Whilst on the train returning from ALT-C 2009, I read John Traxler’s excellent thought piece “Students and mobile devices: choosing which dream”. John describes the conundrum of using mobile devices such as mp3 players and mobile phones for learning: so many students have them that it seems obvious that we should include them as learning technology. However, not all students have them, and students don’t all have devices with the same capability, and students may not wish to use their own mobile devices as learning tools. To quote, “Student devices unlock the dreams of agency, control, ownership and choice amongst students but put the dreams of equity, access and participation at risk. Universities cannot afford, procure, provide nor control these devices but they cannot ignore them either. Clearly such a stark choice is an over-simplification; there is no simple question and no simple answer.”
I am not so sure I agree, however, that universities cannot afford or procure these devices. Fifteen or so years ago we were discussing whether universities could afford the numbers of computers needed for students to be assured computer access. Today many universities offer students the free use of laptops, cameras and digital camcorders in addition to fixed desktop computers.
Today I discovered the website for the Handheld Learning Conference. Apple appears to be taking the lead on the conference this year, which seems only to be expected given the iPhone and iPod derivatives (as well as the rumoured iTablet). The development first of iStanford (by which Stanford students can check grades, registration, and the whereabouts of the campus shuttle bus on their iPhones), and now of MobilEdu with Blackboard elevate the handheld device to the status of a VLE. At the same time, Sony has just released its updated models of e-book reader, and new eReaders from IREX and CoolReaders will surely appeal to students looking for a way to consolidate required readings into one digital package.
The Burnt Oak Junior School in Kent recently gave out iPod Touches to 32 8-year-old students for general school use. A short film describing the project can be seen here. Whilst watching it, I was reminded that it was only a few short years ago we were first hearing about schools buying fleets of laptops for uses not unlike this school’s use of the iPod Touch — but the iPod costs a fraction of the price of a laptop. Schools and universities are indeed investing in handheld-learning hardware as well as software. Students will begin to consider an iPhone or whatever handheld of choice to be as much a required purchase as a rucksack.