Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Cell Phone: Marty Cooper's Big Idea

There are seven billion people on the planet, and nearly five billion cell phones - meaning most of the Earth's population is connected for sound, for picture, and for heaven only knows what else.

The cell phone has brought us a world without end of talking, twittering, texting, even of sexting. If you don't know what that is, ask any high school kid.

It is all a result of Marty Cooper's big idea. And he looks at it all with pride, amusement and some dismay. And with good reason: he is the father of the cell phone. He built the first one 37 years ago. It ushered in a technological and social revolution which he believes is far from over. He made the first public cell phone call on the sidewalks of New York, in 1973.

"This is a time when there were no cordless phones. And certainly no cell phones. And here's this guy talking as he was walking along. And I stepped into the street and nearly got creamed by a New York taxicab. So talk about being prescient and seeing a picture of the future," Cooper told "60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer.

It’s a future - of non-stop connection of apps galore, iPhones and Droids, Blackberrys and Blueteeth - or is it Bluetooths?

Marty Cooper checks out the latest at the wireless industry's annual convention in Las Vegas, a huge convergence where geeks meet gizmos.

And unlike some of us of a certain age, he understands all of it.

Asked if he twitters, Cooper said, "I signed up for Twitter about six months ago, did nothing and I had 17 followers. So now I'm actually twittering. My latest twitter is, 'The secret of successful aging is to have good genes and to show a lot of respect for the genes.'"

Asked if he thinks he's the oldest twitterer in America, Cooper said, "I don't want to be the oldest anything in America. Sorry about that."

But you'll have to look hard to find anyone older on the slopes at Vail, his favorite getaway. Cooper was born in Chicago on the eve of the Great Depression. He's 81, an age, for many, when the most strenuous exercise of the day is getting in and out of bed.

"His tennis and his skiing are better than they've ever been. I have a hard time keeping up with him. And I'm almost 20 years younger," his wife Arlene Harris told Safer.

With his wife, another veteran of the mobile phone business, Cooper is still in the game, awaiting the next big thing in wireless communication. He's convinced that the cell phone, at 37, is still in its infancy.

"Technology has to be invisible. Transparent. Just simple. A modern cell phone in general has an instruction book that's bigger and heavier than the cell phone. That's not right," Cooper said.

Call it the complexity or confusion factor.

Cooper argues that cell phones designed to do everything - take pictures, play music and videos, surf the Web - don't do any of them really well. He thinks the buyers should be dictating exactly what they want.

"The consumer is king. The consumer ought to make the decisions. And not, certainly not the engineer," Cooper said. "Engineers tend to get enchanted by the technology itself."

So it seems only natural that the latest gadget developed by Cooper and his wife is a retro cell phone called the "Jitterbug." It's a basic phone - there's no camera, no music. Any idiot can operate it.

It sounds simple enough: if you can hear a dial tone on the Jitterbug, you can make a call. "If there's no dial tone you can't," Cooper explained.
BlackBerry Bold 9700 Phone (AT&T)

His next target are lost calls, also known as drop outs. Atop his office building, ugly conventional cell phone antennas are disguised as flagpoles.

He's developing so-called smart antennas that can cut through all the competing noise in the radio environment to get your call through.

"And what they do is when we transmit, we send the information only to your phone," Cooper explained.

Asked if we'll reach a day when a cell phone is as perfect as a landline, Cooper said, "That's exactly right."

What hath Marty Cooper wrought? Let us go, for a moment, back to the future.

The cell's precursor, the car telephone, came in right after World War II.

"A tiny radio transmitter sends your voice out on the airwaves to the nearest central station, where regular telephone operators can connect you with any telephone on land or sea," one newsreel explained.

It was a world of wonders: if someone was sick, you could track down the doctor on the road. Remember: these were the quaint old days when doctors, at least in newsreels, made house calls.

Even then, it was clear that being connected would put everybody on a very short leash.

And when in the 1960s AT&T developed more sophisticated cellular antennas the phone giant still considered car phones the name of the game. But Cooper and his engineers at Motorola thought otherwise, and decided to elbow their way into the business.

"We really had a basic understanding that people are mobile. And it's personal telephones they wanted. It's handheld portables," Cooper remembered. "So there was a real conflict between this elephant, which was AT&T, and this fly that was Motorola. But we ended up winning."

On a chilly spring day, we took Cooper back to the spot where he made that first call: Sixth Avenue, outside the New York Hilton. For the record, the call went to Joel Engel, Cooper's rival at AT&T.

"I said 'Joel, this is Marty Cooper.' He says 'Hi.' 'I'm calling you from a cellular phone, but a real cellular phone, a hand-held portable cellular phone.' And there was silence on the end of the line," Cooper remembered.

