Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Laptop program? How about iPhone program?

Should RRC be goin' mobile?

There's been much handwringing, consternation, and naysaying in Creative Communications in recent times about whether students entering our program should have to buy or lease a laptop computer when they become a student.

Then I shut my big mouth, and all of the handwringing, consternation, and naysaying stops.

There are pros and cons to having a laptop on every lap, and I could easily debate both sides of the issue: the convenience and compatibility on the plus side, the expense (to students) and reduced attention spans killing the classroom dynamic on the other.

It hasn't been as much of an issue for the Graphic Design program at RRC, which took the leap to laptops years ago, got on its high horse, rode out of town, and never looked back. Come back, Shane!

Will the iPhone replace the laptop?

But today I had lunch with Anvil Digital creative guru and CreComm grad Carly Thompson, and we discussed a wide range of issues, from our server's interesting fashion choice - a fuzzy, warm-looking winter sweater with a big hole in the front for no other reason than to prominently display cleavage - to the direction of the communications industry.

I'll pause here to let you get the sweater/cleavage image out of your head. Gone? Let's move on...I'm Roger Lodge, and this is Blind Date!

I had the communications industry on the mind after a very interesting meeting with the Creative Communications advisory committee yesterday, which is made up of industry leaders in the broadcast, ad, PR, and journalism industries.

We went around the table and discussed the future of the business, and it became quite clear that "Mom, dad: something's changed." It's no longer enough to just be a reporter who hands in a piece of paper at the end of the day and goes home, or a person who can't write, but can read the news because he or she looks great on TV, or who "knows how Twitter works" but doesn't actually use it.

Like we didn't know this already: being a communications professional - journalist, PR, advertiser, media producer - means being connected, online and otherwise, 24 hours a day. Shooting video. Tweeting. Blogging. Uploading. Downloading. Moderating. Writing. Commenting. Podcasting. And then doing the job that used to be "the job."

As Carly and I discussed these issues, we couldn't help but notice our iPhones on the table and had a eureka! moment at the same time: "Forget laptops," we said in unison, like much of the dialogue I read in radio ads this semester (ha, ha!), "CreComm should be an iPhone program!"

The man comes around

It may sound insane coming from Mr. Anti Cell Phone himself, but as I - and everyone who owns an iPhone - knows it's not a cell phone, it's a laptop computer in mobile form. Hell, it's even better than a laptop.

I currently use my iPhone to:
  • Take and send pictures;
  • Shoot video and post it to YouTube wirelessly;
  • Send and receive emails;
  • Use Twitter;
  • Use voice-activated Google. No kidding. And it works!
  • Get the news through apps (the Times, USA Today, BBC, the Globe and Mail, Telegraph, ITN, CBC Radio, NPR News, Time, Huffington Post, Consumer Reports);
  • Record podcasts for AudioBoo;
  • Follow stocks - they don't call me "Moneybags Larsen" for nothing;
  • Watch video and films (YouTube and the NFB app is incredible);
  • Text message my one friend who sends text messages;
  • Write and publish mobile blog posts using the BlogPress app;
  • Play music (uDrummer, TonePad, iPod, iTunes);
  • Follow RSS feeds (all of the blogs you see on the blogroll to the right of this page);
  • And sometimes to even talk to people.
Is this not the job description of a communications professional, and are these not the tools we need in order to attack the multi-faceted jobs that run and ruin our lives?

I hate to imagine a classroom of students and instructors all checking their text messages at the same time - like some of those laptop classes I see when I walk down the hallway: students and instructors staring silently at screens, ironically, just like the dudes in the Apple 1984 ad.

Even worse is the idea that no one has to come to school anymore, because we're all "connected" online. As anyone who has taken an online class can attest: no one ever learns anything "attending" class by watching a video - it's like eating a meal by looking at a photo of a buffet.

But if we take care of the "rudeness, engagement, and attendance issues," then everything else is pretty good. The iPhone 3GS is more affordable than a laptop at $300 and all of the great apps are mostly free, though the monthly Rogers fee is prohibitive around $80.

As many of my PR students pointed out in their recent research papers, the college spends tens of thousands of tuition dollars a year on printing a student newspaper; since it's inevitably going to go online, shouldn't the school's reporters and editors get iPhones instead? Rise up for the iPhone revolution!

Smartphones for smartpeople

Apart from that, the iPhone has other uses in the academic environment: the University of Saskatchewan has its own, free iPhone app - iUSask - that allows students to find their classes, get library books, and check their grades, and the University of Missouri makes the iPhone or iPod Touch mandatory for its journalism students.

An RRC app would be pretty cool; we could find out what's on the menu at Prairie Lights, how construction is going on the new Culinary Arts building, and who hasn't been selected for Breakfast with the...aww, forget it.

Of course, the iPhone could just be a flash in the pan, but I don't think so. As I've said before, a quick trip to the U.S., where the iPhone was released first, shows that practically everyone has one, from kids to senior citizens.

As well, the next generation iPhone is going to probably blow our minds with all of the even niftier things it can do.

Before you know it, you won't be sneaking peaks at your iPhone during class, the iPhone will be the class. Take that Marshall McLuhan!

What would you do?

