For some weeks now I have been playing with Nokia N93.
For people asking what is that (it is a pretty funky looking piece), I keep on telling that it is a DVD-quality video camera with 3.2 mega-pixels, Carl Zeiss optics, and 3x optical zoom. In addition to the video camera there is WLAN, bluetooth and several other networks, and ahh.. yes you can make phone calls with it, too.
There are a plenty of free software for these. Some of them are potentially interesting from educational, teaching and learning perspectives. For instance:
Free phone calls are coming. I just downloaded and installed Fring. It’s a software for using Skype, Google Talk and MSN messenger from your phone. Now I can make Skype calls, also Skype out calls and use the chat from the mobile phone very much the same way as with the Skype software running on my laptop. The technical implementation of the Fring is actually pretty interesting hack / mashup.
So, basically I am no more paying anything when calling from my mobile phone(* to people with Skype on their computers, or when calling for those friends who also have Fring on their mobile devices. Naturally, to use the Fring I must be in a reach of WiFi – free Wifi, even better. I have (free) Wifi access at home, in my office, in the library, in my friends’ homes and in my favourit corner bar. The network of FON-hotspots is growing fast. This means that 90% of the time I can make free phone calls with Fring to Skype or very low-cost Fring /Skype out calls to ordinary phones, right from my mobile phone. If there isn’t free WiFi around I can use the 3G network to do the Fring/Skype or Fring/Skype out calls. This still becomes much cheaper than making “an ordinary phone call”.
What this could mean for teaching and learning? One idea: Like Skype, also Fring is telling the availability of the people in the contact list. The list tells if the person is willing to take calls at that moment. This would make it possible to build a social networks that could “empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them” (Ivan Illich 1971 Deschooling Society).
In the mobile deschooled society (or company) you could just add in your Skype profile on what topics you consider yourself to be knowledgeable or skillful enough to teach and give advice about for other people. Then when taking a train or bus (with Wifi) from your office back to home you could set in your Fring/Skype that people may now call you and ask about the topics. After the first contact is made between the “teacher” and the “student” they could agree on how to organize the further teaching, learning and tutoring if needed. They could also agree if there will be some exchange of services or money involved. In the case of companies, those who are helping their colleagues should be rewarded.
Of course we could do the same with a website / intranet, but the benefit of doing this with mobile phones is the fact that mobile phones are always with us. Majority of people do not spend most of their time on front of computers, but majority of people (in developed world) have always their mobile phones in their pocket. Free or very low-cost phone calls would lower the threshold of using the system: if the person you are calling to is not a good “teacher” or you do not get along, you just say thank you, hang-up and call next in the list.
Disclaimer 1: No, I do not think that this kind of system could replace schools, colleagues, universities or even company training programs. No, I am not that naive. What I believe is that this kind of network – whatever build in a national level or in a company level – could empower people/employees to be more innovative, smarter and perform better. I rather think this in the long tradition of “vapaa sivistystyö”, which (badly) translates to something like “libre adult education”.
Disclaimer 2: I got the N93 from Nokia related to research I am doing for them. Nobody asked me to write anything about it, but you know …
*) In Nokia they don’t want to call the N-series phones anymore “phones” but multimedia computers. Because the term “multimedia computer” reminds me of the 1980’s PCs with sound card I rather keep on calling them “mobile phones” or “mobile devices”. The N-serie devices actually are much more than “multimedia computers”. I also wonder who really wants to have or use a “computer” these days? Aren’t they difficult to use and crashing all the time?