He couldn't resist rubbing it in.

At a news conference inside the Hilton, Cooper introduced his gadget and encouraged reporters to try it out.

"The first reporter I talked to actually called her mother in Australia. And she was astounded when her mother answered. She couldn't understand how this little phone could talk halfway around the Earth," Cooper explained.

"Little phone? What are you talking about?" Safer asked, referring to the first cell phones size and heft.

"Well, relatively small. I mean, after all, it only weighed two and a half pounds," Cooper replied.

So where is cell phone technology going?

"I think we are just barely scratching the surface," Cooper said.

Take the issue of health and fitness: a workout fanatic if there ever was one, Cooper says the day is fast approaching when your phone - or something like it - will be checking your vital signs, day and night.

"The health care industry is gonna be revolutionized because you will have sensors at various points on your body measuring different things. And a computer somewhere, or maybe a doctor, will be examining you all the time," Cooper predicted.

It's not that far-fetched. Health monitoring was a major theme at that recent wireless convention in Las Vegas.

"The concept of the annual physical examination, it's almost worthless because looking at your body at a point in time doesn't really tell doctors very much at all. But if you could measure these things all the time you can predict heart failures. You can predict diabetes. And you could prevent all those things," Cooper explained.

From his hideaway overlooking the Pacific, in Southern California, Cooper contemplates a society where such familiar touchstones, like money and credit cards, simple human contacts are things of the past, replaced by wireless devices that will rule our lives.

"Isn't there almost a Brave New World sensibility behind all of this being connected? What does it do to our privacy?" Safer asked.

"Sorry. Privacy is a thing of the past," Cooper replied.

He's got a point. Security cameras track our movements, cell phones hold clues to what we've read, where we've been, and where we are. Police track down suspects on Facebook. And police states can no longer suppress instant images of their repression.

"I think the whole concept of privacy requires a new mindset among people. There are people who object to somebody monitoring their buying habits. I'm delighted if people know what I buy because they're gonna tailor their marketing to me and the products that are available to me, to my tastes. Well, that's a good thing," Cooper said.

"Well, yes and no," Safer remarked. "I mean, hiding something is a kind of undeniable human right, you know? To have some sense of a private life. The next gizmo could start reading our thoughts? And who wants that?"

"They're not gonna be able to read our minds for a few generations, if ever," Cooper replied.

"But they're working on it, though," Safer remarked.

"Yes, they are," Cooper agreed.

Cooper is annoyed, as we all are, by his cell phone. The phone butted in as he and Safer were discussing the gadget's history when it made a bird-like sound to alert him that he got a notification.

And he is philosophical on the topic of bad phone manners, that worldwide curse of other peoples' chatter, sound and fury signifying nothing.

"You know, it doesn't take a telephone to make people be either stupid or rude," Cooper said.

So get used to it and don't take it out on the phone. They're making them shock-proof and waterproof anyway.

And besides, as the future bears down on us, Cooper says eventually, man and machine will become one.

"The optimum telephone is one that I think some day is gonna be embedded behind your ear. It's gonna have an extraordinarily powerful computer running the cell phone. And I'm gonna name my computer Sam, and I'm gonna say, 'Sam, get Morley on the phone for me.' And Sam's gonna respond in my ear, 'Which Morley? Is this your cousin Morley in Toronto? Or the Morley Safer in New York?' And I'm gonna say 'Morley Safer.' And the next thing you know, I'm gonna be talking to you," Cooper said.

HTC Hero Android Phone (Sprint)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mobile Devices Seen as Key to 21st-Century Learning

Children’s lives have been caught up in a tide of mobile digital technologies—games, cellphones, and smartphones—that if carefully managed could significantly boost their learning, concludes a report released today by a research center based at the Sesame Workshop.

“Mobile devices are part of the fabric of children’s lives today: They are here to stay,” Michael H. Levine, the executive director of the New York City-based Joan Ganz Cooney Center, at Sesame Workshop, wrote in a statement accompanying the release of the report. “It is no longer a question of whether we should use these devices to support learning, but how and when to use them.”
The 52-page “Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children’s Learning”Requires Adobe 
Acrobat Reader calls for the incoming Obama administration and the business community to invest in more research on the use of mobile phones and other hand-held devices for children in school and after-school settings. It also calls for a gradual lifting of school cellphone bans.
The author of the report is Carly Shuler, a researcher in the children’s media and toy industry who is a fellow at the center.

“While these devices are undoubtedly a source of fun and entertainment, proponents of mobile learning believe they have significant potential to be a key ally in supporting learning experiences,” she writes, drawing on interviews with mobile-learning experts and a review of scientific literature and industry trends.

