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Communicating to Educators about the Benefits of Mobile Technologies: We Must Help Mobile Cross the Chasm!

  • It's got a 3.8 inch screen with 4 gazillion pixels! WOW!
  • Oh, but our Z6A chip... well, it blows the competition away!
  • Yeah, yeah, but our wireless services get 16 megabits down and 8 megabits up; incomparable!

That type of talk is sure to make a non-techie educator feel sleepy, feel intimidated, feel that technology has no place in his/her classroom.

Actually, we all know that, but yet, we persist. The above statements (which we tweaked to mask the company espousing them) appear on company Web sites trying to woo educators.

Geoffrey Moore [1], in a slim volume, "Crossing the Chasm [2]" that is the bible for high-tech marketing, says initially a new technology will appeal to early adopting visionaries who appreciate the technology per se. But in order for a technology to become a real hit--a financial success--it must cross the chasm and appeal to the masses, to just plain folks (JPFs). Now, while the early adopting visionaries love, love, love the technology itself, JPFs don't care about the technology per se; rather, they only really care about what the technology can do for them. (ES finds it hard to believe that there are JPFs who don't just love, love, love the technology; CN finds it hard to believe that ES finds it hard to believe that....)

What technology has crossed the chasm in education--and been accepted by mainstream JPTs--just plain teachers?

  • Electronic whiteboards (EWBs) and clickers?--Yes, but the former seem to have lost their luster lately. (say THAT fast 10 times!)
  • Mobile technologies and BYOD? Hmm. "BYOD" is a technology initiative, not a curricular initiative. BYOD is gaining attention--but it has not crossed the chasm and been accepted by JPTs--not yet at least. iPads? Hmm. Let's hear what our readers have to say: have iPads crossed the chasm? Are iPads accepted by JPTs? Cellphones [3]? Ditto.

Cost, which has been used as the reason not to adopt technology is increasingly become less of an issue. (For example, at the start of 2013-2014 school year, 7 inch Android tablets will be readily available at the gym-shoe price-level--about $100. But frankly, given the expense and proliferation of EWBs, it is disingenuous to use cost as a reason to not adopt technology--but let's not go there.)

If we really want technology--mobile technologies in particular--to cross the chasm, and be adopted by JPTs, we educational technologists need to finally stop pushing the technology per se. Rather, we need to explain what are the benefits of using the technologies--what is the result of using mobile technologies--what is the impact on the children of using mobile technologies?

How's this....

When each and every child has an Internet-connected, mobile device in the palm of their hand, 24/7, how a child can learn changes--and what a child can learn changes. First the how:

  • Each child now can take charge of and assume the responsibility for his/her own learning. For example, instead of having to wait to ask an adult (who probably won't know the answer), a child can now find answers themselves, immediately, on the Internet to their myriad questions.
  • Each child can now create artifacts of multiple modalities, dipping into the World Wide Scrapbox for elements,
  • Children can collaborate, talking together, working together, creating together. Learning is in the conversation; so in a conversation, when that inevitable (and desirable) dispute arises, each child, using the mobile device in the palm of their hand, can add facts/images/sounds to the conversation.
  • The pedagogical vision of John Dewey, that one learns by doing, is enactable by all teachers: "[teachers] give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking... learning naturally results." Because each child has a full complement of "tools" in their digital tool belt, all teachers, not just the artisan teachers, can enact a learn-by-doing pedagogy.

And what can a child learn that's so different and valuable? Through learn-by-doing, a child will move from knowing what to knowing how and knowing why. Yes, mobile devices make wonderful flash cards to support memorization of facts.

  • But, by interacting with dynamic media--in the palm of the child's hand--he/she can see how plants grow and, changing the parameters, come to understand why.
  • And in learning about plants, about electrons, about money, a child will learn how to learn
  • A mobile device has more functionality than a typical laptop; the accelerometer, the GPS, the various sensors

Do teachers, administrators, and parents want THAT for their children? Hell yes! So, now what? Well, we now have to give some empirical evidence that the above can actually happen. Picky Picky Picky. Challenging, but doable. Next, as we have argued till we are blue in the face [4], our community must provide the curriculum that JPTs will use with the mobile technologies.

As Geoffrey Moore points out, more often than not, a technology does not cross the chasm--even one that is worthwhile. We can NOT let mobile fail to cross the chasm



[3] 73 percent of Teachers Use Cellphones for Classroom Activities - a Pew report ( from 2/28/2013 has that as a headline; pretty nifty!


About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at