Not a Monday morning but it feels like it as today is the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL and, not for nothing, my first time in a classroom in better than four years. In a disussion about identity this morning, a professor I work with mentioned the issuing of a new Beloit College Mindset List (of which I was, somehow, previously unaware). It’s particularly appropriate for today, as four years outside of the mass-socialization grinder that is the American college and university system has changed my mindset, and leads me to wonder just what it is that I’m getting back into.

I promise, this is going someplace interesting, not just meandering backalleys of my mind, despite the extensive first-person usage.

For most of my adult and near-adult life, I’ve been waiting for people to catch up with me, in terms of electronic communication – I had and used e-mail well before it became the assumed method of communication between any and everyone, and the same was true of meeting people online (aka, “Internet dating,” if that’s still a term that has any meaning) and using social networking services. Now, all of these things are universal and, as the Mindset List attests to, are so embedded into the way that some people – specifically, incoming college freshpersons – live their lives as to be unexceptional and un-commented-upon. They are, and always have been.

One item on the list is of particular note:

38. Being techno-savvy has always been inversely proportional to age.

I think that this is definitely something that’s changed recently – growing up with DOS, BBSes and pre-386 computing, technological expertise was something that came with long experience, not rapid trend-adoption.  [and, as an aside – Charles Stross did some wonderful things with this premise in Accelerando, which I urge everyone to read]
And there’s no doubt I’ve fallen behind in many ways (these kids today and their crap music, I tells ya, when I was 18…), butmost markedly in my use of the cell phone. To me, it’s still an annoying necessity – useful for saving money on long-distance (does anyone still talk about long-distance calls?) calls and for making plans for drinking excursions but, really, I kind of wish it would go away sometimes. [Seeing circa-1920s costume dramas makes me nostalgic for a manner of telephonic communication in which I never engaged]

But the bleeding-edge technologist in me is also, from a usability standpoint, frustrated with how limited cell phones’ functionalities are, given how many things they could be doing. And this brings me around to plugging an excellent post that Fred made yesterday on just how much of a better job colleges and universities could be doing in terms of harnessing tehnology for the student experience. Specifically:

What if, instead of making students buy overpriced brand name laptops, we made them buy awesome mobile devices. Imagine if every student walking around campus had web, maps, IM, VoIP and a host of other data services in the palm of their hands? Indeed, many campuses are working to better leverage mobile, but are there better ways to do this than top-down (campus-directed) strategies? In Orientation 2.0, the breakout session would be a mobile hacking session – helping students brainstorm time-saving ways to use their mobile on campus. Ideas could be as simple as using text messages to organize outings, to more complex things like using the web to find books at the library. The key thing here is helping students find ways to use the technology that gives them value and saves them time. As all students walk around with mobile phones, there are obviously some strong possibilities.

A hearty huzzah to that idea – with applications that cool, I’d be perfectly fine being the old fogey of a grad student, trying to figure out how these crazy computer-things work.


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