Students who need knowledge access most use smartphones


Posted on 12th July 2011 by Judy Breck in Equality | Mobiles | Next

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“A third of all American adults own a smartphone and for many minority and low income users, those mobile devices have replaced computers for Internet access.” So beings an article in today’s Washington Post. As usual, education is overlooked in the discussion — yet from the facts in the article the implications for engaging students in knowledge rattle the foundation of education as we know it. And that is a beautiful thing.

Those groups who are most under-served by schools today are carrying the world’s knowledge in their pocket — accessible there through their smartphone’s web browser. Minority and low income kids have not been lavished at home with cool PCs (in the olden days of the 1990s) and laptops (more recently). Their internet access has too often been in dysfunctional school computer labs where their online time has been limited or nonexistent — and controlled by curriculum and filters.

The Washington Post article explains:

Of those who solely rely on smartphones to surf the Web, most are minorities, younger than 30 and have low incomes. They’ve found mobile devices as a suitable replacement for buying expensive computers and paying DSL or cable modem bills every month. . . . Cable and DSL remain faster, but that difference may not be big enough to justify their high costs for some consumers.

The implications here are global, and the trends are breathtaking serendipity. Here are the big steps as they have happened:
The internet began.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web (the web) in which anything can be connected to anything.
Experts have been pouring everything known into the web for nearly 20 years.
Cellphones have morphed into smartphones.
Smartphones have web browsers — so everything known can be looked at by their owners.
The smartphones are proving the cheaper, and thus preferred web access.
Minority, low income, and young users are carrying smartphones.
And, best of all, knowledge delivered through those smartphones is post racial!

“Academically Adrift” book reveals college realities


Posted on 18th January 2011 by Judy Breck in Findability | Mobiles | Schools we now have

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Appalling academic inadequacies revealed in the new book Academically Adrift are buzzing across the education world and into pubic awareness. From today’s headlines:

USA Today: “Report: First two years of college show small gains”

Chronicle of Higher Education: “New Book Lays Failure to Learn on Colleges’ Doorsteps”

At, even though only the hardcover (for $66) is offered, Academically Adrift, released three days ago, is already selling in the site’s top 5,000 books. The publisher, Chicago University Press also offers a $25 paperback.

Why the big interest? The pie chart from the book (and USA Today) breaks down how students spend their time. The USA Today story begins with this summary of the results of what kids are actually accomplishing academically on campus:

Nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don’t make academics a priority, a new report shows.

Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives, according to the report, based on a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Findings are based on transcripts and surveys of more than 3,000 full-time traditional-age students on 29 campuses nationwide, along with their results on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that gauges students’ critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing skills.

How long could it be before colleges could address this situation and truly change it? Who knows? And can we really expect education as served up at colleges to get better?

Yet an individual student’s mobile web browser — smartphone, iPad, laptop — offers immediate access to anything he or she would want to learn. Shall we fix the colleges? Sure — but what about the current generation of students?

While the colleges are figuring out 21st century education, current students can go ahead and learn using the new great source of knowledge that they already have in their hands.

And if you are thinking: Gosh, will the kids really do that? My answer is individually many, many of them will. Handschooling is the great future port for academic knowledge, and it is reachable now for today’s students who want to go there. We can be certain students will stay academically adrift if we perpetuate the myth that the way colleges are doing academics now will somehow deliver to them the knowledge they want to learn.

UPDATE: I posted the above text at 10AM. By 5PM, as I add this update, Academically Adrift is #34 on the Amazon list of best-selling books. Amazon is now selling the paperback version for $18.

Another round-up smartphone article that does not mention education


Posted on 14th May 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobiles | Schools we now have

The New York Times today has an article titled “Cellphones Now Used More for Data Than for Calls.” It ledes with:

She taps out her grocery lists, records voice memos, listens to music at the gym, tracks her caloric intake and posts frequent updates to her Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The one thing she doesn’t use her cellphone for? Making calls.

“I probably only talk to someone verbally on it once a week,” said Mrs. Colburn, a 40-year-old marketing consultant in Canton, Mass., who has an iPhone.

For many Americans, cellphones have become irreplaceable tools to manage their lives and stay connected to the outside world, their families and networks of friends online. But increasingly, by several measures, that does not mean talking on them very much.

The article continues to describe many ways iPhones, BlackBerrys and other smartphones are used by adults. Kids are mentioned for sending lots of text messages.

So what has education done to use this now pervasive adult tool? Essentially: nada, almost zero.

Education’s turned back to these devices is particularly absurd when using them would save billions of dollars in textbooks and other learning tools like binders, paper, and pencils. There are potential educational applications for each of the adult activities described in the Times article.

Thirty years ago, when Mrs. Colburn was in school, something similar happened. The desktop computer was moving into offices. Almost always, each individual office worker was provided with his/her computer — the machines were not shared. The young Ms. Colburn, though, would not have her own computer. Schools were slow to get computers and almost always locked them away in “labs” — making students share them for brief times during a school day.

Today there are a few enlightened classrooms where students use their smartphones for educational purposes. The rest of education echoes my own school days in the 1940s and 50s, when we thought a ditto machine was modern, and a public address system cutting edge.

Education’s resistance to change is inexcusable.

The science student and the smartphone


Posted on 28th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Mobiles

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Will disruption bar smartphones from classrooms and school laboratories, or will the devices’ value for research make them indispensable for education? In real science labs, the same question is arising, as described in the new issue of Nature|Methods in an article titled “The scientist and the smartphone”:

. . . The computer became an indispensable tool in the laboratory while the phone developed into a mobile device that has disrupted countless lectures at scientific conferences. But recently researchers can be seen talking on their computer and using their cell phone for running fancy—and sometimes powerful—software programs.

This metamorphosis of the cell phone into a mobile computing platform with voice capabilities is epitomized by the iPhone—one of a new breed of smartphone that is not only popular among the general public but seemingly ubiquitous among scientists. . . .

If the smartphone becomes a primary tool for a research scientist, it follows that students should apprentice the use of mobiles.