The Social and Educational Implications of the Mobile Revolution

Image | Wikimedia

Many authorities in the field are predicting an increased use of apps and mobile devices in the education field. Among them special attention should be paid to the Horizon report, It is lead by the New Media Consortium and Educause with experts collaborating worldwide and is well known for its diagnostics and prognostics of technology use and trends in education. Analyzing the current situation and the short- and long-term future in different countries. In the ninth edition of its international version in which I am participating, mobile learning stands out and other related topics are attracting attention, like electronic textbooks or augmented reality.

In a first estimate, it seems that mobile devices will be the protagonists of education trends in the next 12 months. This is what they have to say about it:

-“Mobile devices are an as of yet widely unused resource to attract the students’ interest and to close the gap between learning taking place inside and outside of the classroom.”

Looking at the changes to expect for the next 2-3 years, the horizon broadens and issues that could be considered complementary to mobile learning become relevant:

  • Augmented Reality: The combination of three technologies (GPS, video and pattern recognition) creates an environment of seemingly unlimited possibilities. And, if you add the possibilities of mobile technology, augmented reality can become a learning tool that is based on making discoveries. It can improve the information available to students visiting historical sites, enhance field work and allow them to interact with objects in the real world, which in most cases will be what they are learning about.

  • Gamification (Serious Games): New tools coming from the video game world are introduced to the education sector — new pedagogics — and we are starting to see good examples of combinations of game studies and education. If we think of the importance mobile devices have gained and how widely they are used and then think of playfully putting them to use in those vital stages we are dealing with, we can imagine the possible impact of this trend.

Beyond what is mentioned in the report, all of this is taking place within the framework of getting out of the classroom and moving towards so-called informal learning environments. Museums, libraries, media, meeting points, etc; What we are seeing today, is the extension of informal environments by those generated on the internet. In this sense the efforts to extend learning environments beyond the classroom will be increased and expanded. Sometimes due to budget constraints, even hybrid learning experiences are being proposed (Khan Academy is a good example for this).

Remember what Bill Gates said recently: “Five years from now on the Web, for free, you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world”. Well good, the figures indicate that it will happen more or less like that, with the greater parts of the educational curriculum being moved to online environments, which are increasingly being populated by mobile platforms and devices of this so-called post-PC era.

Education and Mobiles: The Mobile Device as a Link to Social Networks

The Social and Educational Implications of the Mobile Revolution

Image | Gavin Llewellyn

Those of us who have been observing in the last few decades all the changes we experienced with regard to networks, technology, information, brands, etc. have no doubt about it. In a wider sense, the evolution from traditional mobile phones to the current smartphones –which make it possible to be constantly connected to social networks– will become an exponential growth factor for a primordial human trait, which is now evolving in a unprecedented way on the internet: the sociability of the human being.

In other words, we are experiencing the arrival of interconnectedness and social networks on the internet. This is no less than a paradigm shift, the evolution towards a new kind of individual, which could be called “hyperindividual” or “connected individual”, which is quite different in many ways from its predecessors in important aspects of its socialization, cognitive development, individualization process and moral growth. As Manuel Castells pointed out (2011): “We are not the same since we are on social networks”. Because, if we are looking at the internet, interaction and the social element stand out, causing this paradigm shift – that many authors are foreseeing and which has coined the term Socionomics – towards the “augmented society”.

This is a very important issue for the education field: The new tools are adding to the traditional places for teenage socializing free of adult supervision, which at a certain age become necessary complements to the family environment. For many young people, Facebook or Whatsapp are, just like certain physical places (bars, squares, remote areas) in the villages, neighborhoods o cities they live, a new kind of meeting point, a new opportunity to be independent of their parents’ and/or school’s supervision.

Although parents and young people may decide by mutual agreement to keep their lives separated in some of these environments (with teenagers ignoring friend requests from their parents, teachers, etc.), it is very common that this refusal is not extended to all environments and/or networks. After all, services like WhatsApp and the multitude of other social networks that are available to let us to spend additional time with friends may also be used to keep in touch with the family and also as a learning tool, where links with relevant content, music, news, social games, etc. can be shared.

