Mobile Workshop for School Pupils Ideas

As part of our schools recruitment plan to get more kids to come to study here in Aberdeen, and to do computer science in particular, I’ve said that ‘maybe I could do a mobile computing workshop’. Last year we did an number of workshops on Artificial Intelligence as part of a roadshow. That went down ok.

Now we need new ideas, and while some are working out how to tie this recruitment activity in with the joke machine being developed for younger kids. We could show ‘what’ the joke machine is, and then ‘how it worked’ as part of the computer science part, which would be nice, I thought it would be good to also show them more about the handset in their pockets.

I can see four parts to the session about mobiles so that they learn more about what they are, and what people are doing with them. This is less of a ‘hands on’ session, although I would want to do that too, but given restrictions about what might be possible to install on their machines, we could end up being limited in the basic possibilities.

Part one is to look at the mobile and its impact around the world with respect to number of people using them, and the types of activities people use them for, as well as the financial implications of mobiles for profit, and the huge differences in developed and developing world regarding banking, etc.

Part two is a scavenger hunt for teams of students. Create groups of three or four students equipped with camera phones, who go out and ‘capture’ items using the camera and uploading the images to a flickr account using MMS. This gets around the data plan issues, and we can check at http://www.configuremyphone.com/ to get the settings for anyone who isn’t sure about MMS on their phone. If any of the pupils also have GPS, or data plans for their mobiles, which is probably unlikely, then there are other options available to the ‘scavenger hunt’.

Part three is an overview and discussion of the mobile web and how it relates to the web in general. If it is likely that students could work on mobile sites and demo them on something like the Openwave Simulator, then this could be an interesting ‘hands on’ part where they make pages. However, as is more likely to be the case, then this would tie in with students using on-line emulators to see how the web works on different types of handsets and the issues that it raises.

Part four should be a discussion about what mobiles can do for them and how they currently use them, as well as a look at how they would like to use them as result of the session. Where would they like to take the issues?

Options for extension might include the following if some software could be installed on machines in the schools, or if we could bring along some laptops for the students to use in pairs. The easiest option is to install the Openwave Simulator, as it is the least invasive, and doesn’t require much from the students. If we try to use any tool to create an app for the mobile, then we run into issues about their programming ability. Naturally, we’d point out what could be done when they are students here, and that these are all issues raised in classes here in third and fourth year.

While biking home I had some more thoughts about this, which I’ve added below.

As you can see the trouble with the mobile is that it’s real easy to show them the cool stuff that they can do with it, and we can discuss the types of applications that can be done for them too. Less easy, however, is teasing out the computer science behind them at the level that works for them. I see two approaches to this.

On the one hand, we could go through the development issues about apps on the handset and how you choose which language to use for your app. This brings up the issue of fragmentation, and markets, and would be useful for those thinking about making it rich with an iphone app.

On the other hand, we could look at the network and operator side of the issues and how you can use MMS to send your current photo to Flickr instead of waiting to get home and do it from your pc. Similarly, we could look at how airtime is used as money in Africa, and how you can tie mobile apps together with server-side ones to make bigger apps.

Lots to think about, and also lots to think about how to make it easy for them to understand, and to find exciting. Whatever the case, I need to find simple ways to get them involved and interactive in the session. It shouldn’t be a lecture. It should be fun.

UPDATE (1 May)

Spoke to Phil about this and his idea was to also add in barcode reader cocept, which could be done as a way to distribute the Flickr details. Good idea. He also reminded me that the alternate reality game run by SRAS was under the Book of Hours title, and is found at their MySpace page. Be interesting to see if they do it again this year. Must go speak to them about it sometime.

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