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I have the wonderful privilege of teaching Canada’s first post-graduate program that is dedicated solely on building mobile application. We build web applications as well as Playbook, Android and iOS native applications. As you can appreciate there are a number of challenges but I can’t think of anything more that I’d rather be doing. I’m so blessed to have a small group of wonderful students. It is so exciting when I see them “get it” and it inspires me to want to do more with them.

Starting this week, I’ve asked each student to start participating more actively in the Social Media front. One of the big parts of what they have to do is blog. Each student needs to start blogging at least once a week. App development is only part of the game. Marketing your app and yourself is a huge part.

So, I’m looking forward to reading their blogs for the next six weeks. I would hope that they enjoy their experience.

If you could pass along advice on writing an effective blog, what would it be? Please share your comments and thoughts with these new app developers.

You can follow Phil on Twitter @CanadianPacman

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Student’s First Weekend with Playbook

As part of the development process, students in Canadore College’s Mobile Application Development program were handed a RIM PlayBook. After some quick tutorials they left for the weekend with their new tablets. In Monday’s class we had a discussion about the tablet and their experience. What follows below is a short list of advantages and disadvantages when compared with other tablets. Although someone thought that the Playbook was slippery to hold onto, it wasn’t listed as a disadvantage because all tablets are slippery. That’s why we recommend buying a protective cover. So anything that applies to a majority of tablets was not recorded.

Please feel free to add your thoughts and comments.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Multitasking
  • Flash Enabled
  • AIR support
  • Solid technology
  • WiFi & Blu Tooth support
  • MS Word, Excel & Power point included
  • Outstanding media support
  • Smaller size makes it easier to carry around
  • Video Chat included
  • QNX O/S – will support Android with October’s update
  • Intuitive use of swipe space
  • Comes with a carry case
  • Comes with a wipe cloth
  • HDMI output
  • Speakers in the front
  • Can install apps even when WiFi signal is interrupted.
  • Deleting apps is easy
  • Comes with MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  •  Not as many apps available
  • Publically bashed
  • Feels incomplete – no email client
  • More difficult to develop for (right now)
  • Some USB connection issues
  • Power button too small.
  • Location of volume buttons can be awkward
  • Some tethering issues with BB cell
  • Browsing is cramped when the keyboard is up
  • WiFi Signal strength not as strong as other devices
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Watch the Use of the “F” Bomb

While visiting with vendors at the recent mLearnCon conference in San Jose, I had two vendors that in advertently put me on the defensive. This isn’t something you want to do if you are trying to sell a product or service. Both the vendors spoke despairingly about Flash and one person was even outright wrong in their assessment of Flash. Vendors, please don’t bash Flash with false information to a person who teaches Flash to other developers. Granted the vendor doesn’t know my background but a quick question or two would REALLY help you know about my background. I know Flash well and I know its short comings. I left the vendors feeling as if Flash had become the new “F” bomb.

While I recognize there are some limitations with Flash, I honestly feel that it is being beat up on by people who only have a little bit of knowledge and don’t fully understand the technology. Flash is NOT the be-all end-all tool. There are times when Flash is a technology that you want to stay away from. However, in many cases it is a great tool.

Let me share an experience I had with you regarding Flash vs. HTML5. I read an article from an author who was one of the people preaching that Flash is dead. He then showed an animation that he made using HTML5, CSS3 and some JavaScript. He spent close to a week making this animation. When I watched it, it didn’t work because I wasn’t viewing it in Google Chrome. So I loaded it up in Google Chrome and it ran very choppy. The second time I watched it, the animation was better but “mechanical”. After watching this 30 second animation, I know that I could reproduce the same animation in Flash in about 3 hours if I had the assets at my finger tips. The animation would also be very smooth, run smoothly the first time and would work in all major browsers. So one week with HTML5 or 3 hours in Flash. I will point out though that as HTML5 development tools get better, the work flow will be reduced.

If someone tells you that Flash is dead or treats the word Flash like you said the “F” bomb, please know they are speaking from a very bias point of view. Likewise if someone says Flash is the answer to all your needs, please nod politely and back away. This person may be taking you for a ride. Personally, I feel Flash is a good tool but it is only one in my arsenal that I use when developing eLearning/mLearning.

