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TV Kids -> Digital Kids -> Mobile Kids

September 27, 2009

Jim Henson's Muppets introduced the world to educational television almost two generations ago on November 10,1969.  Up until then television as an education tool in the US was considered unproven.  Sesame Street came up with a winning approach, combining both education and entertainment.  As author Malcolm Gladwell has stated, "Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them". 

Today, Sesame Street is the longest running children's program on television having been  televised in more than 120 countries and receiving more Emmy Awards than any other television series, 118 to be exact.  A staggering 77 million Americans watched the series as children.

The secret to Sesame Street, "the single, breakthrough insight", that by holding the attention of children in some creative way, enables education to happen became the foundation for the transformation from TV Kids to Digital Kids in the 90's as Bill Gate's vision of a computer on every desktop began to take hold.  And as was the case with TV as an educational tool very few imagined that the PC had any connection to children. Pioneers like Seymour Papert envisioned children using computers as tools for learning. In 2005, Papert, together with Nicholas Negroponte and Alan Kay launched the One Laptop Per Child, an initiative to provide $100 laptops to every child in the developing world.

Today our kids may be on the cusp of another transformation from Digital Kids to Mobile Kids.  As the University of Michigan's Elliot Soloway puts it, "The kids these days are not digital kids. The digital kids were in the '90s. The kids today are mobile, and there's a difference. Digital is the old way of thinking, mobile is the new way." 

On Duke University's Center for Instructional Technology web site a section on Mobile Devices in Education states that "mobile devices offer an opportunity to further educational goals by leveraging and building upon the functions of technologies already adopted by and considered indispensable to a majority of students."

The site lists the following "blue-sky" (where have I heard that before) examples of mobile technologies and how they are used as tools in education.

  • One-way text messaging for announcements and updates like ClearTXT.
  • Interactive two-way messaging to check availability of school resources like NC State Universitys MobiLib.  Also to search campus directory, check transit system schedules, or use Google's SMS service to search the internet from your phone.
  • Flexible mobile content delivery like Guide by Cell which produces auior tours of libraries museums and outsoor spaces, access lessons, test prep or just-in-time look up information.
  • Practice exercises for study and review using iQuiz or Study Cell which enables teachers and students to create flash cards online and then download to their phones.
  • Mobile creation and publishing of media like Gabcast which is an podcasting and audio blogging platforms accessible through mobile phones.
  • Context-aware computing like Mediascapes from Hewlett Packard Labs which enables users to author and play multimedia content (image, audio, or video) on a mobile device based on context triggers like location triggers in GPS enabled devices.
  • Social-networked mobile learning tools are a fast growing area with sites enabling mobile device access like Facebook for study groups. Coursefeed has an application that brings brings Blackboard's functionality to Facebook accounts.  Go here for a list of the "Top 50 Web 2.0 Tools for Info Junkies, Researchers & Students".  
  • Gaming and simulations engage users in games that combine real world experiences with additional information supplied to them by mobile devices. The MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program has been creating "Augmented Reality" (AR) simulations. From the site "AR simulations embed participants inside lifelike situations and help them understand the complex scientific and social dynamics underlying authentic problems in a variety of subject areas including the sciences (e.g., ecology, environmental science, geological sciences, forensics, and health sciences) as well as more diverse content areas including history, economics, local sociology, math and language arts.
  • Use of mobile/hand-held devices in the classroom to facilitate classroom class polling and quizzing and in general group collaboration around a concept


In the January 2009 report "Pockets of Potential - Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children's Learning " by Carly Shuler for The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Works the author writes "Just as Sesame Street helped transform television into a revolutionary tool for learning among young children four decades ago, advances in mobile technologies are showing enormous untapped educational potential for today's generation." 

Despite the legitimate public concern about the "disruptive track record" of mobile devices in schools the report argues that there is emerging data that gives reason to be excited about its potential.  As Mrs. Cooney recently noted, "Now is the time to turn the new media that children have a natural attraction to into learning tools that will build their knowledge and broaden their perspectives." Unless we do, the gulf between what children do informally and in school will widen, diminishing the educational opportunities all of our children need and deserve."

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