Geek Speak - Step forward for progress

18th July 2008 at 01:00
It is simple enough to know where technology is going in price and size - both keep getting smaller
It is simple enough to know where technology is going in price and size - both keep getting smaller. Those first suitcase-sized computers cost thousands of pounds, but were bears of little brain. Now a laptop can be purchased for less than four tankfuls of petrol.

Teachers in training today can pocket more computing power than their entire primary school had when they left it at 11. Prices keep dropping, power keeps on increasing.

But when it comes to function, we have to look a bit harder to see what new devices might be useful. Ten years ago, a Global Positioning System (GPS) device was exotic and expensive. Big ships had them, planes had them. Today bicycles and cars have them, and the unit price is under pound;100.

The new Trackstick gadget, with a USB connector and an internal memory, harnesses the power of the GPS to remember and track where it has been. So when you plug it into your computer, it maps where you have been on to Google Earth's aerial photograph-based rendering of the planet.

Unsurprisingly, these gadgets are already popular with delivery companies checking on their vans' progress, parents checking on their teenagers' cars and a host of hobbyists, from orienteers to train spotters.

But in school, these simple and cheap tools offer a myriad of opportunities. Sending a few home each evening with different children quickly plots a map of school hinterland and transport routes. A geography field course leaving a trail of their trek on Google Earth can be populated with photographs and data - there is usually a photo-stamping feature; imagine this accumulating over a series of trips.

The most fun is to emulate the work of GPS Trackstick artist Stavros who walks around a town leaving a trace behind that is a work of art - most recently outlines of footprints across Rome. In City College, Norwich, learning technologists from Cleveratom are working with autistic pupils to exhibit their GPS-traced art at the BAFTA-based Be Very Afraid event on October 27


Professor Stephen Heppell heads his own policy, research and practice consultancy,, and is professor of New Media Environments at Bournemouth University

Time to get technical

GPS tracker Tracksticks are tiny GPS location recorders capable of continuously logging their own location history for extended periods of time. The Trackstick records where it is, and the time, date, speed, heading and altitude at preset intervals. Travelled routes can be viewed directly in Google Earth. It includes a GPX photo stamping feature for adding your favourite photos to your own maps. Typical UK price, about pound;100.

Reliable brand: Trackstick II Personal GPS Tracker.

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