Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less
The available choices for staying connected while on the go are many — smart phones, netbooks, laptops, and a wide range of other devices access the Internet using cellular-based portable hotspots and mobile broadband cards, in addition to wi-fi that is increasingly available wherever people congregate. At the same time, the devices we carry are becoming ever more capable, and the boundaries between them more and more blurred. In the developed world, mobile computing has become an indispensable part of day-to-day life in the workforce, and a key driver is the increasing ease and speed with which it is possible to access the Internet from virtually anywhere in the world via the ever-expanding cellular network.


Mobiles as a category have proven more interesting and more capable with each passing year, and continue to be a technology with new surprises. The mobile market today has nearly 4 billion subscribers, more than two-thirds of whom live in developing countries. Well over a billion new phones are produced each year, a flow of continuous enhancement and innovation that is unprecedented in modern times. The fastest-growing sales segment belongs to smart phones — which means that a massive and increasing number of people all over the world now own and use a computer that fits in their hand and is able to connect to the network wirelessly from virtually anywhere. Thousands of applications designed to support a wide range of tasks on virtually any smart-phone operating system are readily available, with more entering the market all the time. These mobile computing tools have become accepted aids in daily life, giving us on-the-go access to tools for business, video/audio capture and basic editing, sensing and measurement, geolocation, social networking, personal productivity, references, just-in-time learning — indeed, virtually anything that can be done on a desktop.

Users increasingly expect anytime, anywhere access to data and services that not very long ago were available only while sitting in front of a computer linked to the network via a cable. In addition to the typical software for email, communication, and calendaring, new tools allow users to manage personal information (such as Evernote, Nozbe, Wesabe, and TripIt), collaborate and easily access and share files (Dropbox and CalenGoo are two of many possible examples), or keep abreast of social networks (Limbo, Facebook, Foursquare, Whrrl), and generally make checking and updating work, school, or personal information flows something easily done on the fly.

For many people all over the world, but especially in developing countries, mobiles are increasingly the access point not only for common tools and communications, but also for information of all kinds, training materials, and more. An ever more common pattern is for people to look to mobile computing platforms as their device of choice, as they are often far cheaper than desktop or laptop computers. For this group, mobile computing devices are more affordable, more accessible, and easier to use than desktop computers, and provide more than enough functionality to serve as their primary computing device.

A middle ground for those who need a little more flexibility and power from a mobile platform includes netbooks, smartbooks, or other specialized devices. Smaller and lighter than a laptop, this category of devices can access the Internet via multiple networks. Netbooks run typical productivity and communications applications, using a standard keyboard and a compact laptop-like design. More specialized devices, like ebooks, email readers, and others are customized for a single purpose. The advantages they offer are storage and portability; the Kindle, for instance, makes it easy to carry a library full of reading material, while the Peek email reader delivers email access on a very compact device.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

The portability of mobile devices and their ability to connect to the Internet almost anywhere makes them ideal as a store of reference materials and learning experiences, as well as general-use tools for fieldwork, where they can be used to record observations via voice, text, or multimedia, and access reference sources in real time. At Ball State University, students gather meteorological data around campus, using Twitter on mobile devices to aggregate and disseminate their findings. At the University of Kansas, geology labs are being augmented by carefully designed field experiments that students can complete in blocks of three hours.


As faculty use of mobile computing has grown, studies have begun to emerge documenting the efficacy of both the tools and the techniques used to employ them. At Abilene Christian University, for example, all incoming freshmen were issued an iPhone or iPod Touch in 2009, providing a broad canvas upon which to explore the use of mobiles for instruction. One section of a chemistry course received laboratory preparation and safety lectures via podcast for mobile devices rather than in the classroom; performance scores for these students indicated that the mobile lectures were equally effective. At Franklin & Marshall College, sixteen faculty in the year-long mLearning Pilot Project are using iPod Touches to explore ways mobile computing can be used in teaching, learning, and research in disciplines like history, psychology, religious studies, world languages, government, classics, and more.

