I'm in Wisnton-Salem this week attending Wake Forest's Technology Consortium 2006. The theme is mobile computing and it's my first real look at how Richmond might engage with the mobile world. Years ago I had a Palm IIIc, but it lacked connectivity. That significantly reduced its usefulness, though I did use the device to take notes in meetings and to review my synchronized e-mail.
Two requirements emerge in these sessions as requirements of any mobile initiative we might undertake. Mobile devices today are connected and convenient. That's their power and that's what we need to understand if we're going to leverage the devices for teaching and learning. One of the most interesting observations was made by Jay Dominick, Wake's AVP and CIO: it's taken ten years of significant effort to have 90% of our University community to use computers; it's taken ten years (perhaps less) of no effort for 90% our University community to use mobile devices. Are we promoting the right device? It's not as if we could abandon the computer for a mobile device, but it is time to start looking at the devices our students, faculty and staff want to use.
Where will the convergence take place – Handheld units or cell phones? The wisdom at the Consortium is the cell phone. Wake's pilot programs demonstrate that when the device is the student's primary cell phone, the experience and benefits of the device are significantly better than when it's not the primary cell phone. IBM also demonstrated some compelling voice applications they've been developing using the XHTML and VoiceXML standards. Voice will be important in a converged device, and this points even more to the phone being the converged tool.
My one take away at this point is that we need to develop our services for the tools that our students, faculty, staff and even alumni have today. Wake has tried giving devices to the students but there are headaches and costs everywhere in convincing students to use the institutionally-supplied device instead of the one they've had all along. Developing services for all mobiles means we're looking for the web browser to be standards compliant, since that's the way our community will receive our services. Wake has taken some time to develop applications for their specific devices, even turning their devices into web servers to accomplish what they want to do, but I think this locks the institution into a device, and into operating systems and technologies that may be outdated or replaced very quickly. By working to develop services that can be accessed through the browsers on mobile devices, we can count on the services working universally.