As we talk about the "laptop wall" that so many university lecturers encounter and think of new and innovative ways for people to learn in an increasingly mobile world, I'm always on the lookout for devices that can take students beyond the laptop. Being an avid BlackBerry guy, I've largely ignored the hype surrounding the Palm Pre. With it's launch today, though, I couldn't help but be intrigued. Could this be the handheld that finally gives students everything they need when they are away from their computers?
My wife thinks that I'm just utterly obsessive about my BlackBerry, but in reality, I've adapted so much of the way I retrieve information, create content, and communicate with colleagues to the little device that it sees more usage on many days than my laptop. It's the first thing I reach for when I need to look something up, take a quick note, or send an email. Need directions or a phone number? Need to access a Google Doc? No worries, I have my BlackBerry. Sometimes I even make phone calls on it.
Others have made similar adaptations with their iPhones, but, to me, the iPhone just seems so, well, consumer. It also lacks a physical QWERTY keyboard. I have yet to see someone type as fast on either an iPhone or a Storm virtual keyboard as the average BlackBerry user can on his/her physical keypad.
So if we're talking about a phone that a student can use instead of carting around a laptop or netbook, an easy way to enter information is a must; the Pre, as most people know, has both a touch screen and a well-reviewed physical keyboard. While the average professor probably doesn't want a flurry of phone usage any more than they want a wall of laptops, one has to wonder if innovative instructors making use of tools like Poll Anywhere, Google Presentations, and Twitter might not be able to keep students more focused with a phone than they can with laptops where a large screen, touchpad, and full keyboard lend themselves to distractions.
Speaking of multitasking, the Pre seems to have made a real leap with its so-called "Activity Cards." It's easy to imagine a student quickly switching between a class Twitter feed, a notepad or email application for taking down quick notes, and a browser for looking up salient points.
The Pre may not be the be-all-to-end-all handheld for students. However, the features it brings to the table certainly point the way for really useful convergence devices that can get students out from behind their laptops.