New IEEE article on sensor technology for learning support

The new Bulletin of the IEEE Technical Committee on Learning Technology (Volume 16) is now available at:

I have one overview article on sensors for learning support:

Abstract: One major technology revolution of the last 2-3 years is the broad integration of sensor technology into every day environments and end user products. This article explores the potential and possibilities of sensor technology for learning support. The author gives several examples and structures the potential implications according to different typical applications of learning technology.

An Jan Schneider a PhD Student of our group has an Article on the presentation trainer with which he also has won the demo award at the European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning:

Abstract: The increasing accessibility of sensors has made it possible to create instructional tools able to present immediate feedback to the learners. To study how this type of instruction is able to support learning, we developed the Presentation Trainer, a tool whose purpose is to train the non-verbal communication skills for public presentations. In this paper we present our findings about studying immediate feedback based on a first round of user tests with the Presentation Trainer.

New publications about sensors and smart city learning

Bernardo Tabuenca has published two new articles. He is doing work in the area of integrating life-long learning services into every day environments and linking them to the objects we use every day in our studies and learning activities.

Title: NFC LearnTracker: Seamless support for learning with mobile and sensor technology
Authors: Tabuenca, Bernardo
Kalz, Marco
Specht, Marcus

Title: “Tap it again, Sam”: Harmonizing the frontiers between digital and real worlds in education
Authors: Tabuenca, Bernardo
Kalz, Marco
Specht, Marcus

iStanford and daily lifelong learning


While spending my summer sabbatical at Stanford University beside the inspirational environment and some smaller projects I am working on I recently have tried a bit of iStanford. The mobile phone app of Stanford University, basically it gives you access to:

  • Directory Services all educators, staff, with contact adress, phone, mail and direct integration within your smartphone address book
  • All sports events with schedule, standings, local team news, …
  • Main campus maps, and specialized maps
  • Personal events calendar, from all events yu can add events to your personal calendar directly
  • Videos, and News about Stanford University
  • Treevia, a quiz app about Stanford University 
  • Access to iTunes U directory
  • course directory sorted by departments, completely searchable, bookmarkable and with myClasses logbook
  • Analytics, Intresting Trends, Statistics, New Degrees, Courses and so on
  • CreditU (app in the app store) basically an external app in which you can earn credits for lots of things you do when studying, for example being on time in class. So basically kind of gamification of studying, created by Metaneer.
  • Tours, Account Balance, Images, Library, Stanford Student Radio, Sure Transportation Service on Campus and Emergency Services.

So lots of stuff. Especially interesting probably some apps when reflecting about their potential for a typical life long learner at the OU. So some questions one could ask …

  • What’s about student initiated events "I will go to exhibition XY on following tuesday in Amsterdam. Who wants to join in?"
  • Transportation linking, why not to have a shared train ride or car ride with a study colleague, probably you would even take a later train for a nice chat on the train about your study.
  • Credit U seems a really cool model. What about linking your study to real world events and real world credits? You can earn credits by doing good things or by learning something new you share with others. Or like some approaches you earn credits when you teach someone else?

These are just some starting points, think about more and more people using mobile phones as their personal daily information hub. Some conclusions might be:

1. Linking this with informal and life long learning is one of the easiest and absolutely logical steps. In a recent Artikel in the German Spiegel Online about "How the future of internet will be in 5 years?"  also the relation to more and more services is drawn and a picture of internet giants taking over our complete life organisation from health ensurance, to partner search, to online shopping. Definitely life long learning is linked to a lot of services of daily life (culture, nutrition, health, communication, transportation, leisure). Also especially informal learning is one of the most researched areas of mobile learning.

2. Gamification of learning activities: This has lots of implications not only the direct impact on motivational issues often highlighted in gamification. This definitely also touches aspects of awareness, perception of learning activities, changing attitudes towards community based learning approaches, and to learning in general. What is it worth if we learn something? For whom? What is it good for? Whom can it help?

3. Access in context: If you once have been standing in a foreign town or on campus and your mobile tells you where to go and where you will find your colleagues, whilst making an appointment you will value it. BTW these kinds of interactions and the way of making appointments have already become a commodity for the younger generation.

4. Cloud based is cool, but you need different focused clients to access the cloud otherwise it is just a smart backup solution ;-). You might like the cloud or not. You might setup your own server at home or use one of the big cloud services, in either case without mobile and stationary access to it, it is just a backup for your desktop. So mobile and well designed access to your cloud data and ease of synchronisation is key to a really cloud based life long learning support. The point here is that the average of mobile interaction tome with an app is about 10 sec (see for example the mobile HCI Guidelines for developing apps on iOS). So when you have a service or information need you need it quick, focused, and nothing should get in your way. So that sounds like focused small apps bundled in a mobile app seems like a good idea for the lifelong learner.


more to come …. marcuspecht

Sensors for reflection and learning (Topic of the month)

There is a whole movement of using sensor data for self tracking and self analysis.

