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Going Mobile

When the Baby-Boomers Meet the Mobile Generation

A great cultural transformation in K12 learning must take place.

Everything was hunky-dory. Baby-boomer-age teachers prepared baby-boomer children to take on baby-boomer- age jobs. But things have changed. In the 1990s, the baby-boomer jobs started drying up, and the baby-boomer kids became the digital generation, playing video games and listening to illicit MP3s. And now? Well, it's not hunky-dory at all. Baby-boomer teachers are preparing the mobile generation. Stationary technology has been replaced by handheld, portable technology, which students are using to take baby-boomer-developed standardized tests that do not prepare them for jobs in the 21st century global marketplace. Talk about disconnects.

How the Mobile Generation Acts

Who are the children of this mobile generation? The following statements are from college students in our classes:

  • "I feel naked when I am not connected to the net 24/7."
  • "It has become a routine that I check my e-mail on my smartphone the moment I wake up and before I do anything else in the morning, even the necessities—bathroom, shower, breakfast, etc."
  • "When I wake up, the first thing I do is use my Droid to check my e-mail, the weather and Facebook. Then I brush my teeth."
  • "The last time I used a pencil or pen was two weeks ago—or more."
  • "I haven't watched the news on TV in years. Most of the news I get is from reading news feeds on my phone while waiting at a bus stop or a fast food place. It's truly astonishing to me that newspapers still exist."

Educating the Mobile Generation

So this leads us to ask: how does the mobile generation learn?

  • "This is the biggest learning disconnect between the old age and the new age. In the old age classroom, if someone asked you a question and you didn't know the answer, you failed. In the new age classroom, it should be the case that if someone asks you a question, you should get five minutes to access whatever sources you use in your daily life to answer that question, because that's how we will handle questions and problems in our real daily lives, not in isolation, but in extreme interconnection."
  • "The first place I look for the answer to any question or curiosity is the Internet. Humans are a secondary resource, and books are an absolute last resort. Asking millions of people is better than asking one." It would be too facile to dismiss the above by saying that the sample size is too small or college students aren't K12 students. Indeed, the germs of truth in the above cry out for attention. This is not a time to play ostrich.

Transformation Not Optional

To accommodate the mobile generation and prepare it for 21st-century global citizenship, a cultural transformation must take place in K12.

First, the methods by which the mobile generation learns outside the classroom must be adopted inside the classroom. Thus, 24/7 use of one-to-one, handheld, portable technology must be allowed.

Second, curriculum and pedagogy need to change; we need to move from an "I teach" to a "we learn" culture. Learning occurs in the conversation as students and their teachers engage in the process of discovery and understanding. Call it active learning or inquiry learning, call it problem-based learning or project-based learning, but learning needs to accomplish something; it needs to build to a concrete, tangible end.

Third, superintendents and principals must step up to the plate and make these changes required, and they must find ways to pay for this great cultural transformation.

What's the alternative? More of the same. And this is increasingly unacceptable. Ostriches will find that their toes will be crushed in the stampede from their own schools.

Cathleen Norris is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas and a past ISTE President. Elliot Soloway is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and Chair of ISTE's Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning (SIGML). For the past 10 years, Cathie and Elliot have been circumnavigating the globe, advocating for the use of mobile technologies in classrooms.