Saturday, September 30, 2006

New-Age training

We live in the ‘New-Age of compliance’. Apparently, we have an unbounded tendency to disciminate against those who are younger or older than ourselves (that's everyone born before and after you, namely everyone). As we are all guilty until proven innocent, we will ALL be subjected to the mass, collective punishment of tortuous ager-compliance training.

This is likely to be a curious mixture of over-detailed descriptions of the legislation, (The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 - SI No 2006/1031), crude scenarios that are never likely to happen in real life, mnemonics such as CRAP (Consider Recruitment on Age Prisonable) and questions such as,

Gillian calls Donald a “filthy, old, baldy, Scottish four-eyes”. Donald replies, “fair cop”! Is she contravening the:

a. Sex Discrimination Act, 1975

b. Race Relations Act, 1976

c. Disability Discrimination Act, 1995

d. Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006

e. All of the above

Employers, frightened by the new legislation, will spend untold sums of money hiring consultants, being audited, discussing, worrying, changing websites, reprinting documentation, altering recruitment procedures and, of course, delivering dull training around the New-Age legislation.

Of course, training itself becomes suspect.

Any training programme with ‘age-sensitive’ content becomes dangerous. I can think of dozens of examples where profiles of fictional people in scenarios, not only mention age, but are explicit about age-related issues. Curiously, in an attempt to be sympathetic to either youth or experience, they are often explicit about age, inadvertently breaking the law.

Your recruitment training (online and offline) is likely to have age-sensitive references and recommendations – they need to be changed.

Graduate training schemes are now suspect. They can be seen as discriminating on the grounds of age.

Coaching and mentoring training can no longer mention the advantages of being coached by someone older.

Profiles with ages mentioned on online discussion software needs to be amended.

Blended learning favouring a different approach for younger or older learners will not be tolerated. In IT training, age will be no defence. You will deliver the same training in the same way without fear or favour to anyone.

Above all, we’re likely to have another huge batch of dull training (classroom and e-learning) which will produce a soporific in learners, turning them off learning and painting the training department into a boring ghetto of compliance.

Literacy legacy

Government research has turned up woeful standards of literacy, huge sums of money have flooded into the system producing marginal effects, parents tear their hair out at the lack of progress their kids make in school and millions are spent on remedial adult literacy in a desperate attempt to solve the problem. It's been mayhem. Literacy education has been a disaster for several decades.

Phonics versus whole-word and whole-language' teaching
We now know why. Unambigiously, it was badly taught. The drift into lazy, 'whole-word' and 'whole-language' teaching ruined literacy education and has led to a legacy that is costing hundreds of millions to re-teach adults in the workforce.

This was a classic case of faddish, non-empirical theory ignoring the science. We know lots about how children learn to read and write, yet this was blissfully ignored by institutions and government departments, keen to implement non-scientific, unsubstantiated, progressive ideas.

It was classic 'groupthink' as teachers were taught in a relatively small number of institutions, led by a small number of advisors, in a top-down system that prescribed , as it turns out, the wrong method. These methods also allowed 'lazy' teaching - 'phonics' needs skills and programmes of clear instruction, whereas 'whole word' and 'whole-language' teaching put more effort on the child. It was a disaster of unimaginable proportions and has caused untold damage in schools, as literacy is a basic skill that is a good predictor of success in other areas of education.

Thankfully, it's being reversed, but all too slowly. The whole sorry tale is told with frightening clarity in this Scientific American article.

(Thanks to Seb Schmoller for this URL.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Games and learning

At last some games software that has been designed for learning from a fantastic UK company called Caspian Learning.

I really like this stuff. It's not some games engine that's been shoe-horned into the learning space or an RPG peppered with multiple choice questions. It is genuinely useful, much easier to use than any similar software, and the output is stunning. At last we have a fexible, reskinnable agmes environment we can take and apply to a huge range of education and training tasks.

The argument is simple, these games are strong on motivation, strong on visuals, strong on participation, strong on engagement and strong on reinforcement. They do everything that the duller side of e-learning does badly.

Games are not the answer to all training problems but they are massively underused, as the tools are complex and expensive - until now. This authoring software is a joy to use as it's built around designed learning encounters that pay attention to the relevant act of learning. It's called'ThinkingWorlds' and it is superb. Check 'em out on:

Bloom goes boom!

