Eduserv Symposium: The Mobile University

Last week I went along to the Eduserv Symposium 2010: The Mobile University at the Royal College of Physicians, London.

The day looked at the increasingly important role mobile technology will play in the delivery of UK higher education in the future. There were a number of really interesting plenaries and things going on. Here are some of the highlights for me.

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

Paul Golding presenting

Paul Golding, CEO and Lead Innovation Architect at Wireless Wanders and self-proclaimed ‘mobilist’, gave the opening plenary entitled Mobile, Mobile, Mobile. He had a lot of really interesting statistics on the recent ubiquitousness of mobiles. For example there are 1.2 billion mobiles sold annually and in 59 countries there are more mobiles than people. Although mobile has been around for a while the recent surge in use (Mobile 2.0) is being driven by more data-friendly tariffs, increased device usability (smartphones and the like), faster networks like 3G+ and greater user participation. Three recent trends – cloud computing, social computing and the real time Web have all contributed as tipping points. One area that Paul touched on that I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past is augmented reality. He suggested Google Goggles, Junaio and Wikitude as places to start. I found Paul’s ideas about the transformative nature of technology really interesting, Neil Postman has much to say in this area. Paul’s big question to us was how can UK institutions lead in this space?

The role of a University Computing Service in an increasingly mobile world. Or: “We don’t support that…”

Christine Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services at the University of Sheffield, gave a great talk on the implications for universities and their Computing Services of an increasingly mobile, 24/7, always-on world. Chris explained how in recent times IT services have been left in a bit of a pickle. They no longer own all the hardware or software, they can rarely control access and their equipment goes anywhere and everywhere. Even buildings built less than 3 years ago (the information Commons in Sheffield) can no longer cope with wireless needs. Her team’s approach has been to look at different support models: a control model (where the institution controls the devices and apps and they offer full support), a choice model (which takes into account user satisfaction and user choice but fewer services can be supported), an innovation model (which empowers the users to innovate but offers little direct support) and a hands-off model (take as little responsibility as possible, security and control are zero, apps and service might work – they might not). The result is a type of ‘managed diversity’. Her feeling was that when one asks can we afford to support mobile, the question should actually be can we afford not to? At Sheffield they have brought out a web app called Campus M. Christine has blogged on the symposium and her talk.

Christine will be the opening speaker at the Institutional Web Management Workshop I organise. Bookings are now open and we have quite a lot of sessions on the mobile Web.

QR Code Readers

As an experiment Mike Ellis of Edsurv gave us all QR Code badges. This meant that using a QR code reader we could scan the badge of any one we spoke to and would be emailed with their contact details. Almost like a virtual business card. What a great idea. An outline of the demo and some analysis is available.

Lightening talks

This year the Eduserv team tried something new and had a series of lightening talks relating to the mobile university. The talks were 6 minutes each and required speakers to express one point really clearly and then move on. I felt the talks worked really well. Speakers stuck to timings and there was no worry over talks being of little relevance to you as they were there for a moment and then gone. The speakers (Nick Skelton, University of Bristol, Wayne Barry, Canterbury Christ Church University, Simon Marsden, University of Edinburgh and Tim Fernando, University of Oxford) touched on a number of interesting subjects: a manifesto for mobile IT (don’t think technologies, think data), iBorrow (a laptop borrowing service), a student survey on required mobile content (they actually want quite mundane stuff) and project Erewhon and Molly, two open source, non-device specific projects looking at geolocation.

Remote Audiences

Last year I wrote a post on Amplified Conferences: Are We There Yet? which praised the high quality of amplification of the Eduserv Symposium 2009. This year I was actually there so didn’t get to experience it as a remote attendee. They had a few teething problems with their streaming but all the comments on Twitter suggested that once again the quality was great. The videos of talks will soon be available online.

Other Talks

The other talks given during the day were: Andy Ramsden, Head of e-Learning at the University of Bath, on to what extent will learning and teaching change in a mobile university? Tom Hume, Managing Director at Future Platforms looking at four ‘case study’ mobile projects and John Traxler, Professor of Mobile Learning and Director of Learning Lab at the University of Wolverhampton, on Mobile and connected – the challenges and implications. All were really interesting but time prevents me from writing about them in any detail. Tom’s talk was in some places pretty philosophical and left me with a lot to digest. It gave me my favourite photo of the day (a leopard skin coloured taser – we put the ‘cute’ in electrocute!) and my favourite sound bite (“mobile devices diluting the here and now“). All the slides are now online.

Art at the Royal College of Physicians

Drinks, Food and People

I didn’t like the quails eggs but the cakes and biscuits were great. It’s always a big bonus being able to meet the people that you follow and admire (through Twitter) in the flesh. I declined the offer of a visit to a real ale pub over the road and thoroughly enjoyed the drinks reception in the Royal College of Physicians’ garden instead.

To Sum Up

So are mobiles now such an integrated part of us that they are almost like the daemons from Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials Series? I’m not convinced that this is the case everywhere but they are increasingly becoming an integral part of mine, and I often feel like a troglodyte in comparison to many of my peers. Paul Golding told us that the peak time for Web browsing on mobiles was not commuter time (as one might expect) but 10/11pm at night. Mobile Web surfing is becoming the new reading in bed. I can really relate to this. Over the election period I found myself watching BBC news, on Facebook and tweeting away using a mobile device when really I should have been fast asleep. The people I chat are my virtual community. Who needs an election party, I had one in the comfort of my own home! The blurring of what is virtual and what is real is where we are now, and mobile technologies are the catalyst that will make us forget that the world was ever any different. But as Neil Postman explains “Technology giveth and technology taketh away“, there is always a trade off and in HE we need to be well informed of what this new world will mean to us.

You can see a sum up of Twitter usage on Summarizr.


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