Will Mobile Devices Solve the Digital Divide?

” Learning in the 21st Century, Taking it Mobile

A report on a conference and resources for teaching and learning

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

The title of the conference was “Mobile Learning for the 21st Century”. We know that the policy, process and technology infrastructures that are adopted over the next few years will shape education for decades. We also know that the lack of broadband is a problem in many places in the US. We have been talking about 21st Century adaptations and transformation for many years. It is still a goal. There is a dark side of the digital divide without broadband. Everyone assumes that people can access high powered sites. The FCC is busy working to create broadband for all but the realization of this will probably be a long time in coming. The sad part of this is the lack of classroom access in some parts of the US. We are told the new E-rate will help to solve this, but it is a BIG problem. The media has not much interest in this topic so it was exciting to be there with educators, vendors, people from the Department of Education, professors, reporters and futurists all talking about mobile devices. Some of the people who were there were Chris Dede, of Harvard University, Elliot Soloway of Michigan University, Julius Genachowski of the FCC, John Harris of Politico, Dr. Paul E. Jacobs of Qualcomm and Julie Evans of Project Tomorrow to name a few of special people there.

Other interesting people to note who were there were Bernie Dodge, Steve Midgely, and Danny Edelson (of the National Geographic). Lots of people involved in technology were there the people who create conferences and who take the ideas to the educational community. They were out in full force. I call them the digerati. Some of us have been around in technology education for a long time. There were interesting networking opportunities and breaks that were scheduled to facilitate this networking.

*An International Research Report that was made available was “Energy Efficient Displays for Mobile Devices,” and there was a display and use of mobile devices as a part of the conference.

You may be interested in the questions that were given to the participants.

What do mobile wireless devices contribute as a platform for bringing education innovation and best practices to scale?

What do mobile wireless devices contribute as an enabler of innovative powerful methods for teaching and learning?

How can we complement the current educational infrastructure( computers, wires) with the emerging wireless mobiles, cloud based infrastructure? What are key challenges in financing, implementation and policy?

How can we plan to accommodate the rapid evolution of mobile devices?

How would you answer these questions?

One way the conference answered the questions was to have field trips to various local classrooms to share real use of the mobile technologies.

Another way was to share use of mobile technologies by having us to use our technologies to respond to queries. The phones and devices were a part of the bring your own technology demonstration.

There were also case studies of the uses of mobile devices in schools, and communities with people reporting out in various planned workshops.

An exciting part of the cconference was a line up of presenters to answer to the audience all sorts of questions., and there was on site interview with us as the audience as silent participants.

My question to educators would have been how do you understand the cloud? What are its advantages or disadvantages? What do you know about the cloud?

Moblie Device at Blue Waters Kiosk at NSF Expo Exhibit

Mobile Devices capture the attention of students..



There were reports that were the background for this conference. Project Tomorrow, 2010 and Our Future, Students Speak Up about Their Vision for 21st Century Learning http://www.tomorrow.org/


The Internet is an astonishing source of educational resources: Lesson plans, classroom-product reviews, and even psychological support for those dark days when your students (or your coworkers) are straining your mental balance are only a Google search away. The trick, however, is getting that pipeline of online information flowing throughout your school, including directly into classroom PCs. Computers are often centralized in a media center, building codes can be prohibitive for setting up a broadband feed, and most schools are short-changed when it comes necessary tech support.

Here is a recipe for wireless access for those on the digital dirt road or for the understanding of those who did not get to attend the conference from the George Lucas Educational Foundation that is a how to.

Welcome to the Digital Generation


What Devices?

There are a lot of devices that can be included in this discussion. The ones I know are,mobile and associated technologies, smart phones, IPod, IPhones, Netbooks, digital clickers, chargers and battery packs ,mobile interactive whiteboards.

Wireless to the Rescue


Taking it Mobile

Access to smartphones has more than tripled among high school students since 2006, according to a survey report from Project Tomorrow®, a national education nonprofit organization, and Blackboard Inc.

The report ,Learning in the 21st Century: Taking it Mobile!

shows that students now view the inability to use their own devices in school, such as cell phones, smartphones, MP3 players, laptops or net books, as the primary barrier to a successful digital education. The various reports can be found here.

Can we Change the Digital Divide with Mobile Devices?

The FCC Chairman indicated in his discussions early in the year that Digital Tools may be the solution to the digital divide

Mobile Divide…. What Can we Learn about Making a Difference with Mobile Technology?

Philosophy of the Mobile Divide In the US

Mobile Digital Divide– According to a new study on U.S. consumers and mobile from the Pew Research Center, an unprecedented 60% of adults in the U.S. access go online wirelessly, whether by laptop or cell phone. Two factors are driving this trend, and shaking up any preconceived notions about America’s digital divide.

Finding #1:“Cell phone ownership is higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among whites (87% vs. 80%) and minority cell phone owners take advantage of a much greater range of their phones’ features compared with white mobile phone users. In total, 64% of African-Americans access the internet from a laptop or mobile phone, a seven-point increase from the 57% who did so at a similar point in 2009.”

Finding #2: “Young adults (those ages 18-29) are also avid users of mobile data applications, but older adults are gaining fast. Compared with 2009, cell phone owners ages 30-49 are significantly more likely to use their mobile device to send text messages, access the internet, take pictures, record videos, use email or instant messaging, and play music.”

What’s driving more blacks and Hispanics, and older adults, to mobile?

According to Pew spokesman Aaron W. Smith, increased mobile web usage is driven by two key factors: age and economics. A younger demo with an annual income of $30,000 or less a year has jumped in usage, and African-Americans and Hispanics are younger and have less money than the general white population.

Mobile is thus bridging the digital gap between the traditional distinction of haves and have-nots, and while it’s a positive trend, it’s still a gap between those with cellphone-only access and those with computers as well.

About 18% of African-Americans use a cellphone as their sole device for Internet access compared to about 10% of whites. That said, laptop ownership has risen from 34% in 2009 to a current 51% among African-Americans.

Overall, 59% of Americans now access the Internet through mobile devices as opposed to 51% a year ago. So mobile may prove to be the ultimate equalizer, at least on the digital playing field.

Other interesting facts from the study reveal that Americans are using their mobile devices to (as ranked by Pew’s latest stats vs. April 2009)

The most interesting discussions were about the way in which wireless can be deployed. Bring your own wireless, netbooks using the cloud, and a variety of ways to solve the digital divide were proposed.

The highlight of the conference was the presentation by Elliot Soloway, and the genius of Chris Dede in providing a userfriendly, well timed, resource rich conference that allowed real networking time.

Elliot Soloway
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Dept. of EECS, College of Engineering
University of Michigan

Elliot SolowayElliot Soloway 

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Dept of CSE, College of Engineering, School of Education and School of Information, University of Michigan. For the past 10 years, Soloway’s research has been guided by the vision that mobile, handheld – and very low-cost – networked devices are the only way to truly achieve universal 1:1 in schools – all across the globe.

Soloway has been crusading for Mobile Learning since the early Palm Pilot days. They have been exploring ways to use such personal technology to transform – not merely to enhance or enrich – teaching and learning. Finally, with the coming of the cell phone, low cost, easy to use, truly personal, i.e., truly portable, not just transportable, computing devices their vision is realizable in schools – worldwide! In various sessions, Norris and Solowayl described how classrooms all over the globe that are employing mobile technologies to dramatically improve student performance. Twitter: @cathieANDelliot