(you can follow Phil on Twitter @CanadianPacMan)

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Two Bite Brownies = Mobile Learning

While attending the recent mLearnCon in San Jose, one of the keynote speakers mentioned that mLearning needs to be in smaller bite sized pieces. He said rather than serving steak, we need to serve shish-kabob. I leaned forward and shared with a friend that mLearning should actually be more like two bite brownies. They are a positive experience and after eating one, you want more. Can we do that with mLearning? While challenging, there are ways that we can make mLearning more positive. This will be something for future blogs.

Caution:

There is something to be said about learning momentum. Don’t always be too quick to make all your mobile training short. There are times when the training just needs to reach out and touch you and there are times when training needs to provide you with more depth. It sometimes takes time to get people into a learning mode. Learning isn’t always something that can be turned on with the push of the power button. Once a learner is in a learning mode, they may be ready for more training. How do you do something like this? It could be something as simple as an automated bookmarking technique that tracks the user. Allow the user to start and stop when they like. The next time they login, give them the option of picking up where they left off.

For example; I’m developing a new online learning course for a client this summer. One of the things that I hope to incorporate is something that you commonly see on television shows. Anyone who watched the TV series “24” will recall that each show started off with “Previously, on 24…” then you had a video montage of some of the key points to get you up to speed.  I’m hoping to do the same thing with the new training course I’m building. When a person logs back in, it will say something along the lines of “In your previous session, you learned about …” The learner would be able to click and review the highlights of the material from the pop-up dialog box before heading off into new material.

What are your thoughts? What can you do to make mLearning more enjoyable and leave the learner wanting more? What other techniques have you seen that help learners recall previous material?

(you can follow Phil on Twitter @CanadianPacMan)

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Flash in the Mobile World

Between now and Sept 2011, I’ll be immersing myself in the world of creating mobile apps. This is all in preparation as Canadore College prepares to roll out the first full-time post graduate Mobile Application Development program. During the research phase I’ve been asking myself where does Flash fit in all this? Here are some questions I’ve asked and feel comfortable with the answers.

Q. Should students be taught Flash development for mobile devices?

A. Yes. There are several reasons for this. Flash is playing on a number of mobile devices and that list is growing. Also, you can convert your Flash files to AIR applications which run on devices like RIM’s Playbook. AIR applications also extend the performance of Flash.  I’m working on an AIR preloader that is not in the shape of a rectangle. This will allow developers to leverage Flash knowledge and experience for  a new development platform. This also gets you closer to developing once and delivering on multiple devices.

Q. Should we teach students to convert Flash to iPhone/iPad applications?

A. Yes. The iOS packager with Flash does work and again it gets back to developing once and delivering to many devices. Students with little programming knowledge will be able to create some dynamic applications in a very short period of time. The fast development will help build momentum as we wrap up the school year.

Q. Should we teach students how to build web apps for mobile devices?

A. Yes. There is a growing trend for mobile applications. Rather than being native applications, they are actually web application running on mobile devices. This is good as you can develop the product once and multiple devices can access the application. The downside is that you need a network connection. Yes it is true that it is possible to cache web applications locally, still it isn’t ideal.

Q. Because we are teaching web apps and Flash for mobile development, there is no need to teach native application development.

A. No! I’ve put most of my thinking with this question because I know most of the students I’m getting do not have a programming background. So teaching native object C and Java programming is going to be complex. However, we would be doing the students a disservice if we didn’t teach the basics of coding in the native language. The simple files I’ve packaged in Flash for the iPod Touch do lag and take a while to load up compared to apps written with xCode. While I’m still new to the Flash in the iOS world, what I’ve seen has convinced me we should be teaching native app programming. The native apps the students will create will most likely not be complex. However, they will have a solid programming foundation that they can continue to learn more complex native application programming. My goal would be to significantly reduce the learning curve and get them to the point where they understand how to use the development tools.

So, what are your thoughts on mobile application development? Do you agree with the answers to the questions? What other questions would you ask?

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Five Reasons for a Class to Have a Facebook Group

I’ve had the privilege of teaching full-time at the college level since 1995. Over the past few years, I’ve been encouraging each new class of students to start up a Facebook group. Even with multiple years in our programs, each year will create their own group.  It has been a valuable resource and I thought I’d share five reasons why.