Fast-Growing Segment

The report compiles relevant data, such as a finding of the Pew Internet & American Life Project that children under age 12 form one of the fastest-growing segments of users of mobile devices. However, the use of such mobile devices has grown much more rapidly in other sectors, such as health, banking, politics, and citizen journalism, than in education, it says.
The report also includes an inventory of more than 25 projects in which hand-held devices are being used for learning or are the subject of research in the United States and other nations.
“We were really actually quite surprised with how robust the experimentation is, particularly in other countries, with mobile technologies,” Mr. Levine said in an interview.

Other nations are experimenting more quickly with new technologies than the United States, he said, adding that a more permissive approach to trying new technologies exists in Asia and Europe than in the United States, because of concerns among U.S. parents and educators about mobile devices being used in disruptive ways.
Mr. Levine added, however, that he thinks “the pendulum is swinging back” toward a loosening of those restrictions.

Smartphones for Math

One U.S. project highlighted in the report is Project K-Nect, a pilot program in its second year that has placed smartphones—which are mobile phones that have wireless Internet and computer-like capabilities—in the hands of 9th grade algebra students in four North Carolina high schools. Teachers, from their laptop computers, send specially designed activities related to curriculum topics to students’ smartphones.
The activities include digital simulations and digital manipulatives that turn abstract concepts into real-world examples. Students can use their phones’ video, text-messaging, and instant-messaging functions to send and receive problem-solving strategies and tips to and from students at the other schools and to tutors from the Math Forum at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Shawn Gross, the executive director of the project, said it is proving that smartphones, which in some communities students already own or have access to, can provide “many services that can be used as an educational appliance rather than as a distraction.”
A long list of recommendations in the report begins with a call for government and philanthropies to make new investments in research and development aimed at understanding the impact of mobile technologies on children’s learning and development, including brain and behavioral functioning.
The report calls for creating new industry designs and educational applications rather than applying traditional learning models or downsizing software designed for personal computers to fit mobile devices.
Another recommendation is establishing a digital teacher corps that would train other teachers and after-school caregivers to use digital media to promote 21st-century literacy.

Presidential Initiative?

The center urges that the incoming administration convene a presidential initiative on digital learning, beginning with an audit of current government spending on digital technologies for learning.
The initiative, including a White House summit, should also set up a digital-investment fund to accelerate education reform and promote mobile innovation to benefit the economy, the report says.
Most pertinent to local school leaders, the report calls for school districts to modify and gradually lift restrictions on student cellphones—which most districts ban from use in classrooms or even altogether from campus. The report recommends steps to gradually introduce mobile devices into schools, starting with experiments in which teachers are trained in how to integrate interactive media, while students learn the needed skills and behavior for using cellphones appropriately in a school setting.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Summer Training Program on “Mobile architecture & Programming”

A Summer Training Program on “Mobile architecture & Programming” is being organized by by IGIT, IP University in collaboration with Nokia (From 31-05-2010 to 09-07-2010) .
This program is being offered by the IGIT, IP University in association with Nokia on Python, Symbian, Maemo, and Qt mobile technologies. This also includes minor projects based on these technologies, implemented on the real mobile devices. Attending
this course will help you to understand and program the concepts of the various on device (Mobile) peripherals like Keyboard, Display, Sensors, Camera, Bluetooth, Networking, SMS services etc and the practicals is based on the real mobile devices.
1. Devices: Nokia Mobile devices are used for practical purposes.
2. Training Material: Training material and the software’s required for developing the
mobile applications will be provided [Python, Symbian, Qt, Maemo].
3. Resource Pensions: Internal and external from Nokia and experts from industry.
4. Course Content: Topic wise is attached in the schedule.
5. Fee and Mode of Payment: Participants are required to submit a demand draft of Rs.3500/- in favour of “Principal, IGIT”. The Demand Draft will not be refunded in
case a selected participant does not attend the program. TA and DA will be paid for the participants.
6. Certificate: All successfully completed participants will get the certificate jointly from IGIT and Nokia.
7. Last date of registration: On or before 20-05-2010. Only 60 seats are available and the conformation of the registration is based on the First Come First Serve manor. All selected participants will be informed on 22-05-2010 through mail.
8. Who can attend the program: Student studying or completed B.Tech/ M.Tech
(CSE, ECE, IT)/ MCA (preferably B.Tech students who have completed three
semesters). Faculty members who are teaching (or willing to teach) Embedded
Systems/ Mobile Computing/ Mobile Communication etc can also attend)
S. Ramanarayana Reddy, Asstt. Prof. CSE Department,
Electrical Block, IGIT, GGS Indraprastha University, Kashmere Gate,
Delhi – 110 006 Tele: 9810101742, 011-23869784,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Use of Mobile Phones in Education in Developing Countries

