Designing an Untethered Educational Digital Library


Dong, A. and A.M. Agogino, "Designing an Untethered Educational Digital Library" (with A. Dong), Proceedings of the IEEE International Workshop on Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Education (WMTE 2003).

Designing an Untethered Educational Digital Library

Andy Dong

University of Sydney Wilkinson Building (G04)Sydney NSW 2008 Australia

+61 2 9351 4766


Alice Agogino

University of California, Berkeley

5136 Etcheverry Hall Berkeley, CA 94720-1740

+1 510 643 1819


Digital libraries, such as the SMETE Digital Library at UC Berkeley ( ), are quickly becoming mainstream tools for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STE&M) education at all levels. And while the vision exists for “anytime, anywhere” access to resources from educational digital libraries, the reality is that learners are tethered to these resources through connected computers in classrooms or homes. Because nearly 85% of students’ time is spent outside a formal classroom,transforming coincidental, daily events into meaningful learning opportunities would be expected to impact the level of science learning for children. This paper reports on a workshop held at UC Berkeley on the use of multimedia, wireless technologies and other information technologies for educational digital libraries and knowledge management. The paper also describes a prototype solution for an untethered digital library used to stimulate a discussion on nomadic inquiry and the potential for nomadic computing technologies to support the pursuit of personally-relevant questions and explanations linked to real world contexts and problems.

1. Introduction

The Internet and Web are as commonplace in classroom education as chalk boards. As such, educational digital libraries,such as and the National STEME Digital Library are quickly becoming mainstream classroom tools. The availability of wireless networks and mobile handheld or pocket computers with wireless data access at price-points and form factors that make it possible for people to carry them everywhere challenges digital library developers to re-consider where and how learners will actually access the content. The assumption that the majority of users would access these digital libraries from classrooms or through broadband connections at home is, simply put, potentially misconstrued.

Two major technological trends point to this possibility. By the end of 2003, Strategis estimates that broadband wireless networks will serve 34 percent of all American households and 45percent of all American business [12]. Direct Internet access to a handset was 100 million users in 2000 [13], and predicted to rise to more than 240 million data users by 2005 [3]. In East Asia, the penetration rates are staggering; for example, in South Korea, of the 50 percent with wireless data access, 60 percent have mobiles phones with data handling capability. There also exists evidence that US schools are showing a preference for handheld devices with wireless networking rather desktop or laptop personal

computers with wired networking due to the lower capital and installation costs of the former.

Finally, it is well-established that informal (science) learning outside of the classroom is a significant factor in the development of scientific inquiry skills and motivation to learn [14]. Because nearly 85% of students’ time is spent outside a formal classroom [1], transforming coincidental, daily events into meaningful learning opportunities would be expected to impact the level of informal learning for children. Thus, combining the availability of emerging wireless access technologies and nomadic computing devices with educational digital libraries, opportunities for learning, tutoring, and collaborating outside of the classroom is potentially significant. However, the different technological characteristics of the various wireless devices and the myriad of wireless connection options only add to the challenging problem of effectively integrating the delivery of the digital library content to the wireless device. In this integration, the process of transforming the multimedia rich contents that reside at the digital library to fit the wireless client capabilities, available bandwidth and user preferences in a way that satisfies the informal learning environment is still an open problem.

However, taking learning materials authored and originally intended for use in classroom settings on “full-sized” computers into informal environments on wireless handheld devices (nomadic computing devices) raises numerous unanswered questions. Perhaps most fundamentally is whether the quality of services [7] of nomadic computing technologies and wireless networks affect user experiences leading to informal learning.Reduction in quality of the educational content may reduce (or possibly eliminate) any motivation for the end-user to learn. At the same time, desktop miniaturization is objectionable.

This paper presents a prototype service to deliver resources from an educational digital library to nomadic computing devices through wireless networks. The prototype system is enabling the evaluation of the support of wireless handheld computing devices and the role of STE&M education digital libraries on informal learning. Specifically, our research is examining how the introduction of digital libraries on mobile devices support conceptual change and whether digital library content in situ during information learning opportunities can lead learners to think about what they need to ask the “right” question(s). The prototype was presented during a workshop at UC Berkeley on the use of wireless mobile devices in educational digital libraries and knowledge management as a stimulus for discussion. The workshop drew a dedicated group of individuals from research,industry and foundations, including Dr. Alan Kay of HP Labs,