Focusing on Mobile Media and Communications

Those of you, who, like me, have been teaching the Intro Computing class for a while, recall a time, not too long ago, when the focus of our course was on the beige desktop box. There were two varieties, the traditional style –which doubled as a monitor stand, and “the tower”. Our jobs have gotten a bit more complicated, and much more interesting, since those simpler days.

Today the vast majority of our students are using notebook computers rather than desktops. It has taken me some time, but I have finally swung my lessons and my thinking around to focus on the notebook PC as the default. So when I talk about motherboards, and memory, I show photos of notebook motherboards, and instruct students on upgrading their notebook’s memory.

Besides transitioning to mobile computers, our computing activities are being splintered over numerous, often mobile, digital devices: the iPod, the cellphone, the digital camera, the game console, the PDA or Smartphone, the Tivo, media players, and other special purpose digital devices. During this time of year, holiday advertisements (and our kids) remind us of the plethora of digital toys and tools that have become an important part of our lifestyles and economy.

Many college students spend as much time “computing” on non-PCs as they do on PCs. Computing takes place on cell phones, iPods, and the other special-purpose digital devices. In order for the Intro Course to be relevant and interesting for our students, we need to teach about ALL digital devices, not just the traditional general purpose PC.

In my class, we spend one hour-long lecture, talking about digital music technology, players, and online music services. We spend another lecture discussing digital graphics, photography, motion pictures, and special effects, and another on cell phones, cell phone service providers, and services. These are the most interesting and enjoyable lectures for both teacher and students. Not only do I dedicate lectures to these specific topics, but I include these technologies in every topic I teach. When I teach about processors, we talk about the speed and capabilities of processors for desktop PCs, notebook PCs, and Smartphones. When I discuss hard drives, we include a discussion of the Toshiba microdrives that are used in iPods. When we discuss display technologies, I include a discussion of megapixels and digital cameras.

Admittedly, it takes time and effort to keep up with all the latest and greatest uses of digital technologies. Online magazines, blogs, and podcasts can be a big help. The effort of keeping up with technology, and the inclusion of those technologies in our lessons, pays off with greater interest and learning from our students. Topics that used to be difficult to teach, due to their tedious nature and complexity, become more accessible when we place them in the context of the devices that our students carry around in their backpack. Processing, file management, display technologies, databases, storage, networking, and information systems become much more “cool” when applied to the iTunes service, software, and MP3 players.

So, take some time this holiday season to check out the specs on the latest digital devices in the Sunday ads. What’s so special about the new Wii? What’s a Blackjack and why would I want one? What’s better plasma or LCD? What’s a Zune and what are reviewers saying about it? Have fun with it, and have a happy holiday break!

I’ll be taking a break from the blog over the holidays. Back in mid-January 2007! Happy New Year!!

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