OK, let's have a look at another 50 year old theory! Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives published in 1956, set in train 50 years of dull ‘taxonomy’ with his three domains:

Cognitive (knowledge)
Psychomotor (skills)
Affective (attitude)

OK, it was a start. Unfortunately, this is about as far as most people get. They rarely dig deeper into his further six levels in the cognitive, six different aspects of psychomotor skills and his rather useless three types of affective.

Sliced and diced
Since then we've had dozens of taxonomies which sliced and diced in all sorts of ways. We've had Biggs, Wills, Bateson, Belbin and dozens more. The problem with taxonomies is their attempt to pin down the complexity of cognition in a list of simple categories. In practice, learning doesn’t fall into these neat divisions. It’s a much more complex and messier set of cognitive processes.

Another danger is that crazy instructionalists, like Gagne, take these taxonomies and attempt to design learning that matches these categories, destroying much of the more useful approaches which an understanding of brain science brings; such as cognitive overload, working memory limitations, top-down processing and so on.

Thankfully, brain science has moved on and we have solid theory, especially on memory, which has put everything on a more empirical and scientific basis. Using Bloom is barely more useful than phrenology when actually designing useful learning.

I am now putting on my headguard and body armour.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Students who fall asleep score better

Quick naps improve memory. Mathew Tucker at The City University of New York has shown that nightime sleep, as well as daytime naps, improve retention (Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, vol 86, p 241).

Learners were asked to learn pairs of words and were tested immediately, then 6 hours later with a nap in-between. The ‘nappers’ scored 15% higher than the ‘non-nappers’ on the factual test.

There’s something quite interesting emerging in these empirical studies of memory. It would seem that significant increases in retention, perhaps the most fundamental aspect of learning, can come through simple adjustments and additional techniques. With a simple understanding of how knowledge and skills are acquired, stored, rehearsed and recalled, we could make significant advances in productivity.

It is clear that daytime napping is good for the retention of knowledge so I look forward to compulsory naps at school and after training courses. In my experience, in most classroom courses, this happens without much prompting!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pocket Podcast Studio

I don't often post about gadgets but this is lovely. Belkin's TuneTalk is a microphone that snaps on to the top of your iPod. You can record podcasts straight to the iPOD. It even records in stereo, using sound from two mics, tilted slightly away from each other to create stereo effect. It then stores these files in a dedicated directory on the 5G iPod, the 5.5G iPod, or the latest iPod Nano.

At $69 it's fantastic value.

Donald talks bollocks

That’s Donald Kirkpatrick! The Kirkpatrick model, another piece of dreary and hopelessly over-engineered theory, is over 40 years old, and is in need of an overhaul (and not by Philips adding another Level). Even better, abandon it altogether.

Thh training world adopted this over-engineered rod for its own back. Senior managers don't want all of this superflous data, they want more convincing business arguments. It's the trainers that tell senior management that they need Kirkpatrick, not the other way round.

All the evidence points towards Levels three and four being rarely attempted as all of the resource focuses on Levels 1 and 2. It is not necessary to do all four levels. Given the time and resources needed in evaluation better to go straight to Level four.

Level 1 - keep 'em happy
Favourable reactions on happy sheets do not guarantee that the learners have learnt anything, so one has to be careful with these results. This data merely measures opinion. Learners can express satisfaction with a learning experience yet might still have failed to learn. For example, they may have enjoyed the experience just because the trainer told good jokes and kept them amused. Conversely, learning can occur and job performance improve, even though the participants thought the training was a waste of time! Learners often learn under duress or through experiences which although difficult at the time, prove to be useful later. This is especially true of learning through mistakes and failure.

Too often applied after the damage has been done. The data is gathered but by that time the cost has been incurred. More focus on evaluation prior to delivery, during analysis and design, is more likely to eliminate inefficiencies in learning.

I went to lots of brilliant comedy shows in the Edinburgh Festival this year, and was as happy as I've been allyear, but can't remember a single, damn joke.

Level 2 - Testing, testing

Recommends measuring difference between pre- and post-test results but pre-tests are often absent. End-point testing is often crude, often testing the learner’s short-term memory. With no adequate reinforcement and push into long-term memory, most of the knowledge will be forgotten, even if the learner did pass the post-test.

