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Going Mobile

Mobile Technologies and Mobile Learning

Could they be the hope and future of education in America?
Small screens and small keyboards don't seem to slow down the youth of today as they write school reports on their smartphones.

Stop talking about the past! There were 18,628 words in the 12 articles in The New York Times Magazine's 2010 education issue. Of the 12 articles, only one 465- word sidebar used the words "mobile phone," "cell phone" or "smartphone"—13 times. If we were reading the technology section or the business section, those words would be too numerous to count. While we appreciate being told about how education has been, we would have expected The New York Times Magazine to tell us how education is going to be. Disturbingly, it appears as though the magazine is saying it's going to be more of the same. The "Drill, Baby, Drill" article by Virginia Heffernan is particularly antiquated—and scurrilous. Of course, memorization of basic facts is necessary. No one seriously argues against banning memorization, so why waste 5 percent of the words reminding the reader about the obvious? Even worse, the article preys upon parents' deepest and scariest fears that when students use technology they aren't really learning, they're just playing. Indeed, the parents reading The New York Times are doing fine, and they lived through boring drill-andkill exercises.

As John Dewey said, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." For children today, life outside of school, according to the Pew and Kaiser Family reports, is spent using mobile technologies essentially 100 percent of the time. But in America's classrooms, we ban those mobile technologies in favor of using 18th-century pencil and paper, boring the kids to sleep and to dropping out, as we pretentiously claim we are teaching 21st-century skills such as self-directed learning, teamwork and problem solving. One can't teach 21st-century skills using 18thcentury tools. You can ask any 21st-cenury knowledge worker, "Which is mightier, your pen or your Blackberry?" (See The New York Times article "Digital Diplomacy" by Jesse Lichtenstein from July 16, 2010.)

Thank goodness there are people like Kyle Menchoffer from St. Mary's, Ohio; Sue Tomko from Garnersville, N.Y.; Mike Citta from Toms River, N.J.; and Lenny Schad from Katy, Texas. These educators watched their kids and realized that having them use their tools inside of school is a better idea than banning them. Consistent with the findings from Project RED, a national survey focusing on the classroom impact of one-to-one technology—one computer per child—those districts where students are using school-provided smartphones plus appropriate educational software and professional development for their teachers are reporting increases in state test scores upwards of 30 percent! Citta observes, "All 150 fifth grade students using their smartphones did every lick of homework on time."

This is America; this is the land of opportunity. But if the past, dutifully recorded by The New York Times Magazine of September 19, 2010, is a predictor of the future, then America's schools—like Detroit's, with its dropout rate approaching 80 percent— will continue to hemorrhage vast numbers of children—our children.

There is hope, and most amazingly, it comes from what our children are doing now: going mobile. We in America must trust our children, our mobile generation. We must "mobilize" our schools and encourage the use inside of school of what the students are using outside of school. Even if The New York Times Magazine can't see it, mobile is most certainly the hope and future of education in America.

Cathleen Norris is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas and co-founder and chief education architect at GoKnow Learning in Ann Arbor, Mich. Elliot Soloway is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and co-founder of GoKnow. In the next installment of this guide, they will address the cost and pedagogical issues that enable essential one-to-one computing.