Pushing Back on Campus Mobile Platform Agnosticism

It's somewhat of a core tenet amongst our edtech crowd that we should be platform agnostic. Mac, Windows, Linux - our e-learning materials will work as long as you can fire up a browser.

September 27, 2012

It's somewhat of a core tenet amongst our edtech crowd that we should be platform agnostic. Mac, Windows, Linux - our e-learning materials will work as long as you can fire up a browser.  

This belief in platform choice has carried over to the mobile world. We look for e-learning applications and tools that work across platforms. If you have an iOS app we ask about when Android is coming.  If you have both iOS and Android apps then we wonder aloud if the mobile experience is better served by the mobile browser.   Today we've stopped asking if it works on a Blackberry, but tomorrow we might inquire about Windows 8.

Is it possible that we are right about the computer operating system but wrong about the mobile OS?

Could it be that the browser is the way to offer learning services on a computer, but there is something different about mobile that requires a limiting of choice?

A thought experiment:  Tomorrow you decree that your campus is now an iOS campus. Or an Android campus. You have to choose one mobile operating system for everyone. Which one? Why?

You commit to buying every faculty member and every staff person an iOS or an Android device. Every student is required to purchase one as well.

What do you gain? What do you lose?

The upside to your campus mobile OS decree is that you are now free to spend your energy figuring out what content and apps will add value to learning, and perhaps even save money.  

Learning Innovation? How does the classroom change if every single person in that course comes to class carrying one mobile operating system? Right away you could start doing things like rolling out polling and other interactive classroom tools? You are confident that your mobile LMS will work well, which opens up new possibilities for classroom flipping and formative assessment. Specialized subject specific apps, say a multimedia anatomy app as one example, can be deeply integrated into the curricular offerings with no worries that some students will not be able to utilize the materials. Requiring everyone to have a device with the same mobile OS levels the playing field. 

Saving Money? Think about the bulk digital textbook deals you could negotiate with the traditional or upstart publishers if you could guarantee that every student on campus would be able to access the digital textbooks on a consistent mobile platform.  Maybe you finally start to roll textbook fees into the tuition, and using the power of bulk purchasing (and the elimination of the used textbook market) to negotiate much better pricing from the publishers.   

The current status of the mobile e-learning system is fragmented and underdeveloped. We use mobile e-learning tools inconsistently and tentatively.  Some of our courses are making great use of mobile learning, but a student will never know what to expect from one class to another.  We have limited negotiating power with content or technology partners as we cannot guarantee a large or consistent market for mobile offerings.   Without a standard mobile platform we have difficult making institutional app purchases.  

This fragmentation works okay with the computer, as the browser is a technology that can unify many different operating systems. But the browser experience on an mobile device, whether tablet or smart phone, is sub-optimal. Apps work better.  They are faster, they are designed for small screens, they work offline, and they take advantage of more of the features of mobile platforms (such as voice or accelerometers or location awareness).  

Decreeing that your campus is an all iOS or an all Android campus still allows for some degrees of purchaser choice. With iOS the student and the professor and the staff member can buy an iPad, or an iPhone, or an iPod Touch.  If you go Android your choices are much wider (as well as more affordable), although ensuring a consistent user experience becomes more challenging given the proliferation of different flavors of the Android OS.  Either choice is defensible, and I hope that Microsoft begins to make a compelling case for why Windows 8 should be considered.

Do you have any examples of a single mobile OS campus?


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