The Future is Mobile
This is being born out by a number of factors world wide. Firstly, many countries, particularly in the developing world but also in the developed world, are creating wireless networks in preference to wired environments. For example, in Hong Kong, there are over 300 wireless hot spots around the city (Starbucks, MacDonalds, Pacific Coffee) that are now free for use for any member of the eight institutions of higher education in Hong Kong. Students sitting down to socialise can now log into their university - as if they were on the campus itself (A virtual private network or VPN). This is more than just surfing the web. This means the students now have access to the resources provided by the Library, electronic journals and books that are normally unavailable when off-campus.
The range of devices that can now be used to take advantage of this access has also increased. For example, notebook sales at my institution among students far outweigh desktop sales, a fact driving the sales of computers world wide (http://www.arnnet.com.au/index.php/id;1027731535;fp;4194304;fpid;1). However, any wireless enabled device can be used to connect to the internet, including the new batch of smart phones (Gartner defines the devices as "A large-screen, data-centric, handheld device designed to offer complete phone functions whilst simultaneously functioning as a personal digital assistant (PDA)." see http://networks.silicon.com/mobile/0,39024665,39156391,00.htm).
Now all of this technology is one thing: using it effectively for teaching and learning is another. One recent project (http://www.cite.hku.hk/people/dkennedy/mToken/) seeks to link a learning management system with any type of mobile device, notebooks, smart phones and wireless-enabled PDAs. Research is currently being undertaken to look at the use of smart phones and PDAs to improve communication, reflective thinking and data collection in field studies involving final year high school students. Watch this space!