Instructors Need Mobile Devices


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Technology changes the way we live and work. But don’t forget: technology changes too. Take mobile technologies, for instance. It used to be that a cell phone was a cell phone was a cell phone. Then Research in Motion came along with their Blackberry cell phones that would enable the sending and receiving of emails. But people still regarded these devices as mostly phones. Mobile phones evolved to include cameras and other features that made them more popular and functional. The mobile ecosystem is still evolving, with many different types of devices out there with different features, but cell phones are substantially different from my first Nokia phones I had just a few years ago.

For instance, cell phones with Internet access are now called “Smartphones” and we tend to call cell phones “mobile devices” since they are so much more than a phone. In fact, mobile devices today exceed the computing power of a personal computer just a few years ago and should be considered more of a computer with a phone attached to it. Here are some interesting facts: A new CTIA study (May, 2010) reported by the NY Times shows that people use their mobile devices more for sending text messages than for making voice calls. The average number of voice minutes used per consumer in the U.S. has dropped, while the number of text messages sent per user in 2009 grew almost 50%. Additional data usage (email, Internet browsing, streaming video, and other activities) have also exceeded the number of phone calls on a mobile device for 2009. Ninety percent of U.S. households have a cell phone and more people are cutting their telephone landline, substituting their cell phones as their main phone.  The National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS) recently issued a report showing that one of each four American homes (24.5 %) had only wireless phones, an increase of 1.8% since the first half of 2009. Additionally, one of each seven American houses had a landline, but received all of their calls on wireless phones! The chart included in this report is displayed below:

What can we learn from these statistics? Well, they clearly show that people are embracing mobile phones and new technology paradigms, enabled by the sophistication of these devices. Ray Kurzweil, technology visionary and author, tells us in The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, that the overall rate of adopting new technology paradigms is currently doubling every decade. In other words, he writes, “the time to adopt new paradigms is going down by half each decade. At this rate, technological progress in the 21st century will be equivalent (in the linear view) to 200 centuries of progress” (p. 50).

The adoption of the cell phone has proceeded much faster than the adoption of the telephone. It took about 50 years for the telephone to reach significant levels of use in the late 19th century, while cell phone adoption took only about 10 years in the late 20th century. This rate of expansion and change has been initiated by the changing technology paradigms as well as consumer acceptance of the technology.

If we are to believe that mobile technologies are the wave of the future, that people will continue to use mobile devices to communicate, interact, share, and learn, then why aren’t we using them more in the schools? We read reports all the time of professors not allowing students to use their mobile devices in class or forbidding the use of laptops in the classroom. In this strange scenario, we are limiting our students’ abilities to access and evaluate information, higher order thinking skills. We are also taking away an essential part of their lives and culture, something that they take for granted and are accustomed to using.

Let’s look at another technology paradigm that is sorely in need of updating: landlines in our university offices. Each of our offices has at least one landline in it (I counted at least 15 of them, each costing about $30 each, plus expenses for long-distance calls.) Why not ditch our university landlines, with professors using mobile devices? Instead of just having a “phone,” instructors would have powerful, mini-computing devices, with access to information anytime, anywhere. The devices would also be more cost-effective, since they also include Internet access and normally no extra charges for long distance. Unlimited calls, unlimited Internet, unlimited texting would be part of the package. And with these features, instructors can be available for their students, an essential aspect supported by research.

Ray Kurzweil tells us that technology is accelerating exponentially, not linearly. However, people tend to think linearly. This is why it is critical to examine current trends, view and compare the technologies currently being used over what can be used, and evaluate these tools on what they can help us accomplish. Instructors need these new tools to keep up with the current paradigm and be poised to accelerate with the changes. It’s time to give instructors Internet-enabled mobile devices so they, too, can enter the 21st century.

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One thought on “Instructors Need Mobile Devices

  1. Your observations are right on the money! Students have access to these devices in their everyday lives so we might as well take advantage of their familiarity and comfort with technology. For the professors who are not sure whether their students would really be paying attention if they were allowed to bring devices into the lecture room, they could be just as distracted by doodling or daydreaming. If the professor engages the students and they are posting on a wiki in real time or using their mobile devices/phones as “clickers” the students will stay with them.

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