The World Bank is embarking on a new study investigating issues related to the use of mobile phones in education in developing countries.
The study is intended to help to raise awareness among key decisionmakers in the public, private and civil society sectors about the potential importance of the use of low cost mobile devices -- especially mobile phones -- to help benefit a variety of educational objectives. By documenting the existing landscape of initiatives in this area and emerging 'good practice', it is also hoped that this work will serve as a common base for further analytical work in this area, and inform the impending explosion of development of new hardware, software and business services occurring on mobile devices, to the benefit of these educational objectives.
This activity is one component of a larger 'mobile flagship' program at the World Bank consisting of studies and activities related to mobile services and applications in selected sectors, including “Mobile Banking Users and Non Users Behavior Study”; “Extending Mobile Applications in Africa through Social Networking"; and “Mobile Applications for Sectoral Development”.

Activity Description
Drawing on examples of the use of mobile phones and related handheld technologies for educational purposes in advanced economies like Korea, Japan, the U.K., the United States and Finland, and an emerging evidence base of pilot projects from countries as diverse as Tanzania, Kenya, the Philippines, Mongolia, China and South Africa, this study proposes to:
  1. Map the existing universe of projects and initiatives exploring the use of mobile phones in education in developing countries.
  2. Map the existing and potential uses of mobile phones in this regard, comparing and contrasting such uses with other ICT devices..
  3. Document lessons learned so far from key initiatives in this area, proposing tentative guidance for policymakers and various stakeholder groups in this fast moving area.
  4. Propose a conceptual framework and way forward for further analytical work to aid in the documentation and rigorous impact cost and impact assessment of the use of mobile phones in education.
While ‘education’ is the focus here, the area of inquiry is not be limited to the formal education sector itself. Lifelong learning and educational outreach activities utilizing the mobile phone to benefit the health and agricultural sectors will also fall within the scope of this study. This work will draw heavily on organizations and expertise active in these areas on-the-ground.
The results of this study will be disseminated and discussed at a landmark global event on mobile applications sponsored by the World Bank as part of the 'mobile flagship' initiative, involving sets of key stakeholders from the public, private and civil society sectors.

Background and Context
Going forward, isn't it more likely that the ICT tool of choice for students in developing countries will be the mobile phone, and not the computer?
This is a question of hot debate in many circles. Whatever the eventual resolution of this debate (and no doubt it will not yield a simple either/or answer), there are still precious few widespread examples of the use of phones for education purposes inside or outside of classrooms in developing countries that have been well documented, and fewer still that have been evaluated with any sort of rigor.
28% of Africans now have a mobile phone subscription, according to data released by the ITU earlier this year, part of a larger trend that sees two out of every three mobile subscribers around the world living in a developing country. The flagship ITU publication Measuring the Information Society notes that two-thirds of the world's cell phone subscriptions are in developing nations, with Africa, which has a 2% subscriber rate as recently as 2000, growing the fastest. And it is not only adults who are making use of this new technology. Recent survey work at a low-income high school in South Africa's Samora Machel township (for example) suggests that mobile penetration among youth in some places might be higher than one might suspect.
While the explosive use of mobile phones in developing countries is well-documented -- and undeniable -- and evidence is emerging that phones are slowly making their way into the hands of teens, just what this might mean for the delivery of education in developing countries is a little less clear.

Five years ago infoDev commissioned work to map out what was known about the nascent topic of ‘mobile banking’, and the resulting study, the first of its kind, helped frame the issues for donor agencies, governments, NGOs and private sector firms alike. ‘M-banking’ has exploded since then, and this study proposes to do for the use of mobile phones in education what the earlier infoDev study did for the use of mobile phones in the financial services sector. We are at a similar point now with where we were with m-banking five years ago, and this study will provide guidance for World Bank technical assistance and investment activities related to the much-hyped potential for the use of mobile phones in education. There is an opportunity here to contribute to the global knowledgebase in the very early stages of what is poised to become a potentially massive area of investment by ministries of education, civil society and (especially) the private sector in the decade to come.
Nascent efforts are underway to explore various aspects of the emerging phenomenon of the use of mobile phones in education, but no institution has stepped forward to help catalyze global collaboration and cooperation around research directions and agenda setting in this area. This work will tap the expertise and convening power of a number of key partner organizations and experts active in this area.
This work, expected to run through December 2010, is being funded by the Korean ICT Trust Fund at the World Bank. Updates on this project will be posted periodically on the World Bank's ICT and Education blog, EduTech.

