Being Mobile | Blog

The $100 Computer Is Here: K-12's Inflection Point Is At Hand!

For 50 years techies have been saying that computers would change education. And, to a first approximation, the impact of computers on K-12 has been zero. (Okay, okay … YOUR classroom is different; got it; but the classroom next door?)

The first core challenge is, duh, access: And now access is truly about to go away.

The Chinese and Indian manufacturers are churning out Android smartphones with a customer cost of about $100. While we don’t mean to discount the importance to K-12 students of the coolness factor — and a $100 Android phone is surely less cool than a $500 iPhone — we think the low SES students will probably be mighty pleased to be on equal technological footing with higher SES students — finally.  

Yes, the data plans are still not inexpensive. But schools are figuring out how to provide 24/7, home WiFi to low SES families. For example, the Detroit Public Schools is providing students from low SES homes with Kajeet’s Mi-Fi “Smartspot” (a mobile WiFi hotspot). The size of a cigarette pack, the Mi-Fi converts 3G/4G into WiFi that a student’s laptop uses to connect to the Internet. The mi-fi is quite portable and supports connections by multiple devices.

So, picture this: 30 third-graders come into class, and each student takes out his/her smartphone, lays it on the desk, and looks up. Sure as we are alive, that will happen — literally all across America ... in each and every classroom, in each and every school.  Call this picture the Inflection Point. ("Inflection point, noun. A moment of dramatic change....")

That picture — that Inflection Point — has NEVER before happened. Desktops, laptops, 1:1, BYOD, COWs, carts of iPads, etc., etc. have happened. None of those events was an inflection point — because none of those events was about each and every student having a personal, Internet-connected computer in the palm of their hand, 24/7.

What’s going to happen? Easy, peasy: Principals will tell teachers to figure out how to integrate the devices into their existing curricula and lesson plans.

Business as usual: Put the challenge onto the backs of teachers. Good idea; that’s worked so well in the past.

In 2007, Winnie Hu, a New York Times reporter, in a front page, top of the fold, New York Times article, proclaimed: “Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops.” 

Why? The laptops “... did not fit into lesson plans....”

Fast forward to February 2014, consider the following:

“Teachers said they had not been fully trained in the new curriculums, and had not received new textbooks and teaching materials....” New York Times, Feb. 16, 2014

What is being talked about here? Desktops, laptops, 1:1, BYOD, COWs, carts of iPads? No, THIS time the quote is about the Common Core, and is referring to the problems implementing the Common Core in the state of New York.  Indeed, business as usual in K-12!

But wait: The Inflection Point is, by definition, NOT business as usual. aHA! The “tear” — the conflict, the tension, the dis-connect — between the past and future will never have been greater in K-12. There will be a profound dis-connect between what K-12 students see as their future and what the K-12 establishment sees as their future.

In 2011, when Travis Allen was a 20 year old, sophomore at Kennesaw State University he started the ISchool Initiative. His brashness, his message, and his determination earned him keynotes and visibility in educational technology circles. He is just the beginning of students standing up and saying: “Ahem! This is about ME, not about YOU. This is about MY future. Not YOUR past.”

Or as John Dewey more eloquently put it…

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”Democracy and Education, New York:  Macmillan Company, 1944, p. 167.

It is difficult to predict what will happen at an inflection point. Business as usual, however, is rarely the outcome.

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