Monday, April 27, 2015

Website dedicated to DIY & DIWO

A student of mine recently told me that he first became interested in making his own robotic models because of Make magazine. Now he is in a bachelor program for mechatronics/robotics engineering.

His colleagues and I were interested in learning more about this magazine, so I used the information in a lesson. The magazine has a very useful website that focuses on DIY (do it yourself) and DIWO (do it with others). The projects presented range from simple to complex, and can by used by an age range of from older children to adults.

From the website: "Maker Media is a global platform for connecting Makers with each other, with products and services, and with our partners. Through media, events and ecommerce, Maker Media serves a growing community of Makers who bring a DIY mindset to technology. Whether as hobbyists or professionals, Makers are creative, resourceful and curious, developing projects that demonstrate how they can interact with the world around them"

This description certainly fits my students, and probably all kinds of engineering students. The technology areas also focus on all kinds of engineering fields.

Make website and magazine:

The website sections are: Projects, News, Videos, Events, Contests, Shop, & Publications.

In the Projects section, there are:
  • Electronics
  • Workshop
  • Craft
  • Science
  • Home
  • Art & Design
Projects are rated by level of difficulty. Students can try a project - alone or in teams - and the teacher can use the information as model texts for instructions.

Under Videos there are many different types of themes. The description is: "Seeing is believing, and often the best way to learn how to do something is watching others do it first. Park yourself here and browse our extensive collection of ho-to and project videos."

This is certainly true of learning styles - often the best way to learn how to do something is to watch others do it first. Many engineering students have a learning style that reflect this. This is also useful when students are giving presentations or instructions, or as examples for presentations.

The length of the videos varies, but all I've checked are less than 10 minutes, with most around 5 minutes. Complete instructions for what is shown in videos are available on the website (the link is given at the bottom of the video - scroll down).

An example I used with my group is "Internet Speedometer" (3:30), which has very clear speaking by an American narrator. The text of instructions for this video provided a good example of clear instructions.

A bonus: students can sign up for the newsletter. The motivation to read this information would provide a good basis for developing their reading skills in English.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The smartwatch debate

 Now that the new Apple Watch is out, there are many articles about how it works and what it's like. There are also articles that discuss whether it's worthwhile, whether it will be successful or which one to choose (you can google "smartwatch debate" to see a sampling of topics).

But, interestingly, there are a number of articles that discuss whether the use of a smartwatch will cause people to use their smartphones less. These articles acknowledge that people who have smartphones use them a lot -- often to the extent of being rude to the people they're with (one article refers to a study that claims people take out their smartphones at least 100 times a day!).

The Apple Watch
I raised this question with a group of students who are studying information and communication technology, but they didn't think there was much support for the assumption that smartwatches would lesson time spent with smartphones.

So, to give them more ideas to work with, I found 3 articles that discuss this question. I divided the class into 3 groups, and each group got a different article. They had to read the article for homework, and make note of the arguments presented for and against.

In addition to reading the text, students had to make note of vocabulary of comparison (smartwatch vs. smartphone) or of change (before the smartwatch vs. with a smartwatch).

The three articles and the question each considers:

1)  Will the Apple Watch make us happier?

2)  Will the Apple Watch save us time?

3)  Will the Apple Watch make users be less rude?

In the following lesson, the three groups first discussed their own article in order to consolidate their notes, and then the class had a "debate" about whether the smartwatch will make life better. This time, students had a lot of ideas for discussion -- not only ideas from the article they read, but also ideas that occurred to them after reading the article. They also used the vocabulary they had made note of while discussing the topic's pros and cons.

Some examples of this vocabulary:

Article 1:

