“It’s just a modern day communication device…”

With the recent release of the 2009 edition of the Horizon Report, the definition of emerging technologies must be redefined, refocused, or at least re-evaluated. This new report, along with a discussion I attended in Denver, has prompted me to write about a not-so-new technology: cell phones. Or, as the Horizon Report calls them, mobiles. The reason behind this name-change is that these devices are much more than just phones; these devices allow you to “take pictures, record audio and video, store data, music, and movies, and interact with the Internet” from almost anywhere at any point in time.1 So, while the cell phone has been around for awhile, these mobile devices are rather new, but are creeping up on those of us in higher education more quickly than those old cell phones did 10 years ago or so.

“So why should I care if someone’s phone can take pictures and whatnot?”

Well, they could be taking a picture of you, so look your best. But, more importantly, mobile devices are a new and increasingly popular gateway to the world of information that is out there. As a library, it is important for us to make sure that the information we feel is necessary for students is accessible through these devices. This means websites, library catalogs, and tutorials should be built with mobile devices in mind. There is a great article on A List Apart to get you started thinking mobilely. (I think I just created a new adverb!)

“I just put my website up! I’m not going to change it now, so why else should I care?”

Reference
Mobile devices, like their legacy predecessors, are used for communication. Phone calls, text messages, and emails are no longer emerging methods of communication, but our methods of dealing with these communication forms have yet to emerge. Reference desks can take advantage of AOL’s integration of text messaging into their instant message interface. Library patrons can send a text to 246246 with “send tucookchat” at the beginning of the message, and it will be received at the reference desk (e.g. “send tucookchat are there any free computers on the 3rd floor”).

Library Tours
Museums have been offering guided audio tours of their collections for years. Why can’t this work for libraries too? Using a service like Guide By Cell, llibraries can provide their patrons with information about the library and offer help for commonly asked questions, like “How does this string of letters and numbers help me find a book?” Dartmouth is offering this service already.

Instruction
Clickers (student response systems) are all the rage in library instruction right now: active learning and instant feedback – a match made in heaven! An emerging technique is to use mobile devices as a clicker. Students can text their answer, the data is compiled, and instantaneously produced into meaningful results. Platforms for this type of interaction are being developed by researchers like SMSRS Research and companies like Turning Technologies. Of course, if you have a twitter (find out more about twitter) account you can collect feedback from students via their mobile devices right now. To text to someone’s twitter account, simply send a text to 40404 with “@username” at the begninning of the message (e.g. “@mulcahey99 you have the coolest screen name ever!”). Of course, your students will need to have a twitter account too…

This leads me to my caveat for all of this. We sometimes assume that every student who walks through our doors is a user of the latest technologies, has their own cell phone, sends texts to their friends, and knows more about computers than we do. While this may be mostly accurate, it is not always the case, so it is important to consider (especially for instruction) how to involve those who may not be as technologically inclined. Schools like Abilene Christian University are accounting for this by distributing iPhones to all freshmen.

As more universities follow in Abilene Christian’s footsteps, mobile devices will become more and more prevalent on our campuses, not just for communication but in the classroom and in the library.

(And for those who haven’t seen it, the title of this post is a reference to Steve Martin’s “L.A. Story” – best movie ever.)


1 Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009). The 2009 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

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3 Responses

  1. No sooner do I post than I find new developments: What’s Next in Mobile Higher Education.

  2. Another great LibraryTechTalk article, thanks for keeping us thinking and at least attempting to keep us current!

  3. […] Library Tech Talk authors have a great interest in mobile devices. We introduced why we thought mobile technology would become important for libraries, previewed the iPad upon its release, demonstrated how to use jQuery Mobile for making mobile […]

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