Mobile technology and the future of Higher Education: 5 Predictions

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Niels Bohr

Recently I have been thinking a bit about ‘mobile’ within an academic context. The M-Libraries projects are coming to an end, and we’re currently working on a report exploring the future impact of mobile and ubiquitous technologies on the HE sector called Mobile Futures.

Mobile technologies are a bridge between our online social connections, the hallmark of recent web innovations such as Facebook, twitter etc, and our physical, real-world social interactions. Institutions increasingly recognise mobile as an extension of the journey from online social connectivity to real-world reciprocity. This transformation provides opportunities for institutions to engage with their students in significant new ways, and to exploit mobile technologies to enhance this engagement and experience.

So, with these thoughts in mind I thought I would have some fun and think about 5 ‘trends’ around the future of mobile in academia and education. These thoughts are very much rough-drafts, and shipped far too early!

Mobile as a Platform

For institutions mobile ‘products’ are often the focus of attention – the campus app or the mobile website. Yet, these discrete developments feel increasingly like a means to something greater – stepping stones – rather than as ends in themselves.

Can mobile (services, and the development of those services) itself be a platform for other institutional and student/researcher benefits? Are our future mobile interactions a platform for a new form of engagement with students and researchers?

This is a question that is emerging from current work exploring the future impact of mobile on the academic sector. Here platform embodies something much closer to the ‘platforms’ represented by Facebook or other social network platforms.

The potential of this new ‘platform’ seems to run over our current conceptions, to something decentralised, data-centric, open, social, intuitive… In many ways the technology begins to drop out of our considerations of the future, and its the mobility of the student or researcher that becomes the critical factor.

It is the mobility of the individual that also highlights the fragmentation of the mobile device, into one much more intimately connected to our-selves.

Mobile Realities

The mobile devices that we have upon us will, increasingly, also be the filters through which we view reality. Augmented Reality (AR) will be the next transformative technology to change the way in which we interact with the world, and our institutions.

Using visual cues in the environment, AR uses mobile devices to overlay a digital world on top of the real world. Projects like HealthCARe at City university enable students to gain contextual information on health care issues simply by pointing their phone at an object or space.
SCARLET, a project from Mimas, at the University of Manchester, uses augmented reality as a way to connect students to extremely rare books as well as all the relevant contextual information for that resource to radically enhanced the student learning experience.

AR will play an increasing role in teaching and learning, as well as in the way institutions provide support services and information to students and staff. The interactions between the physical and virtual environments of the student will become increasingly blurred, as will the boundaries between the body and the device.

Mobile Forms

The history of our recent technologies is one of carefully repackaging the artifacts of our lives in smaller and smaller boxes. The zenith of this miniaturisation is mobile computing. Increasingly, however, these boxes are being unpacked, and the technologies of mobile computing are being reconfigured in new forms.

The emergence of Augmented Reality as a serious mobile trend for education also marks the growing intimacy between the device and our bodies. The augmentation of realities will be mirrored with a augmentation between the device and the body. Increasingly the ‘form-factors’ we are used to (the mobile phone, tablet) will gradually be superseded by new forms: earpieces, glasses and sensors.

This evolution of form could have some interesting implications for institutions. If BYOD (bring your own device) creates issues for institutions supporting user-owned technologies, then a fragmented, decentralised mobile form could increase those problems of support exponentially.

Devices will become hyper-personalised, and this will impact on the experience students will expect from the institutions that deliver their education.

Mobile Scales

There are huge opportunities for scale when it comes to educational technologies and mobile learning initiatives: the worldwide demand for education is growing exponentially. Yet, mobile offers an intriguing opportunity for institutions to scale downwards; effectively scaling down to the singular – to the individual level of experience.

Imagine an institutional information service that is scaled to you – not the institution. Echoing Paul Walk’s futuristic vision of library services this might place the mobile device in the role of ‘educational concierge’, delivering relevant information and resources, wherever and whenever. Indeed, it is a small leap of the imagination for this ‘library service’ to deliver information before you know you need it: precognitive services!

This notion of scale rolls over into areas such as course work and accreditation: micro-tasks combined with micro-accreditation. A couple of small tasks to do on the bus into campus, accruing towards your final exam. With the rise of MOOCs and online learning, this future is fast becoming a reality!

Mobile Disconnections

Mobile technologies, given their ubiquity, encourage a focus on the opportunities for constant connectivity that they offer. An academic world always on. However, it is clear that there will be an increasing need for spaces, places and strategies that enable students and staff to go ‘dark’. As institutions attend to enabling wifi everywhere, there may be an increasing requirement for wifi ‘coldspots’.

Some of the research that is emerging from the Visitors and Residents project highlights the awareness of students to the addictive and distracting nature of online social media and may increasingly require wifi free areas. Indeed, it may be that around periods of intense ‘visitor’ type activity, for example, examinations, paper deadlines, that institutions provide entirely ‘blacked out’ environments.

Institutions will need to build this ‘graceful disconnection’ capacity into their systems and services to enable students and researchers to step away from the ‘internet of things’ while they study.

Your Futures…

This is my attempt to have some fun with the implications of mobile computing and technologies on education and academic institutions. It’s personal, HE-centric and hopelessly optimistic (I don’t touch on issues of your ‘data shadow’, issues of privacy or protection etc).

So… What would you articulate as the important trends in mobile for education? What are your #mobilefutures?

5 thoughts on “Mobile technology and the future of Higher Education: 5 Predictions

  1. Isma

    Yes very futuristic indeed. The problem with mobile technology is that it is still very expensive in many societies (data downloads). This may impact it’s usage in academia.

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  4. Tim Johnson

    “(I don’t touch on issues of your ‘data shadow’, issues of privacy or protection etc)”. Thank goodness 🙂 We already have quite enough IT people who make that short intake of breath whenever modern technologies are mentioned e.g just look at one of the recent ALT discussions on writing policy for BYOD.

    Technolgy is still developing very, very quickly and I am sure we will see not just wearable devices but also embedded devices within a generation. May be we will have a temporary embedded device that will not only download all the textual information we need but will also allow us to access a full virtual experience, not just sight but touch and emotions too!

    It’s good to look to the future and imagine the potential good and potential problems (I used to do it with students and it was great fun). It might help us to put current potential problems into perspective 🙂

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