Going Mobile with Chinesepod on iPhone and iPod touch
More than two years ago, I began connecting to Chinesepod daily from both my desktop at home and laptop in the office. Fast-forward to 2008.... web 2.0 and the smartphone revolution has shaken our traditional ideas of how and where to study. Tangible, on-demand, educational experiences are now pocket-sized, yet more potent than a full library of textbooks.
I have enthuasiticaly cut the wires and burned my desk to the ground. Thrusting into a purely mobile means of interaction with this site and never looking back. I want to learn from any location, at any hour, from the palm of my hand. And you should too.
I have been using an iPod touch to study and connect during my daily bus commute for nearly five months. Even in that short amount of time, it has become obvious that the Chinesepod team continually make steps to improve the user experience on mobile devices such as the iPhone or iPod touch. Although, perhaps not comprehensive, I wanted to point out some of the great functions that make using Chinesepod on the go both practical and useful. Then we can discuss some areas where growth is needed, and work-arounds for current deficiencies.
DIALOGUE TRANSCRIPTS & VOCABULARY TEXT
My mobile experience with Chinesepod previously consisted of audio-only MP3 files loaded into my small iPod shuffle. While great for listening at the gym, the shuffle has no display or user interface to speak of, other than basic playback control buttons. In the past, I downloaded and printed the PDF transcripts, but had no access to sample sentences away from the "expansion" area of the actual website. On the iPod/iPhone I am now able to read the dialogue while simultaneously listening the the podcast. The vocab and sample sentences are also embedded into the audio review files (formerly known as "the Fix"). Chinesepod creatively uses the designated "lyrics" section of MP3 file metadata to embedded the dialogue or vocab text. Having this text in my iPod has become one of the most important and useful benefits of having a premium subscription.
On a side note, I'm still not sure why CPOD has yet to utilize enhanced podcasts with chapter markers and slides that could help to improve the user experience. Chapter markers would help listeners skip to specific points in longer lessons. This is a featured used by many other podcasts, and has been lacking from CPODs approach for a long time.
WHAT'S THE STORY
Having a screen and the ability to watch and listen has opened the doors for video possibilities. The beta attempt "Vocab Tour", and current weekly video podcast "What's the Story" have been decent 1.0 attempts at video integration. I think we can expect to see some changes and growth in this area for sure.
Here is an area that still is not up to par with the desktop experience when going mobile. Although I can read the message boards, I cannot contribute or leave comments from my mobile device. Frankly, I find this terribly frustrating. Having to wait until I am back at home or in the office to remember a question or comment is just not realistic. This has translated into a severe drop in my participation in the Chinesepod community. If I am in a position of not being able to contribute I am also not motivated to even read the boards. I hope we see this change in the future, so anyone can comment and contribute to the community section regardless of their portal into the site.
There are no flashcards or exercises that work on mobile devices. Even if this were a feature that worked on the iPhone when logging into the site, there still would be no offline support for the iPod touch unless in a wi-fi hotspot. However, there are work-arounds. I've been using the free gFLASH+ application to create my own flashcards. This application allows you to create a Google Document with two columns, each row translating the column information in the respected sides of a digital flashcard. The problem with this method so-far is that it still takes quite a bit of manual entry to create each individual flashcard. The advantage, however, is having an unlimited stack of cards stored inside your iPod or iPhone which can be organized and categorized to your personal study needs. Perhaps there is a better way to create flashcards from the lesson vocab, but ultimately it would be nice to see a flashcard and study application developed and offered by the folks here a CPOD.
DOWNLOADS ON THE GO
Apple updated the iPhone and iPod OS last week with v 2.2. Now you can update podcasts without tethering to your computer, but not CPOD or other subscription-based podcasts. If I am travelling for a few days or weeks I currently not able keep up to date with new lessons via my mobile device. The NY Times has a great free application for the iPod Touch which will update each time you launch from a wi-fi hotspot. Again, a CPOD app which allows me the choice to update on the go would be a fantastic and sometimes necessary future additon.
Our society’s relationship with the computer is changing rapidly. We are staying connected with smaller devices, and sitting at ours desks only when we must. Education teleported out of antiquity and beyond textbook studies when CPOD launched three years ago, and have been marching forward into an age of digital curriculum and education on-demand. The more I'm required to sit at my desk to participate, the quicker I'm going to look for more user friendly alternatives. The desktop computer is a boat anchor, and can no longer function as the intended venue for product development. If it works on the iPhone or iPod, it will translate back to the desktop or laptop. Chinesepod is obviously a forward-thinking group, and will continue to push the envelop for user-driven language education. However, it seems CPOD is still working to develop their website and user experience for the computer and mobile learning is an after-though or beta at best.
My methods are certainly not the best, and maybe I'm accidentally ignoring other important features that CPOD offers to iPod and iPhone users. We can help ourselves by sharing solutions and ideas for future development. How are you using CPOD from your mobile device? What apps are you using to enhance your experience? What work-arounds do the trick for you?
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