So, if you had your druthers, would CreComm be a laptop program? An iPhone program? A none-of-the-above program?

And how much would you be willing to pay extra in tuition in order to have access to the new technology and technical support?


  1. I am actually anti-iPhone, because I'm a Berry believer - but CreComm mobility sounds perfect. Already, I do the tweeting and Google-ing on my Berry, as well as doing last minute edits on my assignments before printing them out at school and handing them in. I've maybe used my laptop three time at school this term?

  2. I'd lean towards iPhone or Apple Tablet... but the trouble with tying curriculum to hardware is it will change by the time you implement it. I think you have the right idea in training to leverage the emerging media streams and work with whatever gear is available.

  3. I definitely do not see the need to make Cre Comm a laptop program. I actually bought a laptop back when I first started that I barely used for school work. There are more than enough computers on the Princess St. campus to go around and I think you're right on the money with the "1984" analogy. Sure, our job is to be communications gurus, which includes (and is dominated by) knowledge of the so-called Internet, but we are also in the business of talking to real people, face to face, so I think that you would lose that physical interaction a bit with the institution of laptops.

    As far as iPhones go, stop drinking the Apple Kool-aid, Kenton! The cons to forcing students to buy an iPhone (3 year contracts, expensive monthly fees, having to deal with Rogers) far out weigh the pros.

    At a recent account services staff meeting I was a little embarrased to realize that I was the only one at the table who did not own a smart phone (most people have blackberries but there are a few iPhones) so I recognize the importance of owning this technology and the usefulness is has for the communications industry. I think you could cover the basics in a class or two and perhaps ecourage students to buy one when they graduate and are making "real" money. Maybe even have a "Mac vs. PC"-type conversation for and examine the benefits of the different smartphones and which ones would be better for which communications jobs.

    Bottom line is, Kenton that all those things you use your iPhone for, you do for fun. You get "paid" for it because it is your job to know about these new methods of communication and teach your students about it, but for us recent grads in more specialized jobs, we don't necessarily need an iPhone to do our job.

  4. Hey, it's not fun to use my iPhone, it's hard work! Ha, ha!

    I'm not all gung-ho on Apple - my laptop is a piece of garbage, now that it's been infected by Snow Leopard.

  5. I can hear Steve Jobs licking his chops already. I guess the only issue is that it assume further iphone domination in the marketplace and with the launch of the new android 2.0 platform that may not be the case. Especially since TIME just gave the gadget of the year to the new Droid phone with it's android platform. I have a berry, but will be ditching that piece for an iphone as soon as i can, which is tomorrow i believe. It's probably going to cost me $400 to upgrade early but it'll be worth it. I can definitely see how a shift to digital media in the program would be worth while but I don't think you can just confine it to the iphone, as we all know, there's something new out there everyday

  6. PS - I'd take my Snow Leopard over Windows7 any day of the week. I don't know what you're running Kenton but my Macbook Pro is much faster on the new OS, best upgrade every for 30 bucks

  7. Not a crazy idea. The University of Missouri's J School made it mandatory for all incoming freshmen to have an iPhone or iPod Touch this year.

  8. I've been mentioned in your blog- I'm famous now!

    I think to emulate how communications business is really moving, iPhones are neccessary. Without them you are 5 steps behind- I used a blackberry my first 4 months here, and ended up going to people with iPhones to do certain things for me. You can't teach the new digital world with a pen and paper in its entirety, and computers aren't very convenient!

    That said, I'd have been on my email and texting like crazy during class if I had an iPhone in CreComm... not during your classes of course :)

  9. I'm not sure about iPhones personally. I used my boyfriend's iTouch to shoot a school related Facebook message out a few weeks ago, and it took me a good fifteen minutes to get everything typed, so there's a definite learning curve. Surely I'd get faster, but as someone who is used to typing at about 80 words per minute on a lap top, the slow down was more than a little frustrating.

    Then again, I'm a dinosaur in that I still use a non-Blackberry and a non-iPhone and fully intend on not getting either one when my contract expires, though I may change my mind. If it turns out that I'll need it for work/school, then I'll get one with some sort of data contract. But I have not yet gotten used to touch screens, so it'd probably be a Blackberry.

    I've also been very impressed with the amount of computers available for students, so I'm not sure a lap top would be necessary for CreComm students either. It seems for most classes where we need computers, we're in a lab anyway.

  10. Good argument about the iPhone for communicative purposes - I just think it'd be fun.

    However, I know of many communication companies who either supply or mandate smartphones for employees - it makes them easier to stalk.

    I'm all on board for the iPhone idea, especially if it comes with Devo references. :)

  11. Devo makes all technology seem more fun - "it's a beautiful world! For you. It's not for me!"

    Great discussion, all.

  12. Sometimes I forget that my iPhone is a phone...

  13. Ha! Just like this MTS ad:

    The other thing I wanted to say with regards to making CreComm a laptop program was that to make it worthwhile, the laptops would need to be MacBook Pros. No generic IBM notenooks here. To have access to ProTools and Final Cut Pro, two programs vital to CreComm, you're gonna nees a Mac Book. They cost upwards of $2500 apiece plus the cost of those two programs. Basically you'll be asking students to pay another full year of tuition for a computer that they don't really need.


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