[ SOURCE ]::::::

Five Mobile Learning Implementation Tips

There really is very little different about designing mobile learning from other forms of learning. The guidelines that apply for effective learning are really not much different but for the change in context. These are five tips I give customers who are setting about implementing some form of mobile learning, even if it is the smallest component in a blended solution. These tips may seem self-evident, yet I felt it good to reiterate.

1. KISS Keep it short and simple – a rule applied to all types of learning content also applies for mobile learning content. This rule is significant in light of the nature of mobile devices and the situations in which they tend to be used. There can be frequent interruptions and learner attention to the device tends to be of a short span.
Typically, we wouldn’t design any sort of mobile learning intervention to run beyond five minutes. As with elearning, complex navigation and interaction is best avoided in mobile learning, as mobile devices differ in screen size and input types from typical personal computers.
2. Low Information Density – do not attempt to duplicate the length and information density of elearning modules. The technology may make it possible to deliver dense content, but in practice the situations and devices with which the content is accessed isn’t amenable to such content density. The types of content suitable for mobile learning have low information density.

3. Easy with the Multimedia – again, just like elearning, the careful use of media elements are important in mobile learning. Do NOT use media in situations where it’s not required, splash animations, graphics that are purely aesthetic and unnecessary interaction. In most cases, there is a cost associated with developing and accessing such content, as it is likely that there is cost for downloads and bandwidth.
However, it’s important to mention that some mobile devices like the iPod can be used offline; they can be connected to a computer and files copied onto them, avoiding download and bandwidth costs. We see this as true of an increasing number of devices, and eventually perhaps all will support some form of tethering.

4. Include Elements of Collaboration – Mobile devices have unprecedented adoption levelssimply because their ability to provide synchronous communication makes them unparalleled social tools. When used as a part of blended program, mobile technology can be used to facilitate interaction between peers, experts, mentors, etc. Done properly, there is tremendous learning value in these human interactions. If you’re thinking of using mobile technology in your blend, this (in my opinion) is the best use, provided its done right.
5. Provide Tools (Applications) and Not Just Content – Mobile devices do render content; however they are far better as utilitarian tools. Their ability to compute and display combined their personal and intimate nature open up a world of possibilities. The newer ability to write applications for specific hardware also provides lots of possibilities. Geo-location based tools, social networking tools, access to search and information databases, customized calculators, newsreaders, games, simulations – the options are quite varied. If you are considering mobile learning, this is one application of the technology you definitely want to consider.

You’ll notice this doesn’t say anything about the mobile devices themselves. While designing mobile learning, there are points where we need to reference mobile devices, this is done so the design can be specifically targeted for the platform those devices present. At times, this is done very early in the design cycle, where possible influencing the choice of target device. A fairly comprehensive evaluation of mobile devices can be done using the following framework and criteria.
This framework has been adopted from a wonderful paper published in the International Journal of Engineering Education; Economides, A.A. & Nikolaou, N. – Evaluation of handheld devices for mobile learning(from questia). It suggests that mobile devices can be evaluated in three distinct areas – usability, technical, and functional.

Usability – relates to the ease of understanding, remembering and learning to use the device itself and its varied tools. Devices should be easy to carry and have an easy to use interface for their functions.
Mobile Learning Usability
Technical – relates to the device’s performance, compatibility, connectivity, security and reliability. Processing power, memory capacities, and ability to view and run a variety of software file formats are important. Compatibility and support for varied protocols and platforms. Bandwidth and connectivity limitations must also be examined. Security is a growing concern as mobile devices can be prone to loss or theft.
Mobile Learning Technical

Functional – relates to the number of features, functions and tools of the devices. Both synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication should be supported. The ability to access, retrieval, process and display varied types of information is important.
Mobile Learning Functional
This framework for evaluation can prove useful when considering the varied devices available in the market and with users today.

GRE learning on mobile

GRE coaching on the mobile - that's what this player offers, tapping the mobile as an adaptive learning tool. eWorld tunes in.

Don't forget to carry your mobile

No, it's no girlfriend reminding the guy but a sharp parent calling out to son/daughter to have the mobile handy so as to catch up on some GRE coaching during the hours-long commute to and back from college.

This is the scenario the people behind the Chennai-based Valued Epistemics Pvt Ltd hope to see once their Adaptive Learning Programs - under the brand name - gain wider acceptance.

What's on offer? The programs seek to coach students for the Graduate Record Examination — through the medium of the mobile phone. The student who signs up can access the lessons on his mobile phone any time, any place that is convenient to him. The programs can be downloaded on mobile phones that are Java and GPRS-enabled. Alternatively, they can also be downloaded on a PC.