  • … promises to make users’ lives better
  • …from helping them stay on schedule to tracking their physical activity.
  • It might get us to quit staring at our phones.
  • …the watch “could address some of the social angst wrought by smartphones.”
  • … minimizing the amount of time they have to spend actually looking at the screen.
  • …could usher in a transformation of social norms
  • …“has made me more present. I’m less likely to absent-mindedly reach for my phone, or feel compelled to leave it on the table during supper.”
  • … both report looking at the watch screen for shorter stints
  • …getting more glued to their watch screens
  • …will likely remain tied to their phones for now, since …
  • Still, the device at least suggests an alternative to the status quo.
  • …spend more time talking to friends and family
  • …smartphone use is destroying society are overstating the case.
  • But it’s worth asking if we actually enjoy all the time we spend with our phones, or if we might prefer to spend less.
  • It’s distinctly possible that a less absorbing device might actually make us happier.
Article 2:
  • ...the biggest recurring theme is how little you use your iPhone once you have one.
  • ...they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. 
  • …a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone 
  • …they used to have it out and now they don’t 
  • The Watch will have more context about you than a phone alone ever could. 
  • The notifications are also different at an elemental level than the ones on your phone.
  • There is that added bit of context 
  • …time-sensitive notifications … become much more germane. 
  • …allowing you to act on them without any sort of sliding, unlocking or other junk. 
  • …actionable items that you can access without the obligations inherent in taking out your phone. 
  • …you will be able to trigger smaller buttons and interactive elements fairly easily. 
  • When your attention is on the Watch, you’re going to want to do more there than you think, rather than having to move over to your phone. 
  • …you may find yourself reading short articles and other content on your wrist. 
  • This could affect the way that publishers want to build their apps 
  • Battery life is also much better than … 
  • …helps when viewing on the smaller screen, as you’re not chasing the scroll with your finger. 
  • … now has more friction for a weightier, higher-end feel. 
  • But the Apple Watch can return some of that attention and, more importantly, time back to you. 
  • If you argue the Watch isn’t going to sell or do well, … 
  • …it could make you stop using your phone.
Article 3:
  • Will the Apple Watch make use have better manners? 
  • … a revolutionary new way to show off. 
  • It will make us less rude. 
  • Instead of reaching for your pocket at the buzz of a text or notification, you can cooly glance down at your wrist. 
  • …isn’t that just exchanging one rude gesture for another? 
  • The watch glance might even be a deeper diss than the smartphone glance. 
  • It says there’s someplace I’d rather be, something more important out there than you. 
  • …there’s something different going on with Apple Watch – something more active. 
  • It also sends different vibrations for messages, emails and phone calls. 
  • You can decide to be more polite. 
  • With each gadget comes the question about whether it’ll bring us more than it will cost us. 

Of course, these arguments and this vocabulary can also be used for a discussion of the impact of the Apple Watch -- or of smartwatches in general.

I found that these articles provided a number of ideas that my students hadn't thought of, and also presented useful vocabulary that came in handy during the class discussion and debate.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mobile Awards 2015

I wrote about the Mobile World Congress 2015 in my post of 9 February 2015. It took place in March in Barcelona, and on 3 March the winners were chosen.

Website of the Mobile World Congress:

The winners:

The awards are given in 9 main categories:
  1. The Connected Life Awards
  2. Best Mobile Services
  3. Social & Economic Development
  4. Apps of the Year
  5. Best Mobile Handsets & Devices
  6. Best Mobile Technology
  7. Government Mobile Excellence Awards
  8. GSMA Chairman's Award 2015
  9. Special Awards at Mobile World Congress 2015
Within each category there are 6 to 7 sub-categories. For example, the sub-categories for 3. Social & Economic Development are:

  • 3a Best Mobile Product, Initiative or Service in Emerging Markets
  • 3b Best Mobile Product or Service for Women in Emerging Markets
  • 3c Best Use of Mobile in Emergency or Humanitarian Situations
  • 3d Best Mobile App, Service or Initiative for Accessibility & Inclusion
  • 3e Best Mobile Device for Accessibility & Inclusion
  • 3f  The Green Mobile Award

In Category 4 (Apps of the Year) the final sub-category is "Judges Choice - Best Overall App."

Students can choose a category related to their engineering field (or area of interest) and can be "judges" by reading about the different winners in one category, and then choose "the best overall" of that category. They have to "defend" their choice with the other student groups in a discussion or by giving a short presentation. Or the groups can come together in a negotiation to choose the overall winner.

This activity would practice skills of reading, speaking, negotiation, persuasion and presenting.

In Category 9 there is a new award sub-category for 2015 - the 20th anniversary of the Mobile World Congress: The Young Mobile Innovator of the Year. 

This category is open to 18- to 25-year-olds who are working independently or in an organization, or are currently studying. This category might be most interesting to our students, since they probably fit the profile. There is not much information about the innovations of the 3 nominees this year, but a full list of the nominees is at:

Unfortunately, there are no links for more information. However, the awards brochure - with short descriptions of every innovation in each category - is available on the website: .