ITPF 2012 Posting Series, Part 4: Thoughts on Richard Wolf’s Presentation, Dude, Where’s My Lab?…Five+ Things That Are Going to Happen

If anyone was taking notes at ITPF 2012 like me, they would have noticed one buzzword quietly appearing in many presentations: mobile technology. There is no need though to point this out to Richard Wolf of the Academic Computing and Communications Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Wolf made it clear that he had no prophecies to give. He just had facts and those pointed to the rise of mobile technology. The importance of this event in the history of information technology is comparative to the development of the personal computer and the Internet according to Wolf. With a flurry of reputable blogs and news stories as references, Wolf gave the impression that we are at the start of something that will forever affect how humans operate and the University of Illinois needs to react to it immediately.

Some of Wolf’s five plus things that are going to happen may be better put as things that are happening right now in terms of talking about mobile devices specifically. Mobile technology is overtaking traditional technology in terms of hardware power and in number of devices out there. Naturally, these two facts cause students to bring more mobile technology to campus with them than traditional technology. Wolf calls this practice BYOD or “bring  your own device.” I personally have followed BYOD since I started undergrad. I currently have a Macbook and an iPhone. I’ll probably get an iPad soon because my Mac is getting too old to carry around without having its cord and an iPad would get all my immediate personal mobile needs done that I usually do on the go with my Mac. Importantly, too, an iPad is lighter and those who don’t use a car to get to campus can appreciate that a lot. I’m not the only one with real life scenarios to prove Wolf correct. During LEEP week of Fall 2012, the time of the GSLIS semester when the school is saturated with both on and off campus students, the most significant tech problem was not overcrowded computer labs. In fact, the labs looked no different than other times of the semester. No one, however, could access the Wifi because too many mobile devices, laptops, and tablets were using it. Professors and students often left GSLIS property just to use campus Wifi somewhere else that was close because that service mattered most to them. This one problem even took precedence over printing problems because so most students and professors just e-mail each other and use Moodle instead. Most students probably wouldn’t mind some desktop computers disappearing and routers to take their place after that LEEP week fiasco. I don’t know if some would even notice. Mobile technology is that important.

The scariest points that Wolf made are how unprepared as a university we are to handle the inevitable security and application deficiencies of mobile technology. Curiously, we have not done more for such an obvious security and service gap especially because I can’t help but wonder if Wolf was just being kind to the audience by saying that this stuff will actually matter in five years. His evidence points to the immediate importance of mobile technology. It seems more like we need to get on this yesterday. Wolf may have been wise though to be kind. Andrea S. Ballingers’s opening address at the beginning of ITPF 2012 mentioned that universities are slow to change compared to the private sector. Changing that would be difficult to do and it would require an extraordinary amount of motivation to do it. Are these advancements in information technology enough motivation for such a change? I honestly do not have an answer at this time. It would be nice though if it was.

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