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Mobiles and Literacy, Part II

In a previous post I asked educational technology consultants to share their thoughts on preparing faculty, staff and students for using mobiles in teaching, research and work at the University of Minnesota. Kim Wilcox wrote about mobile equity and other matters. Here is an exchange between Keith Brown and Paul Baepler, both educational technology consultants in OIT's Collaborative for Academic Technology Innovation:

Keith: So to 'fess up right up front, I don't own a cell phone, smart phone, iPod or any other mobile device. I use a laptop (owned by the U) but seldom use it out of the office except at meetings.

On the practical side, I really see small format mobile devices as great for consuming information, but perhaps not as practical for producing things. Finding if my flight is on time on the mobile device is much different from writing the app to do that using a mobile device. Or, think of emails written from a phone versus emails written from a computer with a keyboard. In my experience, one or two line responses on a mobile device would be pretty long. I definitely wouldn't write an email in response to your question on mobiles with this much detail on a mobile device. If we're looking for interactivity and active learning, devices that don't make it easy to create, as opposed to consume, may limit their usefulness in education. I believe there is a niche for them, but we'll have to be creative.

Paul: I guess I'm in agreement with a lot of what Keith has said. Currently, it seems like mobile really works best for consuming content and potentially for interacting in specific ways--delivering feedback like a clicker, creating a backchannel such as Twitter, taking cursory notes on an iPad.

But I also think there will be major advances in particular disciplines depending upon how a course is taught. For instance, I think we'll develop really strong apps for using mobile in identifying features of natural objects--planets, plants, rocks, etc.--in their natural setting. An app that can give even a cursory translation of a foreign language text could really advance reading skills, particularly for lazy language learners like me who hate looking up every other word in the French or Spanish dictionary. While finding information on natural objects or looking up words in a dictionary involve consumption of information, we might also put those actions in the context of solving natural problems in an authentic, real-world environment.

In the end, I think we'll probably discard the idea of "mobile learning" and return to concepts like problem based learning that happen to use mobile devices. That is, I think we'll take "mobile" and connectivity for granted very soon, at least on campuses with expanding wireless access. But that will probably be after the singularity when all of us have given up any hope of winning a round on Jeopardy against our mobile overlords.

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