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Mobile as a Way of Life I Can Never Abandon–I’ll Tell You Why

It became very apparent to me in the last week that I could not live without mobile technology. You would’ve thought that I would’ve learned it during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But it hit home much more for me this past week, and I’ll tell you why.

My husband went off on a trip to visit his family in South America. He hadn’t been there since 1997–a time where we had been merely dating. He was away for nine days. Now, for those who are separated from loved ones often enough, nine days might not seem like a lot. My husband and I have been apart for two to three days at a time, but we have never been apart for as long as nine days since that last trip he made in 1997 below the equator. We also didn’t have a child to consider at the time he last went on such a long trip–a sign of times changing. I hate the idea that we were going to be separated for so long.

The other sign of the times changing was that as much as I missed him terribly, I was able to communicate with him while he was down there. Now, the last time he went down there, he and I would sometimes talk by email or by Windows Messenger, but it wasn’t frequently, just because internet connectivity was limited down south, and it was expensive even back then. I wasn’t on a cable coaxial connection back then, but rather a dial-up modem, so time was money.

Internet infrastructure and technology has improved over the last 16 years, fortunately for us. This time, while we did use email, we also texted and used Facetime. We could send photos and video to each other in real time.  How? I made sure that my husband brought his smartphone and my extra iPad on the trip, not only to help keep him entertained on the plane with digital movies, books, magazines and games, but so that we had a way to communicate easily too. My father-in-law had installed wifi at his house (it helps that my younger brother-in-law, who still lives with his father, is a computer geek), and so my husband and I could share live conversations on Facetime (he’d call up my iPhone). We’d also be texting each other when needed for quick bits of information during the day, emailing and instant messaging as well. It helped ease how much I was missing him during the trip.

What definitely convinced me that I could never live without mobile devices was the night that my husband was returning from his trip. He was at the airport which had wifi (although it was not strong and somewhat spotty), and to kill some time late at night before his flight, my husband called me on FaceTime to have a video conversation. We could talk more freely than we had during his last trip away. He was amazed at the clarity of the video communication, and there was a moment while we talked when I could see in his eyes that he missed me as much as I missed him. It happened faster than fast, but it was something that could never be communicated with words in a text, email or instant message. It might not even be communicated the same way in a digital photo or video. It was talking in real time that captured it, and it was captured in my brain forever. That’s something that can’t be done that easily with a desktop or laptop. I don’t think that moment would’ve even been possible with a laptop–it would’ve had to have been done with a smartphone or tablet to have happened.

I talk about how mobile technology is the wave of the future–or really, the wave of NOW–in e-learning. I still believe that. But the other night, hours before my husband began his journey home, I learned an important part of mobile technology.  Mobile technology is not only to be able to capture video, audio, photos or have a conversation of an event going on anyplace, anytime, but the actual impact of being present for learning in real-time during such an event is everything. It’s the next best thing to being there in person. A conversation between a person in a South American airport and another sitting on a couch in Central New Jersey using streaming video and audio wouldn’t have been possible years ago. It is now.

Criticisms of m-learning often relate to the use of social media, implying that there is a lack of real communication between people because of the presence of social media. I disagree. If anything, it’s helping to bridge the gap, so that moments like my video conversations with my husband can be possible. They don’t have to be between family members, but they can be with colleagues on a project just as easily. Yes, video conversations have been around for a long time too, but not like this. If my husband had wifi in other places he travelled while visiting his family, he could show me in real-time what was happening around him. Now, the wifi infrastructure down there isn’t even close to what we have up in the States, and even here in the States, as I have mentioned before, we could have better support and availability of wifi around the country for better communication. Just think about that for a moment. If wifi infrastructure was strengthened globally, we truly could have a better “anytime, anywhere” experience not only to talk to each other but to learn from each other.

You will never be able to take a mobile device away from me, that’s one thing I’ve learned for sure!

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Remote and Mobile are not the same thing…but could or should be.

TechCommGeekMom is back! I’m sure you didn’t notice that much, but I was away for a week at the beach (or as we Jersey gals say, at the shore) in South Carolina, and while I wasn’t totally away from technology the whole week, I didn’t stay in touch with it as much as I usually do either. Hopefully, I can make up for some of that this week!

