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Complexity, Communication, and Control: Perspectives on Mobile


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Diana G. Oblinger (doblinger@educause.edu) is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

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"These perspectives highlight three dominant and interwoven aspects of mobility that our institutions need to consider: complexity, communication, and control."

According to the 2011 edition of The Horizon Report, the mobile manufacturer Ericsson estimates that by 2015, 80 percent of people will access the Internet from a mobile device. In Japan, more than 75 percent of Internet users already do. For educators, Internet-capable mobile devices may soon outnumber computers. In addition to the many people who use mobiles as their first choice for accessing web resources, new devices such as the iPad "are expanding our notions of portability"

This issue of EDUCAUSE Review offers several perspectives on mobile technology—thoughts on how our expanding notions of portability are intersecting with, influencing, and advancing many of our current ideas on teaching, on e-books, on iPads, on websites, on mobile devices, and even on change itself. These perspectives highlight three dominant and interwoven aspects of mobility that our institutions need to consider: complexity, communication, and control.

The complexity of mobile technologies ranges from the technical (e.g., different devices and interfaces) to the social (e.g., faculty-student interaction). Mary Ann Gawelek, Mary Spataro, and Phil Komarny describe Seton Hill University's experiment of providing all full-time students and faculty (and many staff) with iPads and discuss the complexity involved in coordinating infrastructure, support, and faculty development. Of course, people and their habits introduce additional complexity, as David McCarthy illustrates. He explains how digital books, or e-books, "require that readers fundamentally change the way they interact with a book's content." The multiple layers of the reading hardware, the reading software and ecosystem, and the content must be tailored to the needs of the user. And those needs vary considerably, from reading casually to studying a text.

Mobile technology offers an array of content-delivery opportunities, enabling communication that was previously awkward or impossible. Susan T. Evans notes: "With mobile delivery, a college or university literally meets the audiences where they are." She reminds those institutions that are planning mobile websites: "The decisions to be made are less about technology and more about communication." Both content and users matter. Yet mobile raises interesting communication challenges and questions as well, especially in the area of teaching. Should students be allowed to use mobile devices in class? Can the use of these devices improve students' learning experiences? As David Parry points out, the mobile web and social media such as Twitter suggest the emergence of a new form of literacy. Parry advises us to think about "the skills needed to navigate and take ownership of these spaces," while he cautions that these skills "far exceed the comparatively simple skill of comprehending written text."

Beyond complexity and communication, control emerges as a key issue intertwined in the use of mobile technologies. For example, in explaining the UCLA "service layering" and Mobile Web Framework, Jim Davis and Rosemary A. Rocchio discuss the institutional decision to "let go of local control" of the mobile device, in order to accommodate an ever-changing array of devices. Likewise, Tracy Futhey emphasizes that the mobility revolution represents "a fundamental shift in the way people are consuming information and the role they are taking in producing information. We can no more hold off that tidal wave of change than we could stop our students from using Facebook five years ago." Students and faculty choose their mobile devices; they select (or create) their own applications; and they sign up for whichever mobile services they want. Futhey adds: "We'll need to embrace some of the commodity data and voice services, but at the same time, we need to try to get ahead of them and help to direct where they're going."

Taken together, these three issues of complexity, communication, and control may signify a deeper change being introduced by mobile. In March 2011, Oliver Burkeman wrote in The Guardian: "The internet is over." That is, the days of the Internet "as an identifiably separate thing" may be gone. He noted that the "ubiquitous computing" first noted in 1988 has given way, with mobile technologies, to "the arrival of the truly ubiquitous internet." The boundary between online life and real life has disappeared (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/mar/15/sxsw-2011-internet-online).

If Burkeman is right, what does the disappearance of this boundary line mean for colleges and universities? Welcome to the mobile world.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 46, no. 2 (March/April 2011)

Diana Oblinger

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger President and CEO of EDUCAUSE

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. The current membership comprises over 2,300 colleges, universities and education organizations, including 250 corporations. Previously, Oblinger held positions in academia and business: Vice President for Information Resources and the Chief Information Officer for the University of North Carolina system, Executive Director of Higher Education for Microsoft, and IBM Director of the Institute for Academic Technology. She was on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia and at Michigan State University and served as the associate dean of academic programs at the University of Missouri.

Since becoming president of EDUCAUSE, Oblinger has become known for innovative product and services growth as well as international outreach. For example, Oblinger created the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), known for its leadership in teaching, learning and technology innovation as well as several signature products, such as the 7 Things You Should Know About series. She also initiated EDUCAUSE's first fully online events and its e-book series, including Educating the Net Generation and Learning Spaces.

In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation she led the creation of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, a $30M program focused on improving college readiness and completion through information technologies. Partners include the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Hewlett Foundation.

Oblinger has served on a variety of boards such as the board of directors of ACT, the editorial board of Open Learning, the National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, and the National Visiting Committee for NSF's National Science Digital Library project. She currently serves on the American Council on Education (ACE) board and works with other higher education associations as chair of the Washington Higher Education Secretariat. Dr. Oblinger has testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Employment, Safety and Training and the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Technology.

Oblinger is a frequent keynote speaker as well as the co-author of the award-winning book What Business Wants from Higher Education. She is the editor or co-editor of seven books: The Learning Revolution, The Future Compatible Campus, Renewing Administration, E is for Everything, Best Practices in Student Services, Educating the Net Generation, and Learning Spaces. She also is the author or co-author of numerous monographs and articles on higher education and technology.

Dr. Oblinger has received outstanding teaching and research awards, was named Young Alumnus of the Year by Iowa State University and holds two honorary degrees. She is a graduate of Iowa State University (Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D.) and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Sigma Xi.


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