But aren't there coaching centres aplenty? And isn't the Internet also full of software offering help with GRE, GMAT, the works? What would make the initiative unique? According to Anand Kannan, Managing Director, Valued Epistemics, is different because it looks to combine the best of both worlds - classroom coaching and learning on one's own. The sessions are offered in the form of modules, so a student can take up and break off wherever, whenever he wants - during the daily train commute, during inter-city travel, or simply while killing minutes in a bus. Within this flexibility, each session is made as gripping as possible to ensure concentration.

Kannan lists five features distinctive to the service: It is analytical, interactive, convenient, ensures complete student control and is flexible. Hence it is stress-free, which has been a big part of student feedback, he says.

There are two layers to the learning: As the student takes the tests, the software underlying the learning platform generates a performance metrics. This analysis is used to adapt the subsequent coaching to suit that individual student's needs, says Yogish Lavanis, Director (R&D).

Kannan puts the difference between his company's service, and software on the Web, thus: "Individual attention, flexible access (from any device — mobile or PC) and trained human support are not available at most Web sites." He provides an analogy: Just downloading software would be like using a dictionary on a CD, when one wants to look up words, as against the richer, fuller experience of using a Web search engine, such as Google.

"Trying and experiencing is free," but the actual coaching is charged, he stresses. Long-term service and exam-oriented preparation is priced according to subscription. However, this is about one-third the price of classroom with a small overhead of GPRS or Internet access charges. By contrast, a lot of the software on the Internet is free and therefore the user is not supported by a teacher," he says. While there are enough traditional alternatives such as classroom coaching, books and free software, "we are well differentiated from and superior to these," he asserts.

Currently, offers the Verbal Master Program (60 sessions), Complete GRE Program (110 sessions) and a Fast Track Verbal Program. The fast track program will help students prepare for the exam in three-four weeks.

Next frontier application

Mobile learning is relatively new and not well established as an industry. Also, in general, mobile learning refers to learning using PDAs (personal digital assistants), laptops with Wi-Fi, iPods and, of course, the mobile phone.

This is widely recognised as the next frontier application of mobiles along with mobile payments, multimedia entertainment and location-based services, says Kannan. (see `Hierarchy of needs.') He adds candidly: "I do not know if this will turn out to be an industry. However Adaptive Learning, where computational intelligence is increasingly used to supplement a teacher's pedagogy, will be an industry in and of itself in the foreseeable future."

Telecom domain

Founded in September 2004, Valued Epistemics is promoted by Anand Kannan, Yogish Lavanis and Darini Raman. Anand Kannan holds a Ph.D, from Purdue University, US. He was earlier with Nokia and has also worked as part of Arraycomm Inc, a Silicon Valley company.

Lavanis was earlier with Motorola India Electronics, Bangalore, and Tata Elxsi. He has also served as Engineer (R&D), Centre for Development of Telematics, Bangalore.

`No different from an MNC'

For eWorld, Anand Kannan and Yogish Lavanis trace a two-year-journey of highs and lows.

What started it all?, we ask.

"At the heart of this, we have a great desire to build a company that is based here — global in outlook, as good as it gets with respect to technology, facing an end-user market."

They offer examples from a software context: "If you take a typical software company that works according to a global delivery model, every one of them charges their US client approximately $4,000 per month. It varies slightly from company to company, but that is a benchmark. That translates into a per person revenue of Rs 1.8 lakh. Now in the case of these companies, their clients are global players — through their channel partner, the value created reaches the end user — but he never knows who are doing this."

Now look at the other model. Take the 1.8 lakh and divide it by 200 students. That comes to about 900 per student. Those 200 can get access to a high-quality knowledge worker to service them in the same way as, say, an Infosys, gives a well-qualified engineer to service their customer."

"We want one teacher to help "N" number of students effectively. So there can be no compromise on the productivity or efficiency of tools that we use. Every student should feel he is getting individual attention. There is 90 per cent grunt work or repetitive activity in the provision of individual attention. We have to identify that and put it on the computer. And the human aspect has to come from a teacher who necessarily has to be of high quality. Our vision is no different from that of any top MNC," they say.

3rd or 4th generation platform

It has not been a smooth ride. Every time the company had to change the system based on the feedback. "We can say we are in the third or fourth generation platform." "Every few 100 or so who have tried this system have significantly impacted the design. In our mind, we want something scalable - something where a few 100 very high-quality people work and, based on that, the rest of India and the world is learning."

They put the challenge in a nutshell: "Can we do it for a million students - with a few hundred or thousand facilitators?"

