Why moblie isn’t always the answer.

Another disconnect surfaces among IT professionals and faculty when specifying essential technologies in the classroom. IT staff believe that mobile devices hold a much larger potential than faculty do. For example, whereas 44 percent of IT staff identified the smart phone as essential, only 12 percent of faculty chose that. –Dian Schaffhauser

This is from the end of an article entitled “The Problem with Classroom Technology? Faculty Can’t Use it.” I don’t think can’t is the answer. From that sentence alone, it looks like a faculty choice. It brings back the old saying that “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I’m sure that faculty have good reasons to not adopt new technologies, outside of reticence or fear. Let’s look at how teens (current and future undergraduate students) use cell phones:

Some of the more public-facing features are used the least, including general internet use, social networking and the severely-underused-by-teens feature of email. All of the most-used features tend to be personal or private. Among adults, Pew finds that almost 1/3 have smartphones, 87% of them email, and 68% of them go online with it, although 59% of smartphone users go online mostly with another device. The user groups skew towards younger adults, with higher incomes and higher levels of education. There are two factors going on here: use and access. Teens use mobile devices for private communication, and that trend likely applies to adults as well. Secondly, data-enable mobile devices are expensive, so access is not universal. Stepping into a classroom and requiring an expensive device already alienates those who do not have them. Beyond that, it asks students to use a personal communication device to become part of a public project. Why is this such an issue? Consider danah boyd’s research on teen’s understanding of privacy. Keep in mind that they will be adults someday.

Throughout these conversations, teens consistently come back to the importance of control and personal agency. They believe privacy has to do with their ability to control a social situation, how information flows, and where and when they can be observed by others. –Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teen’s Attitudes, Practices and Strategies. pg.5.

Personally, I do not know many faculty or staff who communicate with students over personal channels, instead, we all tend to rely on institutional ones (campus emails, office phones, after class, during office hours). Because of these well-established social norms, asking students to engage the class on a personal mobile device seems out of line. Only 12% of faculty choosing to be more open with their understanding of the social norms of online communication is understandable. It is not that they cannot use them. Instead, they choose not to.

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5 thoughts on “Why moblie isn’t always the answer.

  1. Thanks for this posting. Alas, somehow your arguments don’t fit. You say the mobile phone is so strongly connected to things private that teenagers won’t ever think of using the devise for any other purpose.
    I don’t believe that.

  2. I see what you mean.
    I think there are 2 everlasting trends.
    #1: Students at university complaining about classes with on-site attendance (maybe implicitly stating they find most of the existing on-site classes boring).
    This could be replaced with “knowledge workers” becoming more and more location-independent.

    #2: You want to have some privacy. Time spans where your boss/teacher can’t reach you. Where you don’t have to think of work.

    Sure, in former times Blackberrys were only for managers and high profile scholars. Some of them who got burned-out sooner or later.
    Now, more people own a smartphone which can do all nice things. It seems that life runs faster, but that could also be an illusion.

    But what to do? Not considering smartphone and mobile offerings? I don’t think that would help the institution/enterprise…

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