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Going Mobile

America’s School Children Need to Practice Democracy and Freedom 24/7

And it requires a cellular internet connection.

It’s about democracy and freedom. Freedom for EVERY individual to have a chance to realize his or her dreams and aspirations, is what America was built on. And school is one place—home is another—where we learn how to practice freedom and democracy. Yes, we learn stuff there too; the War of 1812 occurred in 1812. However, that sort of stuff is static. And, democracy and freedom are anything but. Just as doctors practice medicine, individuals in a democratic country need to practice democracy and freedom 24/7; they need to practice realizing their dreams and aspirations 24/7.

Listening to and watching others are critically important skills in the practice of freedom and democracy. As is learning a shared, common core of information upon which individuals can build, differentiate, and individualize themselves in practicing freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, listening, watching, and memorizing are the primary activities in classes in many schools.

Creating, discussing, and collaborating are also critically important skills in the practice of freedom and democracy—in realizing one’s dreams and aspirations. But in many schools, those skills take a back seat to listening, watching, and memorizing. The notion of “flipping the classroom” is being debated. If we truly want to flip our classrooms, then we need to flip what is primary with what is secondary; listening, watching and memorizing should be flipped with creating, discussing, and collaborating.

To be able to create, discuss, and collaborate 24/7, we need cellular connectivity. By definition, Wi-Fi is local; it is available in spots. But, cellular connectivity, provided by large corporations, virtually blankets the nation and world.

Finally, for the first time in history, every individual can literally access the store of the world’s knowledge that includes access to individuals, to places, to events, to organizations, to you-name-it! That access affords everyone an unprecedented, astonishing opportunity to help them realize their dreams and their aspirations.

But if the device in your palm is not connected to the internet, you can say goodbye to that astonishing opportunity. And, the only way to guarantee everywhere connectivity is through a cellular connection, because Wi-Fi is not ubiquitous and isn’t going to be.

And if you think it doesn’t matter that “kids” aren’t connected 24/7—after all, they are just kids—you are WRONG.

The $100 computing devices now coming available to school children need to be powered by cellular connections. But the cost of such 24/7 connectivity is astronomical by K12 standards. St. Marys district in Ohio, a typical district in America, is paying $29 per month per device for 440 smartphones for all third, fourth, and fifth graders. But, relatively speaking, that’s a good price!!

Thank goodness for eRate; the government program enables the St. Marys schools only to pay 40 percent of the connectivity cost. But, the FCC’s rules are archaic and dictate that eRate-provided internet connectivity must be used “on campus.” So, while the FCC has said it would change its rules, right now the kids in St. Marys can’t take the phones home after school and use them all the time as an everywhere cellular connection!!!

We have predicted that every child in the U.S. will be using a mobile computing device, 24/7, for curricular purposes by 2015. We carefully have not said an internet-connected mobile computing device, since we weren’t sanguine that the connectivity issues would be resolved by 2015. If we want to practice creating, discussing, collaborating, (and listening, watching, and memorizing too), if we want our children to learn to practice freedom and democracy, then we absolutely must resolve the cellular connectivity issues—sooner rather than later.

Visit Cathleen and Elliot’s GoingMobile blog at

Cathleen Norris is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas and a past ISTE President. Elliott Soloway is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and Chair of ISTE’s Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning (SIGML).