The role of technology in education is growing around the world as remote, previously unconnected cultures gain access to smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. How will technology influence human growth and development and at what stages? Does smartphone usage mean smarter people? Opinions are split at best, and much of the answer might have to do with where you are and your age.
Gartner conducted a poll posted on Textually.org, which found that 46 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 would rather have access to the Internet than to their own cars. The Baby Boomer generation came in at 15 percent.
That's a tremendous paradigm shift from just a few years ago and speaks loudly to how our evolving population chooses to interact with the world. Clearly, a portion of young adults would rather have instant access to a virtual version of reality than seek out a more traditional, engaging experience.
A Poll Position national survey found that Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 believe these devices will have a positive impact on education. Fifty-four percent of respondents between the ages of 30 and 44 see tablets and smartphones as useful educational tools.
In Southeast Asia, UNESCO volunteer teacher Vicky Colomba worked with two study groups involving children in remote communities along the border of Thailand and Myanmar.
“My experience showed me that the ubiquity of mobile phones constitutes an enormous but unexploited potential to bring learning to a huge number of people, including marginalized groups such as migrants or refugees,” Colomba wrote. “Instead of debating on the pros and cons of using mobile phones in education we should now be focusing on how to use them.”
But on the other end of the spectrum, you have Stanford University communications professor Clifford Nass who suggests smartphone and mobile device use can actually slow down productivity in the majority of people:
Smartphones encourage you to do multiple things at once, which is not physiologically healthy for you because we are not built to do a multitude of tasks at one time. Research shows that multitasking lessens your ability to focus on what is relevant. Your phone makes you feel like you have to respond, which then increases your stress and harms your cognitive thinking.
Nass, who does own a smartphone, says that some users (those who can ration their time on social media platforms and other digital quasi-distractions) can benefit from having instant access to immense amounts of information. That situation, however, is not the norm, according to his findings.
Others, including Nicolas Carr, have suggested long-term access to nearly unlimited information will make us less cognitively capable, degrade our memories, and make it difficult to make those types of broad connections across various fields that enable innovation.
With this type of disagreement, educators and education CIOs still have to tread lightly. No one wants to be the person who spends money on devices that hurt our kids -- nor miss out on using the technology that will help kids reach a new level. No matter where you fall on the issue of smartphone and mobile device use in education, portable communication tools are clearly playing a greater roles in our lives, from social tools to gaming to educational platforms. In many ways, the decision will be out of the hands of CIOs, just as consumerization has taken the decision out of the hands of CIOs in the enterprise. Preparing for the potential issues might be the best they can do.
What do you think? What role do you see smartphones playing in education over the next five years? Comment below, if you still have the cognitive capacity.