VoWLAN – Interview: Trevor Collins
Trevor Collins, research fellow at the Knowledge Media Institute which is part of the OU, describes how a ‘network in a bag’ can transform fieldworkWhat is Portable VoWLAN?It’s a portable voiceover wireless local area network for mobile learning. It is a ‘network in a bag’ you can take with you and do any web-based activity, especially collaborative groupwork. Mobile technology does lots of cool stuff but it’s so much cooler if you can collaborate. At the OU we have a lot of faculties doing fieldwork and I’ve worked with the geology department where they go out on projects. We’ve used this to improve access, especially where students have mobility issues and can’t get up mountains. With Portable VoWLAN they can also be involved and so it’s inclusive even if they can’t get to the field sites. We’ve also been using it with general collaborative group work so researchers can talk to each other.What problems/issues is Portable VoWLAN tackling?One of them is wireless network configuration – people don’t know how to set them up in a way that gives really good bandwidth and good quality links. That becomes a problem when you look at voice as to communicate voice data the quality of the link has to be really good. It’s about quality of service. We’re interested in using voice and video and so the ways in which we can compress the sound and do that more efficiently in order to make the best use of the bandwidth we’ve got available. Because we need to do this with live interaction it needs to be instantaneously fast so there’s a trade-off between the amount of compression and the resulting delay in compressing it.How would you like other software developers and users to get involved in what you are doing?I’d like them to do it themselves. One of the things we are doing is trying to put up as much information as we can about what we’re doing and why. We’re building on the work of the Grassroots Community Networks developers who set up their own networks in their street. If anyone is interested we have up on the site what technology we use and how we do it and we’d like more and more people to do that. The goal of the project is to learn about how we can use this technology for teaching so the end result isn’t the technology itself but the research into learning about people’s experiences as they use it. By spreading it as widely as possible we learn more about what sucks and what works.What developer communities have you been involved in and if none, why not?Community Networks and open source communications tools people. Doing this sort of video and voice stuff there is a lot of existing stuff around.What is the coolest or most exciting thing in educational software development?That’s a really hard question!