The Quantified Self Group has lots of examples in their blog about using sensor information from different tools, apps, and gadgets importing them into visualisation tools, sharing them in social communities, and monitoring your activities. There is a even a best practice guide and active discussion forum about what tools, apps and gadgets best to use for self tracking.

A nice overview of activities in that area are in a recent article from technology review with the title “The Measured Life“.

Applied to learning support and the TEL community I see some relations to user modeling, adaptive systems, personalisation, and recently learning analytics. The tricky thing is that in a lot of the examples from self-tracking you can easily track your steps per day, or the number of calories consumed, the types of aphyisical movements you made, or the type of sleep you had or not, but its pretty hard to track relevant things for learning. (quantify learning? probably.) In relation to personalisation and personalized learning the questions is how far the system are just used for tracking and mirroring and if they get used for coaching, tutoring, mentoring, or even control. The vision then would then become a kind of sensor enabled cyborg with feedback loops to control every aspect of life.

Nevertheless more and more sensors can be used for measuring and quantifying more complex phenomena like stress, attention, collaboration. In most cases the combination of several sensors as also personal data given by users brings the results needed. It is a bit comparable to context-aware systems and context modelling: The more sensor data and sources you have the more precise you can get on the results.

In contrast to the approach about collecting more and more data I also see another path to go comparable to the discussions in user modeling, adaptive systems, and nowadays learning analytics and reflection supporting via mirroring.

  • We can definitely use sensor data to learn and reflect about us when we use sensors to collect data and relate them to the right baselines and personal yardsticks. As some recent results of Christian Glahn and also Dominique Verpoorten show the choice of the right framing of the data is essential.
  • We can also use sensor data to trigger the right questions, in that sense sensor information could more be used to trigger context-specific experience sampling. So not the system does the inference but we have to do the inference on what is wrong and what is right when the system detects that something definitely is going wrong.
  • Last but not least also direct feedback from sensor information can be very helpful in learning contexts, most of these approaches are anyway related to Donald Schöns concepts of reflection in action and reflection about action.

So as a first point to make here: Lots of methods for tracking and self-monitoring are already available and more will follow soon, the main question is how to use them in ways that make curious, motivate, stimulate collaboration, and social interchange and gives control to the learner.

Upcoming Workshops and Conferences

Recently lots of activities are coming up around mobile, contextual, and new one-to-one learning models. This is a small collection of upcoming events with which we are involved in organization or as PC member:

– International Workshop on "Technology-Transformed Learning: Going Beyond the One-to-One Model?" Organizers: Lung-Hsiang Wong & Hiroaki Ogata,


– Context and Technology Enhanced Learning (ConTEL):Theory, methodology and design Workshop at EC-TEL 2011, 21 September, Palermo, Italy. Conference runs 20-23 September, Organisers and Co-Chairs:Prof. Andrew Ravenscroft, Prof. Mike Sharples.


– Enhancing Learning with Ambient Displays and Visualization Techniques (ADVTEL’2011), Joris Klerkx,Erik Duval,Eelco Herder, Ralf Klamma, Fridolin Wild, Till Nagel, Marcus Specht, Marco Kalz, Dirk Börner,


– Learning activities across physical and virtual spaces (AcrossSpaces), Davinia Hernández-Leo, Carlos Delgado-Kloos, Juan I. Asensio-Pérez,


Please consider submitting to those with your high quality contributions.

Mobile Task Management

Yesterday I made short survey of task management tools. Originally the purpose was to have a good cloud based service for managing small teams and distributing tasks to team members. I personally use OmniFocus which I like a lot for GTD (Getting things Done) with access on all kinds of devices. So the candidates I have had a short look at are:

  • OmniFocus: Outstanding for personal GTD. Quite difficult to setup for teams, possible via mail creation of tasks but not that straightforward. what I am also missing with OmniFocus is a web-interface for non OS X users.
  • Then we tried Wunderlist. Nice app, cross platform, What I really miss is assigning tasks to people as also free tagging for structuring and clustering tasks as you can do in things. But go on Wunderkinder great stuff!
  • Next I checked out basecamp coming from a classical project management approach. Definitely basecamp is very good for project management but if you want to have a small tea,m just focus on specific tasks probably an overkill.
  • Next I found a very good comparison of web-based task managers by Jarel Remick. Thanks for this! I basically share his ranking and share his enthusiasm for producteev. They also announced a native desktop client and have client for all major platforms.
  • So my favorite is also flow I would say, what I like about is having the idea of setting up tasks, sharing them in a team and also to follow certain tasks if you are interested in them. nevertheless a short p[laying around of the demo on an iPad gave me some problems with the HTML5 interface especially with rotation. BTW I think this is typically still a difficult thing to do with non native apps.
  • Other platforms I found are

Table 1.: Comparison of web-based task managers by Jarel Remick

In general all of these offer subscription plans and can be quite extensive, so if you are a team of ten people and all want to work with producteev you can have a monthly plan for 24$ what seems good value to me. As seen from the table producteev gives all features.

