Friday, August 20, 2010

The debate: $329 or a competitive advantage in the communications industry?

Sweet or foul temptress?
"Do you think today's communication students and professionals need to use and understand mobile technology and apps?"
I posted this question on Twitter today after receiving an email from a great student and writer for Red River College's newspaper (yes, it's still actual paper!), The Projector.

I'm told that there's going to be a point-counterpoint piece in an upcoming issue about CreComm (the program in which I teach) introducing a "mobile technology" requirement this year.

My first reaction: really? There are people - communication students - who don't think this is a good idea? You can come out now, Ashton!


Here's the requirement, as it was sent out to first-year students with their book list (second-year students don't need to buy a mobile device, though I still think it's a good idea to have one):

You'll note that no one's cramming an Apple agenda down anyone's Adam's apple - you can also use a BlackBerry, Android, or anything app-based that you like (the cheapest is an iPod Touch, as it has no requirement that you sign up with a "cell-phone provider" and you can use the school's Wi-Fi for free).
"Can I use an iPad instead?"

"Yes," I said to the genial first-year student who emailed me the question.
The iPod Touch is good for mobile email, watching video, playing music, reading news apps, downloading and reading books, mobile blogging, podcasts, tweeting, monitoring RSS feeds (like classmates' blogs), being plugged in to what's going on, and understanding the “app” landscape.

The reason behind this move is very simple: in CreComm, we want our grads to have a competitive advantage when they apply for jobs, and - when they get hired - be tech-savvy when they come up with solutions to all kinds of communication and marketing problems, like "How do we save newspapers?" (Link jumps to related discussion on Graham Hnatiuk's great Progressive Winnipeg blog).

Our new grads' best competitive advantage over "old veterans:" understanding how to use and harness new media and technology to benefit their client or employer.

For support, look no further than WIRED's new article about the traditional Web being supplanted by mobile devices and apps that deliver us a more-focused and cost-based online experience.

I should also note that this technology has become standard issue in colleges and universities across North America, including the University of Saskatchewan, which has its own, awesome app.

The much-worse scenario is hearing back from grads: "Why didn't you guys teach us the stuff we need to know to get a job?!"

I don't want to teach or study at that school!

The cost/return ratio

An iPod Touch is $329.

Over the past three years, in my classes alone, we've eliminated two, gargantuan textbooks, which used to cost students an additional $400 - they were big, heavy, hardcover, American, and, if the information was useful, they were intensely dull. That's right, I said it!

To put a fine point on it, the good taxpayers of Manitoba subsidize Red River College students to the tune of 80 per cent of the actual cost of educating them. The tuition for one semester of CreComm is about $1,200 a semester - not that much higher than what I paid to attend the program in 1993.

I also note that I recently discovered (on MTV's the College Life - great show!) that one semester's tuition at U of Wisconsin, Madison is $12,000. We've competed with this very same school at the AAF ad competition many times before - its students are indistinguishable from CreComm students in every way - age, skill level, aptitude - apart from that kick-ass accent (on both sides!).

A tuition and college education is an investment - I know, because the return on my degrees, certificates, and diplomas, in terms of lifetime income alone, is great, as I imagine it is with most grads.

Let me put it this way: before CreComm, I shot my BB gun at cars. After: billionaire! Ha!

To me, the debate comes down to this: $329 or your competitive advantage in the communications industry?

As for my tweet: "Do you think today's communication students and professionals need to use and understand mobile technology and apps?"

One hundred per cent agreement from my tweeps. My favorite response, from CreComm grad Jack Rach: "Yes, and everyone else needs to understand as well."


  1. I definitely see the importance of mobile technology, and social media. At my internship this summer, I used social media every single day. I've seen how important it is to understand what apps are, and how to develop a really good one.

    I invested in an iPhone 4 a week ago for precisely that reason (and so that I'd be able to check my email anywhere - no computer necessary!). I've downloaded a number of apps, but I'm still disappointed by the fact that the Winnipeg Free Press doesn't have one. I tend to read the news online nowadays, so one would think they'd do whatever it takes to make it easy and convenient for people to get their news. I was reading the actual paper version of the Winnipeg Free Press this morning, and they're reporting news that I'd read days ago, online. They have some serious catching up to do.

    The cost doesn't really bother me either, because when I was at the University of Winnipeg, I'd buy expensive textbooks that I only open once or twice. My iPhone will never go unused.

  2. I'm not disagreeing with students getting used to these devices in school to put them in a competitive advantage, however:

    a) you may have cut $400 worth of textbooks, but you've replaced it with at least $500 worth of technology they now have to buy (iPod and external HD, excluding any expensive data contract with a smartphone or iPad).

    The cost, from my perspective, is the biggest factor. Some students just can't afford to shell out this kind of money, even for textbooks, regardless if tuition is heavily subsidized.

