08/06/2012 10:39 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Forget Digital Natives, Think Mobile Natives

On the airplane ride from Chicago to New York, the 4-year-old across the aisle was "swiping" quite proficiently on his dad's iPad. The boy, dad said, had learned to read on the tablet.

When I looked up at the luggage compartment, there was a solitary ant crawling along at 39,000 feet. It didn't know how it got there, where it was or how to go somewhere else. We sometimes act that way about social media. It is no longer a question of whether or not students are digital natives, as the mobile revolution pushes tablets and smart phones to our finger tips. I agree with those calling our students "mobile natives" -- they expect instant access from anywhere to current information and entertainment.

I was recently in New York to speak to more than 300 educators at Jeff Pulver's second #140edu conference.

As a School of Communication director, I'm apparently a rare breed among such leaders actively engaged on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media platforms. Four years ago, my students had led me to Facebook by talking about their walls. The Iranian uprising that June convinced me that social media is changing the world.

Pulver is interested in the "digital breadcrumbs" we leave through our online behavior. He thinks these will help future generations understand humanity. So, in part, it's about leaving a legacy.

For teachers at #140edu, being "a connected educator" is about being relevant with our students and crowd sourcing answers. Speakers also emphasized transparency, collaboration and using tools to find better answers. Teachers and their students can create direct connections, and this empowers them. Great ideas are valued over who says them online.

As rapid-fire presenter Adam Bellow, a teacher and technologist, pointed out, our schools are not a complete success. Students say "school sucks," and too many drop out. One newer approach to teacher professional development is the professional learning network, which leverages online and offline social networks. Pulver, a co-founder of Vonage and developer of the #140 conference, promotes development of communities. "We're all living through a time of change," Pulver said. In such times, we need each other.

Pulver's co-host for #140 edu Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy and co-chair of EduCon, worries that too often curriculum focuses on what the business community thinks it needs.

I think the education community can respond to the need to train workers at the same time we teach critical thinking skills. Pulver and this conference deserve credit for bringing together K-12 educators, professors and community leaders. Too often we stay in our silos rather than connecting in the interests of our students.