Level 3 - behave yourself
At this level the transfer of learning to actual performance is measured. This is complicated, time consuming and expensive and often requires the buy-in of line managers with no training background, as well as their time and effort.

Many people can speak languages and perform tasks without being able to articulate the rules they follow. Conversely, many people can articulate a set of rules well, but perform poorly at putting them into practice. This suggests that ultimately, Level three data should take precedence over Level two data.

Level 4 - does the business Fewer shortcomings. The ultimate justification for spending money on training should be its impact on the business. Measuring training in relation to business outcomes is exceedingly difficult. However, the difficulty of the task should not discourage efforts in this direction.

What to do? Should you evaluate at all? Of course, it is one thing to critique the Kirkpatrick model, another to come up with a credible alternative. I’d say apply Occam’s Razor - minimise the number of entities you need to reach your goal. Put the over-engineered, four-level, Kirkpatrick model to one side as it is costly, disruptive and statistically weak. Focus on one final quantitative and qualitative analysis.

I liked Stephen Kerr’s view, the CLO at GE, then Goldman Sachs - Kirkpatrick asks all the wrong questions, the task is to create the motivation and context for good learning and knowledge sharing, not to treat learning as an auditable commodity. He would literally like to see Kirkpatrick consigned to the bin.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gagne's Nine Dull Commandments

50 year old theory
It’s over 50 years since Gagne, a closet behaviourist, published The Conditions of Learning (1965). In 1968 we got his article Learning Hierarchies, then Domains of Learning in 1972. Gagne’s theory has five categories of learning;
Intellectual Skills, Cognitive strategies, Verbal information, Motor skills and Attitudes.

OK, I quite like these – better than the oft-quoted Bloom trilogy (1956). Then something horrible happened.

Nine Commandments
He claimed to have found the Nine Commandments of learning. A single method of instruction that applies to all five categories of learning, the secret code for divine instructional design. Follow the recipe and learning will surely follow.

1 Gaining attention
2 Stating the objective
3 Stimulating recall of prior learning
4 Presenting the stimulus
5 Providing learning guidance
6 Eliciting performance
7 Providing feedback
8 Assessing performance
9 Enhancing retention and transfer to other contexts

Instructional designers often quote Gagne, and these nine steps in proposals for e-learning and other training courses, but let me present an alternative version of this list:

1 Gaining attention
Normally an overlong Flash animation or coporate intro, rarely an engaging interactive event.
2 Stating the objective
Now bore the learner stupid with a list of learning objectives (really trainerspeak). Give the plot away and remind them of how really boring this course is going to be.
3 Stimulating recall of prior learning
Can you think of the last time you sexually harassed someone?
4 Presenting the stimulus
Is this a behaviourist I see before me?
5 Providing learning guidance
We’ve finally got to some content.
6 Eliciting performance
Multiple-choice questions each with at least one really stupid option.
7 Providing feedback
Yes/no, right/wrong, correct/incorrect…try again.
8 Assessing performance
Use your short-term memory to choose options in the multiple-choice quiz.
9 Enhancing retention and transfer to other contexts
Never happens! The course ends here, you’re on your own mate….

Banal and dull
First, much of this is banal – get their attention, elicit performance, give feedback, assess. It’s also an instructional ladder that leads straight to Dullsville, a straightjacket that strips away any sense of build and wonder, almost guaranteed to bore more than enlighten. What other form of presentation would give the game away at the start. Would you go to the cinema and expect to hear the objectives of the film before you start? It’s time we moved on from this old and now dated theory using what we’ve learnt about the brain and the clever use of media.

And don’t get me started on Mager or Kirkpatrick!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Teachers' TV is a turn off

Viewing figures suggest TTV is a turn off. So says article in The Guardian today. Well, well, what a surprise. The independent MORI poll shows that it's "failing to reach the majority of its target audience...".

Not the old 'don't have the time' defence
"Many don't have time to watch it" is one line of defence. What? Inset days galore, 16 weeks of holidays, a working day that stops earlier than everyone else. I'm sure they have time to watch real television, it's just not Teachers' TV.

Teachers can't use digital television
A problem, it seems, is that "the channel is difficult to reach". The channel is somewhat down the channel listings (it's hardly going to be next to the prime time options) and teachers don't know how to get to it! In other words they don't know how to use multi-channel television. Coming soon - a one day INSET course on 'How to use your remote control' from the Teachers Training Agency.