So what about mobile support. Nearly all described platforms either give you a mobile native client for iOS and other platforms of web-based mobile apps. What I found interesting in some clients is to see that more and more real-time communication is also combined with task management. In that sense different structures and real-time communication around tasks is really key to support remote cooperation of teams. Also the approach chosen by Mango gives an interesting perspective in structuring tasks due to their current status like in progress, lined up, and a cue, but you can model all these structures with a flexible and solid tag system I think.

Nevertheless at the moment what I am missing and what I did not find is a 

  • simple to use as flow, producteev
  • native clients mobile and desktop
  • flexible tagging system integration as flow
  • following tasks as in flow, so crowd-sourcing is also an approach as in producteev
  • and real-time communication integration
  • context-sensitive trigger for distributed teams (if you are in the copy shop > bring some paper > available for team)
  • open source tool 😉

PhD Voice Interactive Classroom


Victor Manuel Alvarez Garcia ( had his successful PhD defence for his thesis on “Voice Interactive Classroom, a service-oriented architecture to enable cross-platform multiple-channel access to Internet-based learning” and I am his co-supervisor so therefore I have been in Oviedo/Asturias.
Victor worked on audio and voice-enabled interfaces for learning management systems and web-services. In his thesis he combined his very interesting background from systems engineering, audio-based interaction, adaptive educational systems, service oriented architectures and other fields. In his thesis he gives an overview of the developments in Learning Management Systems towards Learning Service frameworks including such developments as IMS Abstract Framework, Open Knowledge Initiative, and the ELF or e-learning framework. he furthermore analyses and evaluates several technologies for voice-enabled applications as SALT and VoiceXML.
BTW did you know that the Russian Scientist Christian Kratzenstein succeeded in 1773 in producing vowel sounds using resonance tubes connected to organ pipes. 😉
In his case studies Victor has produced voice-enabled feed readers for personal learning or a phone-voice interface to Moodle for example being used to request your latest grades or feedback. He concludes his thesis with the introduction of the voice interactive classroom supporting a voice and visual interface to OKI enabled platforms as Moodle, Sakai, or Segue. Beside this the work holds a lots of practical experiences, tips, and insights about the usefulness, appropriateness, and pitfalls when using these technologies for building voice-enabled web-systems.
So congratulations Dr. Victor Manuel Alvarez Garcia !
Reference for downloading the thesis papers:
Source Code on Sourceforge:

CELSTEC co-organizer of Mobile Learning Day 2010

CELSTEC is co-organizer of the Mobile Learning Day 2010 at Fernuniversität Hagen (

I will give there an opening keynote and an overview of mobile learning research projects and application fields for mobile learning. The program will highlight research and business projects in the area of Mobile Learning and feature Workshops on Educational Aspects, Implementation of Mobile Apps on iPhone and iPad, as also Android applications. Registration is free and still open at .

Best educational iPhone app

This is the most promising app for education that I have seen so far in the app store: WikiServer. The interface is crap and not well-suited for a tiny screen, but the idea is great.

WikiServer does what it says on the tin, it installs a wiki server – on your iPhone. Other people on the same WiFi network can easily connect to the same wiki and co-edit pages. This is really cool, and I can imagine lots of different (campus-based) group work activities, that would instantly enhance teaching and learning. Imagine, for example, students in a lab working on some project (at different tables), sharing their findings via such a wiki. You can also connect from a normal PC browser, so it’s also platform independent. How wonderful is that!

Shame that the interface is not geared up for a small mobile screen and big fingers, so the in-line editor is really unusable, and when the keyboard is up, you can see even less of it. These are things that should be fixed, but I guess on an iPad it already works much better.

Dagstuhl Session on Emerging Learning Landscapes


Begin of September I have organized a Dagstuhl Session on Emerging Learning Landscapes together with Marcelo Milrad and Ulrich Hoppe. We have been really lucky to have an outstanding list of international researchers from the fields of HCI, Learning Sciences, Technology Enhanced Learning, CSCL and others.

I have learned a lot from the discussions in this week and really enjoyed the intense discussions and atmosphere in Dagstuhl. Topics discussed have been new HCI approaches in learning support, mobile and ubiquitous learning support in a variety of facets, strategic issues on acceptance, establishment, innovation management, as also technical aspects of ubiquitous systems integration for learning support.

We will work towards a Manifesto in this research area out of this initial group that has met in Dagstuhl, so more news to come. 

Thanks again for sharing all your experiences and expertise !