They feel that the economy achieved by global delivery model software companies can be achieved by consumer-based technology with similar quality people.

What about e-learning?

Kannan and Lavanis say that if one looks at the typical e-learning scene, what is often offered is PowerPoint slides with flash animations. That, they say, "doesn't constitute learning. It is interesting content and for a large corporation that works to substitute training, it is a good alternative." But "when one is largely in a self-motivated learning situation or independent goal-oriented learning structure, the provision of learning, and entirely from a distance, entails complex technology. The time has just come when it has become feasible."

As Kannan puts it: "There are some groups who are working on how to automate teaching - He is the next guy to get automated after the clerk and the accountant! (Laughs)! But what you are really doing is not automating, but taking the population of teachers, taking the good ones and giving them access to a larger population of students."

The macro logic

Kannan and Lavanis present the larger picture thus: "We have 25 per cent of our population in services, 25 per cent in manufacturing and 50 per cent in agriculture. But in terms of production, 50 per cent comes from services, 25 per cent comes from agriculture and 25 per cent from manufacturing. So going by that average, the person in services is four times more productive and wealthier than the person in farming. Among the services, the knowledge sector is 10 times to 100 times more productive. So naturally, people are going to shift from agricultural and manufacturing to services and from less knowledge-oriented services to more knowledge-oriented services. It is a global trend and we can't buck it. It is going to happen here. And the service industry is the one where you need systematic education. In all other situations, you have mostly on-the-job training. As a society we have a challenge of training somewhere in the region of 100 to 200 million people in 20 years. I don't think we are producing that many teachers. The whole process of how learning is being done has to be re-examined.We have to move from older methods to newer methods. That is not in the scope of our company's objectives. But we are working in the leading edge of that movement and we see that whatever we are doing has application in traditional education as well - even though we picked GRE - because we are both comfortable with that. (We had done that exam ourselves and knew what it took)."

Kannan traps us with a sudden question: "Suppose I ask what is the most common use of the mobile?"

Our response: "Talking?"

Kannan: "Wrong! There is a more fundamental need. You keep the mobile switched on? Why?"

"To be connected. To be available to someone trying to reach us," we reply.

Kannan concurs: "Yes. It covers for some insecurity that you have. Security is, therefore, the most fundamental value that you get. Communication comes second. So you can build a hierarchy of needs on this with safety coming at the bottom." (see Hierarchy of Needs.)

Consumer knows best

Kannan and Lavanis reminisce: "We were experimenting, building a quick prototype, understanding what it means to provide learning. Talking to students, surveying them. In about six months, we had a crude prototype (compared to the current system), and we had it tested. We had a professor of market research who did a study for us." (see box).

They point out that two years ago, phones were much more primitive. "Only about 10 per cent of the phones would actually support this. We got lucky. Because the model that we picked to test it on happened to be a stable steady model. Everything worked."

They relive events, with some relief. "Had we tried this on a less stable model - we might have come to a different conclusion. So lucky things happened on the way. We got a lot of feedback from our market research.

No one gives it like your customer. He'll tell you, `It has this, and this but not this.' So you rectify it and then you hear, `It's got this, this and this, but not that.' So the process goes on and that's what helps you discover what is of benefit to the user."

The company decided to commercialise the service first in the Chennai area. And they came up against marketing: "Nobody had the experience of marketing it. Is it an educational product? Is it a mobile product? Is it a computing product? Somewhere along the way we realised we had to provide a PC-based option. Then it had to work smoothly — that also came from the market — and seamlessly with the mobile option. Suppose you took the mobile version, you should feel that you start where you left off on the PC and vice-versa. Once you start asking for money, the nature of feedback changes. But the feedback that comes out then is the best feedback. Nobody parts with money without asking questions," they point out.

GRE, for starters

The Graduate Record Examination or GRE is a standardised test for admission to US universities, which seeks to measure the verbal, analytical and mathematical skills of candidates. It is developed and administered by the ETS (Educational Testing Services) under the direction of the Graduate Record Examination Board. ETS has appointed testing agencies in various countries that act as its franchisees. In India, Sylvan Testing Services Pvt Ltd administers the test, for ETS, at nine centres: Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Thiruvananthapuram.

An important step

Does the population of, say around 50,000 students who take the GRE annually present a viable market, eWorld asked Anand Kannan and Yogish Lavanis.

"IF we did only GRE we would be viable - but still small business. Scalability would not come from GRE alone. Eventually we have to take GRE global and get into systematically fulfilling other learning needs. So GRE for us is an important step. It goes to a market that has some discretionary spending power - that has a learning need which, in many cases, is not adequately fulfilled. It covers Math/English - two major prototypes," they say.