Dull, dull, dull
Andy Schofield, an excellent headmaster who knows more than most about the use of technology in schools, hit the nail on the head, "even when our own kids are on it I can't be bothered to watch it". It's dull, dull, dull. The image top left is typical - lots of really dull discussion - most of it feels like the cheap TV it is, or a bad school lesson.

Ill-fated choice
This initiative was an easy option for the DfES, a home for lost souls from the BBC. Poorly researched, it should have been piloted like a real comedy programme (that's closer to the mark than you think). This was a rushed policy decision, backed up by old-fashioned views on media that has wasted millions and has failed to reach its intended audience. At £20 million a year the cost per unique viewer is astronomical.

Interestingly, the internet downloads, available at all times have been the one success story, which begs the question, why use linear TV when the internet gives this so-called busy audience 24/7 access. You're working in the wrong medium guys. Haven't you noticed that even the BBC are scurrying to reshape themselves as an online provider? Ditch the channel and put the whole lot on YouTube or Google Video.

Friday, September 15, 2006

SME – Subject Matter Egomaniacs

I was recently asked to help find a subject matter expert for a major technical training programme. My response was that the subject was covered in excellent detail in at least five major textbooks written by world-class experts (the real SMEs). Of course, the company in question now insist on using their own SME, who is third rate, and is now regurgitating stuff from the world-class authors. Led to me to reflect…..

SMEs rarely the best
SMEs are often unnecessary, as they’re rarely the ‘best’, usually just the closest or best in that organisation. What most organisations need in an injection of expertise from the outside, beyond what they already know.

SMEs can be egomaniacs
SMEs often come with huge egos – this often gets in the way of good learning. They want to impress rather than contribute.

SMEs are poor on delivery
They’ll pontificate, read your stuff and rubbish its accuracy, but they often fail to deliver good written content and often miss their deadlines – especially when they have a fulltime job being an expert.

SMEs don’t get learning
University lecturers, especially the esteemed Professors, often fail to understand the basic principles of learning, providing too much detail, resulting in cognitive overload. They assume they’re experts in learning and they’re not.

SMEs don’t get design
They want to control the design process as they regard themselves as experts on interactivity, media mix and video production etc.

Good SMEs are recent learners
Try using some recent learners as SMEs, they’re cheaper, better understand the learning problems (they’ve just been through them) that surround the content, have less of an ego, are cheaper and deliver because they have less responsibilities in the organisation. Carol Twig found this in her huge research project in HE – post-grads were often better teachers than the full-time staff.

Good SME is often a book
Real SMEs have usually crystallised their knowledge in books, articles etc. The best SME is therefore often a book, web content etc

If you have to use them - make it contractual!
Limit their sphere of activity by egtting them to sign a strict schedule, along with agreements on delivery, format for comments, what they have to do and what they don’t do (learning and interactive design).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Experts or crackpots?

The Daily Telegraph no less
A group of 110 experts (sic) have, via that most progressive of newspapers - The Telegraph, sent a letter to the government. In an astounding act of arrogance the opening paragraph blames US and our elected representatives for destroying our children's lives “largely due to a lack of understanding, on the part of both politicians and the general public”. They, of course, are blameless. There are no substantive arguments or data offered in the letter therefore its worth comes down to the credentials of the signatories as 'experts'.

So who are these experts?
The lead signatory is the reactionary Sue Palmer who turns out to be the author of 'Toxic Childhood', basically an ex-teacher, luddite rant against computers and modernism. Palmer would love us to crawl back into some golden age of Enid Blyton and Narnia. What she fails to reveal is that she’s also been involved in the design of educational software to which she gets royalties!

Then there’s the hordes of teacher and psychotherapist signatories. Since when does merely being a teacher or psychotherapist make you an expert? Psychotherapy is famously awash with unregulated experts. In the rant for 'real food (as opposed to processed “junk”) the teachers and educational experts should remember that it wasn’t the expert headmasters, teachers, educational academics, LEAs, DfES or NUT that brought this issue to the fore, but a young TV cook using the very 'screen-based media' they hate.

Writers or hypocrites?
As for the children’s writers, I’m sure they’d like everyone to spend their days reading their books, not watching TV, movies and these pesky computer games. Get real, or better still, state that you will not allow any of your works to be used in "sedentary, screen-based entertainment” (their term) i.e. TV, movies and games. Or how about donating those millions to charities?

