kerr is quoted as saying “The most important thing to remember about the mobile teaching project is that it is student driven, they know a lot more about the type of technology than I do.”  Well, excuse me, but when did we last hear about a student compressing teaching materials and sending it to cell phones?   Surely what Kerr has done shows just the opposite, that he knows more about the technology than they do?  Prensky has a lot to answer for.

The second question about why other teachers aren’t using mobile technology is not answered in the media reports.   The answer to that question does swing the debate back in Prensky’s direction.  Many teachers and school administrators see cell phones as threats, not as opportunities.  Accordingly, money is not budgeted for these new approaches and teachers are discouraged.   When a teacher provides the resources themselves, they are met with obstacles, prohibitions and downright hostility.  As I have said in other posts, there are systemic obstacles to adopting new technologies, not so much the digital immigrants imposing their ways of life on the natives, but a Praetorian guard working to preserve the power of the elite, who talk the need for change while working behind the scenes to prevent any change threatening their way of life.

The sound of one tree falling

May 27, 2007

Move over e-learning, mobile education is here to stay

May 2, 2007

Playing the devil’s tunes

March 1, 2007

The Salvation Army used to have a saying, why should the Devil have all the best tunes? What was meant was that ideas and initiatives meant to be used for some commercial or even immoral purpose could be taken over and used in another way to serve a nobler end.

The idea has enormous merit. My immediate interest is in whether what are commonly called Web 2.0 applications could be used for educational purposes. In New Zealand the websites most commonly visited are TradeMe, MySpace and Bebo, all Web 2.0 applications. While it would be difficult to see TradeMe as having a primarily educational function – the other sites foster interaction and discussion, essential functions of any educational activity.

I intend this blog to demonstrate a third kind of Web 2.0 application, blogging but it can also serve the purpose of reporting on my research into what can be achieved in Web 2.0 applications

O Brave New World: or texting and the Teacher of Language Arts

February 28, 2007

We’ve all seen them: students crouching in their seats, eyes intent on the small screen on the object held in their hands. We’ve read it too; writing in a strange new dialect of abbreviations and acronyms. The reaction of older teachers seems to be one of dismay; yet another threat to literacy, spelling and life as we know it. How should we react?

Is texting just another fad? If we ignore it, will it go away? How should we deal with texting when these cryptic messages start appearing in students’ formal writing? I want to suggest to you that texting is not going to go away. It is popular with the biggest growing market in the world; the youth market and it is extremely profitable for the telephone companies and the manufacturers of cell phones.

Some figures show the direction of things to come. One in six people have access to a cell phone, as against one in 12 having access to a computer. Industry analysts calculated that worldwide, two billion text messages ere sent in 2003. Radio New Zealand in Digital World has already documented how texting is becoming integral to the youth culture by reporting the story that students co ordinated the June 2002 student strikes by texting friends in other classes and at other schools. After some high profile cases of bullying by text message with two students committing suicide, schools in New Zealand try to prohibit the practice. I have also heard claims that drag racing is organized through groups of young drivers texting each other as they search out suitable sites for their races.

Nor has the commercial world been slow to turn texting to its advantage. Numerous competitions, directed at the youth market, ask contestants to text a message to be eligible for a prize draw. Radio stations offer an instant request line by text and, on some television channels, callers can participate in polls to choose which film will be screened on any particular evening. Perhaps more usefully, the airlines and Tranz Rail now offer a service for intending travelers, where they can be send a text message if the service, which they were booked to use, is delayed or cancelled.

The m-learning revolution

Several years ago several of my colleagues visited Finland to see how cellular networks are being used to deliver distance education programmes. They reported that people in
Finland with an interest in education are suggesting that e-learning may yet be overtaken by m-learning or education using mobile devices which have evolved from the cell phone.

While the uses of mobile phones in distance education are becoming evident, are there applications of interest to teachers of English? I think there are. English in Aotearoa has already published at least one example of how texting can be used in an English classroom (Number 46, June 2002 P 50). However, this uses texting in a familiar print medium. M-learning as a new instructional medium should involve the use of the cellular network.

Applications of texting

I found the first application in English on line. Here a commercial organization, Tiny, offers to text haiku to your cell phone. Haiku are short and so ideally suited to being presented as text messages. (Tolstoy would have more trouble with War and peace.)

This started me thinking about what else could be published as a text message. Something short, like an aphorism or a palindrome. After all this is the age of instant short communications. Just as political oratory has been replaced by the ten second “sound bite”, there are lots of short forms of writing out there. Stuff, the INL news website, offers its controversial Naked man caption writing competition by text message. This risqué weekly competition, which previously ran in The Evening Post is ideally suited to the texting format, as a caption is yet another form of short message. While schools would be unlikely to want to emulate this competition, the idea could readily be adapted to more educational purposes.

Vodafone offers its subscribers “Text life”, a soap box opera played out on the screens of a million cell phones. Here, if your friends do not have exciting or salacious news to share with you, then your telephone company will step into the breech and offer you its own line of confidential text messages. I must confess I have not subscribed to Text life but I am told it concerns the life and times of a nineteen year old student, Sam, whose boss is riding high for a charge of sexual harassment . When I searched the World Wide Web for “epigrams”, I found a service, which will email you randomly selected epigrams by Emily Dickinson. This is not mobile phone technology, but it could easily be adapted to text messaging as Dickinson’s epigrams are shorter than her more familiar poetry.

Similar services seem to abound for de La Rochefoucauld’s maxims. Try Joke Monster, another web based email subscription service. I haven’t distinguished maxims from aphorisms, apothegms and axioms since the terms seem interchangeable, but palindromes offer yet another application. The web has plenty of sites devoted to collecting and writing new palindromes and a link to The Palindromist Magazine for students who want to read more. There seem to be enough ideas here for English classrooms to experiment with texting as another form of publishing. Just as we can now publish students’ art work, music compositions and writing on the school website, texting offers a simple way to publish writing – always provided the writing is short.

How much does it cost?

Vodafone is using proprietory software developed in Auckland and must be using something similar. This software allows the user to email messages from a computer to a “call group” of cell phones, which had previously been set up. It differs from Vodafone’s “web2text” service in that a web2text message can be sent only to one cellphone at a time. At the moment access to this software comes at a cost but competition and the desire to build revenues mean that this service like other cell phone services will become more affordable over time. For example, the web2text service I mentioned, is free to Vodafone subscribers and Telecom regularly discounted their 027 service to offer either unlimited or 500 text messages for ten dollars a month. Even now both telcos may be prepared to fund pilot schemes for educational and promotional purposes.


Bain, Helen. (2002) “MSG received” The Dominion Post August 3.

Binning,Elizabeth. (2002) “Text-message bullies force cellphone ban at school” New Zealand Herald November 27.

Miller, Helen. (2002) “txt msg Shsp: the final horror?” English in Aotearoa Number 46, June.

(2003) “Tchers morn deth of litrcy in txt generation” New Zealand Herald March 4

Aphorisms Galore

Digital life originally broadcast on 20 July 2002)

The Emily DickinsonRandom Epigram Machine

Jim Kalbs’ Palindrome Connection

Joke Monster