Open Thinkering


Month: April 2010

Roadbud: a new iPhone app for runners [Review]


I’ve explained many times on this blog about how great running is for your whole system of productivity. The trouble with running, though, is that it used to difficult to set yourself goals and targets. With the advent of Nike+ and GPS-enabled devices, however, all that has changed.

I first started GPS-tracking my running with my Nokia N95 a few years ago. I still haven’t found anything better than the Nokia Sports Tracker for ease-of-use and useful feedback, if I’m honest.

Since switching to an iPhone, I’ve tried a number of applications that can GPS-track my runs. Most recently I’ve been using SportyPal which I found pretty good and at a nice price (free!)

A few months ago, Mike Schoeffler, the developer of a new iPhone running app called Roadbud started following me on Twitter and reading this blog. I ended up joining the mailing list for updates and a free copy of the app upon release. After some delays, it was available in the App Store earlier this week.

For reasons only known to Apple, the free codes Mike generated are only available in the US (see the end of this post to win one for yourself!) Mike very kindly reduced the price of the UK version from £5.99 to £0.59 so that he kept his promise. Very noble and much appreciated (but this review remains impartial!) 😀


Given that SportyPal, my previous iPhone running app of choice, is free and Roadbud Pro is £5.99 it had better do something special. Fortunately, it has go some unique features. Not least:

  • Integration with iTunes music library
  • StrongSong (Nike+ style motivational track you can nominate for one-button access)
  • Audio feedback on distance covered, time and pace
  • Google Maps integration as you run
  • Weather information
  • One-button access to phoning a friend or emergency services (if concerned about safety)
  • Twitter integration (option to tweet your run straight after workout)
  • Auto screen-lock

There is a free version (Roadbud Rookie), to be fair, but to my mind that version doesn’t offer anything over-and-above SportyPal. It’s six and two threes…

Whilst I can only give my opinion about Roadbud and my particular running regime, there’s some things I really liked and some things that I thought could probably do with some improvement.

The good:

  1. Integration with iTunes music library is a real bonus.
  2. I love the one-button access to my ‘StrongSong’ for when I need that extra boost.
  3. The Google Maps implementation is seamless and shows at-a-glance whether your iPhone is locked-on to the GPS signal.
  4. The audio feedback is useful for focusing on running instead of having to keep looking at the screen.
  5. You can choose a workout length (time or distance) with your progress then being shown as a bar underneath time elapsed. Nice!

Room for improvement:

  1. Track information of the song currently playing.
  2. Feedback when you’ve lost GPS signal.
  3. Lower power consumption (25 min run took 40% of my battery life on iPhone 3G)
  4. A website, like SportyPal to develop more of a community.
  5. The ability to export data to Google Earth.

From my contact with the Mike, the first three of the above are already in development for the next version of Roadbud. 🙂

Of course, people have different concerns and needs than me. For example, when my wife gets my iPhone in a couple of months, she’ll no doubt want to use it for running. I’ll then be really glad of Roadbud’s one-touch emergency call facility.

Conclusion + free codes

Would I recommend Roadbud? Yes.

Do I think it’s worth £5.99? At present, probably not.

I’d expect it to be more of a £2.99 app. I certainly think it’s got potential to be worth the higher price, though! I’m looking forward to seeing how it improves given that the developers keen to make it the best it can be. 😀

Want a free version of Roadbud Pro? I’ve got 3 free copies* for those who reweet this post (using the button below) before midday on Sunday 2nd May 2010!

*US residents only, I’m afraid, for reasons given above…

TeachMeet North East 2010

A TeachMeet is an unconference, an informal event where those with classroom experience spend either two or seven minutes explaining something they’ve done that they’ve found useful or has enhanced student learning. I’ve been to many TeachMeets and they’re usually great events with lots of inspiring people and a real ‘buzz’ around the place. I’m really glad they’ve taken off in the way they have.

