mobility matters

Is it any surprise that education struggles to adapt to the implications of mobile networks? After all, we work in an environment where many of our colleagues complain if desks are moved out of their "proper" alignment in rows. Just as moving desks into a big circle or rearranging them in small groups creates different communicational dynamics, different netowrks. Ok, it’s a very loose analogy, but it’s at least a point of reference from the context of everyday teaching.

Mobility matters.

So what’s my point? iTunes U and podcasting have a range of uses unto themselves. And as is often pointed out, you don’t need an iPod to use them. The result though of this logic is that we don’t require students to purchase iPods (though many have them) and that faculty don’t need them either. I realize the logistical and budgetary issues here, especially in a developing situation like this one where the technologies are in such a state of flux. However, I want to make an argument for the importance of mobility in this context.

Mobility is about more than convenience. It’s more than listening to lectures on the treadmill or bus. It’s also about time- and space-shifting pedagogy for your convenience. Can you imagine any potential value in your own courses to being able to offer instruction at a particular time and place outside of the classroom? For example:

  • a tour of a particular place
  • instructions/reminders for a process (e.g. guidelines for a lab experiment)
  • technical support
  • gloss on a reading (e.g. read chapter two and then listen to this)

It’s not about doing the same old, same old but on foot. It’s about imaging whole new practices, like these examples of just-in-time teaching.

Of course that’s still just thinking about one-to-many communications. It’s analogous to keeping the chairs in rows. Like shifting chairs in the classroom, iTunes U is really about shifting communicational dynamics. Take this potential for just-in-time communication and multiply it by the group-forming networks of Reed’s law. Now it’s not only the teacher who offers these communications, it’s the extensive potential network of students with their overlapping interests and demands.

Right now we’re just on the cusp of this. The near future will undoubtedly offer us mobile media devices with wireless download ability and playing from the network when the connection speeds make this reasonable. Sure, right now you need to anticipate your needs and download media to your iPod before you head out. But even in this context, the ability to draw on a network of students and faculty offers many possibilities.

Stepping into podcasting and iTunes U without a mobile component will certainly allow you to do a lot of new and interesting things, but it’s mobility that offers the greater challenge to our pedagogical imaginations.

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