Crackpots like Jacqueline Wilson then have a go at kids being forced "to act and dress like mini-adults". Have you read her books? They’re packed with this stuff. Her titles include Bad Girls, Girls in Love, Girls in Tears. Give us a break Jacqueline, you’ve made millions from this teenage angst stuff. And what about the 7 TV series and films you’ve made? What a hypocrite.

Philip Pullman has also signed a mega-deal on films of His Dark Materials books. Some of the signatories make money from their web sites and lots have been involved in ‘screen-based’ content – when it means bucks in their own pockets.

Then there are the oddball academics – a Dr Richard House, senior lecturer at the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education (aaaagh) at Roehampton University. How many of you have heard of this esteemed centre of educational excellence?

Loads of educational consultants, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, play therapists etc, none, of course, who take any responsibility for the dire state of literacy teaching in our schools over the last couple of decades.

Joke professionals
Some sound like joke professionals:

Virginia Ironside Author (You must read her bestseller - Goodbye, Dear Friend: Coming to terms with the death of a Pet - I kid ye not!)

David Brazier Author, abbot (actually a Zen Therapist)

Hilary Wilce, Play Therapist (oh dear)

Sylvie H├ętu, International trainer for International Association of Infant Massage (Infant Massage?)

Virginia Beardshaw CEO, I CAN (not the same I CAN who have teamed up with BT to use screen-based technology for communications and producer of websites!)

Dr Christopher Houghton Budd Economic historian (expert on auditing and Banking!)

Pie Corbett Author and literacy consultant (own up Pie - you've also had a slice of the computer games Pie)

Helen Freeman Director of Publications, Scholastic Magazines (have alook at the dozens of computer games and videos they sell on their web-site)

Diana Goodey Educational author (not the same Diane that makes all that money from CD-ROMs!)

Haya Oakley Hon Sec of The College of Psychoanalysts (one of the many institutions that are banned from using the 'ac' in their web address)

Denis Postle Psychotherapist and author of The Mind Gymnasium (that's an expensive CD-ROM!)

Pippa Smith and Miranda Suit Co-founders of Media March UK (odd consortium of right-wing and religious nutcases)

Nick Totton Editor, Psychotherapy and Politics journal (readeship of 110 - all signatories to this letter)

Who's really to blame?
No fewer than 3 ex-education secretaries and numerous luminaries from the educational establishment are also on the list. Despite having received billions in funding they’ve managed and maintained a system that is the very straightjacket they rant and rail against.

There is a serious debate beneath this oddball crowing and the serious minds with serious academic pedigrees in the list should have jettisoned the hypocrites and weirdos.

I’m with the kids – they’re a lot smarter than the professionals who profess to know what’s good for them.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Weird day at DTI

Looked forward to fresh ideas from DTI e-learning delegates fresh from a mission to the US. What I got was a corporate plug for the BBC and a sort of anti-American bunfest.

Wrong keynote
First, it was the wrong keynote. Nigel Paine (BBC) has done a fantastic and innovative job within the BBC (he has now left the BBC) but the BBC is an idiosyncratic, over-funded entity which distorts rather than aids the market. Look at the appalling BBC Jam content (reviewed in this blog) and you’ll see what I mean.

US bashing
Then the returning delegates sounded as though they’d just been on a bad package holiday where there had been nothing to see or do, with quotes along these lines:

“We suffered Death by PowerPoint”
“We’re ahead of them on quality”
“Almost everything we saw was crap”

If you visit a load of corporates, such as IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Adobe, Accenture and Sun you will get dull PowerPoint presentations. You will also get lied to. (Speak to some veterans of this game such as Julian Wakely – he was in the audience). Does anyone really believe that these organisations are the sources of innovation on e-learning or the web? Dinosaurs don’t give birth to gazelles.

On more than a few occasions it descended into unnecessary US bashing. I was sitting next to an American (one of the most innovative people in the room) and we were cringing. Even the questions from the floor were jingoistic. The quality of our content is much better, our TV drama is second to none and so on - oh yeah!

Gurus travel by bandwagon, but...
OK their gurus Masie, Brandon and Bersin travel everywhere by bandwagon, and most of their large corporates talk relentless nonsense, but it’s a big place and if you look hard you’ll find plenty of innovation. I’ve been going to the US and reporting back for years (three times in the last year alone). I saw the best example of compliance e-learning I’ve seen (Michael Allen for Apple), some astounding MMOG military training (Forterra), met a great range of bloggers such as Jay Cross, wonderful stuff from Curtis Bonk in academia, the astounding success of the University of Phoenix, Wikipedia, LeapFrog in educational publishing and stuff so inspiring from Google that it made me want to cry with joy. I could go on.

By the end Iwas thinking about heading back - I wanted to watch The Sopranos.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Holidays - forget it!

Harris Cooper, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, researched how much children forget over the long summer break. The long summer break, along with other holiday patterns are largely hangovers from an agricultural age when harvests had to be gathered.

We know enough about memory to predict that a long period in which there is no reinforcement will lead to decay in what is known. Now we have some research that quantifies that decay.

1 to 3 months lost!
The results were staggering. Children typically forgot between 1 and 3 months of schooling during the summer break. The two areas that suffered most were numeracy and spelling, two primary educational targets. This massive drop in productivity shows that we should spread learning more evenly across the year. More terms with more, but shorter, holidays is the clear solution to poor standards in these areas. It would also help parents get better holiday deals. Unfortunately, any attempt to modernise the timetable is met with predictable and stiff resistance from teacher unions.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hizbollah, games and mobiles

Just back from the Middle East. Spoke to loads of people en route (actually loads of men and just one woman) in cafes and internet cafes. The take up of new technology is astonishing - here's a few examples:

Hizbollah Computer Game
We were in Jordan during the Israel-Lebanon war and it was interesting to see how the arab world sees this conflict. In effect, they see a different war. The news footage is full of Hizbollah, as well as Israeli, attacks. I seem to remember only seeing Israeli shot satellite images. Hizbollah means Party of God and have distanced themselves from Al Qaida. Indeed they despise Osama Bin Laden. Nasrallah is much more moderate than we in the west are led to believe. He denounced the 9/11 attacks as well as attacks on tourists in Egypt.

This is a sophisticated organisation who have even produced their own computer game - Special Force. This is based on Hizbollah's 20 year battle with Israel and is produced in Arabic, French and Farsi. They did this to counter the effects of US inspired military games that show the arab world as cannon fodder for US forces.

Special Force simulates operations on Israeli soldiers. You are a Hizbollah fighter and have to cope with the weather, mines and different numbers of Israeli troops. You can practise your sniping skills on Israeli political and military figures including the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The game resists the Israeli occupation through the mediaand sold thousands of copies in Lebanon in the first two weeks after its release and has gone on to sell at least 10,000 more since in other countries.

Internet Cafes
These were everywhere, even in the smallest of towns, and were very busy. Walking around observing I saw lots of guys playing games but also lots of veiled women on online dating or social websites. I can't read arabic, but the lurid graphics - large red hearts etc - were a sure sign. It would seem that the internet is one way to escape the strict rules about social appearance and contact.

Camel driver and blackberry
In the Wadi Rum, a wonderful and huge desert reserve (famously featured in the film Lawrence of Arabia) I witnessed a camel driver with a Blackberry.

Bedouin and satellite TV
The bedioun are a wonderful sight in their low slung goat-hair tents (expand in summer to create holes for airflow, contract in winter to keep in heat) and always a herd of goats, sheep and sometimes camels. I saw one with a satellite dish!. The guide explained that they run this from their truck battery and watch TV in the tent. He also explained that nomadic people often have mobiles as it is especially useful for keeping in touch with their other nomadic relatives and getting news on merkets etc.

everyone seemed to have a mobile. There's an interesting description in the book Muhajabebabes by Allegra Stratton (highly recommended) describing how gay men in Kuwait use mobiles and bluetooth to 'gezz' (crude) and make contact in their black tinted jeeps. Homosexuality is illegal in the Middle East although, as one can imagine, not uncommon. I had a copy of the Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom with me. It gives some idea of how common this was among both the Turkish and Arab troops.

More worrying was the political use of mobiles. the networks are often owned by relatives of the ruling powers. For example, Syriatel is owned by Assad's cousin and has been used to send everyone text messages inviting them to attend pro-Assad political rallies.