Walk around the university campus – or shopping centre – or another public place and count the number of people using mobile devices. Estimate the proportion of people using mobile devices – iPods, phones, whatever. Of the 48 people I counted, 20 were using mobile devices (most of them phones) – so about 40%.
Now try the same experiment at home. My wife, my son and I were sitting down supposedly watching television last night. However, my wife was playing scrabble on her iPod with my son on his iPhone (in between both text messaging.) I was emailing and generally browsing on my laptop. So that’s more than 100%. And of course we were interacting in the real world too (if you count Eastenders as the real world …)
Slightly changing the subject – I’ve just acquired an iPhone – having had more conventional PDAs for as long as I can remember – certainly 20 years. Of course it’s not a phone really. Indeed, I’m not really sure how to make phone calls on it but I’m sure it’s quite easy if ever the need arises. I use it for emails, social networking, running apps to tell me the tides in Teddington, entertaining my granddaughter …
I “attended” the Follow the Sun conference just before Easter. I say “attended” as I was attending another conference in Canterbury at the time. But I joined in and found myself talking to my laptop in a crowded junior common room – utilising the free WiFi there. Ten years ago, people would have stopped and stared. I don’t think anyone batted an eye lid – there’s nothing more usual than talking to your computer.
So can we really talk about the “virtual worlds” – about “online learning” – as if they’re something different to reality? This is the world in which we live. One which is densely interconnected. One in which the physical world that you observe is just one of several windows on the real world that you interact with.
So I hope we can stop talking about e-learning soon. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking about it – and I like writing about it and being a part of BDRA. But I hope that we’ll just take it for granted that this is normal – why would we want to teach and learn in any other way?
Professor John Fothergill
Head of Engineering, University of Leicester