I traveled to Shanghai with Arthur Harkins in April to investigate the use of handheld learning devices in Chinese schools. The Chinese are beginning to use these devices to learn English, take tests, and have fun. With grant assistance from Target, we were able to bring two of the devices back with us: The Noah NP890+ and the Ozing V99. Both are priced in the $200-$225 range.
Both the Noah NP890+ and Ozing V99 represent logical steps forward in Chinese portable learning devices, in a market cluttered by translation devices geared toward students. It comes as no surprise that both devices are oriented primarily toward English learning. The NP890+ ships preinstalled with 5 English dictionaries, a modern Chinese dictionary, an idiom dictionary, and a cartoon/animation dictionary, among others. The V99 contains 12 dictionaries, covering English, Chinese idioms, modern and ancient Chinese, and whole sentence translation. Both devices are capable of speaking words contained in the dictionaries to the user.
The V99 offers recorded lectures by “teachers with honor” and lectures by “super-advanced teachers.” The NP890+ also provides recorded lectures in an “online teaching” tool that displays a video recording along with lecture notes that can be followed along. Educational games and role playing/simulations software also add to the educational library. Currently, Noah provides a library of 31,693 primary-tertiary level courses available for download through their Web site.
Both devices offer multimedia capabilities, allowing for the playback of mp3 audio and mp4 and XviD video. Both contain 512MB of memory, which can be expanded through the devices’ SD card slots. Response time on both devices is quick, although the V99 seems quicker.
The SD slot provides additional possibilities. Although the devices are not WiFi-enabled as shipped, it should be possible to expand the devices with WiFi capabilities by using a SDIO card that incorporates WiFi. The NP890+ runs on Linux, hinting that it should be easy for any competent developer to incorporate drivers and software necessary to connect to the Web. Although the V99’s operating system is not disclosed, it can be assumed that such expanded functionality would be easy to implement.
Software and user experience for both devices have a long way to go. It appears that these devices have evolved naturally from the manufacturers’ clamshell-style translation/dictionary devices. Building these new devices into more PDA-like form factors represents a natural step in technological change. It is not surprising, then, that the devices are heavily focused on dictionary and translation applications –what both companies have demonstrated they are good at creating. The integration of learning software is a positive step in the development of quality m-learning devices.
Both devices are derived from the natural evolution of translation devices, and are not invented around a need to change pedagogy or transform education. Both the NP890+ and V99, however, provide relatively powerful and relatively inexpensive platforms for creating new software applications that can transform learning.
Given the software shortcomings, do we need these devices in the United States? You bet! We just need to get the right software on them.