Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mobile computing... the panacea and the reality

This week I was on the move and still teaching my online courses. This is not unusual. Many of us who teach online courses do so from a variety of locations. See my friend Lisa's blog posting about Virgiwiscaliwa. My husband has a foundation which helps people and the environment in Ecuador and travels to S. America quite often. His students never know if he is in an Internet cafe in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador or if he is in Washington state, where we live. Three of our 4 children, and the two grandchildren live on the east coast, so we frequently travel to the east coast to see them. And Lisa offered to meet me in NYC this time so we could play and work!

I travel so frequently that I don't really think about what I need to have or do before I leave. In fact, this time I forgot that I had gotten a new laptop recently and didn't think through what I needed to do to set it up. Mobile computing is so much a part of my life I don't think much about it. I have a Sprint aircard so that I can get the Internet anywhere there is a Sprint phone signal but I didn't set up the new laptop to use the aircard before I left. If my destination is an urban area the Sprint aircard works great. However if you are in the hinterlands, a Sprint signal is not always available I have found.

So I find myself in Manhattan, without the aircard but I figured there would be free Wi-fi pretty much everywhere. Not really! Many people have gotten smart about their home Internet signals and have secured them (smart on their part not convenient for me) and many businesses offer Wi-fi but...

In one cute, quiet deli (with great food) they offered free Wi-fi with a purchase. What they didn't say was that their signal was so weak, and they were so clueless about their own system, that we would be knocked offline over and over again. Just sending a file from one computer to another became an exercise in patience and endurance. In another location, signing up with a particular carrier and paying that carrier was required. In other locations such as Barnes and Noble we had good Wi-fi connections but we were working on unsecured systems. This made us a little uneasy about some of the work we needed to do.

My phone does have email and web capabilities but it is still pretty slow, and I cannot access most of my course sites on my phone. I know this is changing. My daughter accesses her online courses (which use the Angel LMS) via her iPhone but the interface is pretty cumbersome. I am going to be working on a project shortly using Desire2Learntogo so I will get my own taste of mobile computing by smart phone.

Admittedly, if I had remembered to set up my laptop before leaving with my Sprint aircard, that would have helped. However, I know from experience that I cannot always get a good strong Sprint signal. And I know I can access the Internet and email from my phone but it really sucks the life out of the battery very quickly. I cannot use that option for very long each day unless I want to be tethered to a plugin to keep the battery going.

The bottom line is that traveling + computing is still not the panacea it could be or should be. The reality is that there were many times I could not get online, or could not do what I needed to do as part of my job as an online instructor/course designer. However I am still learning. Lisa showed me how she connects her laptop to her BlackBerry and uses the BlackBerry as a modem. There may well be something similar I could be doing with my Sprint phone without needing the aircard. Again, I think I may be ignorant of all the possibilities.

Yours in ignorance!


  1. Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries in South America. The weather, the colonial cities and the people are just fantastic. Nothing compares to the landscapes of the Highlands, the lush of the Amazon Jungle Forest, the exotic Beaches of the Coast and the mystery of the Galapagos Islands.

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