Are we really addicted to smartphones?

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

There has been quite a lot of media interest in the 2011  Ofcom Communications Market Report which provides a really interesting insight into the significant increase in the access to and use of smartphones by the UK population in the past 12 months.  Indeed, almost half (47%) of young people aged 12-15 now have a smartphone.

There was  a significant focus in the report (and in the media reporting) on how addicted people are to their smartphones. This ‘addiction’ (quotes used in the original report – no quotes used in the media coverage) was primarily measured by asking the question, “Choose a number between 1 and 10, where 1 represents ‘I’m not at all addicted to my mobile phone’ and 10 represents ‘I’m completely addicted to my mobile phone’”.  60% of smart phone users aged 12-15 rated their ‘addiction’ as 7 or more.

The report notes that this ‘addiction’ found among smartphone users is confirmed by other survey items such as the amount of time each day an individual had their phone switched on and how much smartphone use encroached on other social activities (p. 64) – but does this really provide sufficient evidence that people are addicted in the true sense of the word?  Saying you are addicted to something in response to a survey question and being addicted to something are quite different things – definitely an issue that needs further research before I would be convinced.


To Touch It or Not: Inserting Technology Into Museum Learning

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

In recent years, the adoption of several hands-on interactive technologies has taken many ‘Do Not Touch’ signs out of museums. These tools have made so-called ‘boring’ and ‘unapproachable’ documents and displays more accessible and available. In some cases, however, they can overshadow the authentic objects they are designed to make appealing, leading visitors to ignore the significance of the actual artefacts and making museums somewhat like an educational theme park. On the other hand, one can also argue that this is hardly a bad idea. Museums are places many of us visited as children, and places to which we return when we have children—like Disneyland, only with shorter queues and fewer nausea-inducing rides.

The imbalance in museum budgets—particularly the large expenditures on technology—has been discussed and debated in many museum-learning studies. How does one increase young visitors’ engagement with a museum, anyway? The traditional kid’s activity handout pales beside an interactive interpretation station—after all, which would the average ten-year-old prefer, a word search about a naval battle or a computer game giving him the chance to sink his classmates’ armadas? There is no disputing the fact that we live in a digital world, but one persistent question is whether we employ technological devices to their full potential as learning tools. Several large public museums, such as the Ashmolean museum in Oxford, the Natural History Museum of London, and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, have spent enormous sums on reconstruction and renovation, including millions budgeted for technological innovation and collaboration in an effort to ‘update’ the museums and increase visitor attraction. But how much of an impact have these changes rendered, and how much do visitors learn from these devices? Many researchers have remained sceptical that technological devices can fully enhance authentic objects—if you can be inside a real spaceship, they argue, why go to the fake one?

Of course, not every museum has a real spaceship, and even those that do may not permit visitors to play inside them. In many museums, new technologies make it possible for visitors to virtually interact with artefacts unavailable to the public. For example, many artefacts in the Churchill Museum in London are far too delicate to touch—consider the damage that could be done to Winston Churchill’s school report, letters, and childhood photograph if visitors were allowed to handle them. What the museum did was create a huge digital table consisting of document from Churchill’s life, thereby allowing visitors to safely browse through them. Thanks to technological innovation, the doors to the old ‘cabinet of curiosities’ can be opened and its contents examined, if only virtually.

At the end of the day, the question is not whether a museum should use technology or not, but rather how technology can be best employed, which depends on the collection, the exhibit, and the curator. Learning in museums should be informal and experiential. Museums are not places to test one’s memory, nor simple theme parks, but research institutes. Still, research is most effective when shared, and sharing this knowledge with visitors by using technology somehow still seems more exciting

Deciphering M-learning

October 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

M-learning is a term coined to cover a complex array of possibilities opened up by the convergence of new mobile technologies, wireless infrastructure and e-learning developments.  As with any emerging paradigm, there are many attempts to define its essence. M-Learning can basically be defined as the intersection of mobile computing and e-learning: accessible resources wherever you are, strong search capabilities, rich interaction, powerful support for effective learning, and performance-based assessment.

Because mobile phones are increasingly becoming part of the everyday lives of the poor, it is argued that they have potential to become a low cost accessible delivery channel for learning services, thus facilitating innovations including m-learning. Existing initiatives (Keegan, 2003) are already demonstrating the viability of such services in developing country environments. Research also suggests that the poor majority are in need of, and are increasingly demanding, a broader range of micro-learning services that could potentially be delivered via mobile phones or via mobile phone operators. These have been specified as low cost solutions that can underpin regular savings, facilitate informal learning, reduce the digital divide and deliver knowledge. However, studies also caution that the learning needs of the poor are fungible and embody a complex set of interactions across a broad portfolio of predominantly informal learning settings. There is a primary requirement, therefore, to more fully understand the interrelationship between the suggested potential for mobile phone applications and the reality of the educational preferences and behaviours that the poor majority exhibit.

There is an indication, with some exceptions, that knowledge and understanding of the learning needs of poor communities have not been sufficiently linked to existing m-learning research or to the development and implementation of initiatives.  This may be due to the fact that most, if not all, m-learning initiatives are commercially driven by the mobile phone industry as a value added service that is primarily designed to expand market share and generate revenue.  Consequently research has been informed by business models that emphasise market development rather than social models that may put greater emphasise on community needs assessment.  This orientation is followed by the current actors in the field of research, whose primary focus is system functionality and business value, focusing on technical and organisational aspects, rather than on the disruptive or ripple-effects.

Despite a rapid expansion of research into mobile phones and learning applied to developing countries, there has been no systematic attempt to review how this research has progressed both conceptually and methodologically.

Overall, the existing research body suggests the following practical implications as stated by this article:

  • A high level of practitioner involvement and the high level of positive interaction between the donor community and the mobile phone industry. This has set in motion a research agenda that seeks to seriously address the potential of new technologies to serve the needs of poor communities via m-learning.
  • Specific attempts to develop theoretical models, and create a deeper understanding of m-learning applications, most noticeable in the area of application development and technology adoption.
  • A small number of primary research studies that have developed rigorous methodologies for data collection and analysis, and where those approaches and lessons learned have been documented and shared.

The following remarks should be taken into account for the progress of m-learning:

  • That the research area has become too overtly ‘technology-led’ and driven by a mobile industry-donor nexus which (and in the absence of a strong evidence base) has tended to over-‘hype’ the potential of m-learning applications for poor users.
  • There has been lack of focus on assessing learning needs a priori to specifying m-learning solutions, and by and large importance has not been attached to analysing the relationships between the technical and systemic aspects of m-learning services and the behaviours and preferences of poor users.
  • In this respect there has been lack of focus on methodologies that emphasise user involvement such as participatory methods and action research, or where these approaches have been used they remain undocumented.
  • The research area overall is unbalanced in terms of methodological approach, with use of surveys and quasi-experimental techniques outweighing qualitative approaches – which could be used to build in-depth case studies that can form the basis for theorising.  With a few notable exceptions, the research reviewed tends to lack depth of evidence and analysis.  Issues of validity of findings and attribution of causality have yet to be addressed sufficiently.
  • Overall, there is lack of geographical diversity, with the state of current knowledge based upon a relatively narrow evidence base.  There is also lack of published research being conducted by developing country institutions and researchers.

Maybe it is time to tap into the potential of mobile phones for m-learning.

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