Being Mobile | Blog
Hats off To Kyle! Education Needs More Like Him
At 6' 1", 245 Kyle Menchhofer is a big risk-taker from a small town in Ohio. Back in 2007, Kyle, who, besides being tech director for St. Marys (OH) Schools, is also the basketball coach for the one high school in town – saw that the future of educational computing was a mobile device in the palm of each student’s hand. That was 2007, not 2013. In 2007, laptops ruled the roost. A “budget” Gateway laptop was about $800. Mobile technology? Not on the radar – and certainly not on the radar for K-12!
But, Kyle persevered. He could look past the laptop, and he agreed with another early mobile advocate who remarked:
“it is inevitable that all computing will be mobile.[i]” Jeff Hawkins, inventor of Palm Computer, 1991
1991!!! That was even before the Internet came out as a consumer technology (about 1995).
You might recall that in 2007 Palm Computer was already well on its way to imploding :-( , so the only viable mobile device was a stylus-required, $500 PocketPC, running Windows Mobile 6.1 (that would be Windows XP shrunk down to run on a 3-inch screen; one couldn’t call WM6.1 a particularly user-friendly OS.)
Getting those handheld devices on the Internet was a serious undertaking in 2007. Today, 6 years later, we are spoiled: we are awash in wireless, but Kyle started before Apple forced AT&T to provide wireless, cellular connectivity and forced consumers to pay for that wireless, cellular connectivity if they wanted an iPhone. For WiFi in his school, Kyle estimated that it would cost $75,000 – upfront. (Today, there are wireless providers that will give a school the access points, and charge the school a monthly fee for maintenance. That’s all in 6 years. Can you imagine what will be available in 2019?)
Now, putting $75,000 upfront WiFi was out of the question for a poor, rural district like St. Marys, so WiFi was not going to work. Instead, Kyle took a risk and went cellular for fifth graders. He contracted with Verizon to provide 160 devices for his fifth-grade pilot. The deal Verizon gave, at the time, was pretty good: the monthly fee per device was $29.95 for a capped bandwidth – with only a 10-month contract – and the cellphones – smartphone was a new term then – were FREE. (Don’t feel sorry for Verizon; Verizon was giving the school end-of-life devices so they were essentially write-offs for Verizon.)
For the most part, the teachers loved the technology! Scott Newcomb[ii], today, a prominent blogger in education and mobile technology got his start in 2007 in that pilot project. And, no surprise, the kids loved the mobile technology. In 2007, each of 160 upper el students had a wirelessly connected, handheld, mobile computing Internet device 24/7 to do their school work!! (Pretty amazing for a blue-collar, small rural town in Western Ohio.) This was all due to Kyle’s vision, fearlessness, ingenuity, and doggedness. NOTE: To reduce temptation and reduce disciplinary actions, at Kyle’s request, Verizon turned off the voice and texting capability on the phones.
For software, there were no “apps for that.” (So, Kyle’s teachers couldn’t confuse an app with a learning activity – but that’s a blog for another time.) But there was the Handheld Learning Environment (HLE) from GoKnow, Inc[iii], based in Ann Arbor. We (Cathie and Elliot) started GoKnow in 2000[iv] with educational apps for Palm devices. As the platforms changed (PocketPC, Windows CE, Windows XP), we ported to the new platforms and upgraded those Palm apps. If we might toot our own horn for a second – toot, toot – MLE was ahead of its time with a hyper-linked lesson launcher, an integrated suite of productivity tools, and a portal for teachers to grade the students’ artifacts and to push down differentiated lessons to their students.
So, Kyle took yet another risk and contracted with GoKnow, a company not quite in the same league as Verizon (to say the least) to provide educational software and professional development for the St. Marys teachers in the pilot. Kyle did not skimp on the professional development support; no no no! He was a wise technologist in that he knew it was the teachers who would make the program a success – not the technology. How many BYOD initiatives have lots of professional development?
Fast forward to 2013. Kyle continued to build his mobile program at St. Marys. He had moved to Alltel as the cellular service provider (but it was still $29.95 per month per student). And, from 2007 to 2013, Kyle was the Mr. Mobile Learning of Central Ohio.… heck, he was Mr. Mobile Learning of Western and Northern and Southern Ohio as well! Kyle traveled from conference to conference, evangelizing how mobile technologies were transforming learning in St. Marys classrooms. In 2013 there were over 500 smartphones in daily use in St. Marys classrooms!!
But, on May 15, 2013, we received this e-mail: “Today is a very sad day in St. Marys. Last week our voters voted down a levy which means that we have to cut $1.4 million in our budget which means our MLD [mobile learning device, aka smartphone] program is now defunct. Alltel picked up the devices today and our 6 year run is over using MLD’s in the classroom.”
Hats off to Kyle! He saw the future and brought mobile learning to St. Marys classrooms for six years! He saw that it was the teachers – not just the MLDs – that were key and he made sure his teachers had professional development. While curriculum development did fall on the teachers’ backs, they didn’t shrink away from the task. Hats off to the St. Marys teachers!
Education needs more Kyles; education needs more teachers willing to step up to the sincere challenges of using mobile technologies for learning.
Tech directors and teachers – tell us YOUR “Kyle” and “classroom” stories – we will let your voice be heard in this blog!
[iv] Full disclosure: On January 1, 2011, Cathie and Elliot sold their controlling interest in GoKnow Inc to a business group in Dallas, TX. As of that date, they have had no involvement in running GoKnow Inc and have a very limited shareholder stake in GoKnow Inc.
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 www.imlc.io.
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 www.imlc.io.
Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc.