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Basic mLearning with BlackBerries January 10, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve spent the past few weeks figuring out how to design and deploy content that can be accessed on BlackBerry phones. I’ve run into some obstacles, but overall it’s been a good experience. I thought I’d share my adventures here and talk about some of the speed bumps I encountered (to hopefully save you some time and frustration).

I’ll assume you…

  • Have done up-front analysis and determined your organization has a need that can be addressed by mobile learning (mLearning)
  • Have an audience that primarily uses BlackBerry phones
  • Have a basic level of technical knowledge, including the ability to write HTML (or use an editor like Dreamweaver)

Heads up, Mac users

The BlackBerry tools and simulators are for Windows only. The only way to run them on a Mac would be to use a PC emulator like VMWare Fusion or Parallels.

Download a BlackBerry simulator

If your entire audience is using the same model of BlackBerry, you’re in great shape. If they’re using a variety of models, you’ll have a little more work to do. Start by downloading and installing the BlackBerry simulator(s) matching the model(s) of your users. Go to the BlackBerry Development Tools and Downloads page and click Download the BlackBerry Device Simulators. Fair warning, you may have to update your Java (JDK) version; the installer will prompt you if the update is required. Once you install the simulator, go ahead and open it and take a look around.

Here’s a screenshot of the BlackBerry Storm simulator:

BlackBerry Storm simulator

Browsing the web using the BlackBerry simulator

In order to browse the web using your BlackBerry simulator, you’ll need to download and install the BlackBerry MDS Simulator. Go back to the BlackBerry Development Tools and Downloads page and click Download the BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulator Package. Install the software, and again, you may have to update your Java JDK.

Once you have the MDS Simulator installed, you should be able to follow these steps to browse web content on your BlackBerry simulator:

  1. Start the MDS service by going to Start -> Programs -> Research in Motion -> BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulators 4.x.x -> MDS
  2. Open the BlackBerry simulator by going to Start – Programs -> Research in Motion -> (Your model number)

Troubleshooting the MDS Simulator

The MDS Simulator caused tons of headaches for me. Here was the biggest issue: I would start the MDS Simulator and a command window would quickly open and then close. After tons of research, I found that it was throwing an error (due to a Java issue) and then immediately exiting. The device simulator would start fine, but I was unable to use the web browser to browse web sites (ex. CNN.com or local content). It was very frustrating. After much research, our team figured out how to fix the issue. In case you run into the same problem, give this a shot:

  1. Open this file: C:\Program Files\Research In Motion\BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulators 4.x.x\MDS\run.bat
  2. At the beginning of the file, after the call setBMDSEnv line, add this code: set JAVA_HOME=”C:\progra~1\Java\jdk1.6.0_11″. Make sure this path matches your version of Java on your machine.
  3. (Re)start the MDS Simulator.
  4. Open the device simulator.
  5. Try browsing a web site – you should be in good shape.

Now that you’re up and running…

You can browse web sites now, so you’re ready to start developing content. I highly recommend using a tool like Dreamweaver to develop your content. It’ll help you write clean code that is more likely to display well on a mobile device like a BlackBerry. Once you’ve built a few HTML pages, upload them to a server and then browse to the pages using the BlackBerry simulator. At this point, you’re in great shape! Make modifications to your content, design, code, etc., and then refresh the page in the simulator. Repeat until you’re happy with the results – and then begin testing on real devices to make sure everything still looks good. Finally, email the link to your users so they can access the content.

That’s it!

I’m curious to hear about your experience. Let me know if you give this a shot, and please ask questions, share problems, etc.