What Happens When Computers Become Mobile Devices?

Posted: February 15, 2008 in Mobilelearner, mobilelearning, tools, ultra-portable laptops
Tags: ,

I must admit, the title of this post does ask a strange question. After all, isn’t a laptop a mobile device? When I think of portable devices, I don’t normally think of a traditional computer. Despite the portability of laptops, the prices and the sizes of average laptops seem to place these devices in the same class as a desktop computer. However, a new generation of ultra-portable laptops may change this thinking.

I just held the new Asus EEE PC for the first time in my hands. What a nice little machine! A compact laptop that is fully functional and extremely portable. What struck me was the fact that the machine is no larger than a paper notebook, as thick as a novel but significantly lighter than an average math, science or history textbook. Imagine – a computer as a mobile device? At a price of about $400, this 8GB computer runs at about the same price as an 16GB iPod touch! If you need more memory, there is the Everex, selling at $399, that has a 30 GB hard drive and 512 RAM! Here are ultra-portable devices at the price of an iPod but with the same hardware that was found in a traditional laptop only 3 years ago! What will the ultra-portable look like in three years time as the capability of flash memory increases while it’s physical size and cost continues to decrease?

What happens to the concept of mobile learning when the tools that are being utilized are not phones with extended capabilities but computers themselves? Nothing really. The concept of mobile learning is learning with mobile devices but as I have mentioned in other posts on this blog, what the device is really doesn’t matter. After all, isn’t a PDA that functions as a computer still a computer? Having ultra-portable laptops entering this category of devices simply expands the capability of students to learn on the go.

Personally, I’m exited by these developments. Convergence of technology is leading us down a path where the phone, the computer, the PDA and the media player will be one in the same. After all, mobile learning is all about portability and affordability and if one-to-one computing turns out to be one ultra portable laptop per child instead of one media phone per child, so be it.

The technology is available and continues to evolve at an ultra-rapid pace. Human ingenuity and innovation is producing educational goods and services at a dizzying pace and it is humanity that is struggling to keep up with innovation, not the other way around. It is easy to find find excuses to avoid adopting modern technology in the classroom – cost, fear, effort, etc. but ultimately, it is student learning that matters. Being in the business of developing young minds means that it really doesn’t matter if a teacher incorporates cell phone, PDA, iPod or ultra-portable laptop technology in the classroom so long as students are able to access collaborative spaces on the web to create and publish to global audiences and to become a global citizen. There is life beyond the four walls of the classroom for both students and teachers. Regardless of the content of learning, mobile technology helps teachers differentiate their instruction and students experiences to help them learn.

It appears, then, that my title question is not even appropriate as what is important is not the device of choice, but the utilization of the collaborative spaces and creative processes that these tools offer to both students and teachers.

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