5.  Connects the class in a fun way.  A vast majority of college students already have a Facebook account and most of them enjoy it. Having a Facebook group allows a fun and familiar way for them to connect.

4.   Builds relationships within the class. When students first come to college, it can be difficult as many are away from home for the first time. Building a group with classmates allows them to connect on a different level. This can help students who are feeling a little home sick by growing closer together.

3.   Share notes. During class, we provide a lot of information. However, students will often find other information and share these resources with others in the class. The Facebook group is a natural respository for this information.

2.  Ask questions and seek help. It is common for some people in the class just to fire off a quick question to the class. For example, one student in December wanted to know when the first day of class is in January. As I’m part of the group I’m able to respond quickly with the right answer. I also told them to check their email as this information was sent out. It is also common to see students put content related questions out to the group. One person was asking for help with editing a paper and offered to edit other people’s papers.

1.  Efficiency  in communicating. Students MAY check email once a day (see point 2 above). However they check Facebook five or six times a day. I can get in touch with a student faster by Facebook than I can with email. Also, if I want to get a message out to the entire class I can use the Facebook group. For example, an instructor who lives out of town couldn’t make it in for class because of the bad weather. First thing I did was write a message to the Facebook group and told them to pass the word around. This works much faster than sending out a group email as many students don’t take the time to fire up their home computers to check email before leaving for school. Most of the class have Facebook alerts sent to their mobile devices. Only a few have emails sent to their phones.

There are many other reasons for having a Facebook group for your class but these are the ones that seem to come to the top of the list. Do you have other thoughts on why each class should (or shouldn’t) have a Facebook group? Is there something better out there?

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Three Lessons Learned at DevLearn 2010

This is my second time attending DevLearn. It has been a delight to both attend and speak at this conference. My first time around I wasn’t sure what to expect. This year, I came with some ideas about the conference and what I wanted to get from the sessions.  In reflecting back over the week, I realized that I learned three very important lessons. So in true DevLearn style, I decided to blog about it and then spread the news around using Twitter.

Lesson  1.

The tools have made building eLearning much easier

The tools that are available on the market place have put a lot of power in the hands of non techie developers. You can hook up with industry experts to see how to use these tools to empower you and your organization to build engaging activities. I’m always looking for best practices and neat short cuts that can reduce my development time and I’m impressed with the skill set that was at this conference.

 

Lesson 2:

The tools have made building eLearning much harder

With great power comes great complexity. While the building of learning activities has made it easier, there are sometimes trouble in implementing it. Ask any mobile developer when they start testing their software on the actual devices instead of a simulator. While many of the authoring tools look after the programming for you, these same tools also takes away some control. For example, what happens when you run into a bug where the page count displays “Page 0 of 6”. Or the audio runs fine in a FLV video file when run locally, but it skips when it’s run online. It is in the testing and implementing that these unique “features” show up and now it takes a while to troubleshoot and debug. So even though the tools are more powerful, you need more time when you want to join all the pieces together.

 

Lesson 3:

It isn’t the sessions – it’s the people

While most of the sessions were good, I did hit a few that were not what I expected. Either the content wasn’t there or the style of the presenter was not the best. However, I considered this a very successful conference. While the keynote sessions were great and most of the sessions I sat in on were also good, it was the connections to some brilliant people that made it for me. The organizers at DevLearn not only strongly promote this type of networking, they build it into the conference. You are encouraged to meet and hook up at different events and also provide an avenue for you to organize your own meeting. It was good that the conference organized 28 Breakfast Bytes session that allowed people to get together to discuss specific topics. Also, while you are in these sessions, you are encouraged to tweet about it. So even if there are sessions you are not interested in, it’s in meeting the vast array of developers and educators from around the world all striving to make learning better for everyone that is the real jewel of the conference. I made some new friends this year and I’m looking forward to collaborating with them over the next year.

 

I recall earlier this year someone tweeted the question, “If you could only attend one conference, what would it be?” I responded very quickly and said DevLearn is a very good one to attend. I have no problem in recommending DevLearn again for next year. Happy developing. Hope to meet you at DevLearn 2011 #dl11 in Vegas.

(you can follow Phil on Twitter @CanadianPacMan)

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