Being Mobile | Blog

'Life IS Good' When Robbie Melton's Around!

The Dynamic Duo (C & E) were in Paris for UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week (Feb 17-21, 2014). MLW brings together folks from all over the world, with a focus on developing nations that want to use mobile technologies to transform their educational systems.  We were presenting a tutorial about our suite (WeCollabrify) of collabrified educational productivity apps for iOS and Android (e.g., WeMap, WeKWL, WeCollabrify).

While our tutorial started at 9:30 a.m., the Nervous One (E – surprise, surprise), had gotten the Duo there at  8 a.m., jetlagged to the gills, only to find a dozen other tutorial givers waiting at security – waiting OUTSIDE in the cold (3 C) Parisian winter air. Security won’t let anyone in without a UNESCO badge, and the conference representative with the UNESCO badges hadn’t arrived – and he/she/they didn’t arrive until 9 a.m., by which time we are all blue from the cold and thoroughly aggravated.  The Nervous-now-Sheepish One apologized to the Patient One (C) for getting us there so early – for no reason. Then, we all make a mad dash to our designated rooms to set up.

In our tutorial room there was a 1970s style computer projector – you remember, the projector that is the size of a mini-van and cooled by fan driven by a small jet-engine. OH BOY. Plugged into the ancient projector is an equally ancient laptop running Windows XP. The Spoiled One (E – again, no surprise) refuses to use the provided laptop and proceeds to plug his svelte ultrabook into a powerstrip (of course E has a plug converter for the French outlet). The svelte laptop immediately overloaded the room’s ancient circuits and kicked off the circuit breaker killing the power to the tank-sized projector. At least it was now quiet enough to hear C asking E – “Now what, Mr. Smarty Pants?”

Enter, stage left: Dr. Robbie Melton. Among the attendees was Dr. Robbie Melton and her daughter, Dr. Nicole M. Kendall, who were giving an afternoon tutorial themselves.  Robbie is the associate vice chancellor for eLearning at the Tennessee Board of Regents – but Robbie is really the Mobile Gadget Maven Extraordinaire. See, Robbie’s job is to test out mobile technologies – from smartphones and tablets to accessories and peripherals, from software to curriculum – to see if those technologies are educationally effective. Robbie has a seasoned cadre of educators to whom she sends the new gadgets for classroom testing. Robbie and her colleagues post their findings on a really amazing site.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

How are we going to do a tutorial without a computer projector?! Robbie, in the corner, smiled broadly. The petite-frame Ms. Melton dipped her arm into a bag sitting on the floor next to her that would have been daunting even for a robust Santa to carry around, and pulled out a battery-powered projector and offered it to me! “Life is good!” said Ms. Melton. As it turned out, the UNESCO engineers managed to restore power to the room and the tank-sized projector sprung to life with a ROARRRRRRR!  But thank you, Robbie, for a Plan B! 

Now, while the instructions for the tutorial urged attendees to bring a mobile device, over half were mobile device-less. After loaning out all the devices we had brought, Robbie volunteered: “if you need a few more, I have a few spares in my bag.” Again, dipping in her bag, Robbie pulled out iPad after iPad and every attendee was able to use his/her own device during the tutorial. “Life is Good!” Said Robbie.

One of the attendees came up to me 10 minutes in the presentation and said her iPad had run down and asked if I had a charger she could borrow. Fearful of yet again kicking off the room’s circuit breaker, I was loathe to plug a charger into a power strip.

Guess what happened?

Robbie dipped into her bag and this time pulled out a battery-powered iPad charger! Life is Good! said Robbie as she loaned out yet another piece of gear.

But the best is yet to come!

So, E was trying to show attendees the screen from his Android tablet. The document camera mounted on a convenient stand, attached via USB to E’s laptop, had always projected the Android screen acceptably well before. But, any reader who has ever demoed technology knows what we are about to say: for some reason, today, the document camera didn’t work! ARGH!

And, for the fourth time in our tutorial, Dr. Melton dipped her arm into her bag and this time pulled out a Samsung WI-FI All-Share Cast Wireless Hub! Plug the Android device into the hub and it transmits, wirelessly to the projector. “Life is INDEED Gooooooood” crowed Elliot!

While you might not be able to benefit directly from Robbie’s Magical Gadget Bag, go to her site.  Check out the APPology – a list of where to get apps. Check out MOBILE DEVICE/Products; see a comparison list of tablets. Check out Emerging Tech and read about educational games. Be prepared, in fact, to spend a good hour on the site familiarizing yourself with what’s on offer.

Robbie has saved Tennessee schools literally millions of dollars through her review efforts. Robbie is not beholding to any manufacturer; she and her people call it like they see it! This works – that doesn’t work so save your money!

Thank you Robbie for your wonderful site – and that Magical Gadget Bag! No truer words have been spoken: Life is good when Robbie Melton is around!

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at