A Houston Community College pilot held in spring 2009 compared study habits of two groups of students enrolled in the same anatomy course. One group, issued mobile devices, was found to work on the course during spare moments such as while waiting for appointments. The other group, using only desktop computers, appeared to spend less time overall working with the course content online. At the Open University of Catalunya (UOC), where many students commute or attend classes around full-time work schedules, course materials are made available not only in paper format, but also in audio, video, and text formats designed for mobile access. The University of Waterloo, another campus with a large commuter population, piloted delivery of materials for online courses to the BlackBerry platform. The response was very positive, and students noted increased time spent accessing course materials as well as higher levels of collaboration with classmates.

The potential of mobile computing is being demonstrated in hundreds of projects at higher education institutions. Students in the University of Alabama's Computer-Based Honors program, for example, are developing an application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that will deliver blood-sugar check reminders to patients with type 2 diabetes and provide resources about diabetes management, as well as collect information on how patients using the tool are succeeding in keeping their blood sugar under control. These data will be used in a research project comparing the effects of standard patient-care practices with self-management practices as facilitated by the mobile application. A custom tool developed at Purdue University, Hotseat (http://purdue.edu/hotseat), allows students to use their mobile devices to contribute to discussions, ask and answer questions, and respond to teacher prompts through any of several channels, including Facebook, Twitter, the Hotseat mobile application, or a web application. Students in a history course at the University of Texas-Dallas used Twitter to discuss course topics during class; the tweets were displayed on a large screen to encourage cross-group communication.

A sampling of other applications of mobile computing across a variety of disciplines includes the following:

  • Chemistry. At Bluegrass Community & Technical College, outdoor fieldwork has replaced many "cookbook" chemistry labs. Students use tablet PCs to record and analyze field research, present their findings, and compare results in real time.
  • History. The Edinburgh College of Art, the University of Edinburgh, and the EDINA Data Centre collaboratively developed a mobile app called Walking Through Time. The app overlays historical maps onto current maps of the viewer's location, showing street views and areas of interest from prior times.
  • Information Technology. Students at the University of Michigan developed an application for Google's Android platform that measures power consumption on mobiles. The app, called PowerTutor, is designed to help software developers create more efficient applications.
  • Medicine. Harvard Medical School has released an iPhone app about the H1N1 virus, including maps of outbreaks, a symptom checker, and tips for avoiding infection or dealing with illness. The app is the first in a planned series of mobile applications developed at HMS in collaboration with medical school scientists and doctors.

Mobile Computing in Practice

The following links provide examples of mobile computing.

Cellular Colleges: The Next Small Thing
(James Martin and James E. Samels, University Business, February 2009.) Following the lead of Japan's Fukuoka-based Cyber University, several colleges in the United States are now planning full, media-rich courses delivered via smart phone.

CMU Students, Professors Find Benefits with iPod Technology in Classroom
(The News @ Central, 28 October 2009.) Students in Central Michigan University's Introduction to Teaching Course ⎯ which serves nearly 650 freshmen and transfer students ⎯ use mobile devices to access reference material, respond to professors' questions, and take polls during class.

iPhone the Body Electric
At the University of Utah, researchers have developed a suite of mobile apps to allow scientists, students, doctors, and patients to study human anatomy, visualize large data sets in 3D, manipulate and analyze large numbers of high-resolution images, and evaluate medical problems.

Mobile Libraries
The North Carolina State University library now offers a mobile application that provides a catalog search, information about computer availability in labs, and access to a reference librarian.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Mobile Tours
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is offering two new mobile applications: Making Sense of Modern Art Mobile and the Rooftop Garden iPhone Tour. MSoMA Mobile is available on iPod Touches that may be borrowed by museum visitors and includes interviews with architects, artists, and curators; video footage; and music and poetry related to the collection. The Rooftop Garden tour is available at no cost as an application in the iTunes Store.

Smartphones Fill Med School Prescription
At the University of Louisville School of Medicine, residents use smartphones instead of prescription pads and multiple reference books. Patients and residents alike approve of the new system.

