Monday, August 30, 2010

Mobile devices in school? I'll alert the media.

Start the classes, stop the presses.

It was a great, first day back at school. As usual: two, fun hours of meeting new and returning students at orientation...and I'm spent. Where's my hammock? Anyone?

But this year is also fun because of our new mobile requirement for first-year CreComm students: an iPod Touch or other app-based device - iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, iPad - to use in conjunction with their studies and assignments.

This has led much interest in the media - an article in the Winnipeg Free Press, segments on CBC Radio and TV, a point-counterpoint article in RRC's The Projector - and wafts of tweets and emails from grads, college staff, and my mom.

I'm surprised by the attention!

To put this requirement in perspective: as an instructor, I can add any textbook I like to the semester's booklist without anyone's approval, regardless of how expensive it is. I supply the ISBN, it gets added to a list, the bookstore stocks it, and students buy it. End of story.

So it's interesting that the iPod Touch gets treated much differently than a textbook. Of course, it's not a textbook. It's not a phone. It's not a box of Cheerios. Like any product, it's a bundle of values that represents different things to different people.

To me, it's one thing. To J. Galt - the dude from Atlas Shrugged and sarcastic talkbacker on the Winnipeg Free Press website, it's another:
"Wow, a college education in how to use a cellphone. I'll be looking for that on resumes when I hire from now on."
My response:
"We're not providing an education in how to use a cell phone at Red River College - we're a communications program that encompasses advertising, PR, journalism, media production, radio, TV - and more.

"A smartphone or iPod Touch is a useful tool for folks working in these areas for mobile email, video, reading news apps, downloading and reading books, mobile blogging, podcasts, tweeting, monitoring RSS feeds, being plugged in to what's going on, and understanding the “app” landscape.

"In five years, I imagine that our students will be designing apps themselves. Laugh if you like, but it may be they who are looking at your resume in the future."
Fandango, a lively folk dance and another Free Press talkbacker, asks:
"If what a person learns is only good for the next few years, and not for a lifetime, what good was the education?"
Of course, the mobile requirement is only one, small aspect of our students' education. Any good education is designed to instill a love of lifelong learning. "Technology" is by its very definition something that eventually becomes replaced by something else, isn't it?

And as Spencer Tracy reminded us in Inherit the Wind: all progress comes at a price.

We're thinking about early adoption

The move to mobile, app-based devices is a fact of life in the ad and PR industries - early adopters both.

When we visited Critical Mass and Ketchum PR in Chicago earlier this year, everyone who worked there had an iPhone and suggested our students get one too (and to get onto Twitter and download and use the Foursquare app while they're at it).

As I said in this blog post last week, everything that's happening in the communications and education industry is pointing in this direction:
  • The ever-growing number of other schools and colleges across North America, which have already introduced mobile requirements and apps. Why, just today the University of Saskatchewan updated its app. I'll bet that Red River College will have an app one day too: sooner rather than later.
  • WIRED magazine's new issue, which pronounces the Web dead and the Internet alive with the sound of apps. Required reading!
  • The fact that more and more students are coming to school with these devices anyway.
  • A new communication grad's competitive advantage is always current technology. Today that means having an understanding of the app environment, social media, and new ways of reaching audiences, publics, markets, and readers to peddle their wares (and the wares of the businesses for whom they work).
One way or another, by the end of the year we'll know if this experiment worked or didn't. I'll be interested to hear and read comments from first-year CreComm students as we move forward.

That should be easy to do: by the end of next week, they'll have their blogs up and running. Two weeks from now: Twitter accounts. Three weeks from now, they'll be teaching the course.

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