Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mobile Technology Ready, Set, Go!

I've been talking about the promises of mobile technology for years, but now all of a sudden, everyone else seems to see this too. But to make sure these handheld devices serve our needs and aren't simply used to reproduce the status quo, hard work and good ideas from committed people is necessary to begin rethinking how we relate to information, place, ourselves and each other. Ideas, not only code. Maybe you're one of these people. Maybe you can help.

But first a little context.

The ipad

So I'm sure you all saw the Apple news today. The ipad, anticipated since 2002, is reality. But I'm not writing about that particular device. Rather, it demonstrates how mobile technology has recently really begun to take off and change they way we relate to the world around us. I mean growing up, I never saw this kind of anticipation outside the Super Bowl or a Presidential election. Lots and lots of people have been operating at a fever pitch for months about the possible existence of this slate. And unlike the ipad's predecessors, the iphone and ipod touch, this new handheld is expected by laypeople to be used explicitly in formal educational settings. Most of this thought is from my point of view somewhat unimaginative (for reading textbooks - really? Wow! The future!), but it's important to me that the populace sees this in students' hands. That's new.

Mobile Tech in Education

Consumer electronics companies and myself are not the only ones suddenly bullish on the idea that mobile technology has a capacity to transform education. Last week, the New Media Consortium (an international not-for-profit consortium of learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies) released their 2010 Horizon report. This annual report is intended "to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have considerable impact on teaching, learning, and creative expression within higher education," and is rather influential in the field. This year, mobile technology was foregrounded, and the message was essentially "Now is the time for mobile. Don't be left behind."

Earlier Work - Augmented Reality Games

For the past several years, along with a few other people who really felt this coming, I've been trying to design content to figure out exactly how education can take advantage of the chief affordances of mobile technology. In particular, I've been focusing on the design and implementation of what have come to be called augmented reality place-based games. In Wisconsin, we designed games for middle schoolers around local lakes and rivers that looked at issues of biological and urban ecology.

Mentira and UNM

Here at UNM, with Spanish and Portuguese professor Julie Sykes, grad students Linda Lemus and Aaron Salinger, and Language Learning Center Supervisor Derek Roff, I've designed a Spanish game, Mentira, that takes place in the Los Griegos neighborhood and is being used in Spanish 202 classes.

The game works on an ipod touch and the best thing is that we could make it without a programmer. Thanks to some open-source software built by some colleagues of mine in Wisconsin, we have at our disposal an authoring tool for place-based augmented reality games that is super easy to use. Last semester in my games class, a small group of students (Shannon Conover, John Tennison, Casey Holland, and Jenny Suen) used this tool to create a Steampunk-themed game for the rest of the class that took place on campus, and without a lot of help from me.

Your Role

So if you want to be a part of the way mobile tech changes the educational landscape, start thinking and talking. Find me. Come up with an idea for a game. Don't leave it all to Apple and Houghton Mifflin.