However, I think it’s important to dispel a couple of myths and misconceptions about TeachMeets:
  1. It’s not ‘amazing’ that teachers give up their time to go to such events. Teachers compress their working lives pretty much 24/7 into terms and half-terms, so an evening spent at a TeachMeet is an evening not planning or marking, not an evening’s less free time.
  2. TeachMeets are not ‘the future of CPD’. Two minute and seven minute presentations are not long enough to go into the required depth to effect change. Whilst such presentations are intensely valuable, it’s the conversations that happen as a result of them that are important. Some TeachMeets facilitate the latter better than others.
TeachMeet North East 2010 was the second one I’ve been to predominantly organized by staff at Cramlington Learning Village. I’ve the utmost respect for the innovation and enthusiasm of staff at that school; they’re on the forefront of education in this country.


For an unconference it was a bit regimented in the wrong way. There was a drinks area. There was a presentations area. There were rows of un-moveable seats. There was a strict overall time limit. There was no ‘random’ picking of presenters. 

On the other hand, the presentations almost all ran over two and seven minutes. This might not sound like it matters on the face of it, but there’s something to be said about getting your message across in a given time. The best TeachMeets are the ones where you’re not really sure who’s organized the whole thing and it seems like a collection of people who have just turned up at a given time and place.

Reflecting more widely, I realised that some presenters at TeachMeets really are uncritical users of ‘cool tools’. There were at least two presentations that explicitly stated that they weren’t too sure what the pedagogical use of the tool was, but that “kids love it”. I’m not so sure that’s what we should be aiming for. Whilst I’m all for trying new technologies and having them in your ‘toolkit’ there’s some tools (e.g. Second Life) that weren’t ready for prime time in 2005 and still aren’t in 2010. We should stop beating a dead horse.

Overall, I’m a big fan of the TeachMeet format. I was glad to be there last night and appreciated the work the organizers put in. I just think we need to be a bit more reflective on what we’re trying to achieve here, that’s all. 




Meeting with Ed.D. thesis supervisor: my first journal article.

On Monday evening I met for the first time in a while with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor, Steve Higgins. Even though I’m much closer to Durham University these days we find it more productive to talk via Skype. 🙂

The focus of our discussion was my forthcoming submission of an article to an academic journal. Whilst my recent book review will be published in E-Learning and Digital Media 7:3 later this year this will (hopefully!) be the first time anything original of mine will be published in a peer-reviewed journal. I’m quite excited. 🙂

Regular readers know how open and candid I am about almost every area of my life via this blog and Twitter. I’m sure you’ll forgive me this once when I don’t go into too much detail about my proposed article; it would be easy to get scooped! Suffice to say I’m looking to apply a framework that should help understand just how exactly ‘literacies of the digital’ are ambiguous.

We also discussed the concept of Flow, popularised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I was a big fan of this theory when I first came across it, but now I realise it’s as empty a concept as ‘digital literacy’. Still, I do believe that such terms have some kind of Pragmatic utility – they are ‘good in the way of belief’. I’ve got a Venn diagram in mind to explain this in the article I’m writing.

Steve said something quite powerful in our conversation about ‘compressing depth of thought’. If you use too much terminology, compress ideas into too small a space and be overly concise then readers have to ‘read out’ rather than ‘read in’ to your work. If they’re not ‘reading in’ then they’re not applying. That, he says, is why ‘lighter, fluffier’ stuff gets more readily applied, whilst more ‘serious, focused’ stuff is sometimes ignored. I’ve certainly found that even with some of my blog posts.

Finally, I mentioned that if I heard someone uncritically use the term ‘digital native’ in my presence (or without tongue-firmly-in-cheek), I was likely to lay the smackdown on them. In fact, Prensky has since (in a 2009 article) moved onto talking about ‘digital wisdom’. He’s basically saying “I was wrong” without using so many words. Trouble is, he’s wrong about the digital wisdom too… :-p

Image CC BY-NC Jeremy Brooks