My father-in-law was a computer geek long before that was a thing. He was with a phone company as they were looking into delivering things other than voices through their telephone lines and was a part of the crew than installed the first, 1.5-megabyte memory system at SFU that was basically a metal rod suspended in a vat of baseball sized magnets.
Before his passing 10 years ago, he was looking into the idea of Linux and getting excited about school districts perhaps looking into that operating system and alleviating some of the financial pressures that were coming along with Microsoft and Apple. Part of this was his research into the One Laptop Per Child initiative that was coming out of MIT. He adhered to the philosophy regarding the necessity of having a tool that was internet compatible and able to operate all over the world. The biggest areas at risk of loosing out were the developing world and the poorer areas of the developed world, creating a technology austerity.
He loved the idea of the “buy one, donate one” funding model and thought it was a move toward giving back by the haves to support those that ran the risk of being left behind as technology was moving forward, especially as laptops were going for over $1000 each. Since then, there has been rumors of politicking by Microsoft and Apple, nay-sayers and the development of smartphones. I’m not sure what his opinion would be at this moment, but as the iPhone was launched, he was skeptical of it replacing the power of a laptop as it was a mere “toy,” in his words.
Things have changed and more people around the world have a smartphone than they do a computer. Wikipedia, via ICT Facts and Figures and the UN Department of Economic and Social affairs, list the average cell phone connections per 100 citizens at 96% worldwide. Canada is the eighth lowest on that list of 74 countries at 84.6% in 2018 (“List of countries by number of mobile phones in use,” 2018). The highest computers per capita is Switzerland at 65 computers per 100 citizens (Sawe, 2017).
I am not really sure how my father-in-law would take these stats and the smart phone phenomenon. I am finding it difficult to navigate. With articles like, “’Mobile reading revolution’ takes off in developing world” (Flood, 2014) and “6 Ways Cell Phones Are Changing the World (Beyond the Ways You’re Probably Thinking)” (Higgins, 2013), there can be no doubt that mobile phones are allowing for some huge advances in the developing world. Cell phones have created connections and availability of information to be at the tips of the multitude’s fingers.
With such technology, a library’s ability to curate and disseminate information can reach the unprecedented lengths that banking and medical and business have achieved (read Higgins). Schools can present reading lists and text books and teacher created material through cloud storage. Libraries can offer eBook collections that can be accessible from anywhere, in or outside of the library itself. Heck, libraries don’t even have to be a physical structure anymore. I think they should for a variety of reasons, but if the argument is for accessibility and against cost inhibiting factors, then I must take this position.
My own experience with cell phones in the classroom and library are not as positive. Deep down, I still believe that we need to show and model how to use technology, all technology, for students. This past year, I have seen an incredible change in how students approach the use of their phones; my grade nines have been glues to them like I have never seen before. It is difficult to model and teach responsible use of technology if you don’t get their attention. Social media, traditional media, pictures, memes and all else are alluring and instantly updated and everchanging. This is tough competition for the middle-aged fella with little fashion taste that is standing right in front of a class who can only offer a limited contribution to their education. As we find out more about the effect of cell phones and their usage on us, especially around the addictive qualities that the social aspect of them (Weinschenk, 2012), it becomes more obvious to me that, as powerful as they are as a tool for information and education, that they will only work as an educational tool if the social side-effects are not placed in direct competition with our intentions for their usage in the classroom or school setting.
There are reports that the banning of cell phones during school hours has produced a rise in test scores (Decarr, 2015) and academic results (Doward, 2015), but the ability to use phones responsibly remains a much more subjective study. Anecdotally, I haven’t seen the positive for cell phones. Understanding strategies and implementing ideas on how to curb their use in class and use them for positive educational value, I’m all for and willing to take on. It remains far beyond me, the lone crusader, to undertake though.
This does manage to take me back to the One Laptop Per Child idea. While our library has laptops that can be signed out by our clientele, if students are using them, chances are that they are not as distracted by the instantaneous types of social media that are provided by their cell phones. Perhaps my father-in-law was onto something ahead of his time (though I believe that he was always ahead of his time), with the idea that, as smart as they are, cell phones cannot hold a candle to what a proper computer can do. Maybe it has to be looked into that if you have access to both, then you will favour one for one type of function. However, in reference in the developing world, if all you have is the one, then you will use it for everything.
What I am most nervous about is pushing forward without a plan. We do need a plan regarding how we are going to proceed with cell phones and the effects that they are having on our students. More than mere distraction from learning, we are dealing with cyber-bullying on a scale that has not decreased since that word became a thing. We need a plan to get devices into the hands of all our students or risk the technology austerity that could have incredibly negative repercussions. Our district seems to be quietly moving to a “Bring your own device” policy, but I cannot find it written down anywhere as that would lead to the responsibility of the district providing a device if obtaining one is beyond a family’s means. I would advocate for a fundraising initiative or looking at a way to accessing bulk deals with a computer supplier to bring the cost of a minimal machine way down. A netbook/Chromebook is all that is needed to access the cloud storage and do some amazing work. Ideally both would be used to put machines in the hands of all of our secondary students.
Until then, I will continue to lend our laptops out and think of ways to incorporate education as the next great thing that will give students a reason to use their cell phones.
Decarr. (2015, May 18). Study: Cell Phone Ban Linked to Rise in Test Scores. Retrieved June 16, 2018, from https://www.educationnews.org/technology/study-cell-phone-ban-linked-to-rise-in-test-scores/
Doward, J. (2015, May 16). Schools that ban mobile phones see better academic results. The Observer. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/may/16/schools-mobile-phones-academic-results
Flood, A. (2014, April 23). “Mobile reading revolution” takes off in developing world. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/23/mobile-reading-revolution-unesco-study-phones-africa-subcontinent
Higgins, C. (2013, December 12). 6 Ways Cell Phones Are Changing the World (Beyond the Ways You’re Probably Thinking). Retrieved June 15, 2018, from http://mentalfloss.com/article/54133/6-ways-cell-phones-are-changing-world-beyond-ways-youre-probably-thinking
List of countries by number of mobile phones in use. (2018, June 10). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_countries_by_number_of_mobile_phones_in_use&oldid=845257243
Sawe, B. E. (2017, May 1). Countries With The Most Personal Computers Per Capita. Retrieved June 16, 2018, from https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-personal-computers-per-capita.html
Weinschenk, S. (2012, September 11). Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google. Retrieved June 16, 2018, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google