Mobile Devices as an Instrument for Participation: Media Convergence and Sharing Culture.

But of all the changes coming along with social networks and mobile devices the real paradigm shift is with regard to participation. This becomes obvious, if we think of the current trend towards media convergence. Now that we have overcome a television era that was quite frankly alienating and did not let us interact, we have become connected, participating viewers. According to a survey by the Pew (Smith and Boyles: 2012), half of the adults owning a mobile phone use it while watching television, normally to interact and comment with others about the viewed contents or simply to find out what others are thinking of the program.

A new study by Google analyzes the multiscreen concept and how connected individuals are simultaneously using telephones, tablets, computers and television sets (we could add game consoles and ebook readers to this list), in order to consume different kinds of digital contents at the same time.

These four, which could be defined as our main screens, have an important place in our lives, especially if we look at how they are used together: 90% of our daily media consumption (4,4 hours a day) occurs on one of these four screens, which – as the authors point out – does not leave much space for books, other types of print media or radio.

Television continues to be the screen in front of which we spend the biggest amount of time (43 minutes per session), although we rarely pay exclusive attention to it and often watch it in combination with some kind of other screen: 77% of the time we are watching TV, we are also using other complementary devices, like tablets or smartphones.

The fact that young people are surrounded more than ever by different types of media – by the traditional mass media as well as by the new social and interactive media platforms – forces us to talk about what Henry Jenkins called “Convergence Culture” a few years ago. This is more a cultural than a technological process, by means of which the circulation of stories, ideas, information, communities, brands and intellectual property licenses through new media platforms has created new forms of entertainment which go far beyond the platform or the screen we are looking at in a given moment or another. And this is an issue with significant implications: The connected individual can interact, dialogue and participate much more and develop from being a mere consumer to becoming a “prosumer” by getting access to fields that used to be the exclusive domain of a small – usually adult – elite.

The Social and Educational Implications of the Mobile Revolution

Image | Wikimedia

And finally, if we are thinking of mobile devices becoming the centerpiece of education, we have to be aware of the need to disconnect as well. If the sociability of the human being is the reason for the tremendous the success of virtual social networks, there are also many risks of becoming addicted; especially, because social rewards and punishments stimulate the brain more than non-social ones. In fact, psychologists found out that social threats may even be perceived as more intense than physical ones. Even on a biological level there is a correlation between physical and social pain. The effects of isolation punishment, for example, have been proven to cause reactions in the same brain regions that are affected by physical harm.

Some research has shown that there is a network in the brain, dedicated to thinking about ourselves and our relations with other people, which is sometimes referred to as the default mode network. When we are busy with intellectual work or problem solving, this network is inactive, but as soon as our brain comes to a wakeful rest, it almost immediately (two seconds of inactivity are enough, according to the investigation) starts thinking of other people. In other words, it seems that whether we want to or not, in our “free” time, we are automatically thinking of other people.

Our social side can definitely become so rewarding (high levels of dopamine can be observed in the brain during social relations in general – virtual and physical ones) that we can actually lose the skill to leave this state of mind of “being in the default mode network” in order to create, write, design, engineer and make plans in a focussed and solitary way. These are skills that education should try to promote and preserve. In other words, in the current situation, where 25% of teenagers check facebook more than ten times a day (figures raised about the U.S. population in 2009 by Common Sense Media), individual intelligence, which is in urgent need for solitude, might have a difficult time.

Being able to disconnect, consequently becomes an important skill to integrate in the educational agendas of many schools.

The mSchools programme is a multi-year, multi-faceted mEducation initiative by the Mobile World Capital Barcelona. The mSchools programme is designed to lower dropout rates, improve student attainment in schools across Catalonia and throughout Spain and, ultimately, to better prepare students as they pursue further education and employment in today’s digital world.

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