    (Note: is it not still emphasized that it is unwise to have a job while going to crecomm in the interview process? It was for mine.)

    b) in Broadcast J class last year, around the time the iPad came out, I kept wondering if BJ classes of the future would utilize them. no more printing 600 pages of scripts every week for the various producers and anchors... simply a couple ipads that can share and transfer information across a "digital newsroom."

    So i guess my question is, is the CreComm department looking at getting any of this technology and implementing it in the classroom?

    c) Jennifer, I can assure you the Freep has many things in development, an iPhone app being one of them. These things take time and money -- lots of it -- but the Freep is investing in them, so they don't need to do as much catching up to do as you might think. It's a matter of when these things can be officially launched.

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  4. Mr. Prepost, I presume?

    Glad you weighed in!

    My response:

    1. You're a perfect example of someone who paid for an education and is now making back the money - just four months after grad, I'll waqer that you've already made back in salary the tuition you paid as a student, no?

    Pretty sweet, eh? That's the return you get for investing in an education. Woo-hoo!

    2. As the former editor of the Projector, how do you feel about SA student fees levied at all RRC students, which pay for the school's newspaper - which still isn't online?

    How do you compare that to technology costs for equipment that students need and can keep after they graduate?

    It may be that one cost is reasonable and one isn't - but maybe we disagree on which is which.

    3. We don't require that anyone signs a contract with any cell-phone carrier. We agree: that's an unreasonable cost.

    4. I've got funding to roll out the exact project that you're talking about...I can't announce anything yet, because it depends on equipment availability and other factors.

    I'll just say that this year will be full of happy surprises.

    5. I think the biggest knock against the Free Press is that it introduced and marketed On7 to a target audience that was ready for the app.

    In the mobile business, the apps that people use are the ones that they first download: that all-important habit-forming behavior we talk about in advertising.

    That means that I - and a whole waft of people - are getting their local news (including the Winnipeg Free Press feed) from the Winnipeg Headlines app - which appears to have been created by a dude in his basement.

    I imagine that the recent restructuring of the Freep's Marketing/Audience Department is a move toward the app-based push.

  5. Yep, I've definitely made enough money to pay for my tuition several times over. However, I never went in debt to pay for school in the first place as I had money saved up. I'm lucky I didn't have to get snarled in student loans.

    Are there consequences if a student doesn't purchase a phone or iPod? What if a student really can't afford it?

    How are students going to use the technology in the classroom?


    As for student levies paying for a student paper, I think the cost is reasonable. It works out to something like $1 per student per year, but the way the SA does the math is weird.

    But our ultimate goal is the same: convincing students that what they are being provided is beneficial for them, despite the cost.

    My dream: levy each student $1 per year, scrap the paper altogether, and go completely online. Use the money to invest in a wicked web, social media, mobile presence. Turn the paper into a digital community newsroom, changing what student media can be and how journalism is taught. Put us in a position to compete with other community newspapers and blogs like Canstar and

    That won't happen with the SA though. Which is why we're going to start transitioning towards autonomy.


    And the restructuring in the Freep's marketing department has something to do with On7.

  6. I still say that iphones and ipod touches are very much in the minority in Canadian markets. I know a handful of people who own them, and hundreds who have Blackberries that they use for work, etc...

    There is also a huge difference between BBand iPhones. The BB apps are not nearly as fun. And most of the free ones are not great. How will you account for the difference in the apps available for each platform?

    And what about the cost of downloading these apps? Sure, there are a lot of free ones, but the really useful ones cost money.

    All I can say is: this is still a very young landscape that hasn't totally been sussed out, and the vast majority of Canadians don't really use the technology yet. I know there is an advantage to learning about these things early on, but I think that this is afew years premature.

    And if it had been instituted during my first year, I would not have been able to afford it.

  7. I can see why some people would be against having to buy a device like this. Mainly the price point (which isn't even that bad). Unfortunately I think the real issue is the fact that people don't understand how 'inexpensive' going to college here is. Yeah it costs money, but if you wanna go, you gotta pay. I think college and university is a premium, high-school is free(technically) so stop crying.

    The lack of textbooks we have to buy for crecomm is great. I still have a advanced physics textbook i bought for a U of W course still wrapped because we never used it for anything. It cost $250, and when I tried to resell it, a newer edition had come out and it was required reading, so I'm left with my $250 paperweight/doorstop/blunt instrument.

    I already had an iPhone 3G for a year before my first of crecomm and I love it. It helps me stay connected to everything, and while I mainly use it for Twitter, Facebook and Email, there are a million other uses for the device. I just upgraded to the iPhone 4 and that lets me capture my own news and post it to YouTube to share with everyone else almost instantly. That's the future!

    Lastly I think people should jsut suck it up and buy the iPod Touch at the very least. You're getting your required item for school, and you can use it when you're DONE school.

    Unlike my $250 Paperweight,doorstop,blunt instrument.


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