Just because I was away, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t thinking about tech comm, e-learning or m-learning while sitting on the beach. Quite the contrary. I had things going on related to all those topics that I still needed to keep up. And sitting by the ocean, listening to the waves, as well as traveling in lots of places far from home and working somewhat remotely got me thinking about the topic of working remotely and mobility, or rather mobile working.

I was actually put to the test in some respects during the trip. There was some important business correspondence that was going on during the week, and I had only my iPhone and trusty iPad, and spotty wifi to enable me to communicate with the “outside” world. I didn’t have the comforts of working from home with my laptop and reliable wifi connectivity that I have at home. (I do live in “Einstein Alley”, after all, so reliable wifi is almost a requirement where I live!) If I went to one of the Starbucks near where I was staying, then there was good wifi, and I could catch up with some of that correspondence. But if I was in my hotel room, it depended on the time of day and which room I was in, which was not exactly convenient.

As we travelled down some country roads before hitting the main highways on our way home, I started to think about mobile learning in these areas. How, in many respects, is this area that I was traveling through any different from any other remote area of the world, where education isn’t always cutting edge, and computers are difficult to access? The mom in me thought deeply about the educational part of this. If I lived in an area that was distant from a lot of technological access, but wanted the best education possible for my child, how would that be achieved?

My imagination first made me think about remote education. What is that? It could be online learning, or even just something static, like the equivalent of a correspondence course. How would that work in a classroom or standard educational system that is not near any major towns? Connectivity is the key for that. Having that connectivity would be greatly needed for the students to learn. Learning about what is happening in the “outside world” will open the minds of students not only to new ideas, but also how to bring those new ideas to their community. For example, would learning a new technology help with growing crops or improving productivity in some sort of service or manufacturing process prevalent in that community? I’m sure it would.

In my opinion, the Internet has always been an educational wonderland, much like how television and radio opened up possibilities and expanded our knowledge of the world. To deny that to the students of today would be a disservice, especially since so much more information is available through the Internet than radio or television alone. How does something work? A student can watch a YouTube video about it.  Who was Salvador Dali? A student can find Wikipedia and other sites that talk about the artist and see photos or video of his works.  Confusion about how to do algebra? Students can watch a video on Khan Academy. Newspapers from all over the world are online, and students can learn difference perspectives on world events as a result. There are so many possibilities!

But is mobile the solution to having a remote education? Yes and no. I think with the examples I showed above, a standard desktop or laptop can help achieve those activities quite easily. In many remote districts, I imagine that there isn’t the money in the school budget to provide that many desktops or laptops, but gaining that exposure would be worth the expense if it could be done.

To add mobile functionality to the mix would definitely enhance this process. Having a tablet computer such as an iPad or Kindle, or even using a smartphone would increase the learning capabilities. It would allow for more interactive learning. It would allow students to take their own video and photos to share with others. Learning could be done in the classroom, or even on a field trip or outside the confines of a classroom–including at home. All the benefits of mobile versus desktop would come to the forefront of reasons to use mobile for learning. Additionally, as smartphones are often more readily available and purchased, even in remote areas, mobile is possible and accessible in those hard-to-reach locales.

So, one has to understand that remote learning is not the same as mobile learning. Simply because one is out of reach from centers of society doesn’t mean that education about the outside world can’t be accessed, but with Internet connectivity, that experience is enhanced greatly. Correspondence courses of yesteryear (and modern day as well) show that you can be away from a learning source, and still gain knowledge needed. Online courses have been proving that in the last two or three decades as well. However, mobile enhances the e-learning experience greatly, providing greater flexibility for how a student can learn and when he or she can access information to learn. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets exponentially growing every year, even in remote areas, mobile will enhance and promote changes in that the remote learning process, and in turn, the m-learning industry will change and grow.

So, my question to you, dear reader, as a tech comm or e-learning/m-learning professional, how are YOU going to help those learners who are far away from conventional resources? It’s something to think about when writing or creating courses or documentation that will help the end-user.  Mobile documentation is different because it can reach even more remote areas than ever before, but how it’s created and used is key in how successful it can be in helping those end-users, whether they be students or various professionals. Look at the photo that is at the top of this blog posting. How will you provide information to the inhabitants of that small island? Think about it….