For Further Reading

The following articles and resources are recommended for those who wish to learn more about mobile computing.

GSM Coverage Maps
GSM World provides detailed information about cellular network operators worldwide, as well as up-to-date coverage maps for countries around the globe. Specific details included are network, roaming, services (including broadband), and coverage information for over 860 networks in 220 countries or areas of the world.

The Mobile Campus
(Steve Kolowich, Inside Higher Ed, 21 September 2009.) One year after implementing its campus-wide policy of issuing each freshman an iPhone or iPod Touch, Abilene Christian University challenged instructors to integrate mobile learning into their classes and surveyed the campus community about the results.

MOCA: Gathering Instant Student Feedback on Mobile Devices
This case study from the University of Texas at Austin describes the Mobile Ongoing Course Assessment (MOCA) tool developed by the Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment. MOCA is used to assess student learning and engage students in discussion. MOCA may be accessed from any web-capable mobile device.

Teaching with Technology Face-Off: iPhones vs. PCs
(Jeffrey R. Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 February 2009.) One professor found that students with access to an iPhone studied more than those who used only a PC.

Delicious: Mobile Computing
Follow this link to find additional resources tagged for this topic and this edition of the Horizon Report. To add to this list, simply tag resources with “hz10” and “mobile” when you save them to Delicious.

Posted by NMC on January 14, 2010
Tags: chapters

Total comments on this page: 15

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[...] One Year or Less: Mobile Computing [...]

January 15, 2010 3:08 pm

[...] do you think?  With mobile computing identified in the 2010 Horizon Report as an emerging technology likely to have a significant impact on campuses in the next one or two [...]

January 19, 2010 7:48 pm

[...] year of less: Mobile computing and Open Content. For many of us this is no surprise. Mobiles are everywhere and these authors [...]

January 20, 2010 6:04 am

[...] January 20, 2010 · Leave a Comment F&M’s mLearning Project is highlighted in the 2010 Horizon Report: http://wp.nmc.org/horizon2010/chapters/mobile-computing/#7 [...]

January 20, 2010 8:15 am

[...] mLearning Project in 2010 Horizon Report F&M’s mLearning Project is highlighted in the 2010 Horizon Report: http://wp.nmc.org/horizon2010/chapters/mobile-computing/#7 [...]

January 20, 2010 8:22 am
Jon K. on paragraph 7:

While I agree with the idea that mobile technology is probably already here, I suspect that growth in education situations will be much slower – many faculty can’t keep up with the rapid changes in technology, nor can see how to utilize this technology as an effective teaching tool.

It would be interesting to see some numbers to see how use of mobile computing has grown (ie. by how much?).

January 20, 2010 8:40 am

[...] Mobile Computing (1 year or less) [...]

January 26, 2010 11:28 pm

[...] Mobile Computing and Open Content [...]

January 27, 2010 10:48 am

[...] 2 year horizon but this years report doesn’t mention it all. I was wrong. Mobile Computing is still on the 1 to 2 year Horizon. My apologies to the authours of the [...]

February 23, 2010 12:05 pm

[...] 2010 Horizon Report predicts a one year or less adoption of mobile computing in the higher ed arena. Of particular interest are references to actual classroom examples that [...]

April 1, 2010 7:01 pm

[...] 2010 Horizon Report: One Year or Less: Mobile Computing: http://wp.nmc.org/horizon2010/chapters/mobile-computing/ [...]

May 7, 2010 9:58 pm

[...] One Year or Less: Mobile Computing [...]

May 11, 2010 1:30 pm

[...] increase in coming years.[2] The 2010 Horizon Report predicts that, in the next 12 months or less, mobile computing will enter into mainstream use for teaching, learning, or creative inquiry. Devices from smart [...]

June 1, 2010 6:17 am

[...] Horizon Report, 2010 Edition, Mobile Computing section (New Media Consortium and [...]

July 1, 2010 6:28 am
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