2008-07-02

Mobile Phones and Facebook - Implications for Learning

I went to the dentist’s office Friday morning. In between rinsing and spitting, the dental hygienist was making conversation by asking my about my plans and my Fulbright project. After giving my now rehearsed explanation that I’m studying children’s mobile phone use to see how they might be used for learning, She responded by telling me, “You know what you should do – see how Facebook can be used for learning. My daughter is ALWAYS on Facebook.” She was totally right, of course. The role of social media, like Facebook, has been on my mind through work this past year with the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. There were also multiple classes taught through the lab this past year on the subject. Now, my focus is still centered on mobile phone use, but there are three reasons why I believe that both technologies are important and have very similar implications for learning spaces.

1) Both Facebook and mobile phones afford social interactions that are not possible in traditional educational environments (schools, museums, etc).

With Facebook, children can maintain contact across their entire social network very easily. If a user has a question, or wants to share a recent event with their friends, they can do so instantly with everyone they know. Similarly, this user can access and respond to this information from all of their other friends simultaneously. Having participated in a class heavily based in the Facebook environment, it’s not terribly difficult to imagine the technology allowing for increased collaborative interactions in educational settings.

Mobile phones remove space (and arguably time) as a barrier to social interaction. I can call a friend across the city, or across the country and reach him or her. I don’t even have to know where they are to begin a conversation with them. Similar to the Facebook example above, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where a child visits a museum with a school group, sees something interesting, and decides to send a picture through their phone to some friend in a completely different location. This technology could start a learning conversation that would otherwise not be possible.

We see that both mobile phones and social media have the potential to expand and create new learning interactions.

2) Facebook and mobile phones are popular with children.

Secondly, and I think a point that might be easy to overlook, is that both mobile phones and Facebook ARE BEING USED BY CHILDREN. The dental hygienist from above mentioned that her daughter was “always on facebook” (as are millions of other children). Statistics from Norway (where I’ll be basing my Fulbright project) show that the vast majority of children have their own mobile phones. If we wish to design new learning interactions (and that’s exactly what I hope to do), then we must be aware of, and adapt to these significant trends.

3) Facebook and mobile phones will be interchangeable.

The third reason for both technologies having similar implications for learning spaces is – very soon, even already in some cases, the two will be interchangeable. With increased computing power in cell phones, children can and will increasingly begin accessing Facebook from their smartphones and iphones etc. At this point, the new social interactions described in point 1 will merge. A child in a room or leaving soccer practice can know what all of their friends are doing, thinking, or learning at the particular moment.

So as I explore children’s mobile phone use, I’ll have to keep other social media in mind as well. I don’t think that I’ve done justice to the potential learning interactions above, but I do hope I’ve shown that mobile phones and Facebook can both be leveraged to create new learning opportunities – and should be studied together. Do you agree? Disagree? Have another idea? Please feel free to comment below.

--rolf

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