They elaborate: "Suppose we need to teach Std 6 students - only the lessons need to be changed - but the prototype would work. Same model would work. It is a strategic choice. We'll have to diversify later."

A lot of work needs to be done on the marketing side, building the correct eco system, channel partners. There is a lot of interest from publishers, we have been approached by authors too. We talk to everyone who approaches us. We need a network. For now, having a small passionate team helps."

Fun... and fruitful

eWorld sought to get a first-hand feel of the GRE training.

We downloaded the vocabulary session... and promptly got hooked.

The screen interface and instructions were clear and crisp. The learning was interactive - you couldn't move on unless you gave the correct option and understood why it was correct. It was friendly rather than patronising.

The instant feedback was encouraging and made one feel, as the company says, that a "high-quality, devoted teacher is always present nearby." The subtle progression to higher levels of complexity, with more scope for error, was good training for the real thing.

The scores that popped up periodically were a reminder that even as one took the test, at a deeper level, the software platform was generating a performance metrics chart.

This knowledge will be used to provide detailed feedback and to adapt subsequent lessons and tests to suit individual needs.

So insightful is the analysis, says Anand Kannan, that the student facilitator at the other end can make out whether the test participant is vacillating, inattentive ... . or simply sleeping! Something that a CD can't detect.

The technology used to administer the courses is Adaptive Learning through Measurement of Interactions (ALMI), supplemented with processes and systems that enable high-quality delivery of services.

Watch out for one thing though - the cheery little icon that applauds you when you are correct could become so addictive that you might pause for timely pats while doing your actual GRE.

`Useful guidance'

This is what Seethalakshmi Hariharan, a student who opted for Wizdom's coaching, says: "The lessons were set in such a manner that the first set was slightly easy and the level of difficulty increased as one got acquainted better. So, it was easy to cope.

If I faced any difficulty between sessions, I had the option of getting my doubt clarified through the mobile. I would get replies within a day either through SMS or through mail.

The queries were well solved, and a good example was provided to ensure better understanding of the word in question. There were tests at the end of each session that helped me understand how well or otherwise I had fared. After every test, I received feedback through mail. The feedback would tell me how many questions I had answered right or wrong. For those questions I had missed, the right answer would be given with an example stating the usage of the word.

Sometimes I found it difficult to understand why that particular word should fit in that sentence. So, I got back to the company, suggesting that instead of giving a sentence showing the usage of the word in question, it would be better to explain why and how that word fit into the sentence.

After every session I took up, the words I learned got added to the word bank, which can be used anytime for revision. Although I took up the coaching while I was in my hometown (Madurai), since it was all mail-based I was in touch with WIZDOM wherever I went. As far as cost is concerned, it is cost-effective as you need only a GPRS-activated mobile connection."

Heeding the market's call

Prof Rajendra Nargundkar
Valued Epistemics had market research done, with the help of Dr Rajendra Nargundkar. The professor shared his findings with eWorld.

The research was done in two stages, he says. "One before the product was actually launched, with a group of Bangalore-based engineering students. This was a concept test with a statement describing the concept followed by questions regarding the interest in the concept. This also included a qualitative research component, a focus group discussion with a smaller group, before conducting which Wizdom executives gave a prototype demo). The discussion was on the merits and demerits of mobile-based learning for GRE."

The second study was at a remote location college between Bangalore and Chennai among a group of engineering students preparing for GRE a few months after the product was launched, to test awareness and interest.

The findings from the first study (pre-launch concept and product test) were that though the product concept was innovative, people had reservations. Anxieties included the small screen of the mobile phone which might be unsuitable for quantitative analysis and comprehension questions, quality of cell connections which may cut off in the middle of learning, and scepticism about M-learning as a full-fledged tool to replace other forms of learning totally — particularly, classroom and Net-based, says the professor. Still, one-third of participants were interested in the concept, saying they would buy such a service.

From the second survey in a smaller town with mainly a hostel-based population, the results indicated that awareness was low for the product concept and brand, but interest was high. Almost 70 per cent students said they would be interested, at the indicative price mentioned. This study was more detailed in measuring preferences in the buying process, price, payment mode and the role of influencers. A wide range of questions was asked through a questionnaire.

An important change between stage one and stage two was that the service metamorphosed from being only mobile based (M-learning) to a mobile and PC-based (Adaptive Learning). Significant decisions based on first stage of research and inputs from brain storming included user-friendly features such as online counselling, some promotional tours with a demo in Chennai colleges (where the company is located), and the pricing of the product. Future markets where interest would be high have also been identified. The second stage has given inputs for further modification in plans, says Prof Nargundkar.

[source]::::Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications